Meanwhile, on the Bench: Ash Garrison Enforcers

The planet of Syracuse is the biggest, most sprawling planet our plucky Dark Heresy acolytes will have been to so far in their illustrious crime-fighting careers. It is here they will finally meet their Inquisitor (after 4+ years of real life campaigning) and mingle with other acolytes of the Onus Region Conclave. They will receive their orders, be given a direction and then sent off to the arse end of the planet, Syracuse Magna, to pursue a lead on the potentially apocalyptic Samarra Dynasty.

We’ve already seen one of the factions of Syracuse magna, an organised crime syndicate called The Undertow, and now we’re having a look at their lawful (if not moral) counterparts, the Ash Garrison Enforcers.

A ‘Remedial’ team armed with lasguns with a long rifle or grenade launcher specialist attachment

Ash Garrison Enforcers

On the rest of Syracuse, the Ashigaru PDF, or Ash Garrison, comprise of mercenaries and family members of the Great Houses, refining their martial skills with polearm and lasgun to serve in the largest standing army in the Onus Region. The Ash Garrison are called upon as loyal foot soldiers to tackle uprisings, gang warfare or noble squabbles, and some are shipped off to deal with far away threats where their combined arms tactics of rifle and spear makes for a formidable threat against any foe.

They are intended to support the local laws of Syracuse Magna, maintain order and deal with such common crimes as murder, smuggling and extortion, while the Adeptus Arbites (in theory) deal with crimes directed against the Adepta, such as petty heresy, slaving and corruption that contravene high Imperial Law.

In Syracuse Magna, the Provincial Enforcers are divided, corrupt and unsubtle agents of punishment and social control, and most are little more than state-sponsored extortionists. Their power is granted by the Daimyo and the Quorum, and by extension, they are sanctioned by Magna’s dissolute and corrupt nobility. At their core are the Mandato, a feared secret police force of torturers and killers that exist purely to maintain the Daimyo’s power.

Clad in vulcanized storm coats and conical helmets to deter the worst of the weather, the Ash Garrison are well-equipped and brutal in approach. They operate in 4-man teams, either ‘Disciplinaries’ with stun sticks and laspistols or ‘Remedials’ with lasguns. Remedial teams can be accompanied by either a grenade launcher or hunting rifle.

A four-man “Disciplinary” team armed with stun sticks and lead by a fearsome Mandato officer

Creating the Ash Garrison

The concept art folder and mood boards I had assembled for Syracuse are extensive, and in my travels I stumbled across this rather excellent piece by Keith Thompson and knew I wanted to recreate that flavour in my own foot soldiers.

Doing some digging around, I found these rather excellent heads and shoulder pads from Puppets War that I tacked onto another order, with little thought as to how I was going to assemble them later. Like a big dumb idiot I didn’t order enough shoulder pads either, so although the intention was for big samurai-style shoulder pads on each style, I didn’t read that “x10 shoulder pads” meant literally that, and not “enough shoulder pads for x10 models”. So, lopsided shoulder pads were going to have to happen.

One of my real life comrades was putting an order into Victoria Miniatures  and I figured that was a great opportunity to bang the last nail into the coffin of this project, and had a quick browse through their wares. After taking a few quick screenshots, I bashed together this image to give me an idea of what my Enforcers were going to look like.

I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to get the shoulder pads to work with the moulded capes, but that was a problem that Future Me would deal with. I’m a big fan of the Shogun: Total War games, and have always had a soft spot for the Matchlock Ashigaru units for their aesthetics, so I was going to try and capture that as best I could.

I was 99% convinced I was going with back banners as well, then remembered my utter contempt for painting freehand back banners, and justified it by saying that the Magna Enforcers weren’t as fancy as their upmarket noble brethren in the posher provinces, so wouldn’t have back banners.

Just need a few servo skulls and some Imperial Eagles and you’re away

And then the parts arrived! I had to be strong-willed to not dig in to these as soon as they arrived, as I had a bunch of work I needed to do for Mother of Mercy. With that out the way and some suitable recovery time later, we’re back in the action and assembling cool models.

Is there a better sight?

For their bases, I wanted something a little less dingy than the Undertow, but still equally run down. I opted for a pack of the rather splendid Sector Imperialis bases from Games Workshop, justifying it that I could use the 40mm bases for Inquisitor as well. With the addition of some broken lollipop sticks for wood, and some water effects after they’d been painted, I was hoping to go for a run down manufactorum or derelict fish factory look.

Assembling the masses

Putting the majority of the Ash Garrison together was surprisingly simple. The Victoria parts, as disparate as they were considering I ordered the most awkward combination, went together rather pleasingly. I made a note to pin them through their toes to their bases, as as bouncy as resin is, I didn’t have much faith in my superglue keeping them attached.

The arms and guns slotted together quite nicely, although in once instance I wasn’t entirely sure how the pose of a pair of arms was intended, as it never seemed to match up to the weapon or body whatever I tried. Cue hacking, filing and putty-work and it didn’t matter – it bends to my will.

The first model assembled

Initially none of the models had shoulder pads or thigh guards. I knew this was on the cards, but I didn’t want to start carving parts of my minis away until I had put together the whole team and figured out how I was going to approach this. As I was building them, I knew I wanted to have a range of weapons (similar to the Undertow) for different circumstances and challenge levels, and that was how the idea of different fighting teams came about.

The Disciplinaries were a pain in the butt. As rad cool as the stun sticks from Victoria were, they were extremely bendy and many needed a date with the hair dryer to get them looking less like boomerangs. On top of that, the handles are very thin – not thin enough to be able to remove and replace with a length of brass pole or paperclip, but not thick enough to be able to pin in place. Most had to deal with having a fraction of a millimetre drilled into the hand and base of the shaft and hope I don’t drop them in the future.

And weirdly at this point I  began to notice that many of the left arms didn’t have the little extra shoulder pad, it seemed the ‘melee’ arms were missing them, but the rifle arms all had them. I resigned myself to knowing I was going to need to get the putty out again before this project was over.

After assembling all the bodies, I realised I was going to have to figure out a way of attaching the shoulder pads and doing a little extra on the bodies to being the whole aesthetic together. The masochist in me wanted to sculpt an entire armoured skirt over the trench coat legs, but if I had already trimmed the back banner plans from my list, then this “good idea” could also go and sit in the garbage where it belonged. Nope, I needed a more cunning, time-sensitive solution to this plan.

Very cunning

Cue montage. I snipped a bunch of thick plasticard down into strips and stuck them together with plastic glue, taking care to be liberal with the application but leave one side as mar-free as possible. It all needed to be bonded together for when the inevitable hacking and shaping was to take place, but it still needed to be pretty at the front.

Once it had dried it was a fairly simple, if time-consuming, process of slicing off the desired amount of thigh guard and filing the back down into shape so it would fit against the model snugly.

The first attempt

Although it took a bit of time to prepare each thigh guard, I was happy that the time was well spent, as it allowed me to maintain a consistent look across all the models without hours spent prodding and poking. It was also nice to not have to be concerned about the time-sensitive drying process of modelling putty, which is always a turn-off for me as I know if I have to put the project down (for such weaknesses as human food or waste expulsion) I might come back to a hardened putty and have to restart the process from scratch.

I was happy with the thigh guards – they helped draw the aesthetics together of weird future trench soldier and feudal Japanese plate armour. I wasn’t overly sold on the theme until I started to see several of them together, and along with the cute pointy hats from Puppets War I was really starting to enjoy how they were coming along.

Another issue present was the shoulder pad conundrum. It turned out it wasn’t much of a conundrum, I just didn’t want to address the obvious solution – cutting and filing down parts of the cloak to allow the shoulder pads to fit on the arm more snugly.

Big vulcanised coats to protect them from the shitty rain

Some went on better than others and some needed more encouragement. They all went on eventually, and I think it works as a blend of 40k and ancient east asian aesthetics. I was beginning to feel thankful for my shoulder pad ordering blunder at this point, as I was enjoying the single pad far more than when I draft-built some with both shoulder pads. It gave the models more freedom for poses, and gave it this wonderful lopsided asymmetric look that 40k is infamous for.

Launcher? I hardly knew ‘er

After assembling two thirds of the squad as stun stickers and lasgunners, I knew I needed a bit of variety and specialisation in there. Something to change up the game when they entered the field – some support weapons and an officer class.

The first (an easiest) was a trusty grenade launcher from the plastic Cadians kit. I’m not sure a project goes by where a grenade launcher isn’t added to a group of gangers, house guard or police force, they’re just so pleasingly versatile in the game. From a game balance perspective, these guys would only start turning up later in the escalation of violence. Initially all the Ash Garrison would be armed with flashbangs and smoke grenades, but as the riots step up, they’ll start issuing choke and frag grenades along with the launchers to help break up crowds.

“Boom. Headshot.”

The next specialist was a tricky one to decide on. I liked the idea of a suppressive weapon (like the heavy stubber of the Undertow) but decided against it as it would cheapen them when they did arrive. Flamers were out as well, as that was covered by the Undertow, so I had a dig about in my bits box and found a cool sniper rifle, again from Victoria but something from a previous order. I liked the image of the run-down rain-slick streets of Syracuse Magna being watched over by eagle-eyed snipers from different factions, daring the other to make the first move.

Part of me wanted to do something different with this guy, perhaps add some more camouflage, strip back their armour, make them appear more like light infantry. I decided against it in the end, partly because a) I was feeling hecka lazy and b) I wanted the models to be representatives of character the players would fight on the tabletop.

“Snoipa’s an honest job mate”

These were supposed to be specialists attached to riot squads rather than the pissing-in-bottles snipers that would haunt the doglegs and alleyways of Magna. They wouldn’t need models because, in my head, you would never get close enough to fight them on a battlemap. Those kinds of combats would be handled narratively, with just an indication of where the snipers were. I needed models to represent close-up brawls and add an element of visual wonder to our games.

The final model that needed to be assembled was some kind of leader. I had already established the Mandato, a secret police of torturers and assassins, but had no intentions to have models for them. After all, they wouldn’t be very secret if they had a battlefield presence would they?

I was struck with the overwhelming to try and convert a proper Oni/Samurai helmet. The Ashigaru conical helmets were fine for the footsloggers, but I wanted something impressive for the leader. I initially started looking for a daemonic/chaos head that could become a mask, but found the horns from a beastman and the head from a Tempestus Scion far quicker.

With a little bit of tubular plastic snipped from the end of a paint brush protector, the Mandato field officer had his helmet. While he stood, he would confer bonuses to his minions to help them avoid pinning, so he’s one to try and take out early into a brawl.

Wrap up and painting

I was dead chuffed with how they all came out in the end. From a piece of concept art and a very shaky photoshop mashup that I wasn’t convinced would work, to a bunch of converted minis that I like so much I’m looking for excuses to make more of them in the new year.

I’ve covered a bunch of different elements, giving them a variety of tools to help even the odds in battle, and injected some character into the different kinds of squads.

As for painting, I’m going to be leaning heavily on some Shogun Total War Ashigaru colour schemes, picking out a few that look good in green and beige. I have some Silver Tower minis to polish off first, but with the whole squad currently undercoated and drying as we speak, it won’t  be long before we see some painted minis on the Dreadquill news feeds.

The Imperial Condition: Tales of Onus

High Marshall Werthing’s hard features were apprehensive. There were a lot of resources going into this project, and very little to gain even with a perfect outcome.

“How is our subject, Magos?” She asked to the person sharing the observation module with. She knew his augmented audio receptors would pick up the quiver of trepidation in her voice, and hoped he was still human enough to ignore it.

Magos Byrdsong gestured at a nearby dataslate and the observation room was filled with dribbling green infostreams. His perfect gene-sculpted features pulled a number of exaggerated expressions and his luscious vat-grown hair billowed as though he was underwater. He had spent centuries sculpting his likeness into the perfect human form, but Werthing had never met anyone so unnervingly inhuman.

“In layman’s terms, the subject is exceeding simulated predictions.” The Magos spoke in lilting harmonies from several artificial voice boxes.

“What about non-layman’s terms?” Werthing responded.

He turned to look at her, tearing his eyes away from the subject in the adjacent conditioning theatre. She swore she made out his ice-blue eyes rotate and dial in on her like a camera lens.

“Tissue scrubbing protocols are at 97%. Electro-purification has been 82% effective and the visual and aural memories have been cleansed down to a tolerance of 1 in 32 pico-units. Frequency blockers have been installed, resulting in 44% less negative feedback from aetheric trauma. Mental conditioning is also at peak performance; will and resilience are up 14%, but this may come at a cost to the subject’s hazard perception.”

Magos Byrdsong gauged Werthing’s reaction, deeming her non-responsivity to such impressive figures as incomprehension. “The subject has been purged of taint and measures taken to improve resistances to it in the future. Without further field testing, we cannot say what long term effect this will have on their mental condition.”

Arcs of lightning dance around the conditioning theatre, striking a throne in the centre of the room. The observation module flashes a dark blue through the tinted windows in time to the rampant energy surges.

“What about physical condition?” The High Marshall continued her inquiries. She didn’t need to understand it, her rank only demands she know it.

The lightning cut out. Copper restraints snapped open and the subject collapsed from the throne into a smoking heap on the theatre floor. With a subtle gesture from Byrdsong, the conditioning theatre is flooded with amber warning lights. A pair of combat servitors rise from the floor of the theatre on hydraulic lifts.

With a second gesture, something small and metal tumbled from a repository in the ceiling – a rusty scalpel. With a shaky hand, the subject gingerly picked the scalpel up from the floor, blood and filth soaking their matted hair.

With a third gesture, the combat servitors powered up, their implanted weapons spinning and whining so loudly Werthing could hear it through the armoured observation screen. Byrdsong looked back at the High Marshall, a perfectly calculated grin of pleasure splashed across his immaculate features.

“This is the part I’m most proud of. Let me demonstrate.”

+++++++

Tales of Onus is a section for short stories from the Onus Region, a place our roleplaying games are set, including a 4+ year campaign of Dark Heresy. There are so many stories that don’t get told during the course of a gaming session, so a select few are written up to be enjoyed here.

You can find rules for submitting your own characters for Imperial Conditioning here.

Meanwhile on the Bench: The Undertow

Blackmail, extortion, smuggling and unadulterated violence are all part of everyday life for the unfortunates living in District XIII in Syracuse Magna. When corruption in planetary authorities runs all the way to the top, the only way to get what you need is at the barrel of a shotgun.

The whole painted gang

Next stop for our merry band of Acolytes is Syracuse, ‘the Grey Halo’, a tidally locked planet where only a thin band of habitability exists around its circumference, sandwiched between two extremes of temperature. A hive city exists in this habitable zone, a complete ring of urban sprawl that stretches from pole to pole. Unfortunately for our Acolytes, they’re not going to the nice part of town.

We’re off to Syracuse Magna, a semi-independent section at the bottom pole that for centuries has been in inexorable decline and decay. Corruption and dilapidation are the order of the day, the petty nobles bickering and squabbling over scraps while the rest of the citizenry band together to make the most of what little they have. One such band of economically-minded citizens are the Undertow, the city’s largest organised gang, and one of three factions taking part in the Syracuse Magna campaign.

Since catching the modelling bug for our campaigns (I honestly don’t know how it has taken me so long), Syracuse was always high on my list for having models for each of its factions. One of the exciting things (for me) is that these guys will provide an interesting change of pace for the players, as for the last two years we have fought servitors, assassins, heretek automata, xenos creatures, giant local fauna and genetic abominations.

The Undertow don’t have any fancy special powers, and their gear will barely be worth the rusty metal they’re forged from, but a combination of guerrilla tactics, ambushing, flanking, hidden snipers, punji pits, makeshift booby traps and lots and lots of firebombs will make for an interesting tactical challenge for our players.

All the models were one piece, minus the heads

I needed about a dozen, and the Kolony Feral models from Pig Iron miniatures fit the bill perfectly. They were ragged and grotty but not overwhelmingly chaotic or mutated, so you could still believe they were human underneath their protective rags.

I wanted them to look likely they were hanging out down at abandoned docks and near filth-strewn canals, so it was time to break out the balsa wood!

I think I’ve owned this balsa wood for ten years…

I enjoy a good urban sprawl base, but urban environments come in many shapes and sizes! The first challenge I noticed was that all the white metal minis had pre-cast bases, which presented a big issue if I wanted to mount them on balsa wood dockyards. I debated changing tack for something a little less woody, but decided in the end to commit to removing over a dozen pairs of boots from their pre-cast bases and filing them down to fit. Who needs fingertips anyway?

A decent fit, and pretty sturdy once pinned

The second issue that I hadn’t foreseen was more of an aesthetic choice. As much as I love these minis for exactly what I wanted them to be, I was a little disappointed at the weapon sculpts. I had a very strong aesthetic in my head, and the (again, pre-cast) guns were very lacklustre, and nowhere remotely to the scrappy gutter-forged shotguns and rusty revolvers I had in mind.

With my fingertips barely recovered from de-basing all of them, I set about with pliers and files to forcibly remove the default weapons for all these poor minis, trying to leave as much of the original hands behind as possible.

Cut cut snip snip ouch ouch bleed bleed

I wasn’t quite sure how I was going to fit any weapons in there but I was very much committed at this point, I had to make it work somehow! Luckily a couple of the ‘Specialists’ models didn’t need any work doing to them, I quite liked the bandaged sniper rifle and the makeshift flamer (although the missile launcher thing and heavy machine gun absolutely had to go), and the ‘Feral Blades minis’ were pretty much good to go out of the box.

Changing the launcher for something a little scabbier

The launcher and heavy machine gun were snipped apart and the bits box was raided for something suitably shoddy. I wanted them to be simultaneously deadly but unappealing to players. Poor quality heavy weapons that when used correctly and/or in appropriate numbers can really wreak havoc, but are so unwieldy, unreliable or dangerous to operate that they would never bother looting them from the Undertow corpses.

The flintlock pistol of Quovandius from the 54mm Inquisitor range had this weird archaic strapped-together look that suited me just fine, so the launcher was hacked down to its supports, sanded down and the gun glued on.

Dakka dakka dakka

The heavy machine gun was a lot of fun to build. I had nothing in my bits box that looked even remotely like what I envisioned in my head – something akin to the Crank Cannon from DH1ed’s Inquisitor’s Handbook. Something loud, rattly, shooty and, with any luck, killy. After hacking apart the poor gunner’s body to free him from his weird heavy weapon, the cannon was assembled from a heavily cut down Ork Shoota and the barrel of an Empire repeater handgun.

#Squadgoals

The rest were coming together rather nicely. The combination of raggedy bodies and scrappy wood bases were giving the rain-slicked, grimdark feel I was hoping to achieve already.

Crappy shotguns ahoy!

Once the models had been hacked apart, attaching the shotguns was surprisingly simple. I was immediately reminded why I prefer working in resin than white metal, as the shotguns were so pliable to my commands and made the minute adjustments required to make them fit into the empty hands oh-so much simpler.

They fit almost too well in some cases

The shotguns had a mix of straps and bayonets, so it took a bit of jiggling to work out which combinations of weapons fit best into which hands. Many of the minis were carrying machine pistol-type things, so their hands were very close together. I *think* I just about got away with it on examples like the one above, but in some cases I had to admit defeat and change up the formula.

This guy was last in line for the weapon handouts

I wanted a mix of weapons rather than just shotguns. Dark Heresy has a very versatile combat system, and not only did I want a range of weapon options to throw at the players, but incrementally bigger and badder weapons to upscale the difficulty as the campaign goes on.

My second favourite kind of cocktail

The humble firebomb – cheap, lightweight, zero skill requirements to use and utterly devastating with the correct application. One firebomb can scatter a formation of battle hardened Acolytes, force them into cover or break their aim. Half a dozen firebombs tossed at Acolytes in quick succession can VERY quickly see people passing out, limbs cooking to a crisp and Fate Points being burned. It ignores armour, prevents you from doing anything while you’re on fire and regardless of any other effects, makes you slowly pass out from heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation, so you’re more likely to pass out first and then burn to death.Totally, utterly hilarious.

The completed bomb chucker

When it’s time to up the ante again, that’s when this launcher fellow will come into play. Very much like his firebomb-hurling brethren, he’s got a lovely big bag o’ bombs that he can lob up and over things from a very safe distance away, hopefully causing consternation among our Acolytes who might be getting a little cocky towards the end of the campaign.

You’re legally required to have at least one two-handed weapon thug in every gang

With a trim of their bases and some choice head decisions, the gang was ready! I wasn’t a fan of their overly-hunched poses, so many of their heads were pinned back a little big, so their necks needed some filling with green stuff.

Necromunda Scavvy Gang anyone?

With them finished and basecoated, it was time to apply a lick o’ paint. I had challenged myself to use the JGIDD method of painting (Just Get It Done, Dickhead) for these guys, as although I love pouring dozens of hours into my models, I had 13 mooks to paint and finish before either of the other two factions turned up, another two dozen models potentially! I needed something lean, mean and green.

Ready to hit the town

I already had the colour scheme in my head, they wore heavy green overcoats and muted tanned undergarments, so the hardest part (deciding on colours!) was over. I wanted them to look unified, as I’m a sucker for gang colours on fleek, but also subtly different from one another. Kinda like they all shop at the same dumpster, but add their own fashionable flair to their mook attire.

All the base colours were painted on – a dark green for the overcloaks, a tan leather for sleeves and face protectors, a pink flesh tone for any exposed hands, dark grey for the trousers/leg garments, a dark brown for the boots and a lighter grey for straps, bags and miscellaneous pouches. The guns were painted a dark rusted metal then stippled with a lighter metallic colour. The entire mini was then given a heavy brown wash and left to dry.

How’s that for a plot hook? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

The overcoat was then drybrushed a mossy green with a final dainty drybrush around the hems and edges with a pale green. Every other colour was then simply highlighted again with the same colour used for the base.

Everything was done as quickly as possible to have them in a ‘ready’ state that I could come back to if I felt like it in the distant future. After the last debacle with getting models ready for game day, there’s nothing worse than spending the time to prep them, only to have it half finished for their big moment.

The Pew Patrol

The bases were drybrushed a series of lighter browns and the shoes tidied up afterwards where I had got a bit overzealous with my brush. The bases were looking a little plain, so I got some of Games Workshop’s rather excellent blood effect paint and splashed it liberally about hither and thither with a combination of paintbrush and cocktail stick. Anyone with bayonets or blades got a little dab as well to help make the weapons pop a bit more.

Unsure how happy I am with the water effects

The final part was to do something with the bases to make them look more like they were standing on the side of a dock rather than just on some scaffolding. Water is going to be a big theme for this campaign, so I needed my baddies to be suitably moist.

I picked up some Woodlands Scenics Water Effects to have an experiment. I am loathe to use resin, and I had tinkered a bit with PVA effects in the past, but I had read good things about this particular product. I wanted a semi-submerged look, and this one would apparently fit the bill.

I don’t think I made my layers thin enough

Gosh, I was not prepared for how thick it would be. It was like spooning hair gel onto the bases, not the smooth flow that you get from PVA glue. Applying this substance to my models was a nightmare, as it went everywhere I didn’t want it to go, and it didn’t settle anywhere like water should, but rather stuck to all the raised areas I couldn’t get a pokey stick into.

After much swearing and sticky fingers (phrasing?) and leaving the first thin coat to dry, I was pleasantly surprised with how it came out. Surely fine to spoon another one on, right?

Maybe their gang hideout is the abandoned glue factory?

I don’t know if it was an inappropriate use of the product (I found a more pourable version after I had already bought and committed to this one…) or I wasn’t applying the layers thinly enough, but I’m a little annoyed that it didn’t dry as clear as I had expected. It’s not the end of the world, just a learning experience for next time.

The whole gang

All in all I’m very pleased with how they turned out! It’s very rare I get an entire project done in two sittings, and the painting (which normally takes me the longest) was done and dusted in about two evenings. Lessons learned, fun had, and models ready to kick some Acolyte ass!

Meanwhile, on the Bench: Hieronymous Vyle

Our Dark Heresy group was coming to the conclusion of an important chapter and the beginning of the end for the campaign. We had spent the best part of seven sessions on the planet of Brimstone, a planet of our own devising in our little patch of space, the Onus Region.

The planet was a planned stop-off for the Acolytes to tie up some loose ends from a previous mission, specifically tracking down and stopping the Arch-Heretek Hieronymous Vyle, from enacting any more atrocities against the Imperium of Man. He is a master geneticist, genius cryptographer and bitter rival of the Adeptus Mechanicus as an organisation, believing they are too short-sighted and wrapped up in bureaucracy to achieve any meaningful progress.

The finished product!

His plan was simple: flee the purge of the Kreato Affair to the quiet, technologically backwards planet of Brimstone – the last place the Inquisition would think of looking for a radical techpriest. There he would work on his Symbiote – his Magnum Opus – to strike back at the Adeptus Mechanicus for what the crimes he believed to be the most heinous; conservatism and myopia.

The Symbiote was a poor man’s take on the Obliterator Virus, and worked by fusing to flesh and metal, taking over the host body and forcing it to undergo transformations and binding it through synaptic link to its master. I’ll be doing a piece on Vyle’s Symbiote another time as it deserves its own article rather than being strung along with their boss.

The incredibly tidy work bench

Vyle never had any artwork for him, nor did he have much of a description when the players met him almost three years of real time ago, before he escaped and set up on Brimstone, so I had a blank canvas to work with. I had also developed a spin-off cult for a Necromunda gang called the Scions of Vyle, so I had a starting point for aesthetic – drab green robes and polished bronze.

I needed a suitably eerie, icky model to use as a base, and the ‘Tech Master Baltazar’ from Hitech Miniatures fitted the bill perfectly. I loved the idea of this eerie, decrepit lump of flesh being propelled along by these weird spidery legs and covered in mechadendrites. Time to blow the dust off some of my guitar cabling.

The kit arrived and I was pleasantly surprised with its quality, requiring very little trimming to remove flash or mould lines at all. My only gripe was that the back and base of the walking unit were flat and featureless, so the further off the base I wanted to pin it, the more obvious it would be that someone just stopped modelling anything underneath it. I also had my concerns about pinning the incredibly fiddly legs to the walker and to the base without damaging both. I build my minis to be played with, so they need to be sturdy.

A convenient raised lump to pin Vyle to

A fish around in my bits box turned up some more Cities of Death terrain tiles, and one had a very convenient raised skull in the centre. When mounted at a particular angle, I could have a single massive pin that ran from the body through the base, and raised just enough from the ground to give the appearance that it isn’t touching.

Dry fit, testing different angles
A better look at how he is angled slightly forward

After feeling confident in my massive pin job, I didn’t feel so bad about not pinning the legs. They weren’t structurally integral, so I thought I would do my fingers some favours and avoid pinning them, just a copious amount of superglue in the recesses.

Already looking like a PC’s worst nightmare

Another pleasing aspect of the model that I hadn’t noticed in the thumbnail on the website is that it has an odd number of legs – three on one side and two on the other. It gave it this wonderful lopsided look that to me, epitomises Adeptus Mechanicus high fashion.

Base was trimmed with heavy clippers and a sharp knife. Blood was shed.

I wasn’t sure what equipment I wanted to give him at this stage, rule of cool was going to guide my hand. The only thing I knew I wanted to definitely have was a big tank of horrid goo strapped to his back that he could squirt at foes – perhaps a kind of super-concentrated liquid Symbiote? Either way, it would be miserable to anyone who was caught up in it, doling out toxic damage, corruption points, infection and maybe even mutation. A GM can dream right?

A quick kitbash of the tank and the hose

I have a bunch of tanks lying around of flamers from various vehicle kits, I’m not sure exactly what this one was from – a sentinel perhaps? The nozzle and mechadendrite was from a Forgeworld Mechanicum servitor I had bits-ordered some time ago to pump up the amount of Mechanicus bits in my collection. This arm I tried to just bend with copious gentle rubbing between forefinger and thumb to built up a bit of heat. This was my second attempt, the first ended pretty snappily.

A dry fit of the backpack on the model

I positioned it on the back of the model to see how much it changed the silhouette, and I could already see my multi-limbed metal bastard coming together. I wouldn’t attach this just yet, as it would form the ‘outer’ rim of details, and would just be a pain in the ass to work around at this point. It gets to sit on the side while I work on other gribbly bits.

Trying to replicate the lopsided aesthetic

The first round of ‘inner’ mechadendrites was an exercise in patience and bending. There were a conspicuous number of ‘holes’ in the model where it looked like limbs could be attached to, and were already the perfect width of a paperclip, so pinning things into them was a dream. With one on the left side and two on the right, it seemed natural to fill them all with mechadendrites.

What magnificent squeezers

Dark Eldar Talos bits stand in, once again, for brilliant biomechanical parts for edgy AdMechs, and a couple of their pinchers would work very nicely to manipulators. Vyle’s real, original hands are too busy operating dataslates and poring over files and reports, he has all his other extendo-limbs to operate heavy machinery and backhand rude PCs who interrupt his Machiavellian schemes.

All the tools a growing boy needs

I debated over what ‘ends’ to give his mechadendrites, as I had many blades, saws, injectors and guns to choose from. Although he would be an able combatant, I wanted his tools to be just that – tools first. Manipulators and medical instruments would be fished out from various places, including more Forgeworld Mechanicum and Dark Eldar bits.

Custom made to fit the model’s “arm sockets”

The mechadendrites themselves were from the Inquisitor-scale Delphan Gruss model, of which I had a few tubes handy. Normally I prefer working with resin over white metal, but these had the malleability I was looking for to get plenty of bends without singeing my fingers with a hair dryer. A tip to budding Mechanicus modellers: always give your tentacles two bends at different angles to give them a more realistic feel – a bend along a single axis doesn’t look great.

Clank clank thump scrape

I couldn’t find anything else to add to the model without making it look too busy, so I started mounting the ‘outer’ layer of mechadendrites. These consisted of the goo-squirter I made earlier, and the heavy mechanical arm that came with the model. I wasn’t a particular fan of the big round claw it came with, so I wanted to change that out for something a bit more subtle. One of the power blade utensils from the Delphan Gruss kit fitted the bill perfectly.

His power blade extends quite a way from the model

Having the arm stick out to the far left was a dangerous move, as it had the potential of unbalancing the silhouette of the model too much. With the addition of the backpack and goo-squirter on the other side, it balanced very nicely.

The ‘outer’ layer of ‘dendrites work well#

I was quite proud of this, given it took me only half an evening. Normally I navel-gaze on large projects like this due to having too many options, but with the Big Day rapidly closing on me, time was not a luxury I had. He needed to be finished, primed and based in less than 24 hours!

Could’ve done with more bend in the resin one

There was still something missing, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. The backpack stuck out from the back of the model and didn’t sit particularly well. I figured it was so he could jettison it quickly if needs be, but just by itself didn’t look integrated into the rest of the model. A quick rummage through the Dark Eldar section of my bits box again pulled up one of the bio-injector spines from the Talos kit again, which fit far too well.

Ever looked at a model and thought “Now there’s a guy who needs more spine”?

It was ridiculous and over the top, but it had that back banner aesthetic that I’m very fond of in my 40k imagery. It also helped tie in the whole ‘weird science’ vibe I was going for, as I had planned on painting it a similar flesh tone to the rest of his body. Is it his spine? What are those weird injectors and vials for? Spo0oky.

Is it dumb? Yes. Is it perfect? Also yes.

I was dead happy with it at this point. It was suitably imposing (mounted on a 54mm base) so it was clearly a centrepiece, and had all the aesthetics to tie it in with the existing Vyle models while also standing out from them. I knew I wouldn’t get enough time to paint it up fully for the game, but I would have just enough time to base him and wash him, so at least he would be coloured for the Grand Finale.

You would need a lot of apples a day to keep this doctor away

Finally we have him standing next to one of his minions, a Scion of Vyle. His base is going to be populated heavily with these guys, along with some Symbiotes in various stages of maturity.

“Wow I really look forward to not dying in one game, how about you?”

Dead chuffed with how he turned out, and set a scary precedent for the concept of making models for all my bad guys. Scary because this particular bad guy was never intended to make it out alive, so I was hoping he put up a spectacular fight before going down!

Luckily he did, and the finale was epic and tense – a battle through an underground evil lair, culminating in a shoot out in a missile silo minutes from blast-off and a duel on a snow-spattered mountain top for control of the last ship off the mountain while the base undergoes a self destruct sequence in the background.

But that’s another story for another time.

Siege of Sky Stone Peak: Tales of Onus

Every morning a longhorn wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest panthera or it will be killed. Every morning a panthera wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest longhorn or it will starve to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a longhorn or a panthera. When the sun comes up, you better start running.

It was an old proverb, but Imani knew it well. He wiped something hot and metallic out of his eyes. It could have been blood; his or a clansman, or it could have been whatever passes for blood among the Siad Ruh. It didn’t matter, he could see again, and he staggered to his feet with the help of his hunting spear.

It was dawn, and although it had been light for several hours, the sun was only just beginning to creep out from behind the jagged mountains ahead of them. The largest, Sky Stone Peak, and the fortress that dwelled beneath it, was their goal. The Siad Ruh came from here, and it was down to these few hundred souls to stop them.

Another lumbered towards him, its face a horrid, twisted death mask, leathered by the heat. It moved in a sickening fashion, like its leg was broken but couldn’t feel it. One arm was a wicked hook of metal and flesh, somehow growing from the elbow where its hand should have been.

Imani gulped down his exhaustion and hurled his spear. It sailed through the air, puncturing its brittle chest. The thing staggered but kept coming, hook held high, scrambling up the scree of the outcrop Imani stood on. He glanced at the flintlock in his other hand that the offworlders had given him. With all his faltering strength, he levelled the pistol at the charging abomination and yanked the trigger with two fingers.

For a fleeting moment, he held the power of a volcano in his hand. It bucked hard, wrenching from his grasp. A tongue of flame roared from the gun, accompanied by an explosion of light and smoke.

The shot punched through the Siad Ruh’s shoulder, exploding it like rotten fruit. A split second later, the ragged shards of dried flesh and metal bone ignited. The fire spread in an instant, immolating the unholy creature like wildfire. Fiery chunks sloughed from its frame like wax. The worst part was it’s utter silence, still as the grave, as it cremated in front of him. The only sound was the hissing and crackling of burning skin.

He gasped for air. The smell of rancid cooked flesh filled his nose and mouth. He looked around, trying to take stock of the carnage. He and several hundred others had marched the length of the capital heartland for this moment. A scant few hundred Thole clansmen from all across Brimstone, displaced and desperate, their families butchered and their homes burned by the Siad Ruh. Many of the enemy had taken the forms of those they had killed, but he knew it wasn’t them. Not any more.

They stood on the lip of a dried riverbank, the great, featureless steppes stretching out in front of them. The sun was low, but its heat could already be felt, and the long morning shadows were ebbing away under blood and sand. Between them and Sky Stone Peak was a carpet of Siad Ruh, tumbling from their rocky hiding places and pulling themselves out of the ground.

To the right, the King and his serpent-helmeted Royal Guard held a line, firing down into the morass in well-practised salvos that sounded like rolling thunder. To his left, dozens of armoured Panthera guard were advancing forwards in phalanx, shields locked, breaking only to strike out with their deadly claw-staffs. With Imani, in the centre, were the Thole faithful. Over a hundred clansmen from as many different clans, giving their all in defense of the Heartland.

Several Siad Ruh broke through the central line of the faithful and lumbered up the ridge towards him. Imani fought back the self-doubt that had been creeping, summoned all the courage he had remaining and bellowed a war cant in his clan tongue, followed by a rallying cry.

“Sons of the Dragon! We sing with fire!” He staggered down the loose rock as best he could, pistol raised. He was within striking distance of the nearest creature, let out another roar and squeezed the trigger.

It clicked impotently in his hand. He stared at it in disbelief. One of the beasts was on him now, a pair of sickle blades raised above its head. Imani raised his spear weakly in response.

The creature’s head separated from its body with enough force to toss it over the fighting and out of sight. One of Marshall Tusker’s Panthera Guard stepped into view, shoulder barging another back down the ridge where it was set upon by the faithful. The Panthera Guard was a mountain of a main, glistening in the dawn light with sweat and blood.

From behind his lion mask, he called out to Imani. “One shot, brother!”

As the lion-headed man returned to his shield wall, Imani looked about him in horror. They were less than half the number they were when they arrived, and the tide of Siad Ruh seemed to be only growing. Their task was never going to be easy, and he wasn’t sure he expected to return from it – lure the creatures from their lair so the offworlders can sneak in and destroy Sky Stone Peak. He prayed they were moving swiftly, and making good of every moment bought with Thole blood.

A thousand curses on the noble houses, this was their fight too! If only-

His thoughts were cut short. The shriek of a thousand banshees filled the air, followed by a thunderous blast and a tidal wave of flame. The sea of creatures in front of them turned to fire, as though a hundred volcanoes had erupted beneath them. The explosion was immense, knocking most of the faithful to the ground. Something had immolated legions of the Siad Ruh, and Imani was sure they were next. He looked around, panicked.

“It’s the lady of the shouting mountains!” He heard someone cheer. He spun about, trying to find this sorcerous woman the Panthera Guard were shouting about.

Stepping out of an adjacent riverbank came a hulking beast of blue metal, walking on two legs like a man, but five times as tall. A box on its back was smoking, half filled with red arrowheads. Its hands were weapons of steel from which fire and fury poured. It made the noise of the whole Royal Guard salvo with every heavy metal footfall.

“It doesn’t look much like a lady!” Imani shouted, a mix of relief and sheer terror.

“It’s a lady on the inside!” Someone shouted back. Imani paused. That didn’t make any sense either. Whatever the case, Imani redoubled the grip on his spear and watched the metal beast for its next move.

It hunkered down, and prefaced by the banshee wail, the rest of the arrowheads flew from their quiver, propelled through the sky by long trails of fire. When they struck the Siad Ruh horde, it swallowed hundreds of them in the conflagration.

The smoke slowly cleared. The Thole were coughing and spluttering from the sand and dust that had been thrown up. The lady of the shouting mountains was nowhere to be seen, but her throaty growls could be heard rolling across the ridge.

Imani looked out across the throng of dead and burning Siad Ruh that now littered the steppes. The Thole were regrouping, looking around for leadership. In the distance, Imani spotted a large, heavy figure standing on a column of stone. It was wide and its head set in the centre of its chest. Its body rippled, like it was changing while Imani watched it. It was moving its arms in erratic motions, but the shambling Siad Ruh were moving completely in time with it. It must be a leader of some sort – the head of the snake.

Although the numbers were still greatly in their favour, the Siad Ruh were disparate and scattered. Now was the time to strike.

He grasped his spear firmly in both hands, set his sights on the leader beast, and started running.

+++++++

Tales of Onus is a section for short stories from the Onus Region, a place our roleplaying games are set, including a 4+ year campaign of Dark Heresy. There are so many stories that don’t get told during the course of a gaming session, so a select few are written up to be enjoyed here.

This is a short piece to run parallel with an ongoing campaign on the planet of Brimstone. One day the GM’s campaign notes will get written up and/or its material disseminated here. This is not that day, however, so short stories and out-of-context snippets are the order of the day.

For a little more context, this is Lady Patience.

The Gelt Journal – part 8: Waxy rags

Gossamer strands of smoke had snuck underneath the heavy doors of the chapel and probed the air like a tangle of grey vipers. The scent of burning solvents was heavy on the tongue.

“Fire!” Leora snapped into action, “Rebreathers, now!”

We scrambled for air purifiers while Crisis bundled the map up and stuffed it into one of his voluminous pouch. Mine was a form-fitting Arbites-issue rebreather with a backup tank, good for a few hours of light activity. Proteus had a pair of waxy rags that he stuffed up his nostrils, which I was later informed was charmingly known as a ‘hive-issue rebreather’.

Leora and Mur unbarred the massive door to the chapel while I instructed the rest of us to check our ammo. I flicked the activator on the lamp pack of my autorifle and signalled ready.

It opened with the groan of old iron. Smoke rolled in across the ceiling like a bubble had been burst. There was no change in heat, so the fire must have been some distance away. We filed into the East wing of the estate, the authoritative end of my autorifle leading the way.

It was a wide, straight corridor that lead directly from the chapel to the manse, liberally decorated with person-sized oil portraits and marble busts with noble brows and heroic jawlines. They all bore the same surname: Rauth.

I stopped to examine one of the paintings; perhaps there were clues or hidden signs of heresy in the lineage – even the best painters in the Imperium cannot completely conceal the degradation of mind and corruption of soul. Leora was making notes of names and faces, while Crisis and Mur took over navigation, the prisoner still slumped over his shoulder. I heard the soft click of a flick knife.

“Don’t bother,” Mur called back withoutbreaking stride, “the only person alive that painting’s valuable to is the one we’re going to capture, interrogate or kill. Preferably all three.”

I looked over my shoulder. Proteus was balanced on a marble bust, knife in hand, poised to cut a portrait from its frame. He sneered in grudging agreement and slid down from his vantage point to rejoin us.

We reached the end of the East wing, punctuated with a heavy panelled oak door inlaid with gold filigree in the shape of the Rauth family crest. Smoke poured from inelegant seams that had been warped by heat, and the brass orb handle was warm to the hold my hand near.

Those with rifles shouldered them and I signalled to Crisis to get the door. He wrapped a rag around a pollution-scarred hand and grasped the handle. With a gestured countdown he slammed the door with a might that belied his size and we slipped into hell.

First came the heat. It washed over us like a wave of fire, stealing our breath and watering our eyes. Every nerve screamed in protest and it was everything I could do to fight the base survival instinct to flee from such a primal terror. It singed our flesh and baked the sweat from our skin.

The manse was a roaring inferno. What was once a grand multi-storey entrance hall was now a cathedral of fire, flames licking across every balcony, pillar, marble gargoyle and self-aggrandizing statue. This great chamber would have been a monument to the family’s wealth, heritage and power, made from the rarest and privileged materials available to the lineage. Everything was being consumed. If Rauth was here, he was long gone now.

We fanned out to check corners and exits and quickly realised the futility. We were red-faced and bathed in sweat, desperate for a lead. Between the crackling of burning heritage and the tumbling of masonry, I could just made out the snap of gunfire through the open entrance of another hall to the west. I tapped my comm-bead twice for attention and jabbed with my arm towards the sound of conflict.

The next hall was equally impressive, a multi-tiered open-plan chamber strewn with collapsed pillars and broken marblery. A small squad of Latirian Guardsmen were sweeping through, blackened and bloody, laying down las-fire at a balcony on the second storey high above our heads. The returning fire was sporadic and inaccurate, but enough to keep the Guardsmens’ heads down.

One of them spotted us enter, and although their targets were obscured to us by the balcony above our heads, he cupped his mouth and bellowed “Take cover!”

I believe that’s what he was shouting. We couldn’t hear him over the sickening sound of structural integrity failing. With a series of cascading crunches and snaps, laced with the terrified screams of the falling, the entire balcony above gave way, taking at least half a dozen of Rauth’s House Guard with it. It fell to earth like a meteor, engulfing in a fireball and splashing flaming wreckage across the marble floor.

One of the burning wretches stumbled from the conflagration with the same high-pitched squealing as a crustacean in a crock pot, and the Latirian Guard took no pause to finish him off.

The fire roared on and as cinders fell about us, the lieutenant approached us with a black look, both figuratively and literally.

“That was the last of ’em in here!” He yelled, projecting his voice far above the hellscape around us, “Have you located the target yet?”

I shook my head. He rolled his eyes in exaggerated disbelief. “Get a fucking jog on will you? We charge by the hour!”

I will always be reminded of the priest from my Schola days, an ex-Guardsman doling out spiritual advice to the young officers and storm troopers. His favourite was “without the dark, there can be no light.” I always thought it was a poignant message about the necessity of sacrifice of men for mankind, or that we must sometimes do terrible things to preserve what is good and pure. Now I see he was simply referring to the Imperial Guard’s black sense of humour.

The Latirians filed out of the hall and I scanned the comm channels for chatter while looking up at the world burning around us. The Guard’s frequency was staccato bursts of shouting, it sounded like they had almost taken the courtyard. Time for a rallying speech.

I turned to address the cell. “FAN OUT! THERE M-”

I was interrupted by the sounds of desperate, hammering fists on a locked door near us, followed by a choked, despairing voice:

“Help! Help us please! By the Emperor, somebody save us!”

 

++++++

First – The Gelt Journal: Prelude

The Gelt Journal – Part 7: Scalp-caked kukri

Proteus squatted in front of the cowering prisoner, scalp-caked kukri in one hand, bloodied cleaning rag in the other. He fixed the wretched with a piercing jade gaze.

“And why haven’t we’s killed him?” He asked, as though the whimpering House Guard wasn’t curled into a ball inches from his face. Mur said nothing, but his subtle shift in eye line told me he wondered too.

“Humanity is imperfect,” I responded, glowering at the prisoner, “Some more than others, and imperfection begets rebuke. But if all rebuke ends in death, what of humanity would survive?”

Both killers looked back at me, somewhat dumbfounded by the foundations of Imperial law. I changed tack, picking something a little more relatable to their sensibilities.

“And besides, he’ll know where the rest of his comrades are so we won’t blunder into any ill-conceived ambushes. Isn’t that right?” I jabbed the House Guard with an armoured toe and he snivelled in assent.

I grabbed him by the scruff of his poorly-fitted uniform and forced his face into mine. It was creased with stress well beyond his years and his eyes were bagged and bloodshot.

“Where’s Rauth? Where’s your master?” I demanded, affecting a tone and volume that could shake fillings loose.

“I don’t know! I don’t know!” He sobbed. I glanced back at Proteus, who had finished picking the last bloody clump of hair from his blade. He made a flourishing gesture that said ‘so we can kill him then?’

“You know something that will be useful to us,” I continued, “Who knows where Rauth would be? How many troops does he have left? Do you know how to access his chambers?”

“Th- th- th- the manse!” He stammered, acutely aware of an impending ramping up of interrogation techniques to knife-related persuasion, “there’s a few of his personal guard left in the manse to watch over the civilians. The quickest way is through the East wing! Look, I can show you!”

He began scrambling to his feet, clawing at the tiles to get traction on the marinade of blood and urine he was lying in. A steel-capped boot connected with his jaw, jerking his neck and spinning him round. He fell awkwardly, out cold.

Mur regained his footing and shrugged lightly. “I would prefer to carry him than to keep an eye on him.”

Proteus let out a mirthless laugh. I added another name to my mental list of people not to fall asleep around. There was a conspicuous throat-clearing behind us. By the Saints, can she move quietly in that plate armour.

“If you’re quite done ‘rebuking’, the Tech Adept and I have found a way in.”  Leora spoke softly but with a mettle I had never encountered before. Her voice carried the weight of a Drill Abbott and the honeyed velvet of a practiced diplomat.

The pair had unfurled the estate map on an overturned pew and we gathered round. Mur had shouldered the prisoner like an empty kit bag. Crisis barely looked up, muttering to himself and making meticulous shorthand notes around the periphery of the map. From his offhand wristguard sprang several slender auto-tools; protractors, measuring devices and other instruments I couldn’t hazard a guess at, and they danced their way across the map, sending calculations to his dataslate.

“The southern atrium will be most detrimentally impacted by crossfire,” Crisis said, addressing no-one in particular, “the risk of serious injury is too high for me to recommend that approach.” 

“Youse cogboys are trained in first aid right? Youse can patch us up if things get hairy.” Proteus chipped in, largely ignoring the map or accompanying discussion. Crisis’ beard bristled and his autotools flexed in visible vexation.

“My specialty is in industrial and agri-engines,” Crisis retorted, “I replace resistor modules larger than your head and reattach fuel couplings as wide as I am with only my teeth. If you enjoy the notion of me treating your considerably more fragile innards as I would a container of shorted spark plugs then by all means, let us take the southern atrium.”

“I believe what Crisis is saying is that the East wing is our best chance.” I interjected. Fury should be directed at our enemies, not each other.

Proteus threw his hands up in feigned surrender, “Got it, got it, upworlder! Youse say jump, yadda yadda. Say…” he interrupted himself, sniffing the air deeply through a wrinkled nose,

“…can any of youse smell burning?”

 

++++++

First – The Gelt Journal: Prelude

Next – Part 8: Waxy rags

The Gelt Journal – Part 6: Errant appendage

The chapel was plunged into silence, not the tranquil kind but the awful, anxious, smothering silence of the eye of a passing storm.

My exhausted fury was subsiding and details were returning to my senses. I could hear spent rounds being ejected from weapons and new las-cartridges being slammed into place. The smell of cooked flesh hung in the air. I heard the soft crunch of glass underfoot as the others consolidated. Ripples of muffled gunfire could still be heard from outside, but more distant than before. There was a sniffling noise and the voice repeated itself from behind an overturned pew near the altar.

“Please, don’t shoot! I give up!” A pair of hands probed the air in surrender. Leora had already crossed the chapel and slammed a firm boot into the pew the last House Guard was hiding behind. It slid away, smearing blood from his downed comrade. He was curled into a foetal ball, empty hands above his head. Leora’s sword was already at his neck.

He was young, like the rest of them, and impossibly thin. Tanned skin hung from his bones like worn leather and he bore an aquila tattoo under his left eye. He made the most pitiful noises I’ve ever heard a man make.

I tossed some manacles to Leora and she applied them without question or hesitation, shackling the man’s bony wrists behind his back. He continued his pleas of mercy through hacking coughs and watery sobs.

“I didn’t know what was happening! It wasn’t my idea! I have a wife and children, please! I don’t want to die! I’ll-” he fell quiet, stiffening, convulsing slightly, then falling limp on the floor. I reholstered my humming shock maul. That was quite enough of his whimpering for now. We’ll wake him if we need him.

Leora remained stony-faced, she had spotted something behind me. She knelt down next to a bloodied body, dressed in the robes of a preacher. It was propped up against the altar at the head of the chapel, sat in a pool of its own chestnut blood that had cascaded down the marble risers, viscous enough to have glued the preacher’s robes to the floor. He had been dead for days, weeks maybe. I examined his missing arm, it had been torn from his body by a terrible force, leaving strings of ripped flesh and crushed bone behind. There was no sign of the errant appendage and judging by the pattern of blood, injury and death both occurred here as he bled out on the steps of his altar.

Leora let out a gasp. I looked up from the preacher’s matted habit to see Leora reading through the bloodstained sermon book with one hand over her mouth and disbelief in her eyes. I rose but maintained position; this might have been a trap. She quickly thumbed the pages back and forth, each turn growing her expression of incredulity.

“The sermons… they’re… polluted,” She started, “None of them are outright wrong, and if you sat through one of these sermons the average worshipper wouldn’t notice anything, but…” she trailed off. Mur had silently appeared at the base of the altar, rubbing the preacher’s blood between his fingers.

“He was poisoning his congregation!” Leora finally said, aghast.

“Then we burn it.” Mur spoke. I was taken aback, I don’t think I had heard him say anything up until that point. He gestured around the chapel with his rifle like it was an extension of his fingers. “All of it.”

“No, we can’t. Not yet anyway. This needs to be taken to our superiors, they will know what to do with it.” Leora responded, wrapping the blasphemous tome in a strip of hessian from her backpack.

“It is the only evidence we have uncovered of more than simple civil unrest.” I interjected, part in agreement, part as a reminder of our duties. Whatever did this is unlikely to be amicable to the idea of being captured alive – we would need all the evidence we could find..

Crisis produced a map from one of his many pouches and unfolded it carefully. He examined its contents while scratching his scraggly beard with an absent mind. I imagined this look was the last thing many agri-engines on his homeworld saw before having their recalcitrant machine spirits coaxed back to life. I didn’t think ordinary Tech Adepts grew beards, but I supposed this was no ordinary assignment.

The Rauth Estate was circular, embracing a courtyard in the centre filled with Rauth House Guard and Latirian Special Forces slugging it out over control of the grounds. To the west of the chapel was a large circular room titled ‘the menagerie’. Judging from the map there wasn’t likely to be much cover inside, a poor place to try and flush out heretics from, but an advantageous place to herd them into. To the north was the residence proper, a huge disorderly cluster of rooms, chambers, antechambers, corridors and halls. There could be hundreds of stragglers in there in just as many hiding places. Both connected with each other, so our choice was from which direction to sweep through.

Crisis was muttering something about escape tunnels when the sister strode over and stabbed a gauntleted finger square in the centre of the residences.

“He will be there,” she spoke with a conviction that nobody could challenge, “surrounded by his wealth and sycophants. Whatever other heresies this place is hiding will be present there too.”

“Did someone say wealth?” Proteus looked up from prying the fillings out of the leader’s broken head with a special claw-shaped blade, a strange twinkle in his eyes. We collectively chose to accept this as an agreement and moved swiftly on.

“Agreed,” I said, trying to commit the map to memory, “I will alert the Sergeant over vox and tell him to meet us at the menagerie when he’s finished pacifying the rabble outside. Whatever we flush out of the residences will be trapped between the hammer of the Imperial Guard and the anvil of the Inquisition. We will be the wildfire that purges this estate of its rotten limbs.”

Too much perhaps? I glanced over at the mutilated body of the preacher and his volume of profane sermons. No, whatever this is is the tip of something far greater and far fouler. Our resolve will be tested and our faith will be shaken.

We will need all the rousing speeches we can get.

 

++++++

First – The Gelt Journal: Prelude

Next – Part 7: Scalp-caked kukri

The Gelt Journal – Part 5: Blood-marbled grin

A curtain of force rattled the organs in my torso like a half-empty box of lho-sticks. A sulphurous light detonated in the chapel, disorientating even through clenched eyelids. A drizzle of stained glass rain pattered off my flak jacket, shook from its frames high above by the concussive blast. This was as good an opportunity as any.

I was on my feet in an instant, ears still ringing and sun spots dancing across my retinas. The stun grenade from Crisis had found its mark. One of the House Guard was clawing at his eyes. Another was stood still, blood dribbling from his ears. The Sister planted a plate metal boot on his chest and withdrew the massive sword she had sheathed in his gut. He slid from her sword into an unceremonious mess on the chapel floor.

I vaulted the pew, shock maul primed. It sprang to life in my hand, crackling with electric wrath. The servitor was within striking distance, its weapon erratically tracking false positives in the wake of the stun grenade. It didn’t register my presence until maul and head connected.

Lightning arced from the impact and charred skin was scraped from its metal chassis. The explosion of energy burst the visual augmetics in its head like ripe ploinfruit. It staggered briefly but superficially.

I struck again, jabbing the maul hard into its sternum, trying to cook off whatever passes for a heart in this wretched cadaver. Energy surged from the weapon in an awesome display of light and heat, enough to kill a man several times over. The smell of ozone and burning flesh was ineffable.

The power cell in the maul’s handle began to flash, its machine spirit faltering. Emperor’s teeth, how has this not stopped it!? I glanced up from grinding my maul into its chest, expecting a machiavellian sneer or a smug grimace of victory. Nothing. Blackened cheek flesh hung from its jaw with no iota of emotion. It stared through me with a single rheumy eye.

It brushed my hand away with a steel balled fist and sent a piston punch towards my gut. I backed off, holstering my maul and scrambling for my autogun. The servitor lunged forwards, tiles shattering beneath its armoured boot. I tried to raise my rifle in time but I was beaten to the draw by the glare of red-hot muzzle from the servitor’s implanted rifle. Without a second’s hesitation, it fired.

A pitiful click issued from its ammunition hopper. Emperor be praised! The servitor paused, beginning a complex hopper cycle. This blessed reprieve would be its undoing. I shouldered my rifle with practised ease, sighted its damaged augmetics and poured the Emperor’s fury into its skull.

Nothing was left save some mangled data cables and lumps of withered grey matter bound together by blackened sinew. It spasmed, death throes snapping its limbs to inhuman angles. It toppled backwards, leaving a crescent trail of smoke in the air from its severed neck. It had stopped moving before it hit the chapel floor, a viscous dark fluid pumping out onto the broken tiles and shards of glass.

I paused for breath. By the saints, I hope they don’t have any more of those.

I glanced behind me to assess the situation. The Cell had cleaned up. Crisis and Mur were keeping the last two cowering guards pinned down behind a makeshift barricade of broken pews, with a righteous Sister bearing down on them wailing war hymns. By another miracle, I even saw the bloodied Proteus returned to his feet. His chest was in tatters and his face looked like he’d had a wet shave with a chainsword. I was not sure that it wasn’t an improvement.

He noticed me and flashed a blood-marbled grin. In each hand he jangled a red stained coinpurse, both marked by the House Guard insignia, and he slipped them into his pocket, returning to a crouch to pat down the next body. Emperor preserve us, one must admire his conviction to his purpose at least. Remind me not to die before he does.

A scream from the front of the chapel refocused me. One of the last Guard, some kind of leader judging from his uniform, bore down on me with zeal in his eyes and steel in his hand. I turned the first blow aside with my rifle but he was fast, weaving around my clumsy, tired ripostes. He sent a flurry of slashes to my abdomen, but the blunting and bending of his blade made us simultaneously realise his masters had outfitted him with a sword that was more ceremonial than practical. He looked shocked, but not as much as he was about to be.

Three pips issued from the holster on my belt to tell me that we were fully charged. I made an opening with a sweep of my rifle and let out a primal, exhausted roar. In a ballet of fire and blood, my shock maul was in my hand, thumbed to maximum power and swept upwards into his chin. He exploded off his feet, his jaw shattered and fragments of teeth were propelled from his mouth by tongues of flame. He arced gracefully, landing on his neck with a snap. He lay unmoving, save for the flickering embers where his eyes used to be.

I was panting hard, squinting through someone else’s blood to discern any more threats. The chapel had gone quiet. The soft thumping of gunfire in the courtyard returned. Then, a broken, cowardly voice;

“No, please! Don’t shoot!”

 

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First – The Gelt Journal: Prelude

Next – Part 6: Errant appendage

The Gelt Journal – Part 4: Serendipity

The boy crumpled at the snarl of my autorifle. His sternum had been reduced to mincemeat from a burst of point blank supercavitating rounds. Gunfire erupted around us, as though exploding off the starting blocks to the sound of a race gun. Beyond the collapsing corpse of the boy more House Guard, hungry men in rich-man’s rags, scrambled for weapons or cover.

All except one – a bulky yet emaciated ghoul of man, his right arm cut off at the shoulder and replaced with a vicious bullet-spewing automatic rifle. Metal plating glinted through torn, leathery flesh and half his skull was given over to cybernetic targeting enhancements. My stomach tightened. It was no man but a man-shaped, brainless flesh-vehicle, lumbering forwards on ruthless subroutines to effectuate calculated slaughter: a combat servitor.

I ducked behind a heavy hardwood pew as the graciously haphazard return fire splintered off the lip of the backboard. The boy lay near my feet. His face bore the same disbelief as when we began our exchange. His sidearm holster was still buttoned.

Small arms fire raged across the chapel, the most enthusiastic coming from the slow, implacable advance of the combat servitor. Our cell had worked it’s way into a vaguely defensible position on the east side near the primary entrance and were doling out fury to anyone caught out of cover. Crisis the tech adept and Mur the sharpshooter were picking their targets carefully, keeping those pinned they could not kill. The Sister was stalking between the rows of benches clutching a bastard sword as long as she was. It protruded behind her like the tail of a great predatory lizard. Proteus dropped the nearest House Guard with a blast of his shotgun, but didn’t see the second one stand up behind him.

“Proteus! On your six!” someone yelled over the cacophony of combat and the battle hymns from the Sister. He turned just in time to find himself staring down the twin barrels of a House Guard shotgun. Proteus smiled calmly and his lips began to move, presumably in some cutting slight on the Guard’s parentage, and took the full impact to his chest. Strips of meat and shredded flak vest filled the air, and Proteus tumbled backwards through a pew.

A split second later the House Guard’s neck was opened and his life fluids painted his uniform a new shade of carmine. Smoking brass pinged out of Mur’s hunting rifle. His face was blank as he thumbed another round into the breach, already lining up another shot. I couldn’t tell if his actions were a comradely retaliation or it just happened to be the clearest shot at that moment.

No matter. It was better to die for the Emperor than live for yourself. There were more pressing matters to attend to, and the weight of its augmented legs shaking the tiled floor I sat on indicated those matters had become extremely pressing. The weight of fire from the servitor was tipping the scales in their favour – Crisis was clipped by a round and sunk behind cover and Sister Leora was struck full force in her plate armour in a staggering display of sparks.

I slung my rifle over my back and unhooked the shock baton from its resting place on my hip, blindly feeling for the activation rune as I tried to keep an eye on the seven different skirmishes that were developing in the confines of the chapel. I hated how ugly and clumsy it felt in my hand when it wasn’t active.

I waited, back pressed against the pew, and prayed. All I needed was an opportunity, a brief pause in its firing solution to change ammunition hoppers, or the ticking of cooling metal as it vents heat from its overloaded weapon.

The Emperor granted me serendipity in the shape of an overweight agri-trac repairman. A warning is blurted across the chapel from the flesh voice of the Tech Adept, followed by a fizzing metal object arcing over the bullet-scarred benches. My hands were already covering my head and burying my face in my flak-lined coat. I knew what happened next.

I heard a single syllable barked from a House Guard, a muffled yelp of warning too little too late.

“GREN-”

 

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First – The Gelt Journal: Prelude

Next – Part 5: Blood-marbled grin