by Philip Culleton and Owen Conlan
Ceaseless, controlled, rhythmic. Sometimes B’athlem became entranced in the hive mind, the psychic connection shared between the Inheritors and their offspring. He occupied a frail human body, but he had been gifted with the vision of the Great Father. Right now he was observing the ferocious beauty of one of the Purestrains at work, observing through its feral eyes as its claw strikes steered the great excavations. These images of perfection had guided their efforts on Syrlene XI, enabling the Inheritors to build a subterranean empire that had given them access to every facet of the Imperial Ministratum. Piece by piece they had infiltrated the society of this rock enabling the brethren to amass a fortune through the lucrative trade in anaeic ore.
The tempo continued, precise claws finding the weaknesses in the rock, tearing out a narrow tunnel that would be enlarged by the work crews. The crews were all blessed with the Father’s kiss or were his direct descendants. Their loyalty was complete. In order to maintain their cover the mining explorations had branched from the Inheritor’s tunnels. B’athlem could see it all, a network of tunnels that mirrored the network of influential Imperial citizens above, most of whom were now part of the brethren. The Imperium was weak. How could it not be when it was built by fragile humans? They have no understanding of true patience or control and had been too hasty in their expansions. The Imperium of Man was vast, but spread thin. The Great Father’s meticulous plan would see them brought to the true vision. They would become reproducers for the Inheritors, an honour they did not deserve.
This cluster planet was almost theirs and the time had come to reveal themselves and take it over completely. The Great Father’s ambitions were both unbounded and patient. Once they had this planetoid completely under their control they would strike out into the sector. All that remained was to seize control of the main spaceport. Already lone vanguards had been dispatched on cargo and transport vessel to establish pockets of control across the sector.
The Imperium may be weak, but when the humans focussed their destructive efforts they could be dangerous. B’athlem had orchestrated a number of small uprisings to assess their response. He had been careful to keep the Purestrains hidden. Would these minor clashes draw any notice in the grand scale of the Imperium? So far they had not. Now the Inheritors were ready to seize Syrlene XI.
Inquisitor Dornoth spent most of her time cataloging and examining patterns. Any discrepancy could point to change and unexplained change was often a sign of malignancy. Dornoth tasked many acolytes with monitoring and sifting through astropathic reports from different sectors and planets, trying to detect even the smallest changes in patterns. A year ago the planet of Syrlene XI had been brought to her attention by Davius, an asset embedded on the proto planet, not because of a change in pattern, but because a pattern had remained when it should have changed. Syrlene XI was a moderately populated planet with two major industries, mining and agriculture. When a plague devastated the planet’s population the output of the farming industries fell heavily. Strangely the mining industry, dominated by the Starfire Guild, seemed unaffected. What made this industry, this guild, so resilient when others proved so frail?
Inquisitor Dornoth raised her head from the dataslate and looked sharply at her Lector. “Say that again”. Without flinching under her gaze he repeated what he had said. “We have uncovered a fourth cult on Syrlene XI, Preacentor. This one was again identifying itself as the Sons of the Inheritors”. The Inquisitor looked away from the Lector and out at the fading light through the high arched window. It had been a quiet month. Her investigations into the Viator system was progressing without hinderance until she had noticed the anomaly after the plague. “How have the local forces dealt with this?” The Lector, Telothus, hadn’t moved. He stayed staring at the back of her now turned head. “I only have initial reports. The uprising has been defeated but not with the alacrity of the previous three. Indeed if we look at the speed of reaction to the previous three uprisings it is possible to surmise that the response to each has been successively slower.” A panel blinked a lurid green beside the abandoned dataslate pulling the Inquisitors attention back to the desk. She tapped the ancient wood with her finger nail reading whatever message had appeared. “What forces are in system?” The sun finally set and darkness held the room in a firm grip. A nimbus of light played across Telothus’ face from his own dataslate. “I have no definitive numbers Preacentor. The 4th Ranth were deployed on Anisimov. The regiment was understrength. Orders intercepted two weeks ago indicate that they will have departed the system in two days. The 12th Jovian Hydras should have translated into system. I have no firm reports as to their activities or current location. Their deployment is under seal. The only other forces of note are local planetary defence forces and Astra Ministorum assets on Dellubrum.” The lurid green light had paled to a dull steady red. Dornoth’s attention stayed fixed on the screen. “Translation time?” “If we linger here to muster adequate though conservative local forces we have a minimal time of two weeks. An extra week would enable us to commandeer forward elements of the 608th Cadian and 133rd Lambdan Lions as they arrive in system.” Dornoth stood, straightened her robe and walked from her desk towards the door of her armourium chamber. Her step was lithe and she reached it quickly. “I fear we have tarried overlong already Telothus.” She turned to look at the Lector. “We had the answer when we saw the effects of the plague. Our judgement has been too slow in coming. Mobilise the Oath Keepers. Have them bring the Blessed Duty and the Unfailing Judgement into the system as soon as possible. I want them to blockade Syrlene XI as best as they can. That will buy us time to bring more force to bear. They are not to land on the surface until I am in-system. I will depart today once my Irolian Guard are ready. Prepare the ships. You have one week to gather our forces and follow after us.” She turned and opened the huge plasteel doors. Telothus could barely see past her into the gloom of the massive armourium as she departed. He paused a few moments busily typing on his datalate before turning and leaving the inner chambers of Inquisitor Preacentor Dornoth’s sanctum.
Captain Elomon of the fifth company of the Sanctifiers sat at his personal databank on-board the Blessed Duty. Eight reports were displayed on the dataslates in front of him and he read them simultaneously. Each updated constantly as new information was fed into the system of the massive Mk.III Strike Cruiser. Its twin, the Unfailing Judgement, was in synchronous orbit on the opposite side of the planetoid. Since entering the Viator System three days ago the space marine had not slept. Syrlene XI was a difficult assignment and he had been given little time to assess the situation. The Syrlene cluster consisted of the dispersed remnants of a proto planet that had suffered at some point in its ancient history a seismic cataclysm causing it to shatter into what now constituted thirteen planetoids and an innumerable array of asteroids. It was almost impossible to monitor all movements within the cluster due to the erratic orbits of the debris constantly blocking the ship’s scanners. Syrlene XI was the largest and most inhabitable of the rocks. Its gravity was two thirds that of holy Terra and an atmosphere was present, albeit thin and toxic. Industry on the planet was neatly divided in two. One half of the workers toiled in the yeast vats producing protein that was further processed on the surface into food that supplied the other inhabitants of the cluster. The true industry of Syrlene XI was under its surface. The entire cluster was rich in mineral deposits but this planetoid had the bonus of being rich in anaeic ore. Massive mines bored deep into the crust and extracted all the riches on offer. Elomon had already read the production reports for the last decade twice. There was nothing of note but as he finished he reset the document to its first page and began his analysis again. The Captain scratched absently at his penitents robe. Four ships had just departed Syrlene XI on a trajectory that would bring them to Furvus, an industrial moon, located down the gravity well. The ships had departed Syrlene XI just after the Strike Cruisers had translated in system. He touched the screen highlighting the ships and cross referencing previous records. Meanwhile he read through the movements of the planetary defence forces. Something was definitely wrong but as he wasn’t allowed to deploy to the surface he could only watch as the forces mustered and then disappeared from his monitors. This had been happening for three days. Smaller units gathered into larger forces and then moved into the industrial mines and out of sight of the ship’s scanners. Now only three large concentrations of the local forces remained in view. The cross referencing of the ships stopped and displayed its results: nothing of interest. Squads Secundus and Tertius had just finished low gravity combat exercises on the hull of the ship and they were reporting in. The Captain slowly pushed back his seat and stood stretching his legs. He reached out and touched the comms panel. “Brother Agathon are our drop pods prepared?” The comms panel blinked red for a few moments before the answer came through. “Captain we have five prepared on-board and I am currently working on the Vengeance. I expect combat readiness within the hour”. “Thank you Brother”. The Captain allowed the comms panel to go dark. He turned slowed and returned to his desk. Four more reports needed his attention though none of them was marked as urgent. As he sat he highlighted the four ships travelling in system. On a second screen he checked the deployment of the companies escorts. The War Bringer was the closest and he assigned the Gladius class Frigate to intercept the small convoy. The three other escorts he set on a different flight path, each moving to intercept the individual convoy ships once they broke formation and fled in an attempt to escape. Just as he finished, his comms panel awoke with an angry red signal.
Something was not right. The transport barges of the Starfire Guild, the legitimate face of the Inheritors excavation efforts, ran to a strict and predictable schedule. B’athlem had ensured as much so as not to draw attention to their anaeic ore mining and other activities. He glared at the dataslate that showed two barges had not returned as planned in the last three days. This was a cause for some minor concern. In all probability they had been lost in warp storms. Such losses were minor and had happened occasionally before, but never had two gone missing in such a short timespan. “Increase the patrols on all sites”, B’athlem transmitted to his brethren. Caution and patience were valuable traits, traits instilled by the Great Father. Their preparations were nearly complete. Soon the Inheritors would be unleashed on Syrlene XI and their grip on this sector would be secured.
The solitary figure stood in perfect silhouette on the observation deck as the coruscating firestorm of the Gellar fields erupted and died as the Vigilant translated into realspace on the edge of the Viator system. Inquisitor Preacentor Dornoth always watched the display from this vantage point. Small wisps of energy bled from the ship in blue streamers, these eventually fading into the pure blackness of the starfield arrayed before her. Eight minutes and fourteen seconds later the pressure systems behind her hissed quietly, a precursor to the huge doors opening. Light streamed in from the corridor as two of the Irolian Guard stepped into the room, their chemleather greatcoats creaking slightly as they walked. Behind them came Oraseer Rotus, his wizened frame weighed down by the passage of centuries. When he spoke his voice contained a strength unexpected from so frail a shadow of a man. “Inquisitor we have completed translation into the Viator system with no difficulties. Our communication lag to the Adeptus Astartes vessel, the Blessed Duty, is three minutes and twenty four seconds. The Unfailing Duty is in the shadow of the Syrlene Cluster. We have been unable to contact the 12th Jovian Hydras. It would appear they are undertaking a veiled operation. The 4th Ranth translated out of system hours before we noticed cult activity.” Inquisitor Dornoth raised a hand to silence the Oraseer. She still stared out of the observation port into the unending blackness. “Open a communication channel to Captain Elomon immediately” The Oraseer fumbled momentarily at his comms array. “Channel Open to the Blessed Duty Inquisitor, lag time is”. The Inquisitor raised her hand again to silence him. “Captain Elomon, this is Inquisitor Dornoth aboard the Vigilant. I am making for your location with all haste. Report local conditions”. After a slight pause the Oraseer flicked the channel to receive. It would take over six minutes for a response at this distance. “How long will it take for us to enter the Syrlene Cluster?” “At maximum speed we will reach the edge of the Cluster in two days and six hours. After that it will take a further eighteen hours to rendezvous with the Blessed Duty. Current planetary positions favour us making a”. For the third time the Inquisitor raised her hand. “Do we have local assets within the cluster”? Drawing a dataslate from his voluminous robe, Rotus checked. “Four assets, a single secundus, two quintus and an undemonstrated”. Dornoth turned then and strode towards the Oraseer. She took the dataslate and checked the assets herself, taking time to refamiliarise herself with her agents. Most she hadn’t worked with in over a decade but Davius was there for some reason. She had last used him two years ago when tracking down an illumuscript producer. That producers influence had sun deep within the Konor system and it had taken a great effort to purge his heresy. “Activate them all and have them prepare to transfer to the Vigilant once we reach the Cluster.” The Oraseer’s comms array blinked twice and then the voice of Captain Elomon came over the speaker.
An actintic yellow dust filled the air as Dornoth lay against a low ridge, observing Davius through her bionic eye as he advanced towards some mine workers handling crates in the distance. He was masquerading as a stranded off-worlder who was seeking work, an undercover role he had played for the last few months while investigating cult activity on Syrlene XI. He was quite inexperienced for this task, but she had talked him through some of the more obvious signs of heretical behaviour to keep an eye for: cult icons or strange tattoos, rehearsed answers, odd mannerisms. Besides she was quite certain the planet was tainted by heretics. While Davius engaged the workers she would also reach out with her powers to attempt to detect more conclusive signs. Brother Gidrion, an Adeptus Astartes assigned by Captain Elomon from the Oathkeepers, the fifth company of the Sanctifiers Chapter, was beside her. His helmet was removed, but she suspected that his highly augmented vision gave him a better view of what what was happening than even she had. “The rest of the retinue have taken up positions on the perimeter”, he reported in hushed tones while continuing to survey the area using the Auspex built into the left forearm of his Power Armour. Dornoth did not expect trouble, but that was usually when it arrived. Having a Space Marine’s fighting skills and near invulnerable armour here meant there was little in terms of martial trouble they couldn’t handle and her considerable psychic powers could take care of anything else.
Davius now stood in front of the workers, who had stopped what they were doing, and she could see he was talking to them. The workers responses appeared brief and Davius become a little more animated, maybe playing into the role of off-worlder desperately seeking employment. Dornoth began to reach out with her mind, trying to touch the minds of the workers. To her frustration she couldn’t get even a fragmentary glance into their thoughts. The hazy atmosphere seemed to also exist in the realm of psychic connections. She refocused her efforts, but an impenetrable fog blocked her efforts. Somewhat confused she instead reached out to sample Davius’ thoughts. Despite his training she was able to glimpse pieces of what he was experiencing, feeling the character he was playing, detecting glimpses of those he was talking to… their unhelpful demeanours… their unwillingness to engage… their dismissal of him. She could sense Davius’ feelings of failure as he turned to make his way out of the work yard. She tried to focus on the workers, but again encountered the fog. Something was blocking… someone, a powerful psyker, was protecting the workers. Dornoth turned to Gidrion and smiled, “We have work to do here”.
B’athlem cursed his frail body as he lay panting on the ground. His mind was strong, but the exertion to thwart the intrusion of the human psyker had been intense. She will now be aware that something is going on. B’athlem took a calming breath and gathered his resolve before reaching out to the Inheritors. He unleashed the Purestrains and showed them where to go. Most were deep under the surface, but one was nearby. B’athlem dusted himself down as he stood, signalling to his brethren workers in the yard as he made his way towards them. “Great Father, we have been detected. I believe the time to purge this planet is upon us”, he signalled to his lord. The response did not come in the form of word, rather a visceral yearning, like that of a stalker that had cornered its prey. The brethren were free to spread His great message.