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Into the Gallowdark Episode III: The Warpstorm has Arrived

Updated: Jun 26

He runs his fingers across the artisan silver and adamantium inlay of the holstered heirloom bolt revolver.

“Sarge,” a voice from the void, “You okay Sarge?”

The desert battlefield melts away to a world of rust and metal. The Gallowdark.

Sarge stays silent for a beat, “Yeah. I’m okay.” He stands up. “Just thinking is all.”

"Are we going to talk about how that thing hurled its tongue halfway across the room?” says Gunner, “Have any of y’all ever seen anything like that?”

“When I was stationed on Gravalax,” says Rebel, “I saw some things I couldn’t explain.”

“Gravalax? Never heard of it,” says Shooter.

“Of course you haven’t,” says Rebel, “The Imperium scrubbed its name from the galaxy. There’s a lot they don’t want you to know.”

“We must continue our mission,” says Telon.

“Shut up clunker,” says Rebel.

“The Ironkyn is right,” says Sarge, “We’ve got a mission. Let’s not dilly dally.”

“I’ve got a message for you Sarge,” says Comms.

Sarge puts on the headset, “What have you got for me HQ?”

“We’ve received a distress signal from inside The Gallowdark. Not far from your current location. I’m sending the coordinates to the client’s datapad now.”

“Receipt confirmed,” says Telon, “Distress signal is 2 clicks in…” they whirl around to the right, “...that direction.” Telon pauses, “Not in the direction of the datacore. The primary objective.”

“Roger that HQ,” says Sarge, “We’ll send some of the boys to investigate.”

“One more thing,” says HQ, “We’ve detected a warpstorm on its way. It will engulf your section of The Gallowdark in a few hours and we will be out of radio contact for the duration. You’ll be on your own.”

“Got it,” says Sarge, “Over and out.”

He hands the headset back to Comms.

Spotter raises his hand, “Shooter and I’ll go,” he says.

“Excellent,” says Sarge, “Telon, upload the coordinates to Spotter’s heads-up-display.”

“I’ll go too,” says Gunner, “The further I can get away from whatever that thing is, the better.”

“Alright,” says Sarge, “That means Rebel and Comms, you’re with me and Telon. We’re after the primary. We do the rest of this by the book. I don’t want any more dead guardsmen, okay?”

“Sir, yes, Sir!” says Ignis Squad.

“Let’s move out!” orders Sarge.

Beta Squad

Spotter, Shooter and Gunner weave through the maze-like corridors of the space hulk towards the distress beacon.

“So, how’d you two meet anyway?” asks Gunner.

“That’s an interesting question coming from you,” says Shooter.

“What do you mean by that?” asks Gunner.

“I didn’t peg you for the sensitive type is all,” says Shooter.

“I’m a man of many layers,” says Gunner smiling.

He switches his flamer to a rotary cannon.

“Just like my gun,” he says.

“We met back in the academy,” says Spotter, “A sniper needs a spotter. They pair you off in boot camp and keep you together through your entire career.”

“So, you’ve just been a couple from the beginning? Hand-picked by the Imperium?” asks Gunner, “Why stay together after joining up with Sarge?”

“The bond between a Spotter and his Sniper is special,” says Spotter.

He looks Shooter in the eyes and lingers for more than a moment.

“I just wish we had met under different circumstances,” says Shooter, “Killing isn’t exactly the most romantic thing, but it's all we’ve ever known. The average human doesn’t have a lot of options in this universe. It’s either kill or die. The Emperor isn’t worth dying for. We all know that. That’s why we joined up with Sarge. In this outfit, we’re at least picking our contracts. Violence usually isn’t the objective in Ignis Squad, it's just something we have to do. I take no joy in it. That’s why I always shoot to kill. One shot through the head. Less pain that way. Most of the time my target doesn’t even know they were shot. One moment they're enjoying a sausage, the next they're dead. No fear. Just blissed nothingness.”

“Now, we’re fighting for a Shooter-Spotter shaped hole in the universe. A place we can call our own and just be,” says Spotter.

“Why so interested all of a sudden?” asks Shooter.

“Oh, just killing time. Filling the silence,” says Gunner.

“You okay Gunner?” asks Spotter, “Seems like what went down back there’s got you spooked. Sarge too.”

“Hell yeah I’m spooked,” says Gunner, “Did you see that thing?”

“I was scoped in on that rogue Commissar,” says Shooter, “Strange thing is for a split second before I pulled the trigger, I thought I was aiming at Sarge. I had to open my left eye and check, but sure enough Sarge was standing off to the side with his back facing me.”

“What do you think it was?” asks Spotter.

“I don’t know,” says Shooter, “Let’s stay focused on the mission objective, we’ll deal with it later.”

“Good idea,” says Gunner, “That thing went the other way, so we should be good. Right? By the way, Spotter, how far is the beacon?”

“Right on the other side of that door at the end of the hall,” says Spotter.

The three members of Ignis Squad stand in front of a closed hatchway. The metal should be rusted, but it isn’t, it’s pristine, dust free. Gunner puts his ear up to the door to try and hear if anyone, or anything is on the other side.

“What are you doing?” asks Spotter, “That’s twelve inches of solid space metal. There’s no way you're hearing anything through it.”

“Okay, Mr. Smarty Pants,” says Gunner, “What do you suggest we do? Go in blind?”

“We do what we always do,” says Shooter, “Breach and clear.”

“Easy for you to say,” says Gunner, “You're not the one going in first.”

“Relax,” says Spotter, “I’m not getting any readings in the auspex scanner, but I can toss in a shock grenade if it will make you feel better.

Gunner takes a deep breath and brings himself under composure as much as he can given the situation.

“Works for me,” he says.

He gets into position to open the hatchway.

“On three,” says Spotter, “One, two, three.”

Gunner turns the wheel and at the moment the door unlatches a bolt of purple lightning strikes the area behind them.

Alpha Squad

`“The objective is just up ahead,” says Telon, “Through that access point right there.” They point to a bulkhead door that appears to have been welded shut from this side. The writing on the wall, in Imperial Gothic, reads Bridge.

“Who would have done this?” asks Comms. “I mean, why seal this area off? Wouldn’t you want to hold up in the bridge and seal off the rest of the ship?”

“What if they were sealing something in. Like that mutant-looking mother fucker. It escaped into the vents, right? And we’ve been tracking it, right? So, what if it was what whoever sealed this was trying to keep in?” says Rebel.

“Or something worse,” says Comms, “What do you think, Sarge?”

Sarge has been staring off into empty space. His mind has been drifting back over the events of his life that led him here, to this moment. His grasp on the present has been slipping.

“Huh? What?” asks Sarge.

“They were discussing theories on why the bridge would be sealed,” says Telon, “And they wish you to weigh in.”

“Oh,” says Sarge, “There’s only one way to find out.”

He begins cutting through the hatchway with his power axe.

“You sure about that Sarge?” asks Rebel, “We don’t have any idea what’s in there.” She turns towards Telon. “What are you picking up on your pan-spectral scanner, synth?”

“Just a moment please,” says Telon. They type inhumanly fast with every digit of their right hand.

“Why do you need to type anyway?” asks Rebel, “I mean, aren’t you a robot? Why not interface directly?”

“The Ironkin are built as sentient beings. Artificial intelligences. We are no different from you in that way, though some might not consider you quite so intelligent,” says Telon.

“Watch it,” says Rebel. She takes a step forward into Telon’s space.

“Because of the variable and adaptable nature of our purpose--to problem solve and fulfill an extremely wide variety of tasks--we, the Ironkin, were built to interface with all of the technology of the Leagues of Votann. In other, simpler, words, we have fingers so that we can share technology with organics. It’s a sort of redundancy, what if I were to be incapacitated? The datapad would need to be accessible by another member of the team.”

“Look alive folks,” says Sarge, “I’m almost through.

Ignis Squad moves into breach position.

“We don’t know what will be meeting us on the other side,” he says. “I do not think it wise to go in guns blazing. I’m looking at you, Rebel. You know what? I’m going to open the door just far enough for you to fire an auspex grenade. Then we’ll survey the situation and move in. Got it?”

“You got it, Sarge,” says Rebel.

“Calibrate the auspex with Telon. They will provide the tactical analysis,” says Sarge.

“Yes sir,” says Rebel.

Telon interfaces with an auspex grenade before handing it to Rebel who gives Telon the side eye.

“It will be to your advantage to trust me, human,” says Telon. “We are in this to win this.”

“I’m in this to get paid,” spits Rebel.

“Alright children,” says Sarge. “I’m opening the door.”

Sarge creaks the hatchway open, and Rebel pokes the barrel of her grenade launcher through and fires the auspex grenade into the darkened room. A second later the auspex grenade emits lasers taking in the locational data of the interior of the derelict bridge. Telon analyzes the data in real-time.

“I am transmitting an augmented reality reconstruction of everything in the room to your heads up displays,” says Telon.

Rebel, Comms, Telon, and Sarge stare at the virtual scene before them. A world drawn in blue vector lines. The room is empty of organic life. The structural integrity of the bridge is intact. It is a gruesome scene of mutilated corpses arranged in a pentagram, an unlit torch placed in the mouth of a victim at each point of the star. Bones are deliberately stacked at the base of the pentagram on the far side of the room. No signs of life. The Ancestor Core rests in the center.

“What in the name of The Emperor?” asks Comms.

“Looks like a ritual,” says Rebel. “The kind that summons demons. I’ve seen something like this before.”

“What it is does not matter,” says Telon. “We must recover The Core. The Ancestors demand it.”

“Easy for you to say, you’re not alive,” says Rebel. “If you die they’ll just put your spirit in another machine.”

“It does not work that way,” says Telon. “I am alive, just like you, and I can die, just like you.”

“Stay focused,” says Sarge, “We’re going in.”

Sarge slowly opens the door with his boot. It creaks so loud he thinks it might wake the dead. But the corpses remain still. He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding.

Ignis Squad Alpha enters the bridge.

“Should we just grab it?” asks Comms. “I mean it's right there.”

“No, you idiot,” says Rebel. “What do you think it’s doing there? You think that creature just put it there for fun? You don’t think it wants us to take it?”

“Rebel’s got a point,” says Sarge. “Stay frosty. I don’t like the smell of this.”

Telon moves directly to the center of the pentagram and reaches down to retrieve The Core.

“Telon stop!” yells Rebel.

Telon lifts but it does not move.

“Upon closer inspection The Ancestor Core appears to be fused to the floor,” says Telon. “It is not welded. It is as if The Core passed through the space metal and stopped part of the way through. A third of it is in the floor.”

“Sounds like some warp shit to me,” says Rebel.

A haze of purple descends upon the bridge. Static surges through the clouds.

The warpstorm has arrived.


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