And the Wind cuts to the Bone

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Literature Text

And The Wind Cuts to the Bone

Chapter 1

Nilus Eisen's dream echoed with the crash and rumble of walls coming down.

In reality, he had fled to the armory of the Adeptus Arbites precinct fortress on Cosflame.  Behind him, in the infirmary, Brother Domis was changing.  The mad little old man had been so single-minded in his faith, so certain in the protection of the Immortal Emperor.  Always babbling a prayer, always screaming praise in battle.  Now his piety had broken into one long scream as the Daemon poured through the hole in his mind, stretched and warped his flesh, clawed its way into being.

In reality, Varn, the hulking savage Guardsman, had run.  Eisen had fled to the armory to make his stand.  He had found a lascannon, propped it up on crates, pointed it at the door, while the precinct fortress echoed with gunfire, screams, the grinding mortar of the 'crete walls cracking as the daemonhost walked through them like a man brushing aside cobwebs.

In reality, the Daemon that had been Domis came in through the ceiling.  His shot had gone wild as it approached, the world warping as it came.  Frost and fire spread from its footsteps, mangy vulture's wings spread from its shoulders.  Its face was featureless and smooth, and as it came the room echoed with whispers.  He had backed up, drawn his sidearm, fired at it.  Useless.  It laughed, in nine voices.  It called him amusing.  It offered him a choice.

In reality, he had knealt before it, drawn his knife, and carved the star of chaos into his chest.

But in the dream there was only the sound of the walls coming down.  His hands sweaty on the lascannon, his gaze fixed on the door, and the sound coming closer.

"Arbiter Eisen, sir?  We've arrived."

Eisen's eyes snapped open.  Outside the groundcar's windows, the gloom of Hive Urus, Baraspine, was pierced by the lights of the Arbites station.  Behind him, Varn stirred, checking his weapons.

He marched in.  Flashed his badge.  Asked directions.

"Looking for Intelligencer Whites, sir?  He's in the armory, preparing for a sortie."

Whites was small for an Arbiter, and the job had aged him, but his hands moved deftly as he buckled on his riot armor.  Around him, his squad moved purposefully, loading guns, checking straps, testing comms.

Eisen's heels snapped together.  "Investigator Nilus Eisen, seconded to the most holy Inquisition.  You requested assistance with a series of ritual murders, cult involvement suspected."

Whites' grin vanished behind a shining black faceplate as he donned his helmet.  "You're just in time, Eisen.  We know where the bastard's hitting next.  Arm up, we'll talk en route.  Right, men, we move out in three!"

Chapter 2

Luc Fiend DuCassius dreamed of light.

Back straight, grip firm, arm extended to the side.  Duellist's stance.  A straight line from his eye, down his arm, along the barrel of his Valantine, across ten yards of open space, along Harmon's gun, up his arm, into his eye.

The red light of evening flooded the terrace, high in the spires of the hive.  The glow painted the pale faces of the two brothers, shined in their red eyes.  It gleamed off Harmon's bald skull, and dyed the stripes of Luc's black and white hair.  Their seconds stood by, silent.  Their sisters, Mara and Moira, watched from behind their veils; identical statues of some impassive saint.

Harmon's face was blank.  Bored.  His arm swung two degrees to the right.

Luc's calm mask cracked.  He screamed.

"Daemons take your soul, you bastard!  You killed Tan!"

The brothers' guns spat twin beams of fire.  Harmon's look of surprise boiled away in bloody light.

Sleep boiled away into a dull ache.

Luc groaned, eyes still closed.  What the warp had he imbibed last night?  He had gone with Praetus to the Silk Scarf... Praetus had taken one of the girls to a private room, while he had found one who knew how to dance.

Damnation, it was getting worse.  He felt like he'd been stabbed in the back of the neck.

They'd left the Scarf.  He'd been... mostly sober at that point.  They'd gone back to Praetus' place for a nightcap.

And now he was lying on a cold, hard surface, in a pool of something wet and sticky.

Luc's eyes snapped open and he saw red.  Blood.  His?  Had he been taken by an assassin?  Revenge for his brother, or from house Morndion?

His hand went to the nape of his neck.  No wound.  He staggered to his feet.

Praetus' dining room.  Luc had been on the floor, lying in the blood that had run off the table.  On the table, Praetus.  Someone had taken a knife to him.  Taken their time.  Taken off his skin in swathes and curves and strange patterns, carved away his flesh and strewn the bits around him.

Luc leaned on the table and looked down at the dead dilletante.  The rumble of men running in heavy boots was getting closer; he wished they'd be a bit quieter, his head was still killing him.

The double doors crashed open, and a dozen armored Arbiters rushed in, shouting commands and pointing large guns at him.

Well, a bad situation was no excuse for rudeness.  "Ah, gentlemen, I'm pleased you're here."  He pointed at the corpse on the table.  "There's been a crime."

They were on him with manacles and truncheons.

Chapter 3

Luc sat in a hard, gray chair in a cold, gray room.  He shifted in his scratchy gray prisoner's jumpsuit and sighed.  Across the steel table from him was the hard-faced officer with the dead eyes; Eisen.  Behind Luc, smelled but not seen, loomed the ugly brute that the Arbiter had called Varn.

Eisen was speaking.  There was something unnerving about how infrequently he blinked.  "So, you're Luc Fiend DuCassius?  Fiend, hmm?"

"Yes.  It's a dialect title from the nobility of Plutarch's Rock.  It indicates that I am a son of the last Lord Cassius, but not the immediate heir.  The female form is Siend.  It derives from the High Gothic term filial, and..."

"Shut it.  And you claim you arrived on planet six weeks ago?"

"Indeed.  I've been doing a tour of inspection of my family-corporation's many investments, since leaving Scintilla three years ago.  I've been staying with my third cousin Praetus since arriving in Hive Urus."

A harsh laugh from behind him, and a huge arm reached past his head to slap a dataslate on the table.  The slate bore a picture of a crowd, taken from a high angle.  Centered in the frame was a man in a long black coat lined with white fur.  Pale skin, hair striped black and white.  Red eyes glancing up at the camera.

Luc looked up into Eisen's dead eyes as the Arbiter spoke.  "Matsuka, down in the lab, found that in the records.  It shows you arriving on planet six months ago.  You've been busy since then.  Fourteen dead, now.  Sliced them up with those knives we found in your coat.  After you stick them with your needles and pump them full of paralytic, of course."

Eisen leaned forward, eyes unblinking.  Luc leaned back, away from him.  "Well, your little hobby's done now.  Time to talk.  Cooperate and we'll kill you clean."

Luc took a deep breath.  "I take it from your accusations that you haven't found who killed my friend.  I furthur take it that you think me a skulking cutthroat who kills with knives and poison.  Mister Investigator, when I want to kill a man, I tell him so.  I let him choose the weapons.  And then I shoot him, face to face, before witnesses.  I assure you, Mister Investigator, that I arrived on world six weeks ago, and could not possibly have been involved in any of your killings that occured before then."

"The picture says otherwise, Cassius."

"DuCassius, if you please.  And the picture's timestamp must have been altered.  I arrived on this world a month and a half ago, and my butler can prove it."

"That your man will lie for you speaks well of his loyalty, but lie to the Arbites and he dies."

Luc smiled.  "My butler cannot lie, and is not a man.  It is a servitor.  It makes my coffee, folds my clothes, and keeps track of my appointments.  Its cogitator will have recorded my whereabouts for, oh, at least a decade.  Mister Investigator."

Eisen stared at him for a long moment.  Then he shoved back his chair with a screech, and he and Varn left the room.

In the corridor outside, they stared through the one-way glass at the captive nobleman.

Eisen spoke first.  "What's your call, Varn?"

Varn snorted.  "Stuck up little whoreson.  Kill 'im."

"You think he did it?"

"Eh, sure, whatever.  Let's kill 'im and call this one done.  We need one in the win column when we report to the Inquisitor.  Especially after what happened on Cosflame.  Which wasn't my frakkin' fault."

"No one said it was, Varn."  Eisen reached out and tapped a finger on the glass, three times.  In the cell, Luc raised an eyebrow and looked around, then went back to quietly singing to himself.  "Let's go bring in the servitor."

Chapter 4

No one on Baraspine lived under the open sky.  The cities were great armored domes, and outside the wind whipped and wailed, hurricane-force and filled with tiny, glass-sharp mineral shards.  The winds of Baraspine can strip a man to bone in seconds.

No one in Baraspine lived under the open sky, but the nobles could afford the illusion.  The dome over the nobles' quarter was blue, and synthetic sunlight shone down from spotlights.  Birds sang.

The squadcar hummed up the drive, rolling to a stop before the double doors of the estate of the late Praetus Castella.  Two of the hive security force, blue-uniformed Gendarmes, saluted as Eisen and Varn approached.

The Guardsman and Arbiter marched together down the plush, carpeted halls.  As the turned the corner into the guest wing, a door swung closed ahead of them.

The two men broke into a run.  From behind the door came the unmistakable hiss-crack of a laspistol.

Eisen slammed into the door.  He tried the handle- locked.  "Varn!"

Eisen spun out of the way as the huge guardsman thundered past, bellowing a battle-cry.  The door cracked in half, priceless wood from lightyears away splintering under their boots as they rushed into the room.  A four-armed servitor in a black and white uniform lay on the floor, leaking black fluid from the smoking hole in its head.  The window was open, the curtains swinging.

Varn didn't stop moving.  He dove out, dropped a half-dozen meters, landed in a crouch among tilled earth and torn flowers.  He looked left and right, grinning.  A figure in a gray cloak was sprinting away.  Laughing with the joy of the hunt, Varn gave chase.

They rounded the corner of the mansion, Varn's boots tearing great chunks out of the manicured lawn.  The cloaked man turned, loosing a volly of las fire.  Varn cursed and dove for cover.  The man ducked into a covered passage.  Varn lept up and followed.

Varn was snarling with bloodlust as he sprinted the length of the passage.  By his reckoning, the man was making for the front entrance.  Las fire ahead- the Gendarmes?  He emerged from the tunnel, shielding his eyes against the artificial daylight.  From the bushes on the other side of the driveway burst a monocycle, the cloaked man banking hard toward the road.  Varn ran to the squadcar, wrenched the door open, and stabbed the ignition switch.

The vehicle described a neat half-circle as the right front wheel came off.  Varn clambered out, cursing vociferously.  When Eisen arrived, he was staring bitterly at the axle, three-quarters severed by precise las fire.

Eisen was panting.  "Varn... that's the fifth vehicle you've wrecked since Iocanthos.

"Not my frakkin' fault."

The two Gendarmes approached cautiously, looks of bafflement on their faces.  Eisen rounded on them.  "Why in the name of the Emperor and all his saints didn't you stop him?"

The shorter of the two saluted nervously.  "Sir!  Because he... he was an Arbiter, sir!  Arrived just before you!  Thought you were together, sir!"

Chapter 5

Agrona Warwick didn't dream.  Agrona Warwick didn't sleep.  She sat on the steel floor of the utility corridor, and felt the hum of the city's life buzz through her.  The hum was a symphony, and she focused on the instruments one by one.

The deep, distant thump of Air Cycler 09, it's ancient machine spirit toiling as it had for a thousand years, and would for a thousand more.  The rattling of the cargo elevators, up, up, up, pause, down, down, down pause.  The pulsing, fading, ever-changing melody of the groundcar traffic, each machine charting its own course, each part of the greater music.

Agrona Warwick felt them all, vibrating up to her through strut and support and steel plate, and in them she felt the touch of the Omnissiah.

Another buzz broke her reverie.  Her comm.  She stood, gathering her red robe about her, and listened to the voice of her Magos, as he told her of her new duty.

One of her brethren in the Adeptus Mechanicus had been murdered.  She would discover why.

The machine spirits sang to her.  Swiftly they carried her to the scene of the crime.  High in the hive, near the shuttle bays, was the compound of Adonicus Air Systems; civilians who, with the guidance, assistance, and oversight of the Mechanicus, birthed great flying machines.  Machines whose noble fate was to soar high atop the killing winds of Baraspine, flying from hive to hive, tying the world together.

Agrona entered the sacred construction bay and was appalled.  Men in uniforms swarmed and scurried, men of weak flesh, ignorant of divinity.  She made for a cluster of them, marked as superior in rank.

They were arguing loudly.  She interrupted them.  "Greetings, fleshbeings.  I am Agrona Warwick of the great Adeptus Mechanicus.  One of ours, an enlightened brother blessed with a measure of true flesh, has fallen to the killer you have so far failed to capture.  I will oversee your investigation, assist you with my superior intellect and skills, and ensure that holy secrets of the Mechanicus are not disturbed by those without the theological training to properly comprehend them."

The group stared at her for a moment in silence.  Then a smallish man in an Arbites uniform threw up his hands.  "Fine!  Wonderful!  Emperor damn it, if every agency who loses a man wants in on this investigation, so be it!"  He pointed to a thin man in white robes, who was fiddling with a dataslate.  "Auditor DeCarabas, I don't give a damn that a junior tax-collector was a victim, and I sure as hell don't see how having an Administratum quillpusher around could do anything but trip us up, but you've got a letter from the planetary governor, so frak it, you're working with Eisen."  He pointed to a young man in a fur-trimmed coat, who was looking about in undisguised curiosity.  "DuCassius, I can't release you because you're tied up in this somehow, and I can't throw you in a cell at the station until we know who framed you.  You're in Eisen's custody."  He jabbed a finger toward Agrona.  "You might actually be some use, but this is an Arbites investigation and it stays that way until I say otherwise.  You're working under Eisen."  He turned, finally, to a man in a blue uniform hung with gold braid.  "You... Ahem.  Commissioner, I appreciate your eagerness to commit your resources to solving these killings.  I appreciate that, within the Gendarmes, you outrank everybody.  But the Adeptus Arbites outranks the Gendarmes, so kindly get your men the hell out of my crime scene!"

The Arbiter stormed off, followed closely by the Commissioner, still arguing.  Those who remained began talking in low voices.  Agrona pushed past them to get a better look at what lay beyond.

She made the sign of the cog, and her respirator paused.  The murdered techpriest lay on the steel floor of the construction bay, surrounded by a rust-red stain.  He had been stripped of his robes, then stripped of his true flesh, his implants torn from him and smashed, portions of skin cut away, augmetic organs removed and destroyed.

Something was wrong.  More wrong than murder.  She could feel it in the hum of the hive, in the vibrations coming up through her feet, in the touch of the Machine God.

She picked up a broken mechadendrite and stared at it.  It's steely shine was marred, all along it's length, by incised words and symbols.  Symbols no faithful servant of the Omnissiah should ever look upon, let alone have carved into their true flesh.

The marks were dimmed by wear.  The armature must have born its blasphemy for years.

She stood.  "This man was a heretic."

The men behind her went silent.

The man in the black and white coat spoke up.  "Well, I suppose your next move is clear then."

Eisen growled.  "What the hell are you talking about, DuCassius?"

"Well, if the victims are corrupted... You mentioned earlier that one of the dead was Calliope Knowles, yes?  Minor noblewoman?  I knew of her.  It's imperitive that we investigate her at once.  If she was a heretic-"

"Get to the point, Luc."

"Lady Knowles was known for her charity.  She operated an orphanage."

Chapter 6

"So, Sister Magara, having heard about you losing your noble benefactor, it occured to me that this was an excellent opportunity for House Cassius to make an investment in your children's futures."

The wizened woman glared across her desk at Luc, flanked by the men he had introduced as his bodyguard, secretary, and castellan.

"And so it seemed passing strange when we arrived at your orphanage and found it sans orphans.  No children at all.  Rather odd, you'll agree."

The old woman leaned forward and shuffled the piles of paper on her desk.  "Lady Knowles death was... a tragedy.  We've had to suspend our operation.  All the children have been sent to new lodgings."

"Ahh, of course, of course.  Where, exactly?"

"Various.  Various."  The woman coughed, and shuffled more papers.

"Sir?"  The thin man with the dataslate had stopped peering down at the desktop.  He leaned toward Luc and whispered in his ear.

Luc smiled.  "Yes, I had almost forgotten.  What would I do without you."  He turned and flashed a charming grin at the elderly matron.  "Another appointment to attend to.  Busy, busy, busy, thank you for your time, my people will be in touch."  He rose, spun, and the four trooped out of the office.


At the Arbites station, Auditor DeCarabas sat at a table covered with blank papers.  His pen flew.  One after the other, he filled them with text, upside down.

Eisen and Luc sat beside him, reading the papers as he finished.  Varn, illiterate and bored, leaned against the door.

Luc frowned.  "'And joyously did they rend her flesh, and their phalli did glisten with her blood, and with their voices and bodies they gave praise to the Prince of Excess.'  While my memory of the Book of Saints is far from perfect, I don't think the copy I learned from had this passage."

Varn snarled.  "Demon's work an' heresy.  Let's go back there and blow the old witch's head off.  And where's that cog girl?"

Eisen sighed.  "Delivering the last victim's body to the mechanicus, for them to deal with.  Well, no shortage of leads now.  We'll have to investigate every victim, every donor to the orphanage..."

"Perhaps later, Investigator.  First, the children."  Luc stood, holding forth a scrap of paper.  "A receipt, from Kylos Shipping, for the transport of three hundred individuals.  Cargo class."


Intelligencer Whites sighed.  He had finally gotten rid of the damn priests.  Their man had been murdered months ago, and they still demanded to be kept informed of every move in the investigation.  The hum of the hive had faded as the daycycle passed midnight, but he had work to do yet.

There was a rap on the door, and Investigator Eisen marched in.

"Evening, Eisen.  Any progress today?"

Eisen snapped his heels together.  "Yes, Intelligencer, but I'm not here to report."


"I'm here to request some men and equipment.  Riot Armor, heavy weapons, tear gas and gasmasks, a riot squad, a Valkyrie assault transport and an unmarked shuttle.  And Varn needs new fatigues; his old ones are a bit bloodstained."

"What?  Dammit, Eisen, fill me in!"

"Yes sir.  Luc!"

Luc Fiend DuCassius stuck his head in the open door.  "Yes?  Can I help you?"

"Luc, bring Intelligencer Whites up to speed."

"Ah, gladly."  Luc strode into the room and cleared his throat.  "We investigated the orphanage run by victim 13, Calliope Knowles.  We discovered a distressing quantity of foul heresy and no children.  We discovered that the children had been routed through Kylos Shipping, Lord Nestor Royce-Kylos' company.  We've spent the day investigating, interrogating, and in Varn's case pulverising our way up their chain of command.  You have a number of middle managers in the cells and infirmary, by the way.  In the process we discovered ties between Kylos Shipping and several of the other victims, and also heresy most foul.  For example, Lord Royce-Kylos recently secretly arranged for the construction of a 500-meter flying station from Adonicus Air Systems, which the deceased techpriest, a filthy heretic, helped construct.  Our investigation was halted one step away from Lord Royce-Kylos himself, at his personal assistant.  The assistant has been abducted by an arbiter; Matsuka, we're fairly certain, as he seems to have gone missing.  So it seems likely Matsuka was your murderer, and your rogue Arbiter, and the man who framed me and sullied my good name.  So we're off to arrest him."

Whites blinked.  "And for that you need..."

"The Valkyrie and riot squad and so forth, yes.  Matsuka has taken a shuttle.  He is likely making for Lord Royce-Kylos' secret giant airship, where an orgy of unspeakable heresy is shortly to begin.  It is full of armed cultists, corrupt nobles, and orphans.  While his mental state is difficult to judge, we believe he will attempt to kill absolutely everyone and blow everything up."

"And you..."

Eisen snarled.  "We're going in after him."

Chapter 7

The killing winds of Baraspine screamed around the hull of the shuttle.  Varn sat, strapped into his seat, strapped into his armor.  Bolter tied down to his right.  Heavy stubber, lovely thing, tied down to his left.  Mono-edged axe, sheath on, cradled in his hands.  The shuttle shook, a toy for the spiteful winds to play with.  Eyes half-open, Varn daydreamed.

Varn dreamed of the smell of smoke.

He was home, on Dusk, haunted hell-world, and a child again, sitting crosslegged by the fire in his grandmother's hut.  She was telling him a teaching-story.

"... and the Feathered Man shrieked, and vanished in a puff of swampfire.  So if ever the Feathered Man should whisper at the door, you chant the story of the Sky-father, how he was strong and good and slew the greatest of monsters.  And never shall you trust a man with nine fingers..."

Varn sniffed.  The smoke changed, became the burning of hardwood and man-fat.  He stood by the burning ruin, Brother Domis to his right, the Lord Inquisitor to his left, axe in his hand.  The thing crashed and roared within the flames, still alive, after all they had done, still alive and hateful and trying to kill him.  He raised his axe.

The smoke turned sour.  Acrid.  The cathedral was crumbling, and Domis was screaming.  Arbiter Eisen was down, broken, arms twisted all wrong.  The crazy old man was rolling on the ground, the wierd purple warp-fire tore at his robes and flesh.  The old man had charged the daemonhost alone, with his little mercy blade, and plunged it to the hilt in the fallen Seer's chest.  The Seer burned as he died, and the unnatural flames had reached out to his slayer.  Domis writhed, and screamed the praises of the Emperor.

Not his fault, really.  None of the things that happened, there or on damned Cosflame, were Varn's fault.

He opened his eyes.  Eisen was looking back at him and speaking in his comm.  "Alright, we're in sight of the airship.  The Valkyrie is going to hail them, demand they let them land and hand over Matsuka.  That's the distraction.  We land on top of the airship, break in, and investigate.  We find Royce-Kylos, we arrest him.  We find Matsuka, we arrest him.  Anyone who fires upon us or gets in our way is guilty of obstructing the most holy Inquisition, sentence death, to be carried out immediatly.  Varn will be rear guard, then Miss Warwick.  Auditor Decarabas in the center, collecting evidence.  DuCassius and I lead.  Load up, armor up, stay together.  Gasmasks and nightgoggles on."

Eisen turned to the pilot's seat beside him, where Luc was gripping the control stick and smiling fiercely.  "Sure you can land in this, Luc?"

Luc grinned.  "I've flown in these winds for sport, Investigator.  Granted, the skiff handled a bit better than this brick.  But we're well above the worst of it.  Well, look at that!"

Eisen stared out the viewport.  Ahead of them, through the blowing grit, was the broad bulge of the airship; a steel stormcloud, floating above the eye of a hurricane of needle-sharp debris.  The shuttle swooped toward it.

The voice of Intelligencer Whites crackled through the comm.  "Swift Sword one here.  We've got their attention, but they're playing dumb.  We're demanding landing clearance.  And... Aw, hell.  Just got word from the station that the Gendarmes are moving out en masse.  Their transports are headed this way.  Go, go, go!"

The shuttle touched down atop the airship with a thump, and slid to the side, stopping with a jerk as the magnetic clamps on the landing gear engaged.  The rear door opened, and five figures staggered out onto the surface, leaning into the wind, moving slowly in magnetic boots.

Luc stumbled.  His xenomesh armor went rigid wherever it was struck by blowing shards.  Barely able to move, he dropped to his knees, leaning against a tall steel ridge that crested the dome.

His gloved hands found the edge of something.  His voice crackled across the comm channel.  "Pardon me, Miss Warwick, but could you get this hatch open?"

They closed the access hatch behind them, shutting out the screaming wind.  The narrow maintenance passage curved away to either side.

Luc produced a small canister.  He depressed the nozzle and sprayed an arrow onto the hatch.  The luminescent paint glowed in the gloom.  "Well, gentlemen... left?  Left it is."

They came to an intersection, where the narrow passage crossed a hallway hung with tapestries.  They turned toward the center of the ship, flanked by embroidered images of death and sex.  The hallway ahead of them echoed with chanting.

The chanting stopped.  In its wake came moaning and laughter.  Applause.  Screaming.  Children, screaming.

Luc broke into a run.

Chapter 8

At the end of the hallway were wide double doors of dark wood, engraved with images of rutting and torture.  Luc carefully pushed them open and peered through the crack.

The room beyond was a theater, a stadium, in three tiers.  Hundreds of cultists cavorted in the dim light.

On the top, outer tier, finely dressed men and women in carnival masks dined, and laughed, and looked down at the entertainment below.

On the second tier were the torturers and their victims.  Luc was unsure which were which.  They moaned, screamed, and cackled with delight; they whipped each other, tore their flesh with hooks, and carved each other and their wailing victims with barbed knives.  There were children there, some bound and struggling, some bloody and unmoving.

The bottom tier was the orgy pit.  Sweating men.  Glassy-eyed women.  Crying children.

In the very center was a raised dias.  A man in an ornate mask, naked beneath his open robe, raised his arms and gestured with a twisted blade.  He stood before a bloody altar, on which was bound a man in the shredded remains of an Arbiter's uniform.  Around him danced four nude women, gorgeous, strange, and perfect.

Luc reached down to his belt.  He had three pistols; two fine Palantines, and his single-shot Valantine duelling laz.  He drew the Valantine.  Duellist's stance.  A straight line from his eye, down his arm, along the barrel of his Valantine, across thirty yards of maddened revelers, to the masked man's head.

His gun spat fire.  The masked man's head boiled away in the bloody light.  The room erupeted in shouts and screams as Varn pushed past him and began throwing tear gas grenades.

Luc drew a palantine and ran forward.  The torturers surged toward the door, bare and bleeding men and women pulling themselves up the ledge to the top tier.  Luc dove through them, dodging the crack of a spiked whip, twisting away from a jagged knife.

Behind him, Eisen's shotgun was bellowing, it's muzzle flare lighting the spreading caustic mist.  "Luc, what in the Emperor's name are you doing?"

Luc dropped down a level.  A swung iron bar, crusted with blood, caught him off balance and knocked him to his knees.  He shot his assailant between the legs and scrambled forward, yelling into his comm.  "The children are down here!"

Varn bellowed a warcry as he swung his heavy stubber forward.  It roared loud and long, tearing into the surging wave of heretics.

Luc dropped to the bottom level.  Naked, sweating forms reached for him blindly, their eyes running with tears.  He twisted away from them and tried to get his bearings.  The four dancers were mounting the dias.  The Arbiter, Matsuka, had one hand free and was reaching for the fallen leader's blade.

Eisen was surrounded.  A huge cultist covered in grotesque tattoos swung a chain at him, wrapping it around his arm and pulling him off balance.  Eisen drew his saber, parryed a wild thrust from a hag with a red-hot iron spike, then sweeping upward to gut her.  "Luc, there's too many of them!  Hundreds!  We don't have enough damn bullets!"

Luc stumbled forward, kicking at the hands that grasped at his legs.  He screamed at the figure on the alter.  "Matsuka!  Did you frame me?  Did you kill them?"  The swaying, beautiful dancers turned toward Luc, and he shot one in the chest.  She staggered back, pale flesh burning away from something lavender underneath.  She smiled like a snake.

Arms wrapped around Luc's waist, and he fired point-blank into an extatic face.  Matsuka balled his free hand into a fist and brought it down, hard, on a lump in the skin of his chest.

A distant explosion echoed over the gunfire and screams.  The floor shook and began to tilt as secondary explosions rattled the airship.  Matsuka laughed, and began ripping at the stitches of a ragged cut on his abdomen.  His fingers emerged bloody and clutching a grenade.  He dropped it to the floor, and it began to glow.  Two of the dancers ripped him off the altar, his bones snapping as they pulled him out of the restraints.

"You!  Sir!  Are no gentleman!"  Luc screamed.  The grenade was glowing bright white, and was burning its way into the floor like a hot ball-bearing through tallow.

Varn's gun barrel was glowing red, still firing continuously, shredding the oncoming tide of maddened humanity.  Still they kept coming.  Somewhere in the crowd to his left, Eisen screamed as the man with the chain dislocated his arm.  Varn was beginning to worry.  Then a volley of autogun fire rang out behind him.  He turned to see the techpriest, Warwick, falling.  Blue-uniformed Gendarmes in riot gear turned their guns toward him.  He cursed, and dove to the side.

In the pit, Matsuka's maddened laughter turned to screams as the swarm tore at him.  Two of the dancers moved toward Luc, their eyes still clear and smiling in the burning fog, their strange grace promising and sinister.  Luc pulled a flash grenade and threw it straight up, a moment before the two grabbed his arms with vise-like fingers.  They pulled him to the ground as the room was bathed in blinding light.

Luc struggled.  Hands held his arms, his legs.  Hands pulled at his armor, trying to strip it off him to get at his flesh.  A fat man got his boot off and began attempting to mate with it.  The dancers bent over him.  One licked his cheek with a sinuous tongue.  He looked up, past the porcelain faces with their deep black eyes, into the swirling fog.

DeCarabas, the tax assessor from the administratum, the records man, was standing above him with a flame pistol.

Blazing promethium washed over Luc, and the grasping hands released him.  He scrambled to his feet, wincing at the searing pain.  He couldn't feel his bare foot at all, though.  He doubted that was a good sign.

DeCarabas went down under a swarm of blind, nude bodies.  Luc drew both Palantines and began firing into the mass.  The burned dancers were writhing on the floor, tearing away their charred skin, changing and warping.  Luc turned as they rose, and found himself frozen.  Their skin was lavander, and glistened as if oiled.  Their hair twisted and flowed as if floating in some otherworldly current.  The were the most beautiful beings he had ever seen.  He was distantly aware that his pants were far too tight.

One of the glorious creatures crouched, flexing its magnificent legs, then lept high and away through the mist.  Luc thought his heart would break at her departure, but the other walked toward him, hips swaying, her long tongue caressing her breasts.  Luc stumbled toward her.

Varn had his back against the wall beside the door, bloodied axe in hand and corpses at his feet.  Eisen staggered toward him, leaving bloody footprints from a leg wound, arm hanging limp at his side.  A dozen Gendarms were firing into the crowd.  One went down with a knife in his neck.

Eisen's breathing was ragged.  "Varn, they on our side?"

Varn laughed madly.  "Hell no, they blew the coggirl away and took a shot at me.  I hate people who shoot at me!"

Eisen ducked as a nude man swung a spiked metal phallus at him, and yelled into his comm.  "Mission is FUBAR, get to the shuttle!  Whites, can you hear me?  Luc, taxman?"  Static answered.

Graceful as a swan, a daemonette landed in the midst of the Gendarms.  Their guns fell silent as they stared at her, and all about her half-blind cultists fell to their knees in adoration.  The demon took a moment to spin in place, accepting the adoration, and then ripped a Gendarm's head off with her claws.

Varn stared at the pretty, pretty thing all covered in blood.  Then Eisen grabbed his arm, shouting, and they ran for the door.  Behind them, the Gendarms broke and ran as the dancer had her way with those too slow in fleeing.

Luc walked forward in a daze.  The beautiful creature was beckoning to him.  She was reaching out to him with her lovely talons.  He stepped into her embrace.  She wrapped her arms arond him and lowered her perfect face to his neck.  Her tongue wriggled down his shirt and licked his chest.  Her mouth opened wide, revealing rows of ravishing needle-sharp teeth.

Luc stepped on something.  The something whimpered.  He glanced down.  It was a little girl, curled into a ball, crying.

Luc Fiend DuCassius frowned.

Then he ducked out of the demon's grasp, shot it in the stomach, grabbed the girl, and ran.

Luc looked frantically for an exit.  There, under the central dias, a trap door.  He dropped the girl and heaved it open.  Below were stairs, down into the dark.  Luc screamed into his Comm.  "DeCarabas!  Still alive, old man?  Where are you?"

A shout to his left.  DeCarabas was fighting in a pile of corpses and nude madmen.  His left arm's armor had been torn off, and he was bleeding from dozens of bites.  His  right leg was twisted sideways.  Two cultists were holding him down, and one was pulling at his helmet.  Luc leveled his pistols and burned down the assailants, then dived to the side as a devil-woman lept at him from behind.

There were three of the demons now, circling.  The cultists lay all about them, some choking on the gas, some rutting, some following the demon women on their hands and knees.  Luc thought furiously.  There was a way out of this alive, for DeCarabas and the girl at least.

He holstered his weapons and raised his hands.  "Wierd sisters, hold!  I have an offer for you!"

Shark-smiles turned toward him.  The nearest, with three dark eyes and her hair a mass of writhing tendrils, spoke in a hissing, smokey voice.  "And what would you offer us, mortal?"

Luc picked the girl up under one arm, and began edging his way toward DeCarabas.  "My family... we are merchants.  We sell food, luxuries, and entertainment on three hundred worlds.  I could take you wherever you desire, spread your worship throughout the sector!"

DeCarabas rose, leaning heavily on Luc.  The demon laughed.  "Ohh, little mortal, little morsel, distance in this world means nothing to us.  Your offer is... paltry."

DeCarabas coughed.  "I... have an offer.  For our safe passage out of here, and no hold on us after."

The demons closed in, the three moving in a slow circle around the two men and the girl.  "And what, old man, would you offer for such a favor?"

"The location of Cassandra's Grimoire."

Their hissing laughter went silent.  "You know such a thing?"

DeCarabas winced.  "I do.  And will tell you.  Once... we're at the shuttle."

In the bowels of the airship, there was a grinding, and a thump.  The deck slowly tilted another few degrees, naked bodies tumbling down the incline.  Surrounded by the demonettes, DeCarabas leaning on Luc, Luc carrying the girl, they slowly staggered through the door and down.


In the shuttle, Eisen flipped through comm channels.  Static, static, screaming, static.  He turned in his seat to see how Varn was faring.  The big Guardsman had strapped the wounded techpriest into a crash couch.  Other seats held Intelligencer Whites, gut-wounded and unconscious, and Gendarme Commissioner Reaz, dead and covered in occult tattoos.

The comm crackled to life.  "...near the outer hull now, following the marks I made on the walls.  The main shuttle bay's destroyed, Matsuka's bomb I suppose.  I say again, anyone out there?"

Eisen turned to the console and began warming up the shuttle's engines.  "Eisen here, with Varn!  Luc, that you?  We're at the shuttle, where the warp are you?"

"At the hatch to the topside.  DeCarabas with me.  And... some others.  Need Varn to bring out one of the metal crates from the back of the shuttle."

"A crate?  The airship's going down, dammit, stop mucking about and get out here!"

"I've got a little girl here.  Can't take her out in the wind, it'd flay her.  Bring me a crate."

Varn leaned over Eisen's shoulder and bellowed in the comm.  "Stupid rich boy!  Everyone is dying!  Everyone but us, we leave now!  You can't save them!"

"I can save this one!"

Cursing under his breath, Varn grabbed a crate under one arm and his bolter in the other.  Eisen opened the back doors, and Varn stomped out into the killing wind.

The airship was sinking, down into the perpetual hurricane.  Fragments ricocheted off his armor, and swirling grit reduced visibility to a few meters.

There was the damn hatch, open.  He could see the richboy and the taxman just inside.

And standing just outside, splinter-wind carressing her skin, was a daemonette.  Varn cursed, raised his bolter, and fired.  The demon ducked, grinning, digging its claws into the hull, then rushed toward him.

Inside the hatch, in the narrow access passage, Luc and DeCarabas stood back to back, the girl on the ground between them.  To either side, a beautiful manifestation of self-destruction.

The scream of bolter fire rose above the howling wind.  The demons hissed.  "Trechery!  Tell us, mortal, tell us now, the tome, the book, the grimoire, where?"

DeCarabas choked, spat blood inside his gas mask.  "No... nowhere.  It is nowhere, we destroyed it."

The demons screamed.  DeCarabas reached past Luc with his flame pistol and bathed wicked beauty in pure flame.  Luc turned, pistols raised, as the other fiend ripped DeCarabas' arm off in a spray of blood.  The old man gasped in pain and fell.  Luc leveled his Palantines.  Two straight lines, from his eyes, down his arms, along the barrels of his guns, acrolls half a meter of open space, to the wide, black, liquid eyes of the demon.  Eyes like pools of dark water.  Eyes you could die in.

His guns spat twin beams of fire.

Chapter 9

"Really, Luc, it's no trouble."

"I assure you, mister DeCarabas, it would have been for me.  You swim the seas of paperwork as if you were born to it; others are likely to sink."

The two sat together on the veranda of Praetus Castella's estate, basking in the artificial sun.  

"Giving your family the reins of the remains of Kylos Shipping, and the other businesses, that was a favor.  This, this is nothing."  DeCarabas reached for his wineglass with his augmetic arm, and clumsily knocked it over.  "Oh, dear.  Shame to waste that vintage."

"More in abundance where that came from.  My cousin kept a decent cellar."  Luc smiled.  "I must say, I'm having a much easier time with my new foot than you are with that arm."

"Well, yes, but it can write at blinding speed."  DeCarabas coughed, and looked back toward the house.  A small, dark-haired girl stood in the doorway staring at him.  He raised a hand to wave at her, and she ran back into the mansion.  "She's... still not talking?"

"I have no intention of rushing her, my friend.  All in good time."

"I suppose."  DeCarabas turned toward the small table to his left, strewn with paper.  "Oh, and what was the name you wanted on the adoption papers?"

"Tan Siend DuCassius, fourth in line of succession to the lordship of the great and profitable House Cassius."  Luc grinned.  "My daughter's name is Tan."

Ahh, this was a fun one. Possibly a bit confusing, though. Let me know in the comments if there's anything you can't follow.

It's based on a couple months worth of Dark Heresy sessions. I wasn't the fellow running it, so much credit goes to him; I was playing the nobleman.

I've been itching to do a followup, but the game's been delayed repeatedly. I think we're about three quarters of the way through the next story arc, though. Everything is going horribly, we don't even know who we're fighting, and the girl's barely alive. It's becoming difficult to see how to come out of the mess with a profit.


Ok, I just went to the bathroom and one of my roommates was sitting in the sink. Crosslegged, in the sink, facing the mirror. She says it's the only way she can get close enough to the mirror because her eyesight is bad; I harbor darker suspicions.
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Bush-Master's avatar
Pretty damn decent.