They entered the factory and followed Vox along the wall of a large hall. The first guard was lurking in a short corridor to the next room. When it fell in three pieces, air escaped from its carcass, nothing more. Even in the state Vox left it in, it was obvious that it had rather too many limbs. Possibly human once, it showed the gruesome capacity of the flesh shaper they were seeking.
In a passage further in, they needed no prompting to follow his example when their librarian pressed himself against the wall and waited. Within a few seconds another guarding creature, equally deformed and ugly, passed them by. It fell victim to Vox’s sword just as quickly.
They stalked through the hall beyond as quietly as possible and found a staircase. Vox signalled them to wait and went up for a moment. For the third time, they heard the surprisingly quiet noises of an unsuspecting foe killed by the unnaturally sharp blade. When Vox returned, they had only one more guard between them and their target. This one did not go out as quietly. Since they could hear the screams by now, they were unconcerned about it.
On entering the room they had been searching for at a dead run, they found themselves on a gallery overlooking something that was no torture chamber. It also could not be called a slaughterhouse. It had gone far, far beyond. None of them was even remotely capable of taking in the full horror of raw flesh, living organs affixed to the walls and body parts that still flowed with fresh blood. Webbing that looked like raw veins and nerves hung everywhere, lending a sickening frame to the view of nine naked Space Marines that lay spread-eagled on the floor in a circle. Their bodies were arranged in front of a tank of some sort, large enough to contain something human-shaped which was vaguely visible through a crystalline window.
With his back to the tank, a nightmarish figure crouched between two of their brothers. The luckless comrades were the ones screaming at the top of their voices because the abomination was just winding their intestines out of their bellies. The figure, surely the Haemonculus, looked like a cross between two victims in an industrial accident and an exploded leather harness. It was the only way of thinking about him that allowed even the battle-hardened, gene-hanced Space Marines to stand in shock instead of shying back from the sheer terror they laid eyes on.
Behind the Haemonculus, the tank opened.
The naked, sleek figure of a woman slid out quietly. Her stunning beauty posed an evil contrast to the gruesome surroundings. Long, golden-blonde hair fell in soft curls to her hips without concealing anything of her perfect body. Vox’s little sister might have looked something like this, had it not been for a few, appalling details: The pointy ears and large eyes clearly marked her as an Eldar and the expression of ravenous rapture on her face left no doubt that she was the other Dark Eldar, Vox had warned them about.
Without announcing herself to the Haemonculus and unaware of the staring audience on the galleries, she turned to one of the Astartes on the floor beside her. She bent down with careful movements and rubbed her white, soft skin over his mangled body until her head reached the general area of his groin. Mercifully, her hair fell down to conceal what she was doing there.
“Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn!”, Vox suddenly shouted and stormed down the staircase without consideration for silence whatsoever. He was still inaudible to the xenos over the screams.
“They’re both psykers! They will open the rift!”
The woman had lifted her head again, crawled higher and brought her hip to groin height of their librarian brother. He struggled but there was little of his body left undamaged and his hands were nailed firmly to the floor.
Vox was only halfway down the stairs when the witch opened her legs over her victim, reached between them and slid the helpless Astartes’ manhood inside herself.
Hyron and Vyron were the first to unfreeze from what they saw. Together they aimed their bolters and started to fire at the two figures. None of their bullets reached their target.
They exploded harmlessly more than a man’s length away but the salve finally called the Haemonculus’ attention to their presence. He emerged from his doing and all the spectators were glad that half his face was hidden behind some kind of black mask. Tubes were protruding from it and leading into his own chest cavity.
“Look round!”, Vox yelled, running full speed towards him and really, the xeno glanced over his shoulder. He hovered up from his crouching position, lifting his hand while Aegis as a whole finally got their limbs sorted out and followed their librarian.
There was a noise that sounded like a loud, echoing sigh of pleasure as the witch began to move up and down on the luckless librarian. In the reverberation of this, the world seemed to dissolve and quiver.
It ripped open with a mind-numbing bang.
Titus was glad that they had followed Vox down. This way they got behind the Haemonculus, who shielded himself from the deadly blast.
Even so, the others all gave a heartfelt groan and fell behind. Protected by his resistance, Aegis’ leader pushed on towards Vox. He did not know what his little brother was planning or what any of them could do here but he saw nothing sensible to do otherwise.
Vox meanwhile had reached the Haemonculus. Instead of drawing his sword and attacking the abomination from behind, however, he laid a hand to the xeno’s back.
Suddenly, the bubble of calm, the Eldar was creating in the storm of raw forces, got bigger and more steady. Titus understood that Vox fed his own strength into the xeno and he knew why: He broadened the circle of the brothers being protected. Titus moved up to one of them and tried to free him. The man was nailed to the floor with evil-looking metal parts. They looked like strips had been ripped from a finger thick sheath of steel. He had been one of the victims just now. His belly was cut open lengthwise and several metres of intestine wriggled out of the wound. The man looked up at Titus with unsteady eyes, while around them the raw forces raged and roared.
The first clash of the storm subsided while Titus stuffed the guts back into the abdomen of the man and the hovering abomination of the Haemonculus turned to Vox.
“What do you want for this, little one?”, the xeno asked in a rasping but quite understandable voice. He was almost as tall as Vox but stick thin. There seemed to be no flesh under his sickly pale skin, just bones at odd angles.
“Free the Space Marines!”, Vox demanded.
The Haemonculus hovered higher. It was hard to tell whether it was a third or fourth arm he extended but he snapped the fingers on it.
Titus could only just get out of the way when the various metal parts that pinned their brothers to the ground flew up, circled for a moment and then accelerated inwards like projectiles.
Vox calmly ducked under them. The shrapnel they caused was harmlessly caught by his armour. Drawing his sword even in this movement, he struck out towards the Haemonculus, who dodged easily.
The first daemon crawled out of the rift, extending long claws to both of them. It looked a lot like the large version of the Dark Eldar witch, with rather too much soft, rosy skin. It had one naked, female breast and an impressive, half-erect penis, dangling obscenely between its legs. The face was not human but possessed a dazzling, unearthly beauty. Even though the Space Marines had hesitated earlier, a thing like this they could only regard with stoic pragmatism.
The daemon remained grotesquely unsteady. Dissolving into the world in parts and materialising again in other places. It would certainly pay not to be here when it found its full form.
Titus was just picking the stricken brother on the floor up, when Vyron appeared beside him. Wordlessly, the Space Wolf beckoned to hand the man over. Another one was already slung over his shoulder. Some of Gradus could still crawl, one even managed to come to his feet and none of them made any ado. Hyron and Vyron ran out with two of them each, Tiberius carried three and even the wounded Dankwart steadied the one that could walk.
Titus drew bolter and sword and then, Vox was beside him. They fought shoulder to shoulder like they had trained innumerable times, covering the retreat of their brothers while other sleek shapes poured out of the rift. Titus knew them as daemonettes. Strange, fast creatures, similar to the large one they had seen first.
“Vox, come on!”, Titus yelled over the noise when they had fallen back enough to reach the stairs. The others had already left this way but Vox shook his head.
“Go!”, his friend roared and the forces around him swirled, causing strange echoes in his voice. His hair stood out from his head and for a moment, Titus thought he saw a figure behind him. It mimicked his every move, seemingly lending him strength as he cut down the next cluster of materialising daemonettes. For the fraction of a second, Titus glimpsed a pair of mighty wings on the shadow but then the impression was gone.
“I have to go back in!”, Vox added. He wanted to say something else but was cut short by the Haemonculus coming out of nowhere. The attacker flew with all his appendages extended like a predator risen from a nightmare. Titus had his bolter up and bullets flying even before the abomination could hit Vox but the projectiles dispersed in all directions like an excited swarm of birds. Titus saw Dankwart waiting at the top of the stairs and tried to reach him via vox. There was only static. The open warp made the transmission impossible. He cursed and ran up the stairs while Vox pushed the horrible Dark Eldar back with swift strokes of his sword. He did not try to hit him yet, just kept him at bay.
Dankwart had taken his helmet off. He was almost as pale as the man he was steadying.
“Dankwart, you’re in charge!”, Titus yelled regardless. “Get out of here, find transportation to the ‘Hammer’ and order exterminatus if you don’t hear back from us!”
“Understood”, was all the Blood Drinker said.
They turned and Titus went down the stairs again. For his leaving brothers, he was unconcerned. They would encounter little resistance. The daemons were coming through here and the creatures of the Haemonculus would surely have been killed by the blast.
Titus woke his chainsword and started hacking at materialising daemons left and right. They began to pour through thickly now. Like he had noticed it on the ‘Lawbringer’ already, he was undetectable for them before they had gained their full material form. Now that he knew this, he put this advantage to good use.
Vox and the Haemonculus were fighting at a little distance from him. Or so Titus had thought. Something was wrong with the dimensions. Whatever he saw seemed indefinably distorted. One step sideways to dodge a daemon took him several metres in one direction but the step back did not have the same effect. He stumbled and fought on, trying to reach and aid Vox. He saw his friend gaining the upper hand and thought that he was about to place the deadly strike. Instead, Vox twisted and hacked off the clawed arm of another large daemon that sprang them from the side. Titus had not been able to see where it had hidden. It just came out of the crazy, dancing colours.
The daemon screamed shrilly and so loud that Titus’ organic shock compensation did not suffice. He had to cover his ears while Vox just seemed to project ripples out into the world to shield himself.
After the painful strike against one enemy, Vox whirled around to get his distance from the other. His sword trailed blurring colours in the movement as if smearing the world across the canvas of the warp.
For the second time in their fight the Haemonculus hesitated in puzzlement about the fact that Vox had just saved him. Titus saw his little brother grin when another large daemon appeared from the swirling masses and bit the Dark Elder in half. The librarian made haste to disappear out of reach while deep and inappropriately pleasant laughter sprang up all around.
“What have I found?”, a thousand voices echoed through the unreal space, while Titus still ran towards Vox, fighting his way through the throng of more and more daemonettes.
“What strength you have, little one!”, the voices called. “And how lonely you are!”
Figures seemed to gather around Vox. They were no daemons but looked like the wavering images of Astartes. Looming behind them, gaining more and more substance with each passing heartbeat was a shape even larger than the two daemons they had seen so far.
“Come to me”, the unnatural voices all around called with a dark, lustful joy in their tones. “I will make you whole again! Just open yourself to me!”
Vox was busy hacking shapes in twain and did not see the one taking form behind him. Titus’ hearts raged in his chest. He was convinced to be too far away but the distorted dimensions came to his aid. As if his will of getting there was all it needed, he was suddenly in reach. He sprang with all his might, lifting his chainsword to hack the claw coming for his friend out of the way.
“You resist?”, the voices asked, echoing all around just as Titus pushed himself off the ground. “Then let me at least open your legs to me…”
In a strange slow-motion Titus saw Vox starting to turn and realised his mistake. His friend could sense everything here. Except for him. Of course, he had seen the daemon coming. What he had not seen coming was Titus jumping right into his strike.
Something hit him from behind, nailing him to the floor with force. Pain went up all over his body and then the world exploded into flames before merciful darkness enveloped him.