This is Radical part VII. For more check the table of contents here.
The rain never stopped, on Ondine. The entire planet was covered in perpetual cloud cover that made the equatorial forests a bog of mud and mists. Inquisitor Vecht had taken one look at the weather outside and begun a tirade that was still going on the third day of our expedition. We couldn't search for these ruins of Kane's from the air with the jungle canopy being so thick, and we had no vehicles that could make their way through the terrain without getting stuck or disabled. I would have given over my bolter for a squad of Catachan veterans. Instead what we had were all fifteen of we sisters, the two Inquisitors and a trio of Deathwatch marines which were considerably more impressive aboard the shuttle than they were here in the muck. Their large bodies and heavy armor proved to be more detriment than help in the jungle, and ore than once we had to haul one of them out of a swamp where he'd become completely stuck. This is not to besmirch the Astartes by any means, but they were not made for jungle fighting.
Our power armor kept us safe from the biting insects and barbed plants as we moved, Analyn having made it absolutely clear that we were all to wear our helmets on this trip. Still, the going was rough and unpleasant for all of us except Angelica, who seemed to take great relish in clearing the way for us with wild swings of her eviscerator. The great two handed chainsword made quick work of any vines and undergrowth in our way, not to mention several trees and one feline predator which had thought to ambush us. I don't exaggerate when I say that night we had our best meal of the trip. Field rations are no fit substitute for red meat on a forced march. It was on this third day of the expedition, when Vecht's eloquent rant cut short, that we finally found something.
“This Emperor forsaken mudpit of a planet has exterminatus written all over it. When I get back to the ship I am wiping this place out of the sky. And if another of these thrice cursed warpspawn insects bites me I am burning this entire forest to the ground. Do you hear me Sister Janine? You keep that flamer re- What in the nine daemonic realms of heretic cursed excrement is that?”
Angelica stopped chopping, and her eviscerator spun to a stop as she turned. “Did we finally fucking find something? My arms are getting tired.”
Kane came up from where he'd been at the back of the group, along with his Deathwatch, to see what was going on. “Vecht, what's going on?”
“I don't know,” he said, cutting off to the side and pushing through a mass of foliage and waving for Sister Janine and I to follow him. I took the lead, using the sarissa on the end of my bolter to cut away clinging vines and low hanging branches while Janine took to my shoulder, her flamer held ready in case of another attack by some jungle predator. A moment later Kane was at my side, hacking through the underbrush with his power sword. Vecht stayed at the back of the group, but shouted, “There, do you see it? Just to the left now.”
I sliced away some kind of fern and froze in my tracks. I heard Janine gasp, but Kane just stepped forward. “Good eye, Vecht. I think we've found those colonists.”
The rotted corpses of men hung from tree branches at the edge of a wide clearing in the jungle. The rain pattered off of their corpses and dropped to the ground where it pooled into stagnant puddles that filled the entire area with the stink of death. “Holy Throne, that's terrible,” Janine said, and I forgave her casual blasphemy. It was excusable under the circumstances. The bodies had been skinned and strung up by the ankles in a pattern, each body an equal distance from the two next to it, forming a perfect circle around the edge of the clearing. In the center of the space, the ground had been dug up to collect all of the rain water in a pool, and at the center of the pool was some kind of idol, made in the shape of a man, draped in the skins of the dead.
“By The Emperor,” Vecht said as he pushed forward to get a better look. “This is... This is unprecedented. Horrendous. I can... I can hardly believe this!”
“Believe it,” Kane said, stepping out into the clearing and drawing his bolt pistol. “Heretics, Vecht? Is this the work of Chaos?”
“No, no it isn't.” He pointed at the bodies, “There's too much order to this, and none of the signs. With heretics you see repetitions of the number eight, the number of chaos. You see sigils and signs to their dark gods; you see ritual sacrifices, piles of skulls, artwork done in blood.”
Kane pointed his sword at the totem of skins, “That's not artwork? Or an altar of some kind?”
Vecht shook his head, “No, look. These bodies have no death signs, see? No wounds. They were skinned alive, and with surgical precision. I think they were hung up here after they died and the skins were thrown up on that thing as a... A warning, maybe?”
“A warning, a warning away from what?” Kane asked. I was feeling nervous, standing here in this clearing, amidst all of this death, and I began walking the tree line, motioning for Janine to do the same in the opposite direction.
“I don't know, away from these ruins of yours? Away from this damned planet? How should I know?”
Kane edged closer to the pool, examining the totem. “It looks like a coat rack to me.” Then he turned to look back the way we came, “How did you spot this from where we were, anyway? There's a good thirty yards of thick jungle between there and here.”
“I didn't,” Vecht said, suddenly confused. “I saw something else.”
“Something else what?” Kane asked, his voice taking on an edge of irritation. “Something else like something that might have done this?”
“I don't know! I only saw it for a moment. It was something metallic, I think. Like a servo skull ,but larger. I looked at it was gone, like a ghost.”
Kane narrowed his eyes, “Like a ghost?”
“Like a ghost,” Vecht acknowledged, swallowing hard and pulling out his antique inferno pistol.
Janine and I met on the far side of the clearing, neither of us having seen anything. The clearing was as secure as we could make it with just us, but I wanted to be out of there as soon as possible. Kane raised his hand to the microbead in his ear, “Brother Folthar, come to my location, an bring the Sororitas with you. Be prepared for hostiles, possibly xeno or daemon in origin. Double time.”
“What is that?!” I spun around at the sound of Vecht's voice, and my eyes went wide. The pool had begun bubbling behind Kane's back, and a figure was rising from the muddy water. A skeleton, caked in mud and filth came walking out of the water, dripping slime. I could only see it from behind, but its fingers terminated in claws half a meter long that flicked and twitched as it moved. Kane spun around and stared at the undead thing in shocked horror and stumbled backwards, tripping on the slick ground and sprawling over onto his back. The creature moved towards him and reached out for him with its claws, then it suddenly disappeared in a corona of flame. Its lower body, now all that was left of it, fell back into the pool, steaming.
Vecht lowered his inferno pistol and let out a breath I could hear from the other side of the clearing. “Well. I'd say that showed it. The dead stay dead when I'm around, right, Kane?”
Kane pulled himself to his feet, grabbing up his hat, which had fallen off during his tumble. “Yeah. I guess so. Thanks for that.”
Janine and I began to head back towards them when the ground started to rumble. All around us more of the skeletons were clawing their way out of the ground. A half dozen more began shambling out of the pool. I began to run back towards the Inquisitors when one of the things broke out of the ground right in front of me. It snatched at my armor and the flickering knives tore scores in the ceramite. Instinctively I lashed out with the butt of my bolter and caught it in the skull, knocking its arms away as it recoiled. On the backswing I scored it across the chest with my sarissa and hooked into its exposed ribcage. With a wrench I twisted the creature off balance and took a back, pulling my weapon free. As it tried to rise I put three bolt shells into its skull, and it lie still.
I heard the roar of Vecht's inferno pistol pistol again, accompanied by with crack of Kane's bolt pistol. Janine was just behind me, her flamer covering our backs. I began to move again, then felt a sudden tearing pain in my ankle. Looking down I saw the creature I had dispatched just a moment before had grabbed my leg, and one of its talons had punched clean through my armor and was buried in my leg. With a shout I fired again, taking the skeleton's arm off at the elbow, then I expended the rest of my clip into its chest, blowing it to pieces. Janine took my arm as I began to stumble and held me up. “Sister Superior, are you all right?” I nodded, then looked up at the wall of fire my sister had laid down to cover us. The things began to step out of the flames, completely unharmed, the mud burned off of their bodies, and I cried out in horror at the sight of the gleaming metal men.
So ends the seventh passage of the Personal Record of Palatine Regina Winterfield concerning the fate of Inquisitor Isimbard Kane.