Matroyshka – Part 15

Welcome back to the Matroyshka. Two more installments after this one… If this is your first time jumping into the story, the first part can be found here. Enjoy

The engine raced and the Immolator lurched forward, heading for the remaining lights of the landing site a half-mile away, around which the final pitched battle of the night was being fought.

With the firing ports open the journey to the landing site was an endless stream of lasfire punctuated by the whooshing rush of the flamers that sent sharp shadows dancing inside the crammed hold. The smell of fyceline and promethium mingled in the roasting, airless compartment, and Vhuna struggled to catch a breath. Clutching her lasrifle grimly, the brass aquila she held digging into her palm, she fired relentlessly at the seemingly neverending xeno hordes outside.

Time and again the racing Immolater was struck broadside by a charging xeno beast that had evaded the defensive fire, threatening to tip the vehicle on its side, but each time luck or the Emperor righted it and it lurched ahead again.

The lights of the landing site were getting closer when Vhuna saw in her psy-scape what she had been dreading. She turned away from the firing port.

“Koju!” He was bent double, almost lying over one of the reliquary containers. He looked up, his dark face ashen.

“Koju, they’re coming in. Fast. The heretics are coming.”

He gave a bitter laugh, and droplets of black blood splattered onto the casements.

“There’s no-one to tell, Vhuna. Vox is dead. I can’t raise anyone.” There was a bubbling sound to his voice now, coming from deep in his chest.

She paused. From the crew compartment she heard frantic voices.

– go through it! Through it!

The Immolater bucked under them, rearing violently in the air before crashing back down and racing ahead again. Chunks of xeno-flesh and gobbets of ichor splattered and splashed past the firing ports on either side.

“Marotte could.”

Koju looked at her. “Marotte. I don’t think so, Vhuna. Not with –“ his eyes widened and he gasped as he drew in another painful breath, “– not with the hive mind. It’d burn him up, and you know what that would mean. You fancy letting Fell loose here, ‘cos I don’t.”

“He could hold off the hive –“

“He probably could, Vhuna. Hell, he could probably take over some of the smaller ones completely, and right now that’s an attractive idea. But not for long. He’d fry. Then we’d get Fell. No way.”

The flamer gurgled and whooshed again, and firelight danced through the gun-ports. A hail of bio-ammunition rattled and bounced off the adamantium hull. One of the Sisters started choking and then fell to the floor, clutching at her throat. A second later she ceased moving altogether, as dark blotches spread under her skin. Faint wisps of foul smoke began to rise from the exposed flesh.

“They’re not heading for us, or any of the relics, Koju.”

“Well, what the hell are they –“

“It’s the xenos. They’re – they’re chasing one of the xenos!”

Koju just stared at her. Vhuna grabbed the handle for the roof hatch and pushed it open. She stuck her head through and ducked as the mounting for the flamers swept past. Koju groaned as he stood up beside her, and she shrank away from him as far as she could.

“There,” said Vhuna. “Look.”

The ship was clearly visible now, a wide-bellied transport vessel of some kind, its engines and thrusters flaring as it braked hard and turned. Dark purple beams of energy that coiled and curled with black strands of the warp burst from hardpoints all over its hull, striking a massive, winged Tyranid that was swooping low over the plateau off to the south, larger than any dragon or gargouille of legend. The beams struck again and again, but they didn’t seem to be injuring it.

The beast screamed in fury, and the mighty sound drowned out everything else for a moment. The beams fired again and again. The creature tried to flap its pitch-black wings, but only one seemed to respond. It went into a spin and crashed on its back into the plateau, which shook with an almighty thunder under the immense impact. Explosions from tanks crushed by its landing seemed like candle flames against its colossal bulk, and were snuffed out just as quickly. The downed Hive Tyrant thrashed and flailed at the far end of the plateau.

“Holy Throne, Koju! They’re not killing it. They’re trying to capture it!”

The lights of the landing site were directly ahead, but none of the hundreds of beasts, large or small, seemed to have the slightest interest in the Immolator any longer. They were all milling around, uncertain and confused. The vehicle charged forward, glancing off one armoured body after another, but it might as well have been a pebble skipping over water for all the attention it attracted.

Vhuna looked on, incredulous, as the Chaos ship hovered over the monster, the beams still darting out. They were having an effect, as it seemed the thing was unable to rise to its feet. The downwash from the thrusters was obscuring much, and clouds of dust were billowing out, but Vhuna could still see clearly in her mind. The dark shapes that had been on the ship were getting out, fast. And there were a lot of them.

The Immolator burst through the ragged final defensive line, a half-hearted cheer going up from the bloodied troopers to either side as they did so, and hurtled off towards the loading ramps of the lander. Behind them the xeno forces had recovered their sense of purpose and were renewing their frenzied assault on the lines of tanks and men.

The Immolator stopped with a jolt under the glaring lights of the lander’s belly. Koju was coughing continually now, and one of the Sisters gave him some somnia at Vhuna’s request. He tried to resist, but was too weak, and soon slipped into unconsciousness. Vhuna stood back as he was lifted onto a blood-soaked stretcher and carried off to the Sisters Hospitaller aboard the lander.

As the reliquaries were being unbolted in the hold Vhuna caught sight of General Kurt standing in the shadow under the loading ramp. She wasn’t surprised by whom he was speaking to. He stood out clearly in her mind. He beckoned to her from the shadows, although as she ran over she realised with a chill that she had not actually seen him move at all.

“General Kurt. My Lord Interrogator. Psyker Vhuna reporting.”

As she said this, a pillar of light burst dazzlingly into life far off to the west. It reached up, punching through the alien corruption that hung low in the sky, briefly making the night into twilight. As the light faded, dark clouds could be seen spiralling down the ethereal column towards some unseen location in the mountains.

General Kurt took the opportunity of this apparition and Vhuna’s arrival to edge back from the towering form of the Interrogator, who was leering at Vhuna.

She looked him in the eye, inwardly flinching at the dark presence of his feral mind. “Your doing, my Lord Interrogator?”

He made a sound, part growl, part sigh. “My master. Dealing with Bile’s psykers. Bile himself -” Carnallius reached out one hand and grasped at the air before Vhuna’s face, slowly closing his calloused fingers on nothing.

“Bile?” said Vhuna, wanting to step back but her feet ignoring her commands. “The Manflayer? You mean he’s – he’s real?”

“In the flesh, little mask. My master – a keen admirer of his work. Would like to talk to him.” He growled again. “One on one.”

Vhuna struggled to keep her breathing and herself under control. “The heretic’s ship. Has – is trying to capture one of the xenos. You must have seen -”

“We were just talking about that. I can’t spare any men, Interrogator, none at all. Not even for the Inquisition -” General Kurt quailed as Carnallius simply leered at him as he said this, “- not even then, none at all. Let them kill each other out there. They can’t seriously hope to capture something that –“ the General’s mouth worked, but his mind was obviously sending far too many words at once. The logjam broke and he spluttered on, “- your master’s stormtroopers are bringing the last of the relics in, and the Abbatissa and her Sisters. And then we are all leaving this foul place.”

Carnallius moved, swift and flowing. The General rocked back, startled, but Carnallius simply walked between him and Vhuna, turning once behind her to look at the General over her shoulder.

“I don’t need your men, General. Your woman will do.” He bent his head to Vhuna’s ear, his closeness filling her senses. “I want the puppet-master. Marotte. Come.”

It took every ounce of her courage just to speak without her voice breaking. “But, I’m not supposed to go anywhere without Koju – and what if the Hive Mind -”

Carnallius put one lumpen finger to his lips. “Hush.” His voice dropped to a stony whisper in her ear, a whisper borne on wings of death that had toppled crowns and Cardinals alike. “You’re not in the playground now.”

He turned and stalked away towards the seething morass of violence that was the frontline to the south.

Vhuna looked at General Kurt, and was amazed to see what looked like sympathy in his eyes.

“Dismissed, Psyker. May the saints go with you. The – the Emperor protects.”

She turned and walked slowly after Carnallius.

Hope you enjoyed, part 16 can be found here

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