After Thorhammer’s dramatic (if narrow) defeat of Zayr, it was clear that he would need some rest before returning to combat duties, so I volunteered to stand in for him against Karthas and he accepted.
The second fight was much shorter; while that has much to do with the superiority of Raven Guard hand-to-hand training, it has to be acknowledged that Karthas wasn’t the warrior that Zayr had been.
The complication to this fight was that Brother Krak’atoa – who had taken a nasty blow to the head during our fight with the Diablodon – has become increasingly erratic. He manifested an eagerness to show ‘strong leadership’, unfortunately combined with some confusion about the nature of our mission and some of the events that had already transpired.
My understanding of the Salamanders is that they’re protective of ordinary humans, which is admirable in itself – but when it comes to ordering me not to kill a man who’d already confessed to involvement in the murder of one of the Ecclesiarchy? He even threatened to shoot me if I disobeyed this peculiar order.
I considered the possibility that his peculiar behaviour might be due to involvement by the Ruinous Powers – and I will keep an eye on him, just in case – but it seems more likely to be the effecs of concussion. I had no desire to come to blows with a brother Marine if it could be honourably avoided, so I agreed to his request for the time being and subdued Karthas with a choke-hold.
We then took our unconscious prisoner, along with Zayr’s body, to the Aspirance.
Ogur conducted an autopsy on Zayr and confirmed that there were signs of abnormality – Genestealer corruption. With that in mind, I was almost certain that Karthas would turn out to be likewise corrupted, although Ogur’s medical investigation was inconclusive.
At Krak’atoa’s behest we attempted to interrogate Karthas. I could have told him it was a waste of time; in the unlikely event that he was innocent, he wouldn’t have anything to tell us (nor would we believe him) and if he was indeed a Genestealer puppet, he was extremely unlikely to disclose anything important. Indeed, given the psychic link that exists within the brood, I was concerned that the enemy might learn more from us during the interrogation than vice-versa.
Therefore, I requested permission to “handle this my way”. Krak’atoa agreed, and before he could ask awkward questions I executed Karthas with my chainsword. Krak’atoa was angry with me – “I wouldn’t have agreed if I’d known that’s what you intended!” – which is precisely why I didn’t tell him. I then sliced open Karthas’ skull and started to sample his brain.
The experience was… memorable. Through flashbacks of memory, I learned that Zayr had betrayed him some years earlier, during one of the abortive raids on Grensvayl – he had been taken aside and infected out of sight of the others. Although the other memories were fragmentary, I recalled visions of a dark place with a prisoner – Sister R – manacled to a pillar, and a powerful beast present in the darkness. This much I relayed to my Battle-Brothers afterwards.
Then I felt an unholy presence staring back at me. Even though the memories absorbed through the omophagea are fleeting and fragmented, it was overwhelming – something vast and hungry beyond imagining – and it was all I could do to break the connection, vomiting up what I’d consumed. I don’t know whether I actually made a weak contact with the Hive-Mind, or simply absorbed Karthas’ memories of his own contact; either way, it will take a long time to forget the encounter, and it’s not one I care to repeat. I did not consider it necessary to share this part of the story with my comrades; when I return to my Chapter, I think I will speak to a Brother-Chaplain, or perhaps one of the Librarians.
But as unpleasant as it was, it provided us with much of the information we needed, and it confirmed beyond a doubt that I had been right to execute him.
We decided to hit the promethium mines as quickly as possible, taking Alkedra along to handle the locals if need be. (Another sign of Krak’atoa’s confusion: although he had previously been showing an interest in her that verged on the excessive, he now seemed arrogant towards her, mistakenly describing her as a ‘civilian’.)
In case there were any collaborators left, we put the word around that we were headed for Grensvayl (which turned out to be truer than we knew) and flew in that direction, diverting to the mines only after we were out of sight of the capital.
The mines themselves posed something of a challenge: the walkways across the pit of promethium were too weak to bear a Marine’s weight. In the end we landed the shuttle on the clifftop above the cave mouth, and lowered a cable to the platform nearest the cave. My brothers climbed down one by one; I had an easier time of it courtesy of my jump packs.
Getting into the caves themselves proved something of a challenge: there was still a gap of about ten metres between the last platform and the solid rock inside the cave. Thorhammer suggested sealing up our suits and walking through the promethium pit to the cave.
I didn’t much like this idea – the crude promethium would block all visibility, and leave my brothers coated in flammable sludge – but none of us could come up with an alternative. To make things easier, I flew across – I had a bit of work to avoid the stalactites along the way – and carried a guide line to ensure my brothers didn’t get lost under the crude.
Thorhammer destroyed the walkways around the platform – a sensible idea, since they were useless to us and might be useful to ambushing enemies – and followed the line. The sludge went well over his head, and I was concerned for his safety, but eventually he re-emerged inside the cave and the others followed. Several of them felt something large moving in the depths nearby, but whatever it was, it didn’t attack. More likely to be some local creature, but perhaps a Genestealer might choose to bide its time for reasons unknown.
Unpleasant thought: might it have been the Broodlord itself? Being less expendable than its progeny, that could explain why it chose not to attack. Once Grensvayl has been purged, we ought to come back here.
We set out into the caves, which proved to be large and deep. Krak’atoa was waving his flamer around enthusiastically, which concerned me – it would have been very easy to ignite the promethium, which would have flashed back to the pit. Destroying such a resource seems inadvisable in itself, and it would have made it much harder to access the caves and clear them. We managed to persuade him to switch to his bolter.
Not far into the caves, we came across a pillar that was all too familiar to me, complete with manacles. There was an odd-looking xenos sign above the manacles, which none of us recognised. We looked around but there was nothing else to be seen at that point, so we proceeded deeper into the caves.
The caves turned out to be very deep indeed; since we already knew that there were caves in Grensvayl, I was not completely surprised to find that the tunnels continued in that direction for many kilometres. Although we were all expecting ambush, the length of the journey meant that we were not as alert as we could’ve been when we were attacked.
Krak’atoa had insisted on leading the party, and two Genestealers appeared out of niches in the walls; they were on him before anybody could yell alert, and he was badly injured. Thorhammer destroyed one with a burst from his heavy bolter, and I killed the other with my chainsword and some assistance from others.
Thorhammer was attacked by a third Genestealer that had crept up behind him – I never cease to marvel at their stealth – but the rest of us closed with it, and Sarlock crushed it with his servo-arm. Ogur was attempting to render first-aid to Krak’atoa, but unfortunately the Salamander wouldn’t keep still long enough.
After the fracas was over, we continued through the caverns, and eventually we saw daylight up ahead: we had come all the way to Grensvayl!
We emerged from the cavern mouth into a ruined and deceptively quiet village. We had no doubt that there were many Genestealers around – something confirmed by Sarlock’s auspex – and most of us were in favour of retreating through the caves to come at the problem from another angle. But Krak’atoa insisted on scouting the village; I could see this going horribly wrong, so I volunteered to scout, since I was the only one with an option for a quick exit should we be attacked by overwhelming numbers.
Near us was a bridge over what had once been a small creek-bed. I headed towards the bridge, but as I stepped on it, two Genestealers emerged from under it. I dodged one, but the other one hit me and knocked me down, cracking a few of my ribs – I love the Corvus armour but sometimes I could wish it offered better protection.
Krak’atoa leapt to my aid – I appreciate the gesture, even if it was a little suicidal – and the others opened fire. There was a risk of my being hit – and indeed one or two rounds glanced off the armour – but I would have been dead otherwise, and I was very glad of the marksmanship of my brothers.
Unfortunately, the gunfire had drawn attention, and the Genestealers in hiding around the village were beginning to respond. It was clear that we couldn’t hope to fight them all, so I told my brothers to fall back into the cave – sealing the entrance behind them – while I made a stand to buy them time.
Since they seemed to respond to noise, I stood on the bridge and emptied a pistol clip into the ground. I was gratified by the response: at least a dozen Genestealers started slinking towards me from all quarters (except, curiously, from one of the few remaining houses – either it’s empty, or there’s something in there that they want to guard).
The Genestealers were moving slowly, but I knew that was deceptive; I’ve seen just how fast they can run when they want to. So I was prepared when they started to charge. I popped a blind grenade, enveloping the area in thick smoke, and fired up my jetpack to catapult me out of the village and over the fire barrier. Meanwhile the Genestealers were hunting for me in the smoke, but the only thing I’d left behind was a melta-bomb on a short timer. I’d guess I killed about nine of them, but it’s impossible to be sure.
After speaking with the local guards – and warning them to remain vigilant – I headed back overland to the mine. I arrived there well before my brothers did, and was able to assist them in exiting. Then we returned to the capital to make plans and recuperate.
- The brood does not seem to be fully alert: my experience with Genestealers is that the whole brood is capable of responding to threats in a coordinated fashion, but that didn’t seem to be the case today. Perhaps it takes time for them to develop such a link – or perhaps the Broodlord is too far away for clear communication? (Perhaps we should return to the mines and find out just what it is that’s hiding under the promethium – even if it means torching the place, now that we’ve cleared the tunnels?)
- Alternately, they may have been in a dormant state? Food supply in Grensvayl has been heavily restricted; I know Genestealers will enter hibernation in a hulk, presumably to reduce requirements for sustenance, and the Caele’s strategy of starvation may have been more effective than we’d realised, especially if the xenos have been trying to build their numbers.
- Taking that in mind, there may be scope for surgical operations in Grensvayl; perhaps we can whittle them down one by one. If so, we may be better off taking a small force, rather than assaulting en masse and drawing attention – we do have the option of Guard and local forces, but they might be more of a liability than an asset
- Possible mixed strategy: check whether the Guard have any good marksmen, and see what we can do about picking off Genestealers long-range, to encourage them to keep their heads down; this may make it easier for us to infiltrate afterwards without being noticed.
- By selectively disabling the barrier (necessary for infiltration anyway) we might be able to lure a few into attempting to break out, helping to whittle down numbers further.
- Whatever strategy we choose, be careful not to stick to it for too long; Genestealers are not stupid and if we become predictable, we can expect them to take advantage of that.