I am needed elsewhere.
That thought crossed the mind of Lady Serillian for the hundredth time as she moved stealthily through the catacombs beneath the shrine world of Celestius.
Ork, Tau, Necron—so many threats to deal with. Hunting down the leader of an illicit cult is the work of the Ordo Hereticus, not mine.
Yet, any threat to the God-Emperor’s rule must be met with brutal force, and Serillian, an Inquisitor of the Ordo Xenos, would not be found wanting.
So, here she was, inching her way down a millennium -old catacomb in search of a heretic known as the Witch Queen.
This was one of the older tunnels beneath the Cathedral of Martyred Saints. It was a narrow passage, barely wide enough for two people to walk side by side. Carved into the walls were alcoves and shelves packed high with the bones and skulls of long-forgotten aristocrats, members of the Ecclesiarchy, and dead heroes of the Imperium—all entombed on the planet in recognition of their honored service.
The white-haired Inquisitor brushed aside a spiderweb that blocked her path. She had walked more than three kilometers through these gloomy corridors, turning this way or that, as her guide led her deeper underground.
Her guide, Forbin, was a former Arbites Enforcer, recruited into her retinue for his brutal efficiency in a fight. His huge frame was encased in black body armor, and he held an Illuminator in one hand and an ugly-looking shotgun in the other.
They were not alone. Behind her was one of her most trusted acolytes, Sister Camilla, of the Order of Ebon Chalice. A no-nonsense warrior of few words, the Battle Sister had sworn a holy oath to guard the Inquisitor with her life.
Behind her were two new recruits, Brodd and Vardis, two hive-gangers who’d chosen to serve the Emperor rather than be executed for their crimes on Necromunda. A rough-looking pair, they had, so far, proven their worth.
Ahead, Forbin raised a fist. Everyone froze. He moved toward Serillian and said in a whisper: “Flickering light ahead. I hear chanting.”
* * *
Serillian had never intended to visit Celestius, a planet dedicated to thousands of cathedrals, temples, and shrines that proclaimed the majesty of the Imperial Creed. The rulers of such worlds, drawn from the Ecclesiarchy, usually were narrow-minded fanatics that Serillian avoided whenever possible.
But fate had intervened. A mechanical problem in her strike cruiser’s Geller Field had forced her ship to re-enter normal space. Although the field had not collapsed and doomed all aboard to exposure to the Warp, repairs were necessary. Thankfully, a stellar system was nearby. Unfortunately, it was the plague-wracked world of Celestius.
Three years earlier, the cursed ship, the Terminus Est, had appeared in orbit and seeded the planet with the Kassig Plague. Millions had fallen victim, mutating into mindless but hyper-violent mockeries of humanity. Tens of millions more had fallen victim to the endless attacks of these “zombies,” as many called them, and the Ecclesiarchy still struggled to maintain some semblance of order on the planet.
As her ship underwent repairs, Serillian followed her normal routine, insisting on access to all documents of the Administratum, Arbites, and Planetary Defense Force. She and her acolytes reviewed thousands of pages of reports, particularly on civil unrest in these difficult times.
One name caught the Inquisitor’s notice: the “Witch Queen.”
There were nothing but rumors about this heretic. But a powerful cult was spreading under her name—a name that was on the lips of every heretic who attacked Imperial authorities—or who died during interrogation by Arbites Enforcers.
The makings of a revolutionary leader were plain to see.
Although authorities were wary of the presence of the Inquisition on their planet, no one argued when she set her sights on the Witch Queen. Indeed, the capture or death of the heretic would no doubt undermine cult activity across the planet.
It took nearly a month—and several incursions into the catacombs beneath the planet’s surface—to collect the prisoners necessary for interrogation. Eventually, Serillian pieced together the location of the cultists’ lair.
* * *
Let us hope that we have found our heretic.
With that thought, Serillian used hand signals to give her instructions for the fight ahead. As she did so, she studied the faces of those who served her. All appeared calm and ready.
She nodded to Forbin to lead the way, and the bulky man nodded and turned off his Illuminator. They would rely on the dark to mask their advance.
They moved slowly, quietly. Up ahead, torch light flickered, providing a faint glow that allowed Serillian to discern her surroundings. She could hear the chanting now, and while she was offended by the heretical words, she appreciated the noise that allowed them to approach without notice.
They moved forward quietly. It was not difficult. Up ahead, torch light provided a faint glow to allow them to discern their surroundings, and the sound of chanting masked their approach.
The tunnel curved slightly, and as they passed around the bend, they could make out the outline of an opening to some form of chamber. In the flickering light, Serillian could make out the far wall about 15 meters from the opening. The chamber was reasonably large, and there were figures kneeling around an open flame.
The group edged forward, their fingers close to the triggers of their guns. They were within 5 meters of the opening when Forbin stopped, his gun turning to a dark alcove just ahead of them.
That’s when the heretic struck.
* * *
It had once been a man. But the Kassig Plague had mutated and deformed him. His skin was wrinkled and pale white, with pus and blood leaking through pustules and open sores. His hands were unrecognizable—the bones of his hands and arms having grown abnormally long, broken through the skin, and mutated into ossified spears.
The lady Inquisitor had only a second to register its existence when warm blood splattered her face and the Enforcer screamed in agony.
Even in the dim light, she could see that the mutant’s spear-like arms had punctured the body armor and buried themselves deep into the Enforcer’s chest.
Her finger tightened on the trigger of her gun when the roar of a boltgun shell passed her ear and struck the creature in the chest. The shell exploded, opening a gaping hole, but a second shot thundered less than a second later, and the monster’s head disappeared in a cloud of blood and gore.
Serillian tried hard to hide her shock. It would not do to show emotion to her acolytes. She turned to her savior.
“That was noisy. Couldn’t you have killed the wretch more quietly?”
Not two meters away, the face of Sister Camilla could not be seen under her black helm. But there was a note of amused satisfaction in the sister’s voice as she answered.
“Not if you wanted to live long enough to see this mission to completion.”
Farther back, her acolyte, Brodd, snorted but was too smart to offer any other comment.
All this took three seconds, and Serbian realized it was a foolish indulgence. Already, she could hear yelling in the chamber ahead. The witch was preparing her defenses—or readying her escape
* * *
The four of them ran forward, all pretense of caution gone. If their prisoner had told the truth, the Witch Queen met with only a small number of her inner circle. Serillian hoped the information was true. Otherwise, they might be outnumbered and lost.
Serillian was the first to charge into the chamber. What she saw shocked her. There was no humanity here.
Instead, she faced a new horror of the Kassig Plague. These victims were as deformed as the creature they’d just slain, but there was an intelligence, a malevolence, in their eyes. These were not the mindless wretches being burned on sight on the surface. This was something new and horrific.
All of this Serilian acknowledged in a moment, for she was instantly set upon by the mutants. The Inquisitor sidestepped the attack of one heretic, blasting it aside with a shot of her boltgun. A second mutant was beheaded by Sister Camilla, whose power sword already was plunging into the chest of a new victim.
To her right, Brodd opened up with an autogun, sweeping his fire across the chamber and blasting holes in several charging heretics. Varnis was on her left. The roar of his chainsword activating drowned out all other sounds in the chamber. If his victims screamed as they were ripped apart, Serillian could not hear them.
Recognizing that her flanks were secure, she sought out the Witch Queen. She wasn’t difficult to spot. Her dirty and rotting clothes clearly had once been that of an aristocratic lady—and her bony claws were the largest and most elongated of all the mutants in the chamber.
Within seconds, her acolytes had killed the majority of mutants, so Serillian was free to advance on the mutant leader, screaming at the top of her lungs: “Death to the heretic! Death to the mutant!”
The Witch Queen did not hesitate. The hideous form charged forward, raising her two massive bony claws to strike down her opponent.
The mutant never got the chance. Just as the creature came within arm’s reach, Serillian raised her boltgun and put an explosive shell into the Witch Queen’s skull. The small charge in the shell was more than enough to cause the mutant’s head to explode, bathing the inquisitor in blood and gore.
* * *
Turning without another thought to her opponent, she realized the fight was over. The heretics were all dead.
Sister Camilla spoke first. “It is fortunate that the heretics were few in number. But there may be many more in the vicinity. What are your orders?”
There may be others. Serillian pondered the tactical situation. As skilled as her team was, numbers could overwhelm them. Besides, they were not important enough to risk a confrontation. She’d achieved her objective.
“We withdraw,” she said. “Deploy some melta charges. I don’t want anything left of the heretic’s corpse to survive. Let’s not give her followers a single bone or tooth to turn into a holy icon. Leave nothing they can rally around.”
“Then what?” Camilla asked.
Serillian sighed. “We leave this wretched world. We’ve struck a blow against the cult. If the Arbites cannot gain the upper hand now, then my colleagues in the Ordo Hereticus can deal with the problem. I’ve done enough of their job already.”
Six hours later, Serillian’s strike cruiser broke orbit and disappeared into the Void, much to the relief of the planet’s leadership.
The Corvus Cluster is a Warhammer 40K blog documenting our gaming adventures in the fantastical sci-fi world of Games Workshop.