Second Church Protectorate
Shan lay still, the foolish Churchmen believed him unconscious, so let them do so. He had at first wondered why he had been kept alive, his injuries being sufficient even to still his corrupted heart. The power of his god had infused him with pestilence, maintaining his existence day after dreary day, feeding his pain to an almost joyous level.
Now he recognised his purpose, the bubbling and putrid murmurings of the plague carriers held within him had made him wait. They also had been a gift to the Tauran, but now they were slowly consuming him from the inside out; feeding on the pus and contagion within his rotted body.
Their movements had become more frantic and the Tauran knew that the time had come. The lesser demons pushed their way out of his corroded armour, their liquid chuckling a measure of their excitement. A black and yellow bilious fluid wept out, falling to the floor in a viscous rain. Wisps of smoke curled upwards as the material corroded the decking below. As the pooling liquid continued its work, one after another of the vile creatures rolled into the hole and disappeared from sight.
Now, a shrunken figure lay upon the gurney, but Shan’s task was far from over. With each exhalation of his racked and tortured body, a fine mist of spores came into being, the impulse of his breath starting them on their journey. Momentarily they coalesced into a mucus ridden cloud, then just as quickly dispersed, pulled away by the circulating air within the room.
Breathing became more difficult as the expulsion of the foetid miasma physically drained him, eventually all that was left was a crumpled and corroded shell, the last of its toxins leaking out drop by drop, falling down into the burnt out hole and continuing into the depths below.
The door opened slowly and Inspector Frings led his team inside, his angry shout causing weapons to be drawn and trained directly at the Tauran’s body.
“Stay away!” Frings screamed at a Stormtrooper who had approached the still smoking hole, his hand crashing against the general alarm button. A harsh howling began, the response to the deadliest of threats, and door after door slammed shut, sealing the party within the small room.
Frightened faces peered at him and one braver than most, asked the question they all wanted answering, “W-w-what do we do now?”
“We pray,” replied Frings, his shaking hand pulling his handkerchief from his pocket, “and ask for the Prelate’s blessing on our journey to His side.”
Rating Weaver carried the tray of food down the corridor, whistling to himself. He for one was not too upset that they had arrived to find the Tauran Fleet already gone or, if the rumours were correct, destroyed. It was a much easier life when normal routine was allowed to flourish and prosper. His job was to make sure that the officers were fed and cared for, a sometimes onerous task depending on the individual and their particular requirements, but one he quite enjoyed.
As he passed by the grille of the ventilation shaft, a tiny clawed hand snaked out, swiping quickly and opening a small cut on the rating’s neck. Weaver clapped his hand to the wound, involuntarily dropping the tray as pain rippled through him. His puzzled look turned quickly to fear as his limbs began to shake uncontrollably and an overwhelming dizziness made him try to cling to the wall.
A horrible laughter rang through his head and flecks of blood appeared at the corners of his eyes, boils erupting from his skin in quick succession. Cramps tore at his stomach and he vomited black liquid which seemed to heave of its own volition. With a final long drawn out scream he collapsed, his body thudding to the floor amidst the still moving liquid.
Again a horrid cackling came from the ventilation shaft, followed by a curious shuffling, then there was only silence.
Death stalked the ship’s corridors, its attack silent yet deadly. The Immortals themselves watched helplessly as one after another, their Church comrades fell. There was no distinction of rank nor privilege, all died equally, in screaming gut-wrenching pain. Some of the Troopers had found breathing equipment and as such had saved themselves for now, others were not so lucky.
It was obvious where the source of infection had come from, but there was no way to reach the Inspector and his party and it was far too late. Even now, the Immortals made their way as fast as they could to the Bridge, their decision on how to save the ship taken. They must vent all of the atmosphere, killing any survivors it was true, but also ridding the cruiser of this air borne disease.
Their logic was sound, however there were a number of factors they had not taken into account.
Frings stared at the remains of the now identified Tauran Adept, an abject terror fighting to claw its way out of his head. The decision to bring this thing on board had been his, over riding any words of caution from the cruiser’s Chaplain and the senior officers on board. He had seen only glory, the interrogation and subsequent use of any information would have surely raised him high amongst his peers.
Now there was only death and ignominy, but at least he would not live to witness it. Then he heard the rasping sound coming from the corpse, accompanied by a horrendous stench of corruption. Slowly the armour began to swell, fluid leaking from its fractured components, yet still it began to pulse with evil life. A silent scream began deep in his throat as Shan’s eyes opened, glowing a baleful and malevolent red.
Bodies lay, twisted and grotesque, exactly where they had fallen, pools of liquid seeping slowly out from underneath them. With an abrupt crack, the screws holding the ventilation grill parted and the slatted piece of metal dropped to the floor. A hideously gnarled and wart covered face peered cautiously out of the concealing darkness, then a squat bulbous body squelched over the rim of the shaft and plopped to the floor.
Rolling slightly the creature made its way to the first of the corpses, licking the slime covered hand before it and cackling with glee. It hopped slightly as a burst of putrid flatulence half-raised it into the air and it began to hum. Another of the creatures joined it, followed by more, their evil croons producing in the unholy chorus.
At first nothing happened and then the hand of the corpse twitched, one finger almost imperceptibly flicking upwards. Rotating slowly, the demon watched with satisfaction as one after another of the bodies moved, groans of protestation flowing from their lips. Bubbling laughter echoed through the silent corridors, as the dead began to rise.
The crack in Sargeant Arius’ armour was tiny, almost imperceptible but the spores found it anyway. They wiggled their way through the metallic skin and then began burrowing into the Immortal’s flesh. Entering his bloodstream they were attacked by the enhanced metabolism of the soldier and a titanic struggle took place; spores multiplying exponentially threw back the constituents parts of Arius’ immune system and corrupted all around them.
Suddenly the Sargeant coughed, a wet slickness covering the inside of his face plate. Arius’ companion looked at him with some concern, Immortals were not known for their susceptibility to disease and under the present circumstances it rang alarm bells.
Arius waved his arm depreciatingly, “Dry throat,” he murmured, yet even then he was lost, although he yet did not know it.
His brother Immortal moved forward slightly, checking around the corner of the corridor and Arius began to tremble and sweat, the convulsions slight although another indication of the efficacy of the spores. His mind began to wander and horrid visions cascaded through his thoughts.
With one final shudder it was over, his piercing blue eyes filling with a virulent red fluid as his superhuman body finally succumbed. Stealthily he approached his comrade, his now unslung axe raised up high. There was no sound as he slammed the hilt of the weapon down onto his brother’s head, the force sufficient to split open the other’s helm. Savagely he tore off his own helmet and quickly that of his unfortunate companion joined it. The other man had been forced down onto one knee and was groggily shaking his head. Snarling bestially Arius leapt forward and bit down, tearing a chunk of flesh from the weakened man’s throat.
His already virulent saliva mixed with the welling blood from the ragged wound, so passing on the now enhanced plague spores, which rapidly destroyed the soldier’s stricken defenses.
Standing back, Arius gazed on, a cunning smile playing on his lips. A shuffling, shambling noise could be heard behind him and he turned to welcome his undead brothers.
One leg after another slipped off the medical gurney and Shan creaked to his feet. Frings screamed now, all pretence at bravado having disappeared. A trooper sprinted forward, his rifle spitting rounds at the Tauran, who only laughed as ragged holes appeared and then slowly closed. He reached one gauntleted hand forward, grasping the terrified Trooper by the throat and crushing his windpipe effortlessly. Death personified, he strode forward, calmly murdering one after another, until only the Inspector remained.
“I denounce thee in His name,” mumbled Frings, rapidly making the sign of his Order.
Shan roared with laughter, casually backhanding the Inspector across the face. The force of the blow threw Frings across the room, crashing against a nearby table and collapsing in a heap upon the floor.
“Poor little man,” whispered Shan, grasping the front of Frings’ tunic in one hand and lifting him to his feet, “I’m sure you are wondering what is going to happen to you …….?”
Quite deliberately he drew the Inspector’s face close to his and kissed him full on the mouth, “Welcome brother……” he purred.
Ever so subtly, the structure of the battleship began to change, metal corroding and becoming almost fluid. Boils and pustules grew on the ship’s external skin, covering laser batteries and launch bays, as the virulent plague slowly consumed all of what was once a proud Church vessel. The engines pulsed with power and ignoring the frantic hails of the rest of the fleet , the enormous craft got underway.
Striding purposefully down the corridor leading to the bridge, Shan greeted his new brothers. Immortals lined the passage, their armour darkening and changing before his eyes. Colours ran slowly down their shoulder guards as their Church emblems twisted in silent pain. Underneath a new pattern began to emerge, burned into the very metal itself.
With a swish the bridge doors opened and Shan looked on at the partially rotten body of the Admiral, half melted into his chair. A death’s head grin flitted across the undead officer’s face as he peeled himself from his seat and expansively waved his new master forward.
“Now,” said Shan, “We can leave. Our Lord has given us a new task and directions so that we can follow this upstart Walters. Let us be on our way, but first …..”
Virulent streams of sickness poured from the battleship’s main weaponry, impacting against the unsuspecting Church Fleet as Shan looked on with satisfaction. Very soon his undead army would be ready, and the new Tauran Champion could lead them into battle.
Guest post with D.P. Prior
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