The Bull of Ral Radeen

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THE BULL OF RAL RADEEN

The transport ship’s debarking ramp lowered with the hiss of steam
and the hum of hydraulics.  A myriad collection of mercenaries made
their way down to the spaceport’s tarmac.  They walked around to the
side of the ship’s cargo compartment to retrieve their weapons and kit.
They had come to Fort Newcastle, the capital city of the planet Ral
Radeen, to find employment by selling their services as hired guns on
Rogue Trader vessels headed into the area outside Imperial Space known
as the Southern Halo Stars in the Perseus Arm.

Some of the mercenaries had seen more than a few battlefields.  They
were likely veterans who had served out their time in Imperial Guard
regiments and had lived long enough to experience retirement.  They had
chosen to use their skills to earn themselves a share of the treasure
and glory from the Southern Halo.  The younger ones were possibly
deserters who had left their assigned military postings in order to
chance fate with the promise of adventure and plunder.

As the sun began to ease itself into its normal late afternoon
position in the sky, the group made their way in mass to the area of the
city zoned for bunkhouses and boarding rooms.

Among the throng was a man in a hooded black and brown robe
accompanied by ten carapace armoured warriors.  There seemed to be an
unnatural energy that followed them.  The other mercenaries sensed that
and gave them a wide berth.  The hooded man and his companions made
their way to one of the bunkhouses and secured a room to board for the
night.  The other soldiers for hire made note of the establishment they
chose, and having made the sign of the Aquila, chose lodging
accommodations elsewhere.

The group followed the robed man as he entered the room he had
procured for their stay.  They quietly sat their equipment down on the
floor and meticulously went about unpacking their gear and readying
their weapons.  The hooded individual walked over to the window.  He
watched a burley, bearded worker walk out the door of a factorium across
the roadway from the bunkhouse.  He began to untie his bloody apron as
he walked down the pedestrian thoroughfare of the dark street headed to
a nearby parking area.

One of the warriors asked, ‘Bominus, how soon can we start?’  The man
pulled back the hood on his robe.  Tattooed over his left eye was a
stylized sun with eight sunbeam rays radiating from it.  He smiled an
ugly sort of smile.  ‘We will start very soon, Crumpis.’  Bominus
nodded toward the man across the street.  ‘He shall be the first.  When
we’re done, the way path will be paved for the hunt to begin.’

Ash white clouds raced across a black sky from one horizon to the
other.  Hector Tauro, encased in black and white carapace armour and
armed with a power maul, huddled near the top of a craggy hill.
Sporadic gunshots echoed across the valley.  The night was illuminated
by intermittent muzzle blasts.

After a few minutes the gunshots stopped and the sounds of feasting
began.  The only thing that drowned out the sound of flesh being torn
and devoured were the screams of those being consumed.

Tauro clutched his maul in one hand and an Inquisitorial Rosette in
the other.  Reluctantly he eased himself over the hilltop.  He made his
way to a patch of brush and short trees and knelt down on one knee to
get a better look at what was going on.

A Kroot Shaper stood near his position but did not seem to have
noticed his presence.  Hector Tauro stayed motionless.  He did not wish
to draw the alien’s unwanted attention.  The xenos turned to go to where
his comrades were eating the bodies of fallen Imperial Guardsmen.  Tauro
moved his foot a half a centemetre to his left in order to get a better
balance in his squatting position.  A twig snapped when he moved his
foot.  The Kroot warrior stopped and turned his quilled head and looked
directly at him.  He raised his captured plasma gun to the firing
position and depressed the firing stud.  The gun fired several times,
the muzzle blasts blinding Tauro’s night vision.  Knock, knock, knock.
As he was firing his weapon, the alien spoke to him, ‘Constable Tauro?
Hector, wake up.  This is urgent!’

Hector Tauro opened his right eye and quickly raised up into a
sitting position on his bunk.  His breathing was heavy and his bare skin
was covered in a sheen of sweat.  He paused to inhale and exhale slowly
a few times to slow down his racing pulse.  He swung his legs around and
put his feet onto the floor.  ‘Just a second, Hal’, he managed to croak
out through the rebreather over his nose and mouth.

He stood up and flipped on the illumination switch mounted on the
wall.  Next to the switch in a lacquered blackthorne shadow box was a
red and black Inquisitorial rosette.  On the bottom frame piece was a
brass panel engraved with, SENIOR INQUISITORIAL ACOLYTE HECTOR TAURO,
and below that, THE EMPEROR REMEMBERS THOSE WHO SERVED.

Next to the displayed rosette was a second shadow box.  That on made
of blue cypress wood contained a gold Adeptus Arbites badge.  Its
engraved panel read, ENFORCE THE EMPEROR’S LAWS IN HIS STEAD AS HE WOULD
ENFORCE THEM HIMSELF.

He opened the door and allowed his chief deputy, Hallum Naughton,
inside his personal quarters that adjoined his officium.  Naughton was
fully dressed in his custom carapace armour.

Tauro rubbed his right, unaugmented eye, ‘What is so important that
it couldn’t wait until morning, Hal?’

Naughton had a sour expression on his face, ‘Get dressed and I’ll
tell you on the way.’

Hector Tauro had once been an agent of the Emperor’s Holy
Inquisition.  He served as a warrior acolyte to Denson Prophet, the
Inquisitor in charge of the Crusade for a world on the extreme outer
edge of the Aspis Sector in Segmentum Tempestus.  That would later be
renamed Ral Radeen.  Assigned to the Crusade were elements of the
Imperial Navy’s newly formed Battlefleet Aspis, Imperial Guard from the
Dalworth Trench Dragons and an Adeptus Astartes Deathwatch Kill Team.
The targets of the extermination mission were various large nomadic
conclaves of feral Kroot.  Since that species was one of the xenos races
deemed belligerent and hostile to humanity, their purge had been
approved without delay.  The world was fertile and temperate, ideally
suited to become another worthy addition to the Emperor’s realm.

During the closing days of the planetary conquest, Inquisitor Prophet
fell victim to injuries he had sustained in battle.  With the Crusade
complete and his master dead, Tauro was released from duty after one
hundred and forty eight years of Inquisitorial service.

Before his time in the Inquisition he had served as a lieutenant
arbiter in the Adeptus Arbites on the planet Cruz Pradera in the Viento
Sector on the other side of the Segmentum.  He had held that rank for
four years before being recruited by the Ordo Xenos.  No longer bound to
the Inquisition, he requested a posting as commander of the newly formed
local Constabularius.

Tauro had served as constable and chief law enforcement officer on
the planet for the past fourteen years.  He was close to his fifteenth
year and so far had experienced a comparatively uneventful tenure.
There was crime, but nothing like what it probably should have been
considering the major job market on the planet was the hiring of
professional killers.  Despite the prevailing belief that the best
mercenaries were found on Kimbur Prime or Fabrique Station, many a Rogue
Trader had discovered that quality hired gunslingers could be found for
a bargain on Ral Radeen.

Two armoured Constabularius vehicles raced down the road headed away
from the downtown district.  One was a local pattern Chimera.  The other
was an Imomolator variant of the Rhino transport normally exclusive to
the Adeptus Ministorum.  Constable Tauro used his Inquisitorial
connections to obtain it from the Adeptus Mechanicus.  It sacrificed a
percentage of its transport capacity in favour of a twin-linked Prismac
Pattern multi-melta.  He named the vehicle Brahma after an ancient
species of bull known for its strength and aggressiveness which lived on
Holy Terra in the distant past.  The ground rumbled and shook as they
passed by at cruising speed.  The vehicles were painted black down the
centre and white on their sides.  Their flanks were decorated on either
side with the image of a badge consisting of a silver Imperial Aquila
superimposed over a gold five-point star in the centre of a round
shield.  Red and blue emergency lights flashed and rotated, their
colours reflecting off the storefronts on either side of the street.
Vox speakers let lose with shrill siren’s calls that pierced through the
night air.

The vehicles turned down an alley between two rockcrete warehouses.
They came to a stop in a loading dock area behind an unassuming
factorium.  There were already two other Constabularius Chimeras in the
vicinity, their emergency lights illuminating the walls and pavement
with red and blue flashes.  The loading area was blocked off with yellow
tape that read in black letters, CONSTABLE’S LINE DO NOT CROSS.

Several deputy constables, dressed in their mass produced black
carapace armour and Brodie helmets, stood on the outside of the
cautionary tape, shotguns and shock mauls at the ready.  They were
tasked with keeping curious civilians from crossing into the secured
area.

The deputy constables of Ral Radeen originally hailed from the ranks
of the Dalworth Trench Dragons of the Imperial Guard.  After the planet
was dedicated to the Emperor, the victorious Guardsmen were given the
option of being allowed to be the first to colonise the world.  When
offered the opportunity, a few thousand of them joined the
Constabularius after they were honourably discharged from the Guard.
Six hundred of them served in the capital, which was designated as
Precinct One.  The remainder were spread throughout the other seven
precincts which divided jurisdictional authority over the other eight
hundred cities, townships and settlements around the planet.  With a few
alterations, namely the addition of official badges and patches and
indoctrination in the use of shock mauls, their uniforms, armour and
equipement went unchanged throughout the transition from soldiers to law
enforcers.  The Constabularius senior staff were former Adeptus Arbites
Arbitrators and were easily able to train the onetime Guardsmen to be
peace officers.

The back door of the newly arrived Chimera opened.  Chief Deputy
Hallum Naughton stepped out from the vehicle.  He was bareheaded save
for a vox bead and earpiece headset.  He wore a slightly more ornate
version of the carapace armour normally issued to patrol deputies.
Holstered on the right side of his duty belt was a two-tone bolt pistol
equipped with a telescopic sight.  On the other side of the belt hung an
Ultima Pattern power maul.

Behind Naughton followed ten veteran deputy constables.  They took up
perimeter security positions just inside the taped off area.  Imagists
milled around behind them capturing pictographic evidence of the
interior of the crime scene area.  Servitors followed behind collecting
and securing the pieces of evidence after the images were captured.

The rear egress door of the Brahma emitted an audible hydraulic hiss
as it lowered.  Five individuals walked down the ramp.  Among them were
three enforcers that comprised the constable’s personal security detail.
They were each dressed in white bodysuits and master crafted black
carapace armour that appeared to have a certain level of xenos
influence.  Over their armour they wore hooded long coats.  The coats
consisted of black impact reflective exterior shells with padded white
interiors.  When the coats were worn over carapace armour the combined
protection level approached that of light power armour.  Each was armed
with a handcrafted Tragan Pattern meltagun and an exclusive production
Hypernia Pattern bolt pistol.

Next to exit was Forensic Chirurgeon Emanda Torq.  She, like the
members of the security detail, wore a custom suit of black carapace
armour.  Instead of the long coat, her armour was enhanced with a force
field projector.  Attached to her armoured backplate was a powered
backpack that sported two servo arms as well as a pair of Mechadendrites
equipped with various Medicae-quality surgical tools including drills,
forceps, saws and syringes.  Her long red hair and milky white skin lent
a Gothic quality to her beauty.  Holstered to her curvaceous hip was an
engraved bolt pistol.  She was followed by an armoured administrative
servitor augmented with vox speakers and parchment and quill devices to
assist it in performing various pre-programmed public address and fact
recording tasks.  It was armed with a nondescript bolt pistol and
grenade dispenser.

Hector Tauro was the last passenger to depart the transport.  He was
almost half a head taller than the others and was encased in black and
white master crafted carapace armour.  Over his protective plate he wore
a black and white hooded long coat similar to the ones worn by his
security detail.  Over his nose and mouth was attached an expensive
rebreather and his left eye was a Mechanicus prosthetic replacement.
Chained to the left side of his duty belt was a condensed version of the
Lex Imperialis.  Next to the Imperial law book was a ring of large gene
coded brass keys that would grant him access to any Constabularius
facility on the planet.  On the other side of his belt was a bound copy
of local planetary ordinances.  Holstered at his right hip beside the
local law book was a rare inferno pistol.  In his left fist he grasped a
massive custom built power maul.  The Bull of Ral Radeen, they called
him.  He took to his moniker well.  So well that he had a red bull’s
skull painted on the right pauldron of his armour and on the tops of his
gauntlets.  Like the polished badges sported by all his staff, his
gleamed in the moonlight.

The constable and his retinue proceeded toward the cautionary tape.
A deputy pulled up on it so they could cross under it.  The deputy
nodded to his commanding officer and greeted him as he passed by,
‘Constable.’  Acknowledging the deputy’s respect, he quickly returned
the nod and the greeting and kept walking, ‘Thank you, Sergeant Callun.’

Thanks to regenerative surgeries and bionic prosthetics, Tauro was as
healthy as a fit forty year old despite his actual age placing him much
closer to the two hundred mark.  He lost his left eye during an
encounter with an overwhelming horde of Tyranid Hormagaunts.  He was
fortunate that was all he sacrificed.  He had been forced to wear a
rebreather ever since a fusion pistol attached to the hand of a Dark
Eldar Sybarite was discharged too close to his face.  The xenos squad
officer had been aiming for Tauro’s head, but missed his shot.  The
then-Inquisitorial henchman had inadvertently inhaled the super heated
air around the bore of the weapon a fraction of a second after it fired
and permanently damaged his respiratory system.  If it had not been for
the staff of his retinue, he would not have survived the encounter.
Because of his high station within the Imperium, the medical care he
received during his time as an Inquisitor was the best that could be
provided.

Tauro walked over to where crime scene servitors were collecting
evidence.  Painted on the pavement in what looked like blood was a large
eight-pointed star approximately twenty metres in diameter.  The
perimeter around the star smelled of boiled blood and scorched bone.
The closer they got to it, the more nauseated they became.  The air
seemed to hum with the emanations of dark, forbidden energy and it
caused their skin to tingle within a few metres of the star.  Hallum
Naughton walked over to stand next to the constable.  ‘Like I said on
the way over here, Hector, Sergeant Ern Callun and his squad of patrol
deputies were making rounds in the area and found this.’  Naughton
pointed at the star.  ‘It appears to be positioned to point due north.
The victims have all had their throats cut and their bodies drained of
blood.  I am guessing the star was painted with it.’

Naughton walked over to the northern-most star point.  He pointed at
the body lying there.  He was a big, brutish looking bearded man who
appeared to be about thirty years old.  He had on a bloody butcher’s
apron.  ‘This is Stig Thakka . . . or, should I say, was Stig Thakka.
His citizen employment card identifies him as a “bleeder” at the local
abattoir.  His job was to cut the throats of the grox so they could be
bled out before being sent further into the meat processing line.’

He proceeded to walk to the east end of the star.  The body there was
that of a bald middle-aged man wearing a lose fitting green tunic and a
matching pair of trousers.  He had on a white Officio Medicae smock over
his clothes.  ‘This was Zaddion Cain.  He was a chirurgeon assigned to
the poor side of the city.’

Naughton walked to the southern tine of the star.  Lying there was a
woman of unique beauty wearing a skin-tight purple bodysuit and dyed
pink hair.  ‘This attractive young lady was Millicent Orleans.  She was
an expensive prostitute with a rather wealthy and elite list of
clientele.’

The chief deputy finished his tour of the crime scene at the western
point of the star.  On that area of the pavement was the body of an
elderly man of dark skin tone wearing turquoise pajamas and a blue robe.
‘You may remember this individual, Hector.  Take a good look at him.’

Tauro walked over to look at the body.  An expression of recognition
came over his face.  ‘Gallus Barbosa.  He was the battle-psyker attached
to the Trench Dragons during the Crusade for this world.’  Tauro looked
back up at Naughton, worry on his face.

Naughton looked at the star and then back again at Tauro.  ‘Do you
see a pattern here, Hector?’  Tauro nodded his head.  ‘Yes, I do, Hal.
Thakka dealt with blood.  Khorne.  Cain was associated with contagion
and disease.  Nurgle.  Miss Orleans . . . well we all know what
prostitutes do.  Slaanesh.  And our old friend, Barbosa, the psyker.
Tzeentch.  This place smacks of unholy consecration.  But consecration
to what ends I have no idea.  I haven’t seen the likes of this in at
least fifteen years.’

The chief deputy nodded his head in agreement.  ‘It would take weeks
or maybe even months to get an Ordo Hereticus team here.’  He pointed at
the Chaos star again.  ‘Depending on what this is a prelude to, we may
not have that much time to wait.  I am afraid we are on our own, Hector.
I hope you still remember some of your old Arbite skills.’

The forensic chirurgeon tied her red hair up into a ponytail and bent
down to begin inspecting the bodies and processing the evidence
collected by the servitors.

Tauro looked down at his boots and then up at the stars.  He inhaled
deeply and let out a frustrated sigh.  ‘As soon as Emanda finishes
processing this crime scene we need to conduct a psychic cleansing of
this area and pray to the Emperor it is not too late to head off
whatever this was supposed to usher in.’

The ship’s navigator, Akronia, raised the hem of her brindled robe up
off the deck and walked with trepidation to the command throne of the
Devastation-class cruiser, Four Winds.  The woman was a striking beauty
and appeared to not be a day past thirty despite the fact she was well
over two hundred years old.  Age altering procedures had helped her
retain her youthful appearance well into old age.  Her dark brown hair
was highlighted with red, green, purple and blue follicle augmentations.
She called out to the Astartes captain seated there.  It was a prudent
thing to announce oneself before walking up to one of the massive
transhumans.  To surprise one unannounced often did not bode well for
the person in question.  ‘Lord Kaabel, the ritual is complete.  The
world has been successfully consecrated.  We may now proceed at your
discretion.’

The commander of the Warp Angels renegade warband, clad in his black
and green power armour, turned his attention to the woman.  With a deep
bass rumble he responded, ‘So, Akronia, it seems our boy, Bominus, made
good on his promise.’

Akronia, keeping her head bowed, would not meet her master’s gaze.
‘So it would seem, Lord.’

Kaabel turned his attention to his bridge crew.  ‘Make the jump to
the Ral Radeen system immediately!’  The mortal humans jumped in
response to the barked order.  Despite their decades of servitude, they
had yet to become accustomed to the harsh vocalizations of their
masters.

The Four Winds translated into the Warp and vanished from real space.

A ship translated out of the warp just outside Ral Radeen’s
gravitational field.  The Rogue Trader vessel, Grackle’s Call, was
granted permission to maintain an astral anchorage in the planet’s
orbit.  She was a Sword-class frigate commanded by Captain Delmar
Grackle.  He had arrived to recruit mercenaries and crew for a new
voyage into the Southern Halo.

Grackle was little more than a privateer, a legitimised pirate who
just happened to be in the possession of a Warrant of Trade he won in an
honour duel years before.  He had no house.  No proud dynasty was his to
claim.  Merely a gnarled old combat veteran of a ship that had been
patched up and repaired so many times that it was doubtful any part of
her was original equipment when she had been commissioned.

Ral Radeen had no orbital defenses or even a patrol fleet to speak
of.  The world officially fell under the protection of Battlefleet
Aspis.  The small fleet was stretched thin and could not be every were
at once.  To compensate, Rogue Trader vessels were expected to help
defend the planet in case of attack when they were in the system and
were compensated respectably by the Ral Radeen government to do so.
There were enough Rogue Trader vessels in and out of the local system
that rarely a week went by without one being in the vicinity.

Grackle donned his polished black iridescent armour and armed himself
with a bolt pistol and a power sword.  His long black hair and silver
eyepatch made him look every bit the rogue he truly was.  A shuttle
departed the larger vessel to carry the captain and his inner circle
dirtside to begin recruitment.

A Warp infused wound tore open the fabric of space just astern of the
Grackle’s Call.  Out of the swirling miasma came a Devastation-class
cruiser accompanied by an ancient Crusade-era troop transport and a
squadron of raiders.  The Four Winds raced ahead and opened fire on the
Rogue Trader vessel with a full frontal fusillade.

The Grackle’s Call attempted to come about to return fire, but was
hit with another assault in a matter of minutes.  After a third
discharge of the Four Winds’ weapons batteries, the smaller Rogue Trader
ship was virtually a holed out hulk incapable of continued resistance.

With the only pro-Imperial warship in the system out of the fight,
the renegade vessel eased forward to take up a position in low orbit.

A handful of assault boats along with a squadron of attack bombers
disembarked from the cruiser.  The bombers raced up behind the lumbering
Rogue Trader shuttle and opened up with bolter and lascannon fire.
Large pieces broke off the craft as the attacker’s ammunition ate away
at it.  Within minutes of being engaged, the Rogue Trader shuttle came
apart and emptied its contents out into the hard vacuum of the void.  As
the assault boats raced through the void headed toward the planet, Lord
Kaabel watched as bodies passed by his craft’s forward viewport.  ‘Let
the slave hunt begin.’

Tauro stood in his officium looking over a dataslate pertaining to
the murder investigation.  His vox bead signaled he had an incoming
call.  He activated it and heard the voice of his forensic chirurgeon,
Emanda Torq.  ‘Constable, after conducting the autopsies and going over
the fingerprints and genetic residue gathered by the servitors, I have
come to the conclusion there were no fewer than twenty individuals
involved in this crime.’

‘Interesting.’  Tauro put the dataslate down.  ‘That’s a lot of
people skulking around unseen kidnaping and murdering.’

‘Do you think they would actually be inept enough to congregate out
in public after leaving genetic evidence at the crime scene?’

Tauro had to stifle a laugh.  ‘They are not worshiping Chaos because
they are intelligent.’

‘Point made.  Please be careful, Hector.  You know how nasty Chaos
worshipers can get when cornered.’

‘Thank you, Emanda.  You’ve been quite helpful.’  With that being
said, Tauro ended the communication.

As soon as he terminated the link he received another incoming
communication alert.  ‘Hector, this is Hal.  A hostile vessel has taken
out the Rogue Trader ship in orbit and has launched planetary assault
craft.  Governor Oksan is placing you in command of defense.  I’m headed
to the Hall of Trade to deputise as many of the mercenaries willing to
take the oath.’

Tauro looked as if a giant weight had been thrust onto his shoulders.
‘I think we now know what that Chaos ritual was a prelude to, Hal.’

The Hall of Trade’s lobby was full of mercenaries seeking employment
aboard the Grackle’s Call.  Approximately fifty-five humans and six
Ogryns were crammed inside.  They were clad in various combinations of
low quality armour.  Most of the humans were armed with a motley
collection of autoguns and bladed weapons of all descriptions.  A
handful of them claimed ownership of heavy bolters and a few more had
sniper rifles.  One crusty old veteran had a meltagun slung over his
shoulder.  The Ogryns wielded their customary ripper guns.  The interior
of the lobby smelled of sweat, oiled metal and cordite due to so many
armed fighting men and women bottled up in such a confined space.

A man garbed in a black and brown robe walked to the forefront of the
lobby.  Ten warriors clad in black and brown carapace armour walked in
from outside and took up positions at various points in the lobby
surrounding the mercenaries.  The newly arrived warriors kept their
weapons in the port arms position.  The robed man held out his hands in
a placating gesture.  ‘Greetings, my name is Bominus.  My master wishes
me to offer you a business proposition on his behalf.’  He pulled the
hood back from his robe, allowing the crowd to glimpse the eight-pointed
star over his eye.  ‘The ship you were seeking employment aboard is no
more.’

The crowd of mercenaries let out gasps and curses.  Some put hands on
weapons.  Bominus’s escorts raised their rifles to the ready position.
The psyker smiled.  ‘Please do not be dismayed.  My master wishes to
recruit you for his cause.  If you accept, you will be greatly rewarded
for your decision and your service.  You must merely pledge your fealty
to the Gods of Chaos.’

One of the mercenaries took a step forward and spat on the ground in
front of Bominus’s feet.  ‘No deal.  We don’t worship no other god than
the Emperor!’

Bominus frowned and lowered his hands.  ‘Please reconsider.  There is
much they could offer you.’

One of the Ogryns took a step toward Bominus.  The sorcerer’s
warriors, alarmed at the gesture, aimed their hot-shot lasrifles at the
abhuman.  The Ogryn stopped about ten paces from the psyker.  ‘Who are
Chaos Gods?  Are they strong like Ogryns?’

The spokesman for the mercenaries ran up to the side of the abhuman.
‘Brank, what are you doing?  We are not going to work for him.  He
serves the Ruinous Powers!’

Bominus made a hand gesture ordering his escort to lower their
weapons.  He turned his attention to the massive warrior.  ‘Brank?  That
is your name?’

Brank nodded his head and slapped his hand over his sternum.  ‘Yes.
Brank.  Brank leader of Brank’s gang.’ He pointed to the other five
Ogryns standing behind hm.  He looked down at the human standing next to
him.  ‘Zakk call Brank Bone ‘ead.  He say Bone ‘ead mean leader of
Ogryns.’

Bominus smiled at Brank.  ‘Yes, Brank, Chaos is strong.  But, it
could be even stronger if you and your warriors were to convert.  Will
you join and make Chaos stronger?’

Zakk moved to stand between Brank and Bominus.  ‘Brank, you know this
is wrong.  We only work for those who serve the Emperor.’  He pointed at
Bominus.  ‘His master and their gods are enemies of the Emperor.  You
can not do this.’

The sorcerer looked Brank in the eye and waved his hand, indicating
the mercenary leader.  ‘Does this Zakk speak for your gang, Brank?’

The Bone ‘ead shook his head.  ‘No.  Only Brank speak for Brank’s
gang.’

The psyker maintained eye contact with him.  He decided to appeal to
what mattered most to Ogryns.  ‘Does Zakk give you food?’

Brank nodded his head.  ‘Yes, but not as much as food as Ogryns want
to have.’

Zakk balled his fists in frustration.  ‘It is called rationing,
Brank.  If we gave you and your gang all the food you wanted, there
would not be enough for anyone else!’

A smirk creased Bominus’s lips.  ‘Chaos will give you and your gang
all the food you want.  Would you like that?’

Brank smiled.  ‘Yes.  Brank and Brank’s gang like that.  What does
Brank and Brank’s gang have to do to get food?’

Bominus arched an eyebrow and allowed an ugly smile to spread across
his face.

A constabularius Chimera pulled up in the parking lot of the Hall of
Trade.  The chief deputy exited the vehicle and took in the scene.
Blood was splattered over the insides of the building’s windows.

Naughton walked inside the Hall and saw mangled, dismembered bodies
strewn across the floor.  There was blood everywhere.  In the far corner
was the corpse of a lone Ogryn.  It had three burned impact marks on his
pale, mottled hide.  It appeared someone had gotten off a few meaningful
meltagun shots before they died.  The inside of the building stunk of
the iron rich tang of blood mixed with the sour odours of feces and
urine.  He triggered his vox bead.  ‘Hector, this is Hal.  That is a no
go on the mercenaries.  Those Chaos bastards took them out before I
could get down here.  We are on our own.’

Tauro’s voice came from Naughton’s vox bead, ‘Maybe not for too much
longer, Hal.  An astropathic general distress signal was initiated.
Hopefully, with the Emperor’s blessing, we’ll have some assistance
before it is too late.’

Kaabel looked around the interior of the Rhino transport at his
squad.  Nine warriors all told.  Ten, including himself.  His Warp
Angels had been Loyalist Astartes once.  Millennia before he been a
member of the Dark Angels.  The warriors of his retinue each hailed from
one of their successor Chapters.  They wore their desecrated black and
green power armour with a depraved pride only traitors could muster.
They had painted over their original Chapter symbols with images in
white paint of the eight-pointed Chaos Star and their pauldrons now bore
an image of a hawk-winged skull.

The Renegade Rhino followed in the wake of the advancing human troops
wearing brown uniforms and protected by black flak armour and spiked
helmets.  Unlike the ill-disciplined and under-equipped rabble of
bandits and pirates other Renegade Astartes commanders often ruled over,
Kaabel’s mortal followers retained the fierce militaristic mind-set and
quality of arms and kit from the days they served in the False Emperor’s
Imperial Guard.

The San Concho Grenadier Angels were once known to be tamers of
rebellious Hive Cities throughout the Imperium.  They were one of the
weapons of choice Warmasters turned to when an upstart urban population
needed to be reminded of their true place as a spoke in the wheel of the
Empire of Man.  So good were they at their speciality, they were often
referred to as the City Slayers.

When the Imperium at large last heard from them, the Grenadier Angels
had been seconded en masse to the Rogue Trader Lora Stubjack.  They
departed into the Southern Halo upon her fleet of warships and troop
transports destined to sack a xenos city on a far away world rumoured to
be in possession of ancient human technology.

Decades later Lord Kaabel happened upon them on the Pirate Moon,
Briganda Luna, in the Perseus Arm outside Imperial Space.  The soldiers
he encountered purported the expedition had fallen victim to Eldar
Pirates long before they arrived to their destination.  They claimed
they, the Ninety-Eighth Regiment led by a Colonel Jolon Anvul, were the
last of their number.  The Renegade Space Marine took their common
moniker of Angels as a favourable omen from the Ruinous Powers and
immediately secured their services as serf troops.  The Astartes
commander was quite pleased with his acquisition.

Five squads of Grenadier Angels marched on foot at either side of a
column of half track transports accompanied by a Salamander scout
vehicle and a Leman Russ battle tank.

The soldiers went house to house looking for potential slaves.  Those
willing to submit to capture were directed into the waiting half tracks.
Whenever they encountered resistance, the bayonet was used in order to
save on ammunition.

Heavy stubbers were utilised to direct automatic fire into upper
floor windows and across rooftops of housing units when civilians were
observed attempting to play sniper with hunting rifles.

Grenade launchers were implemented against a group of would-be hab
block defenders armed with shotguns and homemade firebombs who had taken
cover behind a roadblock created using passenger vehicles.  The grenades
were used to flush them out of hiding and the fleeing people were
brought low with pinpoint rifle fire.  The unattended roadblock itself
was pushed aside using the dozer blade on the Leman Russ tank.

With the rest of the hab block effectively in the hands of Kaabel’s
forces, a lumbering behemoth of a vehicle traversed around the corner.
A massive black Gorgon super heavy transport sporting brown Chaos
iconography.  Large eyes were painted on the sides of the vehicle and
the area around the boarding ramp was decorated to resemble the fang
filled mouth of a daemonic beast.  It came to a grinding halt and
lowered the front ramp.  Bominus led his squad along with their newly
acquired reinforcements from the vehicles troop bay and they marched up
to the largest buildings on the block.

An Ogryn kicked in the front door of an overly large hab unit.
Grenadier Angels swarmed inside the opening and into the building’s
interior.  A couple of moments later a large group of people were led
out at gunpoint into the street.  Twenty-three men, women and children.
They were ordered to place their hands over their heads and board the
waiting Gorgon.

Fires raged in buildings on either side of the rubble strewn street
as the Chaos procession continued to roll forward.  Civilian channel vox
traffic could be heard coming from hab units up and down the roadway
reporting that invading piratical raiders were rounding up and abducting
citizens all over the city.  The verbal reports went on to detail how
law enforcement resources were being dispatched to the most problematic
areas first.  Constabularius personnel from nearby precincts were said
to be responding to the crisis, but it was uncertain if the extra
manpower would arrive in time to intercept all elements of the outlaw
horde before they could escape with their enslaved human cargo.

Another Ogryn approached the front door of a housing unit further
down the street. He slapped his huge paw onto the centre of the door,
breaking it in two.  ‘Chaos is strong because Brank and Brank’s gang is
strong!’

Traitor Guardsmen rushed in and came back out with two captives.  The
woman had long blonde hair and was dressed in a homespun khaki dress and
her male companion had short dark hair and was garbed in plain grey
pants and a matching jacket.  Like the previous prisoners, the couple
were ordered to board the large transport.

The woman complied with the order but the man did not move.  An
expression came over the his face that was a mixture of fear and
defiance.  He thrust his hand inside the left interior of his jacket and
slowly backed away from his captors.

Brank shoved the Traitor Guardsmen out of the way and stepped
forward.  He picked the man up and shook him like a limp cleaning cloth.
The man nervously fumbled to unholster a laspistol, but the Ogryn saw
the weapon clearing leather and grasped the smaller man’s hand, crushing
it in his oversized fist.  The bones in the human’s hand and upper arm
made multiple audible wet snaps as they were shattered and the arm was
bent back the wrong way.  He bellowed in excruciating pain.

A black and white Constabularius Chimera with its emergency lights
flashing pulled up about forty metres from the Chaos detachment.
Deputies disembarked the vehicle and formed a skirmish line and issued
verbal orders for the Traitors to stand down and submit to arrest.
Brank held the man up over his head.  He stared at him and roared in
rage, ‘You pay for trying to pull gun on Brank!’  He slammed him down
face first onto the road’s hard surface.  He picked him up again and
shook him in the air.  The man’s head was misshapen from the blow and
appeared to have lost its solid consistency.  It hung over to the left
side of his neck, almost touching his shoulder.  Blood made a spider’s
web effect across his deformed face.

The Gorgon’s forward ramp closed and the super heavy vehicle slowly
turned to the left and began to make a retreat from the conflict area.
As the transport inched away, Bominus made to climb aborad the ladder
leading to the transport’s command cabin and pointed his gnarled right
index finger at the deputies’ position.  ‘Attack!’

Traitor Guardsmen and Ogryns rushed forward toward where the lawmen
were hunkered down.  The enforcers opened fire with shotguns.  The
weapons were loaded with the locally produced equivalent of executioner
rounds used by the Adeptus Arbites.  Each ten gauge shotshell was loaded
with a dozen thirty-eight calibre self propelled mass reactive pellets.
The charging Traitor Guardsmen went down in the face of the first
barrage, but the Ogryns continued on through the incoming fire.

The deputies aimed for the abhumans’ unarmoured areas.  Where the
shot patterns impacted, the flesh puckered and rippled with wet, meaty
smacks.  The horrendous injuries inflicted would have taken down a
normal human target with one round, but the giants absorbed blast after
blast as if they were pinpricks.  In seconds the abhumans were on top of
them.  The Ogryns brandished their ripper guns like clubs and began
slamming them into the squad.  Bodies went flying as they swiped their
firearms from side to side as if they were scythes, taking down deputies
as if they were nothing more than stalks of grain to be cut down.

A black and white Rhino came to a halt metres from the Chimera.  The
left side port opened and ten members of the Hostage Extraction Rescue
Division, sometimes referred to as HERD, exited and took up defensive
cover positions at the front corner of the vehicle.  Leading them was
Chief Deputy Naughton.  They were clad in thick carapace armour and
reinforced Brodie helmets that provided better protection than the type
issued to regular patrol squads.  They were armed with bolt pistols and
bayonet tipped bolters.  They were provided extra protection in the form
of ablative ballistic shields.  They pressed forward in close formation
and neutralised Bominus’s body guards with volleys of pinpoint bolter
fire.  The Gorgon was designated as their next target and they quickly
advanced to engage it.

The Brahma rammed through the obstacles and pulled around so the
vehicle could bring to bear its turret mounted multimelta against the
enemy vehicle.  Constable Tauro and his command squad disembarked their
transport and rushed across the cratered pavement to lend assistance to
his deputies being assaulted by the Ogryns.

‘I have to stop this!’, said Tauro as he triggered the activation
rune on his power maul.  The first Ogryn saw him coming and brought his
ripper gun down in an overhead axe stroke, aiming to crush him with a
single strike.  The constable avoided the falling gun and gripped the
power maul with both hands and hit the abhuman in the chest.

The power maul did its job, which was to actively separate the
molecules of whatever it struck.  The skin over the Ogryn’s chest burst
with the impact of the weapon’s powerful head.  His ribs and cartilage
buckled and collapsed inward.  The wounded abhuman bent over forwards
and his internal organs fell from the gaping wound.  In a panic he tried
scooping them up and placing them back into his open chest.  Some of the
innards went back in, but most slipped through his blood slicked fingers
and back onto the ground.  Tauro raised his maul up over his head and
brought it down in a furious downward chop.  The energized end of the
weapon impacted with the base of his opponent’s skull with a sickening
chomp.  The Ogryn fell forward onto his face, the maul’s head buried in
his brain.  The grey matter sizzled and popped as it began to cook due
to the energized heat generated by the power weapon.

The constable removed his maul from the dead Ogryn’s skull and turned
to engage the next target.  A massive fist impacted Tauro’s chest with a
mighty release of kinetic energy.  He was thrown backward fifteen metres
and hit the ground, sliding another three metres.

When his vision stopped spinning he was staring at the smoke filled
sky.  He gazed down toward his chest and was surprised to discover his
armour was intact.  He looked at his booted feet, then at what was in
the foreground just past them.  His vision slowly began to focus on a
blurry Ogryn walking toward him, getting larger with each step.

Tauro forced himself to get up.  After several seconds he got to his
feet and shook off the grogginess and pain.  Brank was almost upon him
when he came up with the power maul in an uppercut motion that caught
the Bone ‘ead in the front of his throat and under his chin.  The impact
raised Brank up off the ground for half a second but he came back down
onto his feet.  His large head rolled back and then forward again, torn
flesh flapped in the breeze and blood streamed from the wound.  Tauro
didn’t waste any time.  He swung his maul counterclockwise and struck
Brank on the left side of his jaw.  The jawbone ripped free and hung off
his face attached only by the muscles and tendons on the right side of
his face.  Brank tried to remain upright but his body refused to
cooperate.  He fell to his right knee.  He attempted to raise his ripper
gun, which he had miraculously managed to retain hold of, and squeezed
off a shot that missed his intended target wide to the left.

Tauro quickly unholstered his inferno pistol and deliberately lined
up the front and rear sights on a wrinkle just above the bridge of the
Bone ‘ed’s nose.  He tightened his finger over the trigger and fired a
single shot.  The plasma blast impacted and penetrated the abhuman’s
skull with a sudden finality.  The Bone ‘ead’s  eyes rolled back up into
his head and he fell forward with a loud thud.

The constable looked around, ready to engage the next opponent.  He
discovered the remaining four Ogryns dead on the ground with multiple
scorched holes in chests, throats and heads.  Around him stood his
entourage, smoke drifting from the muzzles of their weapons.

The air smelled of hot wires and burning petroleum as smoke poured
from the engine compartment of the stalled Gorgon.  The Brahma scored a
series of direct hits against the larger transport’s drive system.
Molten metal sloughed off in large chunks near the rear of the vehicle
and landed atop the ferrocrete pavement.  The melted metal liquified and
burned through the street’s multiple layers and continued to scorch
through the underlying dirt until it encountered bedrock.

Despite the damage to the Gorgon, it was not defenseless.  Dirt and
stone debris flew into the air as the ground around the gathered lawmen
was churned up by multiple solid ammunition impacts.  Fire flashed from
the bores of the Gorgon’s top mounted heavy stubbers and sponson mounted
heavy bolters as they raked shots from side to side.  The sound of the
combined gunshots from the automatic weapons echoed up and down the
street.  The four patrol deputies who had survived the Ogryn attack were
perforated by heavy bolter fire, the rounds punching through the
carapace armour with unrestrained ease.  They fell to the ground and
blood seeped through the open seams of their armour and soaked into the
dirt and sand.

Tauro’s security detail deputies took deliberate aim with their
special production meltaguns and unleashed concentrated fire upon the
Gorgon’s weapon emplacements while the HERD enforcers neutralised the
enemy gunners and crew with bolter rounds.

Emanda Torq checked the wounds of the fallen deputies but quickly
realised it was too late for them.

With the Gorgon’s crew neutralised, Tauro and his security detail
lowered the front ramp to free the civilian prisoners.  Most attempted
to express their gratitude to their saviours, but the deputies waved
away their attempts and directed them away from the oncoming invasion
horde.

As the last of the throng of captives exited the troop bay, Tauro
noticed a robed man standing against the back wall.  He had his head
down and his hands pressed together just below his chin and was
muttering to himself incoherently.

Tauro felt his skin begin to prickle.  Recognising it as a psychic
attack, he ordered his deputies to get clear of the vehicle.  Before
Bominus could finish uttering his Warp-stained chant, the constable
unclipped a melta bomb and with blinding speed entered the activation
code into the runepad.  He flung it toward the back of the vehicle’s
troop bay and sprinted away.  The Gorgon erupted in a ferocious
explosion.  The heat from the detonation could be felt in a radius of
several metres.

A hole in space tore itself open and disgorged a Lunar-class cruiser
in the blue and gold livery of Battlefleet Aspis.  Along with her were
five escorts.  The smaller Cobra-class destroyers sported the same
markings as the larger vessel save the centre most craft.  It was a
Sword-class frigate painted black with a silver skull and bones
superimposed over the unmistakable symbol of the Inquisition.  The
Deathwatch.

They immediately engaged the Chaos vessels with lance, macrocannon
and torpedo.  Such was a surprise was the attack the vessels of the
Ruinous Powers were caught unawares.  Within minutes the foul enemy
cruiser, Four Winds, was battered with its interiors aflame.

Explosions in orbit could be seen from the planet’s surface as
Kaabel and his retinue exited the Rhino.  He tried to raise the captain
of his cruiser, but to no avail.  The former Dark Angel pointed at the
Grenadier Angel Colonel Anvul, ‘Advance upon the enemy and stall their
pursuit while we make good our withdraw.’

The colonel shook his head in response, ‘Sorry, Lord Kaabel.  If
we’re going to die, you’ll be counted among the dead as well.’  With
that he quick drew his plasma pistol and shot the Renegade Astartes in
both knees.  Kaabel fell to the ground, unable to regain his footing.
As he cursed the colonel the remainder of Anvul’s command squad opened
up with meltagun and heavy bolter on the remainder of the Warp Angels.

The Traitor Guardsmen climbed aboard the half tracks and raced away
toward a waiting assault boat.  In minutes they had their captives
herded on the craft and were themselves aboard.  Seconds later they had ascended skyward.

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