Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 72, final update done)

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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K)

Postby Gaius Marius » Thu May 03, 2012 10:30 pm

Yay fleet battles up coming!
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K)

Postby Midgard » Fri May 04, 2012 3:16 pm

I wonder what the Sisters are up to. Sorry I didn't get a chance to give more detailed feedback as I was hoping to do - I am extremely busy at work and barely have any time. That said, very well written, as always!
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K)

Postby Meaneye » Fri May 11, 2012 6:02 pm

Friday time, update time. I think it turned out quite nice seeing as how I know bagels about three-dimensional space warfare :D .

Midgard: The Sisters are trying to leave for Ophelia, as explained by LordLucan in his 50K stories.


Part Sixteen


There were many myths about the invincible nature of the Space Marines. They could not be killed. They always won. Even their mere presence destroyed the enemies. They were fifteen feet tall. All these, of course, came from men who had not seen the Astartes in action before.

The truth came from a strictly military and logistical point of view. The Space Marines were the elite fighting force of Mankind, genetically engineered to face the toughest challenges which the universe could throw at them. Individually, they were ten times as deadly as any veteran human soldier of the Imperium. They also received the best equipment available, and their mental conditioning erased all human weakness which was otherwise present in every singe man and woman in the Galaxy. They aged very slowly, which meant they had more than a lifetime of experience in warfare, they were not distracted by general human emotions and everyday problems, achieving a 100% battle readiness. This, coupled with the fact that their requests for assistance and additional manpower automatically got the green light from the Imperial organizations, was the main reason why they were victorious over enemies who usually lacked some or all of these advantages. It could be said that the Astartes were not stronger: their enemies were weaker in some aspect, which the Space Marines could exploit.

The above was true in this case as well. The Fatemaker strike cruiser had better equipment and a crew which was not only faithful, but also well-trained. Her captain was a veteran of a hundred successful naval engagements, while the Battle Sisters who were leading the other fleet seemed to have the same direct, zealous approach to space warfare as anything else in the world. The Sororitas fleet had already been in action for hours, which must have depleted their ammunition and energy reserves. The only advantage they had was their number, but their fleet commander managed to squander even that tiny asset when she decided to split her forces and jump at the Opportunity on her own.

Malistrum was absolutely calm now. He was in his element: he was leading his elite force against a threat which was physical, understandable and therefore manageable. For the first time in two weeks, he was doing something he was actually trained for.

The enemy fleet consisted of the two capital ships. The Blood of Martyrs was Tyrant class: she had eight heavy bombardment cannons on either side of her hull, while the Faith’s Reward’s cannon/lance configuration was typical of the Lunar-category. Both of them were formidable foes, but they all had a serious disadvantage: their weapon racks could only let off broadsides, not forward salvoes. That particular task was supposed to be fulfilled by the torpedo launchers built into their triangle-shaped prows so typical of any Imperial warship. As they had so far been running away from the Dictator Pandora, Malistrum doubted that they had any chance of launching any of their torpedoes. Avoiding those two deadly salvoes would be the first challenge the Opportunity had to do.

Luck was on his side. The enemy was not thinking straight; otherwise they would not have sent their ships against him in such a manner. Two of the escort ships – two identical Firestorms with prow weapon batteries – rose to the Astartes vessel’s level, with the Faith’s Reward following them from behind. There were no fleet tactics apparent in the ships’ movement. It seemed that the individual Sororitas captains simply wanted to close the distance to the enemy as quickly as they could.

This would be the edge Malistrum could exploit.

‘Send all Furies forward in shield formation,’ he ordered.

The Opportunity was a modified strike cruiser. Its main armament – the bombardment cannons with their deadly magma warheads – was in place, as were the additional weapon batteries, but Malistrum’s predecessor had also equipped the ship with lances, which allowed the vessel to make precision strikes against planetary targets. Because the crew was divided between the extra weapon systems, she could, in theory, fire less often than her enemies, which was impractical for long-term space actions, but it was considered worthwhile. The problem of the extra crew had been solved successfully by the ship’s present captain, who had also introduced a new general military philosophy: instead of protracted engagements, the aim was to get quickly to the target and destroy it with overwhelming force at close distance. Malistrum’s own tactical addition to the general strategy of Strike Force Four was to make sure that the Opportunity got to her designated target.

The Fury interceptors served exactly this purpose. The Opportunity did not have any bomber or torpedo launching craft in her arsenal: she simply did not need them. She made up for their loss with additional fighter wings, the only task of which was to hold up incoming bombers and torpedo attacks.

Faith’s Reward is launching torpedoes,’ one of the serfs warned the Captain.

Too soon, Malistrum thought. The Opportunity had enough time to move out of the way, although this would have meant breaking her own attack course. Malistrum decided against it. His ship could work out an advantage from her current position, if she survived this attack. The question was whether her crew and her captain were competent enough to deal with the torpedoes directly.

This question did not even worth considering. Malistrum leaned forward a little in on his throne.

‘Keep the course and order the interceptors to engage. Ignore the Firestorms.’

‘Yes, Captain.’

The torpedoes were fast: they passed by the attacking Firestorms and headed straight for the Opportunity. Malistrum was looking at his instruments.

‘Is there any sign of fighter escort?’

‘No, Captain.’

Of course not. None of the attacking ships had any launch bays to start with. The Faith’s Reward should have waited with the torpedoes until she got nearer. She would pay for her mistake dearly in a few minutes.

The six torpedoes reached the protective shield of the interceptors. Malistrum looked on as four of the six icons marking the enemy projectiles went out almost immediately. Two of them continued their journey.

‘Follow and intercept,’ said Malistrum calmly, not even reacting to the affirmative answer of the crew. The friendly icons of the Furies changed their course on his display as they turned back towards their mothership.

The torpedoes were fast, but so were the Furies. The Captain acknowledged with a nod that one more enemy icon blinked out of the screen, leaving only one torpedo functional.

That one torpedo left the interceptors behind. It was up to the last defence line of the ship to destroy it before it impacted. Servitor-crewed weapon turrets locked on their target, hoping to shoot it down in the last minute. If they failed, the torpedo would do enough damage to the ship to slow her down, leaving her vulnerable to the two approaching escorts.

Malistrum did not worry. The Opportunity had enough short-range turrets to defend the ship against several targets, not just this one. Although the servitor crew lacked the creative thinking of their human shipmates, they were supervised by several Adeptus Mechanicus priests, who were monitoring the servants’ performance through electronic links not dissimilar to the Manifold connection used by the Imperial Titan Legions. The Captain had absolute faith in his forces.

The last icon went out before it could reach the ship: on Malistrum’s display, it seemed that the Opportunity destroyed it at a hair’s breadth from the hull. The Captain made a grim smile.

‘Keep our course and target the portside escort. Destroy and reload.’

‘Yes, Brother-Captain.’





‘HARR-RAHH! RADU-RAHH!’

The noise was fearsome in the bombardment cannon’s loading bay. It came from dozens of sources: bestial, braying howls echoed all around, in stark contrast with the otherwise serene atmosphere of the Opportunity.

The occupants of the loading bay looked no less bestial than the sound of their voices. Dozens of ogryns – brutes more than three metres tall – were holding onto the huge chains used to raise the magma warheads into the launch tubes. The voice they were making was frightening, but also rhythmical: a work chant, which, barbaric as it sounded, was practiced over a hundred times before.

The Imperium’s massive starship cannons won thousands and thousands of space battles. To the casual outsider, the different warheads which these cannons unleashed were the deciding factor in naval warfare; however, those who actually waged these battles knew that the emphasis lay not on the cannons themselves, not even on their projectiles but the crew’s ability to load and target with them. In the Dark Age of Technology, both of these functions were provided by automated machine units; in this new, enlightened age, however, ships tended to rely on human instincts and raw manpower to do the job. Men targeted with the guns and men loaded them; without these two factors, the biggest gun of the Imperial Navy was just a useless piece of metal.

The Opportunity relied on two groups of humans in her space battles: the bridge crew’s ability to hit the enemy and the loader clan’s ability to load the guns again. The latter was Captain Malistrum’s innovation. At the beginning of his career as a Space Marine Captain, the Opportunity had got involved in a local crisis on a low-tech planet called Metragon IV. The Space Marine contingent broke and destroyed a local Chaos cult with all its supporters in the population. The remaining clans, who had been fighting against the cult for decades by then (earning the right to survive in the eyes of the Inquisition) were greatly impressed by their performances, and they offered their saviours a brigade of their warriors as a reward.

Part of the culture of Metragon IV was the heavy use of ogryn warriors in their wars. Malistrum could have said no and be done with the issue, but he saw an opportunity in the offer which a more rigid-minded Battle-Brother may have ignored. The pure strength of these subhumans was so impressive that he accepted the offer, and made a naklonjenost-treaty with the locals to provide the Fatemakers with manpower – or, rather, ogrynpower – whenever they needed them.

If Malistrum thought that his fellow Captains would accept the offer as eagerly as he did, he had to be disappointed. Strike Force Three took on a contingent of ogryns twenty years ago, Strike Force Seven openly criticised him for diluting the gene-pool of his crew with impure specimens, while the other Captains politely refused to change their organisational structures. Strike Force Four, however, did not have to repent this decision. The ogryns did not only replace the original loader human groups without any conflict, but proved to be much, much more effective and a lot quicker than their predecessors. The Opportunity acquired great renown among the Fatemaker ships for her ability to fire a lot more often than her peers in the fleet. The Metragonian ogryns proved to be sufficiently religious in their own primitive way, and they were perfectly happy to serve aboard the great sky-ship which delivered their world from their Chaos-infested enemies. All they required was a moderate amount of patience, a breeding place and extraordinary amounts of food, the latter two of which merely proved to be a simple logistical challenge to the Space Marines. In return, the ship gained servants who were just bright enough to understand simple orders, strong enough to act as additional shock troops and who respected raw power enough to acknowledge the Astartes as their leader.

‘RADU-RAHH! HARR-RAHH!’

There were twenty-five ogryns standing in the chamber which was more than three storeys high. The loading tube of the cannon was massive, even more intimidating than the barrel protruding from the side of the ship because the brutes were standing very near and almost completely under it. Metragon used black powder weapons, so the ogryns were familiar with the concept of ‘cannons’; still, nothing could prepare them for the cultural shock they received when the shuttle which took them aboard the Opportunity stopped next to the bombardment section of the outer hull, and Captain Malistrum stood in front of the armoured shuttle window with the huge barrel behind him.

‘This is the cannon of the Emperor,’ he said. ‘We need strong people to handle it because the cannon only accepts the best. Will you load it so we may kill His enemies?’

There was no need for any further recruitment speech. Ever since that fateful moment, the Metragonian ogryns have been Fatemaker serfs. Their children took over the tales and legends of the cannons and got accustomed to the confined places they occupied aboard the ship: they even started to wear grey clothes not dissimilar to the colour of the Fatemaker armours. The success of this new symbiosis surpassed even the wildest dreams of Malistrum, proving him right in his opinion that there is room for improvement and effectiveness even in the confines of the Imperium.

‘HARR-RAHH! RADU-RAHH!’

‘PULL FOR THE EMPEROR!’

The ogryns were not alone in the chamber. There was a gallery at the third storey level with a huge pulpit. There were several tech-priests around the pulpit, monitoring the work of the loaders on their instruments. There was also a huge drum there with another ogryn in front of it, beating the same rhythm as the chant of those down below. This was a necessary admission to the loading process, a cultural remainder of their Metragonian origin.

The only pure, unmodified human on the pulpit was called pastor Yeverick. He was also Metragonian, a descendant of the original priests who had come aboard with the ogryns so many years ago. He was ideal for tending to the spiritual needs of his large-grown flock, and, surprisingly, the ogryns needed quite a lot of spiritual tending. They were simple-minded, but they were far from imbecile; rather, they were like almost half tonnes of slightly aggressive children who needed constant attention and guidance. Yeverick understood what his flock needed, and he made sure that his ogryns stayed firmly under his control, which suited his Astartes masters just fine.

The huge magma warhead rose to the level of the loading tube. One of the techpriests turned back from his instruments.

‘LOADING IMMINENT,’ he shouted. The techpriests who served in the loading bays all received voice amplifiers so the ogryns could understand them even through the constant clatter and noise. Yeverick had no such augmentation, but he could achieve just the same effect with a headset and a good microphone.

‘HEAVE-HO! HEAVE-HO!’ he cried. The yell of twenty-five giants answered his call immediately.

‘HARR-RAHH! RADU-RAHH!’

The warhead slid into the slot at the end of the loading tube. Powerful claws grabbed it inside the tube, while a huge metal cover lowered in front of the slot. There was a moment of respite while the inner mechanisms of the cannon arranged and primed the warhead.

Klangg-klakata-klangg.

‘Klangg-klakata-klangg’, the ogryns imitated the sound in a respectful whisper. There was a lot of reverence surrounding the cannon, which the tech-priests supported whole-heartedly. Most of them had been living with the ogryns for decades, and they had no reason to complain about their performance; in fact, they probably considered them to be large, loud but functional machine parts (a sign of respect among the Mechanicus members).

‘READY TO FIRE,’ the same tech-priest warned.

The ogryns knew the drill: they ran to the back of the chamber and held onto the metal brackets which were welded onto the walls specifically for them. The concussion of the cannon was brutal, and part of the reason why Malistrum took on an ogryn loading crew was the fact that the violent after-effect of the cannon’s discharges shortened the life-expectancy of the human loaders by almost ten years. The ogryns were fine by it, but they still needed to secure themselves.

A huge hand grabbed the pastor from behind, raising him and pulling him back to the sweating body of the drummer ogryn. The smell was quite strong, but the pastor was used to it. The constriction was more uncomfortable, but he knew it was actually a sign of affection: the loading clan protected its priest from physical harm, which he appreciated even if sometimes he felt that his protégés were hurting him just as much as a physical accident would.

‘FIREEEE!’ shouted the tech-priest; the ogryns and Yeverick echoed his cry. This was part of the drill: it was pointless to explain to the ogryns that they should keep their mouths open when the weapon discharges or the sudden change of air pressure would burst their eardrum; instead, they were told that the louder shouted when the weapon fired, the more pleased the machine spirit would be, which was effectively what the Adeptus Mechanicus taught about its machines in the first place. Most adepts silently agreed that that the cannons aboard the Opportunity seemed to work 13% better with the ogryns than it was originally expected, and if there was a chance that this was caused because of the barbaric, but undoubtedly eager reverence of the loaders, the priesthood was fine with it.

The cannon fired. Yeverick felt as if he had been punched in the stomach by some invisible force. The chamber shook violently; to the primitive ogryns, it might as well have seemed that the whole world shook under the power of Secundus Cannon.

They loved it. As soon as the last vibrations went away, the brutes ran back to the middle of the chamber, shouting and chanting. Yeverick could not help but fell fierce pride about his overgrown children. He raised his hand with the rest of his flock and joined the chanting,

‘EMPE-RAHH! RADU-RAHH!’

A new whistling sound filled in the room, and the lights went suddenly red. Another warhead was ready to be pulled from the ammunition magazines.

‘ONE MORE FOR THE EMPEROR!’ Yeverick shouted, his voice amplified by the head-set he was wearing. The ogryns cheered and ran back to the chains to pull up another projectile. Their pastor smiled.

They would help the Fatemakers win the battle.





The second Firestorm went down in a spectacular ball of fire as the Opportunity’s cannons tore her in two. Extra food for the loaders, Malistrum thought as his ship passed by the remains of the second escort.

The Faith’s Reward was nowhere to be found. The instruments showed that the cruiser was still rising to the Opportunity’s relative level. By now, Malistrum had nothing but utter contempt for Sister Auralia. What kind of a captain would divide his forces in such away? The concerted effort of the two cruisers and their escorts should have been able to destroy even an Astartes strike cruiser. Instead, she just sent forward her faster ships so they could engage the enemy as fast as possible. Not to mention the attack vector of her cruiser…

Actually…

‘Align our horizontal plane to that of the Faith’s Reward’, he ordered.

The crew obeyed. The two ships were facing each other now, which was a regular feature of space combat. Almost all species in the Galaxy were planet-based, and they learned warfare from the conflicts brewing on the surface of their worlds. They started with two-dimensional land battles, which was later supplemented by air warfare: still a relatively two dimensional endeavour, with the added danger of attacks from above. Space warfare came much, much later, and most species, humans included, had a hard time to find a completely new, three-dimensional view upon war. Due to the lack of gravity, there was no such thing as ‘above’ and ‘below’ in space. Spaceships usually found it more comforting when they had an objective horizontal plane to which they could relate, and so there was an unspoken accordance between the various races to align the ships as much as they could before they started the engagement.

Malistrum had no insistence to horizontal alignment. He was trained in the Neo-Devourer Wars, and those bio-mechanical ships had no regard to any plane alignment whatsoever. The Captain was used to thinking in three-dimensional terms; Sister Aurelia, on the other hand, was clearly not.

‘On my mark, ignite the vertical thrusters,’ he commanded. ‘Set the forward starboard thrusters to eighty per cent, the forward port and backward starboard ones to seventy and the backward port to fifty-five. Send the fighters two hundred kilometres forward, and have them prepare for another torpedo attack. Report when we reach seven hundred kilometres.’

‘Yes, Brother-Captain.’

The two ships were racing towards each other. The Opportunity had the edge now due to her forward bombardment cannons, but the Captain did not order the crew to fire. With the two ships closing in on each other, this engagement turned out to be a battle of nerves.

Neither of the ships backed down. The crew of the Faith’s Reward must have been either religious fanatics or people intimidated by the presence of the Battle Sisters. The serfs of the Opportunity were trained soldiers to the last man, eager and well-motivated, with absolute trust in their Astartes masters.

A well-placed torpedo salvo could have ended the battle now, but for some reason, the Faith’s Reward did not fire. Any observer would have put his money on a ramming action now.

Of course, Malistrum had other things in mind.

‘Seven hundred kilometres, sir,’ the voice of s crewman broke the silence. Malistrum leaned forward.

‘Ignite thrusters.’

The Opportunity shook. The vertical thrusters were normally used to descend into the atmosphere or align the ship into a docking bay. Once the ships arrived at roughly the same horizontal plane, they were traditionally ignored. The ignition of the four thrusters at different output raised the Fatemaker vessel, while spinning it around her horizontal axis at the same time.

There were few captains who could truly manipulate the third dimension in a naval battle. Malistrum was one of them; the other captain was not. The Astartes knew it because a good captain would have concentrated her forces; she would have timed her shots instead of firing all her guns as quickly as possible; she would have got a crew capable enough to reload at least the forward torpedo launchers in time for a second salvo; finally, a capable captain would have not insisted on aligning the ships before the actual fighting.

Mostly, a true captain would have not engaged in a battle on emotional grounds. Malistrum had nothing but contempt for the woman.

‘On my mark, fire the bombardment cannons with two seconds’ delay,’ he ordered.

The serfs had only time for a quick ‘Aye!’ now. The ship over the observation spun lazily; as the Opportunity’s gravitic stabilizers negated the effect of the ship’s spinning, it seemed that it was the outside world which was turning, not the Fatemakers. The enemy hip was now visible for the naked eye. She was growing as the two vessels were approaching each other, but also falling under the Opportunity as the Space Marines rose over her. The Faith’s Reward seemed to slide to the port side of the Astartes. She did not change her course; apparently, the captain of the enemy vessel had no idea what to do with Malistrum’s manoeuvre.

The last but most fatal mistake of them all.

‘Kill thrusters,’ Malistrum ordered. He was deadly calm, untouched even by the sense of victory he had achieved here.

Because this was a victory. The Opportunity continued to spin slightly due to her inertia, but even this movement put her in a kill-position. The Astartes vessel was now completely above the Sororitas cruiser. This was a rather useless position in most cases, except that the strike cruiser now seemingly turned to her side, with her port batteries pointing towards the top of the Sororitas ship.

There was no need even to aim.

‘Fire,’ the Captain said.

In the next ten seconds, four magma warheads smashed into top structure of the Faith’s Reward. There was not even a ship-length’s distance between the two cruisers, making the attack a point-blank salvo of kill-shots. The first two shots broke up the shields of the Sororitas vessel, opening a way to the next two warheads to tear into the hull of the ship.

The magma warheads were designed to destroy cities; theoretically, a whole salvo or several salvoes were capable of penetrating the planetary crust, flooding the target with the lava from the planet’s core. The third shot smashed the keel of the ship just behind the adamantium prow; while it did not actually bisect the ship, the detonations effectively sealed the front of the vessel from the rest of the superstructure. The fourth and last shot hit the command bridge.

The bridge disappeared entirely. The explosion did not tear it apart, but literally evaporated it, together with Sister Auralia and whatever entourage she had on board. The Opportunity quickly left behind the burning wreck of the Faith’s Reward, but even a casual glance with naked eyes could say that this engagement was over. The enemy was as good as dead.

Which left only one hostile target remaining. ‘Open a channel to the Pandora,’ said Malistrum.

‘My commendations on your victory, Captain.’ There was a small amount of awe in captain Savirez’s voice, but it was buried under a good portion of worry and perhaps anger. ‘However, even though I know that there is no time for leniency in a battle, I must remark that my orders are to bring the renegade ships back, not to destroy them.’

‘The Faith’s Reward can be towed,’ Malistrum answered in a calm voice. ‘Damaged as she is, she can be repaired. My concern is the remaining ships.’

‘What do you mean?’ Savirez asked.

‘There are still two escorts and a cruiser left. The Opportunity is quick enough to catch up with the cruiser, but the escorts will probably escape.’

The other captain sighed.

‘In short, I failed in my mission.’

‘Not necessarily. Tell me, captain, how many Battle Sisters escaped from Saint Menthas?’

‘The Convent of the Holy Fervour had a standard one thousand Battle-Sisters,’ came the answer. ‘At least seven hundred of them escaped on the ships when the fighting started. The rest was killed or scattered during flight. We managed to intercept two escorts on their way here.’

‘I see,’ said Malistrum. Six escorts to start with, plus the two cruisers. The Sisters knew nothing about space warfare, but they must have been sensible to divide their forces evenly during transport.

‘I am going to board the last cruiser and take it by force,’ he said. ‘You will be able to catch it intact, and hopefully, there will be enough of the crew left to take it back to the planet.’

‘Thank you, Captain,’ said Savirez. ‘However, I must warn you that there will be heavy resistance. The Sisters are formidable foes.’

‘So are we,’ the Astartes said. ‘We are beginning the chase right away.’

‘Don’t you want to wait for us?’

‘You are too slow. The only way for you to catch up with us is damaging the cruiser, which you claimed yourself would be unacceptable. We will do this on our own.’

‘Are you going to have enough men to handle them? There must be about two hundred Sisters aboard, not to mention the support crew.’

‘We have the necessary power,’ Malistrum said in silent confidence.

Savirez was unconvinced.

‘How many men have you got?’

‘A hundred Battle-Brothers,’ the Captain said. ‘I dare say we still have a definite edge over them.’
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 17 up)

Postby Meaneye » Thu May 17, 2012 8:35 pm

I try to post on Fridays, but i will be extremely busy tomorrow, so here it is. Also, it seems that my next month will be busy too, so instead of a weekly update, I will post whenever I finish a decent part of the story.

This update is somewhat longer than the others. I did not intend to drag out the boarding part, but I seem to get carried away. This section is 16 pages in my word document, so I drew a line here. I will finish the mopping up in the next update, which will otherwise be about the shrineworld.

Oh, and I will take over LordLucan's way of marking the updates in the title (I hope you don't mind it, LL :) ).

Part Seventeen



The leader of the Blood of Martyrs was called Sister Estali. She was not the real captain: that position was fulfilled by a seasoned officer, who was nonetheless devoted to the Convent of the Holy Fervour. This made the commandeering of the ship a lot easier during the extraction of the Sororitas contingent from Saint Menthas, but this also meant that the one person with real space combat experience was subservient to a mid-ranking officer of a Militant Order.

Sister Estali had no idea how to handle a space engagement. She was more level-headed than her immediate superior, Sister Aurelia, although she was quite unhinged after the events unfolding in the last two weeks. She was shaken and clueless, but this affected her differently than the other Sister. She was not interested in revenge or finding a scapegoat. She merely wanted to get out of the system. She wanted to start the journey to the distant world of Ophelia, where – according to the last astropathic message – order and a promise of renewal was waiting for them. She had warned her superior against waging a prolonged fight with the system defenders instead of escaping as fast as they could, but the other did not listen to her at all. She had decided to cripple the Pandora, and she had also decided to destroy the Astartes vessel which had arrived so unexpectedly when their victory seemed the most assured. It appeared that Aurelia had paid the price for her uncontrolled anger.

After the Faith’s Reward went down, Estali ordered her ship and the last two escorts to turn to the edge of the system and flee. Her Canoness would have chastised her for such an act of cowardice, but the Canoness was dead; killed at the beginning of the fighting on the planet. Estali was alone now, and she had no intention to die without a worthy cause.

Escaping proved to be difficult, however. The Opportunity turned towards her ship immediately, and started the chase. She approached her from above, closing the distance in a sloping vector. The captain claimed that the Sororitas ship had a lead, and she could have probably escaped in time, but ‘probably’ was not good enough for Estali, so when the Space Marine vessel had got within extreme long range after forty minutes, she ordered the ship to turn around and drive them away with her broadsides.

It did not work. The Opportunity continued her descending movement and actually went under the Blood of Martyrs’ horizontal plane. Just like Auralia, Estali ordered firing too early, and the broadsides actually missed the Opportunity by at least three ship lengths. The only result of her attempt was that the Space Marines were now within striking distance, ready to attack the last Sororitas cruiser in a similar fashion to what she did to the Faith’s Reward.

Estali made another mistake, also against the advice of her captain. She had no trust in her ship’s ability to engage with the Opportunity and her captain at close range, so she ordered her ship to turn around again and flee. By now the Opportunity was only a few hundred kilometres behind and under her, in an ideal position to strike.

The Sororitas captain was trying his best to shake the vessel, but, apparently, his best was just not enough. The Space Marines mirrored the Sisters’ every single manoeuvre and movement, always staying behind and under at the same distance.

‘Why don’t they attack?’ Estali pondered, standing at the main display on the Blood of Martyrs’ command deck. Her captain shook his head.

‘They could destroy us any time they want. This is like a dogfight between interceptors, except I have never seen anything like this in cruiser size. The other captain must be a tactical genius.’

‘You seem to admire the enemy a little too much,’ Estali snapped, to which the captain’s face coloured slightly.

‘I only say what I see, Sister,’ he answered. ‘He is in ideal position, and they have the edge over us.’

‘This is the only thing you can give me?’ asked Estali. ‘I need a captain who can help me win, not one who gives up without a fight! Can’t you be more constructive and help me?’

‘I have tried to help you, Sister, but you refused to listen,’ the captain retorted. He was a devout man, but he was not ready to let go of his dignity. ‘We could have run earlier, and we could have fought from a better position. You said no to both, and now…’

Estali’s hand slid down on her power armour onto the bolter at her side. The captain saw this and swallowed.

‘Kill me if you want, Sister,’ he said, ‘or let me live and listen to me just this once.’

The two of them exchanged dark looks. Finally, Estali took her hand off the weapon.

‘Speak,’ she fumed. The captain relaxed slightly.

‘If they don’t destroy us, it only means that they want to board us,’ he said. ‘We should watch out for incoming boarding torpedoes and reinforce all turret crews. You should also set up your Sisters in case some boarders do get through.’

Estali considered this option. The Captain had just admitted that he was not able to deal with the enemy on his own, but this also meant that she had a chance to affect this battle on her own terms. She had no experience with the Astartes before; she knew that they had similar equipment than her convent, and she also knew that they were genetically modified, but she had two advantages over them: numbers and her Sisters’ faith in the almighty Emperor. With Him on their side…

The captain saw that Estali suddenly went pale, and frowned.

‘Sister?’

Estali shook her head.

‘Nothing.’ She slowly collected herself. ‘I shall oversee the deployment of my convent. Send me a message as soon as they start sending their boarding party.’

She turned, unsheathed her power sword and went for the exit. The captain made the sign of the Aquila.

‘The Emperor prote…’

He stopped. He had heard the announcement of the Convent at Saint Menthas.

Estali stood for a while, with her back turned towards him, then she left the bridge without a word.





If the Blood of Martyrs had any intention of registering the oncoming Astartes boarders, she had failed spectacularly. While the ship was busy trying to outmanoeuvre the Astartes vessel, Malistrum sent two Caestus Assault Rams against the Sororitas Cruiser.

The two Caestus were not subtle spacecraft. Each of them was purely functional twin metal slabs welded together and fitted with shuttle engines. The double compartment was equipped with boarding ramps not unlike those at the front of Land Raider tanks, and that was it. Nothing else was remarkable on the shuttles: no indication as to what they were capable of, save for the fact that they were obviously designed for ramming an obstacle.

The metre-thich adamantium hull of a starship could hardly be called a mere obstacle, but then again, the Caestus-class was not a mere ram either. Invisible forcefields shielded her from the bone-crushing impact of her initial attack, while the magna-melta installed between the two compartment halves could theoretically vaporize whole cubic-metres of the most resilient plate in mere instants. The Caestus represented the peak of Imperial technology: she was fast and deadly even despite her lack of aesthetic values.

The one thing the two shuttles lacked was stealth ability. The energy signatures of the ship would have been clearly recognisable at long distance. The Astartes vessels usually solved this problem by launching multiple craft at the same time together with decoy satellites which would hopefully disrupt enemy scanning abilities. This time, however, there was no need for extra subtlety.

There was a reason why the Opportunity was travelling under and behind the Blood of Martyrs. This was a good position for bombardment, but this was also the position which the enemy could not scan appropriately, owing to the energy output of her own plasma engines. The two Caestus approached the cruiser within her own engine wash. Once they reached the top side of the ship, the two vessels parted: one attack craft aligned her speed and direction with that of the cruiser, while the other one continued her way towards the control tower along the hull plates.

Sergeant Andorias watched with impassive eyes behind his visor as his fellow Astartes disappeared behind a relatively small sensor tower. He was already in his designated target, but in order to synchronize their attacks, he had to wait for the others to go into position as well. While his men were tasked with taking the engine section, Hemethor’s squad was supposed to attack the control tower, although not the bridge itself. With only two squads, the cleansing of the ship was nearly impossible, especially because the enemy they were facing was unlikely to break even if their command elements had been destroyed.

However, their task was not to destroy the Sister contingent, at least not initially. Rather, they were charged with concentrating all enemy forces into carefully selected areas of the vessel where the Astartes could dig in and slowly bleed the enemy dry of warriors.

The equipment of the Space Marines reflected this strategy. Ten Astartes warriors clad in Terminator armour were fearsome foes, capable of destroying great swathes of regular infantry or even the power-armoured Sororitas soldiers. Their weapons were selected to maximize their potency in the confined spaces of an Imperial cruiser. Most of the brothers were equipped with the regular chainfist-storm bolter combination, while two of them were holding storm shields and assault cannons. This was not a Codex-approved configuration, but then again, the Chapter was not really Codex-approved anyway. Also, the Chapter artificers modified the original storm shields: as opposed to the rectangular shaped original form, someone had carved oval slits into their sides. A careful observer would have probably realized that the assault cannon could be inserted into the right-side slit, although why the other slit was made was not so obvious.

Andorias himself had chosen dual power-claws for this engagement. The claws usually required room to swing, but he was a capable close-combat fighter with them anyway: he was famous within Strike Force Four for his slow-moving but powerful thrusts and cuts with the blades. He had boarded several ships and even a space hulk on one occasion, and he had always returned from those missions victorious, bringing most of his men back to the Opportunity. He was confident that this engagement would be no different.

He and four of his men were standing in the left compartment of the Caestus, while his five remaining Marines occupied the other one. They were not the only occupants of the shuttle. The crew, as usual, was mortal, and even in addition to the pilots, both compartments had two extra passengers. These men were normal, unaugmented humans, and although they were all wearing closed vacuum-suits for the duration of the attack, they were so small compared to their Astartes masters that they looked more like children than adults.

There were different weapons arranged at their feet: the people were strapped to the wall too secure and tight to carry them on their backs. The two in the other compartment had a meltagun and a plasmagun, while the two on Andorias’s side were equipped with melta charges and a curiously long-necked flamer. They were also more than just weapon-carriers: they were veteran soldiers, and they had also been trained to do boarding missions in concert with the Space Marine Terminator squads.

Mortals and Astartes, working towards a safer Imperium.

Andorias checked the chronometer built into his helmet. According to the instrument, Squad 4.4 was supposed to reach its target within the next minute. He waved his men, and hit the panel above his mead three times as hard as he could. With the radio silence initiated, this was the most effective way of communicating with the crew in the cockpit.

The answer came soon after: judging by the sound, the pilots must have used a metal wrench to knock the signal of acknowledgement. Andorias nodded, and everybody in the shuttle braced himself.

The Caestus broke away from the hull, and made a wide circle to gain momentum. The sensors of the cruiser may have picked up their signals or not; it was irrelevant at this point as not even the ship’s point defence turrets would have been able to target them so close to the hull. The Assault Ram could do what her name indicated without any disturbance.

The Caestus ran into the hull at the designated point. The built-in magna-melta fired exactly in the right moment, vaporizing a huge chunk of the hull exactly the same moment as the Assault Ram reached it. If the weapon had been late by half a second, the shuttle would have crashed into the adamantium, and not even her resilient structure could have saved her from destruction. As it was, the Caestus could speed up and hit the weakened plate with exactly the right force to break through.

The crash was still murderous. The Terminators could survive it because of their armour and their enhanced bodies, but the serfs suffered badly, even in their safety harness. Special care was taken to protect their neck and most of their bones, but accidents still happened at this point, and humans were injured, maybe even killed during such a manoeuvre.

Always an inconvenience in Andorias’s mind as the survivors would have to leave a completely good weapon behind.

The crash took the Caestus into a dark chamber at the outermost part of the engine section. There were contingency plans to follow if the Assault Ram happened to miss an appropriate entry point, but they proved to be unnecessary this time. Andorias blacked out for a second, but he regained his senses quickly enough, and he cast a quick look at his two serfs.

‘Report,’ he barked.

The two serfs murmured weakly, and a similar answer came from the other compartment. It seemed that all passengers were in battle-worthy condition.

‘Squad 4.4 reported success,’ moaned one of the pilots. More good news for the Fatemakers.

The restraint harnesses retracted, and the Terminators stepped forward. The serfs had to be supported in the next few seconds, but this was also part of the drill: the Terminators grabbed them and their weapons, and they led them to the exit ramp. Andorias activated his power-claws.

‘For the Chapter,’ he said.





Sister Estali had already left the elevator at the command tower’s lower deck when the klaxons started to wail. She stopped between two steps, and activated her voxlink. She listened to the reports from the various sections of the ship, and ice-cold certainty started to fill her soul.

The Blood of Martyrs had been boarded. A ship of the Imperium, nay, a ship of the holy Ecclesiarchy had been attacked by enemy footsoldiers like a lowly merchant vessel which attracted the attention of some filthy pirates. Intolerable! Unimaginable! What was that idiot captain doing? Why had he not seen their approach? She felt that the fury and frustration which had been haunting her in the last two weeks was about to overcome her, and she quickly started a devotional prayer to calm herself down.

The prayer’s first line choke on her lips as she realized just whom she was trying to pray to. She cried desperately, and hit the wall with her power-armoured gauntlet.

Her vox cracked.

‘Sister Estali?’

The voice was faint, but audible. It was one of her lieutenants, no doubt waiting for instructions. Sister Estali stood immobile for a few heartbeats, then she straightened, and answered the call.

‘What are your instructions, Sister?’

‘Intercept all boarders.’ Estali’s voice was hollow and devoid of any emotion. ‘I am heading for the engine decks. Redirect the Honour Guard there and deny entry to the Enginarium.’

‘The enemy is Astartes, Sister,’ came the answer. Estali closed her eyes.

‘My orders are still the same,’ she answered.

‘Understood, Sister,’ crackled the vox. ‘We are moving towards the attackers. The Emperor pro…’

Estali deactivated her vox, and looked down the empty corridor.

‘Why?’ she whispered. There was no reply to her question.

‘You are not going to answer?’

A single tear came out of her eye.

‘No, I suppose you are not.’

Estali pulled out her power-sword, and headed down the corridor. Her steps became firmer as she was moving towards her enemies; presumably the last enemies she was going to face in this life.





The Terminator squad and its human assistants were moving along the corridors of the command tower’s mid-levels. Hemethor and his squad had similar equipment to the Space Marines under Andorias’s command, although Hemethor himself favoured the more traditional powerfist-storm bolter configuration.

He was not leading the attack now. The corridors were too narrow for even two Terminators to pass through next to each other, so they had to form a chain. The lead was taken by what Chapter tacticians referred to as the ‘tank’: a veteran Astartes with a storm shield and an assault cannon. The name was apt and not at all metaphorical. A Terminator-armour which was further strengthened by the shield was virtually impenetrable, or at least required an insane amount of firepower, while the rotating cannon was enough to kill most type of infantry the Fatemakers could meet on the ship – including Battle-Sisters.

Curiously enough, the next two people in the line were not Terminators, but two human serfs equipped with a long-necked flamer and a meltagun. While the tank was able to absorb damage, he often proved inadequate in returning fire, so additional weapons had to be introduced by people who were small-framed enough to stand next to a heavy armour-clad Space Marine. The serfs (damage providers or DPs in the jargon of the human contingent) were also protected by the storm shield from the worst excesses of the incoming fire, but they were in a position where they could multiple the damage potential of the squad. The tank-DPs combination had successfully destroyed powerful enemies in the past from huge infantry formations to savage ork bosses.

The human serf handling the meltagun also had an auspex to detect any suspicious motion ahead. He activated his vox when the team was only half-way down the corridor.

‘Movement ahead,’ he warned. ‘A dozen strong.’

‘Flamer,’ Hemethor said.

The corridor was intersected by a second corridor a little further down. Everything was silent, but the auspex did not lie: there must have been a small team waiting for an ambush there. The serf with the flamer stepped next to the Terminator, and inserted the neck of his weapon into the left-side slit of the storm-shield (only left-handed humans were trained for this type of warfare). The movement of the Terminator did not change.

The corridor suddenly erupted into a cacophony of screams and clatter as the defenders on the two sides of the intersection dashed forward from their cover and attacked. They were equipped with short-barreled shotguns and flechette blasters, which were deadly instruments against average humans, but mostly harmless against the Terminators. Their great numbers would have eventually caused the Space Marines to slow down, however, and their time was not infinite. The Terminator slowed down to half pace as the various projectiles hit his shield. The serf with the flamer was unhurt.

The assault cannon cycled and roared. The first five people were cut down instantly while the others reeled under the sudden counterattack. The return fire was already diminishing, but the auspex-wearing serf broke in again.

‘Further movement. Possible assault imminent.’

‘Flamer ready when ordered,’ Hemethor answered.

It was frustrating for the other nine Space Marines to stand and wait for their leading brother to fight alone. This was a necessity, however: the quad would fan out in time as they leave intersecting corridors and chambers behind. The attacks will only gain strength in time, which meant every Battle-Brother in the squad would have his share of the action soon enough. This one, however, belonged to the leading Brother.

The defenders must have felt that they had enough men for an open attack now. A whole throng of people moved out of cover and ran towards the Terminator. The assault cannon mowed them down as they came, but every body destroyed took a precious fraction of a second away from the Astartes, and the rest of the group got that much closer. The Fatemakers had learned from bitter experience never to underestimate the strength of the enemy in such a closed environment. Even a single melta-charge had the potential to destroy a veteran Battle-Brother, together with the armour he was wearing.

However, the enemy would have needed to get closer for such an action. The leading Terminator stopped.

‘Fire,’ he said.

The flamer spat burning promethium onto the attackers. The sound was deafening: the saturation of the weapon was bad enough, but it was not too loud to suppress the voice of the dying. The air was heavy with fumes and the smell of cooked flesh, although this did not affect the team, every member of which was wearing closed environment-suits.

‘Move at half-pace. Full sweep,’ the Terminator ordered again. He and the auspex-handler were the eyes and ears of the whole squad now. The team went over the first few burned bodies, and continued its way towards the command bridge. As they were leaving the intersection, the two Terminators behind the first one turned into it to act as guardians. They blocked entrance to the deployment section of Squad 4.4 just as effectively as any blast door or weapon team would have. In time, as the bulk of the team moved on, they would return to the main corridor and integrate back into the squad just to stand guard at another critical entry point later on. This was a well-choreographed, although slow process, but the result: maximal destructive potential for minimal losses – usually made up for it.

‘New contacts,’ the auspex-handler said. ‘Slower motion, small-level energy emission. Possible power armour.’

The Sisters had arrived.

‘Melta,’ Hemethor ordered. The flamer-handler obediently unhooked his weapon from the weapon-slit of the storm-shield and changed place with his peer. The tank-DPs formation was optimized again.

The enemy was not shouting this time: the power-armoured women ran towards the Astartes without a sound, possibly communicating with each other through their private voxlines. The assault cannon spat bullets at them.

This time the attackers did not go down instantly. The heavy armour provided their wearers a modicum of protection, enough for them to make several steps before falling to the fusillade. They got nearer much sooner than their human auxiliary, and they also returned fire with their bolters. For the first time during the combat, the Terminator actually had to grip his shield to hold it in place.

The leading Sister was almost within reach to attack the Astartes with her powersword. He gave the next order.

‘One o’clock. Fire.’

The serfs turned the melta gun inwards the corridor as much as he was able, and pulled the trigger. The Sister was blasted back into her attacking peers with most of her upper body disappeared. The rest of the enemy squad reached the shield.

The Terminator was pushed back a few inches as half a dozen power armoured bodies slammed into the shield. The Sisters were furiously hacking and slashing on it in the hope of finding an exploitable weak point.

‘Melta charges,’ the Astartes barked.

The charges were carried by a trooper three Terminator away – his load was deemed too dangerous to be put nearer the firefight. It did not matter: the next manoeuvre was also practiced to perfection.

The three Terminators spread their legs as much as they could in the narrow corridor. The melta charge-handler lied down on the floor, grabbed the ankle of the first Astartes, and pushed him forward to the second one. Using the second Space Marine’s legs as a handle, he pushed himself even further, and soon he was lying under the leading Terminator, just behind the protection of the storm shield; his two human peers stepped out of his way. His movement seemed ridiculous, and certainly not Codex-approved, but the Fatemakers did not care much about dignity when it came to effectiveness, and this formation allowed the Chapter’s Terminator squads to bring twice as much firepower to the front while still being able to fight in the narrow starship interiors. Every other consideration was secondary.

‘Ready!’ the charge-handler shouted into the vox. He had two primed melta-pieces in his hands to unleash them at a moment’s notice.

‘Now,’ the Terminator answered. He raised the shield high enough for the handler to see through. He had roughly two seconds to assess the situation, activate the bombs and hurl them forward through the legs of the attacking Sisters, but he was trained well. The charges landed in the middle of the Sororitas squad.

‘Done!’ he shouted. The shield fell back in place, and he had just enough time to cover his face with his arms when the charges exploded.

The voice of the explosion was not great, but the heat and the sudden brightness certainly was. The Terminator’s visor blacked out for a second to protect the retina of its wearer. When it cleared, the leading Astartes saw that the heat blast, which was designed to burn through starship corridors and battle tanks, melted the whole Sororitas squad onto the two opposite walls and onto his shield.

‘All clear,’ he reported.

‘Acknowledged,’ Hemethor answered. ‘Any further movement?’

The auspex-handler shook his head while his team-mate helped the charge-handler to his feet.

‘No, Brother-Sergeant.’

Hemethor nodded.

‘Carry on,’ he ordered. By his estimate, his team had at least half a dozen similar intersections to cleanse before the bridge.





The Terminator squad led by Sergeant Andorias was, curiously enough, in a better and a worse fighting position than Sergeant Hemethor at the same time.

Squad 4.3 was standing in a medium-sized chamber which lead to one of the main reactors. They had had enough time to kill all engineers in the reactor if they wanted to, but they did not move on; they simply set up a defensive position in the chamber and let the enemy crew send distress signals to their Battle Sister defenders. The engineers also welded the blast door leading to the inner chamber shut; they would have been surprised to find that the Space Marines did the same thing on their side.

This business was between the Astartes and the Sororitas.

Then the attack came, and the Terminators had their work cut out for them soon enough. The chamber had its main entrance on the second floor’s level: a small balcony with two pairs of stairs leading down from it to the ground floor along the walls. The entrance was small enough for one Terminator to block it, but this would have meant that only one Astartes would have been able to fight, and the others would not have been able to contribute. In an attrition war, with only one Terminator fighting, the enemy’s superior number would have ensured the eventual death of one, perhaps several Battle-Brothers, which was unacceptable to Andorias. For this reason, his men were standing at the bottom of the stairs and along the chamber’s wall, all of them in a perfect position to saturate the entry point with rapid bolt fire.

The chamber and the stairs were full of dead Battle Sisters. They were more nimble and much smaller-framed than the Space Marines, but even so, no more than two of them could pass the entrance at the same time. The ten Space Marines had little difficulty gunning them down as they tried to storm their position.

The squad had its losses. Two of the serfs were killed by Sororitas bolt fire; even though they were hiding behind the storm shields of their Astartes masters, their weaker armour meant that a lucky shot could end their lives immediately. A Battle-Brother – Dragosh, a relatively new member of the squad who had been transferred from the veteran scout squadron after the death of Fenton on Novgarrod – was wounded on his knee-joint, and required medical attention soon if he wanted to keep his leg. Andorias had already complained about the Chapter’s policy of training multi-task squads. Dragosh’s speciality was sniping, and he was not used to the cumbersome armour of the Terminator squads. This was probably the reason why he was wounded in the first place – although Andorias had to admit that the multiple-role training policy usually ensured that the strike force remained battle-ready even after suffering heavy losses.

That was all the time the Sergeant had for his own thoughts. The Sisters who were attacking their position did not maintain vox silence at all, and their battle-cries clearly indicated another attack wave. The Sergeant, who was standing right under the entrance, stretched out his power claws.

‘Prepare to fire,’ he ordered.

The shouts were coming closer. There were much more voices now than earlier, which meant this push will be stronger than the others. Perhaps they would even break into the chamber this time? He certainly hoped so. He had so far managed to cut down two of them: the two lucky ones who could fight their way through the barrage of his brothers and actually managed to reach the bottom of the stairs. Andorias was normally passive and emotionless, but this time, disturbingly enough, he felt the need to kill.

There was a strange empty void in his soul which perhaps the hot, burning rage of battle could have filled.

He pushed his back against the wall and waited. He had seen Battle Sisters in action before, and he found it strange that the Sororitas warriors did not chant their usual pious lines this time. Instead, all he could hear from them was a wordless, raging shriek.

The wordless shriek and its source erupted into the chamber. A black-armoured shape appeared in the entrance, and the Terminators opened fire. This time, however, the shots failed to kill. This Sister was protected by a rozarius, a holy icon which also functioned as a small, portable energy shield. The shield flashed blue as it absorbed the impact of the projectiles, and the figure jumped.

It was a magnificent sight. The Sister stepped on the handrail and propelled herself up in the air. The storm bolters of squad 4.3 followed her, but they were not fast enough. The Sister – obviously a ranking officer in the convent, one of the heroines of the Church – jumped through the chamber, and zeroed on one of the storm-shield bearers. The one drawback of the Terminator armour showed itself immediately. The Battle-Brother, with all his experience, failed to raise his assault cannon into the right angle in time.

The serf who was standing behind the shield was fast enough to fire his melta-gun: the blast blew out the force field and filled the air between the combatants with hot vapour. The Sister could finish her jump under the cover of the haze.

Incredibly, she somehow landed on the top edge of the storm shield. She was holding her power sword in both hands now, striking down with the added momentum of her long jump. The sword plunged behind the shield, and it penetrated the Terminator armour in one of its weak spots at the meeting joint between the helmet and the collar.

The dead Battle-Brother slowly fell on his back, but the Sister did not wait for him to land. She jumped off, cut down the serf with the melta gun, and attacked the nearest Astartes.

Other dark shapes appeared on the small balcony. These Sisters did not use the stairs to run down. They jumped after their leader, although not in the same impressive way. They were also firing their bolters, and two of the Astartes were pushed back by the force of their exploding projectiles. The elite of the enemy force had finally arrived.

Andorias sent a quick message back to the Opportunity; he could only hope that his ship could receive his signal through the hull of the enemy vessel. He had no time to ponder over it, though. The first two Sisters who landed at the feet of the stairs were standing with their backs to him; He cut forward with his claws, and managed to impale their power-packs. He stepped forward and swept his hands backwards, smashing the two Sisters back against the wall. He felt that the claws cut flesh, not just metal, and the impact must have shocked them into unconsciousness. Even if they had been alive, they would have become entombed within own powered down armours anyway.

This was hardly enough for the Sergeant. As the Sisters poured into the chamber and the melee started in earnest, he dived in to slake his sudden battle-lust. The fight began in earnest.

Andorias let out a battle-cry of his own, and scythed forward with his claws. He wounded a Sister and cut off the head of a helmetless one as he was moving towards the Sororitas heroine. His squad-members engaged the other Sisters, and although the ferocity of the women’s attack pushed them back initially, they were soon able to exploit the extra weight and destructive force of their heavy armour. Storm bolter against bolter; combat knives and power swords against powerfist; superhuman strength against mortal physiology. The battle was unequal in any possible respect.

The remaining Terminator with assault cannon was pouring fire into the entrance and the left stairs, effectively blocking any attack from there. Some Sisters tried to enter into close combat with him, but two regular Battle-Brothers stood in the way, cutting down anyone who came near enough. On the right side, the remaining serf shot a plasma-beam into the other stairs, bisecting two of the attackers on his side before a bolt round blew off the top of his skull. Four Terminators managed to form a loose semi-circle which prevented the Sisters from joining the veterans attacking in the middle.

Andorias and Dragosh were the only men remaining in the centre. The already wounded Terminator was hard-pressed to fend off his attackers, especially the leader who had already managed to cut the cables which fed energy into his power-fist. Andorias was cutting his way through the Sororitas warriors. He killed the two nearest of them, but two more stepped away from him, and shot bolt rounds into his armour at close range. The armour held, but he was pushed back, and this gave the Sororitas leader time to force Dragosh on one knee.

Andorias grunted, and leaned into the incoming fire. Warning signs appeared on his retina, indicating the damage which his armour and his body received, but he blocked it all out. He slashed forward with his claw, and cut one of the bolters in two. The Sister shouted, and stepped back, reaching for a combat knife on her belt.

The other Sister blew out one of the lenses on the Sergeant’s helmet. The Astartes bawled as a piece of armourcrys poked into his eye. His modified analytical mind felt this, and made a mental note that he would never see with that eye again. He did not really care. It only took a few micro-seconds for his brain to turn the pain into rage, and his system boosted his adrenaline level into the sky. He darted forward, and punched the Sister in the throat. Hot, red mist sizzled as he retracted the claws, and stabbed the knife-wielding Sister in the chest with both hands.

His mind registered the Sororitas leader as she cut into Dragosh’s arm, slicing almost two-thirds deep into it.

Dragosh fell, and Andorias howled. He raised the screaming Sister, who was still impaled on his claws, above his head, then he threw her into her leader’s back. The two Sisters fell on the floor in a heap, giving Dragosh time to limp away from them.

The Sororitas leader pushed the dead Sister off her, and jumped onto her feet. It was just an impressive move as her entrance: one second, she was lying on her back, the other, she was up and ready to fight. Andorias could not care less. He started the fight with two quick thrusts, which the Sister deflected nimbly. The two opponents started to circle around each other.

Andorias had his Astartes conditioning battle instincts, and they told him that his squad was winning. None of the other brothers died, and the momentum of the attack thrust was spent from the enemy. Still, the Sisters were fighting furiously, and without any regard to their safety. The death of every Battle-Sister meant another Sister was able to jump in and wound a Terminator. Even if the Astartes won in the end, further price would be paid eventually.

Unacceptable.

The Sergeant slashed with his claws again, and the Sister defended herself expertly. In return, she stepped inside the Space Marine’s reach, and she tried to strike under the helmet, just as she did when she killed her first Astartes. Andorias turned his body slightly, and the thrust scraped over the chestplate, scratching it but otherwise failing to do any damage. The Sergeant knew how to use his armour. He pushed the Sororitas away with his own bodyweight, trying to catch her with one of his claws as she fell back. This time, however, it was the Sister who turned her arm out, and the claw missed her by a hair’s breadth.

This was an impasse, and Andorias fumed. Any moment now, one of his men would be cut down, and the way things were, the Chapter could not afford to lose even a single Battle-Brother. Worse still, his vision started to hinder him seriously. The loss of his eye was bad enough, but it seemed that the visor in his helmet was in an even worse shape. Horizontal lines started to run through the display screen in front of his eye, and he was afraid that his instruments would fail entirely, leaving him completely blind. There was no way he could afford to reach up and remove his helmet, which meant this fight had to end even quicker than he anticipated.

‘Cobalt Attack,’ a voice moaned on his right.

The Sergeant’s one good eye narrowed. He stepped to the left and attacked. The Sister raised her sword, but at the same moment, a bolt round slammed into her armour, forcing her away from Andorias.

Dragosh was sitting in a pool of his own blood. His left leg was useless, and his left arm was almost sliced off; he would probably lose both limbs, but his right arm, with the built-in storm bolter, was still intact. As the two officers fought, he switched to single shots, and now he was pumping rounds into the enemy leader.

This was Cobalt Attack. Rarely practiced, rarely used. Shooting into a melee was an almost guaranteed recipe for disaster; the encumbered Terminators with their heavy weapon loads did not see any point in trying something idiotic as that. To do that, the melee-fighter had to have absolute trust in his partner, and the shooter had to be above the average Astartes standard.

Like somebody who had been a sniper specialist for longer than a Codex-regulated scout was supposed to be.

Andorias attacked. The Sister was still reeling from the previous shot, and she could barely avoid the twin claws of the Sergeant. She stepped back again, allowing Dragosh to let off another shot, which threw her further back. She swung her sword in a diagonal arc, but it got stuck in one of the power claws. Andorias punched into her side with his other arm, seriously wounding her. She yelled, and tried to push the massive Terminator away from her. She failed, although she actually managed to push herself off the claw. She was almost at the back of the chamber now, with seriously reduced possibilities for manoeuvring.

The third shot hit her on the ankle and blew off her feet.

The Sororitas leader screamed, and began to topple. She never had the chance to fall, though; Andorias stepped forward, and neatly pinned her on the back wall by the chest.

‘ESTALI!’

The scream came from every single Sororitas throat in the chamber. The Terminators cut down half a dozen Battle-Sisters as they were shocked into inaction at the sight of their leader’s defeat. Andorias pulled his power claws back from the Sister, and barked a quick order.

The Terminators pulled back and completed the circle in the middle of the chamber. The remaining Sisters were grouping around the stairs. They made no move to attack again. They stood, motionless, staring at the limp form of their heroine.

She was still alive. Andorias stepped aside, and looked as she started to fumble with her helmet. The Astartes Sergeant did not stop her. As the battle-rage was leaving him, his decade-long instincts told him that this fight was over.

The helmet came off, and the pale face of the Sororitas became visible. She was dying, and as she looked at her Battle-Sisters on the other side of the chamber, his features showed great physical and spiritual pain at the same time.

‘It is over, Sisters,’ she panted. Her voice was weak, but it was carried effortlessly in the deadly silence of the room. ‘He has left us… the Church is weak… we failed too.’ She was weakening quickly now. ‘We will never reach Ophelia… and even if we do… there is nothing we can do. It is all over…’

She stopped, and her head bobbed on one side. The silence got heavier.

One of the sisters took of her helmet, too. If possible, she was even paler than her commander. She raised her weapon – earning half a dozen storm bolters zeroing on her in an instant – but she had no intention to attack. Instead, she aimed the gun at her skull.

‘We leave this world to you, Astartes,’ she spat towards Andorias. ‘Make of it what you will.’

The Sergeant had no time to react. The Sister pulled the trigger, and blew her own brain out with a single shot.

Nobody moved for a few seconds. Then, as if they had received an order, the other Sisters raised their weapons to their heads.

Andorias raised his hand, and made a step forward.

The crackle of a dozen bolters filled the air.

Then, silence. A single bolter was clanking down the stairs until it reached the bottom.

Andorias groaned as he pulled off his helmet. A single armourcrys shard was protruding from his eye, and that half of his face was covered in blood. He and his men looked around, somewhat clueless as to how to proceed.

‘Do you think they meant…’ asked one of the Terminators.

‘Meant what?’ Andorias asked back.

‘That the Emperor…’

The Sergeant looked him with his bloody face.

‘Yes?’ he asked calmly. The other cast his head down.

‘They broke because their leader was dead,’ the Sergeant declared. ‘She was the only one who has kept them in check so far.’ He looked back at the Sororitas leader. ‘I wonder if the other Sisters aboard the ship…’

He did not finish his sentence. Instead, he went to the corpse, leaned forward, and reached down with his power claws.

‘Don’t!’ hissed a voice.

Dragosh.

‘You cannot do that,’ he said. He was in serious pain, but he seemed determined enough. Andorias looked him coldly.

‘I cannot do what?’

‘She is not a simple trophy!’ the other said.

‘If the other Sisters find out that she is dead, they may break just as easily.’ He was explaining this as calmly as if he was talking to a child. ‘Why should we suffer more when victory could be quicker?’

‘You cannot do that!’ Dragosh was clearly unnerved now. He raised his one good arm as Andorias reached down again. Was he trying to aim at the Sergeant with his storm bolter? ‘You cannot cut off her…’

He stopped as Andorias deactivated his power claw’s energy field, and hooked the weapon into the Sister’s helmet. He lifted it on the top of his claw and showed the distinctive heraldic markings to Dragosh.

‘Scout squadron, right?’ he asked. The other had nothing to say. Andorias threw the helmet to one of his Terminators, who caught it neatly with his power-fist. ‘I am not as ruthless as Essen says,’ he added.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 17 up)

Postby Midgard » Fri May 18, 2012 12:21 am

Loved the scene with the Sororitas after their defeat. Still great writing!
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 17 up)

Postby Gaius Marius » Sat May 19, 2012 5:14 am

Very nice, however Andorias' battle lust is worrying.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 17 up)

Postby Meaneye » Sat May 19, 2012 9:15 pm

Thanks, guys :D

As for the battle lust: well, the Space Marines are almost a separate species designed mentally and physically for war, and only for war. We used to have one such race... and look what happened to those green dudes as soon as the leading intellect behind them disappeared... :twisted:
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 17 up)

Postby Meaneye » Mon May 28, 2012 12:27 am

Last update for a while. I am literally flooded with work, so I will not update until around the 15th of June. After that, it's vacation time for me, so I will have ample time to continue.


See you in about three weeks' time ;)

The Blood of Martyrs was under serious siege, and the captain knew it.

This was not supposed to be so. There were more than 150 Battle Sisters on the ship, with decent combat experience, and they also had the advantage of home ground. This was not the way things were supposed to work. For the throne, There were only two squads of Astartes warriors! Granted, they were all wearing advanced Terminator armour according to the early briefings, but still… the number of the Sisters should have been a telling factor in this engagement.

The captain glanced sideways to look at the Sororitas bodyguards still present on the command bridge. They were clearly as nervous as he was. Communication with the main force under Sister Estali’s command indicated that they had actually managed to bottle in one of the attacking squad just outside the Enginarium section. The Sisters on the bridge were now listening to their private voxlines, and their tense faces told the captain that there was a furious battle waged there. Who would emerge victorious, only time would tell.

The captain chided himself for that last thought. Obviously, it could only be Estali. Surely the heroine of the Convent, a favoured one of the Empire would win a battle against ten mere Astartes. Superhuman or not, there were too few of them. Even with the recent turmoil with Him on Earth…

‘The Opportunity is approaching us fast!’

The report of one of his subordinates yanked the captain away from his thoughts. He dashed to the observation board, and cast a quick look at the instruments. The Sisters raised their heads from their own voxlines, and started to listen.

The Opportunity was indeed approaching. She was rising now, but she was still somewhat behind the Blood of Martyrs. The manoeuvre made absolutely no sense to the captain. The enemy could have decided to ram, but the approach angle was not optimal, and she was certainly not accelerating enough. Nevertheless, she was only a few kilometres away from the Sororitas ship.

‘Evasive manoeuvre,’ the captain ordered. A few tense seconds passed as his ship was turning starboard in an attempt to put some distance between the two cruisers.

‘She is copying our movement,’ the crewman reported. One of the Sisters made a step towards the captain.

‘What are they trying to do?’ she asked nervously.

The captain shook his head.

‘I don’t know,’ he admitted. ‘They could launch a full broadside boarding craft attack, but the alignment is not right’. He snapped at his crew. ‘Evade as much as you can!’

‘She is directly under us!’ cried one of them back.

‘Rise away from her!’ the Captain yelled.

‘We can’t!’ Now everyone was nervous on the bridge. ‘Distance is eight hundred metres!’

‘Vandire’s blood!’ the captain swore. ‘The idiots will crash into our…’

‘Four hundred metres!’

The Blood of Martyrs shook. There was a strange sizzling sound all over the bridge. The crew and the Sisters looked up and around to find the source, but the captain had more experience than that.

‘The shields are overlapping!’ he cried. ‘Lower our shields!’

‘Are you mad?’ yelled one of the Sisters. ‘We will be vulnerable to their cannons!’

‘We already are!’ the captain cried back. ‘Their shield contacted ours! They are inside the energy field already! Both of the shields will collapse in a few seconds, and they will fuse out half our systems anyway!’ He span back towards his crew. ‘LOWER THE DAMN SHIELDS!’

And so they did. The sizzling sound disappeared instantly. The captain did not even have time to exhale when something struck him on his chest.

The feeling was unlike anything he had ever experienced. It was as if the air had been torn from his lungs. He knew what it felt like to stand in a suddenly de-pressurized chamber, but that feeling was not accompanied by a sudden vertigo in his body and a soft, almost infrasonic popping sound in his ears.

He only had time to turn back towards the centre of the bridge. He did not see them materialize: he only saw the ten tall figures in rock-crete grey carapace armour and the bolters in their hands.

He might have had something to say to them, but they shot him immediately.





Scout-Sergeant Essen had two bolt pistols in his hands. They barked almost simultaneously, blowing out the brain of the captain and burrowing three bloody carters in the chestplate of one of the Sororitas warriors.

There was no defence against this attack. His scouts were already standing in a circle, weapons raised, when the Teleportarium chamber on the Opportunity translocated them onto the enemy vessel’s bridge. This attack form was one of the typical Astartes tactics, which the Fatemakers now managed to use to its full efficiency. Teleportation had become much safer in the last few centuries, thanks to no small degree to the heroic efforts of Magos Sennesdiar of the Adeptus Mechanicus, who had, at the dusk of the 41st millennium, recovered an advanced and fully functional teleport enhancement STC from the bloody ruins of ork-held Golgotha. The new technology had not been spreading very fast in the Imperium, but when the Fatemakers first heard about it, it went without saying that they would acquire it on their ships. There was still a margin of error in the teleportation process, occurring mainly when the target was protected by interfering energy fields, but that problem was solved when the Opportunity successfully forced the enemy to lower her shields. Now that the main Sororitas forces were occupied or neutralized by the two Terminator squads, the rest of the Chapter could go in and take control over the ship at their leisure.

The noise was deafening on the bridge. The crew hurled themselves to the floor, but they were not the target anyway. The Fatemaker scouts were only gunning for the Sisters: the only warriors on the ship who had the training to actually hurt them. The engagement could not have lasted more than a few seconds, and the sound of gunfire was replaced by silence.

The crewmen slowly rose from the ground. The Astartes scouts were still standing in the same firing position they arrived, their guns now aimed at the remaining humans. All Sisters were dead; none of them had the chance to even fire her gun.

Essen’s bolt pistols swept around the chamber. There was no visible enemy.

‘Because I am this good, Andorias,’ he murmured. He turned his attention to the crew.

‘I don’t know how faithful you are to the Sisters,’ he said. ‘So now you can decide: you can surrender, or you can join them.’

The crew looked around at the limp form of the Battle-Sisters, and looked back at the carapace-wearing giants aiming at their heads. The decision was not particularly difficult.





Approaching high orbit above Saint Menthas

Fifteen days after the Emperor’s death


The orbit was a mess, even four days after the battle.

Perhaps battle is too strong a word, Captain Malistrum mused as he looked out of the viewport of the Opportunity’s bridge. Indeed, to his expert eyes, the ruins of the once mighty Menthas Battlefleet told him that there had been no serious engagement after the Battle Sisters’ attack.

All ships were destroyed on anchor. The Bishop had made a grave tactical error when he decided to try and contain the Sororitas insurrection within the planetary capital. According to captain Savirez, the bulk of the Battle-Sisters had broken out of the capital into the spaceport, while smaller teams commandeered two of the cruisers and some of the escorts from the fleet – in retrospect, they deliberately took those ships whose captains were pious enough to cooperate with the Sororitas convent. The Bishop did not warn the fleet in time, and although the ships undoubtedly detected the fighting on the planet and the shuttles carrying the Battle-Sisters, their attack against the rest of the fleet still came as a total surprise. After the Sisters had destroyed the other vessels, they issued a general statement on all available channels and voxlines so that everyone on the surface would hear it.

Malistrum had already listened to the message; captain Savirez was kind enough to send a copy of it to the Opportunity. It was about two minutes long, and its content was as shocking as it was familiar to Strike Force Four.

The Emperor is dead. He has left us, and he protects no more. You are not worthy of Him any more, and you no longer bask in the light of His face. You are worse than heretics; you are weak. Unworthy. You do not have the right to stand with the few remaining faithful in the last days, and so you do not deserve to live either. Consider this punishment as a precursor of the greater fire that awaits you.

The message was longer than that, but this was the part with the most questions around it. Malistrum had no idea how the Battle-Sisters could find out about the death of the Emperor, but it certainly seemed that the great secret was out. This seriously affected Strike Force Four’s own standing in the matter. They were no longer the messengers and the possible scapegoats in this catastrophe; merely, they were now one faction among the many, trying to make sense of the chaos which was waiting for Mankind.

One thing was sure. The behaviour of the Sisters left no room for any further doubt. The Emperor was truly dead, and His absence had already been felt by the Imperium. Still, with the Convent’s irrational behaviour, it seemed that although the Fatemakers had come to Saint Menthas for answers, they only managed to find more disturbing questions instead.

And new challenges too. Malistrum was not optimistic about the basic nature of the Imperium, but even he was surprised to find just how quickly things had managed to deteriorate after His death. Naturally, things must have been tense between the Canoness and the Bishop. Subtle differences in the interpretation of the holy texts; disputes about the dominance and the authority of the various Ecclesiarchical organizations; mixing politics and religion for temporary gains of influence. It was the good old game, which was barely noticed by the wider population until one cataclysmic event swept away the tiny layer of civilization, to reveal everyone’s true nature.

The result was evident around the planetary orbit. It would take years to clean it free of all the wrecks. Malistrum wondered how the brief insurrection had affected the Bishop and his followers.

The Fatemakers had not thought of visiting him personally, but it seemed that it was now unavoidable. By Fatemaker standards, the current situation was a military crisis, and standard procedures dictated that the local authorities must be contacted as soon as possible. Of course, the crisis was over: although the last two escorts had escaped beyond the system borders, the two cruisers had been recaptured. Still, even the socially clumsy Space Marines knew that a simple written report would not be sufficient in this case.

No, the Fatemakers had to meet the Ecclesiarcical leader now; although the encounter would have to run by Malistrum’s terms.

The Captain nodded to his two immediate subordinates.

‘You know what to do,’ he said.

They nodded back, and left without saying a word. Malistrum watched them as they went off the bridge. Chaplain and Librarian: so different in their applied methods, yet so similar in their quest to guard the strike force from non-physical dangers.

The Captain was relieved that the two of them had managed to maintain a good working relationship. What Uskovich had done to Librarian Akichi was unavoidable, which even the Librarian had admitted later, but this did not necessarily mean that he had also forgiven the Chaplain. Malistrum was told that the kind of mental and physical ordeal the Librarian had gone through was the equivalent of the worst kind of torture which a human being could feel, yet two weeks later, there was no sign that he had suffered any lasting trauma.

Akichi had got the chance to retaliate during the cleansing ritual which he applied upon the Chaplain and the rest of Squad Gorski after his own test had acquitted him of the charge of demonic possession. The rules concerning the containment level were stern but simple: nobody left until they were verified. Akichi was free of demonic taint, which enabled him to scan the minds and bodies of his battle-brothers in turn. The scanning was painful, although not to the same degree as his own scanning. He had the chance to make it more painful for the Chaplain as a little payback; however, Uskovich, who had gone through similar scans in the past, reported that the Librarian’s probe was not more unpleasant than necessary.

Malistrum was pleased. Open enmity between members of the officer cadre was intolerable in the present situation. The rivalry of Essen and Andorias was bad enough.

‘Open a channel to the Pandora,’ Malistrum ordered. It was time to make the next move.

‘This is Savirez,’ the other captain answered in a few seconds.

‘We are approaching high orbit. The wreckage is going to be problematic, though. I recommend that we do not lower into the debris field.’

‘Agreed, Brother-Captain,’ came the answer. ‘I will keep the Faith’s Reward on tow. Could your men direct the Blood of Martyrs away from the pilgrim clusters?’

‘Certainly.’

The fleet of Saint Menthas was decimated, but the space around the planet was far from deserted. A shrineworld like this always received a heavy income of pilgrim vessels, not to mention the schools of merchant ships which kept the world’s bloated population fed and provided for. Now that the orbit was clogged with the remains of the Navy warships, they were all circling the planet at a distance, forming huge concentrations of spacecraft huddled together, perhaps in some instinctive response to the events which had transpired. It seemed to be one of the old rules of Mankind, even older than civilization itself: when in danger, hide within the herd, push yourself against the others. Even fear was manageable when you fear in a group.

The augur displays of the Opportunity were full of overlapping contacts. It was difficult to say where one ship ended and the other started. The space above high orbit looked like a refugee camp: groups of vessels camping together and communication lines full of fearful messages and demands for answers dominated everything. There was an atmosphere of desperation and fear which Malistrum had not experienced before – not even in the chaos of the Neo-Devourer Wars.

‘I will need an additional favour of you, captain,’ Malistrum continued. What he was about to ask was not suspicious or extraordinary, but verbal exchange was not his strong point, and so he struggled not to show anything of the Fatemakers’ true intentions.

‘Go ahead, Brother-Captain.’

‘I wish to request an audience with Paulino CXII,’ the Space Marine Captain started. The audience was inevitable anyway; it was better if the Fatemakers went ahead and suggest it themselves. ‘I do not know the right channels and protocols, so I would like you to make this request for me.’

‘I would be honoured to help you, Brother-Captain.’

‘One more thing,’ Malistrum said. He knew that he should have sounded ‘casual’ now, but this was not a concept he fully understood, so he just said it out loud. ‘There is a chapel in the capital dedicated to one of our ancestor Chapter. With the Bishop’s permission, we would like to pay homage to our respected ancestors.’

‘I will relay your request to his Holiness,’ Savirez said. The captain was obviously relieved and grateful now that his mission was at least a partial success. ‘Anything else you would like?’

‘Not at the moment. Thank you for your cooperation.’ Malistrum hesitated for a moment, then chided himself, and hoped that his fellow captain would not recognise this. ‘The Emperor protects.’

The Captain’s voice sounded especially relieved now.

‘The Emperor protects, Brother-Captain. Savirez out.’

Malistrum nodded to his communications officer.

‘Transmit the message to the planet.’

The Opportunity detached herself from the small flotilla. The Pandora continued to tow the wreck which was the Faith’s Reward. The ship had been boarded by the Pandora’s crewmen shortly after she had lost the engagement with the Fatemakers, and most of the mutinous crew had been killed. The Blood of Martyrs was in better condition: the officers were mostly dead, but the crew had wisely surrendered to the Space Marines, three squads of whom were still supervising key positions of the ship. The three Menthas cruisers went on to find a place among the various pilgrim vessels, while the Opportunity was approaching high orbit. As soon as she had got there, the cruiser transmitted a verse from the Collections of Sebastian Thor. The message was not directed to any channel in general; merely, it was a wide-frequency prayer with no obvious receiver. It was an old-fashioned custom which was exercised by few captains in this new and enlightened age, but which used to have great significance in millennia past: a greeting prayer before entering the orbit of a shrineworld would grant good luck to a captain who was about to embark on a dangerous mission.

This was one of those outdated gestures which could be expected from a tradition-bound Astartes Chapter. Not even in the present paranoid state would any observer suspect that the message had any other purpose than the prayer itself. As such, they would probably not bother to find out whether the message had any code sequences hidden among the various intonations of Sebastian’s Verse XCVII.

‘Message sent, Brother-Captain,’ the serf reported.

‘Good.’ Malistrum sat down. He was waiting for two answers simultaneously: one from the Bishop, and the other… well, from whoever was down on the planet with the answers he was looking for. It was an interesting, although unnerving thought that although the Opportunity was around one of the most elevated of all Imperial worlds, and the Space Marines were about to meet two powerful Imperial organizations who were indebted to them to no small degree, the Fatemakers had to hide their true intentions from both of them. Until the events which led to the death of the Emperor were sorted out, Strike Force Four would share information with no one but its own Chapter.

There was a strange noise on the bridge. Malistrum looked down and stared at his hand. His finger, which had been tapping on the arm of the command throne, froze.

The Captain had no time to react as the communications serf turned back in his chair and addressed him.

‘We are receiving an answer from the planet, Brother-Captain. It is coded.’

‘Apply Severus decoding routine,’ the Captain ordered.

‘Yes, Brother-Captain.’ The serf continued after a few seconds. ‘This message gives us local time coordinates set approximately two hours from now.’

‘Nothing else?’ the Captain asked. The serf shook his head.

‘Ask Sergeant Essen to the bridge.’

‘Yes, Brother-Captain.’ The serf listened to his headset. ‘Captain Savirez is calling us.’

‘Put him through.’

‘Brother-Captain,’ the voice of captain Savirez filled the bridge, ‘his Holiness is granting us an audience at your earliest convenience.’

‘Weare leaving momentarily,’ Malistrum answered. ‘Thank you, Captain. Malistrum out.’

The Fatemaker Captain activated his own vox.

‘Uskovich, Akichi. We are all leaving.’

The Captain turned his head towards the entrance, which opened to let Sergeant Essen in.

The Sergeant showed the sign of the Aquila.

‘Brother-Captain?’

‘I am giving overall command to you, Sergeant,’ Malistrum said. ‘All ranking officers have to go down, and I need an Astartes in control. We are to return in maximum four hours, or else give you new orders. Should any of us not make it, you are to leave and link up with the reserve fleet. Do not, I repeat, do not try to rescue us.’

Essen seemed surprised.

‘Are you expecting trouble, Brother-Captain?’

‘Always,’ Malistrum answered.

Essen did not move for a second.

‘Andorias would make a better surrogate,’ he finally said.

Now it was the Captain who was surprised.

‘I did not expect this from you.’

Essen shrugged. ‘He has more experience in space warfare and troop tactics than me. In the present situation, he would be a better choice.’

Malistrum nodded.

‘He would if he were not sitting at the Apothecary with his eye being replaced by bionics. You are the most experienced commander available.’

Essen sighed.

‘As you wish, Brother-Captain.’ He made a slight cough. ‘If you expect trouble, perhaps you could have a squad of Terminators accompany you?’

The Captain shook his head.

‘I am not afraid of physical danger.’ He turned towards the door. ‘What we will find out down there may destroy us with mere words.’





The woman turned off the screen. She turned away from the console, and faced the other person, absent-mindedly stroking her cheek with her finger.

‘So,’ she started. The stylized ‘I’-symbol on her ring glinted as it caught the light coming from the luminator on the ceiling. ‘Strike Force Four of the Fatemaker Chapter is coming to meet us.’ She made a cheeky smile. ‘What do you think, honey?’

The other did not answer immediately. He was towering over the woman as it was expected of an eight-foot tall man. He shrugged, making his enormous, rock-crete grey shoulder-guards moving up and down.

‘Life is full of surprises,’ he answered.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 18 up)

Postby Gaius Marius » Mon May 28, 2012 4:05 am

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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 18 up)

Postby Midgard » Tue May 29, 2012 3:36 pm

Very nicely done. I am really looking forward to the return of this story!

The beginning of the chapter felt a little Codex-like (i.e. lots of information), but I think it works in the context of the overall story. I like it very much!
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 19 up)

Postby Meaneye » Thu Jun 14, 2012 4:15 pm

Heavy duty time is almost over for me, so I have managed to make another update.

Enjoy.

Part 19

One and a half hours later Chaplain Uskovich and his squad were on the planet’s surface.

It was not easy to navigate in the capital. The Chaplain knew exactly where the chapel was, but actually getting there was problematic. The shuttle had put them down at the nearest available port – a Church-owned mansion with a rock-crete park designed especially for that purpose – but the streets and squares were virtually clogged with people. Even though most of them gave way to the Astartes squad, they still had to slow down. The Chaplain was first annoyed by the throng of mortals around him, but then he looked into some of the faces, and his annoyance soon gave way to genuine worry.

The people of Saint Menthas were afraid. No, this was more than mere fear. It was more of a mixture of desperation and complete hopelessness which left physical mark on every single being the Chaplain passed by. He was surrounded by pale, wide-eyed, pleading faces; like trapped animals, the people were wandering aimlessly, without a clue how to proceed.

The Chaplain had seen broken and defeated armies before. He had also seen fearful civilians huddled together in a corner. He had seen starved, parched wretches on the verge of death. He knew what kind of faces they usually made; however, he had never seen all three expressions on the same face on otherwise well-fed, unharmed human beings.

The Chaplain had had some suspicions for a while, and what he saw now only confirmed his fears. The death of the Emperor

IF he was truly dead

had caused some deep psychological change in the people. Perhaps even in the whole of Mankind. The effect was visible on the Astartes too: most Fatemakers were particularly disorganised nowadays, the Chaplain included. Fiddling fingers, men licking their lips and slight ticks under the eye were not uncommon in ordinary mortals, but in an Astartes, it meant something extremely dangerous.

The mental conditioning of the Space Marines was breaking.

This was a grave situation. So far Uskovich had been forced to improvise: he had issued general orders to the priesthood of the Opportunity to conduct regular sermons, even if it meant they had to deal with smaller congregations in several places at a time. As for the Astartes, the Captain had accepted his advice and brought them through several sessions of blank-ammunition training programs, supplemented with a complete inventory of the ship’s military resources. This helped to keep everyone’s mind occupied, no doubt, although Uskovich knew that one can count the number of bolt pistols aboard the cruiser only so many times. Soon, somebody will start asking questions, and the Chaplain did not feel he had the kind of answers which could be accepted.

Still, as he looked at the frightened people around his squad, he had to admit that the other alternative – not doing anything and hope for time to sort things out – was even worse than his solutions.

Some instinct told the Chaplain to turn back. There was a trail of people following his squad on the narrow street, as if the mere presence of the Space Marines were offering some kind of solution and explanation. As his squad was passing by, the men crouching by the walls simply stood up and went after them. The Chaplain frowned behind his helmet. His experience was that mortals tended to go away from him, especially with his skull-faced visage and the menacing crozius and bolter on his belt. What manner of crisis could make men go after a Space Marine whose appearance is designed specifically to make people afraid?

Well, he had an answer for that, unfortunately.

There was silence in the alley now, and the whisper of the people behind the squad was audible to the enhanced senses of the eleven Astartes. Space Marines, one of them said. Aren’t they a legend? the other asked. Did they come for the Sisters? Is it true? Why are they here? Are they here to save us?

This last remark almost made the Chaplain stop. He was not here to save these people. As far as he knew, they were not in danger, at least not physically. Clearly, they were in spiritual anguish, but this was not his concern. The Astartes destroyed the wicked first, and protected the weak second, but even then, they protected only when there was noone else there who could protect.

Of course, there is nobody now, he thought. He no longer….

No. I will not go down that road.

This was the first time the Astartes Chaplain truly understood the depth of trouble Mankind was in. This was also the first time he understood that although he was still a protector of souls and bodies, he no longer had a higher authority to refer to. This thought would soon become maddeningly familiar to him.

‘Brother-Chaplain,’ one of the other Fatemakers warned him silently on the vox.

‘Ignore them,’ he answered. There was nothing else they could do.

There was some voice at the end of the street. It was getting louder, although the squad was still far from the end of the narrow passage. The advanced systems in the Chaplain’s helmet told him what to expect long before the squad arrived at the source of the noise. The maps they had studied earlier indicated a huge open square just in front of them with a street leading to the chapel behind it.

The noise indicated a lot of people in the square and the augmented voice of a strong, determined person.

A preacher was holding a mass right between the Fatemaker squad and the chapel.

The eleven Space Marines left the alley behind them and went out into the open. The noise and the light hit them immediately, although their effect was nothing compared to the view which greeted them.

The square was really huge, but the Space Marines could see nothing of it. The whole place was filled up with an incredibly huge mass of people. It was impossible to make a headcount, but Uskovich guessed that at least a million desperate pilgrims blocked their way. In the opposite corner of the square, there was a podium; in fact, it was a huge scaffold with an equally huge display behind it. There was a single man on the top of the scaffold: a tiny, insignificant figure, whose features were nonetheless shown to the whole square through the display screen. His face was as big as four people on top of one another, and his voice was augmented by some sort of a servo-skull drone to a degree where it actually hurt the ears to listen.

‘THE EMPEROR DID NOT ABANDON US! HE HAS BEEN OUR GUARDIAN FOR MORE THAN TEN THOUSAND YEARS! HOW COULD THEY SAY THAT HE COULD BE ATTACKED, EVEN KILLED? WHO AMONG US WOULD SAY THAT HE IS NOT SITTING UPON HIS THRONE ON HOLY TERRA, WATCHING OVER US AS HE HAS ALWAYS DONE?’

The Chaplain grimaced behind his helmet. He should have anticipated this. After all, this was a shrineworld, with a pilgrim population which numbered in the billions. It was small wonder that the message and the devastating attack of the Battle Sisters had left them confused and afraid. He imagined that similar congregations could be now found all over the planet, certainly within the capital. If the Bishop had any common sense, he initiated these masses himself – if they had not been the planet’s regular feature to start with.

‘NO, BROTHERS! WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH US NOW IS A TEST! A TEST WHICH THE BATTLE SISTERS HAVE FAILED! WHO CAN KILL A LIVING GOD? WHO DARE TO SAY THAT A MIGHTY BEING WHO PRESIDES OVER THE WHOLE GALAXY COULD FALL?’

‘We will go through the crowd. Maintain speed and ignore them as much as you can,’ Uskovich ordered his men.

The Astartes squad went into the crowd. The people who had so far been following them were left behind as the throng in the square swallowed them. The crowd parted before the Astartes and closed again behind them. Curious, nervous and pleading eyes followed them, but the people seemed to be fixated on the preacher and his sermon, which suited the Fatemakers quite well.

OUR FAITH IS TESTED, AND YOU MUST NOT FAIL! DO NOT STOP PRAYING TO HIM, OUR SAVIOUR, OR YOU WILL FALL AND END UP IN DAMNATION AS WELL! HE WOULD NEVER ABANDON US! HE MADE A PLEDGE WITH US, MERE MORTALS, TEN THOUSAND YEARS AGO, AND HE WILL KEEP HIS PLEDGE!

Uskovich saw the opposite side of the square now. It actually ended in a wall: the area where the chapel could be found was elevated by about four meters, and there was a wide set of stairs leading up to the plateau. The squad was making good progress through the pilgrim mass, trying to blend in as much as eleven superhuman soldiers could. They were only a hundred meters now from the stairs.

LOOK! THERE IS THE PROOF THAT THE EMPEROR DID NOT ABANDON US! HE HAS SENT HIS ANGELS OF DEATH TO PROTECT AND GUIDE US IN THIS HOUR OF NEED! LOOK UPON THOSE HOLY WARRIORS AND KNOW THAT THEIR PRESENCE IS THE ANSWER TO OUR PRAYERS!

The squad froze as one. There was a ripple in the mass of people as heads were turning even on the far side of the square until they found the Astartes squad – not a difficult task if the man you are looking for is an armoured giant who stands out of the crowd by an average three feet. The Chaplain looked back at the scaffold, and saw that the display screen no longer showed the preacher with the mad look in his eyes. It now showed only him and his skull-faced helmet.

The silence was almost as disturbing as the cacophony of noise which had filled the square just three seconds earlier. One million faces were now turning towards the Fatemakers, with two million hungry eyes fixed firmly upon them.

The Chaplain was not aggressive beyond the battlefield, but now he had a distinct urge to cave in the preacher’s skull with his crozius. Did the idiot think that they had been sent here by the Bishop to bolster morale? Or did he merely see his chance to impress on the crowd? It did not matter. There was no way now that his squad could leave the square unmolested.

‘Nobody moves. Leave this to me,’ he ordered the others on the squad voxline, and turned his head to the man on the scaffold.

‘WHAT IS YOUR NAME, PREACHER?’

His voice startled everyone. It was not as loud as the preacher’s, but the speakers in his helmet augmented it enough to make it sound like a deep boom in the silence of the square. The helmet distorted his voice on its own, but Uskovich made a mental command to the built-in audio-regulators in the chin section to distort it even further. The final voice was deep, raspy and ominous, the perfect tool to intimidate mundane humans. If this was a battle of wits, the Chaplain needed the extra edge.

The preacher was not so easy to intimidate. ‘MY NAME IS JOSIAH TRECK,’ he answered. The sensors in the Chaplain’s helmet showed his face quite clearly. There was violent zeal in his eyes, but it was not aimed at anything yet. The Chaplain’s next words may prevent or start violence.

‘PREACHER TRECK,’ Uskovich addressed him. ‘ANSWER ONE QUESTION. WHAT IS THE GREATEST WEAPON OF MANKIND?’

Uskovich had spent enough time at the Inquisition to know how some Imperial organizations worked. Clergymen in particular tended to think along a few select lines, and this one seemed no different than his peers. He did not have to be disappointed.

‘THERE IS ONLY ONE TRUE WEAPON, AND IT IS OUR FAITH IN OUR BELOVED EMPEROR!’

‘THIS IS THE ONLY CORRECT ANSWER,’ Uskovich nodded. ‘LOOK UPON US, AND SEE HIS ULTIMATE WARRIORS. WE ARE THE ANGELS OF DEATH, AND WE CLEANSE HIS ENEMIES WITH FIRE AND STEEL, SWORD AND BOLTER ROUNDS.’ To demonstrate his words, the Chaplain drew his bolt pistol, showed it to the crowd and triggered it. Again, the loud noise made the nearest people jump.

‘AND YET,’ Uskovich continued, ‘WE ARE NOT HIS GREATEST WEAPON. THE FAITH OF THE ORDINARY PEOPLE – YOUR FAITH – IS THE ONLY THING WHICH MAY HELP US IN THIS DARK AGE. PRAY TO THE EMPEROR FOR DELIVERANCE. NEVER TURN AWAY FROM HIM, AND HE SHALL REWARD YOU. PRAISE HIS NAME…’

‘YES! YOU HAVE HEARD THE MIGHTY SPACE MARINE!’ Apparently, Chaplain Uskovich had given the preacher the incentive to continue his ranting. ‘PRAISE HIS NAME AND ADORE HIM, OUR ONLY SAVIOUR! KNEEL DOWN IN FRONT OF HIS HOLY AQUILA AND BASK IN THE GLORY OF HIS BENEVOLENCE! DO NOT LOSE HOPE…’

Uskovich was not satisfied yet. The huge display was still showing his face, and he was not able to move on as long as the crowd was looking directly at him. He had one more option, and he did not hesitate to use it.

He started to sing. It was a verse from the Lectio Divinatus, unremarkable in itself. What made it special was its universal nature. It was one of the few songs which everybody knew, and also one of the scarce ones which were used by almost all Imperial organizations, the Space Marines included. On top of that, it was simple enough so that even the musically uneducated Fatemakers could at least hum the rhythm.

The people around the Astartes squad started to sing immediately, and soon enough, the rest of the square followed. The people seemed to take consolation in the familiar tunes. The display switched over to preacher Treck: his arms were pushed up to the sky, and his face was ecstatic as he was singing. He no longer paid attention to Uskovich.

This was the moment he had been waiting for. He gave a new order to the squad.

‘Keep singing, but head for the stairs.’

The Fatemakers were slowly moving towards the stairs which would lead them away from the crowd and the annoying preacher. The squad was less than a few feet from the exit steps, and Uskovich fervently hoped that this was the last obstacle they had to overcome before they could reach their destination.

‘THE EMPEROR IS DEAD!’

Uskovich stopped again.

Throne have mercy upon us, no.

There was another preacher at the other end of the square. Uskovich had the advantage of height, and so he could see that he was flanked by a circle of bodyguards. From a distance, he seemed to be just as determined and obsessed as Treck, and this could only mean trouble.

The crowd had already started to stir uncomfortably. Treck turned to the newcomers with lightning eyes.

‘HOW DARE YOU QUESTION THE PROVIDENCE OF OUR LORD?’

The other man returned the cry with one of his own.

‘HOW DARE YOU CLOSE YOUR EYES AND TURN AWAY FROM THE TRUTH!’ Apparently, his voice was also augmented by some unseen means. ‘DID YOU NOT HEAR THE JUDGEMENT OF THE HOLY SISTERS?’

The crowd murmured angrily, which gave Treck the strength to continue.

‘I DO NOT LISTEN TO THE MAD TALK OF HERETICS!’

‘YOU DON’T LISTEN TO THE TRUTH! CAN’T YOU FEEL IT IN THE AIR? DON’T YOU FEEL IT IN YOUR BONES? HE IS NO LONGER WITH US!’

‘LIES!’ Treck roared.

‘NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH!’ the new preacher cried back. ‘WE TURNED OUR HEAD FROM HIM, AND HE TURNED AWAY FROM US IN RETURN!’

‘SILENCE, OR FACE THE WRATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS!’

‘I SEE NO RIGHTEOUS HERE! ONLY SINNERS AND WRETCHES STUMBLING IN DARKNESS!’

‘HERETIC MONGREL!’

‘WHORESON KNAVE!’

‘Start moving again,’ Uskovich voxed. In theory, the Fatemakers were supposed to take the side of Treck as he was the legal representative of the Imperial Church. On the other hand, the Astartes had a mission now, and priorities needed to be set up. Hopefully, the preachers would understand this as well. Any physical confrontation in the middle of this crowded square would let loose Hell itself…

Blammm.

The sound was deadly familiar to all Fatemakers.

Weapon discharge. High-calibre round, coming from somewhere behind preacher Treck. The other preacher fell, his torso a bloody ruin.

Nobody moved for a full second. This was more or less the time Uskovich needed to appraise the situation and realize just what was about to come next.

It was too late to do anything. The bodyguards of the heretic preacher pulled out shotguns from under their robes, and they started to shoot at the crowd.

One million people howled in fear.

‘Move! No lethal force!’ Uskovich yelled into the vox-set.

The eleven Astartes darted towards the stairs, pushing people out of the way. They could have broken through without much difficulty, but it would have involved punching the mortals around them. This would have also meant killing these mortals, and the Chaplain had no intention of hurting innocents unless he really had to. Unfortunately, he knew that the killing would have to start within a minute, perhaps even less. The push in front of them was already hard as the panicked people started to run away from the shooting. The Chaplain was desperate. The squad which was accompanying him consisted of ‘one-studders’, Astartes warriors who have not even finished their first decade of service in the Fatemaker Chapter. They were young men even by mortal standards, and they had absolutely no concept of the power of the mass they were facing. The power armour and the superhuman strength of the Space Marines would be useless against the might of one million panicked bodies.

‘Hurry!’ the Chaplain ran up the stairs and looked towards the sounds of shooting. The armed fanatics were still shooting at the crowd, although some of the pilgrims – no doubt agents of the Ecclesiarchy – were now fighting back with their own guns. Uskovich was scanning the crowd with all his instruments. He was looking for the ripple which would inevitably appear in a crowd like this under similar conditions.

‘Brother-Chaplain!’

The shout came from one of his Astartes; a relatively fresh initiate called Xhiao-Müller. He was being pushed back by the crowd, away from his brothers and the safety of the elevated plateau. The young Space Marine was trying to push the men and women away with his arms, but the pressure was already too big.

‘Break through them!’ shouted one of his squadmates who had already made it to the stairs.

‘I can’t!’ he shouted back. Xhiao-Müller was conditioned, just like his peers, but even he could not block out the feeling of losing control. In any other mortal, this feeling would have registered as panic.

‘Xhiao-Müller! Push harder!’

‘I would kill them!’

Uskovich looked back at the crowd, and his blood ran cold. There was a physical wave formed in the crowd, moving towards the stairs and the still trapped Xhiao-Müller. If a crowd contained enough bodies, it actually behaved like water: it had currents, and it could produce waves where all the bodies pressed together started to move in the same direction. The push of one million bodies strengthening one another could wreck tanks, push in walls and kill anyone who could not move in concert with them.

Uskovich did not have much time to act.

‘Brother Xhiao-Müller! Ignore the mortals. Come to the stairs, no matter the cost,’ he commanded in his firmest voice.

‘People will die,’ groaned the Astartes.

Obey,’ the Chaplain hissed.

This order did the trick. The mental conditioning kicked in within Xhiao-Müller. His conscious mind pushed all emphatic and emotional considerations, and the people around him became mere objects to overcome. The young warrior leaned on his heel, and pushed his two arms in front of him.

He stopped immediately. The two people he had pressed away screamed in pain, although the deafening noise of the crowd blocked it all out. Xhiao-Müller saw the distorted faces in front of him, but ignored them altogether. He made a step forward, then he made another one. The bodies before him parted. He elbowed, pushed and punched his way through them, although with so many bodies packed together, he could only do so by hurting the people. It did not matter. His mind was set on his mission: reaching the stairs was the only priority now. He broke bones, he twisted limbs and he even killed people, and although his analytic mind knew that the faces of his victims would come back to haunt him later, he only registered, but not acknowledged his deeds or the sound of people breaking against his armour.

Crack. Crack. Crack.

Xhiao-Müller was two steps away from the stairs when the wave hit him, and slammed him against the wall.

He snapped out of his conditioning immediately. At least five people died in front of his eyes in a second, including the one he smeared on the wall with his back. The bodies pushed his arms onto his chestplate. He heaved. Nothing happened. Xhiao-Müller grunted in surprise. He was a Space Marine! The bodies of mere mortals could not hold him back! He flexed every muscle in his body.

A second wave slammed into him. Something cracked in his armour.

‘Ack!’

Xhiao-Müller was not sure whether he cried out in pain or surprise. A dozen warning sign started to flash in the corner of his retina as the systems in his armour started to malfunction. With his arms tied down and his equipment failing, the Astartes was about to overcome with doubt and helplessness.

He had not felt anything like this since his training. Did he feel fear again?

‘Brother Xhiao-Müller! Raise your hand as high as you could!’

This was the voice of Chaplain Uskovich. Xhiao-Müller did not see him – his vision was filled with thrashing or limp bodies at this point – but obedience was part of his nature. Inch by inch, he freed his right arm, and pushed it up with a final cry.

Something grabbed his wrist. Uskovich and the other Fatemakers were standing on the plateau above Xhiao-Müller; they tore out the railings, and the Chaplain, who was lying on his chest now, reached down to grab his brother’s hand. He held Xhiao-Müller with his own hands, while the others pulled him up by his ankles and his waist. The power of five Astartes was enough to lift their peer out of the crowd and onto the plateau.

The squad stood up. Two of them were still supporting Xhiao-Müller.

‘Are you all right, brother?’ the Chaplain asked.

The other did not answer immediately. He was heaving, and the last few moments of madness were still rolling in front of his eyes. He was sure that in the last moment, his flailing legs actually kicked one last man, and broke his neck.

‘I almost died,’ he gasped.

‘The squad would look after its members,’ another Fatemaker answered.

‘No, that’s not it.’ He was slowly collecting himself. ‘I was almost killed by…’

He waved uncertainly towards the crowd.

‘…people.’ He chuckled for a second. ‘I was almost killed by… flesh and bone. Flesh and bone!’ Did his voice become hysterical? ‘I have been shot, I have been stabbed, I have been shot with a flamer, but nobody has tried to bury me in flesh before! Flesh!’

‘Enough,’ Uskovich said sternly. ‘Mankind is strong because there are so many of us. The power of humanity is staggering. This was a perfect example, although one that almost destroyed us. Never underestimate anything.’

He stepped away from the now silenced squad, and looked down at the crowd under his feet. The noise was still deafening, and the square was full of trapped, confused and desperate people. How many of them had died? How many more of them would still die?

There was nothing he could do to help them.

‘We still have a mission,’ he said. He turned, and went away from the square. ‘Move on, and find the chapel.’





The squad made good progress towards its destination. Once they had left behind the blood-soaked square, the Fatemakers were darting forward on empty streets and abandoned stalls. The squad only stopped once at one of the desks, which was shaded by canvas, and two of them tore out a chunk of the material. They needed some cloth to wipe off the blood from Xhiao-Müller’s armour. Since the vendor had escaped when he heard the sounds of carnage, they could not pay for the damage they caused in the installation, so one of the squad-members took a powercell-pack from his belt, and put it on the counter. He could only hope that it was compensation enough for the rag: the frame which was holding the four cells together had been made by the artisans of the Opportunity, but it was not very durable. It was inlaid by golden fibres instead of some durable metal alloy.

Uskovich had enough real-life experience to correct them, but he was too much preoccupied. He was still weighing the consequences of the mass panic which had broken out at preacher Treck’s sermon. This kind of panic and riot would take days to completely suppress, even by a competent and undamaged enforcement system, which could not be said about the Saint Menthas forces at the moment. What they had experienced may have been the beginning of a planetary insurrection, which would probably eat up the world in its present state, Fatemaker presence notwithstanding.

Also, the fact that such an insurrection may have occurred only two weeks after

Not down that road!

such a event was indicative of the greater picture throughout the Imperium. It was not that hard to understand. Warp travel was becoming more and more impossible; communication ceased in the Galaxy; psykers who were generally known to be linked with Him died in masses. Mankind was still clueless, but it would not last. Soon, the isolated multitudes of Imperial systems would realize the awful truth, and then the sight the Fatemaker squad had just seen would become the norm. Worlds would burn themselves out in brief but painful wars and riots; chaos and panic would spread like wildfire through the Imperium, and the real fires of destruction would reduce the species into ruin and ash.

Uskovich knew that something as vast as the Imperium would not die out quickly. There would be another dark age: a Second Age of Strife without the guiding light of the Emperor. It would take another ten thousand years, but Mankind would be reduced to a handful of dead worlds which future species might find and marvel at one day – if there is a future where sentient life still exists.

And the Fatemakers would be powerless to stop that future from happening.

‘We are there, Brother-Chaplain.’

The words pulled the Chaplain out of from his gloomy thoughts. The objective was indeed in front of him: a section of the city was surrounded by a metal fence, behind which there was a medium-sized chapel. The shrineworld abounded in these holy places, but the importance of this one was not lost to the Astartes warriors. The symbols on the wall and on the roof made it clear that the chapel was dedicated to the cult of minor Imperial heroes. There was a pair of guards standing at the entrance, but the building did not seem to be a well-frequented place. It was closed to the public, but the Fatemakers would have access to it.

It was partly theirs, after all.

The guards stood attention as soon as the squad approached the gate. Uskovich glanced at them.

‘His Holiness the Bishop Paulino CXII has authorized us to come here and pray in the shadow of our great ancestors,’ he said. The guards bowed.

‘We have been informed, mighty Space Marines. Welcome to the Chapel of Selfless Bravery.’

The squad went inside. Uskovich was the last; as he was about to enter, he turned back a last time, and he listened to the sounds coming from the main square. There was some distance between the chapel and the square, but the panicked mass was still audible. There were sounds of gunfire too, and more than the original few weapons which the other preacher’s bodyguards had been using. The Chaplain’s instincts told him that the conflict was about to escalate into something bigger there.

They had to hurry now.





The inside of the chapel was richly adorned and well maintained, although it seemed that there was little traffic inside the building. This worked now to the Fatemakers’ advantage.

The chamber they were looking for opened from the west side of the chapel. It was bigger than the rest of the rooms, and for good reason: the doors and the ceiling were clearly designed for big visitors.

The squad effectively occupied the whole chapel. Only three Astartes went into the room with the Chaplain, while the rest were checking the potential ambush points. Uskovich had nothing to do, so in lack of anything better, he spent some time to look around the room which was supposed to honour his kind. He looked through the busts, murals and relics which decorated the walls: images of great battles, life-size Space Marines and the symbol which dominated everything: a circle with a halberd head inside.

Nothing stirred inside the Chaplain. The Silver Halberds were the past, and the past would not return. Besides, he was not even sure that he was actually carrying the genetic legacy of that chapter.

His autosenses picked up a slight noise behind one of the walls. The squad had already examined the area, and they judged that there was a full chamber’s worth of space behind it which was not accessible from within the building, so it came as no surprise when they detected a hidden panel there. Nevertheless, it would have been impolite to open it in advance, so they merely stood before the wall, and waited.

They did not have to wait long. A portion of the wall opened, and a huge figure appeared behind it. The figure was holding a weapon, which he aimed right at the chest of the Chaplain.

Nobody moved for a second. There were noises of clicks and whirs as some instrument built into the helmet of the newcomer scanned the Fatemakers. Finally, the figure lowered his weapon, and stepped forward, showing the Chaplain his rock-crete armour and the inversed ‘Q’-symbol on his right shoulderpad.

‘Welcome, brothers,’ the Fatemaker warrior said.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 19 up)

Postby Midgard » Thu Jun 14, 2012 6:05 pm

Another very impressive update. You have relayed the desperation of the people and the effects of Emperor's death very vividly. As always, I am greatly enjoying this story, and am looking forward to more!
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 20 up)

Postby Meaneye » Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:48 pm

Well, the second worst two weeks in my life are behind me (nothing can beat the spring of 2006 :) ), so I can update again properly. this part is longer than usual, and the next update will be somewhat shorter, but this makes a more dramatic cut.


Part 20


Roughly the same time Chaplain Uskovich arrived at the square which almost killed one of his flock, Captain Malistrum also arrived at the Basilica of Saint Menthas.

His journey was significantly better than the Chaplain’s. He was a hero of the Imperium right now: he had defeated the Battle Sisters who had so treacherously destroyed the fleet of the shrineworld, and he had even managed to take the two Sororitas ships back. Bishop Paulino must have been hugely relieved that the Emperor’s chosen warriors had come to the planet to have an audience with him. This would no doubt reinforce his position among the other Ecclesiarchy members. It would also bolster the planet’s morale, which the Captain knew the huge pilgrim population desperately needed. All this would point to a grand-scale reception with all the major dignitaries of the planet present; lofty speeches would be held, and the Fatemakers would probably receive some sort of local medal or honorary title.

A bothersome prospect, but necessary. The Captain knew about the state of the planet, and he also knew the reason for it. He understand the importance of morale, among the general population as well as the ruling planetary casts. He would play his part, accept the necessary delay and reinforce Imperial authority in this world – even though he had no intention of informing the Bishop about the truth of the Emperor.

The truth which the Battle-Sisters had somehow found out.

The Fatemaker squad had received an honour guard at the spaceport, which accompanied them with their Rhinos. It may have been considered a polite gesture to send a vehicle for them which was familiar, although the compartment was human-sized, and so they had to crouch during the journey. The Rhinos put them out at the Basilica – an impressive building abounding in towers, domes and stylized columns – where another group of Church armsmen were waiting for them. The second group of soldiers did not come as an hour guard, but rather as gaolers.

The last Rhino in the convoy was carrying prisoners. About a dozen Battle Sisters had been captured aboard the Blood of Martyrs. Most Sisters had chosen suicide over getting caught, but a few of them were just too apathetic to resist arrest in any meaningful way. Malistrum looked at the small group of chained Sisters who were herded away from the Rhinos by the armsmen. One look at their empty faces and emotionless eyes was all the evidence he needed to see that the Sisters were completely broken. The Bishop could sentence them to whatever horrible punishment he would find (death by fire was the captain’s guess), it could not do any more harm to the empty, soul-broken husks which remained of a famous militant Order.

A relevant piece of evidence was leaving with that broken group. This was the one thing which bothered the Captain. He wished to be able to ask the Battle Sisters how they had found out that the Emperor was dead. Did they have some psyker diviner? Did they have a séance similar to the Fatemakers? Did the Emperor appear in front of them in a vision? There were two How?-questions involved here: the How did they found out? and the How did He really die?

He would not have any answers to those questions. Gathering information was a mission for Chaplain Uskovich, and distracting the Bishop was his. He was not sure whose mission would be harder.

A procession of priests were coming out of the Basilica, and approached the Fatemakers. The leader, the highest-ranking dignitary, stopped a few steps away from the twelve Astartes, and coughed nervously. Even he was standing on higher ground, he still had to look up to the Space Marines.

‘His Holiness, the Bishop Paulino CXII is waiting for you in his audience chamber,’ he announced. His voice was formal and elegant, as if he was expecting the Fatemakers to realize just how blessed they were that they could receive such an honour.

‘Lead us to him,’ Malistrum said. He had learned long ago that it was pointless to polite with the middle-men. The only person he had to be careful with today was the Bishop himself.

The dignitary shook nervously at the sound of the Captain’s voice. None of the Fatemakers took off his helmet, and the artificial, intimidating voice of the power-armour’s voxlinks had its effect on him the usual way.

‘Yes… of course,’ he stammered. He pointed towards the Cathedral. ‘If you may…’

They went up the stairs.





The Fatemaker warrior’s name was Brother Mitschenko, a former member of Strike Force Five.

His presence was welcoming, but not unexpected. Part of the set of naklonjenost-agreements formed between the Malachias Inquisiton and the Fatemaker Chapter stipulated that the Space Marines had to supply the local Inquisitorial forces with Astartes warriors. Officially, they were not a Deathwatch force. That required a whole squad’s worth of Astartes, which was never available. Instead, the individual soldiers provided retinue support for high-ranking Inquisitors, giving them specialist knowledge and military assistance. The system worked: assisting the Inquisition this way raised their level of efficiency, while the retinue warriors gained experience outside their Chapter. On returning to their brethren, these Space Marines almost always became high-ranking officers and advisors to the various Captains. Uskovich himself had served in such retinues, and he knew that several other members of Strike Force Four did likewise, including Hemethor and the late Sathori.

The Chapter did not encourage long ceremonies, and practicality always overwrote emotions, so their new brother got to the point quite quickly.

‘Inquisitor Cathrin has received you message, and she is arriving shortly.’

‘Could you appraise us of the situation here, brother?’ Uskovich asked. It was a strange feeling to talk to a Battle-Brother who was not one of the strike force; a brother who was not one of the flock. Mitschenko, on the other hand, seemed relieved to find himself in the company of fellow Astartes. His discipline was flawless, and he looked battle-ready, but his voice gave him away. The same kind of mental agony was eating him inside as all the other Fatemakers and all other ordinary humans.

‘The situation is bad,’ came the answer. ‘There had been general unrest before the attack of the Battle Sisters, and everything has been chaotic ever since. The Inquisitor believes there is going to be a general insurrection very soon, and my experience says so as well.’

‘It may have already started, brother,’ Uskovich remarked. Mitschenko turned his head aside as if listening to something, then grunted.

‘Is this what I am hearing?’

The other Astartes listened as well. There was a soft, barely audible, but definite noise coming from the outside. Shouting, for sure, but both the Chaplain and the retinue warrior were experienced enough to make out the sound of gunfight.

‘This place is no longer safe,’ Brother Mitschenko stated. ‘I suggest we all…’

‘We still have some time, darling.’

The Astartes turned as one. There was a small figure standing at the secret door. It was a woman, judging from her facial structure and voice, and the more experienced Uskovich could also tell that she was a pretty one. She had long, blonde hair, and although she was wearing full combat gear, she seemed more at home in a ballroom or a noble house than in a chapel. It was difficult to tell her age. She looked young, but full-fledged Inquisitors were rarely young, and she was wearing a rosette in her neck which indicated high rank. Her appearance was probably the result of rejuvenat treatments, which the Chaplain considered to be an advantage.

I will have an easier time with an older, more experienced Inquisitor.

‘My, oh my,’ the Inquisitor said with a smile. ‘Eleven tall, strong warriors came to talk to me. I feel much safer already. Not that you were not enough protection for me, honey,’ she addressed Mitschenko.

Or perhaps not.

The Chaplain stepped forward, and took off his helmet.

‘Inquisitor, my name is…’

‘Oh, and a handsome one too!’ the woman clapped with her hand. ‘This really is my lucky day.’

The Chaplain stopped. He cast a questioning look at Brother Mitschenko, who made a small cough, and started to speak.

‘Brothers, this is Inquisitor Cathrin Delcasto, my appointed leader for the duration of my stay.’

Uskovich slowly nodded.

‘I am Brother-Chaplain Uskovich, representative to Strike Force One of the Fatemaker Chapter. Brother-Captain Malistrum is sending you his best wishes, and he authorized me to convey his apologies to you for not being able to appear personally. He is having an audience with Bishop Paulino at the moment.’

‘I know,’ the Inquisitor smiled. ‘Well, Brother-Chaplain Uskovich, I would like to send my regards to your Captain, and I hope I can be of assistance to your Chapter.’ She made a step forward to the Chaplain, and put her arm on his breastplate in a confidential manner. ‘What can I do for you, my darling Chaplain?’

All Astartes looked at her hand on the breastplate. The Chaplain moved his head slightly towards Brother Mitschenko, who just shook his head in a barely perceptible fashion.

‘Well,’ said the Chaplain, ‘the Captain had already said in the message that we would like information.’

‘Of whether the Emperor is dead or not?’

The air froze. Uskovich looked at the woman. Her lips were still smiling. Her eyes were not quite. For the first time during their conversation, the Chaplain had the feeling that there was a true Inquisitor standing before him.

‘There are… events… in the Galaxy which are disturbing in the extreme,’ he said. ‘We came to Saint Menthas for answers, but the only answer this world has offered us so far was too terrible to even contemplate. We hope you may provide us with a better explanation.’

‘Quite understandable,’ Cathrin said. She pressed her lips together, as if she was thinking, then she turned towards Brother Mitschenko.

‘Be a good boy, darling, and stand guard at the entrance. My observers claim that the riot outside did not pout into this street yet, but as soon as it does, we will have to move.’

Mitschenko bowed. ‘Yes, Inquisitor.’

‘Go with him, Brother Xhiao-Müller,’ Uskovich ordered. Cathrin watched the two of them go out, then she turned towards the Chaplain.

‘Shall we sit down in the main hall? It would be easier to talk.’

‘Certainly,’ the Chaplain answered. The Inquisitor smiled again.

‘Lovely! May I have your arm, my brave Chaplain?’

Uskovich hesitantly reached down with his arm. Still smiling, the Inquisitor reached up, folded her own arm into the Chaplain’s, and the two of them went out of the room. The rest of the squad looked at one another.

‘What are your orders, Brother-Captain?’ one of them asked.

‘Oh, just go somewhere while the two of us talk,’ Cathrin called back over her shoulder. ‘Oh, and no eavesdropping, boys! The brave Chaplain and I have urgent things to talk about.’

Eight Space Marines looked at their ninth brother.

‘No eavesdropping? Does this mean we should switch off our external voxes, Brother-Sergeant?’ one of them asked.

Their commander shook his head.

‘I don’t know. Leave the vox open, and just… listen elsewhere.’

He sighed. He had heard about women before, but if this one was a typical representative of her kind, he was glad he had nothing to do with them.





Space Marines in general had no artistic sense, but the interior of the Basilica was impressive. Captain Malistrum’s squad had left the public part of the building quickly enough, and they had to realize just how enormous the private section was.

The Fatemakers were led through wide corridors and tall chambers, among long rows of columns and under colourful stain-glassed windows. Everything they saw around them was a reminder of the power of the Church in general, and of Bishop Paulino in particular. This was undoubtedly an effort to impress and intimidate visitors, and it might have worked on ordinary people, but the Fatemakers were not the least impressed by it.

The reason for this was party because the unique mentality of the Astartes warriors. Mostly, however, this was attributed to their keen senses, which were selective in what they would take in: aesthetics and symbolism always gave way to matters of warfare.

And the Basilica had seen a lot of warfare recently.

The clergy had made great efforts to conceal the fact, but the Astartes could clearly read all the signs. Fresh mortar was used to cover the marks of bolter fire on some walls; pieces of furniture were missing from certain rooms, no doubt because they had been smashed; the Astartes autosenses could make out lingering traces of blood on the ground, even though the servants had tried their best to clean them up.

This was the place where the Sororitas insurrection started. They fought their way out of the Basilica into the city and the spaceport. This must have been before that fateful message sent from high orbit by the Canoness. This was the first place where the clergy realized that the Battle Sisters were no longer allies.

‘Gloria Imperatoris,’ Malistrum showed the sign of the aquila as the squad went through an archway depicting the Emperor and His major saints. This was a pious gesture which the Ecclesiarchy would no doubt appreciate, but the Captain had no intention to impress the people around him now. Within these walls, with the possible chance of somebody spying on their vox frequencies, religious sentences were the only way to send coded messages to one anther. Brother-Librarian Akichi, who had so far been walking next to the Captain without a word, received the message and frowned slightly.

Everything is clear, my lord.

The voice was only audible to the other Space Marines. Akichi was a master Librarian, and he did not even slow down as he established mental contact with the rest of the squad. Likewise, Malistrum went on without looking at him.

Any other psyker activity in the building?

No, my lord. It seems that they all died. I sense none of the usual background psychic activity.

There should be Astropaths in the Cathedral.

There are none, my lord.


This was as much as Malistrum hoped and feared. The death of the local psykers reinforced his fears that the Emperor really died – although he still thought that no amount of evidence was enough to convince him of that. On the other hand, this gave his squad an opportunity to discuss matters in privacy.

What do these people think of us?

Would you like me to scan them, my lord?

Just pick up their surface thoughts. We want no future trouble with these people.


The Librarian obeyed. Malistrum was privately impressed with him. Akichi did not only retain his mental integrity after the ordeal, but he also kept all his psychic powers. The Captain had the distinct feeling that his abilities, which had recently become so rare in the Imperium, would be even more valuable in the future.

They are wary of us. They know we are on their side, but they thought the same about the Battle Sisters. Still, they mostly feel hope about us.

Keep looking for any sign of trouble. The same goes for the rest of the squad.


The chorus of affirmative mental signs were the last thing the squad transmitted telepathically. The group arrived at a huge two-winged door, which, judging from all the ornamentations and the guards in front of it, must have led to the Bishop’s audience chamber. A high-ranking clergyman was waiting for them at the door.

‘His Holiness Paulino CXII is waiting for you, Captain Malistrum,’ he announced.

‘Thank you.’

The squad moved. The clergyman cleared his throat.

‘His Holiness is waiting for you alone, Captain.’

The squad stopped. The Captain looked at the man, but said nothing. The other suddenly became nervous. None of the Astartes showed his face except for the Librarian, and it was impossible to read anything on their menacing helmets, or, indeed, in their body language. The clergyman was receiving the silent glare of a dozen armoured giant.

The guards shifted uncomfortably. Full two minutes passed.

‘I see,’ Malistrum said finally. He nodded to the rest of the squad. ‘The Emperor protects.’

The others stood to attention, and the mortals around them sighed. Two of the guards opened the wings of the door, and the clergyman stood in front of the Captain to announce him. He was secretly relieved that the Astartes were cooperative. This would make the plan of the Bishop much easier.

He was standing with his back to the Librarian, so he did not see that the Space Marine suddenly turned his eyes towards him. He was glad that the Astartes leader left the squad behind without any comment or order.

His last pious remark was also comforting.





I have to be careful with this woman.

Chaplain Uskovich was sitting in front of Inquisitor Cathrin in the main mess hall. The builders had originally decided that if part of the chapel was dedicated to the Astartes warriors, the building must also have Astartes-sized furniture. The Chaplain managed to sit in a chair his size, looking down upon the women in a similar, human-sized chair.

Inquisitor Cathrin had chosen these chairs, and this also showed that she should not be underestimated. In this position, a Space Marine automatically felt that he was not only taller and stronger, but also superior in a general sense to his peer. Underestimating an Inquisitor was always dangerous, and Cathrin had already managed to play a few tricks on him.

In the Chaplain’s opinion, most Inquisitors had some strange personality traits or habits, which was a side effect of an unaugmented mind dealing with the milliard dangers of the Warp. Others had no strange habits, but they were in turn excessive and exhibitionist, showing their power in theatrical manners, ostentatious clothing or raw display of power. The underlying principle was always to make outsiders uncertain and careless to their true motives.

Inquisitor Cathrin was good at what she did. If Uskovich had been a regular male, he would have known the term for the way she behaved with men, but even he had been convinced for a moment that the woman was harmless. The way she placed her hand on his chest was slightly irritating, but nothing else. Then she asked that particular question.

The Chaplain could not hold himself back, and he slightly shook when the Inquisitor asked him about the death of the Emperor. As she was having her hand on him, she could actually feel that slight tremor. The Inquisitor now knew that this topic had a greater effect on the Chaplain, and consequently, the strike force, than it should have. She now knew that the Fatemakers had a secret.

Well, this was all the information she was going to elicit from him. From now on, he would be careful with her.

‘Don’t be so careful with me, Brother-Chaplain,’ the Inquisitor smiled. ‘I don’t bite.’

Uskovich was unmoved. ‘We are discussing an awful topic here, Inquisitor. I would have expected a little more serious approach from you.’

Cathrin kept smiling. ‘I can assure you that I am taking this issue as seriously as possible. Well,’ she sighed, ‘You probably have two questions for me right now. Would you like to know about what the Saint Menthas Inquisition knows about the greater events regarding the Emperor, or would you like to hear about the secession attempt of the Convent of the Holy Fervour?’

The Chaplain’s face was carefully neutral now. ‘We have heard the announcement made by the Convent about the Emperor. As outrageous and terrible that message was, pragmatism and the military traditions of my Chapter requires me to ask about the more immediate crisis, and the reason why anybody would make such an impossible statement.’

The Inquisitor clapped. ‘Well spoken, my brave Chaplain! Well, let us start with them. Actually,’ she raised a finger, ‘the two issues cannot be separated from each other. Tell me, Chaplain, what did you do fifteen days ago, when the present crisis started?’

Uskovich had to be careful with his words. He had discussed this with the Captain, and they had decided that the best course of action would be almost completely honesty, leaving out only the part which involved Akichi’s vision.

‘My strike force was stationing at the Cephola Astropathicus Base when the crisis started. We were about to get involved in a prolonged campaign at Ablathea, and we felt that a greater divination session was necessary before the strike force fully commits itself. The base was conducting the séance when the crisis started, and the resulting psychic backlash destroyed the psyker population of the base. Warp entities infested the installation, and the Captain was forced to order a local Exterminatus on it. This is a report containing the relevant information which convinced Captain Malistrum that such an action was unavoidable.’

He handed a dataslate over to Cathrin. The information it contained was edited, of course. Chaplain Uskovich himself helped to leave out all the parts which would have suggested that the Fatemakers actually suspected something prior to the séance. It was convincing, and as the Inquisition had no reason not to believe them, it may even have worked.

Cathrin took the dataslate and ran over its course.

‘The main Cephola world was also involved?’

‘It was, although we do not know to what extent. Strike Force Four would have stayed there and helped them to maintain order if it had not been for…’

Cathrin nodded.

‘… the death of your own psykers and the disappearance of the Astronomicon.’

‘Precisely,’ Uskovich said. ‘It seemed that the conflict has grown over us, and there was no way to find answers in the system. Not with the corruption and the subsequent destruction of the Astropathicus Base. Chapter policies dictate that in case of a major sector crisis which the individual strike forces are not able to handle, all Fatemaker forces are to convene at the Chapter’s reserve meeting point and reinforce it. If one strike force was insufficient, the whole fleet with a thousand Battle-Brothers may be able to handle the situation better.’

‘It was the right decision, given the present circumstances,’ Cathrin nodded sagely. ‘Although,’ she cast a slightly provocative stare at the Chaplain, ‘some people might call your actions cowardice.’

Uskovich was now better prepared. ‘I supported the Captain’s decision, and so did the whole officer cadre. Given the present circumstances, I think his decision was well justified.’

Seeing that she was not able to elicit emotional reaction from the Chaplain, the Inquisitor raised her hands in deference.

‘I can assure you that I don’t belong to those people. So you have decided to assemble the whole Chapter? This might come in handy.’

Uskovich had no idea that this she was praising him or voicing her suspicions. This was the problem with Inquisitors: they were always looking for conspiracies and lies. The fact that the Fatemakers were de facto liars did not make the situation any better.

‘After we had set our route, the Captain decided that we need more information to deal with the crisis. Saint Menthas was nearby, and we knew that the shrineworld had an Inquisitorial contingent with more insight than we had. We picked up the signs of battle in the system after the arrival. The details of the battle are included in the dataslate.’

‘Hmmm.’ The Inquisitor leaned back on her chair. ‘Well, I am sure that Saint Menthas will be eternally in your debt. Just how long ‘eternal’ is going to be, however…’

The Chaplain’s eyes narrowed. ‘I have the feeling that you have the extra information that we were came here for. I also have the feeling,’ he added, ‘that we are not going to like it.’

The Inquisitor chuckled and clapped. ‘Well spoken! Your stay with the Inquisition has taught you to be ominous, I see.’ She sighed. ‘Well, here is the opinion of an Imperial Inquisition. This crisis is perhaps the biggest one Mankind has faced, and given how we have just put the Neodevourer Wars behind us, this is quite something. My team has been analysing all available information, and so far all facts – all of them – point towards the only logical conclusion. Something terrible has happened to Terra, and in all likelihood, it is destroyed. Something definitely terrible has happened to the Emperor, and in all likelihood, he is dead. We are still trying to calculate just what this means for the human species, but the present facts predict the destruction of the Imperium, and in all likelihood, the slow extinction of the whole human race.’ She was no longer smiling. ‘So, my dear Chaplain, the official word of the Saint Mentas Inquisition is that it is all over for us.’





The Bishop is planning something, Captain. I don’t feel any particular aggression from his messenger, but he is nervous about how we might react to it. Do you want me to scan him for answers?

Negative. We are already inside his chamber. No aggression until I give command.

As you wish.


Malistrum sighed inwardly. Just for once, things could have gone smoothly with his own species.

The audience chamber of the Saint Menthas Church was a huge, lavishly decorated room clearly designed to intimidate and awe people. The Captain’s experienced eyes saw slight architectural tricks in the design of the room which distorted the dimensions of the place, focusing light, contrasts and visitors’ attention towards the end of the room, where a throne was placed on top of a set of semicircular stairs. The throne was a piece of art in itself. It gave its otherwise normal-sized occupant extra bulk, and the angelic wings which protruded form its sides gave the illusion that they belonged to the occupant. The wall behind the mural depicted the giant form of the Emperor stretching out His benevolent hands in blessing, His palm subtly placed above the throne, consequently, above the head of the Church.

It was a clear demonstration of power which the Fatemaker captain ignored completely. The only demonstration of power which he could appreciate was military in nature, and what he saw in the room about that was only marginally impressive.

There was an honour guard in the chamber. Hard-faced men were clutching lasguns along the walls and in front of the stairs. They were standing among the various Ecclesiarcical dignitaries of the planet. The leading elite of the shrineworld were all staring him with scared, yet somehow hopeful eyes, as if they could not decide what to expect from the Astartes commander.

They were all meaningless. The one person who mattered was sitting on the throne at the end of the chamber.

Paulino CXII was an otherwise unremarkable man dressed in an impressive garb of cloth. He was old – juvenat-old, but still old – and he was balding heavily. Without the cloth and the throne, he must have been able to pass for a low-ranking, file-pushing Administratum clerk, but he would not have survived in his post as long as he did if he had not been a talented politician. While the other priests in the room could not hide their excitement, he remained calm, with a benevolent smile on his face.

The man who led Malistrum in the chamber clapped twice.

‘Brother-Captain Malistrum from the Fatemaker Astartes Chapter, the hero of the Belistrata Insurrection!’

Belistrata was the name of the Sorositas Canoness on Saint Menthas. Apparently, the clergy needed to close the matter as quickly as possible, so they gave the crisis a name and a hero – him – who conveniently delivered them from the evil. He wondered if the priesthood gave any thought as to why the Sisters revolted on their own. He was fairly sure that they would not.

He went to the throne with slow but deliberate steps. His superhuman eyes could make out two small places on the floor where the marble was slightly more weather-beaten than the rest of the room. That place must have been thread by countless feet; no doubt all the people who had had an audience with the pervious Bishops.

One larger area and a much smaller one somewhat closer to the stairs. This implied rank and hierarchy within the petitioners. The Captain had no idea what the Bishop was planning to do, but here he could at least find out whether he saw the Astartes as equal or subordinate.

He arrived at the first indentation on the floor. The man who introduced him slowed down and coughed, but he ignored him, and went straight to the second one. There was a murmur as he stopped at whet he considered to be a place for high-ranking dignitaries. Looking at the Bishop’s face, he could see the hint of disapproval, which faded remarkable quickly as he collected himself.

Ah.

The Bishop was expected obedient soldiers instead of an independent force. Strong soldiers who smashed his opponents, and strengthened his position. A group of powerful but lost soldiers who would eagerly join…

Oh, for Throne’s sake!

This would not be the first time that the Church would try to enlist the Fatemakers on some errand. The Astartes presence was not strong enough in the sector for various Imperial organizations to realize that the Space Marines were an autonomous force who could not be ordered around. Several attempts had been made in the past to charge the Fatemakers with lack of cooperation, disobedience or even heresy. The charges never stood a chance – the Inquisition and the military tended to vote in favour of the Astartes – but the Inquisition was hidden enough here so the Bishop did not feel their strength, and the recent events had probably made him desperate enough to make such an attempt.

The recent events had probably also made him desperate enough to do something foolish. Malistrum had to be extremely careful.

‘My son,’ Paulino greeted him. His voice was sweet and soothing.

Malistrum showed the sign of the Aquila in return.

‘The Emperor protects, Bishop Paulino.’

A few seconds of silence followed. The Bishop obviously wanted to hear more from him, but there was nothing else to say, and the Captain’s face was unreadable behind his helmet. Nobody had the authority – or the bravery – to ask him to remove it.

The Bishop lost his patience first.

‘We were relieved when word came that your mighty warriors arrived in the system to deliver us in the hour of need.’

‘The Opportunity, our strike cruiser, arrived in the system just as the Sororitas convent attempted to escape. I have already given a full report of the accident to captain Savirez about the battle.’

‘Ah, the good captain has already told us about your courage and bravery.’ The Bishop waved his hand, and a slightly reluctant figure came out from behind one of the pillars. He was wearing a Navy uniform, and Malistrum’s suspicion was confirmed when he started to speak.

‘Greetings, Brother-Captain.’ There was no real joy in his voice. ‘I have been waiting to express my gratitude to you in person.’

‘I was only doing the Emperor’s work.’ Malistrum could not have hidden his disappointment without his helmet. The captain came down to the planet at the same time he did. If he managed to reach the audience chamber before him, this was only possible if the Astartes Captain had been led here on a longer route so the other captain could arrive sooner. Was this supposed to unbalance him? Was this supposed to give an edge to the Bishop? Malistrum had never understood mortals and their ritualistic display of power. Space Marines were power incarnate, and his Chapter rarely employed such cheap tricks.

‘Neither you nor the good captain give your Astartes enough credit,’ the Bishop broke in. he clearly had no intention to let the flow of the conversation out of his hand. ‘The treachery of the Sisterhood came as a surprise and we suffered greatly. Thanks to your timely intervention, we are delivered.’

‘You are far from being rescued,’ Malistrum said. ‘The Sororitas convent’s announcement…’

‘LIES!’ the Bishop yelled. Some of the soldiers raised their weapons slightly, but went back to attention at the sign of their officers.

This topic must have been a taboo for Bishop and his entourage. The clergyman took a deep breath, and collected himself.

‘Do not let yourself fooled by heretic propaganda, my son,’ he said in a reproachful voice. The Captain wondered for a second just how much younger than him Paulino was. ‘The false voice of the Enemy can sway even the strong. Nevertheless,’ his face brightened, ‘your arrival here means the end of the crisis, and the hope of a new beginning.’ His voice became stern again, like a father who was slightly disappointed with his child. ‘I must say I was sad to hear that you have so over-eagerly destroyed one of the ships of the Saint Menthas Navy. Your warriors are formidable, but sometimes they seem to overstep their boundaries, don’t you think?’

This was to be another round of the game. ‘Overstep?’ Malistrum asked. ‘My men followed my orders to the letter. I ordered them to disable one ship and board the other, and they did so.’

‘Those ships were the property of the shrineworld!’

‘No, they were the property of the Imperial Navy of Subsector Echydra. They are currently attached to the shrineworld of Saint Menthas, and they were in danger of being commandeered by a hostile force. Imperial policy dictates that it is preferable to damage Imperial property than to let it fall in the wrong hands.’

Paulino leaned forward in his throne.

‘You are the Angels of Death! The chosen of Him on Earth! Do you want to say that you are not able to take over a ship intact?’

‘I am a chosen of the Emperor, but I am not the Emperor Himself.’ There was an angry murmur around the Captain, which he did not understand. He had just said that he was not the Emperor. How come the clergy went mad at that remark? Of all the Imperial organizations, the Ecclesiarchy was one of the most frustrating.

Nevertheless, he needed to make these people understand their own situation.

‘The two ships are towed back to the shrineworld, Bishop Paulino. I had to make a decision two days ago, and I made it. You got back a functional ship and a damaged one which can be rebuilt and re-armed.’

‘Those ships are needed to defend the shrineworld!’

‘And they can do just that. The Faith’s Reward lost none of her cannons or ordenance. It is still a functional mobile fortress, which can defend the planet from orbit. You have thousands of craft around the planet. They can all be made battle-ready. You possess all the necessary means to fortify this world, Bishop.’

‘I will believe this once you and captain Savirez have finished reinforcing the planet,’ the Bishop answered coolly.

So it has come to that. All this conversation just to actually say it out loud what Paulino wanted. Malistrum’s mind was working furiously, but he had no real option. He had to play the last few lines of his part, and then…

Well, in the worst scenario, words would give way to action.

‘I’m afraid you misunderstand us, Bishop Paulino. The Chapter’s policy dictates that in a crisis event like this, we are to convene and build up our forces so we would be in a better position for pacification. We will only use Saint Mentas as a waypoint, and then we move on to rendezvous with the rest of the Fatemaker fleet.’

The Bishop leaned back in his chair. He started to smile again, and he shook his head slowly. His smile was meant to be benevolent, but it raised an alarm in the Astartes commander, and his next words pumped the Space Marine’s system with adrenaline.

‘Ah, my child, it is you who misunderstands me. You are not going to leave Saint Menthas.’





‘At first, it wasn’t obvious what happened on Terra,’ Inquisitor Cathlin said. ‘We felt the disappearance of the Astronomicon, and almost all sanctioned psykers died in a few minutes.’

‘Almost?’ the Chaplain asked. The Inquisitor’s face brightened.

‘Oh yes, almost. To the best of my knowledge, three of the original two hundred and seventeen Astropaths employed by the clergy stayed alive. Well, they stayed alive for a while. One of them died a little later. Three days later? Maybe four. Anyway, the other two survived quite nicely, although they were on edge, and they failed to give proper answers as to what happened. A second one died after the first week when she started to babble about the destruction of Terra and the death of the Emperor.’

She chuckled.

‘He should have known better. The Sororitas sisters killed him before I even had a chance to talk to him. Oh well. One more was still alive. Of the two hundred. Dreary business, my dear Chaplain.’

Uskovich frowned. The behaviour of the Inquisitor was strange, to say the least. Did she suffer some mental breakdown after this catastrophe? He certainly hoped that she had not. He had no idea how to act if she turned out to be a liability.

‘Anyway,’ Cathrin continued, ‘after the first week, some form of order was re-established. The Sororitas convent worked together with the clergy, and they managed to put the population to rest. I was monitoring their job, and they were sufficiently effective. Effective enough so that I didn’t have to interfere.’

She was playing with her hair.

‘And then the second catastrophe came. There was an Astropathic message from Ophelia, the seat of the Eccesiarchy. Apparently, the Imperium did not die around the shrineworld, and the Church was still standing. Everyone was rejoicing. The only problem was that the message was addressed to the Sororitas convent, and it was encrypted so only they can hear it.’

‘What was the message?’

The Inquisitor shrugged her shoulders.

‘I have no idea. Pathetic, isn’t it? It is the job of the Inquisition to know such things. If I had seen the message, I would have been able to decrypt it, but I would have needed a chance to see the message, and the Sisters did not give me that chance.’

She sighed.

‘Canoness Belistrata spent exactly twenty-six minutes inside the Astropathicus-tower in the Basilica. Then she shot the Astropath, and sent a general message to all her convent. She was leaving the Basilica when she was confronted by the Bishop about the content of the message. I have the recording of that conversation, but the point is that they started to shout at each other, and then the Sisters opened fire on the clergy. The rest is history now. The Sisters fought their way to the spaceport, took over elements of the fleet and destroyed the rest. I presume you remember the recording of their statement?’

‘I do.’

He really did. The message was chilling because of the nihilism it contained and because it basically confirmed everything which Librarian Akichi said. The Emperor died; Mankind was doomed; the Church failed. The Sisters were leaving the unfaithful so they could…

‘Inquisitor, what do you think of the last part of the message?’

‘The part hinting at some place where the faithful may survive?’ Cathrin smiled. ‘Well, this is not such a big mystery. The message came form Ophelia, right? Apparently, the Grand Ecclesiarch, Pius Guia, survived whatever happened on Terra, and he managed to get to that planet. Once there, he did the one thing every sane person would do in such a crisis. You yourselves are doing it.’

The Chaplain slowly nodded.

‘Regroup and reinforce.’

‘And prepare for the coming storm. Quite reasonably if you ask me, my darling Chaplain.’

The Chaplain was pondering over this new piece of information, so the Inquisitor could talk on her own.

‘I don’t think that the message said anything about Saint Menthas or the Bishop. The shooting and the statement was Belistrata’s doing. She and the Bishop never really got along. You see, he was a politician and the Canoness was a soldier. They tolerated each other as best as they could because they were bound by their common faith but now that their faith no longer has focus…’

Uskovich looked up.

‘You have been talking about the Emperor as if he was dead, Inquisitor. I know that there is evidence which could be interpreted that way, but do you really think that there is no other explanation?’

Cathrin smiled.

‘My dear Astartes friend! You are difficult to convince, aren’t you?’

‘I am when it is about the Emperor,’ the Chaplain asked coldly.

‘Fair enough!’ Cathrin nodded. ‘Well, let’s take the facts again. The Astronomicon is gone, and this suggests that Terra is gone.’

‘Possibly.’

‘Almost all souls directly linked to Him are dead. There are survivors, and they say more or less the same. He is dead. As far as I know, one of our Librarians is still alive. Does he say anything different?’

The Chaplain answered nothing, to which the Inquisitor waved a hand.

‘There you go, honey. Thirdly, there is a message from Ophelia, the planet which is the de facto seat of the Imperial Church, a message which makes the whole local Sororitas convent so crazy that they start shooting at everything and claim that the Emperor is dead.’ She raised a finger as Uskovich was about to speak. ‘Do not say anything, darling, because I have one more thing to say. Tell me, honestly, have you not been feeling in the last few weeks that a part of your soul has been torn out of you?’

Uskovich opened his mouth, then he closed it.

‘Aha!’ Cathrin grinned. ‘You have been feeling it, but you could not explain it or do anything about it. Well, let me tell you that this is exactly the same way everyone on the planet feels, including myself. I might say that this is some local phenomenon, but you came here from the Cephola system, and you show the same symptoms. I am a psyker myself. A week Delta, but a psyker nonetheless, and I can tell you that whenever I look at somebody, I can see a gaping wound on them, as if their soul was leaking a bit. Now, there are several explanations for this, but one of them is that everybody has lost a very important, iconic object of their devotion at the same time, and the wound suggests that this did not happen because they lost their faith. No, the object of their devotion disappeared physically.’

She leaned back again, and waved.

‘This is the reason why everyone is edgy and jumpy. They are disoriented, they are short-tempered and they are susceptible to violence and chaos. This crisis will probably bring Mankind down in the long run, but there is a very real short-term danger involved. With everyone so anxious and scared, the logical part of their personality will inevitably be pushed aside. The next few months will be very bad for any kind of reasoning.’





‘I am not sure I understand you, Bishop Paulino.’

Malistrum was feeling wrong. He did not feel nervous, scared or sick; he merely felt wrong. It was not in his nature to stand idle in the face of an open threat, and this was one. Normally, his natural reaction would be a counter-threat, one that would carry the weight of an Astartes commander, or perhaps even direct action. This was out of question, however.

Whatever the Captain was thinking about the man in front of him, he was talking to a high-ranking member of the Imperial Church. He outranked him even if he was not his superior, and although he could say ‘no’ to him, he could not be hostile towards him. It would fall back on his head later, and it would serve no Imperial purpose in any case. The question which remained was just how far the Bishop himself understood that the same was true of the Space Marine contingent.

So far, the clergyman’s reaction was worrying.

‘There is nothing to understand here, my son.’ He was still smiling. ‘You came here for sanctuary and offered help to us in exchange. Your force will stay here and reinforce the shrineworld, and in return, the Church extends its hand to defend you. It is not dissimilar to the naklonjenost-treaties you make with the Inquisition so frequently, is it?’

This was worse than Malistrum expected. He could not analyse the slight change of tone when Paulino used the term ‘Inquisition’, but the change was there, and this suggested some negative association, perhaps jealousy. Was he hoping to acquire a force similar to the Inquisitorial retinue forces? Was this really all that he saw in this situation?

‘Bishop Paulino. I understand your concern about the safety of your planet, but you must understand the wider situation. The sector, and possibly, the Imperium at large is in grave danger, and the best chance to counter this new threat is to form bigger task forces. Your planet is at the moment safe, and you have the means to fortify it further. My strike force did what it could here, and so we are going to move on.’

Paulino winced.

‘The shrineworld of Saint Menthas has been the holy ground of the Emperor for seven thousand years. Its safety has priority over all matters, my son.’

‘No, it does not,’ Malistrum answered levelly. ‘The importance of any particular planet, shrineworlds included, must be weighed with the current situation in mind. There have been well-documented examples when Ecclesiarchical worlds were refused absolute priority, and this situation is one of these instances. My forces have to move on to be more effective.’

The Captain did not expect the Bishop to understand his reasons, but the reaction still surprised him. The Bishop’s eyes suddenly bulged, and his face distorted completely.

‘I am the Bishop of the Imperial Church! Nobody stands above me, not even an Astartes! Kneel before me, and swear fealty to me!’

Malistrum was momentarily caught off guard. The Bishop seemed to be a decent politician. What could make a man of his position to lose control so completely?

‘I swore fealty to the Emperor of Mankind and the protection of humanity, but the relationship between Church and the Adeptus Astertes is set in laws and regulations which all sides accepted at the foundation of the Imperium. I do not…’

‘OBEY!’ yelled Paulino.





Librarian Akichi raised his head slightly outside the audience chamber, and made a step towards the door. The guards suddenly seemed nervous.

Captain, I sense a change in the general mood in the chamber. Is everything…

Do not act. Stand down, and do not attack the guards. You cannot kill anybody in the Basilica.

Captain…

You may not kill here!






The air was positively vibrating with tension now. Paulino was half raised from his throne, waving an accusatory finger at the Astartes Captain. The guards were holding their lasrifles as if not sure whether they should use it or not. The other dignitaries – captain Savirez included – were casting nervous glances at Bishop Paulino, and then back to Malistrum.

Nobody really felt like challenging a fully armoured Space Marine Captain. No person in his right mind would have done such a ridiculous thing. Unfortunately, Bishop Paulino CXII was not in his right mind that day.

‘You dare defy me?’ he hissed, imitating the final words of the Sororitas commander of the Faith’s Reward. If Captain Malistrum had got more experience with humans or if he had been forced to actually negotiate with them more often, he would have understood the warning sign. Then again, he did not have a lot of options.

‘Nobody tries to defy you, Bishop Paulino. I am merely stating the fact that my Space Marines are not your…’

‘HERESY!’

Two mistakes were made in the next ten seconds. The first was made by the Bishop. If Inquisitor Cathrin had been there, she could have identified the symptoms of the Withdrawal on him: he was so unbalanced that he shed all sense of diplomacy and intrigue that had kept him in office for so many decades. In his anger, he jumped off his throne and dashed towards the Astartes at the base of the stairs. This was the mistake: he was not aware on top of the stairs just how huge the Space Marine was. He pushed aside his guards, and found himself looking up into the impassive helmet of an eight and a half feet tall armoured giant. His anger turned to fear in an instant, and he squeaked.

The other mistake was made by Captain Malistrum. Later aboard the Opportunity, he had time to think over what happened, and he could find no excuse for what he did. Such things were part of the initiate training of future Space Marines, and a man with his experience could not even blame it on his unfamiliarity with human etiquette and behaviour. The only explanation was that he was also under the effect of the Withdrawal, which was strong enough to cause a momentary lapse of judgement in him.

He made a step towards the panicking clergyman.

Bishop Paulino’s reaction was predictable, and made the worst case scenario a reality in an instant. He shrieked, and jumped behind one of the guards. Another dignitary cried out in fear, and this was all the sign the soldiers needed.

Almost sixty guns opened fire at Captain Malistrum.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 20 up)

Postby Midgard » Thu Jun 28, 2012 8:32 pm

Cliffhanger! This one made me think of George R. R. Martin's cliffhangers. Very well done, and I like the switching between two narratives. The Inquisitor made me think a bit of Amberley Vail from Ciaphas Cain books, which is a good thing.

Another thing I noticed is that you have used "milliard" rather than more common (in the US, at least) "billion". If you don't mind me ask, I recall you have mentioned English is not your first language, but do you mind if I ask what language is your first? I am asking because in my native language (Russian), "milliard" is indeed the more common term :)
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 20 up)

Postby Meaneye » Thu Jun 28, 2012 9:56 pm

I am Hungarian. Although I am going to learn some Russian in the summer (I would like to read Metro 2033 in the native language one day :D ).

I know the Ciaphas Cain books, but this character is made after a real person I once know (you may think flirty colleagues are fun, but it is actually irritating. They stand uncomfortably close to you, they touch everybody's arm, shoulder and back, and you don't know what the hell they are signalling, if they signal anything at all. I wondered how this would work with Astartes who do not even know that such games exist).
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 20 up)

Postby Gaius Marius » Sat Jun 30, 2012 4:25 am

That is going to sting.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 21 up)

Postby Meaneye » Fri Jul 06, 2012 6:30 pm

Update time. This is also effectively half-term in the story. I am rather proud how this is turning out to be.

Part 21


‘I have no idea how long the soul bleeding is going to last,’ said Inquisitor Cathrin. ‘I believe it will be manageable within six months. Actually, I rather hope it will not last longer. It would damage the soul irreparably, you know. Fortunately, there are ways to stop the bleeding effect, or to slow it down a little.’

‘How?’ asked Uskovich.

‘Well, my handsome Chaplain, the first thing is that the Withdrawal doesn’t effect everybody the same way. Those with greater willpower may resist better. I am quite sure that although you feel that something is wrong, it doesn’t affect your daily routine that much, does it?’

The Chaplain thought it over.

‘No, it does not. However, I have to agree with you. The effect is visible on the mortal crew of the Opportunity as well as my battle-brothers.’

‘And just what did our gallant Chaplain do to help his flock?’

Uskovich was becoming more and more irritated with the woman’s manners, but he controlled himself.

‘I advised the ship’s clergy to conduct masses, I advised the Captain to run practice drills for the crew and I tried to give additional tasks to everyone.’

‘In other words: you kept your people busy.’ The Inquisitor clapped. ‘You have actually managed to find the one solution to this problem. As part of our mind, our personality, our very soul has been ripped from us, we need to fill the empty place. If you focus your attention elsewhere, it keeps you alive until the healing process starts. I would be a little hesitant about the masses, though.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The object of our devotion is missing.’ Cathrin cast a disappointed look at the Chaplain. ‘Do not come with this look, darling! Whether you think that He is dead or not, you can’t deny that something happened on Terra. From our point of view, it is the same. Praying to Him would focus our mind, but our subconscious is well aware that He is no longer there. You have already seen outside just what effect this can have on ordinary people.’

Uskovich’s mind was suddenly filled with pictures of violence. The woman’s irritating manners and the casual way she was talking about the holy Emperor was more than he could handle. He was fighting hard to restrain himself.

‘I see that you have no problem with paying too much fealty to the Emperor,’ he said.

The Inquisition chuckled.

‘Oh, lack of religious thoughts is not how I am handling this issue. As an Inquisitor, I have other means to focus my attention elsewhere.’

Uskovich was taken aback for a second; long enough for his anger to go away, enabling him to take a better look at the Inquisitor sitting in front of him. She was smiling, and absent-mindedly playing with the curls of her hair.

There was something strangely missing from her smile.

‘Inquisitor,’ the Chaplain started cautiously. ‘Are you under the effect of some hallucinogenic material?’

To his great surprise, the woman cast her head back and laughed heartily.

‘Oh, darling, no, no, no. Nothing so simple as drugs or alcohol. Although,’ she added thoughtfully, ‘perhaps that would have worked as well.’

‘What did you do?’ Uskovich asked. Cathrin merely smiled.

‘Why, I changed personality, silly.’

The Astartes Chaplain looked at her for a long second.

‘You changed personality.’

‘I sure did!’ Cathrin beamed. ‘You see, we Inquisitors often have to do covert work. We infiltrate all levels of society, we collect data, we sabotage from within. I suppose you didn’t have such tasks when you were working for the Inquisition. I mean, you are a big handsome man, but you would make a poor spy. I, on the other hand, was very good at this game. There was a special psychic method which creates new mental patterns in your mind. As a psyker, I can control such processes better, and the result is a new personality which is aware of the basic aims and goals of the old one, but otherwise behaves according to the new programming.’

Uskovich was still not sure he understood.

‘Do you want to say that when the crisis started, you created a new personality for yourself?’

‘Actually,’ Cathrin smiled, ‘this one was already created. It took me weeks to form this personality during my apprentice years when I had to infiltrate an aristocratic level of the society of Hammargash IV. To be honest, I didn’t really like her. My present self, I mean. She is boring, superficial, emotionally detached and quite promiscuous. She was perfect for that job, and it seems that she is perfect for the present situation.’

The Astartes Chaplain rubbed his forehead.

I still don’t understand why you needed this.

The inquisitor shook her head, as if slightly disappointed.

‘My brave Chaplain! You have just told me yourself how you cannot accept the fact that something awful happened to the Emperor. Do you think it was any easier for me? I am a psyker! When He died, I literally felt a part of my soul die with Him, even though I was not soul-bound. For a whole week, I had nightmares the likes of which you cannot imagine. At the end of the first week, when I found that I was actively contemplating suicide, I decided that I need to do something to save myself for the future – whatever future is left for us. I needed to detach myself from all this, and the old personality, which was still stored in my memories, was just the perfect tool for it. The woman sitting in front of you is a shallow, vain creature, but she is still an Inquisitor, and as long as her hair looks good, she will continue to operate.’ She touched her curls. ‘And my hair looks great today.’

There was nothing for Uskovich to answer to this. The two of them were sitting in the dark of the chapel for a while, when the Inquisitor’s vox unit creaked.

‘The riot is entering this street, Inquisitor,’ Battle-Brother Mitschenko’s voice reported. ‘I suggest we move to a safer place.’

The Inquisitor sighed disappointedly.

‘And just when we were about to get to know each other a little better.’ She stood up, stretched, and looked back at Uskovich. ‘I suggest you come with me, honey. The secret passage will take you through most of this quarter, and you will be able to reach your shuttle faster. Unless you want to ask me something more.’

Uskovich had nothing else to ask. He had confirmation that the recent events were not localized, and the Emperor really had passed. Worse, he had just found information of a short-term danger in the form of the Withdrawal. He could not deny its presence as he himself had been feeling nervous and lost in the last two weeks. Would his Chapter survive this ordeal? And if they did, would they only live to see the demise of Mankind?

He and his squad followed the Inquisitor into the secret passage. The sound of commotion was faintly audible outside, but the Chaplain was busy with his own thoughts. He was about to step through the passage when his own voxline signalled.

‘One moment, please,’ he said, and he put on his helmet. The Inquisitor was looking at him with mild interest as he was communicating with the caller – no doubt a squad-mate from his Captain’s entourage. Cathrin frowned. Whatever the message was, it actually managed to elicit physical emotion from the Chaplain. Her frown deepened as Uskovich suddenly froze, then raised his hand with his clenched, trembling fist in front of him.





Lasguns were not designed particularly against power armour. They had penetration, but not at that magnitude. In order to wound a properly armed Space Marine, they needed an extremely lucky hit or continuous hits from multiple sources at the same area on the armour.

Against a Space Marine, the latter did not work. An Astartes never stayed in place for long in a combat situation. All Malistrum had to do was unclasp the bolt pistol and the chainsword from his waist, call in his squad and kill everyone in the room within approximately two minutes.

He did neither. To do so would have been to get in the same situation the Battle Sisters had got themselves into. Strike Force Four would have been able to fight its way out of the system; after all, it was unlikely that another force would arrive just as they were attempting to leave to stop them as they had stopped the battle Sisters. However, the conflict would have undoubtedly tarnished the reputation of the Fatemaker Chapter and a second carnage would have thrown the whole planet into anarchy. The Captain had neither the authority nor the willingness to effectively destroy a whole shrineworld – even in self-defence.

He did the only thing he could: nothing. His armoured body stood unmoved as the Church guards were trying to pepper him with las-shots. No evasion, no movement: he merely raised his hand to protect the visor on his helmet and put his faith into the strength of his armour and the endurance of his own superhuman physiology.

The guards were shooting like madman. Everybody screamed: the soldiers, the guests and the Bishop himself. Malistrum’s keen ears could make out a single voice crying for cease-fire; interestingly, it came from captain Savirez. Soon, however, his voice was blocked by the hissing sound of lasfire. Each hit could evaporate only a thin layer of the power-armour, but the next shot would get a little deeper, and then a little deeper again. The real question was which technology would fail sooner: the armour or the weapons.

Warning signs appeared on the Captain’s retina. His armour started to heat up. He was rocked by the continuous hits, and he had to fight his mental conditioning which was screaming for retaliation. Yet, reacting to the threat would have made things worse, so he stayed in place, like a mighty statue.

‘Khh!’

A hit penetrated his armour for the first time.





Akichi growled outside. The doors were sound-proof, but he was not listening with his physical ears, and his reaction startled everyone in the corridor.

My lord?

Do not act!


The Librarian cast a savage look at the mortal guards.

‘What are you doing to him?’ he snarled.

‘I don’t know what you are talking…’ one of the guards started, but he did not let him finish.

‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO HIM?’ he yelled.

The guards raised their weapons in panic, but it was too late. The Fatemakers were quicker than the mortals, and the armsmen found themselves looking into the barrels of the Space Marines’ bolters. Carnage would have been started already, but the hands of the Astartes were bound by the last command of their Captain. Only he or the Librarian could have negated that order, and Akichi seemed to restrained by some means.

My lord, allow us to enter!

No! we cannot start killing these people!

Would you rather die instead?

DO NOT ACT!






Malistrum was visibly shaking now. Lasfire had punched his body on half a dozen places now, and the strain on his armour was tremendous. The armsmen ran forward, and circled him to ensure the best possible spread of their hits. They were determined to finish their job and make a trophy of a Space Marine commander.

A miniature explosion finally thrown the Captain out of his position. One of the armsmen had his lucky shot, and he managed to destroy one of the vents on the backpack on Malisturm’s armour.

He almost fell. He was almost pushed to one knee, and his palm almost touched the ground. Miraculously, he slowly managed to stand up again.

The soldiers doubled their efforts.





The guards outside had a much harder time. Both sides were aiming at each other with their weapons, although the mortals had no illusion of being able to kill the Astartes warriors in front of them. They had never seen a Librarian before, so his behaviour was worrying them the most: Akichi seemed to be talking to someone not in the same place. He was shaking his head, and his face showed anger and frustration.

‘Why?’ he whispered.

‘My lords, I can assure you…’ a mortal officer started, but Akichi was not interested.

‘Shut up!’ he hissed.

The officer shut up. There was a faint sound coming from the audience chamber: it sounded like a faraway explosion, but it must have been loud if it reached the corridor. The Librarian froze.

A strange thing happened the next second. All members of the Fatemaker squad looked at the Librarian, as if they received some message. All at once, they lowered their weapons and maglocked them. The mortal officer sighed, relieved.

Thank the Throne, he thought. His adrenaline level was starting to get lower when the Librarian suddenly stepped forward and gripped his entire head in his gauntleted hand.





There comes a time when every gun runs out of ammunition.

The training of the Bishop’s bodyguards was adequate, which meant they emptied their lasguns more or less the same time. The silence which followed was almost deafening.

‘Emperor protect us,’ somebody whispered.

The double-winged door burst in. It did not simply open, it was not kicked in but literally exploded off the hinges. Eleven Fatemakers marched in, their leader having murder in his eyes; the faint moan of the guards who were supposed to keep them out was clearly audible behind them. The various dignitaries were fleeing before them with loud screams, while the soldiers were nervously fumbling their belt if they could find an extra clip for their guns.

There were none left. They had used it up on the Captain. The staff in Akichi’s hand started to crackle with blue energy. Someone screamed.

‘ENOUGH!’

Everybody looked at the source of the new voice. There were audible gasps as people realized that the cry came from Captain Malistrum.

The Captain was in a terrible shape. His armour was peppered all over by laser shots; in some places, clear holes marked where a lucky beam actually went over the metal and injured him. The intense heat generated by all the shooting burned off most of the painting from the ceramite surface, showing the original metallic colour under the rock-crete grey. He was visibly steaming from all the heat, except around the area where the vent was shot off his power-pack, where he was smoking. By any human definition, he had no right to live, let alone stand.

Yet stand he did. He had lowered his hand, and he was no longer protecting his faceplate (which looked no better than the rest of his gear), but he showed no sign of injury or weakness. He was visibly shot at least a dozen times, but his superhuman system clotted the blood fast enough not to let any of it flow out. His motionless posture betrayed no emotions, good or bad.

Then he slowly reached up, and took off his helmet. The assembled crowd had their first look of the face of a Space Marine Captain.

It was a horrible sight. His entire face was completely emotionless: no clenched jaw, no pursed lips, no frown on his forehead. His eyes, however, showed terrible rage. They gave out all the thoughts that were going through his mind. To kill. To murder. To destroy. To wipe the entire chamber clean of human existence, then continue with the city, the planet, the entire human race, body by body, down to the molecular level if necessary. The sheer aggression and the brutal mental conditioning inherent in all Astartes was visible just by the way he looked at the people in front of him. The only thing which was more frightening was the evident fact that the assembled were only alive because he managed to keep his rage under total control. All destructive potential locked inside his body was bound by his iron will, ready to be unleashed at his merest thought.

Bishop Paulino CXII had crawled back up to his throne at the beginning of the one-sided firefight. He had no time to actually hide behind it, so he was crouching at its foot, trembling at the sight of Captain Malistrum. As the armoured giant started to walk towards him, he gave out a faint yelp, but was unable to move away. His bodyguards, probably all seasoned veterans, went out of the Space Marine’s way with panicked hurry.

It took Malistrum four steps to get to the top of the stairs. He leaned down, and pushed his head mere inches from the Bishop’s face.

‘Bishop Paulino,’ he started in a levelled voice. If he noted that at this point, the priest soiled himself, he gave no sign of it. ‘Under any other circumstances, I would consider this act as open aggression against another Imperial organization; a treason according to Imperial law. Given the recent events, I am willing to overlook it. I do not believe that you wish to make an enemy of Strike Force Four. I was under the impression that we are allies. As this is clearly not the case, however, I will enlighten you about your present situation.’

He waved behind him.

‘There is chaos outside the system now, and there is chaos within your domain. You need all the help you can get, but you tried to coerce it from us, even though you had neither the right nor the strength to do so. We will not stay. We will leave, and we will leave now. We have helped you already, although you don’t seem to deserve our help. You will have your ships, and the possibility to keep this planet together, but you will do so without the help of the Fatemakers.’

He leaned a little forward.

‘Another thing about our departure. We will spare you and your men because we do not shed Imperial blood. Once we leave the room, you will be tempted to order to call reinforcement, perhaps try to fire upon our shuttle as we take off. It will do you no good. My ship, the Opportunity, is orbiting the planet; the Pandora, the only battle-ready ship in your fleet has depleted her fighter bays, and she is still tied to the other cruiser. The Blood of Martyrs is commanded by my men. We will leave her under your care, but now you have to listen to me carefully, Bishop Paulino. Any more attack against my force, my men or any ship currently under my command will be met with extremely harsh measures. I no longer trust you can judge my words in the right context, so I will spell it out for you. Just one sign of attack, even the slightest provocation, against me, my men, my ship, whether I survive or die, and my men will fire all available weapons upon your city. They will carve up the mantle of the planet under this city with lances, they will destroy every building with bombardment cannons, and they will kill the entire population with nuclear weapons. Nothing will survive: not you, not your people. I have no mercy in my soul for people who overstep their boundaries and attack me without reason or the necessary strength. Do we have an understanding, Bishop?’

Paulino did not answer because a whimper was not a correct answer to this question. Malistrum raised a hand in level with the Bishop’s face. He did not need to clench his fist.

‘I need your word on this, Bishop. Do we have an understanding?’

‘Y…yes,’ the Bishop whispered.

Malistrum kept eye-contact with his for exactly thirty-four seconds, then he turned away.

‘We are leaving,’ he told his men.

He joined his squad, which was forming a protective circle around him. Their weapons were scanning the crowd, not that there was anyone left to challenge them. Akichi was looking at Captain Savirez, who returned his glance with a pale, but determined, face. Then the Librarian turned his attention to his Captain.

Let me help you with your armour, my lord.

He was right. The lucky las-shot which blew the vent off Malistrum’s power-pack also ruined the whole energy system of the power armour. Without the energy to sustain it, the armour was just a huge chunk of ceramite and metal which the captain had to carry with his own strength.

Akichi knew that Malistrum was strong enough to do that, but this was no longer just about strength: this was also about appearances. If the squad wanted to make it out of the Basilica alive, the Captain could not show any weakness, and in his present state, he would probably crumble after the first hundred metres.

Your help would be appreciated, Librarian.

Malistrum’s mental voice was shaded by red-hot pain. Despite his show, he was seriously injured.

Akichi snarled inwardly, and clenched his fist. There was no psyker alive in the Basilica to sense the kinetic energy formed around the Captain’s armour, relieving him of most of its burden. The twelve Space Marines turned, and left the audience chamber without a word.

Nobody dared to follow them; in fact, nobody even dared to move. Captain Malistrum effectively subjugated an entire shrineworld merely by standing and being shot at.





‘Was he injured?’ Uskovich asked. His voice was just as emotionless as his Captain’s had been a few minutes earlier.

‘Of course, he was,’ came an answer. The voice was young, probably another ‘no-studder’.

‘Where?’

The voice was now talking quickly, almost as if he was in panic, although this was impossible.

‘Where was he not injured? His arms, legs, chest… his armour is gone. Some of the shots went through him clean, and we could not help him. Brother-Chaplain, Akichi forbade us to interfere. He said it was the Captain’s order, but… Brother-Chaplain, we could have killed them all, kill the whole lot of them, but he did not let us! Brother-Chaplain…’

‘Calm yourself, Brother,’ Uskovich interrupted. He was getting progressively tired and angry at the same time, and this feeling was most disturbing. ‘Escort him back to the Opportunity, and we will follow you shortly.’

He broke link, and he turned, just to see Inquisitor Cathrin stopping and looking at him.

‘Bad news?’

The Chaplain saw no reason not to tell her everything. Cathrin frowned.

‘Do I understand it correctly? Has he just threatened a Bishop of the Imperial Church and an entire planet with nuclear extinction?’

‘As an alternative to massacring an entire congregation of priests and finish what the Battle Sisters started,’ Uskovich answered coolly.

To his great surprise, the Inquisitor dropped her hair back and laughed whole-heartedly.

‘Touché, my daring Chaplain! Indeed, that would have been much worse.’ She resumed walking, talking half to Uskovich behind him, half to herself. ‘Paulino seems to have lost it. Too bad, he used to be a clever one. Not my type, but clever.’

They continued to walk in the dark, but surprisingly wide underground corridor. The Inquisitor had promised the Fatemaker squad easy transport at the end of it to the spaceport, so, at least, this problem had been solved – just to be replaced by another one.

‘I no longer think that our good Bishop is the appropriate man to hold all this together,’ Cathrin said conversationally. ‘The Sororitas insurrection was bad enough, but now he has weakened his positions just a little further. His political enemies will use it to their advantage, and they will start struggling while the planet falls apart around them.’ She reached up and touched her hair. ‘It seems I will have to take matters into my own hands.’

‘What are you planning to do?’ Uskovich asked.

‘Oh, there are ways to control crisis. You just have to understand the price. I mean, things are in motion now, and not even the Inquisition is able to stand up against the weight of billions. But there will always be some people who lead. Masses can and have to be led. We just have to know which important people we have to keep, replace or elevate. We are here, by the way.’

The team stopped at a door. The Inquisitor inserted a card into a slot next to it, and she turned to Uskovich.

‘This is where we will part our ways, sweetheart. I will not ask you to stay with me and help because Emperor knows, you are right when you want to consolidate with your brothers.’ She smiled. ‘Nor will I try to force you to obey me. I could try, but Saint Menthas is just one planet, and you have the potential to influence more. But you have to leave now. This place will go down in a few days, and I will be too busy assassinating key figures to deal with you in any way. Don’t worry about the Bishop. I will take care of him soon enough. Just take my message to your Captain.’

She leaned forward.

‘Avoid all human planets for a few months. If I am right, the Withdrawal will burn most of the Imperium out. You cannot prevent it. You cannot fight a forest fire with bolters. You have to let it calm down on its own. Join your Chapter, and wait until the big problem reduces itself enough so you can handle it. The Withdrawal will end. It has to end or Mankind becomes extinct within two years, instead another ten thousand. Forget about the far future, and forget about the present. Wait until you can save something, then save it, and not more. This is my advice. Oh, and tell him that I found a picture of him in my databank, and he looks great. That is all.’

Uskovich was standing silently as the door opened. What could he say to this? What could he say to a woman who had literally modified her personality, her own soul to deal with a problem? How could he relate to the notion that the entire future human existence would have to continue without the one slim hope they had, that it would now inevitably end in cold, dead silence, and they still must fight on?

What could he say to an Inquisitor who was just standing there, telling him these terrible things with a mild smile on her face?

‘Thank you for you help and your advice, Inquisitor.’ He showed the sign of the Aquila. ‘The Emperor protects.’

Cathrin shook her head.

‘No. No, I’m quite sure he doesn’t. You do now, honey. And you can only defend so much.’





‘I sincerely hope you are not going to do anything similar again, my lord,’ Akichi said. He, Malistrum and Chaplain Uskovich were sitting in the Apothecarion aboard the Opportunity. The Chaplain had just finished his report, being informed about the events in the Basilica in return. Akichi had nothing much to add all to this: he was silent while Uskovich was speaking, and he did not add anything to the Captain’s speech. By now, however, the armour had come off Malistrum, and what he saw forced him to speak his mind.

The upper part of Malistrum was covered in dried blood. Any average human would have bled out from all the wounds. It was not so bad on an Astartes, but still…

‘There was no other alternative to keep our hands free of Imperial blood,’ Malistrum answered calmly.

‘It makes no difference to the Bishop. He will send his report to his superiors, and he will explain things the way he sees fit.’

‘I don’t think he will have the chance to do that,’ Uskovich aid. ‘The Inquisitor mentioned that she was most unsatisfied with his performance.’

Nobody in the room needed an explanation just what this would mean to Paulino’s future. Malistrum shook his head as an Apothecary started to work on him.

‘What is done is done. We are still pure, and our sense of duty is still intact. I worry more about the Inquisitor.’ He turned to Uskovich. ‘She is sure that the Emperor is dead.’

‘That is what she said,’ the Chaplain answered defensively. Malistrum did not force the issue any longer.

‘This is irrelevant as long as we follow our original objective. We will rendezvous with the rest of the Chapter, and we leave it to our betters to set our future course. We will follow her advice in one point, though. The Withdrawal is a concept that I don’t like at all. It clearly affects us too. I know I had to restrain myself from killing in the Basilica.’

‘Me too,’ murmured Akichi. ‘It was hard to stop at the arms and legs of those guards.’

‘All of us are affected, I think,’ answered Uskovich. His voice was uncharacteristically soft.

‘We will have to find some way to heal the spiritual wound on us,’ Malistrum stated. ‘The two of you will have to find a way to find a cure.’

The two nodded. The Captain hissed as the Apothecary started to stitch a particularly nasty hole on his abdomen.

‘I hate stomach wounds. Well, we had another half-successful mission. Our worse fears seem to be confirmed, and we only managed to make enemies on the planet. Apart from the Inquisitor, of course.’

‘Not exactly,’ Akichi said. The other two looked at him.

‘Explain yourself,’ Malistrum commanded.

‘Captain Savirez. When we broke in, and you were speaking with the Bishop, after having almost killed yourself, I might add…’

‘To the point, Librarian.’

‘He knew what I was. Nobody recognised me for what I am, but he did. When I looked at him, he opened his mind to me. There was a message in his head. He was thinking of it so hard it almost sounded like a cry.’

He nodded to Malistrum.

‘He thought, I am sorry. I was not told. I am in your debt. He kept repeating this in his head.’

‘Hmm. It seems we still had an ally in that chamber.’ Malistrum pinched the bridge of his nose. The other two were waiting.

‘Well, it seems we can do one more favour for this planet; whether they need our help or not.’





‘Be a darling, and call in the rest of the sentries, will you? We are sending out a team to the northern hemisphere tomorrow.’

‘As you wish.’

The savant bowed and left. Cathrin was looking as he was leaving. He was a good assistant, although he was no eye-candy. Oh well, you cannot have everything.

The Inquisitor was sitting in front of her personal cogitator, collecting data and sipping her favourite tea. She was busy. The Fatemakers had left about seven hours ago, but things had already started to deteriorate down on the planet. Bishop Paulino had recently sent a series of terse messages to the ships in orbit. They were all coded, but she did not even have to set up her decoder to guess what he wanted.

Strangely, the Navy ships did not seem to react much. All the while, the riot which had almost swallowed that handsome Chaplain was spreading in several key districts in the capital. By tomorrow, the unrest would reach the other neighbouring cities as well. She would have to be ready for it.

An armoured giant stepped in.

‘We had a coded message from the Opportunity, Inquisitor.’

‘Oh, did we?’ Cathrin took over a slate from Brother Mitschenko.

‘Did you not wish you could go with them?’ she asked conversationally.

‘My duty is here,’ the Fatemaker warrior answered.

‘Of course it is, sweetie.’ Cathrin looked at the slate, and started to laugh.

‘Oh, my dear Chaplain, you are a true gentleman!’

‘Good news?’ Mitschenko asked.

‘In a way,’ she responded. ‘Honey, I need you to find Andrei, and tell him to contact a Navy captain called Savirez. I will also need all available information of him.’

The Fatemaker nodded.

‘And when you are done with it,’ Cathrin continued, ‘I will need you to get your gear and join the team which goes north. There are people who have to die… wait a minute…’

She stood up as she was going through the various slates on her desk.

‘There it is. The people in red will have to die in this particular order and time frames. The ones in green have to be rescued and taken here, also in this particular order. Do I have to ask if you can do it?’

The expression Mitschenko made was almost human-like disappointment.

‘Right. You can naturally do it.’ Cathrin reached up, and patted the Astartes on his back slightly above the waist. ‘Off you go, sweetheart.’

The warrior left, and Cathrin opened her hand. The listening device she had planted on Mitschenko’s back-plate earlier was resting on her palm.

‘It’s a good thing you are so gosh-darn straight and honest, boys,’ she said to herself. Trust or no trust, she couldn’t not be an Inquisitor. If Strike Force Four shared some secret with their battle-brother, she would know it.

In the meantime, she could afford to be grateful to the Space Marines. They had just given him the last key to solve the problem of keeping Saint Menthas in one piece. Captain Savirez was a man of conscience, which was a rarity that could be used in the coming conflict. With him and the Navy as an ally, the worst of the coming planetary anarchy could be checked and controlled, allowing her to manipulate the final outcome in her favour. The two of them may even save the planet from total annihilation.

She wondered if he was handsome.

She sat back and brought up a copy of her death-list on the cogitator’s display. She ran through the various manes: some in red, some in green.

The name of Paulino CXII was the fourth red one.

Cathrin’s mouth suddenly dried out. She reached for her cup, only to find no more tea in it. Her hand went to her hair instinctively, and ploughed into her hair. She managed to calm down almost instantly.

The most important things were still fine in her life.





Sixteen days after the Emperor’s death

Jump point, Saint Menthas system





Malistrum was needed on the bridge, but he still had some time.

He was kneeling at his bed with a silver Aquila in his hand. It was a gift from the natives of Condor VI, and he appreciated the sentimental value of it enough to keep it around. In these new times, a religious object acquired new significance.

Malistrum was aware of the power of symbolism, and he thought he had found a way to heal the wound on his soul at lest to some degree. He had his duty, and it would keep him going for as long as there was a single Fatemaker left under his care. However, if he wanted to start on his new path, he needed closure.

The Aquila was lying on a piece of cloth, ready to be wrapped and stored at the bottom of the Captain’s personal chest. The Captain closed his eyes, and started what proved to be the last but one prayer in his life.

‘Emperor,’ he started. ‘I cannot deny facts, and I cannot pray to someone who no longer is. Where your soul might be, I do not know, but I have to agree with Inquisitor Cathrin: you no longer protect. This does not mean that we no longer have to follow your path. I swear by my honour, I will do something useful for Mankind before I draw my last breath. We may succeed or we may fail, but know this: we will continue to live and act in your name and by your example.’

There was no answer. The Captain of Strike Force Four wrapped the Aquila, and put it away.

He would never take it out again.





There was singing on several decks of the Opportunity.

It was the regular mass the ship used to have before entering the Warp. Chaplain Uskovich was holding it, as he usually did; he was looking at the mixed crowd of Astartes, human and the small group of ogryns in front of him. His uncovered face was firm and determined, reassuring the flock that things were still under control at least in this community.

If Librarian Akichi had looked at him with his Warp-senses, he would have been surprised to find that his soul-wound had healed completely. He would have also been slightly worried about the fact how lifeless and empty his soul had become.





The reason Akichi was not noticing the changes in Uskovich was that he was busy elsewhere.

He was sitting in a dark room with a cogitator. He had good reason to hide from the rest of the strike force.

He typed in the last key word.

WARP.

The display came alive with red letters.

WARNING. POSSIBLE MORAL THREAT. AUTHORIZATION REQUIRED.

He typed in a fifteen-digit code.

The files opened.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 21 up)

Postby Midgard » Mon Jul 09, 2012 6:28 pm

Still great writing, as always! I am really enjoying this story, and can't wait to see where it goes from here. Truly one of my favorite pieces here.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 21 up)

Postby havoc » Mon Jul 09, 2012 6:39 pm

Well, guess i could stop lurking and comment.

Great story and probably one of the better stories i have seen.
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Re: Fatemakers' Odyssey (50K) (part 21 up)

Postby Meaneye » Mon Jul 09, 2012 10:18 pm

Thanks a lot, guys. I promise you will not be disappointed in the second half of the story :twisted: .

I am visiting relatives this week, so the next update will not be ready by Friday. I will get round to it as soon as possible.

By the vay, Havoc: this is a new avatar, right? I will have bad dreams about it :o .
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