Welcome back to the tales of Vhuna and Koju. If this is your first time joinin us, part one can be found here.
“You want to take the reliquaries out through that?” asked Vhuna, standing at the edge of the lift-platform and staring down at the chaos that had engulfed the plateau below. The dark surface was a mile-wide morass of brutal carnage; weapons’ fire, explosions, leaping flames and swallowing shadow surmounted by the din of ceaseless death.
“Unless the Chaos ship is here to pick us up, Shiny. That lifter pilot down there is not going to wait much longer. Here, help me with these.” He dragged a couple of corpses back from the edge to make a path for the reliquaries. Already the remaining Sisters and the few stormtroopers who had survived had gathered most of the dead into a funeral pyre that blazed in the nearby courtyard. Others were waiting with the reliquary containers to board the lift.
Vhuna grabbed wrists and ankles and heaved, trying not to think about what she was doing.
“With any luck,” grunted Koju, “Vodalus is standing right behind him.”
Vhuna shook her head as she deposited the body parts farther down the hall, fitful light from the bonfire casting her narrow features in sullen reds and ochres. “Your boss is in the thick of it, as far as I can tell now. It’s becoming hard to tell human and xeno apart down there.”
“Abbatissa!” Koju stood up straight as the elderly woman approached, and tried to wipe the blood off his hands. “The lift, please, most holy Sister. You will go with the first relics.”
“I will not, honoured Cadet Commissar.”
“But you must,” said Vhuna. “The xenos – they’re already in the Convent, Abbatissa! You can hear them from here.”
Koju coughed into his glove and Vhuna could see dark blood clots on the leather before he hid his hand behind his back.
“We may not be able to guarantee the safety of those who remain for the second run,” he said, his voice hoarse. “And the lifter may not wait anyway. We’ve lost vox contact with everyone at the landing site, and the command lines are down again.”
“I understand, Cadet Commissar, and you know my decision.”
Koju looked around at the other Sisters, but he may as well have appealed to the gargoyles in the gutters. The lift was almost ready to go.
Vhuna took her place at the outer edge of the lift as Koju walked over to the squads of stormtroopers.
“Sergeant. Hold this position. Protect the Abbatisssa with your life, yours and every one of your men. We will be back for you. If the holy sister dies in your care, then I warn you to find your own fate in the Convent before I return.”
The heavy-set Sergeant returned Koju’s gaze implacably. These men would not flinch, Koju knew.
The great winch began to clank as Koju stepped on the boards of the lift.
Around them the cold night air was alive with winged xeno threats, hissing with their deadly weaponry. More explosions rocked the buildings of the Convent perched on the pillar directly opposite them, and flames leapt into the sky.
Gathered around the three reliquary containers in the centre of the lift, the Sisters, the four stormtroopers and Vhuna stood facing outwards, weapons poised. Koju joined them as the lift descended, checking the magazine in his bolt-pistol, and wishing Mallus hadn’t left his chainsword behind.
“I don’t believe it,” Vhuna said. She looked up.
A pinprick of light could be seen in the pitch darkness above them, growing steadily larger as it came closer.
Koju turned to Vhuna. “What is it?”
“Remember that Interrogator?”
“That his name? Well, he’s not alone.”
Other pinpricks of light were appearing now, most of them wreathed in a corrosive, green haze for a few moments as they exited the xeno cloud still boiling invisibly overhead.
They descended rapidly, the roaring brake jets audible now even above the din from below and all around.
“The Convent,” said Vhuna, and it was soon obvious she was right. The orbital landers were not landing, but braking to hover in positions just over each of the Convent buildings, including the one they had just left.
As the lift clanked downwards the bell-towers and domes of Meteora rose to obscure the ships from view. Vhuna and Koju strained unsuccessfully to see if anyone or anything was disembarking.
“He’s here,” said Vhuna, her eyes wide in wonder.
Koju looked back up at the landing lost now in the darkness above them. “Up there? Interrogator Carnallius?”
“No,” Vhuna laughed, but it had a nervous edge to it. “His master.” She pointed off to the south. “Out there somewhere. He’s – he’s bright. But diffuse. I can’t pin him down. Throne!”
She looked at Koju, awe and fear written in her face. “He’s very powerful, Koju. Very. I’ve never seen anything like it. Carnallius is – is like a child beside him. Are all Inquisitors like –?” Her expression suddenly changed. “Duck!” she shouted, grabbing the shoulder of the nearest Sister and pulling her down.
Out of the darkness rushed a flapping nightmare of bone and hooks, that caromed into the chains from which the lift hung and spun off screeching into the inky night. Koju grabbed one of the stormtroopers to stop him from falling over the rail, and then let go as he saw the deep gash that bisected the man’s helmet and the thick blood oozing out from underneath. The body tumbled away in silence.
Verdant fire tinged with white erupted from the Convent buildings on the tower to the west, lighting up the cloud base far above for a brief instant, and then vanished. A spine-chilling scream drifted down to them as something foul died.
Vhuna nodded mutely, still staring upwards.
The lift reached the ground with a bang. Hissing shadows rushed at them and the combined fire of the Sisters and the three remaining stormtroopers cut them down. More, larger forms hurtled towards them from the direction of the cliff-edge but a jet of flame from directly ahead crisped them.
The Immolator was still there. Battered and torn, with armour panels bent and ripped, its engine was still alive, however, and the crew still fought their positions. The twin-linked flamer held off the ravening hordes as the Sisters secured the three relics in the converted hold. Koju and Vhuna added their weapons to the defence.
It seemed that the lines had collapsed, and attacks were now being launched from all directions. In the distance they could just make out isolated platoons and tank squadrons fighting and dying in the xeno turmoil.
This was turning into a rout.
“Sister Superior. No objections to a mad dash for the landing site, I assume? No?” Koju slapped the ceiling of the vehicle hard as one of the other Sisters sealed the hatch. “Let’s go, Trooper!”
Part 15 can be found here.
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