Yvela Milles feet crashed through the thin, hard crust of the snow and sank almost to her knees. The wind that scoured her face was bitterly cold, but her helmet had been ruined during the clash at the guard post below. The bodyglove she wore under her carapace had the temperature controls set to maximum, but the cold still ate at her extremities. She flexed her fingers and pushed forward.
Her armsmen shadowed her, a dozen men and women dirty gray flak with rasping rebreather masks. Dark carapace breastplates gave them additional protection and they carried an assortment of lethal weaponry. She bit back a giggle. A few years ago they would have outfitted with uniform weaponry and gleaming armour with brass fittings. Now they were one step above a pirate band and even if they found what they were looking for, things were likely to get worse before they got better.
The wind pelted her face with snowflakes and whipped her dark hair in front of her eyes. She brushed it back and trudged forward. "Not too much further," a voice purred in her ear. Yvela's head whipped around as her hand fell to the grip of the bolter hanging from her assault sling. She hadn't noticed the witch coming up on her.
Malice wore a dark robe covered with raven's feathers and the pelts of small animals. The woman was whipcord lean with almost no fat or muscle to speak over and nearly thirty centimeters taller than Yvela. Her bald head and angular features made her look like a hungry vulture. Yvela didn't know how the witch stayed warm. Perhaps she wore a bodyglove underneath the robe or perhaps she used witchery. She scowled at the thought.
"We're close," said Malice. "I can feel them. They will be wary. They are used to being hunted."
"Who isn't?" replied Yvela. "If only the damn Chimera was still working."
"Time is of the essence," said Malice. "We could not wait. If they leave all will be for not."
"Yes, yes," said Yvela. "Do you have anything useful to say?"
"Perhaps you should make sure that your soldiers will not open fire when we see them? It would be unfortunate to have come all this way to lose the prize due to some some fool having a nervous trigger finger."
"What about them?"
"They know we are coming and that we offer aid."
"And how do they know that?"
"Because I told them an hour ago."
"Witchery," Yvela hissed.
"Yes and this and more will give you what you desire. Power. Revenge. Dominion. Vindication. You aren't going to balk at a little discomfort, are you? Turn back and you will have come all this way for nothing. Your enemies will hound you to death or the deep dark. Keep going forward-"
Yvela silenced her by jamming the muzzle of her bolter into the psyker's throat. "I know what's at stake *****," she growled. "Don't try and twist me like those petty little barons on that nameless shithole I found you on. Serve me well and I will reward you. Betray me and I will end you and you will not cut clandestine deals with heretic witchery without telling me. Am I clear or do I need a new witch?"
"Apologies, my lady," Malice croaked. "I had only your best interests at heart. I know how much you dislike sorcery. I merely wished to spare you details that found you unpleasant."
"Feed me lies like that again and I will end you," hissed Yvela. "Now get moving."
As they trudged up the mountain, eyes unseen watched them. The observer was ghost quiet despite her powered battle plate and almost invisible thanks to her holo shroud. An Astartes of the Raven Guard Chapter would have found her stealth skills to be commendable, if not quite equal to the best of that illustrious chapter. "Mazirian," she whispered into her vox. "Twelve contacts, including the witch. Mixed arms, mostly light but I count at least one melta gun, a grenade launcher, and a bolter. Private armsmen, not Guard or PDF."
"Hold position," said Mazirian. "I'm on my way down to speak with them. The witch knows too much to let go. They're either with us or we kill them. Alethia, hold position. Heketos is flanking. If things go wrong, burn them."
They came from above, rounding a bend in the path ahead and coming into sight. One was shorter, wearing unadorned powered armour that resembled Mark VII battle plate. The armour was the colour of the surrounding snow and bereft of any decoration or insignia. A battered and scarred boltgun was held in his hands.
His companion was taller and his suit bore a passing resemblance to a Mark IV suit painted cerulean blue and accented with gold. On one shoulder pad a serpent of golden fire biting its own tail encompassed a silver eight pointed star with elongated vertical and horizontal points. The helmet was fronted by a visor over a plain slab of face plate. A bolt pistol was strapped to his side, but he held in his hands a thin shaft of translucent crystal that was almost as tall as he was.
"How did you find us?" the sorcerer in blue and gold demanded.
"I found you, Mazirian, Sorcerer-Lord of the Thousand Sons," Malice replied. "My mistress bade me to find a weave in the skein of fate that would bring her victory and in my searching I found you and your compatriots. We told no one and left no clues behind. You have not been betrayed."
"An alliance?" Mazirian asked. "Is that what you want?"
"Yes," Yvela said. "Together we are stronger than apart. We share enemies and goals. Let us crush them together."
"You are bold mortal," Mazirian replied.
"What," said the warrior in white, "do you offer us? To speak of being an ally of Legion-brothers is a bold claim. What makes it true?"
"I have a ship, supplies, fighting men," Yvela replied. "A witch who is a very good seer and my own prowess. I also have information."
"What kind of ship?" asked the warrior in white.
"Tempest class frigate. A fighting ship with two thousand armsmen. Where is your army?"
"We should just kill them," said Alethea over the vox. "A few shots and then Heketos gets stuck in. It'll be over in a moment."
"They're far too useful," replied the warrior in white.
"Agreed," replied Heketos.
"You have a bargain shipmistress," replied Mazirian. "We are allied."
Static crackled over Yvela's microbead. "My lady, we have a big problem. At least a full mechanized company of Imperials with armour support are on their way."
"My rearguard says the Planetary Defence Forces have arrived."
"The ***** lead them straight to us," Alethea hissed.
"All the more reason to get use out of her now and not waste blood and bullets we can't spare," replied the warrior in white.
The response that Alethea made could only be interpreted as a sign of disgust, but she said nothing. "Heketos, anything to say?" the warrior in white asked.
"Hail Alpharius," was the Night Lord's mocking reply.
"Fine," replied the warrior of the Alpha Legion. "We'll fall back to above the bend. Good view, good cover for us. Mazirian, crack the vault. Now. Any way you have to."
He turned to address Yvela. "Who else do you have?"
"One more. My rearguard. How much time do we need to buy?"
"As much as possible."
"Throne," she cursed. "Do you have an exit plan? We had to abandon our vehicle."
"We do. Your space on it is not guaranteed. Not if we forfeit the prize."
Yvela scowled. "Fine. We'll talk about it later." She touched her microbead. "I'm sorry Tiberius. I'm going to need you to buy us some time before you bolt."
"I was hoping you would ask," Tiberius replied.
"How many Imperials?" the warrior in white asked.
"At least a mechanized company with armour support," she replied. "My man will buy us some time and then join up."
"One mortal?" the warrior in white replied. "He must be good."
"You have no idea."