The old troop transport shook from atmospheric vibrations during the descent, causing Battle-Sister Meredith to sway about in her grav harness. Staying focused on her reverie, she kept her eyes closed in prayer to the Emperor. In her left hand she held her black and white Sabbat battle helm and her right hand rested upon her Godwyn-De'Az patter bolter that was mag locked to her belt. Leaving the bolter, Meredith's hand strayed to the Chaplet Ecclesiaticus hanging from the belt at her waist. She fingered the adamantium beads individually, each one a reminder of an act of pencace she had done in her lifetime.
As the transport passed through the final stages of its descent, Sister Celestian Aliza broke into a hymn of praise to the Emperor. “O Emperor, Beloved Father of humanity, we beseech thee!” Meredith, knowing the words by heart, quickly finished her prayer and joined in. “Lend us thy strength! Renew our faith that we may not stumble.” The Battle Sisters finished the hymn right as the tri-pattern landing skids hit the hard packed ground. Warning klaxons wailed as the loading ramp dropped with a clang.
“To war, sisters!” shouted Celestian Aliza.
Meredith punched the yellow release button on her battered grav harness, which opened with a hiss of steam. Servos on her power armor whined as she stepped forward. Lifting her battle helm to put it on, she paused midway. Feeling more secure when she wore it, she had always carried it into battle. But her helm was just that, a helm. A few inches of ceramite between her and the enemy. Faith, she had been taught, was more powerful than any weapon or shield. Today, she wanted to prove her faith. Reciting the Litany of Divine Protection, she returned her helm to the gray equipment clamp on the grav harness.
The Battle Sisters of the Order of Our Martyred Lady clanked down the soot-streaked loading ramps and onto the dusty plain, forming into their respective squads. The Mission consisted of three full squads of Battle Sisters, a squad of Celestians, who were in command of the Mission, a Retributor squad, and an Immolator tank.
A slight breeze greeted Meredith as she stepped off the transport. Her deep red loincloth fluttered in the wind as her ebony ceramite boots crunched on the dry, grainy soil. Vestments of the same red color stretched from under her black pauldrons to her elbows. A white Sigil Sororitas shone brightly from her right pauldron and a pair of eagle’s wings bisected by the letter I was visible on her left. Raising her gleaming silver bolter to her lips, she kissed it reverently.
“Emperor, guide my bolter with your holy light,” Meredith whispered.
She had spent hours preparing her bolter, reciting many prayers and litanies every time she loaded a bolt round. The fragmentation grenades clipped to her belt had been similarly blessed. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of her squad, Meredith felt immensely proud to be a Battle Sister.
Meredith stood next to Sister Charlotte who was easily her most trusted companion in the squad. Both of the women were 29 years old, having served as Battle Sisters since their 18th year. They had also been raised in the same Convent since their childhood and consequently had a strong bond.
The two Battle Sisters were of the same height and both possessed a martial disposition. Faith and war was their calling and they embraced it eagerly.
Sister-Celestian Aliza addressed the assembled Battle Sisters. A peerless warrior who had fought in hundreds of engagements over her 60 year career, she possessed a serious mind and almost never laughed. Aliza was armed with a power sword and bolt pistol and was nigh unstoppable on the battlefield.
“Sisters! Today, we must do battle against the heretics of Chaos. Great are the unseen perils that may await us, but above all else we must not be found lacking in the eyes of our beloved Emperor,” lines of worry creased her face, but it shone with righteous conviction. “It is for his glory that we serve.” Aliza led the Sisters in another hymn. It was a battle hymn that venerated their patron saint Katherine in one of her victories against a Chaos warband.
With that, the Battle Sisters formed up and began marching towards the city of Dastir Major, their target, singing a hymn as they went. The city was half a kilometer distant, only three minutes away at a normal marching pace. Dastir Major was home to a small chapel, the Church of Saint Yacob. A distress signal from one of the priests who worked at the Church had been received six days before, but shortly afterwards the signal had gone dark. Fearing the worst, the Order of Our Martyred Lady had responded in force.
Dastir Major was the capital and economic center of Dastir, but it was not a huge city. It supported about half a million people, with most of them being merchants. Even though Datir was not a desert world the plains surrounding Dastir Major were rather desolate and lacking in water. Numerous dilapidated shanty towns provided a steady stream of low income migrant laborers to work the ore rich mines of the nearby mountain ranges.
But geography and economics were not the concern of the Sisters of Battle. Protection of the faithful and vengeance upon the faithless was their calling. They were determined to reach the chapel and put an end to whatever foul Warp spawn had corrupted it.
Meredith’s squad was lead by Sister-Superior Josephine. An experienced leader, Josephine had lost many comrades early in her career and had a very grim outlook on life. Her grimness was reflected in the two emblazoned skulls that adorned her breastplate. Having a penchant for close combat, she carried a chainsword and a hand flamer.
Like most of her fellow Battle Sisters, Meredith’s short hair was dyed white to represent the purity of her Order. Her coal black eyes and pretty face would have been the envy of lesser women had she not been a Battle Sister. Personal beauty was considered a sign of favor from the Emperor and the Battle Sisters did all they could to retain their youthful appearance. Conversely, scars from battle were also considered desirable and once obtained they were borne proudly.
As the Battle Sisters approached the outskirts of Dastir Major, an eerie silence drifted over them. For a city that was held in the grip of Chaos, one would not expect a total lack of movement or noise. Shot-up buildings and craters lined the streets, but not a sound reached the Battle Sisters. Wrecked motor vehicles lay smashed to pieces and deep grooves cut into the pavement as if some god of war had dragged a bony finger across it. And then they could smell the sticky copper scent of shed blood. Many, many people had died very recently.
Edging down the first war torn street, the Immolator’s ceramite fused treads crunched over shattered masonry and broken glass. A Battle Sister was buckled down in a movable turret behind a pair of heavy flamers that sat on the top front half of the Immolator, ready to unleash a wave of roaring promethium in an instant. Celestian Aliza led her squad of fellow Celestians from a position just in front of the Immolator and to the left. Only a few meters away was another squad of Battle Sisters covering the left flank. On the right, Meredith’s squad protected the right flank. Directly behind the Immolator was the Retributor squad. From their vantage point they could easily bring their devastating firepower, consisting of two heavy flamers and two multi-meltas, to bear on any part of the battlefield. Further behind, the final squad of Battle Sisters acted as rear guard.
Meredith tread carefully down the street. Charlotte walked alongside, cradling a storm bolter in her gauntleted hands. Charlotte’s hair was also white, and like Meredith she had eschewed the use of her battle helm. Panning her bolter from window to window, Meredith could see no living thing. Another Sister in the squad, Isabel, held her flamer at the ready with only her eyes visible underneath her battle helm.
The street opened into an intersection bisected by three other equally battered streets. Tall gray buildings lined the way although they were all badly torn up; the gaping holes in their crumbling walls testimony to the savagery of the fighting. Meredith recognized the pre-fabricated structures as the famous “instant cities” as they were called. Constructed with cheaply made plasteel, a massive amount of prefabs could be thrown up easily and quickly. All the buildings were the same ugly gray color and rectangular shape, but it got the job done. The buildings appeared to be mostly for housing people as there was a distinct lack of heavy machinery associated with a manufacturing center.
The road to the right of the Battle Sisters led to the church, which was still a few kilometers distant. The Immolator, pivoting on its treads, turned down the street, but ground to a halt rather quickly. Celestian Aliza was out front, her hand clenched in a fist. Superior Josephine repeated the gesture and Meredith’s squad stopped immediately. Everyone felt a discernable presence of lurking evil. Dark forces were at play in the city.
“Careful, sisters. This is work of Khorne worshippers. Prepare your hearts and remember our cause. In the Emperor’s name, we must cleanse this place. All flamers to the front,” Aliza ordered.
Josephine waved them forward and Meredith’s squad rounded the corner. Then Meredith saw it.
“Blood of Katherine,” breathed Meredith.
An iron pole stood in the middle of the street. At its head was a brazen icon to Khorne. Cruelly nailed to the icon was a dead priest; his shoulder tattoo marking him as a member of the Ecclesiarchy. A golden statue was crammed into his gaping mouth and his eyes bulged in mute terror. Burned into his forehead and chest was the mark of Khorne. Stripped of his clothing the priest was completely naked; his pale arms and legs frozen at grotesque angles. Meredith was horrified. With an effort, she tore her eyes away from the dreadful scene. This was blasphemy.
Only then did she see that the brazen abominations continued down the street. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, littered the entire block. Each pole had a pile of skulls stacked around its base. A cold spike of fear hit Meredith and then she realized she was trembling ever so slightly. She grabbed her golden necklace to stop it from clattering against her breastplate. The necklace had an adamantium Sigil Sororitas and she gripped it tightly.
“Emperor, I beg thee, give me strength. Forgive me of my fear and turn it to courage. Lend me strength to perform thy will. Renew my faith!” Meredith mentally assigned herself a week of penance for her doubt and she resumed her place with her squad. Charlotte placed a reassuring hand on Meredith’s shoulder and they exchanged curt nods.
“Give them a martyr’s death,” commanded Aliza.
Sister Isabel stood at the bottom of the first pole and sent a cleansing wave of fire into the priest. Other Sisters began to do the same. The pitiful creatures would burn for hours, but at least their dignity would be restored.
The vox link in Meredith’s gorget crackled to life. It was Aliza.
“Let us purify this accursed place with fire and song. Be vigilant, our hymns will probably drive the heretics to attack,” said Aliza, her voice sharpened with anger.
Aliza began to sing the hymn “Ode to Martyrs.” It was a mournful song, but it would clear the head and calm the spirit. All the Sisters joined in as the flamers continued their grisly work. Meredith and Charlotte both sang out, their voices matching perfectly. Meredith could see the grim determination in Charlotte’s eyes. She felt the same way. Foul traitors and heretics had committed utter blasphemy. It was time for redemption.
“Contact!” screamed a Battle Sister, as if she had read Meredith’s thoughts.
“How many?” replied Aliza, the desire for vengeance plain in her tone of voice.
“Auspex is picking up at least a dozen. More now. Twenty…more coming.”
Sister Daniela, a member of Meredith’s squad, chimed in.
“I have multiple contacts as well, Celestian Aliza.”
“Very well, defense pattern Fides,” commanded Aliza.
The three squads of Battle Sisters formed into a triangle in the middle of the street. The Immolator was the point of the triangle while the Retributors and Celestians gathered inside the triangle ready to give aid as needed. To either side of the battle sisters sat parallel rows of dreary gray buildings. Scattered holes and shattered windows gave the buildings a taunting visage as if some crazed artist had used the town to paint a canvas of varying shades of madness and deception.
Meredith assumed a firing stance and gripped her bolter. To her right she could see Daniela mag lock her auspex scanner and whisper a quick prayer, kissing her bolter as she did so. Charlotte stood on Meredith’s left holding her storm bolter.
“O Emperor, fill us with thy wrath that we may strike down thy enemies. Do not forget your servants in our hour of need,” prayed Meredith.
Eyes constantly checking for threats, Meredith could feel heat building up in her chest. It turned to a fire and flowed outward, filling her strong arms with purpose. Her legs burned as well and she felt as if she could run for kilometers on end. Meredith whispered a prayer of thanks to the Emperor.
The ground floor wall of the building directly in front of Meredith exploded outward. Grayish chunks of plasteel and rockcrete bounced and ricocheted through the street as dark forms burst through the jagged opening. They were human or used to be. Some stood upright; others were hunched over, while many of them sported weird appendages. Claws and razor sharp teeth abounded. They were armed with crude weaponry of beaten iron. Cudgels, maces, clubs, and some hideous looking axes could also be seen. With an odd shuffling gait and bloodthirsty eyes, they descended upon the Sisters of Battle. Mutants.
“In Katherine’s name, bring them down!” yelled Josephine, her voice eager.
Meredith took careful aim and snapped off a precision shot; her blessed bolter round hurtled downrange and struck a mutant in the head. Its head exploded in a welter of blood. Repercussions from Charlotte’s storm bolter buffeted Meredith’s face and shoulder as Charlotte fired at full automatic.
Not all the mutants could talk due to their corrupted flesh, but the ones that could took up a single blasphemous cry. It reverberated through the city and raised itself to a fever pitch.
“Blood for the blood god!”
The shuffling horde came on screaming their warcry. It drove the mutants into a frenzy of violence as some attacked their own kind in their haste to spill blood. Hacking, stabbing, and biting the strongest fought their way clear and charged at the Sisters.
Harsh bolter fire filled the air and cut the mutants to ribbons. Having almost no armor; just tattered clothes and meaty appendages, they stood no chance in the open. Ignorant to their fate, the mutants kept up the momentum of the attack and died by the score.
Meredith blazed away with her bolter. Mutants fell, their chests torn open and entrails splattered on the ground. Arms were blasted off and heads ripped apart in the fusillade. Meredith kept firing, aiming for center of mass. Head shots were more effective, but in a mob this size much harder to pull off.
A particularly large brute appeared through the crowd. Its arms rippled with muscle and veins that were strained with over exertion. Massive hands gripped an iron cudgel that it swung menacingly, knocking aside any mutant that dared get in its way. Its mouth leered open in a mocking grin and a snake-like tongue hung out, dripping with rancid saliva.
Meredith was about to shoot when her bolter ran dry. Ejecting the spent magazine, she quickly grabbed a full one and reloaded with a quickness born from years of drilling. The oversized mutant bearing down on her was almost as big as an Ogryn. Meredith detested most Abhumans, but Ogryns especially. Nothing more than brutes really, who in her mind possessed no humanity. Any alliances with Abhumans were alliances of necessity. In due time, she hoped, such foul creatures would be purged.
Though smaller than an Ogryn, the mutant bore a strange resemblance. It was almost a hybrid. Perhaps it was a cross between a human and Ogryn…Meredith shuddered involuntarily at the thought. Abomination. It must be destroyed.
Meredith aimed for its chest and pulled the trigger. The mutant possessed a canny intelligence and grabbed another mutant to serve as a body shield. Bolt rounds slammed home, turning the shield of flesh into a bloody wreck. Tossing the ruined carcass aside, the mutant bellowed and raised its cudgel.
Flicking the switch to full automatic, Meredith crunched down hard on the trigger. Explosive shells tore the mutant’s throat and blew a hole in its chest. It staggered on, foul black blood streaming from its gaping wounds. Another burst from Meredith’s bolter put it down.
“Fragmentation grenades, Sisters!” ordered Josephine.
Grabbing a grenade from her belt, Meredith pushed a small red button that set the grenade for three second detonation. Meredith hurled the grenade forward as her knees hit the ground and lifted her forearm to shield her face. The ensuing explosion ripped through the crowds of mutants, red hot shrapnel burning their corrupted flesh. Clumps of gore landed all around with a wet splot.
The expanding pools of blood only seemed to invigorate the attackers. On they came like mindless automatons that had a death wish. Gradually, some more sophisticated weaponry entered the fray. A few mutants carried autoguns and soon the sharp crack of auto fire could be heard. Their aim was miserable and ineffective, but they still managed to send two shots pinging off Meredith’s power armor.
Meredith quickly located one of the gun wielding mutants and shot it down with a precise burst of fire. Her ammo counter reading two rounds, she raised her bolter to her shoulder and sighted down the barrel. The weight in Meredith’s arms was reassuring. She had always considered herself privileged to wield such an instrument of war for to carry such a weapon was to be an arbiter of the Emperor’s divine will.
Meredith tracked one of the mutants with her bolter, aligning the sights with its head and squeezing the trigger. Her aim was true and killed the mutant instantly. Thumbing the mag release, Meredith scooped a clip off her belt and reloaded again. A large gout of flame erupted to her left, signaling Isabel’s entrance to the battle. Mutants screamed in pain as the promethium scoured their flesh.
Firing off another volley, Meredith could see Charlotte taking a horrendous toll with her storm bolter. Twin barrels spitting death, she had no need to aim. Point. Shoot. Kill. The bodies were piling up, slowing the mutants down, making them easier to kill and growing the piles more in a vicious cycle. Eventually, the mutants crept closer to the Battle Sisters by using their fallen as cover. Some would even hide amongst the dead and suddenly spring into action very much alive.
Blood soaked the ground and Meredith took a step back so it would not defile her boots. Several hundred mutants must have been killed already, possibly a thousand. Still, they came on heedless to their losses, the blackened street slowly turning red under the stain of bodies. Stray shots peppered the buildings, causing blankets of fine white powder to choke the air. Fragments of splintered rockcrete littered the ground being unknowingly kicked about by the shambling horde.
Another mutant died just as it reached Meredith; its weapon dropping out of its lifeless hands. A blur of movement in her peripheral vision caused her to duck suddenly. A mutant, one arm replaced with a hideous, groping maw, had nearly blindsided Meredith. Bloodshot eyes that were twisted by hate glared cruelly from the mutants misshapen head.
“O, Emperor,” murmured Meredith her eyes wide with shock.
The mutant’s arm seemed to have a mind of his own. Thrashing and screaming, it sought a weak spot in Meredith’s defenses. Meredith, too close to get off a shot, bobbed and weaved eluding its unholy grasp. Lashing out, the Battle Sister’s foot connected with the mutant’s leg, breaking it. A jagged piece of bone burst through the tortured skin in a spray of viscera. Momentarily stunned, the mutant was helpless to prevent Meredith from ending its life with a bolt round to the head. She put two additional shots into the mutated arm just to be sure it was actually dead.
Meredith heard the hissing release of flaming promethium and saw more mutants burnt to a crisp. Their burning figures produced a particularly awful stench that afflicted the nostrils. Some of them managed to keep running despite the flames until they were put down by bolter fire.
More of them were coming. Mutants seemed to materialize from out of nowhere. Vacant buildings were suddenly full of life and grievously wounded mutants rose to their feet again to fight once more. All the while they kept up their blasphemous cries of hate and murder.
The noise of battle was so loud it drowned out Meredith’s thoughts. Having forgone the use of her helm, she lacked the auto-dampeners that would have reduced the noise to a bearable level. Struggling to clear her head, she tried to focus her thoughts, but was unable to formulate words. Finally, she forced a prayer to her lips.
“Emperor, help me,” was all she could say.
Figures loomed in front of her, dark and threatening. Harsh, but indistinct sounds filled her mind. Shadows, forms of things long past, clouded her eyes. Gritting her teeth she forced them from her mind and recited the Litany of Divine Faith.
“My cause is just, my heart is pure, righteousness is my shield, and by faith I shall prevail.”
Banishing the last vestiges of confusion, she gripped her bolter and renewed fire. Scores of corrupted heretics died, their flesh ripped apart like a fish in the talons of an eagle. An immense mountain of bodies separated the mutants from the Battle Sisters, but the mutants continued to claw their way through, blood lust unabated.
Declaring their newfound allegiance, many of them had branded themselves with marks of Khorne. The blasphemous runes stood out amongst the pale fleshed heretics before they were cut down like grain before a scythe. No tactics, no strategy, no planning. Just a mindless rush forward with fury and wrath, but little intelligence.
The Sisters of Battle were all experienced warriors with dozens of engagements to their credit. Though grossly outnumbered, they had faced sterner tests before. Even so, the sheer amount of killing became mind numbing. The blood ran into craters, filling them ankle deep in some places. The drainage system for storm water lay in tatters, allowing the blood, viscera and gore to flow freely throughout the street.
Flashes from Daniela’s bolt gun lit up Meredith’s eyes. Daniela was doing well, taking down mutants with clean, well-aimed shots. Daniela was younger than Meredith, but still an accomplished warrior. Over a dozen slain mutants lay around her in a testament to her skill.
To Meredith, the battle was just another example of the truth she had been taught. Absolution can only be bought with blood her Sisters in the Convent had said. Learning this truth as a young child, Meredith had never forgotten it. And here, the mutated heretics were again vindicating her beliefs.
Meredith heard Superior Josephine’s chainsword roar to life. Out of the corner of her eye, Meredith saw Josephine stab through a mutant, the engine whining as the diamond-edged teeth choked on flesh and bone.
Josephine’s hand flamer doused two more as she caught a mutant in a vicious backhand. Another was cut in half, a look of surprise frozen on its cruel face. A pale fleshed brute swung a nasty looking cudgel only to see Josephine sidestep effortlessly. The counter thrust decapitated the monster in a single blow. Stabbing and slashing, she quickly slew half a dozen mutants. Josephine seemed to enjoy it, a rare smile plastered on her face.
While an able leader and warrior, Josephine lived apart from her squad. Pitiless and vindictive, she was never happy unless locked in bloody combat. To Meredith, Josephine served as a warning of what she could become: a defender of humanity that had lost her humanity. Some members of her squad jokingly referred to Superior Josephine as the “Space Marine.” Meredith generally did not partake in such irreverence, but she understood and agreed with the intent.
A massive heat wave swept over the Sister’s position. Jets of roaring promethium were sprayed into the mutant horde by the red and black Immolator, a white Sigil Sororitas emblazoned on its adamantium hull. Bodies were turned to ash in an instant, their remains crumbling to dust. The flames cut a swath through the onrushing heretics. Stacks of bodies were set ablaze, the burning pyres a testament to the combat prowess of the Battle Sisters.
The mutants began to shy away from the battle scarred Immolator. Even in their frenzied state they knew that to go near such a venerable machine was sure to invite a painful death. Maintaining their cohesion and rate of fire, the Battle Sisters broke the mutants attack. Bodies wilted under the barrage, crumpled like tin cans beneath a Land Raider. The mutants continued to came on to the battle, drawn irresistibly to the blood of the slain.
Bolter firing, Meredith could still see Josephine hacking away with her chainsword. Josephine was probably one of the best swordswomen in the Order. Decades of experience had honed her deadly skill to artistic perfection and the rigors of her physical training program were legendary. Of course, Josephine’s squad had to take part in their leaders training as well.
Meredith remembered her first couple weeks of training. Running for hours on end, benching, carrying heavy loads uphill, gymnastics and whatever other physical machinations Josephine could invent. Once she had been forced to do crunches until she passed out. When she woke up, Josephine was screaming at her to do more. She tried, but fainted again and the rest was a foggy blur. It was a frequent occurrence for Meredith to return to the dormitory totally exhausted and covered in sweat, vomit, and blood.
Meredith did not resent Josephine for her toughness. Meredith could bench press nearly twice her own body weight and her chiseled abs and legs were hard as steel. Her shooting, while not as good as an Astartes, was excellent. The Emperor demanded much of his servants and through Josephine’s hard training Meredith had been renewed as a supreme weapon of war.
The battle raged on as the sun moved across the sky. A chill breeze swept across the battlefield; it lingered on the field for a few moments, its dark presence a harbinger of evil. Every Sister felt it, a slight touch in the mind. The feeling increased until it became like a set of claws, prying at the edges of their minds, trying to rip away their sanity.
The mutants felt it to, their attack slowing with many craning their necks back towards the center of the city. Aliza knew this feeling. It was usually accompanied by the opening of a portal to the Warp. Daemons.
“Change formation, attack pattern Sanctus Lux!” Aliza commanded over the vox link.
The Battle Sisters reacted immediately and switched formations. The Immolator took the lead, flanked by the Celestians on one side and the Retributors on the other. The three squads of Battle Sisters formed two parallel lines behind them.
“We must reach the chapel! No matter who falls, keep moving!”
Treads spinning on the torn up road, engine groaning with the effort, the Immolator roared forward. Aliza, the Celestians, and the Retributors sprinted right behind. Then, Aliza broke into the Fede Imperialis, the Battle Hymn of the Adepta Sororitas. Her clear melodic voice rang out above the din of battle and provided strength to her Sisters.
The stirring Fede Imperialis raised their spirits and filled them with courage. It also kept the Sisters in step as they ran down the street, nimble as gazelles from ancient Terra.
Meredith stayed directly behind Charlotte, running hard. She was suddenly grateful for the fifteen kilometer runs she took every day. Meredith was singing as well; the Fede Imperialis happened to be one of her favorite hymns. Her red loincloth snapped crisply with every step and she could catch glimpses of the words to the Fede Imperialis, emblazoned in silver thread on the loincloth.
Battle Sister Meredith found it much harder to aim running at full tilt, but the gibbering mass of slow moving mutants had been left behind by the speed of the Sister’s advance. Bolter fire punctuated their singing, but it came in quick single shots rather than long bursts.
Gradually, they pulled ahead of the dull-witted mutants. Still, something was pursuing them even as they ran. Dark creatures that stuck to the cover on either side shadowed the Battle Sisters. The unidentifiable beasts snarled and growled angrily. Bursting from hiding, a lone creature, which was running on all fours, charged the Sisters. It had matted fur that was twisted and torn by fighting. Meredith could recognize what is was; or rather, what it used to be. They were dogs, twisted by the powers of the Warp and driven to madness.
The foul beast was gunned down in a spray of deadly fire. A whole pack of them rushed in, eager to avenge their fallen kin. Many were hit square in the flank, the bolt rounds exploding their bodies and blasting scraps of steaming flesh into the air.
Meredith squeezed off several shots. The warp animal she had been targeting moved in a blur of motion, dodging the bolts. Focusing intently, she zeroed in on the beast’s skull. Adrenaline flowing, she was hyper aware of her surroundings. Muscular legs pumping up and down, the bolter held in place despite her quick movement, the noisy servos protesting her actions, all of them served as distractions to her target.
Her finger pulled back on the trigger, shaking her arms with the recoil. The bolt round fled the firing chamber, its miniature engine igniting instantly. The bolt’s gyrostabilizer kept it perfectly straight during its flight. Meredith’s aim was good and the hardened diamantine tip of the bolt punched through bone, the impact triggering the mass reactive charge to detonate. The resulting explosion vaporized the skull, flinging the gory remains to the ground.
Up ahead, the tall Gothic towers of the chapel loomed above the city skyline. Adamantium, encased in white marble, had made the chapel an iconic structure. Now, the towers were stained the coppery orange of dried blood. Rotting carcasses dangled limply from chains on the exterior of the chapel, defiling it.
The chapel was less than half a kilometer away. The strength of the evil presence had increased though the hymn of the Battle Sisters was holding it off. It hung at the edge of their formation, invisible yet tangible, waiting for a mistake so it could consume their souls.
Just one short turn up ahead, and then the Battle Sisters would reach the chapel. Blocking their path was a gathering horde of mutants that were determined to hold the Sisters back. In the presence of hundreds of mutants, Celestian Aliza normally would have ordered a switch to a defensive formation. But time was precious and they could not afford to spend it here.
“Sisters,” spoke Aliza over the vox link, “we must break through and get to the chapel. Maintain formation. Have faith Sisters, for the Emperor has ordained our victory.” Then Aliza quoted another truth that Meredith had been taught. “The pure in heart will always triumph.” Today, Meredith believed, they would prove that truth.
“Forward!” shouted Aliza. “For the Divine Emperor and his Throne!”
Grasping the Sigil Sororitas on her necklace, Meredith pressed it to her lips. The taste of cold metal was reassuring.
“Holy Father, you know our need. Grant us victory that we may glorify your name. Preserve us from death that we may wreak vengeance upon your enemies.”
The mutants, unable to control their thirst for blood, charged ahead. Serrated ranks of bolter fire lashed out to greet them, annihilating the first wave. Black, canister-shaped grenades were hurled forward, followed by an unhealthy dose of promethium. The Immolator burned its way through the horde like an avatar of fiery death. The Sisters stayed right behind, erecting a veritable wall of flame as a shield against their enemies. The solid block of ceramite, flesh, and faith punched right through the mutants.
The chapel stood before them. The large public square, consisting of gray and white checkered cobblestones, was deserted as the Immolator rumbled into the center. Pure evil emanated from the broken down chapel doors and chained to the wall were the bodies of several clergy, their pale bodies twisted into the blasphemous icon of Khorne. Their blood ran down the wall, staining the marble cobblestones beneath it a crimson red.
“Honor the dead for the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Imperium,” Aliza spoke over the vox link.
Meredith reached for her Chaplet Ecclesiasticus at her waist and clutched the adamantium beads. She ran he fingers over the third bead which represented her third act of penance. During that act, Meredith had climbed to the top of Mount Serenity on Ophelia VII and stayed there for a month in fasting. On her last night on the mount, she was gifted with a dream from her mother, a woman she barely knew. Meredith had always been stricken with a sense of guilt and loss over the early death of her mother. But in the dream Meredith’s mother had said that she was proud of Meredith and her decision to join the Sisters of Battle was the correct one. Doubts shattered, Meredith returned to the Convent full of faith and purpose.
Releasing the bead, she thanked the Emperor for his kindness.
The old wooden doors to the chapel burst open and the lurking evil became overwhelming. Several of the Sisters dropped to their knees, clutching their heads. Even Aliza wavered for a brief moment, but she recovered quickly. The golden Sigil Sororitas on her helm shone brightly as a beacon of hope against the forces of evil.
Out of the ornately carved doorway swarmed the former tenants of the chapel. Priests and clergymen all, their white robes tattered and stained with blood. Most of them wielded massive two handed eviscerators, the deadly saw-toothed blades covered in gristle and pieces of bone. Mutants came crawling out of the wreckage surrounding the chapel, encircling the Battle Sisters. Rebel PDF troopers joined the enemy horde as well, bearing much better weaponry than the dull witted mutants.
“You will pay for your crimes, heretics!” Aliza shouted. Superior Josephine joined in her voice harsh and grating. “You have betrayed the Emperor! You, who masqueraded as loyal servants while you practiced your treachery in secret!”
The head priest stepped forward, his head cocked arrogantly to the side and eyes crazed with fury.
“It was no masquerade, Sister,” he said in a sneering, mocking tone. His mouth split into a feral grin, “We just recognized true power when we saw it. Come, partake in the glory of Chaos!”
“Blood for the blood god! Kill!”
With their heretical cry, the clergy launched themselves at the Sisters. The Battle Sisters stood their ground and once again formed a defensive triangle.
Meredith raised her bolter but could hardly aim because her hands were trembling so badly. Pain, like a red hot hammer, smote at her head as fear crushed her in its icy grip. That thing, that monstrous evil, lurked just inside the chapel and its power resonated throughout its foul minions. She could see no fear in her enemies’ eyes, only madness.
“Emperor, deliver us from this fiend of Chaos. Strengthen my faith and cleanse my mind. My soul is in your hands!” Meredith prayed through quivering lips. To either side, Meredith could hear Charlotte and Daniela finish their murmured prayers. Faith in the Emperor was their common bond. It united them, made them strong. Without faith they were nothing, but with it they could conquer the galaxy.
Her fear subsided a little and her hands shook less, but that was all. A feeling, like she had been kicked in the gut, gnawed at her stomach.
The priests ran with their bodies hunched low, crouching behind the onrushing mutants. Bolt shells tore the first wave apart in a wave of crimson gore, but the priests behind their living shields were unharmed. Jumping over the fallen, they slammed into the Battle Sisters, entangling them in furious melee combat.
When the first priest came shrieking at Meredith, her bolt gun had just clicked empty. Offering up a quick prayer to the Emperor, Meredith mag locked her bolter and pulled on the hilt of her combat blade, rattling it out of its leather sheath. It glittered in the sunlight and provided a stark contrast with the bloody scene.
The traitor priest launched an aggressive series of overhand strikes. It was a dangerous tactic and normally Meredith would have killed such an opponent easily, but he was too fast. It was all she could do to parry the sweeping thrusts; the adamantium blades whistling just centimeters from her power armor.
She slashed at his arms after each down stroke, but to no avail. The reach of the eviscerator was too great. Sidestepping an attack, Meredith swung a blow for the heretic’s chest. He dodged aside and almost caught Meredith with an upper stroke. She retreated a step and renewed her attack, their blades meeting in a shower of sparks.
Meredith barely held him off, grunting with the effort. She spun away and had to fight off another attack. The priest leaned in close, his fanged teeth barred in a diabolical grin. The mark of Khorne was tattooed on the wrinkled flesh of his forehead and it seemed to throb with dark energy. She threw him back but was immediately forced on the defensive.
The priest was stronger than her. Despite all her training and experience, the priest was going to kill her. She knew that it was true, but she tried to banish the thought from her mind. She needed something, anything. A litany of faith, a prayer, anything would do at the moment.
Her tongue clave to the top of her mouth and her mind remained frozen. She fought on desperately in an increasingly wild effort. Digging through her mind, a combat maxim sprung unbidden to her consciousness. Bolter, blade, or fist. It matters not how you kill the heretic. Meredith had to do something unexpected, something that was not taught during her combat training.
The priest launched another over head attack, but instead of dodging it Meredith stayed underneath and blocked the eviscerator with her blade held in both hands. The strength was slowly leaving her tired arms, like sand from an hourglass.
“Death is treachery’s only reward,” she spat at the priest.
The priest laughed his laughter high and maniacal. Grunting with exertion, Meredith pushed outwards and broke his attack. Normally, Meredith would aim a blow for the priests’ unprotected chest, but the priest was expecting that and was already dropping his hands to defend himself. Meredith feinted with her sword and drew her feet together. Jumping into the air, she kicked outwards with both her feet, slamming them into the priest’s chest. Meredith felt the priest’s sternum snap under the blow.
The priest’s laughter vanished as the air exited his lungs in a whoosh. He dropped to the ground, coughing violently and clutching a surprised hand to his shattered chest. Eyes bulging in spasms of pain, he gagged and tried to speak, but only managed flecks of spittle as he struggled for air.
Meredith reversed the grip on her sword and plunged it into the priest’s neck, the keen blade ripping through arteries and severing his vocal chords. Dark blood spurted from the fatal wound as Meredith tore the sword free. The priest collapsed facedown to the ground, his face splattering into a pile of his own gore.
She had barely any time to enjoy the kill when a strangled scream raked across her ears. Whirling about, Meredith saw Daniela’s body collapse in a mangled heap. Daniela’s severed head ricocheted across the ground, almost striking Meredith in the leg.
The fear Meredith had just conquered came storming back, retaking old ground. Resisting, she tried to focus her thoughts and push away her fear. “The Emperor is my shield!” she said through gritted teeth.
Daniela’s killer carried a brutish looking axe and a bolt pistol. Racing over the ground at a frightening speed, the priest ran directly at Meredith. The single barking report of a bolt pistol was followed an instant later by searing pain in Meredith’s rib cage, the shot almost penetrating her power armor. The priest pulled the trigger again, but the firing pin clicked harmlessly on an empty chamber.
Meredith gasped involuntarily as flaming daggers of pain arched through her nerve endings. Moving with unnatural quickness, the priest shoulder barged Meredith, his shoulder cracking into her breastplate. Meredith flew backwards and crashed to the ground, the jarring impact knocking her blade from her grasp. Tears of grief and pain sprang to her eyes. Dazed, she tried to locate her sword, hands groping about blindly. The shadow of the axe wielding priest loomed over her. Meredith screamed.
Bolter fire exploded in Meredith’s ears. The priest staggered, his chest ripped open. He clamped a hand over a gaping wound in a vain attempt to keep his entrails from falling out. Another staccato burst of fire toppled the priest.
Meredith rolled painfully to her feet to see Charlotte standing behind her, smoking Storm Bolter in hand. “Well met, Sister. Praise the Emperor that you saw me.”
“Anything for a friend, Meredith,” Charlotte replied, the relief visible on her face.
A few rays of the sun still reached the battlefield, the sky having grown considerably darker during the battle. Bathed in darkness, the chapel resonated with evil Warp energy.
Aliza spoke over the vox link. “Faith and courage, Sisters. Unspeakable evil waits inside. Kill it we must for that is our holy purpose.”
The Celestians stormed inside, boots pounding up the marble stairway, as Josephine lead Meredith’s squad right behind. Bolter fire indicated that the other two squads had turned about to cover the entrance to the chapel as their comrades fought the evil inside.
Meredith, her heart beating like a trip hammer, followed Charlotte up the stairs and into the chapel. “Emperor, protect us,” she whispered as she blinked the last of the tears away from her eyes. Stepping inside, the first thing she noticed was blood. It stained the floor, walls, even the ceiling. Piles of bony skulls, their skin shorn off, lay about in a seemingly random pattern. Golden statues of saints were cruelly defaced and adorned with all manner of blasphemous runes and talismans.
The rectangular interior of the chapel was of modest size. Bronze rafters stared gloomily from the darkness, their once proud tapestries either missing or defiled in some sacrilegious way. The formerly white, now dingy red, columns that upheld the ceiling had bodies and skulls affixed in grotesque positions.
Standing in the center of the chapel with his back to the Battle Sisters was the head priest of the chapel. He wore tattered white robes and besides a large oaken staff possessed no discernable weapons. Behind him, the very fabric of reality was at war with the insidious powers of the Warp. A shimmering black hole clawed at the Sisters minds as bolts of energy, screams and other unintelligible noises assaulted their senses.
A hideous, bestial creature, a daemon from the Warp, materialized out of nothing. It’s red, meaty flesh blazed with eternal hatred, a pair of gnarled horns burst from its ox-like head, and a gaping maw with several rows of dagger like teeth writhed in fury. Sinewy muscles stretched along its elongated frame and a clawed hand gripped a rune-encrusted sword that dripped with the blood of slain enemies.
“Daemon!” shouted Aliza, “ Attack!”
The Celestians ran straight at the Daemon and the priest who was blocking their way. Before they could reach the heretical priest, the Daemon effortlessly cut him in half, growling in its blasphemous tongue.
Chaos preys on its own. Another of Meredith’s teachings proven true, yet again. Still, she was afraid, more fearful than she had ever been in her life.
“Meredith!” It was Charlotte. Her eyes were wide with fright, but determination hardened her voice. “We must prove our faith, Sister!” They clasped hands and recited a litany together. As one, they raised their weapons.
Bellowing with rage, the Daemon swung its sword in a fiery arc, decapitating the nearest Celestian, her bloody head smacking into the gore streaked wall and cracking her battle helm. The rest of the squad, led by Aliza, immediately engaged. Power swords clashed with the daemonic blade in a storm of eldritch. A blast from a melta gun split the darkness and struck the daemon in the shoulder.
It howled in agony and staggered back. Bolt gun fire peppered its hide causing distracting but only superficial damage. One of the Celestians, Veronica by name, circled around behind the daemon with her glowing power mace. Before she could attack, the Daemon smote the floor, cracking the rockrete foundation and shaking the entire chapel. Several of the Battle Sisters lost their footing and tumbled to the ground. Urgent prayers and litanies echoed throughout the interior of the chapel despite the roaring of the daemon.
“Holy Emperor, protect us from evil. Increase our faith and cleanse our doubt. Accept the souls of our fallen to your side,” prayed Meredith.
The Sister with the melta gun fired again, but the daemon blocked the shot with its infernal blade. The Celestians formed a ring of ceramite around the daemon, hacking, slashing, and trying to find a way through. The daemon nearly felled Aliza with a blow from its sword, but she dodged just in time. Aliza opened up an all personnel vox link.
“All meltas inside, now!”
The daemon swung again, its glowing, bloody sword hitting a Battle Sister on her pauldron and slicing downward through her breastplate. Her death scream faded to a whisper as the air was ripped from her split open lungs. Her torn, smoldering body tumbled to the floor.
Meredith felt a stab of grief, like her heart had been cut with a frozen knife. Steeling herself, she whispered a litany of protection and continued firing. Despite her trembling hands, the daemon was quite easy to hit, but the bolt rounds appeared to have little effect.
Meredith saw a Retributor with a multi melta step through the doorway. Originally, the Retributor squad had two multi meltas. Either the second did not hear the command or she was dead. Meredith presumed the latter.
The Retributor quickly fired and even though the daemon’s back was turned to the incoming fire its other worldly sense of danger enabled it to duck out of the way. Its sword crashed down again, shaking the entire chapel and bringing down marble tiles from the ceiling. The daemon’s harsh speech was indecipherable, a mixture of screeching and growling.
“Sisters!” shouted Aliza. “Faith is our weapon! Our praise is anathema to the powers of the Warp. Lift up your voices!” Even as she fought, Aliza began to sing.
Meredith recognized the words to the hymn. It was entitled “Glory to the Father” and was the same hymn the Battle Sisters had sung when they made planet fall. The beautiful song, punctuated by shouted commands and bolt gun fire, calmed Meredith’s fears. It affected the rest of the Sisters as they fought and sang together. One body, one weapon wholly dedicated to the slaying of the daemon.
Trying to focus, the daemon roared and shook its head back and forth. The hymn was clearly having an effect. Attacking wildly, the daemon forced the Celestians to the deck. Suddenly, its vision cleared, its baleful gaze directed at the Retributor with the multi melta. Cloven feet, powered by wickedly designed legs, propelled the monstrosity forward. Grinding small chasms in the floor with every step, the hulking daemon brought its sword down in a blazing attack that almost killed the Retributor. Marble floor tiles melted and vanished into nothingness upon contact with the warp-energized blade.
Ramming into an adamantium support pillar, the daemon crashed straight through and flung its blade out, wrecking another. Chunks of rockrete and masonry hurtled down and smashed themselves to pieces on the floor. Clouds of dust arose as the fragments continued to fall, crushing two Sisters to death.
Narrowly avoiding falling debris, Meredith shot off a volley, the bolt rounds striking the daemon uselessly. She knew this fight had to end soon. Either the daemon would kill them all or the chapel would collapse and bury them in tons of rockrete.
A flamer gushed with reddish orange light, working in close; Isabel attempted to smother the daemon in flames. The Retributor stayed on the ground lying prone, her multi melta spitting defiance, angry twin lances of energy knifing into the daemon’s warp flesh. Screaming its hate, the daemon stumbled and clutched a meaty paw to its side. Another melta blast followed, invoking a similar response.
“Now is the time Sisters! The Emperor ordains!”
Meredith thought Aliza had spoken, but could not tell in the confusion of the swirling melee. Charlotte stood beside her, of that she was sure, and the daemon still lived. “Emperor, grant us victory as thou hast promised,” prayed Meredith.
Aliza’s power sword caught the daemon in the leg, wounding it, but not preventing a savage counter blow. Aliza blocked it, barely. The force of the blow sent her sprawling across the floor, limbs splayed in all directions. Celestian Veronica unleashed a powerful stroke with her energized mace, hitting the daemon square in the back. Staggering about and roaring its anger, it missed with a clumsy backhand.
Aliza had already returned to a fighting stance and was shouting encouragement. “The Emperor watches over us, victory is assured!”
Three eye-searing melta blasts struck the daemon in the flank. Its flesh hissed and steamed, as wordless hate spewed from its mouth. The Celestians circled the daemon, hitting, weaving, and dodging as the beast vainly attempted a defense.
Meredith mag locked her ammo less bolter and drew her blood streaked combat blade. Righteous warmth slowly erased the gnawing fear in her stomach and calmed her heart.
Powers weapons crackled with energy as the Celestians pressed their attack, hemming the daemon in from all sides. Josephine’s chainsword was visible above the carnage, the Sister Superior lending aid to the Celestians. Boots smacking on the marble floor, the Retributor sprinted close to the daemon, the cycling gears on the multi melta turning over.
Aiming high, the Retributor pulled back on the trigger, the rays of burning energy catching the daemon full in the face. Shrieking and toppling over, the daemon missed with its futile counter attack. Hitting the ground in a clap of thunder that split the floor asunder, the daemon thrashed out with its sword, vainly fighting against the inevitable.
Celestian Veronica slammed her mace into the daemon’s shoulder as Aliza raised her sword over her head. A blur of light traced the sword’s movement and then silence reigned. The reddish, gnarled skull lay next to the body, its vital connection severed. The daemon was dead.
Meredith wearily collapsed to her knees and clasped both hands around the hilt of her blade with the point stuck downwards in the floor. Her fear was gone, replaced by a warm inner peace. Humbly bowing her head, Meredith gave thanks to the Emperor.