Home // The Vault and The Viper
“Talisman entry within ten”
No One clutched his lasgun. It shone in the artificial light of landing craft’s narrow interior. It was all he had bar the clothes on his back, his collection of knives and his mind. The thing that got him into this mess. His two employees were finishing their own pre-mission ritual. They were being paid for being what they had always been. No One, No Name and No Body. He was nobody and right where he belonged. No Name was the youngest of the trio, a child basically. But one with the build of an Grox. And the intelligence of one. He had to earn his stripes on this mission. Maybe No One would recruit him again to serve besides No Body. His trusted right-handed. The older sellsword just leered at the boyish oaf while he prepared his Lucius Pattern Hellgun, kissed his charms and checked his raided and dilapidated Storm Trooper Carapace. The dour grim on No Body’s face hadn’t strayed from the junior until the Pilot’s next announcement roared through the Hullripper’s innards.
“Talisman entry within five”
The other two giants where loading bolters with fresh rounds, preparing their light plating and cloaks. Watching them ready was almost as baffling as their size. No single movement was wasted, every pinch of muscle was pure necessity. They moved as if the same being. Reflections of one another. Singular in purpose though somehow not having to focus on the regimented movements their hands made, as they had probably done thousands of times before. His employees couldn’t dream of ever achieving that level. No Body was old for a human. He had survived a lot of gunfights and it showed. The oaf was just that, an oaf. And even their services weren’t cheap. They were desperate men, looking for credits to claim or reclaim what they deemed rightfully theirs. No One had formed the trio of unlikely guards to serve the Legionnaires on their exploration of the Vault.
“Talisman entry within three”
They were exact copies. Bald-headed, sleek faces rested upon heavily muscled torsos with shoulders wider than two of his own men side to side. He couldn’t detect a single movement betraying their breathing. His men and he were mere hired guns with similar viewpoints. These ‘men’, something they obviously hadn’t been since aeons ago, were warriors. Marines.
“Talisman entry within half”
His eyes wandered the faces. Perfectly mirrored visages with one side tattooed. A three-headed monstrosity slithered from the ear rounding one brow.
“My rates are steep, but these soldiers…”, he pondered.
The Hullripper dug its claws deep into the silver skin of the Talisman as the pilot disengaged from the wheel and effortlessly repeated the readying of his siblings.
The words had barely left the pilot’s mouth when his sibling opened a hatch and pulled out the screaming woman. Her hands weren’t bound. Neither were her feet. They were missing. The Mech Priest had been dismantled down to the bare necessities, what remained was barely recognisable as human. A long wail escaped her vox installation as a Legionnaire fist smashes into her lowel jaw and ripped out the mechanical lower mandible containing the source of the howl. The flailing limbs shuddered as the remaining biological eye exuded sheer panic and lapsed shut. The harpoon shuttle grew silent for a few moments as the Mech Priest sank into a state of shock, servos and bionic muscle twitching.
The Pilot looked at neither of his twins and didn’t deviate in his pronunciation. Still the third Marine, somehow immediately knowing he was being addressed, took an Archeo-Syringe from his pouch and sunk it into a port on the skull of the Martian. Her artificial eye immediately opened in a blaze of red projection, drowning the inside of the small landing pod in holo-map. The Traitor’s syringe whizzed deeper into her cores as he held her head back to steady the slideshow emitting from the aperture.
The Ghost dropped the former lower jaw and pointed at a small indicator on the red holo-survey. The pilot let a small smirk draw in the corner of one mouth. This tiny gesture took the contractor by surprise.
The shutter door of the Hullripper opened as if feeling the three Marines and their three guns for hire were to set foot on the Blackstone Fortress.
“Target acquired, route set, asset status malleable”
Two of the cloaked abhumans drew their knifes and gun whilst the Ghost clatched his boltpistol and hoisted the limbless form of the female Tech Priest over his shoulder.
“Hydra Dominatus, move out”
“Move out”, No One repeated after them, his two brothers following the billowing green cloaks into the alien architecture.
The ivory walls moved, shifted and breathed, prompting the nozzles of the modified lasguns to probe past every corner. No One and his contemporaries were startled to say the least. This vault was vast, expanding and receding as a lung. An organ infested with wreckage of former space faring vessels, some walls pristinely alien, others wrought iron and warped steel. It was difficult to focus on an environment altering beyond every junction. One of his fellow no-names went through seven med-injects just to battle the nausea. The constantly adapting rooms and recesses bended their minds. The serpents however casually slithered along, not wanting to pause nor speaking a single word. They exuded a calm that rang up No One’s nose and held him by the spine. He only trusted these bulky shadows as deep as they could fill his pockets. And the promised credits stacked high. That was all he needed to battle the nausea.
The cloaks suddenly stopped in their tracks, their coats still despite the light movement in the air. No One held No Name by the chest, holding him back whilst the young hireling gathered what was happening. No Body made up the rear of the small party and was shouldering his rifle before his younger counterpart had regained his footing.
The chime of needles tapping a floor far away rang though the halls.
No One hadn’t even noticed that only two cloaks stood were just stood three, one still hauling what remained of the Priest over one shoulder.
Only the ruffling of their garb betrayed movements. They were long out of sight before No One could register the word. “Hostiles?”
The tapping increased in intensity.
“Cover”, No Body screamed whilst hauling himself into a derelict personel carrier lining the walkway. The young oaf had no time to readjust. His stomach was still turning when their employer vanished.
He turned around looking for his friends, thick drops of sickly sweat permeating the light haze on his chin.
The Spindle Drone dropped down on him and pinned him through his shoulder and lower abdomen, one oculus scanning its prey. No One coursed beneath his breathe as he heard the soon to be dead ex-Guardsmen cough up blood and spit a harrowing scream that was bolstered by a deflating lung. The Monitor tiptoed through the dying remains of the soldier, searching for the victims fellow invaders. No one paced his hasty respiration, searching for the weapon he was holding, quickly checking it. A single lasgun shot ignited the air and ricocheted of the Drone’s white hull.
The oculus immediately retraced the trajectory.
“No Name was done for”
Light flutter interrupted the guardians stride towards the Interloper.
A knife longer than No One’s arm sank through the carapace of the arachnoid sentry, the arm holding it twisting the handle until the automaton’s bloody talons buckled underneath the deadweight. The pilot’s cloak rippled down over the fallen patrol as the kindle behind the red oculus died out.
The oaf lay beneath the debris, gasping his last words and gazing upwards. No outreached hand greeted him. His fading breath echoing in the barrel of a drawn bolter. No One gathered himself and swung from behind his cover to see the joyless scene. He opened his mouth to shout his objection but recoiled due to the explosive round tearing through No Name’s skull.
No One’s knees gave way and he sunk to the ground.
No Name collected his thoughts and buried his revulsion, as the Priestesses body was dropped next to the broken form of the Drone. Torn habiliments drank in the bodily fluids seeping from the mangled remains underneath the twitching and collapsed form of the steward. The Traitor produced a cable connecting one end to the socket on the Mech Adepts skull whilst, after consideration, jamming the other into an opening between the white carapace pads that covered the guardian of the vault. The red sensory organ beamed back into life, the corporeal form it belonged to dying around it due to the exertion of the kidnapping and imprisonment of the Martian female. The holo-map was shifting, a bewildering puzzle of warping walkways and swerving bays. No Name felt his dinner churn in his belly, trying to gaze through the projection as to fake a semblance of understanding such as that of his proprietor. The stern, glass face peered at the virtual cacophony, the pilot’s still smoking bolter now holstered on his hip.
The third reptile drifted past No Name, his long scale patterned robe whipping in the soldier of fortune’s face. The Marine dropped besides his comrade, scrutinizing the holo-map. A hand plated by a black carapace dug into the depiction of the Fortresses interior. The slim gesture of a single digit enlarged the rolling and whisking passages. An undaunted finger pointed out one the thousands of beacons that studded the Blackstone tomb.
The two crouching Serpents shared a short glance before rising.
“Hydra Dominatus, move out”
No One could no longer contain his vitriol.
“You foul leeches!”
The cloaked goliaths turned towards him, piercing green eyes holding in him in regard from beneath scaled hoods.
“He is DEAD! You said this was a simple retrieval and now he is DEAD! You lied to us, you, you, you lied”
“You will be paid, extra for your loss”
No Body spat on the bone white floor, the phlegm producing a ring that reverberated through the hall where their friend had just fallen. His lasgun rested against his shoulder, the muzzle pointed at the pilot’s head.
No Name bit his tongue, hating himself for considering the pilot’s proposition and knowing he had no other option.
“Well bury him, proper”
“No”, the pilot’s monotone voice split the air.
One of the Marine’s walked up to the untempered captain, whilst the third appeared behind No Body. A vice grip on their necks forced them to their knees, clothing scraping against the materials of the ground.
The men whined but wouldn’t protest. Better to be payed than to be executed.
“We will bury him, prope..”, No One gasped as the pilot threw a small incendiary device towards the remains of No Name.
A shrieking ball of contained blaze reduced the oaf and his killer to dust.
“You will be paid, extra for your loss”, the pilot said.
Even without their armour the giants held the hired guns down, not noticing their struggle through the coal skin that shone beneath their capes.
The grip was loosened as the pilot stretched his neck and shoulders.
“Hydra Dominatus, move out”
No Body no longer had his weapon at the ready. The callus on his right shoulder went unused. He dragged his boots through the labyrinth, following his only remaining brother. They never sulked. No man was worth tears, especially when money, nay, their survival was on the line. But this execution had been a thorn in his side. It stung, long and burning. His mind became his own tomb, him not caring whether this place, this mayhem made reality, followed his mind. He couldn’t find the instinct and courage to raise his head as he hauled his body from step to step. His eyes couldn’t stand his surroundings. The constantly writhing passages throwing his gut in violent revolt. It came in a torrent in the rare moments when he forgot himself and his sight wandered to follow the grinding fluxes of the Blackstone Fortress. Why had he agreed to his. He had much to gain but far more to lose. He had finally learned something during a mission. No One had been adamant. He had for more to lose and thus was eager to wager. He didn’t blame his foreman, for how was he to know the intent of their clients. “The fool”, he mused with a bitter smile. He trusted him still. He’d, nay, they’d been duped. A strong enemy is better than a strong ally….
Enemies can’t betray you.
“Serpents”, he growled in his own mouth.
They darted as if spectral, a pace purposeful but inaudible. No One couldn’t register their stride. Hoping his eyes didn’t betray as the Legionnaires had already done. His tongue lay uneasy in his mouth, his hangs wringing the handle of his trusty rifle. He followed, beaten, bruised. Fuming.
He had lived a simple life on Precipice. An assassination a month kept the slumlords away. The little credits he had to spend on the trivialities of sustenance meant he could line his pockets. His hab-block was, at first, a simple. He’d been a man of few wants since his arrival but slowly and surely his creature comforts grew into honest opulence. The garbs, the drinks, the mods. It grew into a network. He, and no one else, could offer the services he had at hand. From the evictions to assassinations and somewhere finding time to play politics. He bartered and chartered every bullet’s flightpath through the hive. But that came to screeching halt when the 7th Vault came roaring from the Immaterium. The floating hive port was cleansed and under Imperial thumb within weeks, Guardsmen sweeping the shanties and burning down the squalors. Jobs ran dry and his palaces were seized in the name of that Golden Corpse. Fringe species, looking to raid the treasures of the ancient Fortress, swarmed through the wharfs. Inquisitorial officers bought their services and No One saw an opportunity. Through old contacts, those not yet been executed, he amassed a rolodex of new potential clients. Armed convoy on wholesale. The offer sent in by the three snakes was the first he truly considered. A retinue of two other skilled brothers was completed and the fellowship had boarded the worn barge as soon as the contracts were signed, the Blackstone leviathan drifting ahead. Looming and splintering the rays of multiple suns on its triangular surfaces blinding the young oaf No Name through the portcullis. A job to settle a score. A job to regain what had been his.
He wished to be back on Precipice. Rather walk down to the Militarum Centre and beg the Scion dogs to put him down right then and there. This was an all-round disaster. These vermin had dealt him a hand he couldn’t play. He didn’t even know how to play on the same board they were occupying, struggling to keep up with the on-hand explanation. And he was panting. The Marines floated through the maze, No Body and himself had only to keep up. They were keeping up, barely, knowing they would be left behind. Their shabby protective vests soaked in sweat, No Body’s mech-joint wheezing. The rattle became monotonous within hours, just shy of perfect musical repetition. It began to ache in No One’s ear, restraining himself not to grind his teeth hoping to phase out the rasping of the replacement limb. The former Merchant of Murder was not aware of the spiritless ligature. Had he been No Body would’ve been shot on the spot for insulting No One.
They weren’t just marching towards the target, they were dashing. The Snakes checked corners whilst the common hires kept checking distances trough the crosshairs of their lasguns. Spindles were avoided, smaller parties of raider duos were eliminated by the Legionnaires before the Precipicians were aware of any threat. Five days in No Body’s knee gave in.
“No”, No One scolded, his gaze fixated on the hard-nosed flesh-mask of the pilot.
His eyes seemed dead, not noticing the spiteful tone of the mercenary. Dead, but cataloguing.
No One’s refusal, nay, defiance rippled through the halls, reverberating in shrill mockery of his stand.
The pilot sighed, lowering his head. His cowl no hanging low, obstructing a view of his expression.
The light puff of air from the Abhuman’s nostrils was a command, the Marine carrying the Priest striding towards to the heaving No Body. Slumped on the floor the sellsword sat grasping at his artificial hinge, trying in vain to rearrange the burned-out wires and slanted gears as to fix the device.
Fumbling for his weapon, the man perched there resembled a child, panicky, fearful.
“No”, he once again pled. His voice raw, trembling but trying to deepen itself, lengthening the one vowel.
A new sound joined the chaotic fray. A ringing, drilling, recoiling through the timeworn structure.
The Serpents stood frozen, No One repeating his earlier noncompliance, his voice trailing off as he studied his surroundings for the source of clamour.
“Alpharius, hostile”, the pilot sighed.
With a thunderous roar the ceiling collapsed, the scent of charred plate filling the cavernous corridor. Sparks rained copiously, the staggering bulk of the mining vehicle leaving No One’s jaw on the floor. Even the Serpents were visibly annoyed by the new guests, the collars under their covers barely noticeably raised.
The troop carrier crashed into the level floor below with an unceremonious thud, the lumbering contraption toppling into now razed marble.
No One spotted the prodigious badge as soon the digger made landfall, a gust of welding fumes trailing after the red construction. A half bone, half onyx sigil, adorned with a gear and a skull. One side of the skull was altered with pipes and a visor, the other side just grinning.
The baroque panzer settled it’s weight as the last remnants of the debris flung from the gaping wound in the ceiling high above them.
“Mechanicus”, No One heard the Traitor murmur.
“Alpharius, pattern”, the pilot seethed.
This was not planned, not at all. No One couldn’t and was in ill mood to hide his snigger knowing these coiling rats where knee-deep in trouble. A cold revenge for what they had done. Not that the former crime boss of Precipice wouldn’t fight tooth and nail for his survival. But he would note it was for his survival and his survival alone, damn that pest of a No Body.
“Terrax Termite Assault Drill, capacity twelve, no armaments”, No One couldn’t discern which one of the Marines spoke, only now noticing even their voices were identical.
A latch opened on the topside of the troop carrier with the sound of bones creaking, metal on metal ajar, piercing the ear.
No One dove to nearest refuge he could see, leaving No Body out in the open. The Pilot and his companions had done so before the newly arrived visitor’s transport had perched in its nest of torn deck, only the quiver of their capes betraying movements.
The downpour had happened at a distance of approximately 220 yards.
From the lock rose a small figure, arms crossed. A red garb bedecked the hunched shape, extra limbs of steel dotting the silhouette. The hiss of motorized lungs rang through a vox-caster before the Martian began to speak.
“Hereby I, Invictus Acquisitor Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII, Magos Explorator of Milhand, Forge World 7358x, convey with you”
Robotic fingers audibly tinkered with parchment before continuing the diction.
“Thine lives are forfeit. This here exploratory ensemble has been gathered to acquire what thy has sought to steal and pervert, as to safeguard it in the name of the holiest of holy, The Omnissiah”
Another hiss of simulated ex- and inhalation paused the speech. A light rabble could be heard through the feedback and back ground noise of the obviously ancient bullhorn.
“And in the name of the Emperor of Mankind”, the Magos hastily added.
“Turn around now lest we spare your lives, any sign of ill will, resistance or any indication of non-cooperation will result in execution, blessed be the will of Mars”
The ennui of his voice betraying his lack of care, his voice absent of any inflection.
The passage drew silent after the oratory died out, only the buzzing of the vox-caster remaining.
No One looked at the groaning No Body, who lay in full sight of the Mechanicus. He sought to find his proprietors but they had sunk in the shadow.
“Very well”, the Magos wheezed.
Another latch grinded open, eleven Skitarii Rangers deploying with unsightly rigor, many stumbling into one another before aiming their galvanic rifles. Their garbs were still pristine, their masks and modification glistening in the pale light that exuded through the many cracks in Vault’s walls.
The squad advanced the yard, running through the programs of detection whilst nearing the downed No Body.
No One pushed himself deeper into the rubble as to not be seen by the Milhand enforcers. He only heard No Body beg, scramble. The forlorn man even prayed to all the gods he had heard of in his sorry short life. It did not stop when the Skitarii’s footsteps halted nearby the Precipician. His hoarse loathing only hardened and growing in volume until he was shouting insults at the Adepts.
“Failure to comply, execute”, rang through the speaker, each word chased by feedback.
No Body was blown to an unrecognizable bloody pulp by the platoon.
No One bit his tongue whilst he heard a small clink hit the side of the excavator.
The Magos scuttled in his seat, augmented optics anxiously scanning to find the source of the small ping. The small grenade rested seven feet away from him. His optics turned red as the crackling blast surged through his build.
“Skitarii, consolidate”, their Alpha boomed. The scampering of engineered lower limbs cascading through the opening. They hurried back to the Terrax, hoping to find their Lord in good health, knowing they wouldn’t.
No One felt the weight of an Ogryns palm on his shoulder, ripping him from behind the cover and dragging him so fast he felt the wind on his face. The sudden stop almost tore his facial features from the bones and the cloak of the third Marine settled over the both of them.
“Target”, the Marine said slowly and low in voice, looking the mercenary straight in the eyes, manhandling the miniature adult like a doll. No One understood. This was still a mission. These ‘men’ didn’t compromise. And he wanted to be paid.
“Nearby?”, he asked.
The Marine nodded.
No One cocked his lasgun and set himself prepared to sprint.
“He-…..-Tics”, the Magos blared. The EMP device had erased precious moments from his conscience. He stewed in his seat, insectile extremities regaining operation, stretching to let the oil flow through their bionic veins. The Skitarii had lowered the Magos’s royal corpora outside of the drill mounted tank, making sure his vital signs resurfaced. Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII hauled the Alpha down to the floor to meet his own gaze.
“Prefect Tyba mk0.7”, he rattled.
“Gatherrrrrrrr your men and eliminate these despoilers. They mustn’t reach KSSSSSHHHHTTT the STC. They may NO-0-o-O-T be allowed to defile the Omnissiah’s sacred blueprints”
“Hyspasis, move out”, the Alpha emitted as he shared coordinates of the relic with his fellow adepts through the neural link. Two soldiers hoisted the Magos to his arachnoid stilts, the talons still twitching from the energy draining outburst of the detonation.
“Sing praise, brothers. The children of the Omnissiah will prevail”
The Marine carried him for want of being slowed down by the unaltered Precipician. This was insulting to the former Magnate of the void wharf but considerably more comfortable than the rough housing of the Dreadclaw that brought them to this forsaken place. He could hear voices bark short two word commands into the Legionnaires altered ear. He did not respond. No One loathed and admired them at once, the tight discipline offset by their indisputable foul lies. He always considered himself a cog in the endless machine of war. The Imperium. He was never a true citizen but was aware of his part in its continued existence. These Marines however had woken him to a new plain of understanding. He wasn’t even a bolt in the grinding apparatus. Not even worthy of being oil to lubricate the engine. He was hopeful, wishing he would survive this ordeal. His current employer might just have further need of his skills. From his vantage hallways blurred into one long coil, like walking down a snake’s gullet. He had moments to contemplate but wasted them before he could arrive at what he could inhume as his new goal in life. The Serpent threw him to the ground when they reached the altar. It was a room heavy with dust clinging and drifting, particles of long fallen raiders and grime of machinations wasting away clogging the air. The three siblings stood side by side, leering at No One. The framework of the Tech Priestess had been seemingly dropped in their hurry towards the target, her limbless not be spotted in this room. The Pilot stood central with the Traitor to his left and the Carrier to his right. Exactly the same in garments, complexion and height. It was a daunting sight, their eyes piercing him. The tension was cut by the blaring bullhorn growling back to life.
“Traitors, Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII speaking, your death will serve as penance for your idolatrous actions. May the Omnis…The Emperor grant you absolution in his Undying Wisdom”
Galvanized fire sprawled through the sanctuary, scarring the shrine behind which No One was curled up.
The Serpents had whisked themselves away in cerecloths of smoke, vanishing in front of his eyes.
Skitarii slowly strode forward, showering the small room in red beams as they proceeded towards the central tabernacle. Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII was at their centre, limping on his shuddering crutches, cursing beneath his manufactured breath. The entourage reformed to encircle the Invictus Acquisitor, safeguarding him from potential harm as the glow of rapid fire died down.
“Retrieve”, the Magos ordained.
Sounds of mechanical footsteps now teemed towards No One’s hiding place. He felt for the indent above his brows, now long gone. The charm long gone.
“This is it”, he thought to himself, pinching the rifle in his arms as if a final embrace.
He closed his eyes awaiting his execution.
Shots rang trough the temple, the sound of knives clattering reached No One before the Skitarii could. “Retaliate”, a robotic voice wailed as what sounded like a comet landed in the orator’s mouthpiece. Chunks of metal and augmentation lined the floor and within seconds the Serpents had disassembled Gryphonne’s patrol. No One peaked from behind the altar to see the ruins of Milhand’s foremost soldiers. The three Marines stood in line facing the Magos, barring him from exit and backing him into the shrine behind which their hired gun cowered.“Fools”, the Martian bellowed as he reached for the control pad on top of the altar. Fingers flurried with thousands of ancients codes as the Magos breached the defences of the program, obtaining the device inside.
The siblings still stood there, silent.
They hadn’t moved.
This was the endgame.
“Sons of the 20th, Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII again, this piece of holy construction will never rest in the hands of your foul Lords, be they dead or living. I will raise the full force of Mars to smite your sorry warbands into a realm beyond the Immaterium and cleanse this hallowed Imperium of your filth with my own rusty fingers. Praise that Golden Corpse and praise be the Omnissi…”
The Pilot took a step forward, raised his bolter and placed a round in between the bionic eyes of Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII before he could finish. The contorted Magos sagged to the floor.
This was checkmate.
A soft draft drew into the room after the corpse of the Mechanite had stopped jerking.
No One scurried over the plate centring the hall, ripping the small appliance from the cold steel hands of the former Invictus Acquisitor of Milhand. A victorious grin lept across his face as he stared up at the three siblings.
“What now, Snakes?”, he spat.
The Pilot and his brethren weren’t flinched, simply eyeing him.
No One’s fingers fondled the tiny machination until he found a small button.
He looked up at his contractors.
“What now?”, he grinned.
With a press of the button the former Magnate of Precipice was wreathed in fluxes of cutting blue energy. The green scaled hoods of his proprietors shone in the arcing deluge. No One was screaming as the discharge ran across his skin and trough his opened mouth down his oesophagus. His flesh peeled and reformed, blood and veins warping into steel, oil, hydraulics and long putrefied muscle. His eyes reshaped into metal sockets pulsing with red light. He screamed not knowing what infernal fate had befallen him. Mere moments later, two versions of Gryphonne Deductus Alpa LXXII existed within one of the thousands of rooms within the Blackstone Fortress. No One was no more.
“What now”, he cried.
The Pilot took a step forward, raised his bolter and placed a round in between his now bionic eyes.
“Hydra Dominatus, target acquired”