Arc Colony, Imperial Sector Core-18.
On the balcony of a high tower, looking out over a peaceful green valley, a woman stretched out in the sunlight. Ignoring the glare of the dawn light on her white robes, she relaxed and closed her eyes.
Exactly one second later, an insistent beeping began to emerge from the room behind her. She sighed and stood up, retrieving a bundle of cloth - a hood - as she passed a small table on her way to a communications console. She covered her head with the hood, and activated the machine.
"This is Vail," she said, her voice masked by a tiny device woven into the fabric of the hood. The face that appeared on the screen was old, with one eye covered by an inelegant bionic replacement. A couple of faded scars showed the probable reason for the loss of the original.
"Inquisitor," he said, "the warp storms have subsided. We now estimate a three day travel time to hiveworld Eternity."
"Very well Captain, I am on my way. Be prepared to launch when I arrive."
"Yes Inquisitor," answered the captain as his image faded from the screen. Vail turned to a darkened corner of the room, where a suit of power armour rested.
Inquisition Frigate Nova, enroute to hiveworld Eternity.
Vail waited for the doors to her quarters to close and seal, then tossed her hood onto an ancient wooden desk, upon which was a compact grey box, connected to the room's data terminal by a pair of wires. Vail sat at the high-backed wooden chair behind the desk and allowed it to spin slowly.
"Princess," she said. The grey box beeped softly, then a voice emerged from it.
"List reports on recent uprising on Eternity." The box hummed for a moment, lights flashing briefly.
"List compiled. Request for weaponry from planetary governor to be used in the suppression of suspected cult. Report of cult activity by captain of Imperial freighter Pegasus. Inquisition directive for elimination of cult. Inquisition file on Eternity cult. Request for assistance from planetary defence forces. Response..."
"Stop. Summarise the defence force request."
"Scanning. Planetary defence forces request any available Imperial forces to aid in suppression of cult. Heretics have defeated defence forces in two major engagements and taken control of several small hive cities. Document ends."
"Continue previous list," said Vail, stopping the chair's gentle spin as it faced the desk again.
"Response from Adeptus Astartes Savage Angels chapter company two. Confirmation from Savage Angels homeworld of company assignment to assist destruction of Eternity cult. Report of Savage Angels second company captain on successful campaign against cult. Request for Inquisition clearance of remaining population of Eternity. List ends."
"The marines would have requested Exterminatus if the cult was related to chaos."
"Correct. Eternity cult is not linked to chaos, information source Inquisition file on Eternity cult."
"Summarise maximum extent of cult power on Eternity during the uprising."
"Scanning. Prior to request for assistance from defence force, the Eternity cult controlled eight minor hive cities, two transit centres, three power facilities. No later records on cult strength."
"How soon did the marines arrive?"
"Savage Angels battlebarge Wrath arrived two standard weeks after request."
"They could have contained the cult."
"Scanning chapter battle records. Correct, Savage Angels company two capable of containing cult outbreak of this magnitude with no further damage to loyal hive cities."
"So the damage is minimal, the influence contained and eradicated... the company captain will expect clearance to leave Eternity."
"Personnel records do not specify attitude to heresy quarantine."
"Ignore, that was rhetorical. Summarise motivations of cult."
"Scanning. Cult propaganda indicates appeal to dissatisfaction regarding Imperial tithes and requirements of Imperial Guard. Motivations of cult leaders unknown."
"Power for power's sake," murmured Vail.
"Probable," answered the machine.
Imperial Hiveworld Eternity, Magnus Hive.
Between towering shelves, filled with centuries of history, an Inquisition adept rubbed his eyes and stared again at the hundredth page of census reports. After making a couple of notes from the document, he replaced the heavy book in its shelf and retrieved a list from his robes. Having consulting it, he shuffled down the corridor between the shelves, eventually reaching a junction. As he turned, arms reached out of the shadows, a hand clamped over his mouth, and he was lifted off his feet. There were a few brief noises as he struggled, then there was silence.
Dim lights preceded an orbital shuttle in dropping out of the driving rain. The shuttle manoeuvred itself between two small spires and came to rest on a large landing platform set into the side of Magnus Hive. Technicians ran to connect supply cables to the craft as a plasteel shell rumbled overhead, sealing the platform from the harsh storm.
Hooded and armoured, Vail walked down the ramp from the shuttle's cargo bay. A group of nobles had been waiting in the shelter of a covered bridge to one of the spires, and now approached her. Behind them was a figure in red and black power armour, his shoulder pad bearing the insignia of a captain. Vail was confronted first with a large man, whose robes were ornate enough for him to stand out from the already extravagant nobles.
"Welcome Inquisitor," he began, his voice eager to please. "I trust you had a pleasant trip? I noted the recent warp storms, we often suffer such inconveniences, nothing major fortunately. I hope you were not delayed too long? I am Governor Tirehl, this is Chancellor Malyar..." Vail studied and memorised the faces as the handful of dignitaries were introduced. Finally the marine stepped forward.
"And this," continued the Governor, "is Captain Maxim of the Savage Angels, who were so helpful in overcoming the recent trouble. I have nothing but praise for the Captain and his men, their performance lived up to everything we hear about the Adeptus Astartes." Maxim merely nodded, as if oblivious to the Governor's words. Vail noted his face, and recalled his report on the campaign he had fought. She then raised a hand to halt the Governor, who seemed ready to launch into his next prepared speech.
"I will speak with Captain Maxim now," she said. "Governor, you will remain here for a moment, I will speak with you also. Is my assistant already here?"
"Yes, his transport arrived the day before we were cut off. He has been most vigilant in studying our records..." Vail again prevented a long monologue with the wave of a hand.
"You will all provide detailed reports on the uprising to him. I will arrange interviews later. You may return to your duties. Governor, I will speak with you in a moment." Vail and Captain Maxim left the group of officials, which dispersed, leaving Governor Tirehl wondering if it was safe to try to overhear what was going on.
"I have read your report, Captain," began Vail when they were out of earshot. "You claim the cult is totally destroyed?"
"That is correct." Vail was forming the impression that Maxim was not talkative - few marines were. She altered her plan slightly.
"You have made a request for clearance to leave this world. You realise that the quarantine must be maintained until the Inquisition is sure that no heretical activity has survived? You are sure there is no such activity?"
"I am sure. I saw the leaders fall in battle. The survivors were executed. There are no cultists left."
"I see. The defence forces lost several battles before you arrived. There is no chance that the cultists used the opportunity to spread their agents beyond the war zone?"
"No. Containment of the cult was complete."
"Very well. I may speak with you again before my investigation is complete. Remain in contact. That is all." Maxim nodded once and turned to leave the landing platform. Vail approached the Governor, who seemed to be ill at ease without his officials.
"My assistant has arranged quarters?" she asked.
"Yes Inquisitor," replied the Governor, "I have had rooms prepared in the Eagle Spire."
"Good. You will provide your report on the way." The Governor nodded and led Vail towards the connecting bridge. She already knew how far it was to the spire he had mentioned. The journey would be long enough, she guessed, for the talkative governor to provide some useful information.
Liquid fire seared its path along massive armoured trenches, running between the monolithic foundations of the hive. Looking down from a high crossover bridge, Vail noted the towering energy spires that rose from the magma flow. The depth of the structure made them look like tiny sticks.
"Our power core," said the governor, noting Vail's interest in the scene below. "One of the reasons the cultists never gained control of any major centres is that all the large hives on Eternity use geothermal power. Ancient technology, but it serves us well."
"Impressive," said Vail, having had her fill of the spectacle. The pair made their way along the bridge until they came to a junction tower, where several bridges connected. Tirehl used a small control box to extend a bridge from a blast door in the side of a distant tower, and motioned Vail forward. She noted the bridge they had crossed retracting away from the junction. She allowed the governor to continue his speech about the wonders of his planet, covertly switching her armour's internal heating to minimum. The heat from the lava below was a strong contrast to the other areas of the hive, which seemed to be maintained at near-freezing. Offering an occasional question to steer the conversation in useful directions, Vail allowed the governor to direct her out of the power core, and the pair continued on their way.
Vail studied the man sitting before her. Her quarters had been temporarily refitted as an interrogation room, the current subject of her questions sitting under the only bright light in the room. Vail walked slowly around him as he talked. He was a colonel of the Planetary Guard, Eternity's version of the defence force common to all civilised worlds in the Imperium. His answers had been short but precise, confirming what she had learned from the various reports that had been hurriedly submitted to her assistant in the last few hours. She was continuing the interview only out of curiosity - the colonel's record indicated he had never been involved in an investigation, yet Vail found his demeanour unusually calm. She dismissed the colonel after a few more questions, having learned nothing new. After bringing the lights in the room back to normal levels, she retrieved her computer from a compartment in her armour's backpack. She was about to begin organising her notes when the door signal beeped. Vail pushed a button on the computer and dropped it behind a chair that had been pushed against a wall. She opened the door to find Captain Maxim waiting.
"Captain? I have not yet found a reason to further question you."
"I know Inquisitor, I am merely curious as to the state of your investigation. My men wish to return to their chapter. It is inconvenient for us to remain on a planet such as this, with no enemy to fight."
"Your concerns are noted, but the heresy quarantine must not be broken until I am finished. I will make every effort to ensure your return is not delayed any longer than necessary."
"Thank you Inquisitor." The Captain nodded and left. After the door had closed Vail touched a control on the wall, sealing it. She then removed her hood and looked towards the desk that had been provided for her.
"Already active," said the computer's voice from behind the chair. Vail leaned over the chair are removed the machine from its hiding place.
"What do you make of that?"
"Authority of the Inquisition over the Adeptus Astartes is accepted with reluctance. Maxim wishes to return to battle. He does not consider the quarantine to be necessary in this instance."
"Indeed. Did you detect anything unusual?"
"Slight anomalies in speech tones. Probable cause: low temperature."
"A marine who gets cold?"
"Savage Angels homeworld experiences higher than average temperatures. Marines of the chapter are most efficient on gamma-three class worlds."
"I see. Keep an open file on Maxim. Assess notes from interviews, and prepare a schedule for investigations in the planetary records chamber. Notify my assistant that his presence will be required."
Adept Iago retrieved another volume from the shelves and opened it in front of Vail. She scanned the neat columns of figures briefly.
"Satisfactory," she said after a moment. Iago returned the book to its place. "Now," Vail continued, "your summary of possible breaches of containment during the fighting."
"I have read the records, Lord," the adept replied, "I see no evidence that the cult managed to evade the forces involved in containment." He began to turn towards another row of shelves, but Vail stopped him.
"I will review the records at a later date," she said. "It has been a long day. Deliver the historical records for the last twenty standard years to my quarters then retire. We will continue tomorrow." Iago nodded and disappeared into the shelves. Vail watched him go, then turned and headed for the doorway out of the hive's record chamber.
Entering her quarters and sealing the door, Vail activated her computer.
"Princess, access the personal file of adept Iago."
"Ready," the computer answered.
"How has he been rated during previous investigations? Efficient?"
"The adept has been commended on his efficiency and attention to detail. He meets the criteria you specified when requesting an assistant for this investigation."
"Yes, I remember. Do you think he might have overlooked any significant data in the shipping records, relating to repairs after the uprising?"
"Negative. Basic training requires shipping records to be given priority over damage reports in determining the extent of conflict where there is doubt."
"True. However, I specifically asked if there was any evidence that the cult moved beyond the containment zone, and adept Iago said there was none." Frustrated, Vail threw her hood onto the back of a chair across the room.
"Incorrect. Reports indicate repairs conducted on twelve major hives beyond containment zone..."
"Yes, I know. The repairs don't necessarily mean the hives were involved in direct conflict, there may have been damage from unmanned weapons."
"It is not the place of an adept to decide which information is relevant." Vail raised an eyebrow.
"Are you improving your conversational subroutines?"
"I maintain an active database to improve communication."
"Of course. And true, the adept should have told me. That is suspicious, even if the report was not necessarily so. A novice may have overlooked it, or considered it unnecessary, but not this one." Vail lapsed into a long silence, then abruptly spoke up again. "Princess, prepare a signal feed to the hive's main database. Access covertly. Look for any indication of cult activity in the hive, or any unusual communications between hives. If there is still cult activity here, I want to know about it before they decide to make a move. And contact Captain Maxim. I have more questions for him."
The marine captain stood under the harsh spotlight, meeting the Inquisitor's hidden gaze.
"Captain, I require all information collected by you and your company on the extent of the cult during your campaign. I need orbital scans of cult activity, squad leader's reports after planetfall, and strategic breakdowns of cult resistance to your forces."
"I anticipated this, Inquisitor." Maxim held out a data tablet, which Vail took. "I prepared this report based on all the available information on the possible extent of the cult. I believe it will support my assessment of the situation."
"This report is complete?" Maxim's eyes flickered down to the tablet for a moment.
"Squad leader reports are unavailable. The warp fluctuations around the planet rendered communication between my company and my ship unstable during the campaign. Only formal reports could be properly preserved."
"I see. Regrettable, but unavoidable under the circumstances. Very well, you may go. I will contact you when my investigation is complete. It will not be long now."
The marine nodded and left. Again, Vail made sure the door was sealed before she spoke.
"Not good enough," she said to herself. The computer's voice emerged from beneath a carefully-constructed a stack of reports.
"Your experience on the Home Colony is in conflict with the captain's..."
"I know. The Imperial Guard relays reports through their carriers. Marines make reports via whatever surface headquarters they have established."
"Query. What reason would Maxim have for withholding this information?"
"Speculate. Use that complex mind of yours."
"Option. Maxim wishes to leave Eternity as soon as possible. If your investigation uncovered evidence that the cult had not been contained, his departure would be delayed."
"He would be unintentionally protecting the cult. Even a marine knows the danger of ignoring the quarantine."
"Option. Maxim is intentionally protecting the cult."
"Do you think that's likely?"
"Logic indicates this is a possibility. Personal motives and the degree of loyalty within the Adeptus Astartes have not been considered."
"Eliminate the impossible..." Vail stood in front of the stained-glass window and looked out of a clear section at the terrain half a mile below. As always, rain was falling in a steady deluge. Vail shivered involuntarily. "Have you intercepted any communications that might relate to the cult?"
"No unusual communications logged. Options: one, cult does not exist. Two, cult uses means of communication other than standard hive data relays." Vail nodded and looked out over the rain-soaked ash wastes.
"Assume Maxim is assisting the cult," she said eventually, "project best course of action."
"Assumption presupposes that cult survived campaign with minimal losses. Therefore Maxim must have prevented his troops from acting at full efficiency during the campaign to destroy the cult. Maxim's aim will be to conceal the existence of the cult, and cause the heresy quarantine to be lifted. Scanning battle records... No evidence of contact between Captain Maxim and hiveworld Eternity prior to current campaign. Scenario requires that Maxim had no intention to allow cult to survive prior to planetfall."
"So why didn't he destroy them," wondered Vail aloud, interrupting the computer. "If the company deployed as standard, the initial battle reports will have been sent to the field headquarters, then relayed to the battlebarge for long-term storage."
"Maxim will be notified of any contact between his ship and yours. Scenario indicates that crew of battlebarge be unaware of Maxim's motives, therefore they will obey his orders."
"Yes. Contact the Nova, establish data link with the Inquisition database. Locate and decode the prefix code for Maxim's ship."
"Wait." Various lights flashed on and off as the computer worked. "Done. Prefix code is alpha-epsilon-one-three-seven-omega-one."
"Access teleportarium. Prepare for relay teleport to the battlebarge."
"Query. You intend to use the prefix code to disable the battlebarge's shields?"
"Good guess, but no. Use the code to contact the battlebarge's defence network, and retrieve their shield frequency. Configure the teleportarium to penetrate the shields."
"Codes sent. Wait. Frequency received, teleportarium configured."
"Send teleport signal to Nova." Vail toppled the pile of reports and picked up the computer underneath. "You're coming too."
After a brief glimpse of her ship's teleport chamber, Vail found herself in a deserted corridor on the marine battlebarge Wrath. She quickly confirmed that she was alone, then activated the computer.
"Which way to the main memory core?" she whispered. "Quietly," she added in the brief pause as the machine referenced a file.
"Proceed forward," it said after a moment, at low volume. "Right at the ninth junction, then down one level." Vail nodded out of habit and hurried along the darkened corridor. Counting off the junctions under her breath, she arrived at one which led to a ladder running the full height of the ship. Checking up and down to ensure no-one was already on it, she swung herself onto the ladder and descended out of sight.
Once inside the memory core she set to work. The main memory was stored in huge magnetic hives, each one the size of a battle tank. Vail located an access terminal and placed the computer next to it, using a thin cable to make a connection.
"Access archives from the campaign," she whispered. "Look for field reports, telemetry from vehicles, orbital scans, anything."
"Accessing." Vail waited impatiently, watching the status lights on the terminal flicker back and forth. Finally the lights settled into a pattern indicating that data was being transferred into her computer. A moment later there was a sound from the core entrance. Vail turned to see the portal to the rest of the deck begin to open, and barely had time to slip between two of the magnetic hives. Peering around the edge, she saw someone in the red robes of a Mechanicus adept, accompanied by a servitor. The adept's voice drifted along the corridor.
"Interface with the terminal. Prepare for standard maintenance litanies." Vail looked back to the terminal, where her computer sat in clear view, as a steady clanking heralded the advance of the servitor. Before she could think of a plan, the terminal's lights flickered again. The servitor stopped and began to walk ponderously back towards the portal. When it reached the surprised adept, it turned and headed off down another of the corridors between the hives. Vail grinned under her hood as the adept followed, muttering litanies and fiddling with his control box. She emerged from hiding and disconnected the link, quickly removing any trace of her presence. She disappeared just as the adept returned to the entrance, glaring at the uncooperative servitor.
After warning her ship's captain of the possible danger, Vail returned to her quarters and made her way back to the records chamber. She quickly located several volumes and began comparing them with the reports made by the Savage Angels on their arrival.
"This isn't right," she said after comparing a handful of archived battle reports with the computer's account of the marine landing. "These say that the marines all landed outside the containment zone, and pushed inwards. Compare the drop pod telemetry with the battle reports."
"Archived report is inaccurate," the computer said after a moment, "squads one, two and five landed within containment zone. Contact was lost for four hours."
"Access field reports of squad one. Playback."
"Landing successful," it was Maxim's voice, with some background noise, "no casualties. Contact with two and five. Guidance seems to have put us off course, trying to get a fix on our position. Cultists in large numbers, we are operating on standard cleanse parameters." The commentary was broken by an interlude of gunfire. "Estimate three hours until we regain contact with the rest of our teams. Cultists are concentrated on a group of hives to our north, but our orbital scans were..." a rise in the level of background noise seemed to distract Maxim. There was some gunfire, and a lot of yelling, none of it loud enough to be understood from the recording. Suddenly there was a roaring noise, almost as loud as Maxim's voice, which cut in again. "Emperor! Squad one, covering fire! Five, fall back to," and then the recording ended. Vail's frown creased her hood.
"Play the next report from that squad." Again, Maxim's voice emerged from the machine.
"We have re-established contact with all teams. Containment secure, cultists are falling back. No orbital fire needed. One Rhino damaged on landing. Report ends," the computer finished, in its own voice.
"Cultists are falling back," repeated Vail thoughtfully. "They were attacked, by a large force from the sound of it. Curious that maxim shouldn't mention it. Could he have been taken prisoner? What's the elapsed time between those two reports?"
"Three hours forty-eight minutes fifteen seconds between end of first report and beginning of second."
"Assume it is possible a marine could be convinced to betray his own company. What could do it in less than four hours? Access known factors of investigation. Anything? What are we missing?"
"Unknown." Vail let out a slow breath, and was reaching for another volume of records when her communicator crackled into life. She switched it to send and spoke into the receiver.
"This is Vail, go ahead."
"My Lord," said adept Iago through the faint hiss of static, "Governor Tirehl requests your presence in his office immediately."
"Very well, inform the governor that I'm on my way." Vail deactivated the communicator and left the pile of volumes where they were. She made her way to the main corridor of the records chamber, and had just turned towards the entrance when she heard a hiss behind her. Instinct took over, and she ducked and rolled sideways, narrowly avoiding the shape that had lunged at her head. She scrambled to her feet, while her attacker flipped upright with inhuman speed. Again it lunged, and this time it was too fast to avoid. Vail managed to catch its outstretched limbs as it slashed at her, and found herself staring at a pair of razor-sharp claws barely inches from her face. She felt hands wrap around her wrists, and her hands were dragged apart, revealing a monstrous face behind the claws. Its red eyes glared at her, and it pulled its head back, preparing to lunge. Vail saw rows of teeth glittering in the faint light from above.
"Princess," she gasped, "laser cutter, now!"
She allowed her right arm to go limp, the sudden lack of resistance to the creature's hands pushing both her arm and the claw it held out to her side. The creature's lunge missed her face by millimetres as its body was pulled to one side, and for a moment she felt it pull on her other arm, trying to free its claw, then it went limp. Vail pushed the body away, as the small energy cutter retracted back into her backpack. She regarded the creature's face, now with a neat, cauterised hole where its left eye had been, and gave herself a moment to return her breathing to normal.
"Well," she said eventually, watching the genestealer's green blood trickle towards the nearest row of shelves, "now we know."
Governor Tirehl looked up sharply as Vail let herself into his office.
"I said no-one was to..." he began, then stopped. "Inquisitor, I apologise," he continued after a moment of confusion, "I did not expect you to arrive so quickly."
"I was told you wanted to see me immediately, Governor," replied Vail, watching the governor closely. He nodded absently.
"Yes, of course. I am curious as to the current state of your investigation. It proceeds well?"
"It does," said Vail, her voice level.
"Good, good. No unusual findings so far?"
"Nothing unusual. Why do you ask?" Vail countered, deliberately sounding suspicious.
"Oh, nothing really. Captain Maxim has been contacting me in regard to the quarantine, that is all."
"Very well. I will continue my work. I had meant to contact you later. I require several files from your personal archives. Personal logs and family records for the past year. It is routine that such material be reviewed during an investigation of this type."
"Of course, I will have my archives made available to you."
"Thank you Governor."
"Princess," said Vail, after sealing the door to her quarters, "under what circumstances would a planetary governor allow access to his personal archives without argument?"
"Query. Baal Secundus experiencing freezing conditions?"
"Indeed. Governor Tirehl summoned me for no reason. I was attacked by a genestealer. He asked if I had found anything unusual."
"Genestealer attack qualifies as unusual."
"He didn't know I was attacked."
"Scenario: Governor was aware of impending attack. Incorrectly assumed attack had not yet occurred." Vail raised an eyebrow at the computer.
"Good guess. So he agrees to give me access to his archives because he thinks I will be killed before I can look at them."
"Error in logic. Scenario assumes Governor Tirehl is aware of cult activity and wishes to conceal it. Death of an Inquisitor would require thorough investigation."
"True. Not dead then, but no longer investigating. Controlled."
"Genestealer cults associated with telepathic control. Extent of power unknown."
"Assume cult has control of Governor Tirehl. Logic errors, based on known facts?"
"None." Vail got up and looked again out of the window - if anything, the storm was worse than usual. She then crossed the room and activated the communications console, pulling her hood into place as the machine powered up. A moment later, Captain Maxim's face appeared.
"Captain, I have disturbing news. I have reason to believe that the Governor is being influenced by the cult. He has already had me attacked once. I require a bodyguard from your company, and I must meet you in person as soon as possible."
"I will send a squad immediately, Inquisitor," replied the marine, "they will escort you to me safely."
"I will wait in my quarters." Vail cut the link, and scooped her computer up from the desk.
"Error in logic," it said, slightly muffled as Vail dropped it into a compartment of her backpack, "Captain Maxim is also under suspicion."
"I know," replied Vail.
The marine sergeant bypassed the entry coder on the door to her quarters and jump-started the system. As the door hissed open, the sergeant stepped aside and four of his squad aimed their weapons inside. There was a rushing noise as four web guns sprayed the interior of the room, then the marines moved in, boltguns ready.
Having watched this from a junction corridor, Vail turned and quickly put some distance between herself and the scene of the attack. She finally paused several levels away, in part of the labyrinth of corridors that made up the upper hive's power transfer system.
"Warning," beeped her computer, "hive communications have been deactivated."
"Good, that confirms it. Princess, prepare a tachyon burst transmission to the frigate. Tell them to begin bombardment of all spaceport facilities. I want nothing to leave this planet. Authorise them to use prefix codes to disable the Wrath if it tries to intervene."
"Transmission prepared. Suggest immediate teleport."
"Not yet. First priority in a genestealer infestation is to kill the Patriarch."
"I know a few things about the creatures. The Patriarch has to be near the centre of its brood. That's in this hive. And they need to grow. They need heat. Princess, break into the maintenance drone control network for the thermal power core. I want to prepare a little surprise."
Vail stood on the edge of the bridge as it extended towards the central junction tower in the thermal power core, jumping the last half-metre to the tower itself. She quickly crossed to the control box and retracted all the bridged leading to the tower. She heard the noise of the tower's lift rising behind her, and turned to see Maxim step off the lift platform. His body had swelled beyond its normal size, and tears in his armour revealed a mutated abomination below.
"The Inquisition charges you with heresy and treason against the Emperor," she said. "You are judged guilty, the sentence is death." Maxim grinned, revealing unusually pointed teeth.
"This will not help you. All that remains is to see that you die. Then we will leave this world, and return home. The glorious transformation of my people will continue. The power of the Savage Angels, merged with the might of the brood, will conquer the galaxy in time."
"I don't think so."
"What will you do to stop me? You cannot defeat me." Maxim stood in front of the Inquisitor, eyes boring into her.
"I don't have to. I just had to be sure you were here long enough."
"Long enough for what? What have you done?"
"There are twenty maintenance drones on the base of this tower. When they receive my signal," Vail held up a portable transmitter, "they will detonate the meltabombs in their equipment bays. You will die." Maxim let out a growl and lunged. His arms pinned Vail to the ground, and with a tearing sound a pair of claws emerged from beneath his armoured shoulders, one of them ripping the transmitter from her hands. Maxim's face twisted, becoming bestial, his eyes clouding over red.
"You cannot fight me," he bellowed, "I am a god!" He lifted the transmitter above his head and crushed it without effort.
"I lied," said Vail quietly.
"Then there are no bombs, and you have failed!"
"No, the bombs are real. I just set them to detonate when they were in position. That should be about now." As if on cue, there was a rumble from the base of the tower. Maxim's head darted sideways, staring down over the edge as a supernova erupted below, rivalling the rivers of lava in its ferocity. With a savage howl Maxim lifted Vail into the air, hurling her across the tower's top. Ignoring the pain of her landing, she pushed herself away from the edge.
"You change nothing! With you dead, we will survive! The Savage Angels will survive!" As the tower began to tilt, Vail struggled to her knees. Maxim looked at her, his inhuman gaze filled with hate, then he leapt, his four arms encircling her armoured form and carrying them both over the edge, down towards the river of fire.
Vail twisted in his grip as they spun downwards. She managed to plant her feet on the marine's chest, pushing against his torn armour. His eyes met the blank stare of her hood.
"Real angels fly," she said, giving one last push. The creature spun away from her as two air intakes slid open in her backpack. Maxim let out a last scream of rage as the Inquisitor soared away from him on wings of fire, then he crashed into the lava.
Vail watched him disappear from above. The junction tower had collapsed into the side of the power core, tearing a massive wound through countless levels of machinery. She could see traces of alien structures within the wreckage. A voice emerged from her backpack.
"Warning. Thirty seconds of fuel remaining."
"Princess," she said calmly, "signal Nova for an emergency teleport, would you?" Looking down towards the sea of fire, where the last ripples of Maxim's landing were dying out, she whispered to herself. "May the Emperor have mercy on your soul." In a flash of energy, the Inquisitor left the hiveworld.