Like the lightest touch of a diaphanous Juill flower petal drifting down upon his head, Ian Dolgath felt the presence of death enter the sphere of Octalloron. For nineteen years he had sequestered himself upon this remote, unregistered planet. A planet long ignored due to the sheer inhospitability of its biosphere. Death World was the common term used for such places, but for those willing to put forth the effort to learn to navigate its hazards, Octalloron was quite tolerable for anyone desperate enough to try to reside there…
From the beginning of his self-imposed exile, scholarly pursuits and the training of his recently emergent latent psychic potential had been Dolgath’s focus; however, his primary purpose had always been one of obfuscation. He was a wanted man, that much he knew, but thankfully not formally Excommunicatus. Dolgath still had a few friends amongst the Xanthites who exercised veto power over the ravings of some of the worst of the moronic Monodominants. However, he had no wish to be dragged before the council to explain certain “events” of which he played a small part. Ultimately, he knew that a little judicious exercise in scarcity was often all that was needed to deflect the rabid attentions of his more puritanical brethren.
Fortunately, for him, there was also unrest aplenty to occupy his comrade’s attentions: the latest Black Crusade, the rousing of the long dormant Necron menace, the inscrutable Eldar raider insurgencies, the unforeseen Tao incursions, the inevitable Tyranid infestations, and the ever present Ork invasions. Oh yes, Dolgath remained aware of it all, indeed he still held the highest level shibboleths and key ciphers to the most restricted of Imperial intelligence networks. Even so, to have an agent of doom descend unbeknownst upon him after all this time he found somewhat disconcerting. Yet for just such an occurrence, he was not entirely unprepared.
“Rook to king’s bishop three, methinks the reaper’s pawn I see,” the psychic touch of Oosha Trejek, his Astropath, reached him before the thought to contact her had fully formed in his mind. Oosha was never far from his mind – like it or not. She was, quite simply, the most powerful psycher he had ever encountered, and one of his greatest assets. She was also his occasional consort, a circumstance that seemed even stranger to him than it did to her… For her, their moments of intimacy were a brief grounding time where she reconnected with her humanity and the reality of the physical world. For him, taking her true unguarded self into his mind during their lovemaking (or at least as much as he could bear) served as the catalyst for the release of his long dormant psychic abilities.
Frankly, Oosha’s Alpha level designation was quite inadequate for her. She was another classification all together. He recalled when he first encountered her case. The Adeptus Astrotelepathica had contacted him and demanded his help in transporting her to the ultra-secure execution facilities on Triton. His ship, the Subjugator, had null field prisons – as all black ships did – for the transport of latent psychers to the Lambda Pimaris psycho-processing facilities. She was a hive ganger from Necromunda, one of many. At the time, the sloppy practice of the Adeptus Astrotelepathica was to herd all Delta and above level psychers harvested from hive worlds into the mergence chambers for soul-bonding. Those that survived were deemed safe for Astropath training. Unfortunately, they never anticipated the consequences of soul-bonding a nascent Alpha level psycher. Oosha emerged from the soul-bonding ritual an order of magnitude more powerful than her already significant potential, and sadly, also completely insane by any common definition of the term. It would take decades to repair the damage she caused to the Lambda Primaris facilities… And nearly as long to repair her fragile psyche…
“Yes, I felt them,” was Dolgath’s dry thought-reply. “Proceed with plan mobius epsilon. Let the wildlife have its way with them for a bit…”
“Knight to queen’s pawn four, methinks fate has opened a door…” Oosha responded cryptically.
Dolgath snorted to himself, ruefully. Yes and when fate opens that door whom is the more foolish: those who blindly step through, or those who refuse such a fortuitous portal? Never the less, with a great sense of work uncompleted he ordered his servitors to shut down and pack up his excavation operation. His investigations into the archaeology of these ancient ruins had uncovered priceless relics of an ancient human civilization who had long ago defeated the ruinous powers through pure intellectual dedication and force of will.
Walking back along the concourse kept clear of strangle vines, miasma flowers, and blood nettle, by the constant efforts of servitors armed with las-cutters and heavy flamers, Dolgath pondered the statues that lined the way. When he had first arrived a score of years ago, they were strangers gazing down upon him with their stern faces. Now, he felt he almost knew some of them. There was Quintus Magus, tall and broad-shouldered, the warrior scholar who founded the first knightly order of Octalloron. His seminal works formed the core of the Antihedrex lore. And there was Roxalla Ruel, the statuesque Necrotrix of the ninth dynasty, whose mastery of the bindings of warp entities surpassed all others. From them, Dolgath had learned much of the nature and weaknesses of warp entities. He vowed to one day return and complete his work.
The inner sanctum of the temple of Arcana was where Dolgath had established his base of operations. It was the perfect bastion; located deep within the solid rock of the planet’s crust, it was impervious to bombardment, and completely inaccessible by any conventional means - it required traversing a sub-dimensional corridor whose entrance was undetectable by any known scanning technique. Oosha greeted him upon his arrival. As always he was struck by her fey beauty – tall and deceptively fragile, her ivory hair swept the floor like a silky cloak, and her narrow angular face was porcelain perfection, marred by the dark empty sockets of her eyes and the aquamarine eye tattoo of the Astrotelepathica glaring from her forehead. He smiled at her as the warmth of her mind filled his.
“Target identified and classified, response options codified and ready for implementation,” the enthusiastic declaration of Corl Rykien, his senior Interrogator, shattered the moment. Dolgath turned toward him with a pithy response on his tongue, but Oosha’s humor bubbling up in his mind, tempered him.
“He has been waiting for something like this for ages…” Oosha sent.
“Tactical,” was all Dolgath said. A holographic display, all red and green vectors, materialized in the center of the room. In one area a flashing icon drew his attention. He pointed. “Enhance.” The display focused on the flashing symbol and expanded into dazzling detail.
“An Imperial elite shuttle, hyper-fast, stealth-capable, quad-shielded… Very few have the capability to dispatch such a ship,” offered Corl.
“Occupants,” snapped Dolgath.
“One, humanoid, I’m having trouble defining that further…” muttered Corl.
“Position,” asked Dolgath.
“Quadrant forty five by sixty seven,” said Corl. “Seems to be having some difficulty in the Perdition Morass.”
Dolgath stared at the hololith for a long moment. “Asset status?”
“All Imperial Guard forces are in stasis aboard the Subjugator in antipode lunar orbit as you requested, twelve hour launch minimum at best. Adeptus Astartes Nova class frigates with one company of Imperial Dragon tactical troops in geosynchronous orbit with a Code Yellow status, two hour launch minimum. Planet-side, we have two Falcorian 1st regiment drop troop Stormtrooper squads with Valkyries on condition Orange standby, thirty minute launch minimum, and one Deathwatch killteam on immediate launch status,” replied Corl.
“Very good. Task the killteam to intercept, but hold on station until I arrive. Wake up the Falcorians and scramble me a Valkyrie, “said Dolgath.
The Perdition Morass was a decepively good landing zone – if you were not aware of the particular characteristics of the native Octalloron wildlife. In fact, the most lethal of native species staked out the relatively clear areas for their own particular hunting grounds. The killteam’s thunderhawk had preemptively launched a spread of plasma grenades in preparation for their landing. The Ordo Xenos marines were already deployed in ideal formation as Dolgath stepped off the Valkyrie’s landing ramp. The groggy Falcorian stormtroopers made a valiant effort to match the Space Marine’s esprit-de-corps, but sadly, they could not hope to compare on even their best day – today was not their best day…
Dolgath was followed closely by his hand-picked cadre of henchmen. They fanned out in efficient pattern and carried out their particular functions. He felt Oosha close by his side, and unfortunately, Corl was not much father away.
“Target assessing… Three hundred meters… Acquiring… ” Corl said as he zeroed in his auspex. “This way!” Corl was about to lead the way into the bush when Dolgath stopped him.
“Hold! Let’s check out the shuttle,” Dolgath suggested.
The Aquila-pattern shuttle sat askance on the ground, the numerous charred remains of strangle vines enveloping it. Although it appeared at first glance to be a standard shuttle, Dolgath could detect the various bulges and protuberances that marked it as a craft unusual. The hatch was closed, but opened swiftly to the presence of his Rosarius. He felt Oosha’s mind probing the ship intently, so without a warning form her, he stepped onboard without hesitation.
Completely stark and uninhabited, the only significant feature was the stasis chamber occupying the main hold. Plain and unremarkable, the chamber however exhibited characteristics of Ordos issue to those cognizant of such details – Aquila relief’s on the cryo-components, crimson-level purity seals on the housing…
“Target confirmed!” Corl shouted.
Dolgath and his retinue hurried out of the shuttle. Corl was standing with the killteam at the edge of the Death-verge.
“Target, one hundred and forty seven meters, confirmed!” Corl said with his characteristic enthusiasm.
“Capture him alive if you can.” Dolgath nodded to the killteam. Ten of the most deadly hand-picked, especially-trained space marines the Adeptus Astartes had to offer vanished into the foliage. Dolgath motioned to the Stormtroopers. “Flamers...”
The Falcorian’s burned a path through the deadly bush. It was slow going, but Dolgath knew the folly of traversing the jungles of Octalloron unprepared. The killteam was impervious to the majority of the dangers, and even for those that they were not, their training and equipment were adequate to deal with most situations.
The Falcorian’s finally burned their way through to the objective. The killteam stood inscrutable in their matt black power armor around a clearing dominated by a leprous green herbivorous mass. Doom-lichen. Dolgath had lost entire teams to it. Worse still, the reanimated victims of the accursed plant rose to fight for the malignant vegetable, infecting and corrupting any they came in contact with. The bulbous mass as the center of the monstrosity writhed with a recent capture.
“Shall we burn it?” Corl inquired eagerly.
Dolgath pondered for a moment, then turn to Oosha. “Can you free him without killing him?” He mind-sent.
“A dagger poised to strike, may not the assassin’s blade be like,” Oosha responded. She froze for a moment, her hair billowing around her in slow-motion.
Gradually the Doom-lichen plant began to turn white, at the tips first, then spreading with a crackling sound until the entire mass turned to powdered ash and fell away. At the center a glossy black mass remained. Slowly it unfurled to stand, a man, tall and perfectly formed, with a lethal black pistol at his hip.
“Vindicare!” Corl said in awe as he raised his own massive plasma pistol to fire.
The killteam’s weapons tracked the target in unison as it stood, remaining primed to fire at a split second. Dolgath motioned everyone to lower their weapons.
“The Emperor Protects,” Dolgath said simply.
“The Emperor Protects,” the Vindicare responded. “You are Inquisitor Lord Dolgath of the Ordo Maleus. Visual and auditory identification confirmed. A message I have been tasked to deliver unto you…”