Matroyshka – Part 4

Welcome back to the tales of Vhuna and Koju. If you are just joining the story, part one can be found here. Enjoy

Vhuna shifted the weight of the lasrifle, trying to make it less uncomfortable, but it was still digging into her shoulder.

Around her the men of 2nd Infantry Platoon were arranged in static defensive lines, staggered back from the edge of the precipice in the deep shadow of the towering rock columns that supported the buildings of the Convent. An Armoured Fist platoon was stationed to their right, and the men of the 12th Infantry Platoon to their left. Their flanks were protected by the vertical walls of the pinnacles. The open lifts and insanely steep, winding, stone-carved stairs that gave access to lofty Meteora were about fifty metres behind them.

Somewhere far above them, hundreds of holy Sisters were beginning the blessing rituals to allow the relics to be moved from their centuries-old home. Each pinnacle of rock held its own reliquaries, and ceremonies that no outsider could witness were underway at the top of each of them. The Sisters had promised they would be finished before dawn.

Men from the Munitorum were rushing to and fro some way behind the platoon, trying to erect the massive arc lamps that would bathe the landing site and allow the transports to return in the pre-dawn darkness for the troops once they had taken the reliquaries and the Sisters to the waiting Naval ships in orbit.

The cooling twilight air, made cooler still by the northerly breeze that had sprung up in the last hour or so, resounded to the shouts and orders of the Munitorum staffers. Farther off the distant landslide rumble of the massed tanks of the mechanised companies arrayed around the landing site made the dust that clung to every rocky surface shimmer and shift. An enormous weight of metal was primed on top of this vast plateau, ready to brace itself against the awful tide of flesh that was rolling in unimpeded from the north. Not one inch could be given. No part of the plateau could be lost to the xeno enemy. The order was given. Let not one of them through.

Vhuna knew well that Sanctioned Psykers were not supposed to fight the front-line. They were supposed to be held in reserve, to use their skills as and when directed by field command or the Commissariat. This had been drilled into them all at the Scholastia Psykana, they were tools, designed by the Emperor for a specific purpose, but Vhuna had been a special project, one that had taxed the minds and methods of the Scholastia trainers. She was uniquely suited for front-line duties. She was the ultimate expendable resource.

Koju stood off to one side, her ever-present guardian angel of death. He had equipped himself with his Commissariat-issue bolt-pistol and chainsword, and had been walking casually along the defensive line, talking to the troopers. His relaxed, sardonic attitude translated well on the battlefield, and the men felt emboldened by his presence and easy manner. His feats with the Commissar Training Squad on Ventia Illustra, pushing deep into the ork-held sea-ports and slaughtering a warboss by most reliable accounts (including his own), had made him a figure of some renown already. He had been assigned to Vhuna for the remainder of that conflict to replace her sadly-deceased previous guardian. The men of their new regiment had been just as impressed by the further stories of what he and Vhuna had managed to accomplish together against the orks, although as a psyker she would never be held in anything other than fear by the common troopers – wary suspicion at best, perhaps.

At present he was telling a knot of riflemen how the General himself had been permitted to view the most holy of the relics held in the highest tower of the tallest pinnacle, and how the General had been so struck by the honour done to the regiments under his command that he was in the front-lines himself, ready to give the last drop of his blood for the opportunity to die saving these most holy artefacts.

Vhuna had to concede that Koju told the tale well, with a fiery zeal that seemed to come naturally, shining through his sarcastic exterior like the very essence of virtuous truth itself. It might even, given the General’s words to the Abbetissa earlier, have been true, although since Vhuna could see the General etched clearly in her mind some way from the front-lines she knew it was not.

She paused as she examined the scene laid out in her mind. Something was wrong. She quickly hunted around; the weight of the hordes to the north, drawing ever closer, glimmering argent in her psy-scape; the vague weight of the still-unfound flesh-ships hiding somewhere in the polar auroras; the glowing, pulsing detail of the thousands of men and machines arranged behind her. Something was wrong.

She jumped up from the sand-bag firing step and strode over to Koju. He had finished the embellishment of the General and was getting to the punchline of one his dirtier jokes.

“– I didn’t say her face, I said –“

“Blunt – Cadet Commissar Koju – we need to talk.”

He wheeled on her, obviously annoyed at being interrupted, and even more so at being called Blunt in front of the men. Then he saw the look in her eyes, and drew her off to one side where they could talk without being overheard.

“There’s something – something’s wrong.”

“Tell me. I don’t understand. The xenos?”

“No, not them. It – it’s hard to explain to a non-psyker.”

“Well try, dammit!”

“Ok. I see everything as if it were etched in silver – in quicksilver to be precise. I know you can’t etch anything in quicksilver, but that’s what it’s like. No matter what it is, it’s always silver, right? Off to the west, there’s something that’s not etched in silver. And it’s not really etched. Sort of – rippled and muddy. I can’t – do you understand what I mean?”

Koju frowned. “Sort of.” His frown deepened. “Give me the names.”

“What? It’s not that, Blunt.”

“The names.”

“Fine. Taliesyn. Sabbatine. Iconarch. I’m not possessed, for Throne’s sake. There’s something there, some lifeweight that I haven’t seen before. It’s small in scope, but heavy. Heavy life. Does that mean anything to you? I’m – this is new to me, too. The orks were nothing like this. Heavy life, dark life – it’s the only way I can think to describe it. I don’t like it.”

Koju stared at her.

“And it’s not the xenos. How far?”

“About twenty miles. It’s not moving. Are you going to –?“

“Yes. Of course.”

Koju keyed his com-link for Colonel Lekh, thought for a moment and then keyed in Commissar Vodalus as well. They weren’t going to like this.

“You’re going to need to give me something a hell of a lot better than that, Cadet Commissar!” Lekh shouted over the vox-link. “There’s no way on the God-Emperor’s-steel-Terra that a Salamander could even get to that location before morning, let alone before the xenos arrive. You’re wasting my time, Cadet! If it’s not moving and it’s that far away then the xenos will take care of it, whatever the unlucky feck it is.”

“Sir, I –“ spluttered Koju.

“Cadet Commisar Koju, what do you make of it?” The Commissar’s voice was a stately ocean of calm compared to the irate Colonel.

“Chaos, sir.” Koju spoke quickly but softly. “Psyker Vhuna was unwilling to be so specific, but I believe she suspects it. She’s never encountered the Ruinous Powers before, of course, so she has no –“

“– so she has no fecking clue what she’s talking about, by your own admission. Why am I even listening to this? Get me solid intel, Cadet Commissar, or get the feck off this comms channel. Vodalus, why I ever agreed to take part in this fecking Matroyshka experiment I’ll –“

The channel went dead, severed at the other end, and Koju swore until he ran out of words, and then started all over again in his Scholam-planet dialect. He only stopped when he realised that, far back from the precipice defences as he was, some of the troopers were looking at him.

“Temper, temper, Blunty. Did the nasty men ask you to pick up their laundry again?” It was Vhuna’s turn to smirk, and she took untold depths of pleasure in it.

“No, wait. They’re all out of snack-food in the command tent and they want you to nip down the store.”

Koju just snarled, and looked futilely around for something or someone to kick.

“Should I just call them myself, next time? Spare you the embarrassment? Just think though, when you’re a big, bad Commissar yourself you can make Lekh lick your – boots.”

“Stick a barrel in it, Vhuna, for Throne’s sake. This is serious. Vodalus will make Lekh take notice; the risk of heretics sniffing around here while we move the relics is altogether too much to ignore. Although the righteous prick is right about one thing. There’s exactly nothing we can do about it right now. Dammit, that man really pisses me off!”

“Welcome to my world, Blunty.”

“And so do you!”

“You’d be lost without me, admit it.”“I’d be a fecking Commissar, is what. Come on. I need to come up with some inspiring lie for the troopers about why I was just trying to break the plateau with my foot.”

Hope you enjoyed. Part
5 can be found here.

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