Hunting the Hunters

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THE SCORCHING FIRE from the portable stove roared under the pot resting atop it, causing the molten silver contained therein to bubble and pop.
The man seated next to the stove donned a pair of thick leather work gloves and picked up the pot by the handle and carefully removed it from the open flame.  He just as carefully poured the molten silver into the half dozen cavity openings in the top of the mould he held in his other gloved hand.  When finished filling each mould cavity, he placed the pot back atop the stove.
After waiting for a few moments he hit the top of the mould with a hammer and cracked open the two halves, revealing six forty-four calibre balls.  He emptied the balls into his palm and proceeded to cut the excess flash from each one.
Having completed that, he removed a metal etching hand tool from his pocket inside his black leather long coat and began to meticulously
cut various sigils into the silver balls while the metal was still warm enough to easily engrave.  On each he engraved various sigils of warding against the heretic and the traitor.
He placed the engraved silver balls onto a towel on top of a nearby table to finish cooling.  He walked to the far end of the wooden
table and picked up a revolver and a powder flask that had been resting there.  He held his index finger over the opening of the stovepipe funnel sticking out the top of the flask and turned it upside down and depressed the release tab with his thumb that allowed a single charge of powder to enter the funnel.  He brought the funnel over toward the revolver and removed his finger from the funnel’s opening, allowing the powder charge to pour into one of the handgun’s chambers inside the cylinder.  He repeated this action five more times, filling each chamber with a single powder charge.
He placed a ball inside the first chamber and depressed the loading lever under the revolver’s barrel, easing the ball deeper inside the
opening.  He again repeated this action until all six chambers were loaded.  He then placed a round wool patch over each chamber’s mouth to prevent a chain reaction when the revolver was fired.
Finally he fished out six copper primer caps from a tin and placed one on each nipple on the back side of each chamber, crimping each one into place snugly.
He repeated this exercise five more times until he had seven fully loaded cylinders for the intricately engraved cap and ball revolver.
A knock at his cabin’s hatch drew his attention away from his weapon.  He turned to face the hatch and asked, ‘Yes, who is it?’
A deep, gravelly voice responded from the other side of the hatch,
‘Yon Grimm, sir.’
‘Please, come in, Mister Grimm.’
The individual opened the hatch and a short, muscular man, as wide as he was tall, entered the cabin.  He bowed slightly then straightened before he spoke, ‘Inquisitor, sir, we’re about to exit the Warp.  We’ve detected something of interest near the egress point that probably warrants your attention.  You may want to arm yourself in case you decide to authorize a boarding action, sir.’
Inquisitor Magnus Kane removed the work gloves and replaced them with his combat gauntlets and put four digital weapon rings on two fingers of each hand.
He holstered his loaded revolver and placed his extra cylinders into their respective leather pouches on his gun belt.  The holster strapped to his right thigh lent him a gunslinger’s roguish appearance.  The long black leather duster he put on completed the ensemble.
He placed his daemon broadsword into its scabbard.  It was a prize of war taken from the dead grasp of a Chaos reaver commander he had slain in personal combat years ago.  The scabbard was essentially nothing more than a leather loop just large enough for the weapon to hang on.  The daemon bound within the blade preferred to be able
to see everything happening around it.  To be hidden within a conventional scabbard would have only angered it, thus making it that much more uncooperative when needed for battle.
Yon eyed the sword warily and stepped aback at the sight of it.  No
puritan inquisitor would have wielded such a weapon.  To possess one was the mark of the radical.
Before exiting his cabin Inquisitor Kane grabbed his pistol gripped, pump action combat shotgun from behind the hatch door and slung it over his shoulder.
After fully arming himself, Inquisitor Kane exited the cabin with Yon Grimm close behind.
A SHIP EXITED the Warp through a tear in the fabric of space.  Despite her unconventional appearance, she was a Cobra-class destroyer.  Her transponder code identified her as the Napalm Princess.  Being a rare Argus pattern vessel, she sported bladed shield vanes on her forward hull which lent her the appearance of an edged battle mace.
Inquisitor Kane and Yon Grimm arrived to the main bridge just as the obscure image displayed on the oculus resolved itself enough to reveal a Meritech Shrike-class Raider.  She wore the markings of Chaos with tainted pride.  The vessel was engaged in a boarding action against an armed freighter, most likely a Rogue Trader transport.  Despite the transport’s armament, she posed little threat against a dedicated
warship.  The freighter seemed to have put up a valiant struggle but was ill prepared to fend off her better equipped attacker.
Inquisitor Kane was quite knowledgeable about what was likely going on during the sacking of the freighter.  He was of the Ordo Peirates; the pirate hunters.  Their task was to root out piracy in all its forms and eradicate it from the void.  He had witnessed plenty of atrocities perpetrated by the crews of reaver ships.  The depths of depravity that those who venerated the Dark Gods were willing to stoop to in the name of dedication and worship struggled to surprise him after so many decades service in the Emperor’s Holy Inquisition.  The crew of the freighter was to be considered as good as dead.
A tall, bearded brute of a man clad in a nondescript black body suit covered in dark carapace armour sat upon the command throne.  He stood and saluted the inquisitor when he became aware of his presence on the bridge.  Kamen Bruic had been a pirate himself until the inquisitor persuaded to him to reform his ways and serve as a privateer for the Imperium.  Part of their agreement included the Napalm
Princess serving as Kane’s personal command ship and courier vessel.
 ‘Inquisitor, the attacking vessel’s transponder identifies her as the Spectral Stalker.  Current information lists her as one of Oxlan Kaabel’s escort ships.  There is no sign of the rest of the pirate lord’s fleet.  Shall we prepare to attack and board?’
Kane returned the salute, ‘Yes.  We need to make this quick and decisive.  I want it done and over with before they have time to call for reinforcements.  Notify Crow and his squad that their services will be needed.’
STANDING IN THE centre of his ship’s strategium, Kane stood before a flatscreen display featuring a schematic of a Meritech Shrike-class vessel.  Standing around the room were members of his retinue.  Smoke and incense permeated the air from lit candles situated in the strategium’s corners.
Closest to the inquisitor and scrutinizing the schematic with an expert eye was Andra Claxx, formerly of the Adepta Sororitas.  Once a Retributor with the Sisterhood of the Redthorn Cypress, she was a heavy weapons expert.  She was the last surviving member of her
Sisterhood.  The entirety of her Order had been eradicated by a Chaos warband who called themselves the Banished. When Kane’s forces arrived to reinforce the beleaguered Sisterhood he found the lone Battle Sister facing down a Defiler with her heavy bolter.  After retreating from a bloody, protracted battle, he had managed to persuade her to join his retinue and continue her service to the Emperor as part of the Inquisition.
Others inside the strategium included Saul and Bonnie Gage; reformed husband and wife pirates who served as sniper and swashbuckler, respectively.
The Skitarii warrior, Praetoria Sorgon, stood with machine-like silence taking in the briefing with expert clarity.  Next to her was Brother Luthonicus Heron of the Ecclesiarchy.  He had his Holy book under one arm and a power hammer slung across the other shoulder.
Yon Grimm, short and stout, was another one of Kane’s reformed pirates.  He stood next to the Skitarii and the preacher, quietly assessing the Shrike-class ship’s listed attributes and abilities.
An enormous Ogryn stood in the background with his massive arms folded.  He watched thevother members of the entourage as much as he observed the elements of the briefing.  His main priority was to ensure
the inquisitor’s immediate safety, so the finer details of the mission were largely irrelevant to the abhuman.
Kane was about to begin a hasty overview of the mission when the hatch on the farcside of the bulkhead opened.  In stepped a large figure
dressed in blood red Mark VI Adeptus Astartes power armour.  He wore the mark of the Inquisition’s Ordo Peirates in black on his left faded grey pauldron bordered in black.  His right shoulder guard was decorated with a stylised representation of a black equestrian head on a greycbackground.  He was followed in by six more Space Marines clad in various marks of power armour bearing identical livery.  Their added bulk filled up what little room was left in the strategium.
Kane furrowed his brow and held up his left wrist and scrutinized the ancient black and silver timepiece strapped to it.  He then turned his attention to the newly arrived Space Marines, ‘You were almost late, Crow.’
The Space Marine closest to Kane turned his black maned head in the direction of the inquisitor and flashed him a feral grin, ‘An Astartes is
never late.  He is always right on time.  You would do well to remember that, sir.’
Kane maintained his hardened stare, not backing down from the much larger transhuman, ‘And you would do well to remember that if it had not been for my intervention, you and your lot would have at best been
relegated to serve as the equivalent of dreg labourers in the Deathwatch as Blackshields, untrusted and unloved by your erstwhile squad mates, living out the remainder of your days performing menial tasks the rest in your respective Kill Teams deigned beneath them.  At worst you all would have been ritually executed, your geneseed forcibly removed from your still warm bodies and having both cast out an airlock into the gravitational pull of the nearest star.’
Crow eyed Kane up and down twice and let out a burley laugh, ‘Well played, Inquisitor.  Well played indeed.  Now that we’re all aware of the level of gratitude we owe you, what do you require of us?’
Inquisitor Kane turned his attention to the representation of the Shrike-class ship on the display behind him.  He pointed his right index finger at where the pirate vessel’s command bridge was located, ‘Crow, you and the rest of Barbaricus Squad will take the bridge and secure it.  My retinue and I will follow close behind.  Please try not to completely annihilate it.  We need it comparatively intact in order to learn where Oxlan Kaabel and the rest of his reaver fleet is.’
Crow looked over his right shoulder, ‘Fist, you heard the boss.  You need
to try to control your obsessive need for total destruction on this run.  Got it?’
One of the other Astartes grunted back his response, ‘I’ll do my best, but I can’t make any promises.’
Kane continued with his briefing, ‘The rest of the boarding teams will target the engines, armoury and other vital areas.’
He took a step forward and clapped his hands together once, ‘Any questions?’
Silence was his response.
‘No?  Then you all know your role.  Go do it and trust in the Emperor.’
As everyone began to file out of the strategium one of the Astartes turned toward Crow, ‘He can trust in the Emperor all he wants.  I’m going to trust in my bolter.’
Crow slapped him on the back of his right shoulder, ‘Can it, Sword.  Just keep moving.’
THE NAPALM PRINCESS sailed through the void entirely on the momentum she had gained from a brief thrust from her engines hundreds of kilometres away.  It had taken her almost thirty minutes to travel the distance on minimal power to close with the pirate ship.
Because the pirate crew’s attention was focussed on attacking the freighter, they did not notice the Inquisition ship until it was too late to thwart the attack.
The destroyer launched four salvos of boarding torpedoes in quick succession.  In a matter of minutes sixteen torpedoes raced through the void at ramming speed toward the raider.
Inquisitor Kane and his retinue were inside one of the torpedoes launched in the first wave.  They watched the image of the pirate vessel quickly grow ever larger on the rudimentary display screen inside the crew compartment.
Kane pulled the cowl of his mesh armoured shirt up over his head.  The rest of the protective garment was worn under his white cotton tunic.  His leather duster provided protection over his arms and lower regions via flak armour sewn into its interior layer.  His roguish attire lent him the appearance of an ancient highwayman rather than a revered servant of the Emperor of Mankind.
When the torpedo was within a few dozen yards of the raider’s
hull, four multi-melta weapons mounted on the boarding craft’s nose fired their charges, melting away layers of the pirate ship’s outer hull.  The melta charges were designed to weaken the hull enough to allow the torpedo to punch its way through the rest of way.  Globs of molten
metal dislodged itself from the rest of the ship’s outer hull and drifted off into the cold vacuum of space.
The torpedo collided with the compromised outer hull and penetrated through the remaining layers of protective plating.  It came to a violent halt inside one of the raider’s main corridors.
Brother Heron checked the atmosphere gauge that measured the level of breathable oxygen outside the torpedo’s protective layer of metal skin.  The preacher saw that the detection needle was still in the acceptable range on the gauge’s display face and turned to the inquisitor, ‘The hull breach has been plugged up by the torpedo’s girth.  We should be able to breathe out there.’
Once the nose hatch opened, the stench of melted metal wafted into the torpedo’s interior.  First to exit were Andra Claxx and Yon Grimm, the former armed with her heavy bolter and the latter equipped with an
assault cannon.  Claxx went right and Grimm stepped left. Each trained their respective weapons down their preassigned areas, scanning for potential threats.
With the area declared clear, Kane and the remainder of his command exited the torpedo.  The inquisitor unsheathed his edged weapon.  The bound daemon, who identified itself as Lucifus, maintained the form of a grey and gold human skeleton.  Lucifus swam through the sword’s blade as if its interior were made of liquified metal.  The daemon diverted its attention in various directions in quick succession, searching earnestly for a potential victim to engage.
Sister Andra Claxx eyed the blade warily.  She stepped back from the tainted weapon, made the Sign of the Aquila and whispered a litany asking for the Emperor’s protection.  Before being inducted into
Kane’s retinue she would have slain such an individual where he stood merely for looking upon such an accursed artifact.  Serving in Kane’s retinue for half a decade had eroded her original indoctrination to the point that she had reluctantly changed her hardline stance on such items and their use against the enemy.
Kane unslung his combat shotgun and grasp it in his other hand.  Each of the other members armed themselves in turn.
Bonnie and Saul Gage sidled up to Kane on either side.  Bonnie whispered first, ‘Sir, please tell me you have something a little more potent than regular shotshells loaded in that scatter gun.’
He tapped his shotgun against the ammunition bandolier slung across his chest.  Inside its loops were a dozen black shotshells, ‘Executioner rounds.’
He inserted the shotshell back into its slot in the bandolier and nodded to the revolver holstered on his right hip that Saul was eyeballing, ‘Man-stopper loads in my sidearm, in case you were about to ask.’
The reformed pirate gave his head a quick nod, ‘Just checking, Sir.’
Kane flashed a brief smile, ‘Much appreciated, now get back in formation.’
The couple stepped back into their designated positions inside the V-formation the retinue normally used when clearing corridors and hallways.
Inquisitor Kane spoke into the vox node attached to edge of his mesh armour near his chin, ‘Notice anything strange?’
Grimm spoke first, ‘No one here to repel us?  Strange being this is a main corridor to the bridge.’
Kane nodded his head, ‘Exactly.  Everyone, be on your guard.  I smell a trap.’
As Kane and his retinue advanced in a V-formation pointed in the direction of the bridge, the inquisitor racked the slide of his shotgun, loading a shotshell into the weapon’s chamber.
As if that were the signal they were waiting for, enemy crew members rushed in toward them from both directions.
Almost three dozen rushed from the fore.  A full score advanced from the aft.  A motley collection of misfits all told.  They were armed
with autoguns and makeshift melee weapons; pieces of sharpened metal and clubs studded with nails served in place of proper swords and mauls.  The autogun rounds pinged off the armour worn by Kane and his warriors.
Kane yelled into his vox to be heard over the gunshots and issued orders to his retinue, ‘Odds face forward.  Evens protect our backs.  If we can keep them at arm’s length we should be able to take them down with ranged fire.  Make every shot count and don’t waste ammunition because we don’t know what we’ll be facing later.’
No sooner had he issued those orders when either end of the corridor filled with the whooshing of flames.
Kane held up a gauntleted hand to protect his face from the searing heat of the promethium fire, ‘Flamers, just great.  This changes things.’
He yelled into his vox stud again, ‘Flamers are primary targets.  Engage at will!’
Yon Grimm took three steps out of formation and advanced on the flamer armed crew member to the retinue’s rear.  His horned helmet gave him the appearance of a barbarian raider out of antiquity.  He
depressed the activation stud on the grip of his assault cannon and loosed a volley of expertly aimed shots in the direction of the flames.  The Gatling barrels rotated in time with the controlled bursts.
Assault cannon shots bit into the pirate and penetrated out his back and on through the promethium canisters mounted on the backpack strapped around his shoulders and waist.  The tanks exploded and that entire section of corridor erupted in flames.  Flaming promethium
sprayed the bulkheads with fire.  The enemy crew members were forced to retreat in order to keep from going up in flames themselves.
The pirate coming from the fore picked up one of his dead comrades and used him as a meat shield to absorb the shots incoming from Kane’s retinue.  The dead body was just large and thick enough to take the brunt of the projectiles’ power.  That allowed him to advance toward Kane with virtual impunity.
Watsun the Ogryn broke formation, threw down his ripper gun and rushed through the searing flames one massive step at a time.  As he moved he reached down and picked up two dead pirates and held them up to use as his own meat shields.  His fingers penetrated the dead men’s skin and he kept on digging through the dead muscle until he grasped their spines to use as secure hand holds.  With his grip on both bodies assured, he held them up and continued forward.
The corpses burst into searing flames, but he kept plowing forward.  As they engulfed the dead bodies, they began to spread over his arms to burn his skin and scorch his body hairs, but still he proceeded toward his objective.  Despite the injuries he was suffering, the two corpses deflected the worst of the flames from reaching him.
As if the pain failed to register in his brain, he continued his forward progress even as the skin on his arms and shoulders turned red,
blistered and popped.
He rushed in head first the last few metres until he reached his intended target.  He knocked the still active flamer out of the pirate’s grasp and then discarded the dead bodies onto the deck.  He grabbed his flailing opponent by his shoulders and lifted him up off the ground.  Watsun roared out thunderously and head butted the man.  The protective face mask the pirate wore cracked, then broke apart all together and the pieces fell to the deck.
Watsun dropped the man and allowed him to fall in a crumpled heap.  He looked down at the dead pirate and saw that his skull was
caved in where he had head butted him. The Ogryn picked him up by the ankles and began hurling him about through the corridor like an improvised weapon.
He had already felled three of the enemy in that fashion when the rest of the pirate ship’s crew realised what was happening.  They fled in
mass back in the direction that had come.
With the second flamer out of the fight, Kane gave the order for his warriors to close into hand to hand combat with the pirates.
Watsun continued to use the pirate corpse as a weapon until all he held onto was a pair of legs connected to a pelvis.  He discarded the dead crew member’s lower extremities and grabbed up five pirates into a bear hug and squeezed with all his strength.  The cracking of bones and the screams of the dying filled the corridor as ribs were broken and pushed through internal organs.
Kane fired off several shotgun blasts into the throng of pirates until his
weapon was empty, bringing down several of the enemy for his trouble.  He then slung the firearm over his shoulder and unholstered his revolver.  It was then that he brought Lucifus into the fight.
The daemon blade bit deep and drank its fill of blood and souls as the inquisitor cut and stabbed at pirates within the cursed weapon’s reach.  There were those within the enemy ranks that recognised the blade for what it was, but failed to retreat from its reach in time to do them any
good.
Bonnie Gage matched her swashbuckling skills to those of Kane.  Her
power sword cut a swath through the enemy wherever she swung
her energised blade.
Saul Gage lent pinpoint covering fire with his sniper rifle when and where needed, taking down individual pirates whenever the opportunity presented itself.  Andra Claxx and Yon Grimm added their automatic heavy weapons to the mix. They took down small pockets
of pirates who were not yet engaged in melee combat.
Brother Heron swung his power maul into his enemy as he quoted doctrine of the Imperial Cult.  With each blow he landed he voiced another piece of religious mantra.
Praetoria Sargon the Skitarii attacked with her mechanical appendages.  She picked up a pirate by the head with her mechadendrite arm.  She squeezed with the mechanical arm’s claw until his skull popped under the intense pressure, spraying blood over her metal face.  She was about to wipe away the fluid when something burst from her torso where her sternum would have been had she still
possessed an organic rib cage.
She looked down and saw the chainsword blade sticking out of the front of her body.  The sword’s protective covering was covered in blood and lubricants. The weapon’s teeth were clogged with wires, pieces ofbcog wheel, bone chips and hunks of fleshy meat. The chainsword quickly went back into her body.
She turned around to see a pirate, probably the leader of the rabble, holding the soiled weapon.  He raised and pointed his bolt pistol at Sargon’s metal face plate and squeezed the trigger.  A bolt round tore
through the optic sensor that served in place of her natural eye.  She fell to her mechanical knees and fell forward inba pool of biological and industrial fluids.
Kane yelled out her name as she landed upon the deck plate.  As the
rabble’s leader was trying to unclog the teeth of his chainsword, Kane drew back with Lucifus and brought thentainted blade down for the death blow.  The pirate brought his own sword up to the block the strike but the daemon blade tore through the chainsword without stopping.  The daemon weapon continued on as it bit into the pirate’s shoulder and cut into his chest and on through his stomach and bowels and exited just above the man’s waist.  The pirate leader fell to the deck in two pieces.
After bisectingvthe rabble’s leader, Kane looked around and realised the battle was over.  All around them were strewn the bodies of
slain.  He held up his right hand still grasping his engraved revolver to signal for his retinue to cease fighting.
Brother Heron slumped against the far bulkhead in exhaustion. Bonnie Gage sat down on the deck plate under her for the same reason.  Andra Claxx, Yon Grimm and Saul Gage breathed heavily after the end of their butchering of the enemy.  Watsun paced back and forth looking around for more enemies to rend.
Kane walked over to check onvhis fallen Skitarii.  He looked over at Andra Claxx and shook his head.  She was gone.  He walked over to
the fallen pirate leader and tore the dingy cape from his corpse’s back and covered his fallen warrior with it to preserve her dignity.
The inquisitor stood up and keyed his vox bead, ‘Kane to Crow?’
After a couple of seconds wait a deep bass voice issued from the tiny vox unit’s speaker, ‘Go ahead for Crow, Inquisitor.’
‘Have you secured the bridge?’
‘Yes.  Awaiting your arrival.  What is your location?’
‘We’re still near our breach point.  We encountered a slight delay.  Be there as soon as we can.’
‘I’m sending you assistance. Jackal and Kraken, you’re with me.  We’re heading back down the main corridor to help the Inquisitor.  Sword,
Leo, Vortex and Fist, stay here and continue to hold the bridge.’
‘Negative, Crow. Maintain your present location.  We’ll be there shortly.’
The ship shook with a low grade vibration.  Kane looked around at the
bulkhead and decking, ‘Crow, please tell me that was your doing.’
‘Yes, it was.  I just released the umbilicals and docking clamps.  The connection between the Princess and the transport has been severed.  I just bought us some time, otherwise we would be dealing with returning boarding teams right about now.’
‘Thank you, Crow.  That was good thinking.’
‘That’s one of the reasons you keep me around.’
The inquisitor severed the communication link.
AFTER APPROXIMATELY TEN minutes of walking, Kane and his retinue made it to the bridge.  The command area looked as if a storm had hit
it.  Bodies littered the deck and were slumped over destroyed control panels.  The enemy command crew had put up a valiant fight, but in the end it was not enough to overcome a squad of Astartes.
Kane acknowledged Crow with a nod and walked over a handful of bodies on the deck in his path over to a blood covered paper ledger book that the ship’s dead captain was slumped over.  He unceremoniously pushed the dead captain out of the command throne and onto the blood slick deck.
After pouring over the ledger book for a few minutes Kane stood up and looked at Crow, ‘They’re isolating a planet called Ral Radeen
for some reason and attacking every ship coming or going from that planet.  If memory serves me correctly, that planet is a major recruitment centre for Rogue Traders to hire mercenaries.  Maybe he’s there to press gang new crews for his ships?’
Crow shrugged his massive shoulders, ‘Could be, I’m not sure.  Maybe that or perhaps he’s there to recover some artifact from a returned
Rogue Trader?  You never know with pirates.’
Kane turned away from the Astartes squad leader and walked toward the bridge’s exit, ‘Whatever the case, everyone back aboard the Princess.  We’re setting course for Ral Radeen.’

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