Welcome back to the penultimate chapter of the Matroyshka saga. If you are just joining us, part one can be found here.
Vhuna knew what was coming as they neared the bloodbath that was the final defensive line for the landing site. Carnallius had already unholstered a small, snub-nosed pistol.
Sweating in the cold air, she took her helmet off and ran one hand over her bald scalp. She then breathed slowly and carefully on her open palm. As she did so, a silver shape formed in the mist of her breath. It was a skull in a circle, studded with five points, and it shimmered like moonglow in her hand.
Carnallius stopped. He looked at the sigil Vhuna was holding. “I know the code words.”
“If anyone other than our watchman does it, then they need this too, or they will be attacked. Codes or not.” She held out her hand.
Carnallius’ massive frame shook, and she realised he was laughing. Anger ran hot in her veins.
“My Lord Interrogator. They do not know who you are. They will attack. Mallus and Marotte are not to be trifled with. And Fell – Mallus and Marotte are scared of Fell, My Lord. There is no-one who should not be. You must hold this.”
The Interrogator looked at her for a moment, his eyes invisible under his heavy brow. Then he reached out one hand and took the psy-mark from her. He raised his pistol as Vhuna set her jaw, defiance flashing in her argent eyes.
“If you scare the Boy, my Lord, I will learn of it.”
He leered, and fired.
“Marotte. The Emperor calls.” Carnallius lowered the gun, slowly. The psy-mark in his other hand drifted through his fingers, floating towards Marotte. It vanished as it did so.
“And I am his faithful servant, Interrogator Carnallius,” the man said, with a faint nod of his head. He was dark-skinned, with an angular, imperious face that held a look of private amusement.
The Interrogator scowled, and stepped close to Marotte, his face inches from the psyker’s. “One chance. Get out.”
“But, of course. I did not intend to intrude, My Lord.” Marotte’s silver eyes returned Carnallius’ gaze without flinching, and he gave him a smile that was anything but pleasant.
Their eyes locked for a moment longer, and then Marotte stepped away turning towards the line of tanks and men that was, for now, holding back the xeno warriors. His shadow-skin suit was already turning a charcoal-grey, and his weapons clinked as he moved.
“Quite a party. You have invited just about everyone. Can I have the men? The machines? Or the –“ He whirled back to Carnallius, a look of wonder on his face. “- the xenos! A hive-mind! Oh, most holy of holies, a hive mind! Thank you, Interrogator. Thank you, and your master.”
“This is not a game. I hunt Chaos. You will not touch Chaos, psyker. If you try and take them, I will end you. I want an escort, to Bile’s ship.” Carnallius pointed to the waves of xenos hurling themselves at the defensive line.
Marotte’s eyes blazed as he turned on the spot, looking around. Then he looked up. The velvet darkness above was full of spore-pods now, hurtling towards the ground with their feathered cartilage streamers trailing out behind them. Already the guns on the lander behind had opened up and were filling the sky with flak-bursts and las-fire, but even so dozens of the pods would crash down within the landing site alone.
Marotte nodded to the Interrogator. “And here they come. Just in time. I could use the others, but these will be fresh.”
His eyes continued to glare, argent beams stabbing out momentarily. His head dropped.
“It is something else, Interrogator, is it not? The hive mind. I daren’t approach it, or connect to it. But I can sever it. For a while.” His head snapped up, and he looked at Carnallius. “Meat. But not just meat. We are both more and less than that to them. Ah, I could delve in this all night but time is, no doubt, pressing. I have severed these five.”
Around them the first of the massive spore pods had slammed into the ground, shaking the rock with the impact. More quickly followed. The streamers that had guided and slowed their descent collapsed around the pods like coils of fleshy rope. Each pod was covered in thick, white ash, and great clumps of it began to flake off as the things inside struggled to be released.
Carnallius drew in a deep breath, and Marotte swayed with the psy-force the Interrogator added to his voice. “Back!”
The troopers who had been setting up to fire on the pods stepped back involuntarily, dropping their weapons with startled looks on their faces.
With sickening pops and snapping noises the five pods all split open, and the xenos inside scrambled out in a gelatinous profusion of limbs and talons. They headed straight for the two psykers, and then stopped in a circle around them, clawing at the uneven surface. Last to reach them was the carnifex, a massive creature with two thrashing tentacles where its claws should have been, the foetid ooze from the pod hanging from its armoured body in swinging stalactites of ichor.
The reeking monster stood over the two men, howling its boundless rage into the night sky, while the ceaselessly moving gaunts and ‘stealers circled about them, crawling and leaping over and under each other in a lethal ring of barbed, xeno flesh.
“Ready when we are – when you are, Interrogator.”
Carnallius began striding towards the defensive line, already growling orders over his vox to General Kurt. Ahead of them, the line began to open up.
The xenos still under the control of the hive mind completely ignored the group of their brethren, although they made some efforts to reach the two psykers running in the middle. Their confusion when their oddly mute brood-cousins turned on them with savagery was palpable, although none of the assailants lived long enough to try a second time.
The lights of the Chaos cargo-lifter were now clear up ahead, as the dust settled out. Their freakish convoy was well clear of the Imperial landing site, and the hive-xenos around them were pouring towards the cargo-lifter, but something or someone was clearly defending it, lost to sight behind a surging wall of alien flesh.
Carnallius stopped, with a grunt of discontent. “Traitor marines. I can smell them. Many lost Legions owe Bile.” He growled, and spat in the dust.
“We can see them,” Marotte said. As if by way of demonstration the sunken, dead eyes of the Carnifex towering above them pulsed silver for an instant. “Too many to get past, even strong as we are. Strong in tooth and claw. We will rend them –“ He paused, and gasped. “Even severed the link is all-pervasive. This is taxing, Interrogator.”
“Scores of heretics. They die, but they keep the brethren from the traitor marines, who are cutting down everything the heretics miss. Behind them our greatest brood cousin lies in chains of light. The hard-ship’s belly is open and moving into position above him. They mean to steal him away.”
“Stay focused, psyker. Find me a way in.”
Around the two men the ring of protective creatures slowed almost to a stop. Their movements became hesitant and uncertain, their noises beginning to echo the alien din around them. Carnallius turned to Marotte. If he felt any concern for his wellbeing, it did not show in his coarse features.
“Stay focused, psyker.”
Once again, beams of light were lancing out from Marotte’s eyes. “I – I have one, Interrogator. A way in. I think you are going to like it.”
To their left, the rocky surface shook, cracked and burst open, sending ‘gaunts tumbling away in clouds of dust. A mantis-like head, red armour covering massive opposing jaws, reared out. Its eyes flared silver for a brief second as it rose, and it unwrapped its stick-like arms.
Marotte turned to Carnallius as he walked over to the creature sticking out of the crater, the controlled xenos still following him. “I think it wants to hug you, Interrogator. I suggest you let it. A tight squeeze, and you’ll need to watch your breathing, but you should make it. I think. That brood cousin will tunnel up underneath the pinned great one, carrying you. Will tunnel through its carapace, and then withdraw, leaving you inside. Unseen. Hope you have a strong stomach, Carnallius. What you do once you’re on Bile’s ship is up to you. You know he’s not there, of course.”
Carnallius hissed. “I didn’t tell you I wanted to get onboard.” His voice was dangerously low and soft.
“Ah. Forgive the intrusion. Interrogator.” Marotte smiled slyly, unable to conceal his delight that the wild-eyed man had not noticed his last psy-probe.
He knew Carnallius couldn’t touch him, not if he wanted the mantis-thing to carry him safely. He also knew something – something he had learned in the haunted, primal depths of Carnallius’ mind – that he was desperate to pass on to Vhuna.
“See you again, Marotte.” The Interrogator walked up to the red-armoured horror, and turned back to face the psyker, his dark eyes seething with fury. “Soon. Better be ready.”
“I’ll bring some wine, My Lord.”
The xeno wrapped its many limbs around Carnallius, its razor-sharp talons carefully avoiding slicing into him. It hugged him to its segmented belly, bending its flesh-hooks out the way and began to slide back underground.
Marotte watched him go, and then turned to head back for the Imperial landing site. His mind was in agony, the invisible threads of psyker-silver that connected him to the xenos under his command were becoming stretched to breaking point. The hive-mind was hammering at his mental barriers, forcing past them as it sought to re-establish control of its brood, and to take control of him.
He had gone only a few metres when he realised the giant carnifex had stopped. He watched, sweat pouring from under his shadow-skin cap, as it turned and headed for the Chaos cargo-lifter, joining in the attack and back under the sway of the hive-mind.
Only his gaunts and ‘stealers remained under his control, and already two of them had peeled off, confused and lost. He began to run. As soon as the mantis-beast was finished he could release it and take some other, closer, xenos, but at this range controlling the beast was taking almost all his power.
He unholstered his weapons as he ran, a pistol in each hand. Gunplay was not his strong suit, but he would do anything rather than risk letting Fell loose in this environment. He couldn’t allow that to happen, especially after what the Interrogator had unwittingly told him.
More gaunts fell away from his brood, keening their confusion into the night.
A troope of gargoyles swooped out of the darkness as he ran towards the crumbling defensive line around the landing site. Two ‘stealers leapt in the air in front of them, blocking their dive, another screeched and pounced in front of Marotte. He gunned it down without breaking stride, the plasma pistols incinerating it utterly.
He was down to a hissing handful of defenders when he saw through the mantis-thing’s eyes that it had withdrawn from the burrow it had dug in the hive tyrant’s carapace. The still-living hive tyrant. Carnallius was – well, safe wasn’t the right word, but Marotte’s duty was done. He released the mantis, now nearly half a mile behind him, and pounced on the gargoyles as they wheeled for another attack, his mind cleanly severing their links with the hive.
Behind him the huge cargo-ship carrying the Hive Tyrant – and Carnallius – lifted off, its thrusters sending stark shadows dancing ahead of him. The xeno army screamed in impotent fury.
He slowed to a jog as he approached the battleline between tyranids and humanity. Getting back in could be tricky, but he smiled as his psy-sense hunted for the nearest Guard commander. He didn’t get out much, and he intended to enjoy himself while it lasted.
Hope you enjoyed. The conclusion of Matroyshka can be found here.
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