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Immune Response

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Immune Response

- Adrian Collins –
Story 4 (a novella) of The Mortiurge



Thale Rook stood within the thick rockcrete and ceramite fortifications of the squat Arbite Courthouse in precinct five-one-four, six-west, Lerrunhive. He stared balefully at the pict screens that lined the walls. The jerky images showed people soundlessly flowing past in flickering shades of grey, intermittently interrupted by static wash, in an endless crush of mute humanity. Their fear was palpable through the captured images, and Thale clenched his fist as he saw yet another Imperial citizen fall to the ground, clawed fingers reaching for a saviour through the boots that quickly crushed him to death.


Around Thale, the Courthouse buzzed with life. Twenty vox operators all spoke at once while adjutants ran back and forth between their blue comms screens, chatter, and the immense figure sitting in the brushed steel command throne. Seated, leaning forwards, elbows on his knees and square jaw resting on his steepled fingers, Judge Onex was an immense and physically intimidating commander.


“Gate command puts lock-down estimate at thirty minutes.”


“All precinct boundaries report ready for lock-down.”


“Word from the planetary governor: message begins, ‘Imperial armada contact made with Lord General Adarin Tibor. Armada en-route. Relief expected within the week. The Emperor protects.’ Message ends.”


“PDF gun nests set up at precinct entry points seven-three through one-oh-eight.”


“Magus Iritin reports hive defensive void shields activation in thirty standard.”


“Enforcer squad twelve advises hab blocks in two-one through two-nine are now at capacity.”


“Report from Enforcer squads one and three: gang activity in sectors three and four. Requesting back-up. Response?”


“Enforcer squads fifteen and twenty-three report completed sweep of sectors three-four and three-five. Continuing on to three-six.”


“Civilian traffic preventing tank movement to one-oh-nine through one-one-three –“


Onex’s voice was deep and authoritative, “Have Enforcer platoons three and seven redirect civilian traffic through one-one-five. Message to platoons one and three: hold, backup on its way. Someone find me a squad I can send to them.”


Onex paused as his commands were relayed and more calls for his attention came through. He rubbed a hand over tired eyes. The man had been going non-stop for almost two days.


“Someone get me some recaf.”


Thale watched his commander sit and listen, pick out important pieces of information, map his response in his head, and provide decisive direction a moment later over and over, and over again. All the while, Stalking back and forth like a caged animal, Thale’s frustration grew by the second. The vox operators had stopped looking at him after a while as their jobs became more and more encompassing.


Thale huffed and blew out his cheeks, roughly rubbing his face with his hands just to do something to let out his energy and his frustrations. He squatted down for a moment, scratching his stubble. Then he stood, took a few paces and turned back around, rubbed the back of his head, ran a check of his equipment, and returned to watching the screens. He turned to the Judge, took a step forward, mouth opening to speak, stopped himself, and turned away.


“Rook; for the Emperor’s sake, will you take a seat?” growled the Judge.


“Sir, we need to lock this place down. We need to lock it down now.”


Onex turned on him. “How many times are we going to have this discussion?”


“As many times as it takes you to lock the precinct down and convince the governor to close the hive gates and subterranean entries. As long as it takes to seal us off from them.”


The Judge’s face hardened. “You would murder all of those people? You would have me consign them all to death? There are thousands still outside our gate!”


“Better those thousands die, than the billions in here,” growled Thale. “This isn’t a game of being a hero, sir. We let those bastards in, and it’s all over.”


Onex sprung to his feet, his fresh mug of recaf flying to the floor. “Those are Imperial citizens, you heartless bastard!”


Thale strode into the physical wave of rage the Judge exuded, ready to explode. He was about to shout back, but stopped himself. Shouting at this thick bastard hasn’t worked the last six times.


He took a deep breath. “Sir, respectfully, I need you to listen to me.”


Onex looked about to shout him down but Thale raised a conciliatory hand. Bit odd, reasoning without a drum-fed shotgun – for once.


“Please. Sir, those things we found in Overboss Radacast’s hab block, those things that sit in the void above ready to drop on us, they aren’t like anything you’ve fought or seen before. They are bigger, faster, and more agile than you could possibly imagine. They are bastard tough, and they kill mercilessly with bone claw and bio weapons that shear through adamantium like it was paper. They are innumerable. They fall on planets and systems like an enveloping cloak: completely unstoppable. They are hunters alone, or ravenous beasts in packs. They care for nothing but killing you. They never tire, they never relent, and they never sate their hunger.”


Thale stopped for a moment. Chatter had dropped to a minimum. Everyone was looking at him.


“You let one of those bastards in here, it’s going to kill a lot of people before we can put it down.”


Onex’s frown had furrows deeper that the intercontinental canyons that marked the territories of the hives and their manufactorums.


“Half an hour longer. We can give these people half an hour more. Just until the void shields go up.”


Thale clenched his jaw in annoyance. “Sir,” he growled.


This time it was Onex’s turn to put his hand up. “The shields aren’t going up for half an hour. If what you say is true and they fall upon us, then it won’t matter if the gates are closed or not, they’ll just drop right into the hive from above.”


Thale took a deep breath. The chatter around them began to pick up momentum once more.


“True, sir.”


Onex grunted, and moved his attention back to the requests and updates flowing through the room once more.






Thale looked at the fifteen-man Enforcer squad lining the rear wall of the bunker.


“Permission to join the Enforcer teams out in the streets.”


Onex gifted Thale another withering glare. “Denied, again.”


“But, sir –“


“S-O-P, Mortiurge Rook. Arbite precinct houses go into lockdown if the hive comes under attack. Even you are not above S-O-P.”


Thale growled, and went back to pacing.


*                *                *


The next thirty minutes passed at glacial speed. By this time, Thale was about ready to rip a pict screen from the wall and beat someone to death with it. Finally, a vox operator caught his ear.


“Void shields in three, two, one.”


Immediately, Thale felt the hair on his arms stand up and tasted the electric tang in the air.


“Commence gate close. All Enforcer units are to remove any civilians away from the walls and the PDF emplacements. Move them towards the centre of the precinct and get them into the habs. Pile them in the hallways and elevator shafts if needs be. Just get them off the street,” barked Onex.


Onex stood. “Lock this precinct down.”


The vox operators went into overdrive. For twenty minutes Thale could barely hear himself think.


A vox operator stood, waving to catch the Judge’s attention, and ran over. Thale leaned in, to listen, discreetly.


“Sir, word from the planetary governor: message begins; ‘To all Arbite and PDF commanders, the creatures have begun planet fall. Lock down all hive and manufactorum walls. Void shields are to be raised immediately. Hold for all that you are worth. The Emperor Protects.’ Message ends.”


Onex let out a deep breath. “So it begins.” He looked to Thale, lip pulling up in a sneer of distaste. “What do you advise now? What, with your years of experience.”


Thale let the Judge’s sarcasm and disgust wash over him. The Judge’s hatred of him wasn’t lost on the young Arbite, but it was a burden he had long accepted and embraced. Brotherhood, respect; virtues I can never again enjoy. I am the Lerrunhive’s dark shadow. I am the necessary evil when the darkness cannot be fought with light. I am the Mortiurge. Those I serve with hate me, and I am unknown to those I protect. I am the Mortiurge.


Onex huffed. “I thought as much.”


Thale rubbed his chin. “Kill the big ones, sir.”


The Judge frowned, his face clouding over further. “Is that supposed to be a joke?”


“No, sir. Kill the big ones and it disorients the little ones. Makes those smaller bastards easier targets.”


Onex snorted, shook his head and turned away. “Get out. Your presence is irritating me.”


Thale shrugged and turned away, already forgotten as Onex began to bark out orders. He walked past the Enforcer squad, looking over each man’s body armour and weapons as if he were a drill sergeant. They looked keen to get out of the Courthouse. It was stifling, the recycled air already beginning to become like breathing hot soup. I need some air.


He locked eyes with the sergeant, snorted at the fear he saw there, and turned away. He walked a few paces and gripped a ladder rung that had been sunk into the wall. Punching a code into the small keypad beside the ladder, he began to ascend.


The metre-thick plasteel hatch slid back into a concealed recess and in a moment, Thale stood atop the Arbite complex. Up top, three Enforcer squads manned heavy bolter and autocannon positions, scanning the mass of humanity being pushed past them in the streets below. One of the Enforcers saluted Thale. He ignored the man, instead looking to the sky.


The first one hit like the tiniest raindrop above, splattering against the fizzing void shield. Then, another hit. Then, ten more struck. A moment later, a hundred were annihilated against the shield. Another heartbeat later a thousand hit, then ten thousand, and before Thale could blink, it was a wall of crackling blue above them as a torrent of spores rained down and smashed into oblivion above.


He heard a murmur of fear run through the enforcer squads upon the rooftop. Someone dropped a combat shotgun with a clatter. Thale was pretty sure someone pissed themselves, the acrid tang of urine biting through the smog stink.


Thale could feel their eyes upon him before he even looked down from the scene playing out far above him. Inside, he still smouldered at being held captive in the Arbite command centre. Emperor **** the lot of you. He brought down his well-practiced cold gaze and briefly looked at the Enforcer squads who, to a man, were looking to him. He was an Arbite, a leader, an elite soldier tasked with defending Lerrunhive, and they needed his leadership.


For a brief heartbeat, Thale pitied the men. Memories of similar looks from long-dead Guard squad-mates on far-off battlefields flickered before his mind’s eye. The pang of loss scratched the back of his throat while he felt his eyes redden and moisten.


“Sir?” someone ventured. “Do you know what they are? How can we fight so many?”


Thale clamped his jaw down, hard, the muscles in his jaw working as if to break his own teeth, while his eyes narrowed to angry slits. No. Never again. I may wear the uniform of the Arbites, but I am no brother of law-enforcement. I am the Mortiurge.


Thale sneered at the man, shrugging off the Enforcer’s need for reassurance. “You can’t.”


“But, sir –“


Another memory flickered behind his eyes; a wave of gnashing teeth and rending claws. Men, brothers, falling, calling out, begging for him to go back and save them moments before their wails of gut-wrenching terror turned to screams of agony. He remembered the looks on their faces as they realised he wasn’t coming back. He remembered the wall of pink and purple flesh tearing them to pieces. He remembered running.


He remembered meeting those men in basic. They laughed and drank and trained through warp travel to keep their minds from the horrors outside. He shouted encouragement to them and shared the fear of planet fall, when all control over your fate was lost. He shared the boredom of the march and the camp and the preparation; vomiting as they extended latrine trenches, or grumbling as they dug defensive earthworks. They lived, they learned, and in their own fashions, they loved their Guard brothers.


But in the end, they all died screaming.


“You can fight them all you want. You’ll still die.”


The Enforcers stared at him for a while. He offered them no further comfort.


Thale turned away and pushed his fingers through his greasy hair. Off in the distance, towards the towering curtain wall, there was a resounding clang as the colossal adamantium gates finally closed.


Thale let out a breath as a little relief washed over him. At least the Judge managed that.


*                *                *


“Sir, we’ve lost contact with Gladia.”


Thale’s stomach twisted. Frag.


“What do you mean, ‘lost contact’?” snarled Onex. “That’s a hive with three billion occupants! Get me Judge Ancarion immediately.”


“I’m getting no response, sir.”




“Keep trying. Five-minute intervals. Keep me updated.”


“Judge Onex: word from Judge Saria; “Walls at Seadonhive breached. Requesting immediate assistance. Void shield failure imminent.’ Message ends.”


Onex looked at Thale. Thale held the Judge’s gaze, trying to read what the man would do. They lasted four days beyond planet fall. We need to make it a few more days if we’re to have a chance of surviving. Gotta last till the armada gets here.


“Get me Lerrunhive’s lord governor. There must be some PDF we can send -”


Thale stepped forwards. “Sir, anything that steps outside of our walls will be dead in five minutes.”


“**** it, Rook!” exploded Onex. “I’ve had it with your insubordination! When this is over I’ll have your badge, famed father or not!”


Thale laughed out loud, tilting his head back and really letting go.


Onex was across the bunker floor and on him in a moment, huge hands grabbing Thale by his bullet-mail lined Arbite coat and slamming him back into a wall. Thale only laughed harder.


“What are you laughing at you bastard upstart!” screamed Onex.


Thale stopped, his face immediately dropping and going to his normal, blank stare. The room was quiet around him.


“It’s funny, sir, that you still think this is about anything outside of Lerrunhive’s walls – that anyone can help us, or that we can help anyone else. The world around us is dead. To assume otherwise is to allow your mind to wander onto something that doesn’t help our precinct. We have one section of wall, one gate, a couple of companies worth of Enforcers and PDF and scant few Arbites to protect the one hundred million people under our jurisdiction. That, sir, should be your only concern.”


Onex’s face shook with anger and denial. His red raw eyes were hard as stone, his jaw grinding his teeth so loud Thale was sure the entire room could hear them crunch and crackle.


“Sir,” interrupted an adjutant.


Thale held the stare.




Onex’s head turned away, but his meaty fists held Thale pinned.




“They’re at the walls.”






“How many?”


“I don’t know, more than the pict-screens can see.”


Thale was dropped and forgotten in an instant as the judge whirled to look at the screens quickly changing over to the wall views. Thale stood, rooted to the spot, watching the meagre lines of the PDF open fire from the walls into the ocean of beasts rolling towards Lerrunhive.


Like trying to drink an ocean dry, by yourself.


Something caught Thale’s eye. A small, blinking red light on a screen in front of one of the operators who had turned away to watch the horde smash against the bottom of Lerrunhive’s walls and gate. Thale walked over to the operator and looked over the man’s shoulder, doing his best to interpret the warning message.


“Operator. What is that warning?” he asked.


The operator swung around, eyes wide open in surprise to find Thale over his shoulder. Thale grabbed the man’s head and twisted it to force him to look at the screen.


“What is that?”


The operator tapped a few keys and twisted a few dials.


“That’s a sewer.”


“So, why is it flashing?”


“There’s something in there.”


“Should there be?”


“Ahhh…” a few more key taps, a few more dial twists. “No. It’s a minor effluent expulsion pipe leading to an external waste dump and disposal factorum. It should be closed off at the bulkhead.”


Frag. They’re inside. “How do I get there?”


More key taps. Thale’s foot began to tap with impatience. “**** it, grox-brain, faster!”


The Operator’s hands became a blur and the screen chopped and changed at an incredible rate.


“Mechanicus service elevator down to generator three-four-oh-six. Should only be a few hundred metres from there.”


Thale stole a look at the heavily occupied Onex, then pulled out his small hand-pict unit. The operator quickly linked it to his terminal and uploaded the mapping protocols before handing it back. Thale looked for Onex once more as he pocketed his pict-unit. Five adjutants surrounded the Judge, all vying for his attention at once. Thale smiled to himself.


Thale turned to the Enforcer squad and hand-signalled for preparedness. The lead Enforcer took a look at the Judge, indecision playing over his face. Thale squared the man up, tapping a finger first against the Arbite badge pinned to his coat, and then to the Trantor .54 hand cannon in his shoulder holster. The Enforcer sergeant’s eyes narrowed. The man chewed his teeth a few times, swung his shotgun off his shoulder, and pressed the main door release for the command level of the Arbite centre. The squad moved out.


Thale stopped and turned, concern openly playing across his face.


“Operator, what does that generator power?”


The operator took a moment to find out. “Sir, generator three-four-oh-six is a part of seven linked generators that power the stabilising link of the western-most void shield over Lerrunhive.”


Thale barely caught Onex’s enraged face as the Judge spied him leaving, before he turned and ran out the door, slapping a drum of Executioner rounds into his combat shotgun.






Corridors and tunnels flew past to the sound of ragged breathing, equipment rattling, Onex’s tiny voice screaming through a disconnected ear-piece, and boots pounding against steel and rockrete floors. Thale led from the front, the fifteen Enforcers pushing hard to keep up with him a few metres behind. A thin, dark shape loomed out of a door.


“What th –“


Thale shoulder-charged the old man back into his room with a grunt of effort. It slowed him less than half a step, but it was half a desperately needed step. Lerrunhive’s ability to be defended may have relied on that half a step. Behind him, over the sounds of the armed men following him, Thale thought he could hear the meek cries of the man whose ribcage he had probably just shattered. He narrowed his eyes and ran harder. I am the Mortiurge.


He ducked hanging cables, leapt over holes in the floor, slammed into drunks and drug addicts and innocents alike, his legs powering him on towards the Mechanicus service elevator. He reached an intersection and paused, his chest heaving and his muscles screaming. Wrenching his pict-viewer from his pocket, he checked his bearings as the Enforcer squad caught him, sweating and gasping for air.


“We need a breather, sir,” said the gasping Enforcer sergeant.


“Sh!t on what you need, sergeant,” snarled Thale. “Lerrunhive is at stake. Push your Enforcers harder.”


Thale turned, and, with a quick double-check of his map, ran down a series of stairs and through a long corridor. At the end of the hall a brute of a man stood guard outside of a door. His arms were thicker than Thale’s thighs, winding tattoos leading from shovel-like hands to boulder-like shoulders, barrel chest and huge gut. The man saw Thale coming and stepped into the centre of the space, hand stretched out.


“Sir, these rooms belong to Overboss Radacast. I’m gunna need to see some iden –“


The thunderous report of Thale’s combat shotgun reverberated down the hall. One-hundred and fifty kilos of muscle, fat, bone, augmentations, and probably even a little bit of brains, disintegrated. The chunky legs remained standing for a moment, a stick of pink spine pointing to the ceiling, before toppling to the blood-slick ground.


“Arbite!” bellowed the Enforcer sergeant.


Thale leapt the body and kept running.


“Arbite!” Thale slid to a stop and turned.


“You have just murdered an Imperial citizen –“


Thale lifted his rifle and pointed it at the Sergeant. The man stopped and ducked to the side, as did the men and women directly behind him.


“And I won’t hesitate to murder another hundred, sergeant, if it means Lerrunhive is safe.”


The sergeant had a decent set of stones swinging between his legs, or rolling around in his head, and strode forwards. “You’re a cold-blooded killer, Throne **** you.”


Thale smiled, pouring years of malice into its iciness. “Of course I am. I am the Mortiurge.”


“You’re a bastard. My Enforcers and I will not follow you.”


“Taking a moral stand, sergeant?” asked Thale, racking the slide on his shotgun for effect. “That’s big of you. Now, come on.”


The man squared up. “No, sir.”


Either he’s in Radacast’s pocket, scared shitless to the point of mutiny, or he’s actually trying stop me because I killed that fat waste of oxygen.


Thale leapt the body before anyone could move, and drove the butt of his shotgun into the sergeant’s stomach. His knee rose and met the man’s descending chin, laying him out, unconscious. The Enforcers behind the sergeant stood, mouths open in shock as Thale drew his Trantor and pointed it at the unconscious man’s head.


“I, Thale Rook, Mortiurge of precinct five-one-four, six-west, Lerrunhive, declare you derelict in your duty to the Emperor and sentence you to –“


A shotgun racked. Thale looked up. An Enforcer, only one, stood before him, legs wide and supporting, combat shotgun pulled into her shoulder, muzzle aimed at his head, narrowed eyes looking down the barrel.


“Put the gun away, sir,” she said, her voice barely wavering.


Thale smiled.


“Or what?”


“I’ll… I’ll have to put you down. Respectfully, sir, lower your gun.”


Thale let the moment hang. He flicked his gaze over her shoulder. Some of the other Enforcers were starting to find their guts, and were bringing their weapons to bear.


Thale’s smile broadened as he straightened and looked back to the Enforcer standing before him. “Good, at least one of you has the guts to do what needs to be done. You’re promoted.”


“What? Sir, you can’t –“


“The monsters outside have gained access to our city and are probably right now destroying a generator holding up the void shield above our heads. That void shield is stopping them from dropping into our streets.”


The Enforcer gawped at him. To her credit, she never let her shotgun waver from his chest.


“Those little bastards get in here, sergeant, we’re all dead in three days: every man, woman, and child. All of us.”


She took a moment to take that in, then lowered her gun.


The previous sergeant took that opportunity to come to. “Wh… what the… Arbite? Did you? I’ll have you up on report!”


The new sergeant knelt down.


“Ah! Enforcer Mari… get me up. Men! Guns up! Take the Arbite into custody.”


Sergeant Mari slammed the butt of her shotgun into the man’s skull and put him out again.


Thale nodded. “Follow me, Sergeant Mari.”


Thale turned away and began to jog. There was a brief moment when he thought the Enforcers may not follow, but a long moment later, they were back on his tail. They were always going to follow. I know fighting men and women too well.


At the end of the hallway, a steel-grated door was jammed half open, and a rotten looking elevator sat dormant, flickering dull lights welcoming Thale and his Enforcers. Thale shook off a little shudder at the sight and leapt in. He pulled out his pict-screen, checking the correct level. As the last Enforcer jumped in, Thale mashed his thumb into the floor number keypad and got them moving.


Mari frowned as she watched the numbers tick by.


Wiping a strand of hair from her face, she looked to Thale, a little worry playing across her features. “How deep are we going, sir?”


She’s not half bad…




Last thing you need is another one getting under your skin. Mind on the job. Thale rubbed his eyes, the vibration of the descending elevator running up his legs. I am the Mortiurge.


“Deep, sergeant. Into the deepest guts this big bastard above us has.”


“Muties down there, sir. Scavies, ratskins: the scum of Mankind. Big gangs of them. The Enforcers haven’t been down there in centuries.”


Thale glared at her. “Am I gunna have to replace you, too?”


Mari’s face hardened. “No, sir.”


Thale nodded dismissively. “Good. Everyone, equipment check. We’ve got about twelve minutes before that door opens and we’re knee-deep in it.”


*                *                *


Rusted metal screamed as the elevator juddered to a grinding halt, nearly half a kilometre below the planet’s surface. Thale turned and pointed at two Enforcers. “You two, on me. Let’s go.”


Mari wrenched the door open and Thale led the squad out, underslung finger torches stabbing out into the darkness.


“Clear left,” barked an Enforcer in a deep voice.


“Clear right. Open door over there,” came the husky voice of a thickset woman.


“I got it, Mother,” came the voice of a youthful male.


Thale let the two that had flanked him take point and turned to see a lean young man, shoulders hunched over his shotgun and finger-torch smoothly swinging from left to right, move into a dark doorway. Two shots clapped out. A body hit the floor – a sound I know well – before the young Enforcer came out.


The Enforcer turned to Thale. Immaculately presented, the youth was clean-shaven, and had flawless onyx skin. The Enforcer’s light eyes locked onto him. “Clear, sir.”


“Sharp work, Scruff. Move up on point with Jaggs and Tully,” ordered Mari.


Thale nodded. “They’ll have heard it. Let’s get moving before they find us. We’ve got half a click to cover before we work out what got in.”


Thale shouldered his way through to point and got them moving again. He caught an approving look from either Jaggs or Tully, and did his best to ignore it. Shotgun up, all but one executioner round still in the drum, Thale led the way into the dark.


They moved quickly and economically, covering each other and stopping to clear adjoining rooms. Most of the monsters they passed were once humans, thick tentacles replacing arms and pale, necrotic flesh hanging from mutated bones. Most of them ducked back into the darkness, snarls and murdered Imperial Gothic all they could throw at the tight packed Enforcers. The rest found the Emperor’s final light at the wrong end of a combat shotgun.


They were almost halfway there when one of the Enforcers called a halt.


“Sarge? Gunnersen is missing.”


Mari swore. “Scaly, go back for her.”

                  “No. We gotta keep moving. There’s more at stake than one of your Enforcers getting lost down here,” hissed Thale.


“She’s a recruit. She’ll be dead in fifteen minutes without us.” Mari hesitated a moment. “I was looking out for her.”


Thale sucked his teeth a moment. He looked both ways, forward and back. I’m already down one. If they’ve gotten in here I’m gunna need every gun. Frag.


If we don’t get there in time, one extra gun’s not gunna matter. Frag.


He looked at Mari, and then at the Enforcers around him. “Two of you, on me. Wait one minute, then come after us if we’re not back.”


Thale moved off before anyone had a chance to respond.


“Scaly, Bright Eyes, go with the Arbite.” A woman in her forties with scarred skin from Greyscale, and a man of about the same age with cheap, clunky augmetics replacing his eyes, followed Thale.


Guns up, they searched for only 30 seconds before they found a trace of Gunnersen. Thale squatted down and dipped his fingers in the deep pool of blood, then followed the thickening trail into darkness with his finger-torch. He held his fingers up to Scaly and Bright Eyes.


“She’s gone. Let’s go back.”


“We should get her body, for burial,” said Bright Eyes.


Thale stood. “We don’t have time. She’s gone.”


He began to walk back to the squad. Scaly followed, but Bright Eyes lingered a moment.


Thale paused and turned back. **** it. Last thing I need is a soft-touch having a tear over some dead girl. He took a breath, doing his best to suppress memories of lost brothers with his anger. “She went out doing her duty. Happens to most of us at some point. Come on, let’s get moving.”


He turned away as Scaly moved past him, her gun up like a professional. There was the smallest of sounds behind him, just a shuffle of a combat boot against rotting steel decking and something scraping against –


A shotgun clattered to the floor. Thale spun around, gun up. Bright Eyes stood transfixed in the light of Thale’s finger-torch, the green dots of his augmetic eyes locked on the Mortiurge. The Enforcer began to choke, then coughed out a mouthful of blood.


Thale’s eyes widened as the long black bone claw jutting from Bright Eyes’ sternum moved and then ripped the Enforcer from before Thale and into the black square of a roof-mounted air duct. What little light there was glinted from black, soulless eyes staring down at him.




Thale opened up, unloading half his drum into the roof, blowing immense chunks of rockcrete and plasteel to the ground. There was an alien scream amongst the tumult and Bright Eyes’ limbless torso fell to the ground, a metre-long claw with a shattered end still stuck through his chest. Thale unloaded the remainder of his drum into the ceiling, spreading his arc of fire to make sure of the job.


Silence came like a blanket as Thale depressed the trigger. His hammering heart and his own rasping breathing were the first things he’d heard. Then: the ticking of his cooling barrel. A cacophony of stomping boots came around the corner behind him.


“He’s here!” called out an Enforcer.


Thale dropped to his knee, hitting the eject on his drum as he desperately tried to pierce the gloom above him.


“Clear left!”


“Clear right!”


“Bright Eyes is dead.”


Someone vomited behind him.


Slamming a new drum into place, Thale stood and turned away from the scene. Mari stood before him.


“Where’s Scaly?”


Thale stared at her for a moment. Scaly?


Mari’s face went hard. “You may not care about my people, but they are family to me. Where is she?”


Thale turned around, doing a full three-sixty, looking for signs of Scaly. Frag.


“What the frak happened, Arbite?” snarled Mari, reaching up and grabbing a handful of his jacket.


Instinctively, Thale reached up and battered her hand away. He kept looking for signs, using all of his violent years of hiding and sneaking and killing to try and work out what had happened. What took her?


It took a while, but it dawned on him. Tales of men long dead on far-flung planets he had once trod came back to him.


… big bastard moved faster ‘n I could track…


… took out the whole platoon, man by man, in an hour…


… only one guy made it. This thing followed that last man back to base, waited till they opened the bunker door and followed him in…


… me and a few lads spotted it as the door was closin’…


… one of the machine freaks was talkin’…


… gave it some weird name after we fragged it…


“Arbite!” Mari grabbed him again. “Just what the frak is that thing killing us?”


This time, Thale was too lost in his world of thought to react.


… Lictor…




“What?” Mari’s grip relaxed.


Thale pushed her away without much effort. “It’s a Lictor. I’ve heard of them before. I’ve known men that killed one before. Not before it took out a recon platoon and a command squad like they were nuthin’.”


“Where? Where did you see one before?”


Thale shook his head, clearing away the fog of the horrible past. “I haven’t seen one. I know enough to be scared of them though.”


“Then what do we do? Call for back-up?”


He could sense the fear beginning in the squad. Mari’s face had started to lose its colour. He shouldered his rifle and moved his way through the squad.


“No, we get back on target, and we keep moving to our objective. There is more at stake here than just the group of us.”


Thale moved out again. They were only a couple of hundred metres from the entrance to the sewerage tunnel.


“Mother, on point with me,” he said. “The rest of you, guns up, the Enforcer in front of you in your sight at all times. Two in the rearguard. Mari, you’re one of those.”


Thale started moving. The tightly wound group of Enforcers moved with him.


“Kill anything that isn’t wearing a badge, on sight. No mercy.”


They moved as one, a barrel aimed at every dark space or weak spot in the walls around them. A slack-jawed, almost translucent skinned old woman came out of a door. She had only a moment to show her surprise with half a mouthful of rotted teeth before Mother gave her a double-tap with her shotgun and sent her flying back. Thale nodded his approval and they continued.


“Halt,” hissed Scruff. “Bulkhead, down the left-hand corridor. Thirty metres.”


Thale tapped either Jaggs or Tully on the shoulder – he was still unsure which one was which – and they moved to take his spot on point. He got back behind Scruff’s shoulder, his eyes warily darting from shadow to shadow. He pulled out his picter and brought the view-screen up to his face to check the map.


“That’s the bulkhead we’re after. Scruff, you’re point. I’m next with Mother. Mari, bring up our arse.”


They moved up to the door marked as a non-toxic sewer access. An Enforcer pushed past and pulled out a small pouch of tools, working at the keypad that would open the thick door. It took only a moment before there was a spark. The Enforcer stiffened for a moment, before stumbling back. Thale frowned.


The door hissed, and slid open a little, enough to admit one of them at a time. The Enforcer that’d opened the door shook his head and smiled awkwardly at Thale. “Friends call me Sparks, sir.”


Thale let a smile slip before catching it. I am the Mortiurge. He stood by the door, pointed to two of the Enforcers, and motioned for them to go in. They went in, guns up. Thale pointed two more through, then two more, then another two. Finally It was just Thale and Mari. Thale motioned with his head, and Mari went in.


Thale watched her back as she went through. I am the Mortiurge. Then he tapped an Arbite override into the keypad and shut the door, cutting himself off from them. Immediately he could hear something banging on the other side of the door and the muffled shouts of the Enforcers.


He shouldered his shotgun, switched off his finger-torch, narrowed his eyes, and moved off into the darkness.


It took him a short while to become a part of the darkness once more. He squatted in a corner with his back to solid rockcrete for long minutes, eyes wide open, every sense straining for the slightest shadow of movement of whisper of sound. The hairs on the back of his neck began to stand up as minutes passed before his deep-hive vision began to come back to him. He took deep breaths to keep his heart rate low, his nostrils flaring, the stagnant air making a barely-audible whistle.


The slightest impression of a doorframe appeared. An exposed wall pipe shaped in the gloom. Then the jagged edges of a rotted door coalesced next. Soon, in the dimmest shades of grey against the black, Thale was home.


Taking a slow, deep breath, he held his breath and listened. His listened for long minutes before his need for oxygen made him slowly exhale and re-draw. He lasted only half as long this time, but as he was about to exhale, he thought he heard footsteps. They were quiet, almost not there at all. He strained to listen harder, stretching his ample abilities to their very lengths as the steps stopped a moment, outside the doorframe.


There was the lightest whisper of something mechanical exhaling, then nothing. Thale daren’t move. His finger rested on the trigger and he started to bite his cheek as his legs began to cramp. Then he heard another sound, a slither so quiet an Astartes would have struggled to hear it. It was right above him.


Thale didn’t hesitate.


Inert legs cried out in anguish as they propelled him across the floor.


His shoulder roared out in agony as he twisted, landed heavily on it, and slid across the ground.


Something stabbed through his leg, just below the knee, thick like a sword and ten times as sharp, pinning him to the ground and stopping his slide like an anchor.


Pain blasted through him.


Thale pulled the trigger.


Something screamed and the bone-claw through his leg wrenched out.


He roared in pain and pulled the trigger again, and again, and again.


A light flooded in from behind him, bright and painful to his eyes, almost blinding him.


His gun was kicked from his hand and a boot pinned him to the ground. Thale reached for his Trantor. Something mechanical whirred and stabbed through his forearm, pinning him down in a third place. Thale screamed in agony. Whoever was upon him kept the lights shining in his eyes; but Thale was still alive.


Eventually, the light swung away from him, and onto the shattered remains of Lictor he’d killed, and Thale got his first look at one of the few men or women in Lerrunhive he feared.

Edited by Logen Ninefingers

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The man above him was clad in a kind of power armour, sleek plates of ceramite cutting away in places to reveal bundles of electro-motivated, black muscle-fibre bundles that flexed and moved like they were the wearer’s own. Sleek pauldrons, bladed vambrances, and spiked greaves covered his limbs while some sort of device or weapon seemed to cover almost every spare piece of space upon them. His back was slightly hunched with a small power plant that gave off no hint of sound, heat, or exhaust.


Thale licked his lips as he stared at the Spyrer. Frag. He was in over his head and he knew it.


Four long mechandrites moved slowly and rhythmically from his back. Two had some sort of stubby lasweapon while the other two wielded deactivated power claws – one of which was still nailed through his forearm. The Spyrer was leaning away from Thale, down to inspect the xeno carcass, turning the elongated head first one way, and then the other, with his boot. Thale slowly moved his one free hand down his side, reaching for his short combat knife.


The two stubby lasweapons whined a warning and snaked back to point right at his head, moving up and down like living, breathing creatures right before his face. The final free claw wound up, lining up his other forearm.


Thale froze. “Stop,” he whispered. “You’ve won.”


The Spyrer turned back to face him, his mask that of a screaming banshee, no less than seven opticals whirring to focus on Thale. Thale caught a glimpse of a coat of arms printed in black upon the close-fit cuirass. Two chainglaives crossed behind a shield circled by brambles. The House of Brosnen.


“Won?” came a snarl like a body being dragged over rocks. “I’ve not won. This isn’t my kill. It was stolen from me. Stolen, by the bait.”


Thale clenched his jaw, a spike of anger rifling through his body. Bait? I am the Mortiurge.


“How can I take this back to my sons and daughters, knowing full well it is not mine to clean and place upon the trophy wall? How will I set an example of strength for my family when some low-born Arbite filth can take the prey before I can?”


The Spyrer increased the pressure on Thale’s chest, forcing the breath from his lungs. Thale heard one of his ribs crack, then a second, but held on to a grunt of pain. He needed something, quickly, so he could continue on mission. The Spyrer was far too strong for him to try to win through force. Thale had seen the capabilities of the suits those with more money than sense could afford, off-world technology smuggled past the Mechanicus check-points powerful enough to threaten a fully armoured Astartes.


“There… will be… more,” he managed through gritted teeth.


The Spyrer leaned down, the pressure increasing once more. Thale felt like his head was about to burst. “More?”


Thale nodded, unable to talk.




Thale couldn’t respond, the edges of his vision greying. The pressure released and he wrenched in a painful lungful of air and coughed. Gasping, he sat up, crying out as the claw slid out of his forearm. He opened his eyes, the Spyrer wasn’t there and the lights were out once more. Thale daren’t move.


Something, razor sharp enough to carve away some of his stubble, but well controlled enough not to break the skin, caressed his cheek. The Spyrer was behind him.


“Tell me, scum, where can I find more of these wondrous beasts?”


“Where have you been? There’s a few million of them dropping from ab –“


The dull thuds of combat shotguns going off in continuous volleys answered the question.


Thale heard and felt the Spyrer turn away from him. The Mortiurge sprang to his feet, his hands scrabbling for his shotgun in the pitch black, his leg and his forearm crying out in dull agony. His hand grasped the stock and he whipped it up into his shoulder, searching for a target desperately. The rolling crescendo of combat shotguns continued in the distance while Thale tried to acclimatise to the dark once more, his heart trying its best to smash its way out of his aching ribcage.


There was a whisper in the dark. “The house of Brosnen never forgets when it has been wronged, Arbite. I never forget.”


Thale flicked on his finger-torch. There was nothing sharing the room with him. He cleared the room, including the new hole he’d blasted into the floor above, and then the corridor outside, before limping to the bulkhead he’d sent the Enforcer team through. His leg and forearm burned, his right side was soaked in his own blood and that of the Lictor, and he still smarted at having been bested by another denizen of Lerrunhive’s dark, but he was alive.


The Lictor was dead, and Lerrunhive needed him to secure the power plant.


And they need me if they’re going to get out of here alive. The thought nearly stopped him in his tracks as he neared the bulkhead. His hand reached for the keypad and punched in his override code as he thought about the feelings roiling through his chest.


Gotta save Lerrunhive. Get straight to the power plant, leave the squad as a blocking force.


The door opened a fraction and the sound of someone’s scream being cut off amidst the roar of shotguns and the alien assault.


They’ll die without you.


“Jaggs! Down!” Mother’s husky bark snapped out followed by a burst of bolt pistol blasts and a high-pitched scream.


“Mother!” That was Mira. Someone screamed horribly. That was Mother.


Thale shoved the heavy door open and leapt into the battle. He landed upon the ledge running along the side of the tunnel, up out of the flow of filth. Six Enforcers were bogged down in the centre of the massive square tunnel, Mira in the centre raining shells into a beast that was too busy eviscerating what was left of Mother to notice being blown to pieces.


Scruff was by her side, bleeding heavily from a stomach wound, holding his guts in with one arm while trying to rack and shoot with the other. Jaggs and Tully were on the other side, unleashing hell. Two other Enforcers were on the wings. Sparks dropped his shotgun and drew his bolt pistol, just in time to drill a leaping, clawed beast before it landed on him, dead, knocking him off balance.


More creatures followed the first. Thale hammered them with shells and then turned his attention down the pipe. There were hundreds of the things. They clogged the five metre tall pipe, climbing over their dead and their living to get at the Enforcers.

Thale swept the advancing creatures with a volley to clear the way to the Enforcers before running between the two groups, planting his feet, and unloading the rest of his drum into the horde. At this range, with a wall of targets before him, he couldn’t miss.


The effects were devastating. The Executioner rounds annihilated the front ranks of the foe and those behind them. Bone claws and chunks of pink and purple flesh flew from detonating bodies. The air filled with a mist of ichor and the alien chittering screams threatened to drown out the shotgun blasts. The gun bucked in Thale’s hands wildly, but it didn’t matter as he unleashed the Emperor’s anger into the foe.


These creatures were defiling Lerrunhive.


They were a disease; and he was the cure.


He was Lerrunhive’s immune response.


The barrel clicked dry. Thale had driven them back almost fifty metres. He turned to the shocked Enforcers behind him.




*                *                *


They ran through the sludge, human effluent geysering from where their heavy tread splashed. Scruff cried out in pain and sobbed as they ran, his shotgun lost to the muck behind them as he used both arms to cover his stomach. Mari turned back to look at him.


“Keep running!” shouted Thale breathlessly as the sounds of alien pursuit began again.


Throne, give me something to stop them.


The Emperor answered his prayers. Above their head, clamped to the top of the pipe above their heads was a fat power plant waste pipe. Noxious fumes and toxic runoff would be running through there, as far away from people as it was possible to get within a hive.


Scruff chose that moment to stop and collapse against the wall.


“I’m done, sarge,” was all he could manage.


Thale looked down the tunnel. They had thirty seconds, at best. He reached down to Scruffs equipment belt and pulled out a grenade and put it in Scruff’s hand.


“Grenades. All of you,” he demanded.


The Enforcers obeyed immediately. Thale wrenched off his jacket, and then his shirt, and clustered the eight other grenades and shoved them into Scruff’s arms. Pale blue eyes watched him from the dark-skinned face. He could see them pleading for survival. But he could also read the strength in them. He nodded to the young Enforcer.


Then he drew his Trantor and blasted a hole in the power plant effluent pipe ten metres down from them, towards the approaching horde. Immediately the toxic reek turned the air dry, as if it sucked the very life from it with its stench.


“Let em get close, then blow the tunnel.”


Thale ran without waiting for a response. Mari whispered something to Scruff, and then they were gone. Thale had already spied the next bulkhead entrance. Twenty metres, maybe ten seconds.


The slap of overpressure smacked them all to the ground. Thale went under, receiving a mouthful of waste that he immediately choked on and vomited up. His lungs screamed for air, but the yellow, green, and white light glaring from above the sludge made him think twice. He stayed under as long as he could before going up for air.


Immediately he hacked and coughed and choked in the thick, toxic smoke. He saw the silhouette of a hand breach the surface. He reached out and grabbed it. Mari came up, choking and gasping. Thale saw either Jaggs or Tully come up as well. He still didn’t know which one was which.


Then the other one floated by, face down. Thale flipped him over. A piece of rockcrete had ripped his face off. Mari cried out and then went silent. “Tully…”


Sparks swam up next to them. “Think I broke my ankle, sarge. Twisted it hard on something.”


Jaggs looked over to him, but didn’t move, fear and pain written across his features. “Gotta get out Sammy. You gotta get up.”


Thale ducked down and got one of Spark’s arms over his shoulder and lifted. “Probably saved your life, brother. Mari, Jaggs, watch our back. Emperor willing, the roof has caved in. If not, we’ll be in it again pretty soon.”


He began to walk to the bulkhead he’d spied earlier, half helping, half dragging Sammy. Moving painfully slowly, they finally got there. The bulkhead door had a Mechanicus symbol etched there, but was open just wide enough for a man to get through. Thale frowned as he peered closer. There were claw marks on the corners of the steel. He handed Sparks off to Jaggs, pulled his Trantor, and went in.


Inside, the air vibrated violently and it stank of burnt fuel. Bodies in red-brown robes lay everywhere, their blood sprayed up the walls and the thick armourglass window on the far side of the room. Chunks of machine pieces, some obviously augmetics, some non-descript, were scattered around the floor. Thale moved through the wreckage until he reached a shattered console. One of the one remaining palm-sized pict-screens flashed a warning red.


A tremor shook the room. Thale looked up and out into the power plant. An immense concoction of shuddering pipes, forearm-thick power cables, rusting metal housing the size of small hab-blocks, and jets of steam filled a room the size of a Guard mass-lander’s interior.


A red light began flashing and a siren wailed deafeningly. The room began to quake and shudder all the harder around them. A monitor fell from the ceiling and smashed to the floor. Thale almost didn’t hear the groan of pain and the scrape of steel on rockcrete next to him. Mari was on the wounded pile of robes in a flash, leading with her shotgun.


Thale swept back the cowl to reveal the face of a different kind of monster. The Adept barely had any flesh to speak of on his head. Just a mass of boxy augmetics covered in ribbed wire coverings against his white flesh. Red orbs looked up at him.


“Generator 3406 will go critical in 3 minutes and two seconds.” The voice was all machine. “You have thirty seconds to get me to the controls behind you before everything within a kilometre of us is instantly vaporised.”


Thale reached down and grabbed the Adept. He was bastard heavy. Thale couldn’t budge him. Mari leant her efforts, but it wasn’t until Jaggs dropped Sammy to help, that they were able to drag the Adept over. They propped him up as best they could against the cogigator console.


A long mechandrite extended from the Adept’s back and slid into a plug on the side of the cogigator. The red runes on the remaining screen went green and then blank. Then the power went out.


Thale flicked on his thumb-torch.


“What’d you just do?”


The Adept looked up at him.


“I protected the machine-spirit. A shut down and restart, with an emergency cool down period of 3 hours, 17.3 minutes, twelve seconds, and the correct prayers and requests for forgiveness, will ensure the machine-spirit is appeased, and can return to function as normal.”


Thale’s eyes widened. “No! Turn it back on! Turn it back on now!”

 “I cannot, the Omnissiah has ordained the emergency reset protocol as I have explained.”


“The void shield is all that is keeping those things that killed all of your people from dropping into the city! Do you have any idea how many tens of thousands could drop into the hole left by the shield in three fraggin’ hours?”


If the metal face were capable of expression, Thale was pretty sure there wouldn’t have been one anyway.


“Generators 3404, 3405, 3407, 3408, 3409 will increase output automatically. There will only be intermittent failure of the fields for a period of 19 minutes and 15 seconds.”


Thale thought about pulling out his gun and executing the Martian. He thought about it for a good few breaths.


He looked at Mari. “Nobody gets in here. Nobody touches him. Nothing prevents him from getting that shield up.”


Mari took a step forwards. “Where are you going?”


“I’m gunna get up there and let command know what is happening. If the shields are already failing, they’ll –“


“You’ll have 20.9 standard minutes before the capacitors deplete their charge,” interrupted the Martian.


“What’s the quickest way to the surface?” demanded Thale.


“Service elevator –“


“I know it. What is the quickest way there?”


“Go through the plant, take gantry 3 over to exit 9. Follow the passage for 72 metres. Turn right at a 90º angle. Take service tunnel 676 and follow for 20 metres. There is the elevator.”


“Arbite!” called out Mari as Thale opened the door to the power plant.


Thale looked back.


“Don’t die.”


Thale flashed her a smile. “I’ll try.” Then he ran.


*                *                *


Judge Onex was at the end of his tether. He was fighting a losing battle to keep his eyes open and his mind sharp, and the stupidity of those not wearing an Arbite badge was about to make him erupt. Rook was the exception –running off with one of the four platoons he kept on base was just the starting point. That disobedience was a small fly buzzing around his head in a swarm of bees. An adjutant ran over.


“Sir, request for backup received from the PDF. Signature is from a Major Etherington. Reads; ‘Judge for precinct five-one-four, six-west, request for military aid. More firepower required on the walls.’ Message ends. Response?”


Onex’s eyes narrowed. “Ignore.”


The Adjutant nodded and ran back to his station. Almost before than man had taken five steps, another adjutant was standing before Onex. He rubbed the bridge of his nose between his eyes.


“Sir, request for a direct vox-link to you from the PDF. Immediate urgency.”


Onex sighed. It was the twentieth one they’d sent. “Refused. We’ve no help to give, no sanctuary to offer. You are authorised to refuse anyone short of the lord governor, herewith.”


“Sir, the call is on the PDF vox, but the caller says he’s an Arbite.”


Onex sighed. Damned bastards’ll try just about anything. He was just about to refuse when he frowned. Rook.


“Allow it.”


The adjutant passed him a small wireless.


“Onex speaking.”


“Sir, it’s Rook. We’ve got a problem.” The line was crackly, full of static from the void shields and riddled with the overlays of other conversations on other vox channels.


“**** right we have a problem, Rook. I’m gunna rip that badge off you and shove –“


“Shut up, sir. Shut up right now.”


Onex’s mouth opened, but there was something in the urgency of Rook’s voice that held his rage. Rook was an Arbite, a cold-blooded murderer no doubt, but he was still held together by a code from the Scholam and a heart with the Aquila stamped on it.


“The west-facing void shield is about to go out.”




“Sir, I repeat, the west facing void shield is about to go out.”


Onex was standing. “Everybody, silence!” he roared, and the room went quiet, ever set of eyes upon him.


He ran over to the hatch to the roof and started punching in the open code.


“Rook, confirm. The void shield over our precinct is about to go out?”


“Sir, confirmed. You have five minutes to get the word out. Get everyone inside. Bar the doors.”


Onex ran out on to the roof. Far above, he could see the constant rain of detonating alien filth smashing in to the flashing void shield. The air was thick with ozone tang as the immense energy field was stressed and strained to its limits.


“The shield is still up, Rook.”


As the words left his mouth, the field flickered. It was only for a moment, but in that moment almost one hundred spores got through and came crashing into the spires above and the precincts below. Immediately, he could hear the muffled hard bangs of solid projectile weapons and the hissing of las weapons a few blocks away. There was an explosion that lit up a long street as some idiot unleashed his tank’s primary weapon or someone fired a missile launcher.


“Rook, where are you? How did you get a PDF vox-link?”


There was a pause.




“Sir, I found a platoon of PDF. They were in a bar, drinking. I have sentenced their sergeant and executed him. I have taken command and will commence street-to-street sweeps when void shield solidarity is established.”


“Leave those men and get back here, Rook.”


There was another long pause.


“Rook, this is an order; get back to base. You are not above the law. You are not above S-O-P.”


The pause drew out.


“Sir, I must respectfully decline. I’m more use to the precinct defending her streets.”


“**** you, Rook.”


“Sir, respectfully, that is the duty of the Emperor.” The vox-link clicked closed.


Onex growled and dashed the vox-link against the rockcrete. I’m gunna rip his head off and take a sh…


He stopped himself, and took a breath.


Emperor, bring me the calm to command. Onex closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and looked up again.


The shield was gone. The spores were raining in for five or six seconds before the shield went up again.


Thousands got in.


“Inside!” yelled Onex as he watched their trajectories come to saturate his precinct.






“Barricade the door!” Thale roared at the thirty PDF troopers hunkering down in the ground floor of a squat pre-fab.


They were a sorry looking bunch; boys and girls too young or too soft for the Guard, and greybeards so far past their prime it was amazing they were still standing under the ridiculous amount of kit they each carried. They were scared; a few had pissed themselves without even seeing anything more than a spore fly through the air. Some were crying. Some were shouting, their voices cracking in terror or still slurring with drunkenness. Outside, through the thick walls, they could just hear the sounds of the unfortunates outside being slaughtered.


Thale could read the terror as the cracks of lasrifles and solid chugging of autocannons offset alien screams. The man beside him moaned and released his bowels as, just outside their door, somebody screamed as they unloaded their lasrifle on full auto, and then screamed more shrilly as something ripped them apart. Blood seeped under the door. Thale held up his Trantor, his shotgun long discarded as dead weight.


Something slammed into the door, but it held. The door shuddered under the impact again and there was a collection of moans and cries of fear from the soldiers around him. Soldiers – can’t even call them that. Probably drown in their own error before going out on the street to fight. He thought back to Mari and her well-drilled Enforcers fondly. At least they would fight. And for the first time in many years, his memories stopped there before hurtling him into the horrors of the past.


He looked back around at the units. They may be scared, they may be useless, but now they were his scared and useless soldiers. He had ten minutes before the shield generators provided enough power to keep the western shield up. Some looked back at him with outright terror. Most of those that did were spotted with the executed sergeant’s skull contents.


The hammering on the door stopped. Thale squatted down.


“All of you, circle up, on me.”


Some moved immediately. Some waited for others to move, and then followed. Some didn’t move at all. Thale fixed them with a glare.


“I won’t order it again.”


The lingerers joined their platoon-mates. Every set of eyes was on Thale.


“My name is Thale Rook. I am an Arbite. I want my three squad commanders front and centre.”


A woman, maybe eighteen standard, moved forwards. She was ropily muscled and had a hard edge to her features. There was some resilience still in her eyes. “Loucla, sir.”


An older man, maybe sixty, with a well-rounded gut and a thick moustache came forwards next. “Swib, sir.”


A man in his middle thirties, previously hidden at the back, made his way to stand beside the other two. He openly wore gang tattoos on thick forearms revealed by rolled up sleeves. He moved with the wary swagger of someone used to fighting, and confident of their skills.


The man stood there, sneering openly.


“Name?” said Thale.


“Durden.” Durden continued to sneer.


Thale held his gaze. “We gunna have a problem, Sergeant Durden?”


Durden squatted down in front of Thale. “I know o’ you.”


Thale frowned.


“I know o’ you. I know who you are. You ain’t no normal Arbite. Ain’t bound by no rules like the rest of ‘em. Brothers I know –“ he said as he rubbed a tattoo Thale recognised as one of Radacast’s, “- told tales o’ you. The Ghost, they calls ya. They afeared o’ you.”


Thale smiled. “I think not.”


“Most o’ you lot is big, mean lookin’ bastards, tryin’ to put the fear in us through nuthin’ more’n a big set o’ shoulders, a badge, and a gun. The Ghost, on t’other hand, is average, in every way. Average height, average weight; dark hair and a young face the only thing to set him apart from the rest o’ ‘em. Only other thing sets the Ghost apart is he don’t need to rely on his looks to strike fear. That one thing, and, he killed a friend o’ mine.”


“Sounds like half the male population of Lerrunhive.”


Durden hawked and spat on the ground. “Funny, sounds like he looks just like you.”


Thale kept his most disarming smile up. “I’m a rank and file Arbite, nothing more, nothing less. Let’s get on with this, before I’m forced to replace you.”


Durden smiled back, stroked his lasrifle, and watched him a short while. “If you says so. Got my suspicions. There’s a reward on the head of the Ghost. Put there by Radacast herself. A man could live proper off it for years. Maybe even get hisself a woman to settle with. If I get to nail the bastard, to avenge an old friend, it’d just be a bonus.”


Radacast. Ungrateful dog. Thale was well versed in visual subterfuge. His face was a mask he could mould to do whatever he wanted, pretty well whenever he wanted. He put all of that skill to good use now as he held Durden’s glare.


Thale pointed to his badge slowly. It was a standard Arbite badge, nothing special about it. Advertising he was a Mortiurge was like putting the barrel in his mouth himself and offering Radacast the trigger. He ran his finger under the latter half of the inscribed Adeptus Arbites.


“Ar-bi-te.” He sounded out. “Not Ghost.”


There was a bit of a nervous laugh from someone in the platoon. It was infectious and soon most, bar Durden, were laughing.


Durden snorted, losing some of his conviction in the face of ridicule. “You got some cold blood in ya. I can smell it. Like knows like. Killers know killers.”


Thale shrugged and turned back to the rest of the platoon. Have to keep an eye on that one. Sooner or later, I’ll have to put a bullet in him.


“Right, I’m going to give it to you straight. Not many of you are going to survive what is about to happen.”


Most of them just stared blankly at him. That went well.


“The enemy running those streets is xeno. There is no mercy. No remorse. No breaks or rest. As soon as we walk out there it’s a simple matter of they kill all of us, or we kill all of them. There is no middle ground, no grey area. Do or die, my brothers and sisters in arms.”


There were some grim nods.


“We’re going out there in five minutes. You see anything not wearing a uniform, you kill it, no questions, no hesitation. Some of them bastards look just like us.”


There were more nods. The air was still thick with fear,


“Volley fire them until they don’t get up. Then put one more volley in, to be sure. Anyone got a rocket or grenade launcher? Any autocannons or heavy bolters? Flamers?”


Three flamer units stood up. An autocannon team put their hands up. Three bigger men with rocket tubes strapped over their backs also stood. Not enough. Not by a long shot.


“Rockets and grenades. Keep your explosives shelved until you see something at least half again as tall as you. Those are your priority targets. Lasrifles until then. Flamers; up front in your squads at all times. You guys are on point. If you have extra ammo in your pack, get it on your webbing. Nobody is going to shoot you to set it off.” I hope. “Autocannon; keep your tripod attached. Any extra ammo belts? Hang ‘em over your shoulders.


“All of you; lose anything you don’t need to survive the next three hours. One day’s rations only. We need speed and we need ammo. Nothing else matters.”


He caught a young man repacking his backpack and putting in a gas burner for field cooking.




The youth looked up to him. “Private Spirren, sir. Squad Loucla, sir.”


“Lose the backpack. Ammo and grenades in your webbing and pouches. Rifle cleaning kit – bring it. You’ll need your med-kit.”


Thale reached down and grabbed the med-kit from Spirren’s hands. He got rid of the small, stick on bandages used to seal off cuts and a few other useless pieces, then gave it back.


“It’ll take more than a few little stick-ons to patch you back up if one of those bastards gets you. Get rid of your rifle strap – one of those bastards gets a hold of your las and starts yanking, you don’t want to be attached to it.”


He leaned in and grabbed the youth’s shoulder firmly. “Don’t worry kid, you’ll be fine.”


The kid was scared, but that simple action bred a tiny bit of confidence within him. More than that, the men and women around them had watched and listened, and were following the example. Soon, at least their kit began to look like a professional soldier’s.


Thale licked his lips as the familiar tang of the void shields came back on. He waited a while, making sure the ozone taste and smell in the air didn’t go out.


He looked to his platoon. “That’s it. We’re on. Durden, your squad’s on me at all times. We’ll take the right. Loucla, yours are left. Swib, you’re watching our backs at all times.”


He locked eyes with each squad leader. “Clear?”


They nodded in return. Even Durden nodded almost imperceptibly, albeit begrudgingly.


Thale unlocked the door and opened it. He was the first out and the first to see the charnel house the streets of Lerrunhive had become. Bodies were everywhere, and creatures tore the dead to chunks. One spotted them. It only took a moment and then every monster in the street outside looked up at them in unison, and charged. Thale waited as more of his platoon poured out.


“Hold fire!” he bellowed. “Durden! Your men in a firing line on me.”


The men and women of squad Durden lined up either side of him.


“Squad Loucla! In a line behind squad Durden!” The rushed clumping of boots let him know he was obeyed.


“Squad Swib! Combat line watching our backs, if you please!”


Thale had less than fifty metres to play with before they were on his position.


“Squad Loucla, take a knee.”


The squad took a knee and two ranks of lasrifles pointed down the street. On the ends the two flamers lined up. Thale could hear the autocannon team fumbling their equipment behind him as they moved to support Swib’s squad.


Thale narrowed his eyes. “Now you hold here, defenders of Lerrunhive. You hold here like motherless bastards and you don’t give a Throne blessed flagstone to these scum.”




The volleys started out disciplined, mowing down the groups of clawed beasts that ran at them. They moved quickly, at a speed almost unbelievable for creatures so big. As powerpacks ran dry and had to be replaced, the disciplined volleys quickly became a torrent of red rapid-fire las blasts.


“They’re behind us!” shouted Swib as the autocannon opened up. “Aim for the clusters! Lasrifles for the individuals, **** you, train that bastard cannon on the clusters!”


Ragged Volleys opened up from Swib’s men and women.


Thale peered into the smoke as one more beast went down. It tried to drag itself towards them, ever-hungry eyes soullessly staring at Thale. Thale drew his Trantor and cored its head.


“Cease fire!”


Swib’s voice rang out. “Cease fire! Throne **** you, cease fire!”


The chatter of the autocannon stopped. Nothing moved.


“Let’s go. Get that cannon packed and follow me.”


They’d survived their first engagement without a scratch, though Thale could hear a boy moaning that he’d burnt his hand on his lasrifle barrel.


“That you Spirren?”


“Sir, yes sir,” moaned the youth.


“Stop moaning. Those things track by sound.”


Spirren shut up immediately. They made it almost one-hundred metres before the ground began to shudder.


“Contact on the left!” cried out Loucla.


“Contact front! Hundreds of em!” yelled one of Durden’s squad.


Thale spotted them immediately. Frag. He looked around for options, there was no way a platoon was going to hold that lot without some walls around them. There was a crash to his right. Durden had read his mind.


“Sir, in ‘ere.”


“Loucla! Swib! Get your squads in here! Durden, lock down the first floor and get your men knocking out windows.”


Thale stood at the door, issuing orders as each squad came through.


“Loucla; first floor with Durden’s squad.”


“Swib; second floor. Get that autocannon set up. Your flamer stays on the ground floor with us. Send two troopers to the roof to make sure we have a clear way up there.”


“Sir, won’t we be trapped?” asked the burly sergeant.


“Got nowhere else to go. We stay out here, we’re groxmeat.”


Swib nodded and went in. Thale was the last one through. As he slammed the door shut and moved out of the way to let a trooper move a heavy desk and refrigeration unit against the door, the first shots sang out.


“Here they come!” yelled an old trooper, the lump on the top of his spine accentuated as he leaned into his rifle’s butt and gave them a spray on full auto.


“Pour it on ‘em” shouted Durden.


One of the flame units opened up, promethium fumes quickly filling the ground floor of the hab-unit. Upstairs the autocannon began to chatter. Thale leaned over a soldier’s shoulder to get a look, and clenched his teeth. There was an ocean of them outside. Frag.


He scanned the horde for one of the big ones. If he could nail one of them, he could stall the attack and they could rack up a few easy kills. **** it, where are you, you big bastard. I know you’re out there somewhere. Where are you?


Thale reached past the soldier and laid down some fire as the clawed beasts got closer and closer, using piles of their own dead as cover. One leapt at Thale’s window. The Trantor sent the monster flying back. Another leaped and managed to skewer the soldier in front of Thale with a long bone-claw. The soldier gave out a shriek before he was torn out the window.


Thale slammed in a new clip and emptied it almost just as quickly. The creatures were hurling themselves at the windows with renewed vigour. There were screams behind Thale. Someone grabbed him by the shoulder.


“Back away, Arbite!” yelled Loucla, as she and another trooper launched a pair of frags out the window and followed through with withering blasts of their lasrifles.


Turning away to assess his situation, Thale could already see their position was hopeless. Three more soldiers lay in pools of their own blood, limbs missing or claw gouges bright red against their uniforms. They had a few minutes of hold left in them on the first floor, at best. Thale looked out another window. Come on, where are you?


A massive form came around the corner at the end of the street. There you are.


“Missiles! Missiles up to the second floor!” The men with the rocket tubes across their backs abandoned their windows and jogged to him.


Thale charged up to the second floor. He hauled a soldier out of the way and leaned out to spot the creature. Throne, he’s big.


A soldier appeared at his side, missile tube over his shoulder. Thale pointed for him.


“The big one. Let him get close. Then give him one straight in the guts. If you put him down, we’ve got a chance. If you miss, we’re all dead.”


Thale gave the same message to the other two men and then turned to run down the stairs. He only made it half way down. The screams, close-range and wild lasblasts, and gleeful chittering of the beasts let him know what had happened before he saw the first floor.


There were about seven of them still alive, Durden at the fore, firing from the hip and backing away from the walls towards the stairs. There were bodies everywhere; human and xeno. A mixture of human red and xeno purple-pink sprayed the walls. The creatures streamed in through the windows, falling to the ground as the concentrated fire took them down.


Thale sprinted down a few stairs and blasted some of the windows clear with his last mag.


“Durden! Get your men out! Let’s go!”


Durden turned and ran after the survivors. Thale gave Spirren a shove up the stairs as the exhausted youth faltered for a moment, his terror worn openly. Thale backed up quickly as a trooper blasted down past him, felling the beasts as they grouped at the bottom of the flight.


Up above, Thale heard the first missile whoosh from its tube. There was a detonation outside. A second missile was immediately followed by a third. The two exploded almost simultaneously. The men and women on the second floor yelled with delight. Thale felt his heart lift.


Below him, the creatures had stopped dead, staring blankly ahead. In a moment they began to move around, snapping and snarling at each other, as if they had completely forgotten they were in the middle of a pitched battle. A handful of grenades flew past Thale’s shoulder. He turned an ran to the second floor, throwing himself up the final few as the ground was rocked with explosions and peppered with red-hot fragments.


“Good shooting, Beno, my lad!” shouted Swib.


The remaining troopers gave a good account of themselves in the moments it took the beasts to reorganise themselves. Someone ripped a door off its hinges and closed off the stair-exit. Grenades flew around like parade-day confetti into milling groups of xenos. Flamers emptied their tanks in broad, burning sweeps of the outside. Lasgun barrels glowed red hot from the fusillades laid down. The autocannon’s barrel was replaced twice, before the firing mechanism seized and the weapon was discarded. Thale took a moment to bark out a laugh as the bulk of the weapon was tossed out of a window and collected a flailing creature climbing the wall, crunching through its skull.


All too soon, the moment of respite was over and the creatures went berserk. Thale looked out into the thinning masses and spied three more immense creatures coming towards him, each with four arms carrying a myriad of alien weaponry. A projectile flew through the window, narrowly missing his head, and slammed into the rear wall like a spear. Immediately, small bugs began to pour out of a series of small holes in the shaft and the wall began to disintegrate.


“What in the name of the –“


A second spear took a young woman in the chest. She flopped onto her back, mouth wide open and gasping for air. Spirren ran over to the girl, crying out a name that Thale couldn’t hear through the din of battle, and knelt down to yank the spear out. His hands wrapped around the shaft before Thale realised what would happen.


The woman’s chest cavity collapsed as the meat and bone inside that held it up was eaten away. Spirren screamed as the flesh-eating beetles attacked his finger and hand, bits of bone already showing through the corroding flesh. Thale Leapt upon the lad, riding him to the ground and pushing out the arm flat against the floor. He wrenched off his belt and tourniquet the bicep.


Spirren’s eyes were wide with shock as he watched his wrist disappear.


Thale turned to the rest of the room. “Somebody! A sword, knife, axe, anything!”


Durden turned away from spraying las out through his window, whipped out a hatchet-knife, and tossed it to Thale. Thale grabbed it and raised the weapon, his eyes narrowing on the clean white flesh of Spirren’s bicep, just above the elbow.


Spirren grabbed him with his other hand, his face intensely pale, “I was… quiet… how did they find me? You said… sound… they track by –“


His eyes went wide as the hatchet-knife went clean through the arm. Spirren’s back arched and he screamed soundlessly, before passing out. Thale dragged the youth away from his arm as the severed limb was consumed at a frightening rate.


“Birds in the sky, sir!” whooped a soldier a moment before a massive claw came through the window, punched into his chest, grabbed his ribcage, and wrenched him back through.


Durden ran over and emptied his clip. He looked back to Thale as he re-loaded. “Birds in the sky, Arbite! Looks like Guard!”


Thale lifted the dead-weight of Spirren over his shoulders in a Guardsman’s carry, hefting the youth’s rifle in his other hand. “Everyone topside! The Emperor protects those who fight for Him!”


They turned and ran as the barricades over the stairs to the bottom floor exploded into the ceiling and an immense creature strode up. The man running up to level three beside Thale fell, screaming as another metre-long spear lanced through his leg and the devouring began. Thale didn’t break stride as he put a blast into the trooper to end his service to the Throne.


Swib stopped at the top of the stairs and unleashed a blast back past Thale, his face red with exertion and covered in a thick sheen of sweat. Something chittered and burned, tumbling back down the stairs behind him. The Mortiurge and his PDF sprinted for all they were worth, frog-leaping each other and providing cover as they went. Before he knew it, they were out in the open air, twenty stories up, and with nowhere left to go.


“Every gun on that exit!” Thale dropped Spirren and ran to the edge of the buildings. True enough, a flight of ten Valkyrie troop transports, plus two escorting Vulture gunships, was lighting up the streets with rockets and bolter fire. Oh you beautiful, beautiful babies!


The men and women behind Thale opened up. Thale swung around and added his lasrifle to the gunfire. Creatures fell over each other to get through the door, pushing dead bodies through as unknowing shields.


“Grenades! Anyone got any grenades?” shouted Durden.


“All out!” shouted someone. Nobody else bothered to reply as the river of monsters advanced on them, ten tumbling corpses at a time.


They were like a slow moving avalanche of death, wading into the lasfire, buying a metre of ground for the beast behind them with their own lives. They just kept coming. Thale could hear the scream of the Valkyrie and Vulture ships as they approached. A missile streaked past them and lanced into the door opening, blowing it to pieces and flattening Thale and his men in the process.


One of the big creatures came through, shoving the smaller ones before it. Thale drew a bead on it, the immense beast easily four metres tall and filling his sights, before firing. One of the small creatures leapt and took the blast tumbling to the ground. The creature locked eyes on Thale, threw its long-clawed arms wide, opened jaws big enough to bite a man in half, and leapt.


Thale kept his finger pressed on the trigger. The creature bucked, mid-flight, and fell, putrid wet chunks of its body mushrooming away and smacking into Thale as heavy bolter rounds stitched across its body and detonated within. Before Thale knew it, there were Guardsmen all around him on the roof, an assortment of high-impact weapons in their arms adding overwhelming fire to the fusillade. 


They wore grey fatigues under heavy carapace armour with full rebreather masks and moved like veterans. Behind them, on the edge of the building, their Valkyries hovered while the rest of them moved around blasting the foe. One of the men came up to him, a set of gold captain’s pips on the shoulder of his armour. One of his command squad stood with him, a huge, drum-fed boltgun resting across his thick forearms like there wasn’t an entire building full of monsters beneath their very feet. The captain took off his rebreather as he addressed Thale.


“Captain Andeferon Morn, 395th Arminians.”


“Arbite Mortiurge Thale Rook.”


“Looks like you’ve got yourself a Nid problem.”


Thale snorted.


“Let’s get your people out of here, sir,” finished Morn.


Thale turned to call his men and women over. It galled him to see what was left. Swib had only a couple of his men with him. Spirren, still unconscious on the ground, was all that was left of Loucla and her squad. He spied two of Durden’s squad carrying a third member between them, both legs ripped to shreds below the knees. Where’s Durden?


“Mortiurge!” screamed Durden, as his fist connected with Thale’s jaw and sent him sprawling. “I knew you was the Ghost!”


Durden’s rifle rose, as if in slow motion, the glowing red muzzle sweeping up to take Thale.


Thale saw it happen before he had a chance to stop it. Captain Morn was unbelievably fast, even in his bulky armour. His fist shot out and smashed into Durden’s throat. The sergeant’s eyes bulged for only a split second before the captain’s elbowed him in the guts and doubled him over before a fist met his head on the way down and sent him sprawling to the ground.


In a blur of motion Morn drew a knife and slammed his knee down into Durden’s chest. The blade swept down.


“Stop!” shouted Thale.


The blade stopped, only a centimetre of its tip buried in Durden’s chest above his heart. Morn looked up and then stood, leaving the boltgun-wielding Guardsman by his side to keep Durden covered.


Thale stood. “He is my -“


“Without discipline, you have nothing, you stupid grox-shagger!” roared Morn, his steely visage gone in a moment of rage.


The captain turned away before Thale could respond, pressing a vox link on the side of his rebreather. The Guardsman with the boltgun looked to Thale.


“Get your people on the Valkyries. We’ve got to move on.”


*                *                *


Thale took in the warzone his precinct had become from the open hatch of the Valkyrie. His legs had given out almost as soon as he’d sat down. He squinted as the bright light of a missile exhaust streaked down from a nearby Vulture and exploded in the streets. The hunched form of a door gunner gave something down there a good long burst from his heavy bolter, the empty shells rolling off the floor to fall down below.


He looked back at the roof from where they’d come.


If the Emperor was merciful, Durden, you were still out cold when they tore you apart down there.


The captain came back from the cockpit, holding on to the roof-rail as his knees bent and compensated for every pitch and yaw of the gunship with well-practiced ease. Morn squatted before him.


He pointed to the building they’d left Durden on. “That was cold-blooded, Arbite Rook.”


Thale gave him a grim smile. “I’m not an Arbite, Captain Morn. I am the Mortiurge.”






Once again, a huge thank you to Atma01 (Sean) and his group of mates (play testers for FFG Deathwatch - what better fact checkers and idea bouncers could a bloke hope for?) for allowing me to use their character Thale Rook - an offshoot character briefly mentioned from their Mason Roth character storyline. This is the last in the current series of Thale Rook.


The story of the defence of Lerrunhive continues through the eyes of Colonel Andeferon Morn in the part 1 of the novel Hunter's Shadow at my website http://adriancollins.com.au/the-old-orpheus-salient/

Edited by Logen Ninefingers

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Let me start by saying WOW. I had given up on reading good stories on here; the vast majority I have come across have been very poorly written. But this was outstanding. It had me hooked from the get-go and I loved ever sentence of it.


I had a particular part copied to critique, but my computer ate it. Basically, the scene where Mari has her shotgun on Thale right after he blasted Radacast's thug. I thought her tranfer from being willing to kill him to recruited by him needed to be fleshed out a bit more. It seemed just a tad bit rushed. Other than that, A+.


I really look forward to reading more by you.


And F**k censorship. Frag it to hell. 

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I will let you know when I read them. I came across this by chance and kind of glazed over the "this is the fourth installment in the..." warning at the beginning of the story. I have a slow day at work today and have every intention of getting through at least one of them.


I visited your website and started reading.. "Wolf's" something. Or something Wolf. It started with a guardsman's squad getting ripped apart by a Tyranid Warrior inside of a bunker. I had to crash before I could finish it, but let it be said that I definitely plan on finishing it.


As an aside, I just now realized how many spelling errors I had in my original comment that was talking about poor writing in the Fan Fiction threads. *Swims in the irony*

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Loving the stories mate. One thing that really had me was the Spyrer(sp?). I thought when I read that that it was a Ordo-Xenos Inquisitor. What is it?!?! I'm frantic to hear more about it or was it just a one off thing Thale encountered in the dark underworld?

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Loving the stories mate. One thing that really had me was the Spyrer(sp?). I thought when I read that that it was a Ordo-Xenos Inquisitor. What is it?!?! I'm frantic to hear more about it or was it just a one off thing Thale encountered in the dark underworld?


I actually looked it up to see if there was any 40k lore on it. I came up empty-handed. My guess, from the description provided, is that it is some power-thug with enough financial backing or support to have a bunch of black market (perhaps even xenos) augmentations and armor. I don't think it was Inquisitionally related, but more of an underhive assassin/hunter who had something to prove in the form of stalking and killing the Lictor.

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Pearldrum1 - glad you checked out the site, mate. 'Worth of a Wolf' was my first ever piece of 40 fan fiction and a lot of fun to write. Something a bit newer and darker is another Guard story called 'He Did His Duty' - you'll find it in the same section - it was pretty well received on the dakka dakka forums. I'd have posted it here, but didn't think it relevant enough.

Barabarossa and Pearldrum1 - The character was intended to be a Spyrer Lord - head of one of the insanely rich families, out to show his kids how it's done. I'd not read much on them beyond the rulebook, so I kind of went at it with a bit of artistic licence.


Conversely, I have a chapter by chapter 40k (in progress) novel featuring Andeferon Morn (The Guard leader who came in to save Thale at the end there) that I'd like to post here. However, it's more Guard, minimal Deathwatch marines, and only a cameo or two from Thale. Again, so I'm not sure if it's relevant enough. Thoughts?

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POST. THAT. ****.


Seriously, I don't care how not-Deathwatch it is, but rather how 40k it is. I think you could even stretch the justification to the fact that Deathwatch Marines are featured. Period.


If it gets taken down, it gets taken down. It is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission.

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