At the end of the hallway were wide double doors of dark wood, engraved with images of rutting and torture. Luc carefully pushed them open and peered through the crack.
The room beyond was a theater a stadium, in three tiers. Hundreds of cultists cavorted in the dim light.
On the top, outer tier, finely dressed men and women in carnival masks dined, and laughed, and looked down at the entertainment below.
On the second tier were the torturers and their victims. Luc was unsure which were which. They moaned, screamed, and cackled with delight; they whipped each other, tore their flesh with hooks, and carved each other and their wailing victims with barbed knives. There were children there, some bound and struggling, some bloody and unmoving.
The bottom tier was the orgy pit. Sweating men. Glassy-eyed women. Crying children.
In the very center was a raised dias. A man in an ornate mask, naked beneath his open robe, raised his arms and gestured with a twisted blade. He stood before a bloody altar, on which was bound a man in the shredded remains of an Arbiter's uniform. Around him danced four nude women, gorgeous, strange, and perfect.
Luc reached down to his belt. He had three pistols; two fine Palantines, and his single-shot Valantine duelling laz. He drew the Valantine. Duellist's stance. A straight line from his eye, down his arm, along the barrel of his Valantine, across thirty yards of maddened revelers, to the masked man's head.
His gun spat fire. The masked man's head boiled away in the bloody light. The room erupeted in shouts and screams as Varn pushed past him and began throwing tear gas grenades.
Luc drew a palantine and ran forward. The torturers surged toward the door, bare and bleeding men and women pulling themselves up the ledge to the top tier. Luc dove through them, dodging the crack of a spiked whip, twisting away from a jagged knife.
Behind him, Isen's shotgun was bellowing, it's muzzle flare lighting the spreading caustic mist. "Luc, what in the Emperor's name are you doing?"
Luc dropped down a level. A swung iron bar, crusted with blood, caught him off balance and knocked him to his knees. He shot his assailant between the legs and scrambled forward, yelling into his comm. "The children are down here!"
Varn bellowed a warcry as he swung his heavy stubber forward. It roared loud and long, tearing into the surging wave of heretics.
Luc dropped to the bottom level. Naked, sweating forms reached for him blindly, their eyes running with tears. He writhed away from them and tried to get his bearings. The four dancers were mounting the dias. The Arbiter, Matsuka, had one hand free and was reaching for the fallen leader's blade.
Isen was surrounded. A huge cultist covered in grotesque tattoos swung a chain at him, wrapping it around his arm and pulling him off balance. Isen drew his saber, parryed a wild thrust from a hag with a red-hot iron spike, then sweeping upward to gut her. "Luc, there's too many of them! Hundreds! We don't have enough damn bullets!"
Luc stumbled forward, kicking at the hands that grasped at his legs. He screamed at the figure on the alter. "Matsuka! Did you frame me? Did you kill them?" The swaying, beautiful dancers turned toward Luc, and he shot one in the chest. She staggered back, pale flesh burning away from something lavender underneath. She smiled like a snake.
Arms wrapped around Luc's waist, and he fired point-blank into an extatic face. Matsuka had one hand free. He balled it into a fist and brought it down, hard, on a lump in the skin of his chest.
A distant explosion echoed over the gunfire and screams. The floor shook and began to tilt as secondary explosions rattled the airship. Matsuka laughed, and began ripping at the stitches of a ragged cut on his abdomen. His fingers emerged bloody and clutching a grenade. He dropped it to the floor, and it began to glow. Two of the dancers ripped him off the altar, his bones snapping as they pulled him out of the restraints.
"You! Sir! Are no gentleman!" Luc screamed. The grenade was glowing bright white, and was burning its way into the floor like a hot ball-bearing through tallow.
Varn's gun barrel was glowing red, still firing continuously, shredding the oncoming tide of maddened humanity. Still they kept coming. Somewhere in the crowd to his left, Isen screamed as the man with the chain dislocated his arm. Varn was beginning to worry. Then a volley of autogun fire rang out behind him. He turned to see the techpriest, Warwick, falling. Blue-uniformed Gendarmes in riot gear turned their guns toward him. He cursed, and dove to the side.
In the pit, Matsuka's maddened laughter turned to screams as the swarm tore at him. Two of the dancers moved toward Luc, their eyes still clear and smiling in the burning fog, their strange grace promising and sinister. Luc pulled a flash grenade and threw it straight up, a moment before the two grabbed his arms with vise-like fingers. They pulled him to the ground as the room was bathed in blinding light.
Luc struggled. Hands held his arms, his legs. Hands pulled at his armor, trying to strip it off him to get at his flesh. A fat man got his boot off and began attempting to mate with it. The dancers bent over him. One licked his cheek with a sinuous tongue. He looked up, past the porcelain faces with their deep black eyes, into the swirling fog.
DeCarabas, the tax assessor from the administratum, the records man, was standing above him with a flame pistol.
Blazing promethium washed over Luc, and the grasping hands released him. He scrambled to his feet, wincing at the searing pain. He couldn't feel his bare foot at all, though. He doubted that was a good sign.
DeCarabas went down under a swarm of blind, nude bodies. Luc drew both Palantines and began firing into the mass. The burned dancers were writhing on the floor, tearing away their charred skin, changing and warping. Luc turned as they rose, and found himself frozen. Their skin was lavander, and glistened as if oiled. Their hair twisted and flowed as if floating in some otherworldly current. The were the most beautiful beings he had ever seen. He was distantly aware that his pants were far too tight.
One of the glorious creatures crouched, flexing its magnificent legs, then lept high and away through the mist. Luc thought his heart would break at her departure, but the other walked toward him, hips swaying, her long tongue caressing her breasts. Luc stumbled toward her.
Varn had his back against the wall beside the door, bloodied axe in hand and corpses at his feet. Isen staggered toward him, leaving bloody footprints from a leg wound, arm hanging limp at his side. A dozen Gendarms were firing into the crowd. One went down with a knife in his neck.
Isen's breathing was ragged. "Varn, they on our side?"
Varn laughed madly. "Hell no, they blew the coggirl away and took a shot at me. I hate people who shoot at me!"
Isen ducked as a nude man swung a spiked metal phallus at him, and yelled into his comm. "Mission is FUBAR, get to the shuttle! Whites, can you hear me? Luc, taxman?" Static answered.
Graceful as a swan, a daemonette landed in the midst of the Gendarms. Their guns fell silent as they stared at her, and all about her half-blind cultists fell to their knees in adoration. The demon took a moment to spin in place, accepting the adoration, and then ripped a Gendarm's head off with her claws.
Varn stared at the pretty, pretty thing all covered in blood. Then Isen grabbed his arm, shouting, and they ran for the door. Behind them, the Gendarms broke and ran as the dancer had her way with those too slow in fleeing.
Luc walked forward in a daze. The beautiful creature was beckoning to him. She was reaching out to him with her lovely talons. He stepped into her embrace. She wrapped her arms arond him and lowered her perfect face to his neck. Her tongue wriggled down his shirt and licked his chest. Her mouth opened wide, revealing rows of ravishing needle-sharp teeth.
Luc stepped on something. The something whimpered. He glanced down. It was a little girl, curled into a ball, crying.
Luc Fiend DuCassius ducked out of the demon's grasp, shot it in the stomach, grabbed the girl, and ran.
Luc looked frantically for an exit. There, under the central dias, a trap door. He dropped the girl and heaved it open. Below were stairs, down into the dark. Luc screamed into his Comm. "DeCarabas! Still alive, old man? Where are you?"
A shout to his left. DeCarabas was fighting in a pile of corpses. His left arm's armor had been torn off, and he was bleeding from dozens of bites. His right leg was twisted sideways. Two cultists were holding him down, and one was pulling at his helmet. Luc leveled his pistols and burned down the madmen, then dived to the side as a devil-woman lept at him from behind.
There were three of the demons now, circling. The cultists lay all about them, some choking on the gas, some rutting, some following the demon women on their hands and knees. Luc thought furiously. There was a way out of this alive, for DeCarabas and the girl at least.
He holstered his weapons and raised his hands. "Wierd sisters, hold! I have an offer for you!"
Shark-smiles turned toward him. The nearest, with three dark eyes and her hair a mass of writhing tendrils, spoke in a hissing, smokey voice. "And what would you offer us, mortal?"
Luc picked the girl up under one arm, and began edging his way toward DeCarabas. "My family... we're merchants. We sell food, luxuries, and entertainment on three hundred worlds. I could take you wherever you desire, spread your worship throughout the sector!"
DeCarabas rose, leaning heavily on Luc. The demon laughed. "Ohh, little mortal, little morsel, distance in this world means nothing to us. Your offer is... paltry."
DeCarabas coughed. "I... have an offer. For our safe passage out of here, and no hold on us after."
The demons closed in, the three moving in a slow circle around the two men and the girl. "And what, old man, would you offer for such a favor?"
"The location of Cassandra's Grimoire."
Their hissing laughter went silent. "You know such a thing?"
DeCarabas winced. "I do. And will tell you. Once... we're at the shuttle."
In the bowels of the airship, there was a grinding, and a thump. The deck slowly tilted another few degrees, naked bodies tumbling down the incline. Surrounded by the demonettes, DeCarabas leaning on Luc, Luc carrying the girl, they slowly staggered through the door and down.
In the shuttle, Isen flipped through comm channels. Static, static, screaming, static. He turned in his seat to see how Varn was faring. The big Guardsman had strapped the wounded techpriest into a crash couch. Other crash couches held Intelligencer Whites, gut-wounded and unconscious, and Gendarme Commissioner Reaz, dead and covered in occult tattoos.
The comm crackled to life. "...near the outer hull now, following the marks I made on the walls. The main shuttle bay's destroyed, Matsuka's bomb I suppose. I say again, anyone out there?"
Isen turned to the console and began warming up the shuttle's engines. "Isen here, with Varn! Luc, that you? We're at the shuttle, where the warp are you?"
"At the hatch to the topside. DeCarabas with me. And... some others. Need Varn to bring out one of the metal crates from the back of the shuttle."
"A crate? The airship's going down, dammit, stop mucking about and get out here!"
"I've got a little girl here. Can't take her out in the wind, it'd flay her. Bring me a crate."
Varn leaned over Isen's shoulder and bellowed in the comm. "Stupid rich boy! Everyone is dying! Everyone but us, we leave now! You can't save them!"
"I can save this one!"
Cursing under his breath, Varn grabbed a crate under one arm and his bolter in the other. Isen opened the back doors, and Varn stomped out into the killing wind.
The airship was sinking, down into the perpetual hurricane. Fragments ricocheted off his armor, and swirling grit reduced visibility to a few meters.
There was the damn hatch, open. He could see the richboy and the taxman just inside.
And standing just outside, splinter-wind carressing her skin, was a daemonette. Varn cursed, raised his bolter, and fired. The demon ducked, grinning, digging its claws into the hull, then rushed toward him.
Inside hatch, in the narrow access passage, Luc and DeCarabas stood back to back, the girl on the ground between them. To either side, a beautiful manifestation of self-destruction.
The scream of bolter fire rose above the howling wind. The demons hissed. "Trechery! Tell us, mortal, tell us now, the tome, the book, the grimoire, where?"
DeCarabas choked, spat blood inside his mask. "No... nowhere. It is nowhere, we destroyed it."
The demons screamed. DeCarabas reached past Luc with his flame pistol and bathed wicked beauty in pure flame. Luc turned, pistols raised, as the other fiend ripped DeCarabas' arm off in a spray of blood. The old man gasped in pain and fell. Luc leveled his Palantines. Two straight lines, from his eyes, down his arms, along the barrels of his guns, acrolls half a meter of open space, to the wide, black, liquid eyes of the demon. Eyes like pools of dark water. Eyes you could die in.
His guns spat twin beams of fire.