Tuesday’s Story – More 40Kness
Okay. I don’t know where I’m going with this.
But, it’s been bothering me for the last few days, so I figured I might as well write it. It is not, I should stress, intended as a replacement or any sort of substitute for The Misfits.
Anyway, I feel like I have the first third of this story. As well as this fragment, I can (sort of) explain how Shola and her family have found themselves in this mess, and indeed what the mess actually is. I can also explain why an Inquisitor has got involved – in fact, I think, the fragment more or less does.
What’s less clear to me is a) why there are Chaos Marines there, on this planet and b) why Sezaria has apparently felt the need to drive to the middle of nowhere. Also, c) where exactly all of this is going. I’m also a bit hazy on whom exactly Faulkner is, except possibly the ‘little bad’ compared to the Night Lords’ ‘Big Bad’.
Also, something odd happened with the Point-of-View. The POV should – should! – be Shola. The rest of the story that I have in my head would be Shola-centric. But for some reason, here, as I was writing, it became about Sezaria. And I’m really not sure why.
Also, this story really, really wants to be set on a moon in a brown dwarf/K-dwarf binary system, only the story also wants a clear, conventional seasonal cycle. And I’m not sure that circle is squarable…
I may/may not write more, depending on what happens.
‘I – tell me where you took them!’
The gun wobbled in Shola’s hands. Her knuckles were white, tense on the grip. Inquisitor Sezaria stood back, careful not to make any fast movements. She kept her hands in view at all times, palms up and empty. The girl was on edge. Emotionally-overwrought teenage girls and plasma weapons were a bad combination, particularly if you were staring down the barrel in question. Shola was definitely overwrought – frustration, anxiety and stomach-churning fear were all over her sixteen year old face – and she was definitely holding a plasma pistol.
The vents glowed with a blue light. It played over Shola’s face, flickering and uneven, like the sun seen from underwater. It picked out the bags under her eyes and the swollen pupils and her untidy, uncombed hair. It fell in messy tangles, past her face and down over the plain shirt Shola was wearing. It didn’t fit her too well, Sezaria noted. Another of Faulkner’s dubious gifts, perhaps. Sezaria took a deep breath. The air was damp, a little musty. Feeling strangely analytical, she noted that the inn’s proprietors – wherever they’d gone – really needed to air this room.
The Inquisitor took a slow, careful step backwards. She noted the loose loop of rope dangling from one of Shola’s wrists. The other loop of rope was on the floor on the far side of the room. Sezaria noted to herself that she must have got the knot wrong. The Inquisitor hadn’t expected Shola to break out, or she would never have taken the girl out here without back-up. Doing so had been a mistake, it seemed.
It had happened so fast. Sezaria had turned her back for just a moment. She’d heard a noise and then there was Shola, holding the gun.
‘Shola,’ Sezaria said, trying to sound calm and authoritative, ‘I can understand that you’re upset. This isn’t a good situation – I know that! But it can get worse. Why don’t you just put the gun-’
‘My family – where are they?’ A vein was pulsing in Shola’s brow. A manic gleam had entered her eyes, a combination of fear, rage and desperation.
Sezaria felt her back collide with something – a pipe, running up the wall. There was a clang. Shola twitched, then relaxed a little as she realised the sound wasn’t threatening. Without realising it, Sezaria had backed off further – straight into the back of the room. Behind her, the pipe glug-glugged. She felt it resonate. The pipe was part of the inn’s heating system, and a noisy part. It had been making sounds ever since they’d arrived here.
‘Shola,’ Sezaria said, ‘you’ve pulled a gun on an Imperial Inquisitor. That isn’t really a good idea. You’re not in a place to make demands-’
‘TELL ME WHERE THEY ARE!’ It wasn’t a question, more of an expression of disgust. Sezaria felt a shudder run through the pipe against her back, as it glugged again. Shola looked more unstable than ever. She was, Sezaria realised, at the edge of her wits.
This was the problem with fear. A little was helpful, made people co-operative, but scare them too much and too quickly… It was galling to admit, but Sezaria knew she’d played this situation very badly.
The Inquisitor looked around the shabby little room, for anything that might help. She saw nothing promising. It was a small room with bare, greyish stone walls. Dull flagstones were underfoot and there was a beamed ceiling above. There was a window off to one side of the room. It spilled a diffuse rectangle of light onto the floor. The window looked out over the road and the cold desert beyond. There were no panes in the window, just wooden slats. An icy wind was moaning in through the gaps. It brought a slight freshness to the musty smell of the room.
In addition to the wan rectangle of daylight, the room was also illuminated by a single incandescent bulb, dangling from a cord that hung in the middle of the ceiling. The bulb rocked back and forth in the breeze, the electric cord creaking quietly.
Beneath the slatted window was the room’s single, battered radiator. It had once been painted white, but the emulsion was now dirty, chipped. It looked as old and neglected as everything else in this building. The radiator connected to the heating system by another of the glugging pipes. It vanished into the floor beside the radiator.
Between the radiator and its pipe was the bed. It was a grand name for what was actually just a rickety wooden platform. On top of it was a moth-eaten sack of cotton stuffed with dry rushes – the so-called mattress. A single ragged sheet sat on top of it. When they had stopped here earlier, they had found the inn had been deserted. Given the state of the accommodation, Sezaria was hardly surprised.
‘WHERE. ARE. THEY?!’
Sezaria looked back up. She took a breath. Shola’s hands were shaking more than ever, whether through the weight of the gun or just her unstable emotional state, Sezaria couldn’t be certain. The Inquisitor realised she had to play for time. She took a deep breath. ‘I was taking you to them,’ she said carefully.
‘You gave them to Lord Faulkner, didn’t you?’ Shola growled.
Sezaria blinked. Lord Faulkner? Then she realised whom Shola meant. Oh – him! ‘You mean the aristocrat? The man your family rent the farm from?’
Shola nodded. ‘You’re in league with him! He wants the farm! Ever since we found that – that thing! He’s been trying to run us out!’
‘Shola, I’m not in league with him.’ And anyway, there’d be no point. The man already owned the land. ‘He’s a scoundrel, a bounder, a parasite and very likely a traitor too. I don’t think his interest in the – the item was above board. I didn’t buy that story about an objet d’art, if that’s what you think.’
The item. Sezaria gave out a superstitious shudder as she referred to it. The object that had caused all this trouble. A tainted artefact if she had ever seen one! The item – that would do as a name. Sezaria knew exactly what it was, of course, but it didn’t need speaking. Bad enough that it existed, it and all that its presence implied.
There was a momentary doubt in Shola’s eyes. ‘But-’
Sezaria felt a sudden, desperate hope. It seized her, lifted her up and opened her mouth for her. The words tumbled out – she knew they were a mistake even as she uttered them.
‘Yes, and they’re fine, and I’m going to take you to them-’
‘You’re lying! THEY’RE DEAD!’ Shola’s face convulsed. Water gleamed in her eyes and her chest heaved with a sob.
‘Yes! Faulkner told me so!’
Sezaria stared, mouth agape. The pipe glugged behind her. She took a deep breath of the musty air, also catching a whiff of the cool, fresher breeze from the window. This was news to her. ‘He said what?’
So Faulkner had been mouthing off, had he? Well that explained this little scene, at least, even if it raised more questions then it answered. The man was a fool, she agreed on that – but claiming that Shola’s family had been killed? What had possessed the idiot? Was he trying to cause trouble? And anyway, they weren’t dead – Sezaria knew that for a fact.
It seemed that Shola, however, didn’t.
Shola was sobbing. The gun wobbled in her hands. The vent-light washed across her face, a flickering strobelight. A heathaze rippled up from above the vents. Sezaria caught an actinic, ozone scent wafting from them. Her eyes tracked down to Shola’s knuckles. The girl had a finger on the trigger and it seemed to be tightening.
The breeze moaned through the window. A gust rattled the slats. It was a harsh, grating sound, loud in the quiet room.
Shola twitched, half-turning toward the noise. It was all the distraction Sezaria needed.
She dived to the left.
One of the peculiarities of this dingy inn was that, despite their cheap condition, all of the rooms seemed to have small bathrooms attached to them. The door to the bathroom here opened from the wall opposite the window. Sezaria was closer to the bathroom door then she was to the bed. She hadn’t dared move before, but with the girl briefly distracted, there was just enough time.
Boots slipping and sliding on the cold flagstones, Sezaria half-stumbled, half-sprinted across the short space. She dived into the bathroom, slamming the rickety wooden door behind her. She dropped to the floor, awaiting the inevitable plasma bolt. She swallowed, trying to choke back the sudden fear. The door was painted white – the paint was chipped and peeling, revealing an old, half-rotten wood underneath. Sezaria suspected the bolt would just go straight through it.
She looked around. She only had moments to decide what to do. There was a battered porcelain bath tub on her left and a sink with dirty taps on her right. Up ahead, there was one of those horrible squat-toilets that they seemed to insist on around here. Just looking at the nasty thing was enough to make Sezaria shudder. She couldn’t smell it. So at least this one had been cleaned recently, unlike some of the others in this misbegotten building!
Her eyes tracked up. She was about to mumble a silent prayer of thanks to the Emperor, for on the wall beside the toilet and above the end of the bath, there was redemption! A single, rectangular window! Daylight was streaming in through the grotty wooden slats of its shutter. Sezaria scrambled to her feet. There was pain from one of her shins – she’d bruised something on landing, it seemed.
She heard an inchoate cry of rage from the room behind her. It spurred her on.
An instant later she was at the window. She saw that it looked out over the kitchen wing at the back of the inn. To the side was the car park – empty except for the old combustion-engine car she’d requisitioned back at the last town. Briefly she wondered again where all the people had gone.
She put the thought aside. With a bit of work, she could probably haul herself up to the sill and maybe climb out. She’d have to work fast, though – as soon as Shola pulled herself together again, she’d be through the door.
Sezaria took a step toward the bath, and three things happened at once.
The first was that the building shook. A dull thud rumbled up through the floor. The wooden slats rattled in their frame. Some dust was dislodged from the ceiling beams.
The second was equally strange. Like the other room, this one had a single bulb to illuminate it. Like the other room, whoever had been here last had left it on. Sezaria had barely registered its presence until now. It intruded itself onto her consciousness, however, when it exploded with a loud ‘plink’. Little shards of bulb tinkled down across the floor. Sezaria heard a muffled plink from the other room as well. It was accompanied by a started cry and the thud of something heavy hitting the floor.
The third thing to happen was internal, but no less strange. For a moment, the Inquisitor felt dizzy and nauseous. She lurched forward, barely catching herself on the window sill. The world seemed to spin and her stomach spasmed. She had to swallow, hard.
Then the queasiness passed, as quickly as it had begun.
Sezaria paused, waiting for any recurrence. None came. She wondered what had been going on.
For a moment, there was silence hanging over the inn. Then, a new sound manifested itself. Crying. Someone was quietly crying. Sezaria stared at the battered wooden door. It was still shut. With the bulb gone, it was darker in the room now. There was no sign of the expected plasma bolt.
Carefully, Sezaria picked her way through the small, sharp bulb-shards. Some of them crunched underneath her boots. She put a hand on the door handle, then she hesitated. Then she steeled herself and pulled it open.
The room beyond was dark, except for the light from the window. Silhouetted against it was Shola. For a moment Sezaria flinched back, until she saw that Shola was sat on the floor, her head buried between her knees. Her hair streamed down on either side of her face. She was clutching at her knees, crying.
Sezaria felt bemused, wondering what was going on. And where was the plasma pistol?
A moment later, her foot bumped into it. Startled, Sezaria looked down, wondering why she hadn’t already seen it. And there it was, lying on the floor. Only – Sezaria blinked. Now that was odd. The shifting light of the vents – it was gone! The vents were dull and dark. Puzzled, Sezaria dropped to her knees. She picked the gun up, turning it over in her hands. It was dead – it was completely dead. It was as lifeless as the former lights. The coils were already cooling. They ticked and chirped as the housing material contracted. Holding her spare hand near them, Sezaria could feel the diminishing heat as it seeped away.
She put the dead plasma weapon down again, wondering what was happening.
Plasma. Electricity. Sezaria’s brain made the belated connection. Everything electrical was off! Something had knocked all the electricity out. The bang, the shaking of the building – they’d happened at the same time as the lights blowing out. She felt a growing sense of unease. Maybe that was also why the Inquisitor had felt briefly ill, back in the bathroom? She had a vague awareness that the human nervous system was ran on some sort of electrical process too.
In the background, Shola was still sobbing.
The Inquisitor stood up. Ignoring Shola for the second, she walked to the window. She moved as quietly as she could, feeling an almost superstitious fear. Then she was stood beside the window. She peered out, between the slats. Part of her wanted to open the shutter, to get a better view, but some instinct warned against it.
She looked out. And she gasped.
Behind her, Shola looked up. Her eyes were puffy with crying and her face was slack from too much fear. ‘What is it?’ she asked quietly.
‘We’ve got trouble,’ Sezaria said.
‘I know,’ Shola moaned, ‘I know I’m in trouble-’
The Inquisitor paid her little notice. ‘Oh, forget that.’ Sezaria was distracted.
Shola frowned. ‘But I just pointed a gun at you!’
‘Yes, I know,’ Sezaria said, leaning forward, peering through the gaps in the slats. Rectangles of milky daylight fell across her stern face. She stared at the unwelcome scene beyond. ‘And I said forget it.’
‘No buts. We’ve got worse things to worry about. Come to the window – oh, and be quiet while you’re at it!’
Shola pulled herself to her feet. Warily, she walked over. She didn’t look at the window but kept her eyes on the Inquisitor the whole way. Clearly she was wondering if this was some new deception. Sezaria knew she had given Shola little reason to trust her, and many reasons to be wary.
Sezaria glanced over her shoulder, feeling annoyed. Shola was hesitating, an uncertain look on her face. ‘Oh come on!’ Sezaria said. ‘You didn’t hesitate earlier, don’t hesitate now!’
Shola blinked in surprise. ‘But I-!’
‘Yes, I noticed you pull a gun! Forget it. There are more important things going on!’
The girl joined Sezaria at the window. The Inquisitor looked at the girl. Shola looked uncertain. Sezaria put a finger to her lips and blew on it, indicating a need for quiet. Then she looked back between the slats and she pointed.
Wan sunlight spilled out across the dusty land beyond. Thin clouds scudded in a greyish sky, occasionally passing over the sun. The road ran, straight as an arrow, past the inn. It stretched off into the distance. Here and there a few small, scrubby bushes broke the monotony, but the land was dull and half-dead. They weren’t so far from the start of the polar ice fields here. This season was actually what passed for spring in this place – one would be hard pressed to tell, though. This land too would likely be frozen, but for the lack of precipitation here. It just didn’t snow often enough for it to be buried under a shiny ice sheet. But the land was almost as barren as if it was.
Shola had seen it all before. She looked over it with disinterest.
Only now, something was different.
In the middle-distance, she could see something that hadn’t been there before. It looked a bit like a sort of angular teardrop, except obviously mechanical in nature. It was embedded in the dusty soil. There was a splash of ejected dirt darkening the ground around it. What looked like ramps had fallen down from it, revealing compartments within. The teardrop-machine was a dark blue in colour, decorated here and there with brass edgings. Some of its panels were painted with what looked like lightning bolts.
Shola frowned, a hint of recognition in her eyes.
The Inquisitor regarded her, an inscrutable look on her face. Quietly, very quietly, she said, ‘Those colours look familiar, don’t they?’
‘What are they?’ Shola asked, staring at a point somewhat closer.
Five figures were between the inn and the mechanical teardrop. They looked small at this distance, but not as small as they should have been. They were obviously tall. They were moving in a triangle-formation. Shola squinted. All of them seemed to be carrying guns. They were all dressed entirely in bulky-looking armour. It was hard to tell at this distance, but they seemed to have the same colours as the teardrop-thing. Rising from all of their helmets were odd horn-decorations. Shola stared at them. ‘Who are they? They’re walking around like they own the place!’
Sezaria nodded. It was a surprisingly-astute observation. The armoured figures were striding confidently along, in full view of anyone who might pass. They clearly had no fear of any force that this world could bring to bear – probably because there was little here that they should fear.
‘They’re called Chaos Marines,’ the Inquisitor whispered. ‘Night Lords, I think. It’s a bit hard to tell from this distance. But look behind them. Look what they have on their backs!’
Shola peered. She saw something that made her twitch. Rising up on arched supports from behind each Traitor-Marine were spheroidal vents. They were attached to the marines’ backpacks.
As Sezaria watched, recognition lit in Shola’s eyes.
‘The item,’ she breathed. A cold draught of wind moaned through the slats.
‘Yes,’ the Inquisitor said. ‘The item. The thing you dug up at the farm. The backpack. It came off of a Chaos Marine. And now there’s more of them. And look – they’re coming here!’
They were. Shola could see it. There was nowhere else in this barren reach for them to go, and the Night Lords were walking toward the inn. They had got visibly-closer. Now that they looked bigger, Shola could pick out the skulls and spikes that decorated their suits. Some of the decorations kept catching the diffuse rays of the sun, flashing brightly golden.
‘But…’ Shola began, then she trailed off. Swallowing, she started again. ‘This isn’t good news, is it?’
The Inquisitor shook her head. ‘No. I don’t know how they knew it, but they must have known we were – that I was coming here. The inn being empty, the road being empty – all the signs were there! By the Emperor, I missed them all!’
Growling with frustration, Sezaria balled her fist and smacked it into her palm. The radiator glugged. Presumably the water was still settling, now that the boiler was offline.
‘But – we’re here.’
‘Yes, we are. And I suspect they’re after us.’
‘That’s – that’s bad news, isn’t it?’
‘Let me just double-check something. You don’t know what a Chaos Space Marine is, do you?’
Shola shook her head, looking every bit the uneducated peasant girl.
The Inquisitor nodded and sighed, releasing the breath slowly. As she sighed, another breeze groaned past the shutters. ‘Look at it this way – spikes and skulls equals bad. They’re every bit as powerful as normal Space Marines, the sort you’ve heard of – except these ones are evil as well. These ones are traitors. They rebelled against the Emperor, thousands of years ago.’
‘Yeah, they told us about the Heresy, at church,’ Shola said. ‘But they said the Emperor’s servants punished all the traitors.’
‘They were punished, yes,’ Sezaria said, ‘but not exterminated! Not for lack of trying, but some of them escaped. Look – they’re out there now! Chaos Space Marines. They call themselves that because that’s what they are and that’s what they want.
‘They want us to suffer. They want us to die. They want to throw down the Imperium, defile the Emperor’s legacy. They want all the worlds to run with the blood of their peoples. Their presence anywhere is not good news!’
‘And they’re here.’
‘Yes, they’re here. And them being here, after us is very, very bad news. That thump, when the building shook – that must have been the drop pod landing. And when all the lights went out and the gun died – some sort of electromagnetic thing, I guess. A pulse, maybe. A power surge, popping all the circuits.
‘Shola, they can only mean us harm. And worst of all, it seems they may want us alive.’
Shola looked puzzled. ‘That’s bad?’
Sezaria nodded. ‘Yes. Particularly if they’re Night Lords.’
Shola still looked puzzled as well as afraid.
The Inquisitor sighed, remembering the level of education she was dealing with here. ‘They delight in torture, Shola. Torture. Of the most barbaric and vicious kinds. They don’t do it for information – they know that doesn’t work. They just do it because – well, they enjoy it, I suppose. Maybe it gives them what they can’t have other ways. I don’t know – don’t ask me to psycho-analyse a traitor! But the fact is, whatever their reasons, if they get us, that’s what’ll happen to us.’
Shola was looking worried again. But she also looked oddly composed. The earlier emotional storm seemed to have subsided. ‘I guess they shouldn’t have us, then.’
Sezaria had to acknowledge that, in spite of appearances, this girl was actually quite brave. She’d had to leave behind everything she’d known – home, family, safety. She’d had many traumas in the last few days. She’d been treated roughly, imprisoned, abducted, separated from her loved ones – and she’d still had the strength of mind to pull a gun on the Inquisitor at the first opportunity. Granted, it hadn’t been a clever move – the clever thing would have been to make a bolt out of the inn and try to steal the car. But, clever or not, it had been brave.
Sezaria nodded. ‘Yes, quite.’
Shola looked back out the window. ‘The backpack,’ she said. ‘The thing we found – it had those colours. It belonged to one of them? A – a Night Lord?’
‘Where’s the rest of him, then?’ Shola said. ‘The only thing we found was the item – the backpack. There was nothing else in the field.’
Sezaria looked closely at Shola. ‘Yes. Excellent question. And that’s what I’ve been wondering, ever since I came to the village. Where’s the rest of the Chaos Marine?’
Finally the obvious occurred to Shola. Her pupils widened. Her mouth opened in a little round ‘o’ of shock. ‘You thought we were-!’
‘I suspected it,’ Sezaria agreed. ‘But it puzzled me – it was a stupid ruse. Why would you harbour a traitor, only to openly-use some of his equipment? It made no sense. I can see the truth now – you never harboured anyone, did you?’
Shola shook her head.
‘There never was a traitor in your village,’ Sezaria said. ‘Just an abandoned artefact – something you tapped for electricity! You were all innocent all along. It was all out in the open, because there was no ruse! And there never had been.
‘But thing is, the question still stands – where is the Chaos Marine? Clearly there was one, at some point – where did he go? And why? And now there are suddenly more of them – why are they here? What do they want? These are questions, Shola, questions that we have to answer!’
Sezaria was about to speak further. She was interrupted by a faint noise. It was a shush-crunch, like gravel under a boot. It was nearby.
They looked out. The squad of Chaos Marines was almost on the building. There they were, dark blue armour and golden trim, holding out their bolters, bolters marked and engraved with savage decorations. Helmet-horns gleamed in the sun and glowing red eye-lenses surveyed the terrain. One of the Chaos Marines – presumably the leader – looked behind him and gestured to one of his warriors.
The marine nodded. Gripping his bolter, he moved forward.
Sezaria tapped Shola’s shoulder. Shola nodded. Sezaria mimed for silence again, then pointed to the bathroom. Shola looked puzzled, but followed Sezaria as she picked her way to the door.
Moments later, Shola was shown what Sezaria had in mind. The Inquisitor was clutching at the window sill. With a grunt, she began to climb up
Shola darted forward and grabbed her foot. Holding the boot firmly, she gave the Inquisitor a push to help her up. She stood on the kitchen extension, behind the window. Moments later, Sezaria was through. Then it was Shola’s turn. With Sezaria pulling at her arms, helping her along, Shola squirmed through. It was a tight fit, but she managed it. She scrambled out and dropped down onto the kitchen roof.
They were at the back of the inn, with the car park to their side. Up above was the murky, partly-clouded sky. Further to their right, beyond the car park, the road ran on, back toward civilisation – or such as civilisation was, on this planet. Behind them was a stone wall, painted in peeling white. Above that a tiled roof stretched up to meet a single chimney.
‘Let’s go,’ Sezaria said.
They moved quickly down the roof. There was a drainage gutter at one end, made of rusty steel. Using it as an intermediate handhold, they were able to swing themselves down from the extension. Then it was just a short drop to the ground below.
‘Right – to the car!’ the Inquisitor said.
They sprinted over to the hire car.
Sezaria fumbled with the lock.
Shola was looking behind them. She felt nervous, twitchy, on edge. Something caught her eye. She looked to the side, the far corner of the inn. Then she saw a shadow, emerging around the wall. It seeped over the dusty ground. And it was preceded by two ominous shadow-horns.
‘They’re coming!’ Shola said.
‘I’ve got it!’ There was a click and a clunk. The Inquisitor had finally found the right key. The door lock popped open. ‘Get in!’
Sezaria kept an eye on the girl, to make sure she actually did. The Inquisitor had underestimated her once, and didn’t plan to repeat the mistake.
Fortunately, Shola needed no urging. She pulled the door open and scrambled onto the battered leather car seat. The inside smelt of a cheap pine air freshener, left behind by the hire company. It was a change from the musty inside of the inn. She sat down and slammed the door behind her. The seat fabric rustled under her. Then she looked out, back through the window.
Sezaria stole a quick glance over the car roof, toward the inn.
She saw the shadow hesitate. Then it moved – so fast! The shadow swept forwards, out from behind the wall. And now she heard it – the crunch-crunch-crunch of gravely soil under boots. And there he was – the Chaos Marine emerged, around the corner of the building. Sezaria heard Shola gulped in renewed fear. It seemed Shola had seen the Traitor too.
It was time to move. Sezaria pulled the door opened and swung herself in. The door clicked shut behind her. ‘I’m in,’ Sezaria said. There was a clink as she shoved the key into the ignition.
Shola didn’t turn. She was staring straight at the Chaos Marine. He was hard to ignore, Sezaria had to concede, as she fumbled with the ignition. A sideways glance confirmed her worst suspicion – he’d seen them! The Traitor’s helmet turned in their direction – those red eyelenses seemed to lock right onto her eyes! She could see everything now. His bolter had a savage demon-mouth carved around its muzzle, a vicious snarl in golden metal. One of the marine’s shoulder-pads had a winged-skull design on it, a white skull on blood-red batwings. The other shoulder had a star-device, eight sharp radial arrows picked out in gold. At the centre was a brutal spike.
She saw other things as well. The marine’s greaves were carved with snarling demon-faces. From his belt there hung a short chain. At the end of it was what appeared to be an actual skull! The chain was looped through a couple of ragged holes that had been broken through the top of it. Her eyes tracked back up the chain. As well as it, there was a savage-looking knife hanging through a hoop on his belt. The knife gleamed in the light.
The Chaos Marine was running now. He was running toward them. She could hear his boots on the gravel. He exuded a sense of power, and of rage. And he was fast! He’d be on them in moments!
Sezaria breathed deeply of the pine-scented air and fumbled with the key again. The Emperor damn it, why wasn’t the car starting?
‘Come on, battery!’ Sezaria said. ‘Please don’t tell me the pulse got you too!’ She twisted the key in the ignition again. This time, she felt something give.
The engine coughed into life.
‘Hold on!’ Sezaria shouted.
She slammed her foot onto the accelerator pedal.
The car lurched forward. The Traitor-Marine was only a scant yard or so from them now. He was huge. His silhouette was outlined blackly against the sky. Shola was staring with a growing expression of terror.
The car moved, a rolling hiss of loose bits of gravel spraying from under its tyres. Then they were moving. The landscape began to slide past them. For a moment Sezaria thought things would be okay-
The Chaos Marine sprang.
The impression of strength and power had been right. The marine timed his spring perfectly. There was a loud clang and the roof above Shola shuddered and bowed down at the weight suddenly on it.
‘Have you got your seatbelt on?’ the Inquisitor shouted over the rumble of the engine and the hiss of wheel-sprayed gravel.
Shola hadn’t. She grabbed it and rammed the connector into the socket.
Sezaria caught movement from the corner of her eye. The window, next to Shola! For an instant, she saw a fist in a dark-blue gauntlet as it swung down from above the roof. ‘Close your eyes!’ Sezaria shouted.
Shola screwed her eyes up.
The Chaos Marine punched the window in.
A cascade of fragments spilled into the car.
The marine dropped to his stomach. They heard the clunk as his breastplate hit the roof. Then his helmet looked down, over the edge, through the window. He reached in, toward Shola. This was bad, but Sezaria had a plan.
You couldn’t expect to outrun a Space Marine. You couldn’t expect to out-punch, out-kick, out-shoot or out-fight a Space Marine. But, just sometimes, you could outwit one. And that was as true for Traitors as it was for Loyalists. Their brains were not necessarily as impressive as their bodies.
And jumping on top of a moving car wasn’t clever.
Sezaria slammed down on the brakes. Shola gasped as she was thrown forward against the seatbelt.
For just an instant, the Traitor-Marine wasn’t holding onto anything. With a howl of agonised break-discs, the car beneath him jolted to an unexpected stop. He had no such luxury. Conserving the momentum, the Night Lord was catapulted forwards. He shot off the roof of the car and sailed over the bonnet. The two passengers were briefly eclipsed by his shadow.
There was a thud. The Chaos Marine hit the ground, just beyond the car.
Before he could get to his feet, Sezaria lifted her foot from the brake. Then with the other, she slammed down the accelerator again. Tyres and gravel howled and the engine rumbled. She spun the wheel, sending the car to the side. Gaining speed, they lurched past the dazed Night Lord.
Moments later, he was back on his feet. But by then, the battered hire-car was mounting the road. Back on a proper surface, it picked up speed. The Chaos Marine tried running after it, but the car was faster. Before he had a chance to catch up, it was vanishing off into the distance.
The Traitor took aim and fired off a few angry shots, his bolter roaring in frustration, but they fell short.
For now, Shola and the Inquisitor had escaped.