As the black shadow dances over the pool of liquid, doubt creeps into the minds of the acolytes.
Any victory on Thaur will be uncertain. Any triumph will be paid in blood.
Many of the Inheritors drop to their knees in supplication, others have fallen prone, their minds simply destroyed by what they have witnessed. Several of the cultists who retain their faculties drop to the ground, weeping in despair, overcome with the true realization of what they have unleashed upon the world.
The cultist’s leader – surely Renthear – backs away to a tunnel opposite the direction of which the acolytes entered. A small cadre of Inheritors surround him as an escort to the surface.
Grax manages to finally summon forth a telekinetic shield, separating the acolytes’ tunnel from the main chamber. Uziel goes prone, firing his autocannon at the ethereal mist. His rounds go straight through, striking the cave wall on the far side, peppering the Inheritors’ gathering with shards of rock and stone.
The shadow laughs with a dread voice:
“You believe that you can stop anathema? Though I am dead, I am never destroyed. I have walked the stars before your race descended from the trees. I have seen worlds burn. I have consumed them…. Now, I walk among your kind once more.”
Then, with billowing legs, it seems to step from the pool. The remaining viscous liquid begins flowing into its midst. More and more, it gains corporeal form. Large, black wings erupt from the mass. Bone armour bursts from its newly formed unholy skin, covering the daemon in overlapping plates.
The sight of his full form is maddening. It’s clear that the Mournful Guard and Ossuarian Custodians are shaken, if not already insane. Uziel’s mind is all but completely paralyzed, retreating into a nightmare dreamscape of psychic hallucinations.
The acolytes know that they cannot hope to face both the daemon and the roughly fifty cultists in the chamber at the same time. Instead, they institute a fighting withdrawal.
With divine inspiration, one of the Ossuarian Custodians wades into the melee, trying to buy the acolytes time to stop the ritual above. Gouts of flame burst from his arduroglaive as he cleaves his way through the heretical gathering. The remaining Mournful Guard also take to the fight, pummeling cultists aside with brutal blows from their shock mauls.
As the acolytes pull back they witness the daemon seize one of the xenos artifacts from his misguided followers. Pressing the object into his chest, the artifact dissolves into the same luminescent liquid from the pool and is drawn into the remaining cracks of reality.
Knowing what this could mean should the Crow Father catch them, Amador sets off rapidly with his bag full of the recovered relics. Dragging Uziel’s paralyzed form further down the tunnel, he pulls the stones from his gear and attempts to shatter one.
Grax and Tybs retreat with Jaspar down the tunnels, quickly determining a correct route back to the surface.
Uziel awakes, blasting the xenos artefacts with his meltagun. The tunnels begin to shake violently and the warp phenomenon witnessed before become all but unbearable. More humanoid shadows dance through the tunnels ahead, melting from wall to wall.
The daemon laughs, its hellish voice bellowing throughout catacombs and echoing across reality:
“Despair, for all you have sacrificed is too little, too late. Observe, for my power is finally ready to be reclaimed—here, in the darkness, and above, where my pawn will drag countless souls into my grasp with the chains of their own blind faith. Rejoice, for you shall hear this world’s death cry as only I have heard it, echoing across the aeons.”
Eventually reaching the surface, the acolytes find Saint Merusaad’s square in absolute chaos. Tens of thousands of pilgrims press towards the great monument, completely paralyzed by the dark words of power – the unholy sermon – coming from vox speakers high above. Atop the numerous steps scaling their way up the front of the tomb, Arch Rector Renthear holds aloft a massive xenos skull, swirling with dark violet chaos magicks and filled with the Blood of Izumat.
Among the pilgrims in the square below, those members still loyal to the Euologus Askelline battle with the traitorous Inheritors. Mournful Guard fights Mournful Guard and even the steadfast Ossuarian Custodians aren’t without their own factional split.
Should Renthear be able to finish the ritual sacrifice, the acolytes know that they may not be able to stop empowered Izumat. They decide to ready their ultimate sanction – orbital bombardment.
Taking a position among the crypts at the edge of the crowd, Amador readies the vox set from his pack. Communing with the device’s machine spirit, he unleashes a massive burst of encrypted binaric cant. Providing the geographical coordinates in mechanicum shorthand, Amador keys in the order:
Orbital Bombardment. Danger Close. Fifteen Minutes.
The Reliant Dawn confirms and provides a return message:
“The Emperor Protects. Your deeds will be remembered.”
From the tree line nearby, Morrinoe emerges, sprinting into the cover of the tombs. She explains that she’ll keep the Inheritors at bay if they can kill Renthear and destroy the artifact. Four heads nod in acknowledgement.
Tybs keys in a few commands to his servo skull, setting it up atop a mausoleum to get a good vantage point of the crowd.
Uziel immediately braces his autocannon and fires three massive shells. Normally, a direct volley could shear apart even a mighty armoured Chimera, but the blows only manage to wing the dark priest. Possibly protected by the swirling ruinous energies around him, Renthear stumbles to his feet and continues his work.
Aiming intently, Uziel fires another single shot. Sailing over the densely packed crowd, it strikes Renthear at the hip. His body unravels, spreading a cartwheel mist of blood and bone high above the altar. The ancient xenos skull tumbles back down staircase, its still swirling energies hidden now among the crowd.
Jaspar sets off after it, lobbing grenades over the masses, hoping to destroy the target from a distance.
Then, with a great rumbling, Izumat bursts forth from beneath the square, soaring high into the sky above. Picking out the acolytes among the chaos and din, he spews forth horrific energies from his outstretched talons, attempting to destroy the Inquisitorial forces in a mass of pure darkness.
Grax attempts to strike back, only angering Izumat further. The daemon laughs, mocking Grax’s pitiful witchcraft:
“You believe you can control the Warp? I have bathed in its orphic light for millennia. I AM THE WARP.”
The daemon lands in the crowd below, crushing a few pilgrims beneath his clawed feet. Wading towards Grax and Uziel, it attempts to shred its only real opposition. Levitating up on his maglev coils, Amador glides into the fray, engaging the beast in close combat. Although he lands a few blows, the daemon strikes back, tearing deep wounds into the tech priest’s augmented flesh. Grax and Amador still attempt to strike the daemon with ranged shots, knowing the danger it poses to their comrade.
Morrinoe continues to fire on the Inheritors emerging from the crowd, allowing her newfound comrades to focus on the ancient evil before them. Tybs continues his own accurate fire from his servo skull companion, taking solid shots at the massive beast.
Sensing their fight may be hopeless, Grax begins to call forth a Gate of Infinity, hoping to provide some form of escape from the orbital holocaust soon to rain down from above. His senses and skills are pushed to the limit as he attempts to bridge time and space across the ebbs and flows of the warp.
Jaspar, deep within the crowd is overcome by disguised Inheritors. Although he escapes the whirling blades of the first two, the chainsword of the third digs deep, tearing through Jaspar’s knee cap. He falls to the ground screaming in pain, the ragged limb barely held on except for a few strips of torn flesh. Tybs knows now that Jaspar won’t be able to make it to the skull.
Tybs immediately sprints into the crowd, nimbly slipping by the dense, swirling chaos of packed bodies in the square. Reaching the skull, he grabs it and continues dashing to the top of the monument. Holding it aloft, he blasts it with his plasma pistol, shattering the object into numerous molten shards. Among Renthear’s pulverized robes, he finds more artifacts – including vials of the Blood of Izumat and a variety of bone and stone icons. Drawing his autopistol, he fires a fully automatic burst, strafing over the pile and destroying all that he can. From far below in the square, Izumat roars as a shard of his form slips away from the material world.
Scrambling for his shotgun, Jaspar blasts the chainsword wielding Inheritor away, as well as one of the other assailants. Attempting to finish off the third, his gun jams. The Inheritor pounces, plunging his twisted blade into Jaspar’s shoulder. The mercenary draws a combat knife and rapidly stabs out at his foe, bringing him to the ground. With both hands, he drives his knife deep into the Inheritor’s brain.
Uziel and Amador continue their fight with the daemon, allowing Grax to manufacture their only chance of survival. Time and time again, Uziel’s shots miss the daemon as it seems to slide in and out of reality.
Reaching into Uziel’s mind, Izumat overcomes the Arbites’ weakenned will. By controlling Uziel like some obscene puppet, the daemon paralyzes one of his attackers, allowing him to focuse on the destruction of Amador. With a flurry of exchanged blows, the daemon manages to wound Amador again.
Suddenly, Uziel wrestles back control and readies his meltagun. Once more, the daemon dodges the blows. The daemon propels himself forward on massive wings, plunging his talons deep into Uziel’s chest, spreading his blood over the cobblestone skulls below.
Amador charges the beast again, hoping to prevent it from killing his ailing comrade. Uziel turns, raising his gun to the beast. Knowing that this may be their only chance, Amador yells at him to fire. The round misses just wide as the daemon swings about in the melee. The superheated blast engulfs Amador’s leg, fusing his armour and robes to his leg, charring his flesh and pulverizing the mass into a clump of useless ash.
As more Inheritors emerge from the crowd around her allies, Morrinoe fires again. The monomolecular shurikens fired from her pistol catches a few of the cultists below their noses, instantly severing their spines and sending the lifeless masses to rest on the squre.
With a final litany and chant, Grax rends open space. A swirling mass of blue energy spirals through the air, framing an otherwise idyllic room on the other side. Inside the Palace of the Wake, torches and candles glow softly, seemingly directing the acolytes home.
Slowly gliding into the gate’s refuge on his maglev coils, Amador continues to fire at the daemon, using his mechadendrites to quickly change guns and maintain his rate of fire. Uziel too continues to fire, without great effect. He drags his wounded body through the gate and beckons for his allies to join them.
Knowing that he’s too far to make it to the gate in time, Tybs hears the rumble of the orbital rounds starting to punch their way through the upper atmosphere. He lays down his weapons beside him. Through his dataslate, he orders his servo skull to proceed through Grax’s portal. Tybs closes the control panel and sits back, drawing the dense, sweet smoke of his last remaining Zetarian Iho deep into his lungs. Removing Sorgoth’s faceplate, he stares at it, remembering the life he once lived, what seems like so long ago. With a gentle toss, he sends the mask spiraling down the monument’s staircase.
Jaspar looks up, cradling his destroyed leg and sees that Tybs has accepted his fate. Looking over his shoulder, Jaspar too realizes the great distance that spans between him and salvation. Laying back against the rough ground of the square, he draws a broken Iho stick from his breast pocket. With shaking hands, he pulls a lighter from a blood-soaked leg pouch. Holding it to his lips, he tries to spark it. Realizing that he’s out of fluid, he laughs, listening as the rumbling in the sky grows rapidly nearer.
Morrinoe holsters her pistol and makes a sprint for the gate. Just steps away from safety, Izumat seizes her, holding her aloft and his talons dig in deeply. She squirms and tries to wrestle her way out as the beast closes his grip on her form. Her ribs snap and the talons plunge further into her vital organs. Staring at the beast, she exhales for a final time.
Trying as he may, Grax is unable to close his gate. With the bombardment only seconds away, Uziel knows that the open gate will direct the apocalyptic blasts into the Palace of the Wake, killing Pyre, and destroying the entire apparatus of Imperial governance on Thaur.
Uziel steps out of the refuge, taunting the daemon away from his allies. Turning back, he levels his gun at Grax, hoping to either kill or incapacitate the witch – the witch that he had managed to call a friend for the last year of his life.
Accepting his failure, Grax stands in place, stoically accepting Uziel’s devastating volley. He glances down to Amador beside him, knowing that at least his sacrifice is not without triumph. Surely, Amador’s data will help the Inquisition piece together all that has transpired this day.
The superheated blast slams into the psyker, throwing him body to the back of the room, forever charring his body and soul.
The gate slams shut with a ripple of energy and the first orbital rounds become visible high above.
Knowing now the acolytes’ plan, the daemon roars.
Jaspar bleeds out.
With an incomprehensible, thunderous crash, Thaur shakes and the sky turns to fire.
The acolytes’ job is finished.