Written by Doggybreth
The decks of the Imperial battle cruiser ‘Sword of Fire’ thrummed, and its viewscreens flared with golden light from the ablative action of its forward deflector shields, as the shock wave from the explosion rolled over it. Standing on the Command Bridge of the huge starship, Inquisitor Calpurnius of the Ordo Malleus savored these sensations with an almost sensual appreciation. Space battles were normally so cold and impersonal, lacking the pleasurable intimacy of trading blows with a worthy adversary in close combat. In this instance, however, the battle had been fought virtually face to face, allowing him to experience his enemy’s death throes at first hand.
They had dropped out of warpspace only a few thousand kilometres from the enemy vessel and relative velocity brought them even closer together before his gunners acquired a targeting solution. The enemy’s incontinent reaction, firing a spray of missiles at the oncoming warship and powering up its main engines, made it clear that they would not submit to a boarding action. He had deemed it necessary to order the small frigate destroyed immediately despite the dangerously close range. Backing off to a safe distance might have given the Heretics time to escape. His only regret was that sensor sweeps showed no debris larger than several microns in diameter in the rapidly expanding cloud of dust and gas that was now all that remained of his adversary. There would be no trophies from this encounter to adorn the walls of his meditation chamber back on Valeron. The sensors also indicated no other potentially hostile vessels in the volume of space surrounding the planet that they were now entering into orbit around. Captain Phaestus gave the order to stand down from full alert status, glancing cautiously back at the Inquisitor as he did so. But Calpurnius was already turning towards the equipment packed cubbyhole off of the bridge in which the ship’s intelligence officer was sequestered. “You were saying that the Heretics sent some sort of signal towards the planet’s surface just before the engagement, Lieutenant?” he queried eagerly. “Yes, sir. A pulsed maser transmission, very tight beam and very secure.” replied the specialist “There was too much interference from the ionosphere for me to have any hope of decoding it but scatter from the cloud tops has allowed me to pinpoint its destination with a high degree of accuracy.”
“Very good!” Growled Calpurnius, eyes alight with anticipation. “Download those coordinates to my dropship’s navicomputer immediately. And initiate a detailed scan of that area. Send me the results as soon as they are available.” He turned and strode towards the dropshaft, activating his wrist comlink as he went. “Corporal Vengmar,” he commanded “have your Grey Knights ready for immediate surface deployment. ” He licked his lips unconsciously. Perhaps there would be some trophies won this day after all!
* * *
The Thunderhawk dropship sliced an unerring path through the upper atmosphere of the Earth analogue colony planet, homing on the coordinates provided by the intelligence officer. In the main cargo bay Calpurnius stood motionless while Brother Areck, his personal tech priest, made last minute adjustments to his Terminator Armor. Given time to reflect, Calpurnius wondered whether he had made the right decision in the recent battle. That Heretic spacecraft couldn’t have posed any serious threat to an Imperial capitol ship like the ‘Sword of Fire’. They could probably have grappled it with their tractor beams before it escaped, and the crew might have yielded valuable information under interrogation. But he had become so enraged when they tried to resist. The heat of battle did strange things to the mind? Of course, an Inquisitor could never admit to such weakness. Perhaps the official report should state that Captain Phaestus had fired on his own initiative. Yes, that would be better. Let him take the credit for the kill, and the blame.
The ship carried four squads of Grey Knights including Calpurnius’ Terminator bodyguard and Squad Veritas, equipped with jump packs, who were already positioned in the forward airlock. They would be launched ahead of the dropship as it approached at treetop level, to secure a landing zone. A full sensor scan of the area that had received the Heretic’s transmission revealed nothing but a small farming community nestled up against a range of low mountains. Certainly there was no evidence of any weapons that could imperil a well-armed Imperial expeditionary force. Calpurnius, however, did not believe in taking foolish chances. The ‘Sword of Fire’ was parked in geosynchronous orbit overhead, allowing its full firepower to be brought to bear immediately should they encounter any unexpected resistance.
Calpurnius had a good idea of what he would find in this accursed village. The forces of Chaos had gotten clever recently, trying to steal a march on the Inquisition. They had dispatched agents to the far-flung worlds of the Imperium, with the goal of locating latent Psykers before Imperial authorities discovered them. These psi-sensitive types, if properly manipulated, could be turned to Chaos and taught to hide their abilities from the Inquisition. The agents of Chaos assassinated those they could not turn in order to forestall their recruitment by the Empire.
Most of these traitor Psykers were left in place on their home planets to serve as the organizers and leaders of Chaos cults, charged with bringing more misguided souls into their fold. More ominously, those who showed exceptional promise were apparently being spirited away to unknown locations. Undoubtedly they would undergo training as full-fledged Chaos Sorcerers, beings with the marks of Chaos etched indelibly into their souls. The Heretic ship, which they had trailed from shortly after it left the Eye of Chaos, was most likely here to pick up one such monstrosity. Little else would justify such a furtive mission into the heart of the Empire. The village below would be hiding at least one such being, and quite likely an entire Chaos cult.
The Inner Chamber of the Ordo Malleus had decreed that this program of infiltration must be stopped at all costs. Each traitor Psyker was a potential conduit for Daemonic activity; the idea of an organized web of them spread throughout the Empire conjured up truly dire possibilities. As a member of the Inner Chamber with a reputation for taking quick, decisive action Calpurnius had been assigned to spearhead the operation against this new threat. The Ordo Malleus had arranged for an Imperial starship to be detached from its regular duties and placed under his command so that he could range about the Empire at will. The crew didn’t know his actual rank, only that he had direct authority from the Emperor and was to be obeyed without question. Months of skulking about the spaceways had finally paid off when they detected this Heretic ship sneaking into Imperial space and proceeded to tail it to its destination.
* * *
The rumble of the dropship’s passage through the atmosphere grew deeper and its side-to-side motions became more violent as they skimmed low over the planet’s surface. A read-out in his helmet alerted him that they were entering full stealth mode and that evasive action might be imminent. His hand clenched and unclenched instinctively on the hilt of the Nemesis Force Sword at his side. He had not realized how much a part of him the lust for battle had become until his zeal and scrupulousness in the pursuit of Heretics had seen him promoted to the Inner Chamber. This had forced him to spend his time dealing with the political machinations of the Inquisition rather than chasing Daemons. The real reason he had pushed for this command, he had to admit, was that he missed his days field operative, when adrenaline surged in his veins and Heretics quaked to hear the thud of his combat boots outside their doors. And now here he was, on the verge of battle once again?
His reverie was interrupted by the low voice of Corporal Vengmar in his ear, speaking on a private comm channel. “Umm, sir?” the officer murmured hesitantly “the Knights would be most grateful if you would lead them in uh, perhaps, a short prayer to the Emperor?” Irritation mixed with chagrin as Calpurnius glanced at a display informing him that they had but moments left before their arrival on target. As the senior officer on board, it was his duty to lead his troops in a prayer for the Emperor’s blessing in the upcoming engagement. Had the lowliest Marine Sergeant ignored such an obligation his faith would have been suspect! Damn the impertinence, of course he had not forgotten. He merely needed time to marshal his energies for a possible confrontation with utmost evil. Vengmar should have known better. That unctuous little bastard?
Calming himself with a quick meditation ritual, Calpurnius led his troops through the shortest blessing he could think of. Even before he finished, he felt the ship rock as Squad Veritas blasted out of the forward airlock. Special strap-on boosters would send them out over the chosen landing site well ahead of the dropship, allowing them to descend using their jump packs and secure the area against enemy opposition. The whine of the Thunderhawk’s engines rose in pitch as it lost speed and altitude. Once again a tingle of anticipation coursed through Calpurnius’ body. “Oh let there be resistance!” he thought. To feel a Heretic’s skull crushed beneath his fist, to see the warm blood spurt?
“LZ is secured, sir! There is no evidence of resistance. You may land at will.” The crisp, efficient voice of Squad Veritas’ sergeant crackled in his suit phones. This statement quenched his nascent battle lust but also reawakened him to the realities of the military operation that he was leading. “Pilot, I want us on the ground NOW!” he bellowed into his commlink. “All units, prepare for immediate debarkation. Corporal Vengmar, you will lead Squad Sanctitas on point. Squad Fidelitas, form up on me.” The cargo bay filled with the metallic sounds of armored Marines preparing for combat as the dropship tilted forward and began its final descent.
* * *
The Thunderhawk had come down in a freshly plowed field just outside of the village. The landing gear was sunk deep into ground still soggy from a recent rain. Streamers of bluish mist poured down from the mountains behind the village under a lowering sky. An occasional burst of lightning illuminated the undersides of the clouds above the mountains, followed shortly by a rumble of thunder. Calpurnius surveyed the scene from the top of the dropship’s ramp. There were no visible signs of life, but bio-scanners indicated that dozens of townspeople were cowering inside the thatched cottages of the tiny community. They sought shelter from the storm that just passed over, thought Calpurnius with grim humor, only to have a much worse storm descend upon them.
He strode down into the field, the ramp vibrating beneath his massive tread. He felt like a god descending upon the earth to pass judgement on vainglorious mortals. The terminator armour, despite weighing nearly half a ton, was so well wrought and so finely tuned to his thought patterns that it inhibited his movement not at all. His feet, when they sank deep into the wet, loamy soil, came loose with no effort. Squad Fidelitas, his personal terminator bodyguard, came close behind him. Squad Pietas took up the rear, fanning out to cover the woods at the far edge of the field. He marched past the troopers of Squad Veritas, who knelt in the mud training their bolters on the village to cover the advance of Squad Sanctitas. According to protocol he should have waited at the ship until the point team had secured the village, but impatience was getting the better of him.
He could smell Heresy in there even through the air filters of his suit helmet. Indeed the taint of Chaos was so strong that it seemed to rise out of the very ground, like the mist that hovered over the surrounding fields. Black images played in his mind of the punishments that he would mete out to those who had betrayed the Emperor, and all of humanity, so foully. He made directly for the largest structure in sight, a two-story house with a high, steeply slanted roof. Around him his troops spread throughout the village, rousting people from their homes and herding them towards the village’s main square. Someone awaited him at the top of the big house’s front steps. As he approached the figure resolved itself into a short, stocky man in a sober looking black robe. This individual stared at Calpurnius impassively, apparently not impressed by the massive armored figure bearing down on him. Around his neck he wore a large medallion, probably a badge of office.
As Calpurnius approached the foot of the stairs the man bowed deeply, though his face still showed no obvious signs of fear or apprehension. Calpurnius set a foot on the first step and was surprised to feel the wood buckle under his massive weight. Sometimes it truly was hard to remember that he was wearing his armour. While he recovered from this momentary discomfiture the man addressed him in a tone that was at once servile and slightly insolent. “I am Bertane, Mayor of this village. How may I serve you, oh Great Lord Inquisitor?” he murmured, maintaining his bow. “You may serve me, dog, by getting down here in the mud where you belong!” thundered Calpurnius through his suit’s external speakers. Several of the Grey Knights turned to glance at him, surprised by the outburst. He paid them no heed. As the man stepped onto the ground, Calpurnius placed his massive right hand on the man’s shoulder, forcing him to his knees in the mud. The man’s head was still bowed. “Look at me!” grated Calpurnius, forcing the man’s face up with a finger under his chin. “There is someone in this village, a traitor to all that we hold sacred. You will identify this individual for me, or by the Emperor you will share his fate when I do find him!” “I will assist my Lord to the extent of my humble capabilities.” replied the Mayor, still impassive. “Could my lord possibly describe this individual?”
Frowning, Calpurnius focused his mental energies. This fool was about to learn the price of insolence! He extended a psychic probe that he visualized as a whirring drill bit. It tore relentlessly into the man’s mind, ripping through the thin veils of his consciousness, his personality, coring out all of his deepest, darkest secrets.
It was like drilling into what you thought was hard wood, only to find cardboard. Calpurnius stared at the man. There was no resistance to his probe, he had plumbed the depths of the man’s soul with utmost ease, but beyond the surface layer of conscious thought there was just emptiness.
Then it occurred to him. The traitor Psykers were taught to conceal themselves from Imperial authorities. This must be how they did it, somehow blanking out their minds without offering any obvious resistance!
Even as this thought crossed his mind he felt something grasp at the tip of his psychic probe, like a slimy tentacle arising from some dark pit in the man’s mind that he had overlooked. He was being ambushed into a psychic duel. He pulled back frantically as more tentacles of thought arose to drag him down into oblivion. Rage swept through his mind. The chainfist mounted on his left glove activated in response to his thought waves, the superconducting ferroceramic motor quickly spinning the monomolecular blades up to 10,000 RPMs. The psychic assault abruptly abated as the chainfist struck the man full in the chest. His body seemed to explode as if it were nothing but a balloon filled with blood and gore. The crimson spray that covered his helmet’s visor matched the blood red haze that descended across his thoughts as he turned to his troops.
“They are all Heretics!” he screamed, his amplified voice ringing off the mountainsides far above. “Kill them! Kill them all!” The Nemesis Force Sword appeared in his hand and he swung it in a wide arc as he charged the nearest of the cowering villagers. The weapon, driven by his electro-mechanically enhanced muscles, struck with the force of a gauss cannon projectile. It shredded the hapless man’s body, sending bloody pieces of it raining down on the nearby rooftops. Savage joy filled his heart as he tore into yet another victim. The whirring of his chainfist and the deep ripping sound of bolter fire played a symphony for his soul, counter-pointed by the screams of the doomed and dying. At last it ended. Rain had begun to patter onto the village again, setting up ripples in the pools of blood that filled the streets. It hissed on the blazing roofs of several houses set alight by stray bolter shots. Calpurnius approached Corporal Vengmar, who had removed his helmet to dash the sweat from his face. “Your men did well today, Corporal.” he commented. “By applying the doctrine of Exterminatus to this village, we may have saved the entire planet from a similar fate.” “Thank you, sir” replied the officer, giving Calpurnius an uncertain look. This man who had instigated the slaughter today behaved more like a Daemon than an honorable agent of the Empire. The Grey Knights were supposed to be Daemon hunters, not butcher boys for some mad Inquisitor. And he found the purring, satiated tone in Calpurnius’ voice most disturbing?
Even as he considered this, he heard several of his men grunt in surprise. Then calls poured through the comlink from all over the village. Looking down at his feet he saw the source of their alarm. The pools of blood and body parts that littered the streets seemed to be glowing in the dim light and things were moving beneath their surfaces. As he watched, a strand of bloody tendon extruded from the surface of one pool and stood upright. Other tendons swarmed up it and it soon took on the appearance of a leg. Another leg was forming in an adjacent pool and they now joined together, forming a groin and then a torso. Behind this scene a pile of body parts stirred and a fully formed figure rose from beneath it, a tall, heavily muscled being clutching a huge two-handed sword that seemed to radiate darkness.
“Bloodletters!” growled Vengmar. This was the sort of thing he was trained for! Quickly, he snapped orders to his men. “Form up in half squads! Cover each other’s backs, don’t let them get behind you! Conserve your ammo! Avoid close combat if possible!” Around him the air was suffused with an eerie scarlet glow. The falling raindrops appeared to be turning into spatters of blood. A milky crimson mist crept between the buildings, fearful shapes moving within it.
He pumped two short, controlled bursts into the creatures before him and they staggered back, shedding their newly found substance even as they formed. But at least one seemed to be holding onto its’ shape as it fell, already starting to regenerate. Beside him Calpurnius was staring around in consternation. “Who is summoning these things?” he asked. “Where did they get the energy?” He turned to Vengmar, uncertainty in his eyes. “Corporal, there has to be a Chaos Sorcerer somewhere in this village! He must be located and destroyed!” Even as he spoke, a figure appeared out of the mist behind his head, leaping high with its sword swinging in a viscous downward arc. Calpurnius sensed the Daemon’s presence and sidestepped instantly. The Bloodletter landed between them. For a moment Vengmar stared into a pair of blank, soulless, but unspeakably hateful eyes. Then the head was separated from the body by a single swipe of Calpurnius’ blade. The body glowed with unholy energy as it evaporated into the misty air.
Calpurnius threw himself into the battle with renewed vigor, but doubts continued to plague him. Bloodletters didn’t simply appear, their summoning required some form of blood sacrifice by a loyal adherent of Khorne. But the only bloodshed here had been by himself and his troops. In fact, his troops had all been using their bolters. Only he had slain anyone by hand, his preferred style of combat.
Overhead, a member of Squad Veritas screamed through the air, grappling with a Daemon that clung to his legs as he tried to control his jump pack. The pair began to gyrate wildly and slammed into the roof of a house. An earth shaking explosion seconds later left little doubt as to the outcome of that conflict. Calpurnius saw one of his bodyguard go down under the combined assault of three Bloodletters. He dashed forward to render assistance but saw that it was too late. Even as the Terminator slew one Daemon by grasping its throat with his power fist, another was ramming its sword through his faceplate.
He killed the remaining two Daemons at once, shoving his chainfist into one’s face and splitting the other in half to the waist with his sword. He sensed another enemy presence directly behind him. Without even turning he reversed his grip on the big sword and shoved it upward from beneath his right armpit. He encountered more resistance than he had expected. Turning, he found Corporal Vengmar impaled on the sword point, which was driven solidly through the center of his breastplate. Bluish sparks and dark red heartsblood spurted around the edges of the gash. The officer stared at him in confusion. “I think we got? the last of them? sir.” He gasped. “The last? But you?” A great clot of blood erupted from his mouth and he slumped to the ground.
Calpurnius stood trembling. Around him was nothing but death and devastation. His troops appeared to all have been slain along with the Daemons. What had happened? He wondered, staring dully at the body sprawled on the blood soaked ground at his feet. He had sensed an enemy behind him. His psychic senses had never betrayed him before. Could Vengmar have been a traitor?
Or had he changed somehow?
A new sensation intruded on his thoughts. He was being summoned, a psychic call far more compelling than anything he had ever felt before. Looking toward the Mayor’s former home he saw another figure awaiting him at the top of the stairs. But this being could never have been mistaken for a human. It stood naked, great leathery wings folded together over its head. A sardonic smile played across features that were far too elongated. Limbs that bent at all the wrong angles radiated an unearthly vitality. The eyes were glowing tunnels leading into domains that no mortal mind could encompass and stay sane. He stumbled towards it, feet tripping over the shattered bodies of his former compatriots.
“Greetings sweet Calpurnius, and Thank You!” it said, in a voice that grated like the door of a tomb closing. “Your last sacrifice provided all of the energy that I needed to manifest myself.” Calpurnius stared up at the Daemon Prince, words failing him, but his new master read his thoughts easily. “You have finally admitted where your true loyalties lie, my dear one.” It continued. “I knew that you needed only one more little push, that is why I lured you here.” It surveyed the scene in the devastated village briefly, light from the burning cottages flickering across its inhuman features. “I had to sacrifice a few of my lesser faithful, but don’t you think it’s worth the price? News of your desertion will shake the inquisition to its core, my love.”
A small corner of Calpurnius’ mind still screamed denial, but the greater portion of his being was becoming suffused with a wild, capering glee. Khorne, the Blood God, had accepted his offerings! The part of himself that he had always denied, the part that lusted for the sheer, uncomplicated beauty of death and destruction, was at last free of all constraint! Awash in joy, he ran to throw himself at the Daemon Prince’s feet, babbling wild imprecations.
“Blood and Skulls! Blood and Skulls for my Master! Blood and Skulls for my Lord KHORNE!”
* * *
“It is the greatest achievement of the Hunter to attain sympathy with his prey; only then can he truly anticipate its actions. But if this sympathy grows too strong, he may find himself becoming that which he preys upon?”
Inquisitor Alvan Vollsang
Secret report to the Inner Chamber of the Ordo Malleus
Regarding: The ‘death’ of Inquisitor Calpurnius Ignatius