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Logen Ninefingers

Emperor's Scourge

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Emperor’s scourge

- Adrian Collins –

Story 2 of The Mortiurge

 

She looked just like any one of the other thirteen million young women that lived in the squalor of precinct five-one-four, six-west, Lerrunhive. Dark hair, straight when he’d met her the night before but now messily curled with dried sweat, framed her tired features. Blue eyes sat beneath closed lids and a small nose twitched as the hair upon his chest tickled it. A lean, pale arm grasped the dingy motel’s coarse blanket closer to her.

 

She may have looked like any one of Lerrunhive’s of other girls, but to Thale Rook this one was special. The girl meant something to the grizzled youth. He watched her breathing for a short while as a hanging glow globe outside the window of their two-by-three metre room flickered light through a window barely thirty centimetres square. He admired her covered form and revelled in the touch of her soft skin against his own.

 

 

The girl awoke. Blue eyes that he could have drowned in looked up at him, and dry lips from the night’s excesses wove themselves into a sultry smile. Her hands, surprisingly clean, slowly traced the scars upon his body. Healed las-burns, solid shot punctures, stab-slits, flame scorches, lines of stitch-holes and surgical incisions covered the hard musculature of his frame. His skin was a hundred shades of pale white where his healed pigment reacted differently to each type of wound.

 

For a few short minutes Thale Rook, Mortiurge and righteously brutal killer, allowed himself to enjoy a closeness he’d not had since enlisting in the Arbites almost a half-decade past, leaving behind the ghosts of his bloody past, buried in the mud of planets in far-flung systems. The girl snuggled in to him further, moaning with both pleasure and pain as her obscura hangover kicked in and the memories of their night spent together rolled over her in unison.

 

 

She looked up to him once more. “You have many scars, for someone down from the upper habs. I like scars.”

 

Then, like the stain of blood from his hands under faucet, brush, and soap, the moment washed away. His gaze hardened. Thale pushed her off and rolled to sit on the side of the bed, the heels of his hands working life back into his eyes.

 

“Time for you to go.”

 

Her mouth worked open and closed, shock working its way across her face.

 

“But… you said… breakfast… and a trip to see your parent’s hydro-vinyards…” she complained, her voice a mixture of hurt and whine.

 

 

He steeled his gaze as she tugged at heartstrings he once thought snapped and rotten.

 

 

“Get your stuff and get out.”

 

Shock and hurt were quickly replaced with anger as she surged to her feet and grabbed at a pile of discarded clothes on the floor to cover her nakedness.

 

“But you said.”

 

“Get. Out.”

 

“Do you know who I am? Do you know who my family is? Can you imagine what Radacast will do to you?”

 

At each question, her voice became shriller. Thale covered his ears. Though he had passed on smoking Obscura with her, he had still partaken in severe rotgut abuse and his head felt like a piece of dried-out bone being smashed to splinters with a cudgel. Through the increasing velocity of her verbal abuse, there came a knock at the door.

 

The girl went quiet.

 

“Mistress Lanna? Do you…”

 

“Get me out of here at once! Break down the door if you must!” shrieked Lanna, her gaze like the fires of a furnace, searing Thale’s skin.

 

The door exploded inwards and two lithe females in fitted body gloves burst in, bolt pistols up and ready. Thale didn’t bother to react to their entry, instead reaching out for a cup to push under a tap running with cloudy water.

 

 

Lanna glared, vicious glee upon her features. “I hope you can afford to pay for that!” she yelled, kicking out at the shattered door and yelping as her bare toe bent backwards.

 

Thale looked up and huffed out a laugh before downing the water and reaching out for another. A blade slammed the tin cup from his hand and pinned it to the wall. The Mortiurge looked back over his shoulder. The bodyguard who had thrown the knife was already re-drawing her second bolt pistol to aim at his head.

 

“I assure you, it won’t be a problem,” he grumbled.

 

The comment only stoked her rage and soon the small room looked like a frag grenade had gone off in it. His clothes were strewn far and wide, the small bed was kicked to slide heavily into the wall and the mirror was destroyed. There were holes in the rotting plaster walls where her now booted feet had easily crashed through them. The bodyguards stood there and watched, their unwavering pistols never dropping their direct line to his skull.

 

Lanna stopped, her shoulders heaving and her face red. Her stare was pure spent rage and childish indignation. Gone was the attraction Thale had let slip past his walls. Gone was the pity he had for her for the unwitting part she was about to play in his mission. Gone was his momentary and uncharacteristically soft moment.

 

 

Thale stood to his full height, rolling his shoulders and tilting his head to one side to crack his neck, allowing his powerful build to impose itself on the young woman.

 

 

He tilted his head forwards to shadow his face and bunched his chest and stomach and arms to accentuate both his raw power and the host of scars upon his body. The three women before him reacted immediately. Lanna squeaked in fear and the two women either side of him braced themselves for violence.

 

 

Taking a deep breath Thale looked up to the light to soften his features and allowed his body to relax. “Lanna. It is time for you to leave.”

 

Tears sprung down her cheeks. “How could you? You said…”

 

He smiled, greasily, like he’d seen so many men do to so many women before. Like he had done to so many women, on so many planets, in his youth before finding his true cause under the Emperor’s light.

 

“I lied. I lied to bed you like I’ve bedded thousands of others.”

 

Lanna’s mouth dropped open, incredulous. Sorry kid, this’ll hurt.

 

“Think you’re the only lower-hab girl I’ve tricked in to a hotel bed? Think you’re the only one I called ‘special’ and ‘unique’ with ‘eyes I could drown in’?”

 

Lanna’s face went a new shade of red, somewhere between shame and the rage of the scorned. This is what I am. This is what I do to keep the innocent safe.

 

“Think I won’t be back down here in a few days time, in a bar a few blocks away, spinning the same lies to some other wench that takes my fancy?”

 

Thale watched the bodyguards as much as he watched Lanna. If he had his guess right, this wasn’t the first scene they’d seen their little charge create with a one-night stand. They wouldn’t interfere unless he threatened her safety. He had some leeway, but he needed to tread carefully. He needed to get her out and going where he wanted her to go.

 

“Think you’re the first little hussy that has told me her father, or her brother, or her uncle would hunt me down? Do you?”

 

Lanna couldn’t manage words. Her mouth just worked open and closed.

 

“Get out,” snarled Thale. “I’m finished.”

 

Lanna screamed at him, rage and hurt flying at him in specks of spittle.

 

She turned and turned, her fit of wrath causing more and more damage as she searched for something. Thale lifted up a pack of lho-sticks. Five or six still rolled around inside the card packet. A foil-covered ball of obscura the size of his thumb rolled around in there also. Lanna’s eyes locked upon them.

 

Thale smiled coldly as he held them there for her to look at. He opened the packet without breaking eye contact, drew out a lho-stick, lifted her lighter, and flicked the flame on. Taking in a deep breath, he tossed the packet to her.

 

After snatching the packet from the air, Lanna lifted a small side table from the floor and threw it at him. Thale swayed aside lazily and let the table crash into the wall behind. Outside, the shouts of the motel’s fat guards filled the air from a few floors down. Lanna ignored them.

 

“You bastard! My aunt’s gunna kill you!”

 

Aunt?

 

“She’s gunna rip your arms off and feed them to you! She’s gunnna…”

 

No wonder we could never find him. Radacast is a woman. Lanna’d finally found her vocabulary and was really finding her stride. Thale ignored her, trying to enjoy the torrid smoke of the lho stick while pondering this new information.

 

 

“Look at me you piece of ****!”

 

Thale looked to one of the guards. “Best get this little screamer off home before the guards arrive.”

 

The guard he spoke to didn’t quite catch the smirk that crossed her face before it betrayed her. Both of them had been outside the motel door the entire night.

 

“Best we leave, mistress.”

 

Lanna looked at both the guards in turn. “Aren’t you going to do something?”

 

One of the guards looked at Thale. The Mortiurge couldn’t help but notice her eyes flicker over his form.

“The Overboss pays us to keep you safe, not settle spats with… men,” said the guard.

 

Lanna stomped her foot. “But my father is the Overboss’ brother! You are supposed to do what I tell you!”

 

Thale laughed. The guards grabbed Lanna just as she launched herself across the bed at him. She yelled and screamed and squealed helplessly as the two women dragged her out of the door and into the flickering darkness beyond.

 

A moment after she was gone Thale slumped back on to the bed, hands covering his face.

 

 

Too close. Left myself open. I am the Mortiurge. There are no feelings but righteousness. No love but for the mission. No true pleasure but the death of Lerrunhive’s enemies. I am the Mortiurge.

 

I am His will, in the dark, made manifest.

 

 

I am the Mortiurge.

 

He took a deep breath and stilled his mind, cleansing it of Lanna’s smell and touch. He wiped himself clean of the sensuous kisses and warm, sweet breath, the lean legs and the soft moans with older memories of rage and anger and hurt.

 

Overboss Radacast is a woman.

 

She is cunning, but I am the Mortiurge.

 

And I have a job to do.

 

Thale’s arm snaked out and reached under the bed, wrenching something loose from under the mattress. A holster and folded-up belt came loose. A .54 Trantor hand cannon sat heavy within the beaten leather. Tied to the holster was a palm-sized picter unit.

 

The Mortiurge separated the picter unit from the holster and tossed it on to the bed as he pulled on his worn work fatigues and boots and then fed the holster belt into the loops of his pants.  The unit flickered to life as he brushed the screen, requesting a user ID and password. With surprising dexterity for the size of his hands, he tapped them in.

 

 

Name: Thale Rook

Password: Nemamiah

 

The screen flashed white and then opened on to a panel of options. Quickly manipulating the device, Thale brought up a map with a flashing blip upon it.

 

There she is.

 

He smiled to himself. The tracking bug in the lho-stick pack had been one of the last things he fully remembered doing before coming back to the room the night before. The foul taste of the sticks still coated his mouth. He stood and walked out of the destroyed room, staying in the shadows of the glow globes as he unlocked the door to the neighbouring apartment.

 

 

Inside, it was neat and tidy, as he had left it each morning after failing to find the Overboss’ niece the twelve consecutive nights previous. Flicking on the light and closing the door he quietly up-ended the bed and dragged out a dark steel suitcase. Quickly pressing his thumb to a print reader he opened the case to reveal his kit and disguise.

 

He strapped on some body armour before buttoning on a dark shirt. A shoulder holster went on next, las pistol charged and ready. A heavy trench coat went on after, steel bullet-mesh woven into the under side of the garment. He looked to the cracked mirror.

 

He resembled any one of thousands of the Overboss’ men that prowled the precincts of the bastard’s influence. With a grunt and a nod, Thale deemed himself ready, and turned and walked through the door.

 

“Hey!” called a voice. “Stop! Don’t make me shoot you!”

 

Thale took a quick look at his picter screen and turned. Bloody hell.

 

 Three of the motel guards and a flush-faced balding man with a shotgun stood at the open door to the trashed room.

 

“Did you see who did this?” shouted the hotel manager, waving his shotgun wildly. “Did you see the bastard that ruined my room? Tell me!”

 

Thale thought of how much quicker this discussion would be if he could just draw his Trantor.

 

Restraining himself, he shook his head. “No. I saw nothing.”

 

The manager stormed towards him, shotgun still waving wildly.

 

“I bet it was – “

 

Thale’s hand snaked forwards, slamming the barrel back into the manager’s nose, breaking it in a spray of crimson.

 

The guards made to move forwards but the Trantor in Thale’s right fist and the landlord’s shotgun in his left quickly made them think otherwise.

 

“Drop ‘em.”

 

Two autoguns and a seven-kilo miner’s spanner fell to the ground.

 

“Piss off.”

 

The three men turned and ran.

 

The manager looked up from the ground, cowering as best he could with nothing to cower behind. Thale squatted down.

 

“My name is Juxan,” growled Thale, pouring all of his fake malice into his words. “One of Overboss Radacast’s men.”

 

The manager whimpered and snivelled at the name, snot and drool mixing with tears and blood upon the concrete below his face.

 

 

Thale leaned in closer. “It would be best for you to forget I was here.”

 

The manager squealed and cried, nodding furiously, his eyes filled to overflowing with fear.

 

Just to make sure, Thale cracked him on the base of the skull with the Trantor’s pistol grip and put him out.

*                *                *

Five or six minutes later, Thale walked out from the ground floor elevator and into the streets. It was halfway through the morning shift at the manufactorums, and relatively quiet. Too early for the next shift to be awake and too late for the rotgut drinkers, blaze injectors and obscura smokers from the last shift to still be conscious. It was a time of darkness. It was a time for the Mortiurge to go to work.

 

Thale followed the map upon the picter, his stride powering him past the disparate wanderers of the early morning streets. None dared a second look or to walk near him, too fearful of what he might be and what little slight they may cause. Overboss Radacast’s men were not known for their mercy, or for their sanity.

 

 

He moved as quickly as he could, cutting through backstreets and charging through hab blocks to track and gain upon his quarry. Thale ignored the grasping hands of beggars and those so far in an Obscura haze they thought him friend. He leapt over street-blocking piles of trash and punched his way past would-be muggers and green juvies posing as hardened street gangers. Above, the suffocating cloud of filth that sat heavy between the towers disappearing above was lit by the glow globes swingling in the artificial breeze.

 

 

Voices, here and there, rent the air as they echoed from the impoverished Imperial hab blocks. Screams, cries, arguments, abuse, fear, anger, pain – the siren song of the lower habs of Lerrunhive rung out like a choir of misery and reverberated like souls looking to flee the rusted walls, rotting plaster and decaying society. In the far distance, loud speakers blared the muffled words of someone not knee-deep in the human waste Thale waded through.

 

He caught sight of Lanna as she entered the guarded doors of a decrepit hab block and walked in to an elevator. Thale smiled. This was it. It had to be. Dilapidated and seemingly deserted, the hab block was seven or eight hundred storeys of hidden stronghold.

 

He’d finally found where the Overboss had been hiding since his – her – underling, Yaziniki, had caught an executioner round to the head.

 

 

He straightened his coat and his back, asserted a harder look upon his already stone-hard features, and walked towards the door with a slightly exaggerated swagger. The two guards raised their weapons. Thale recognised one, squinting to make sure. Unlo; I know you.

 

Thale didn’t break his stride as they tracked him the whole way to stand before them.

 

“Name?” one of the men barked.

 

“Juxan. You know me, Unlo, you piece of ****. Don’t waste my time.”

 

The guard balked a moment. Unlo didn’t actually know him, or Juxan, of course. But he would know Juxan’s name well enough to be afraid of it. Thale knew Unlo from a low-priority hit-list with an attached crime sheet as long as he was tall. Juxan was a third or fourth tier enforcer - well above this man’s pay-grade. Unfortunately for Juxan, his thickly muscled body was now naught but dust in one of the ash-traps from the city’s rubbish furnaces. Fortunately for Thale, the dead gang-member bore a half-decent resemblance to his own face. His body armour filled out the missing size, and his reputation for violence would easily be assimilated and used for good.

 

Thale fixed him with his stare, his hand sweeping the trench coat back from his laspistol.

 

“The last thing the Overboss needs today is to think about replacing two incompetent door guards.”

Unlo and the second guard looked at each other. Thale watched the heavies as they went through fear, a little more fear, and then finished with unashamed terror.

 

With a snort of derision, Thale pushed past them. He crunched his elbow into Unlo’s chin just to prove his point.

 

 

Within the inner elevator sanctum, more guards sat ready to react to any violence at the front door. Two large doors sat waiting for elevators to return to the ground, numbers well in to the hundreds ticking over as one elevator went up and one came down.

 

Thale watched as one finally reached its pinnacle at floor seven-one-six and the other continued its descent. He shrugged off any attempt at friendly banter from the guards around him, instead listening to those that spoke amongst themselves. There was but one name he was interested in hearing, and it wasn’t long until a conversation between some men manning a tripod-mounted autocannon behind him spurted it out.

 

“Yaziniki.”

 

“I heard say he was killed by Overboss Salima.”

 

“That fat oaf? Nah, he wouldn’t have the stones.”

 

There were chuckles all round. Then there was silence.

 

“Heard it was the Ghost.”

 

There was a slap of flesh on leather, a grunt of pained surprise, and the hissing of men silencing each other.

 

“Ain’t no such thing as ghosts,” whispered a different voice. “With the bosses putting any man who seen anything to the hard question and then in the furnaces, you’d do best to keep such words to yerself.”

 

Thale allowed himself the slightest movement of his lips – a beaming smile of self-pride considering where he stood. There was quiet a moment longer. The descending elevator reached the fiftieth floor. The second elevator began to make its way down from high in the stack.

 

“Yaziniki’s guards are all gone.”

 

“Yep. Like I said. Anyone who seen anything goes straight upstairs for the hard question.”

 

“Heard the Ghost got em’ too.”

 

“Grox-shagging idiot, what did I just say?”

 

“True but. You seen em’ go up? The guards?”

 

“Not me. Barran seen em’ go up, I heard.”

 

“Where’s Barran?”

 

“Dunno, not seen him in a week.”

 

“Reckon the Ghost – “

 

“One more mention of that… myth… and I’ll put one through your head, right here, right now.”

 

The elevator doors opened and Thale marched forwards to the sounds of a scuffle breaking out behind him.

 

An armed guard stood in the elevator, staring at Thale.

 

“Level?”

 

Thale thought for a moment. If he dropped on to the Overboss’ floor, he’d like be shot if Juxan’s status wasn’t high enough. If they made him, they’d torture him for weeks and then maybe shoot him – if he was lucky.

 

“Level?” the guard growled, annoyed at having to repeat himself.

 

“Seven-one-one,” said Thale.

 

The guard tilted his head. “Level’s empty. What cause you got to got there?”

 

“Overboss is lookin’ to move family into levels below him. Needs the floors cleaned out good and proper,” said Thale, adding some timbre to his voice.

 

The guard nodded, leaned forwards and typed a code into a touch-pad. For a while, they travelled in silence. The guard looked at him a few times before daring to speak. Thale did his best to seem unapproachable, but failed.

 

“Speakin’ of family, I saw the niece come in, just before you.”

 

Thale didn’t respond. Blue eyes he could have drowned in flickered through his memory and tugged a little at his chest. I am the Mortiurge.

 

“Nice piece. If she wasn’t the Overboss’ – “

 

Thale cut him off with a look that could have frozen flames mid-flicker. The guard choked a moment on the rest of his sentence and looked down at his feet. The rest of the ride to the seven hundred and eleventh floor went in utter silence.

 

 

Thale hit the guard with one last stare as the doors opened before walking out. He could hear the guard desperately pressing the door close button with his thumb almost before he’d made it out and onto the floor. Then there was darkness.

 

Trantor drawn and up in front of him, Thale flicked on a small, finger-sized torch attached to the pistol’s undercarriage, and looked about the corridor he stood in. Like most of the levels below him, floor seven-one-one hadn’t seen a human in a century or two. The decomposing plaster walls dripped with moss and sewage from the broken pipes heading down from the newly occupied floors above. Cheap alloy furniture had almost rusted away to nothing. The air hung thick and un-recycled, making breathing difficult.

 

Small skeletons, mostly animal, some reptilian and one human, lay in the corners, bereft of flesh. There was no sound but Thale’s own breathing. Taking a deep, cloying lungful, the Mortiurge moved forwards, his feet sinking ankle-deep into the dust and rot upon the ground. He moved up the corridor, searching for a service elevator or staircase to move up to the next level.

 

He passed open door after open door as he moved, giving each room beyond a per functionary sweep of his torch and hand cannon. The tiny apartments had suffered a similar rot to the elevator welcome room, furniture lying in ruins having been eaten by rust, and walls drooling with rotten decay. A pict or two had been left up in a frame but time had long since eroded the coloured inks that had shown the scene.

 

Thale’s light finally found the service stair door. Wrapping his hand around the handle he tried to gently pull the door open, but the door was jammed and the cheap steel began to flakily splinter outwards. Grunting, he applied a little more pressure until the door finally gave way and screeched open on rusted hinges.

 

Thale winced. With any luck they hadn’t heard him six floors up.

 

Shining his light through the door and into the stair he moved on. A sound behind him, back in through the door to seven-one-one made him turn, his gun searching for targets. Nothing. No movement. He shook his head at his own skittishness and moved to turn away. Not daring to risk the noise of the door closing once more Thale made his way up to seven-one-six without closing it.

 

Shining his light on every step before putting his weight on it Thale eventually reached the door. From the outside, the wood was as decrepit and rotten as it had been below. The hinges were red with rust, the bolt-housings having withered away to almost nothing. There was light coming from the narrow slit at the bottom of the door and the rumbling tones of mens’ voices.

 

Thale checked his surroundings again and lowered himself down to the ground. The floors inside had been swept clear of dust and debris, and he could see feet moving around on freshly polished concrete. Black combat boots for hired muscle, polished leathers for the more rich and influential, a few wildly different pairs of heels and assorted womens’ shoes. Finally he spotted what he was looking for. Brown boots: feminine and well-worn but of a rich cut.

 

Lanna.

 

As if on queue, her voice cut through the din.

 

“But, aunt, I need you to teach him a lesson!”

 

There was a long, tired sigh. “Lanna, niece, Juxan is one of my top level enforcers. Your father and I both told you to not interact with our men. I will have words with him. That will be all on the matter.” Thale closed his eyes and took in the power of the voice: there were lord governors who commanded less respect and obedience with all of the senses available, let alone just their voices.

 

“Words?” Lanna cried. “Words are worth nothing! Have you not been listening? Do you not understand how he treated me? I want you to hurt him!”

 

Another male voice interrupted the conversation. “Sister, I cannot have my daughter treated this way. You are her aunt. You are the Overboss. Fault is shared by Lanna – “

 

“Father!”

 

“Shut up Lanna,” rumbled the voice again. “Sister, fault is shared by Lanna, but Juxan should have known better. Juxan must be punished.”

 

There was a moment’s silence.

 

“Juxan is one of the men in line for taking on Yaziniki’s region. He holds sway there. And he holds sway with me. I shall have words, but no more. I am finished discussing the matt -”

 

“Aunty!”

 

“Sister – “

 

“Enough!” snapped the Overboss. “Let me put it this way; this is a business. Juxan contributes far more than you do. I need him. I don’t really need either of you, but I suffer your presence because my sister loved one of you and bred the other.”

 

“I am your blood!” screamed Lanna.

 

“You are nothing!” roared Radacast. “Blood is only worth something when it is spilled! If you had any of me in you, Juxan would now be lying on a blood soaked mattress with a second smile cut in to his throat! Emperor’s balls, if you had anything of my sister in you he wouldn’t have arms or legs either!”

 

Something flew across the room and slammed into the wall, a steel leg puncturing the plaster through to the stair well.

 

There was quiet, some shuffling beyond the door. Somebody cleared their throat.

 

“Get out.”

 

Footsteps echoed as Thale watched Lanna’s boots, and those he supposed were her father’s, leave the room. A door slammed closed.

 

 

“Somebody get that chair out of the wall.”

 

Thale flicked off his torch and was plunged into darkness. He heard a shuffle once more as the voices started again. He turned and shone his light down and then up the stairwell. Something was in here with him. There was another sound, a whisper in the darkness, like something stealthily scraping upon a stair.

He heard the chair move and flicked his torch off immediately as the leg protruding from the wall was wrenched out to leave a bar of light spearing through into the darkness. Thale sat still, his gun out before him, searching the pitch black of the lower and upper levels for the source of the scuffling noise.

 

He waited what felt like an hour, but could only have been minutes: nothing.

 

Leaning towards the beam of light, he risked a glance into the hole in the plaster, making sure not to interrupt the light and allow himself to be seen. There were men in their finery as well as plenty of heavies. At the centre of it all, behind a polished wood desk, could only be Radacast.

 

She was surprisingly wiry and old, her hair going from grey to white at the temples. Her hatchet-like face exuded viciousness and cold calculation, her icy gaze like the void far above as she brooded upon the door where her brother and niece had departed.

 

 

Thale’s eye was drawn to an immense statue in the corner. Sitting mostly in the shadows, it could scarce be argued to be a human. Immense shoulders, a chest like some great mammoth simian of old Terra, and archaic armour pieces to cover rippling musculature and healed wounds that made Thale’s own look like they had been inflicted by children, made it look like -

 

 

They have a bloody pit slave.

 

Thale swore inwardly and pushed himself to his feet. His mission had just doubled in difficulty. This could never have been a simple head-shot assassination. Everyone inside that room had to die, and they had to die quickly. If he missed one, or allowed one to get to a vox, then he was not getting out of the ground floor lobby alive.

 

The pit slave was an underground gladiator. It would be so amped up on growth hormones, rage and blaze, the only weapons bringing that thing down were the .54 Trantor hand cannon, a Leman Russ battle Tank, or an Astartes. Thale only had one of those.

 

 

He levelled his .54 Trantor at where the pit slave was about to lose his head, leaned back and lifted his boot to kick in the door.

 

That simple movement saved his life.

 

 

Something whistled through the air in front of his face. It smelled bad and it sounded sharp. Thale reflexively pushed the button on his torch and for half a second was afforded a view of a creature of his nightmares.

 

 

A forest of razor sharp teeth surrounded by purple and pink flesh dotted with black specks moved like quicksilver. Beady black eyes stared at him in alien hunger. Sinew and rippling muscle pulled and flexed over chitinous bone. A lashing tongue chittered with rage as misfortune saw it momentarily robbed of a kill, and off-balance.

 

All of this in the moment before it slammed in to Thale and sent him crashing through the plaster wall and in to Radacast’s office.

 

There was a second of stunned silence. Guns lifted. Men shouted. Thale launched himself behind a bookcase. The pit slave roared like an ancient beast, the very sound reverberating inside Thale’s hammering chest as Radacast’s immense bodyguard took a pondering step forwards. The Overboss’ mouth opened to unleash the guns of her men upon Thale and end the Mortiurge’s life.

 

 

It never happened.

 

Something else burst through the wall, and before Thale had stopped sliding across the floor into cover, three men were dead. Eviscerated. Fans of crimson flew through the air from corpses as they flailed to the ground. The two that had not lost their heads were dead before the shock could register on their features.

 

The head of the final man was in the jaws, being quickly compressed to nothing by hundreds of needle teeth.

 

Thale couldn’t move, couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Another man died as he goggled at the beast. Clawed hands tore a screaming lady’s arm from its socket. Chittering, alien and foul, filled the room amongst the screams of fear, pain and horror.

 

Radacast threw herself backwards as her heavies opened up. The thing was immediately a blur of motion. Slugs, lasblasts, solid rounds and pellet shot and all manner of munitions chased it across the room. More men and women died by the second as the beast stood still only for a racing heartbeat at best, while it destroyed another hapless man or woman, before moving again.

 

Somebody’s shot severed a power cable in the wall, after passing through a screaming guard, and the lights went out.

 

Another shot burst a water mane and a high-pressure horizontal fountain exploded into the room, smashing a guard from his feet. Quicker than Thale could track, the beast leapt upon the stricken man and tore him to pieces in a flurry of blows from its four arms. Then it was gone again, racing back into the cover of the water to strike again and again.

 

Thale remained hidden, watching in abject horror as Radacast’s people were destroyed at a rate he’d only seen in Guard assault drop sites. Severed limbs had barely hit the floor from the last victim before the beast was on the next man. At a quick count, over twenty lay dead, and only a few more still stood firing. It was time to act.

 

Doing his best to sight the beast, Thale held out his gun from behind his cover in both shaking fists. He watched as the blur of motion finished with one man and leapt three metres to bear down another. There was an opportunity, so minute that any without Guard and Arbite training would never have hoped to take advantage of it.

 

Thale narrowed his eyes and took his chance.

 

 

The creature screeched as the .54 Trantor boomed deafeningly and one grotesque arm was blown from its body. Black, soulless eyes turned to face Thale, and its legs wound up to launch itself into his cover. Thale’s second shot left a burning groove over its shoulder.

 

He wouldn’t have time for a third.

 

It leapt at him, its vicious lamprey mouth opening wide in anticipation.

 

 

Thale rolled away and it crashed into the bookcase, claws shearing through his mail jacket and body armour to tear a long set of gashes into his back. Thale yelled in pain as he hit the ground and tried to get his gun up. It was too fast.

 

The pit slave was faster.

 

A hand as big as Thale’s head grabbed the monster by one of its legs and wrenched it backwards with power and strength beyond humanity. The pit slave roared as it brought its other fist hammering down into the beast’s midsection. Bone crunched, the creature screamed its alien scream and twisted around.

The pit slave used its immense strength to grapple and pound upon the monster while the creature hacked and slashed and tore bloody chunks from its captor. As the creature became an even wilder whirlwind of fury, the pit slave began to slow. It bellowed again, though the strength was draining from its voice. Fists hammered the beast with less and less power and Thale could see its grip was slipping in its own blood on the abomination in its grasp.

 

He and Radacast, the two remaining people in the study, broke cover at the same time. Radacast unleashed indiscriminately with a lasrifle on full auto, while Thale let the power of his Trantor rain upon the beast in the pit slave’s grasp. Finally, the slave and the creature collapsed to the ground.

Thale stomped up and put his last .54 round through the monster’s head to make sure.

 

Finally, it was still.

 

Thale couldn’t break his stare from that monster and the tattered remains of the pit slave. Thought I’d left them halfway across the sector, a couple of million guardsmen between them and me. How’d they get here? That moment almost cost him his life.

 

 

The red-hot barrel of a lasrifle jabbed the side of his neck, burning the flesh. Thale looked up. Radacast had him square.

 

Thale’s head dropped. Not in defeat. But to give himself a moment’s respite.

 

 

“I have you, bastard. Don’t you move. I’m going to have some fun killing you for what you did to my men,” sneered Radacast, her eyes burning with cold anger.

 

Thale nodded, but said nothing.

 

Something caught his eye. Something red and flashing dully. Thale smiled and reached into his coat.

 

“Don’t move, I said!” screamed Radacast.

 

Thale nonchalantly pulled out his las pistol. Radacast yanked the trigger.

 

There was a low, pitiful whine and a short expulsion of heat from the barrel of the lasrifle. Nothing more.

 

“You’re empty,” said Thale, levelling the pistol at Radacast.

 

The Overboss’ face dropped and her knees went out from under her.

 

Thale stood over the Overboss. Not a judge. Not a jury. The Mortiurge. The executioner.

 

“Radacast. I, Thale Rook, Mortiurge of Arbite precinct five-one-four, six-west, Lerrunhive, have found you guilty of seven hundred and eleven counts of murder, three-thousand, six hundred and twenty five counts of authorising murder – “

 

Thale stopped mid sentence and looked at the main door to the study. It was closed, locked by a small deadbolt that wouldn’t have held up in a stiff breeze.

 

Radacast opened her eyes a moment, a whimper escaping her lips.

 

Thale looked down once more. “Where are the men you had outside?”

 

The Overboss’ face spelt confusion only for a moment before the front door was ripped away off its hinges and something immense came in to the darkness.

 

The monster ducked to get into the room; two immense arms with wicked claws at the end flexed open and closed. Two smaller arms sprouting from just below the armpit unfolded, bone blades the length of an Arbite captain’s ceremonial power sword slashing out to create a cross of limbs. Hardened bone carapace sat over wet sinew and flesh like a perverted version of Thale’s own body armour. An immense head, thrice as large as on the beast they had just killed, regarded them for a moment with equally soulless eyes before backwards-jointed knees brought long clawed feet into the room.

 

Blood and chunks of flesh hung from tremendous jaws and thick bladed teeth gnashed while a long pink tongue flickered and licked, tasting the air and the violence still in the room.

 

Thale had never known such fear in his life.

 

 

His bowels begged to be released.

 

 

His body refused to move.

 

His mind could not function.

 

The beast’s chest puffed out in challenge and its head ducked, mouth opening with to release an ear-drum destroying scream.

 

 

Two, and then three, and then four more of the smaller beasts came to stand in the doorway beneath or behind the monster.

 

Below him Radacast had been pushing her way backwards towards the hole next to the stair well door.

Thale saw the Overboss’ boot as it slid out of his own peripheral vision.

 

His head turned.

 

His boot took one step back, without his permission.

 

The monster strode forwards.

 

A larger section of the wall blew out as the water mane severed completely and the full brunt of the high-pressure water slammed into the creatures, driving them against the opposite wall.

 

Thale turned and ran.

 

Radacast ran beside him.

 

They fled for all they were worth.

 

***

Again, a big thanks to Atma01 for his help in this, the second Thale Rook story.

Edited by Logen Ninefingers

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Edge-of-my-seat waiting for the next installment. ****, that was intense. Again, well done.

 

My one critique of this work was an awkward sentence: "The Overboss’ face spelt confusion only for a moment before the front door was ripped away off its hinges..."

 

 

"Ripped away off its hinges" felt awkward to me: a little clunky. I think "ripped away" would suffice just fine, or "ripped off its hinges."

 

Great read!

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