To catch up: Part 1
And now, Chapter 3...
We moved deeper into the Shatters, our nerves tight and trigger fingers ready. The scent of blood heralded something ahead, and we slowed our pace accordingly. Turning a corner in the passageway, we came to a crossroads of sorts, and a scene of devastating carnage.
Bodies of troops lay all about, shredded by bullets. We noticed quite quickly that almost all of the entry wounds were in their back, and a bit more looking about revealed a heavy stubber set up to fire down the hall. The operator had taken his own life with a sidearm, likely after filling his comrades full of bullets. I noticed an empty holster on the gunner’s chest, and held the revolver in my hand. The leather of the holster read “Give ‘Em Hell”, just like the inscription on the GM-6.
“Looks bad gang”, I said.
“How does anyone turn from the Emperor like this?” Venus asked, a look of pure disbelief on her face.
“Same way they end up with 8 eyes”, Barick said. “Something vile is in this hole with us.”
We made ready to continue down the left hand path, and I realized I was going to have to lie to Sergeant Raynard when I returned topside. I’d just tell him his friend died doing the Emperor’s work. It was a lie, and a damned lie at that, but it would ease his heart a bit.
I nodded to Barick, and we settled back into a marching order. We had not progressed far when the tunnel we were in opened up suddenly into a chamber, a dead end as best we could see. Evidently the miners had found some sort of ore or another here, and expanded their dig. Just as we crossed into the room, I heard a shot and reacted quickly, slamming into the wall on my right.
“Right side, right side!” I shouted, and watched as most of the team followed suit. Ignace, however, huddled to the left side wall, becoming a target. I leaned out from the wall, getting a quick look into the small chamber. I could see four hostiles, and in that quick glimpse they looked like mutants as well. Solid rounds impacted the stone around me, and I retreated against the wall again.
I looked at Ignace on the wrong side of the tunnel, and asked “You didn’t grab any flash-bangs, did you?”
“Negative”, he responded, as he fired his lascarbine at one of the mutants.
“Well, shit”, I said, with feeling. The twists had a good field of fire, and I didn’t want to put myself or my team into that field. “Next time we have our pick of supplies from a Munitorum clerk, grab flash-bangs. Never know when you’ll need ‘em.”
Venus spoke suddenly, asking by vox in my microbead what a flash-bang did. I told her, between dodging shots and firing my shotgun into the chamber.
“You might want to hold your ears and close your eyes then”, she said. I braced just in time, it seemed, as suddenly she was bright enough to cast brilliant light into the chamber, along with a thunderous boom. The mutants all brought hands to eyes, temporarily blinded, and we moved forward and started taking shots at them.
It was difficult to target them, though, as I was distracted by Venus. After going bright, she began to hover off the ground, discharges of purple arcs of power rising from her skin to strike the tunnel ceiling. I tried to remember fire discipline, and emptied out the shotgun in short order. Only two of the mutants were down at that point, so I pulled out the revolver and took careful aim, just like taking shots on the practice range.
I heard a metallic ping! and watched as Ignace was knocked back a step, but he seemed to shrug off the hit. Still, the cold grip of worry wrapped itself around my heart. He put the lascarbine to work, and didn’t seem to be hurt, so after a quick glance around to check the rest of the team, I settled back into a kneeling shooter’s stance.
As bullets and las-bolts continued to fly, I settled the front sight over one of the twists and slowly squeezed the trigger on the big revolver. It fired with a throaty roar, and my target went down like a joygirl in a whorehab. Good handgun for hunting therapods, I thought.
I felt an impact on my chest, like taking a punch from an Ogryn, and I didn’t see who dropped the last twist. I was busy picking myself up from the ground and making sure I hadn’t grown any extra holes. Luckily, my flak armour held, and I was likely just dealing with cracked or bruised ribs. That I could handle.
We took stock quickly, clearing the chamber, and I turned to Venus. “You OK?”
“Yes, I think. Just a bit shaken. The warp is not stable here”, she said.
“So the lightning…”
“Not intentional” she interrupted.
“Nice work on the flash though. Glad to know you can do that”, I said.
She smiled at the praise, and I turned my attention to the cogboy. “Any new holes?” I asked, eyeing the ragged tear in his red robes where the bullet had struck him.
“I am well within tolerance, thank you Zarkov”, he replied. I couldn’t tell if he was pulling my leg or being dead serious, so I decided to take him at his word. We formed up again, me on point, Barick on tail, and kept working our way through this little section of a very big mine.
We spent another two hours clearing tunnel by tunnel, chamber by chamber, with no further contact or incident. It was tense work, though, and the muscles across my back were tight with the strain.
I was starting to get hungry, and gave thought to calling a pause to hit the ration bars we were carrying, but I noticed that the light looked different here. The more I strained my eyes, the more I realized the light was taking on a pink tint. We walked a bit further, weapons ready, and we all looked at each other in turn, realizing the pink glow was coming from a chamber ahead of us, just around another bend in the constantly meandering tunnel.
You might think a pink glow doesn’t sound all that bad. Believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted to be standing with us, seeing the way it cast the stones in a sinister light. My stomach started to tie itself in knots, and I took a deep breath.
Venus spoke. “There is unrest here, something stirs the warp.” If she could feel a bad influence in the immateria, the stuff between the worlds, then this was bad news indeed. I had the feeling we were about to find out what happened to the guardsmen, and I prayed to the Emperor that he would watch us for a few minutes from his Throne. We all made the sign of the aquila, then made ready to enter the chamber.
We came around the corner to observe a brightly lit chamber, suffused with that pink glow. The source of the glow was evident: a large crystal, perhaps 4 meters in height and one in diameter stood like a monolith in the center of the chamber. As we looked upon it, the light within it began to pulse slowly.
Venus shouted to us to stand ready, sensing something happening in the immaterium, and I readied my shotgun. Suddenly, I felt as if I’d been thrown out of a dropship, as the light went from pink to green in a nauseating flash. A rush of foul air moved past us as a true monster appeared near the plinth of crystal.
It stood two and a half meters, sickly green with flesh hanging from it in strips. A cloud of flies buzzed around it as it gazed hatefully at us through one large cyclopean eye, set dead center in its face below a single decaying horn. The mere sight of it made me want to vomit, but I choked down that response and raised the combat shotgun to my shoulder.
Sila and Ignace couldn’t handle the sight of the thing, and I heard their footsteps receding down the hallway. Barick started firing at it, and Venus assaulted it in her own way, using her psyker abilities against it. I pumped rounds into it as fast as I could cycle ammo. The thing seemed wobbly, and I began to recite ablutions at it as I’d once heard a priest in our merc company do. I wasn’t sure if I got the words right, but it seemed to make my gut settle down, so I kept it up.
It charged us, and we scattered to force it to select only one of us to engage. It chose me, and raised a sword that was rusted and dripping with mucus. I used the shotgun to try to keep it at bay, firing whenever I had a clear shot. It hit me a few times in the ribs, but my armour managed to hold up against its weapon, and I moved with each hit to absorb as much shock as I could. It stank like a rotten grox tossed into a latrine pit, and I had to fight to keep from gagging, even as I tried to keep my face from being chopped in two.
Venus did something to it with her mind, and it dropped to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut. It then blinked out of existence with a grotesque wet ripping sound. Having an Emperor-sanctioned psyker around has its advantages.
“We are returning to you”, I heard the cogboy’s voice over the vox. The crystal began to flash, and I’d swear it was angry, if such a thing could be. Barick pumped a few shots into it, but they just chipped tiny slivers off of it. It flashed faster, and I didn’t want to know what else it could pop into the room.
“Run!” I yelled. “Everybody out! NOW!” Venus complied immediately, but Barick looked as if he would stay. I showed him the three grenades I’d just pulled off my belt, and he smiled broadly. Then he sprinted down the tunnel. I ran to the plinth, pulling pins and dropping the grenades at its base.
Then I sprinted, adrenaline and a bit of fear pumping my legs like an athlete. I was counting down from five in my head, and averaging plenty of footfalls between each digit.
Safely down the tunnel, we all heard the meaty “crump” of detonation, and I rested against the wall, my chest heaving with exertion. Sweat, and maybe a bit of blood, dripped down my body.
“The light…it’s normal again”, Sila said.
“The Emperor Protects”, Venus replied, making the sign of the aquila again.
“Stay here, team”, I said. I walked slowly, reloading the combat shotgun as I went. I peered around the corner to see the crystal laying in countless pieces, a glittering gravel pile instead of a sinister obelisk. I let out my breath in a deep sigh, only then realizing I’d been holding it.
I returned to the other acolytes. “Mission accomplished, I think.”
“You know that was a fraking daemon, right?” Barick asked.
“And yet we are still well within tolerance” Ignace replied. I laughed, deep and long, and the others joined in. “Was that humorous?” the techpriest asked without tone, and it threw us into a true laughing fit, my already bruised sides truly hurting.
After a break to eat some ration bars and rest briefly, we made our way out of the Shatters, and back toward the great seal. I tapped the appropriate code out at the door, and we heard the gears start to turn in response.
The commissar stood in the doorway, awaiting our return. He stepped in to meet us, one hand on his bolt pistol.
“The mine is clear”, Ignace told him. A sharp sound whipped our heads around in unison, though, and we were shocked to see the miner that Barick had sent out standing there before us. He’d changed since we saw him, and now had 6 eyes in his enlarged head. The stone had changed him, just as it had changed the others; it had just taken longer to do so. The commissar’s bolt pistol barked once, and the poor miner’s head exploded in a cloud of blood and smoke.
“Correction”, Ignace said, “The mine is now clear.” Barick looked at me sheepishly, and we left the Shatters behind us.
“Shattered Hope”, someone had scratched into that door. Truly, it had lived up to its name, destroying dozens of lives. The miners had discovered something better left unfound, had been tainted, had rebelled and died. The very guardsmen who had attempted to reclaim the place for the Imperium had succumbed, perhaps having lingered too long beside that massive gem of evil.
We’d been lucky, scoring one in the win column our first time out, and managing to do so with only a few scrapes and deep bruises. It was time to record an after action report for Inquisitor Jonas, and I looked to the commissar.
“Tell me commissar”, I began, “do you have any amasec?”