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Into the Gallowdark Episode I: “The Ancestors Demand It”

Updated: Jun 26

A note from the author: I quit drinking in early 2023 and I needed a hobby so, at the bequest of my friend Curtis, I got back into Warhammer 40k -- specifically Kill Team. I painted up my old Catachan Jungle Fighters as the Veteran Guardsmen Kill Team and decided I'd write an episodic series of short stories set in the world of 40k inspired by my little toy soldiers.

This is the first in a series of four heavy sci-fi stories that tell the tale of Ignis Squad as they explore the space hulk known as The Gallowdark. I hope you like it.


A dropship speeds towards a space hulk. Inside, a squad of Veteran Guardsmen receive their final briefing before docking. A young imperial in his late twenties holds a rosary chanting prayers to The Emperor for protection. 

Sarge, hand painted by yours truly

Sarge, a career military man dressed to the nines in the unmistakable garb of a Commissar (though it doesn’t fit quite right and a keen eye might notice the poorly patched bullet hole where the heart would be), stands in the dropship holding himself steady with his right arm on a handhold. 

“This is it boys,” he says, “Our mission is to secure a foothold on The Gallowdark, map a route to the datacore, secure it and get the hell out. This space hulk has been inside the warp for who knows how long, could be millenia, hell some of it could have been born from chaos itself. Whatever we find in there won’t be more than we can handle. Why? Because we are Guardsmen. We are the Ignis Imperialis. We are victory incarnate.”

The squad collectively “Hoo rahs.”

The dropship lurches violently as it passes through the still-forming atmosphere of the Gallowdark. 

“I just don’t get why we got to have this god damn synth with us,” says Rebel.

“Don’t worry about it,” says Sarge, “Stay focused on the mission. When we’re given orders we follow them. We don’t ask questions. We don’t argue. We get it done.”

“Hoo rah!” says Gunner. The big boy cocks his flame thrower. (Yes, he cocks it, 'cause it's that kind of flame thrower.)

A stocky figure in sleek orange armor and an enclosed metal helmet blinks to life. It turns towards Rebel. 

“We prefer Ironkin,” they say. A smile emoji appears across their face. “It is imperative we retrieve the datacore intact. It contains the collective consciousness of an entire kindred thought lost millennia ago. I will need to be hardlined in to extract the necessary data and prevent it from being further corrupted. The Ancestors demand it.”

“Enough chatter,” says Sarge, “Boarding action in three…”

The dropship fires into the side of The Gallowdark making a hole big enough to crash through.

“Two…”

The guardsmen brace themselves for impact.

“One…”

The dropship shakes violently as it makes contact then lurches to a halt. The hatchway opens into the dark, dust filled causeways of the space hulk.

“Move, move, move!” shouts Sarge.

Ignis Squad charges into the void. 

“Check your corners.”

Gunner

Gunner goes first, securing the landing zone, followed by the grenade launcher wielding Rebel, then the rest of the squad with Sarge and the Ironkin taking up the rear.

“Landing Zone secure,” says Gunner.

The warp-twisted interior of The Gallowdark is disorienting. The walls and materials don’t match—the gothic grays and blacks of Imperial ships mixed with the sleek white and bright of the Tau—like the hulls of a thousand ships were fused together over a thousand years. And that is precisely what happened. But what is most striking is the clean silence. The metal doesn’t creak where it should. And there is no dust, like nothing alive has ever been aboard. 

Yet the atmosphere is breathable. Sarge tears off his rebreather and inhales deeply the sweet taste of unexplored rooms.

“Comms,” says Sarge, “Get Warp’s Bane on the horn. Report in.”

The comms-man kneels as he sets down the Vox he carries on his back and rotates the gear to get it working. He holds out the headset for Sarge who takes it promptly.

“Warp’s Bane, this is Ignis Squad reporting a successful boarding action,” says Sarge.

A crackle and then, “This is Warp’s Bane, read you loud and clear. Proceed to the triangulation point.”

“Roger that,” says Sarge.

“And Sarge?”

“Yes?”

“Bring the boys home this time.”

“You got it,” says Sarge.

He hands the headset back to the comms-man.

“What did they mean this time?” asks the synth.

“Let’s move out!” says Sarge, ignoring the Ironkin, “No time to waste!” He taps Gunner on the shoulder. “Take point.” He turns and points to two men in the back. “Spotter, Shooter, you two on overwatch. I don’t want any surprises. If you see anything, anything at all, take the shot.”

“Got it Sarge,” says Shooter.

The Ironkin stands back as the others move forward. “What did they mean this time?” they ask again. Louder.

Rebel. Faces, especially eyes, are hard.

“Get moving clunkhead,” says Rebel. She slaps the Ironkin on their robotic ass. The two of them catch up to the others.

The Ironkin’s datapad lights up with activity.

“I am detecting movement ahead,” they say.

“Now we’re taking orders from the lug head?” asks Rebel.

“Calm down Rebel,” says Sarge, “Save it for the Xenos. It is our client, so yeah, we’ll take orders from it.”

It has a name,” says the Ironkin, “It prefers Telon. Telon Trusk, if you don’t mind.”

“Telon it is,” says Sarge.

“There are several, what do you call them, bogies, on the other side of this hatchway,” says Telon.

“Prepare to breach and clear,” says Sarge.

“I can enhance your targeting arrays,” says Telon.

“In English,” says Gunner.

“I will, how do you say, light them up for you,” says Telon.

“Oh,” says Gunner, “Maybe this guy isn’t so bad after all. At least for a tin can.”

“I am made of spametal,” says Telon.

“Cut the chatter and get in position,” says Sarge, “We’re going in.”

Gunner moves up to the hatchway. On the other side, Shooter is crouched, backed up by Spotter. He flicks on the capacitor of his Long-las. It hums with a live charge. Spotter puts his hand on Shooter’s shoulder. 

“You’ve got this,” he says. 

Shooter turns back and gently kisses Spotter’s hand. He takes a deep breath calming his nerves. 


Spotter


Shooter

Rookie, the company's newest recruit, kneels in front of the door and slowly turns the locking wheel.

Rookie nods as it clicks into place.

Sarge silently holds out three fingers, then two, then one.

Like all combat encounters, the next few moments seem like they last for an eternity.

Rookie kicks open the hatch and rushes into the room in a crouch walk to the nearest cover.

Telon hits a button on their datapad, and a green laser field scans the room highlighting the outlines of the three hostile entities in the low-lit environment. They are roughly the size of a humanoid. One stands in front of a mainframe access point. Another is cutting an exit through a jammed hatchway on the far side of the room. A third is on guard behind a makeshift barricade.

The guard shouts something to the figure at the access point and opens fire with its lasgun. A blast hits Rookie as he slides to cover. 

Gunner advances and lights up the guard with liquid flame. The guard screams in pain as his flesh burns from his bones. The putrid smell invades Sarge’s senses bringing up a sense memory, one that he’d prefer to keep buried.

The light from the flamethrower illuminates the darkness and, through the flames, Sarge gets a look at the man at the access point who raises his hands in surrender. He is wearing the unmistakable garb of a Commissar (though it doesn’t fit quite right). Sarge stands in the open hatchway, and time stops around him as he stares into the impossibly familiar (yet wrong) face before him. 

He shakes his head back into the moment and raises his power axe and shouts, “Hold your fire!”

A near-silent blast of energy flashes from the barrel of the Long-las over Sarge’s shoulder. He makes eye contact with the figure in the center of the room as a hole pierces its left eye. It topples to the floor. The flames from Gunner engulf the corpse burning the Commissar jacket to ash.

Sarge knocks Shooter’s barrel into the ground and again yells, “Hold your fire!”.

The third figure turns its head completely around and whips its literal tongue across the room and grabs a data stick from the hands of the dead Commissar and leaps onto the ceiling and escapes through an open vent.

Gunner sprays flames in pursuit.

“Gunner!” yells Sarge, “Enough! Hold your damn fire!”

“Sir, yes sir!” Gunner lowers his flamer and turns back to Sarge, “What the hell was that thing?”

Spotter lifts the goggles off of his eyes, “Looked like some sort of mutant. Part man, part Xeno.”

Sarge walks forward and kneels over the now-unrecognizable Commissar’s corpse.

“The scanner is clear,” says Telon, “Area secure.”

Rebel comes up to Sarge and puts a hand on his shoulder, “Everything okay sir?”

Sarge rises to his feet and turns back to his squad. “Telon,” he says, “Figure out what they were after in the computer.”

“Roger that,” says Telon. They jack into the ship’s access point.

“Sarge…” a weak voice from Rookie, “I’m hurt Sarge. Hurt bad.”

Sarge moves over to Rookie. His guts are spilled out on the floor. Sarge knows he’s not going to make it. He crouches down and takes Rookie’s hand. “You served the Emperor well. Death is duty,” he says.

“You know that’s bullshit,” says Rookie smiling, “I liked hearing it all the same.” He coughs up blood. “It hurts Sarge.”

“I know,” says Sarge. He stands up and draws his heirloom bolt revolver and closes his eyes as he puts a bullet into Rookie’s head putting him out of his misery.

Ignis Squad bows their heads in a solemn moment of silence. Losing a brother-in-arms is always hard even though it is inevitable. In the grim-dark future of the 41st Millennium there is only war. And war is death.

“I have discovered something interesting,” says Telon.

Sarge and the others gather around the access point.

“This room is the datacenter for the Ancestor Core,” says Telon, “He…” They point to the burnt corpse on the floor, “...was extracting it onto a portable data drive. The one that… thing… absconded with a moment ago. It is imperative we recover The Core. The Ancestor’s Demand it.”


The End


Ignis Squad will return in Episode 2


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