Big Game V – Chapter Seventeen: Temptation
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Senior Navigator Krosp huddled in the damp forest cave, pulling his cloak around him for warmth futilely. Nearly a week on this forsaken planet had dampened his spirits even more than he could express. It was not even clear why the Inquisitor had chosen a navigator like him for this duty. It was not as if Krosp was a great psyker of the Schola Psychana. His lineage was not illustrious, his clan not a great one amongst the guild of navigators. Krosp shivered again and rubbed his ankle, sore from the tireless march of the Space Marines. Up and down a mountain, through cold and wet, ice and wind, these supermen were killing him with their fortitude. What’s more, he’d been nearly two days without sleep since they crossed the ridge, since the visions…
“Navigator?” The soft voice of trooper Riggs called for him as if sensing the Navigator’s thoughts.
“Yes, trooper?” Krosp wetted his lips, dry from hours of silence.
“Are you rested?” the polite trooper’s demeanor belied a deeper and more broiling intensity. Krosp knew what the man was capable of; he had executed that poor student.
“Yes, trooper Riggs, I am feeling much better now,” Krosp lied.
“Good, the marines have returned from their scouting mission and they state they have found an entrance to a subterranean structure. The Inquisitor has stated we will investigate it, forthwith.”
“Of course, trooper,” Krosp said and began to stand. The pole of soft wood he had found near the first day on their trip was a familiar feel in his hands. Krosp ran his fingers along the series of grooves; beginning his ritual of counting the lines in the grain as he walked.
Krosp walked for hours, plunged in darkness, his third eye firmly closed and wrapped in a turban of dark cloth. Concentrating on the shooting pain in his ankle, Krosp was able to disconnect his thoughts from his situation. It was at this time, Krosp could begin to hear the whispers. At the edge of his mind, not unlike the voice of a daemon, the voice crept from the still darkness. This was different from before though. No daemons ever spoke like this; they chose the most familiar voice, the most calming tongue they could manage. These whispers were indecipherable and alien. Not the cacophony of the Tyranid, nor the insane roar of the Ork, these whispers slid across the surface of Krosp’s mind like quicksilver over cold marble. Not even the Eldar’s presence echoed across the warp like this. The eldritch echoes were like the heralding of a mighty storm moving away, this was more like a memory that once was unbearably present and now receded to the shadows. Almost like water seeping into the bedrock after a soft rain.
Krosp fell down. His thoughts were rudely interrupted by the rock which caught his weak ankle and he toppled to the ground, skinning his hand painfully on the exposed rock.
“Are you alright, Navigator?” That was the voice of Inquisitor Kalsman. His commanding baritone was unmistakable.
“Yes, Inquisitor,” Krosp replied.
“You must be more careful now,” Kalsman spoke, “Brother Yukanji says that there are likely enemies present.”
“I understand, Inquisitor,” Krosp felt foolish for indulging his thoughts. He had known that these whispers were an ill omen and he had listened for them anyway. He was stronger than this. He was able to ply the warp near the Eye of Terror without diversion. He could steer a mighty battleship across eddies and whirlpools in the maelstrom without err. Now he was being distracted like a guild initiate. It was disgraceful.
“Take hold of this rock,” The inquisitor said, “we are going ahead and will leave you and Skitari Abraxas until we return. Trooper Riggs has also volunteered to remain here to guard you and our supplies.”
“As you wish, Inquisitor,” Krosp shivered at the mention of the Skitari. The man, if he could be called that, almost never spoke. When he did the grating mechanical clanging was like razors on slate. What’s more, he could barely be seen in the warp, his shadow was ephemeral, like a machine reflected in the empyrean, no soul.
“Navigator,” Riggs again pulled Krosp from his thoughts.
“Yes?” Krosp replied.
“I am here,” Riggs was always attentive to the Navigator’s lack of sight, in a kind fashion.
“Thank you, trooper.”
“Indeed,” Riggs then fell silent for a moment and Krops heard his breathy whisper as he began to recite prayers.
Krosp strained and could just barely hear the high whine of Abraxas’ power conduits, signaling that the machine man was close. It was unclear how long they sat like that. Krosp struggled to avoid attending to the whispers at the back of his consciousness so did not count the passage of time. Indeed Krosp felt drained by the effort of avoiding listening to the whispers. It was not as if they were louder but they did appear more persistent.
The other difficulty was concentrating on Krosp’s surroundings. His sense of smell and hearing were acute enough that the smell of growing things around him did not mask either the unwashed smell of Trooper Riggs or the metallic oily smell of the Skitari. What’s more, though Riggs was quiet, his breath was barely audible and gave Krosp a softly reassuring sense. However, Abraxas could be detected by his soft, energy signature. The vibration of the machinery that powered the Skitari’s organs were no louder than breathing but were much more disturbing.
“Silence, something approaches” The tinny voice of Abraxas cut across the silence like a rusty blade.
“What?” Krosp asked aloud before the metallic claw of the Skitari pressed against his lips, covering the whole of Krosp’s jaw and squeezing tightly closed.
Krosp strained to hear what was happening and his hands began to shake with fear. The warmth of the Skitari’s power-plant vents washed over his legs as they were motionless. Then Krosp heard the soft crunch of boots, human boots, on the greenery of the forest floor. It was impossible for anyone without his acute hearing to attend to the soft footfalls, whoever was approaching was light enough to make little noise and skilled enough to be quiet in these dense environs.
Krosp could hear the soft brushing of Riggs signaling with hands in tactical cantos. A light shift in Abraxas’ position signaled the Skitari had nodded in affirmation. Krosp’s trembling hands reached down to the laspistol hanging at his belt.
As Krosp fumbled with the holster catch, the action began. Abraxas leapt away and the racket of bolter-fire began. From somewhere in the woods around them, Krosp could hear the telltale cracking noise of laser weapons and the air erupted with the scent of ozone.
Over the sound of battle, Krosp heard Riggs yelling into his combead, “Riggs to point, we are taking fire. A dozen contact, appear human. Armed patrol, requesting support assistance,” There was a short pause as Riggs squeezed off another pair of three-round burst from the boltgun, “Roger, moving to lambda.”
There was a tremendous thunder from somewhere in the depths of the forest and Krosp then heard yelling from human voices in the distance. Riggs grabbed him by the arm, yelling, indecipherably for him to get up. Krosp struggled to his feet and the pistol tumbled from his holster clattering against the boulder. Krosp leaned down to retrieve the pistol as a round from a heavy rifle scattered rock around the area, missing where he had just been standing.
“Sniper!” Riggs yelled, pulling Krosp all the way to the ground, “for the love of all, Navigator, get down!”
Krosp hit the earth and jarred his jaw. Dazed Krosp heard a new whisper deep in his consciousness, “This way sisters, there is a sweet one who will give us his wisdom.” Deep in Krosp’s stomach he felt unnerved. This was a familiar feeling, these voices he knew and shivered to hear them here. Daemons walked among them.
“Let’s go, navigator,” Riggs ordered, “crawl!”
Krosp was pulled back into the firefight from his revelation and he quickly pulled the wrapping from his head, revealing his Occulus Sanctimonious, the holy third eye which allowed him to see the warp with more clarity than most human saw the real world. He was careful to keep it pointed away from Riggs, as seeing a Navigator’s third eye caused madness in the best of cases, and death in the worst.
The darkness was shattered by the harsh colors of the Empyrean. There was no color in the universe that could describe this, no shape which adequately would match was Krosp saw. Nonetheless, Krosp instantly appraised the world around him. Though he could barely make out Riggs in the background noise of the real world, the six daemonic forms stood out with a blazing glory, not more than fifteen feet from them. Their horrific forms were crystal clear and nearly made Krosp piss himself from fear; they were walking towards them. Just as he saw them, they would see him clearly. Krosp crawled as fast as he could, flailing like a fish caught on land. The crack of lasrifles echoed all around them, mixed with the occasional report of a high gage slugthrowing rifle from the hidden sniper.
“Where are you, Abraxas?” Riggs called into his combead, “We’re getting pinned down and contacts are circling to cut off the flank!”
Krosp bumped into Riggs and felt out to see what his sight could not. They had crawled into a hollow of rock, exposed but sunken enough for the trooper to lay prone and fire with minimal risk. Krosp turned to see the daemons closing leisurely. He whispered to Riggs, “Trooper, I have revealed my third eye. Daemons are approaching from the warp.”
Riggs inhaled sharply and Krosp distinctly heard a benediction of protection, “Is your faith strong Navigator?”
“Yes trooper, I will end it myself if I feel myself slipping. Trust in that.”
“I will,” The bolter coughed again.
Krosp watched as a daemon reached him and leaned to whisper in his ear. Their forms were indistinct here but there was no mistaking their coruscating energy. They were minor, not great leviathans of the deep warp. However, it was clear they were not to be trifled with. If they were able to manifest they would likely kill both of them. Curious that they had remained in the warp for so long.
“Human,” The daemon said, “Your soul is elegant, refined and strong. You should allow me to inspect it more closely.”
“I am an instrument of the Emperor,” Krosp began to speak firmly, “He is the hand upon me, I am his tool, his agent.”
“Indeed. A great one like your Emperor would use you directly. He would know your greatness. However, I can assure you that no matter what he offers you, I can promise much more.”
“He is the light upon the darkness; I am his mirror, reflecting his glory for the untold millions. I strive to polish my soul, such that it is worthy of his greatness.”
“Yes, your soul has a mirror shine to it. Such a shine that the great Emperor should be ashamed to use it without conscious thought. Let me assure you my sisters and I would never release such a treasure from our ministrations with such disregard. You are to be honored. Let us honor you, navigator.”
Krosp could feel the sinuous words seep into his thoughts. He tightened his grip on the pistol and raised it to his head, just in case. “I am unworthy of my place; my station is a gift from all of humanity, given freely. Just as the Emperor gave his life, I too seek such sacrifice. I am a servant of the Emperor and should he call my soul due, I will give it freely.”
“By all that is Holy we serve his throne. By all that is good, we bleed for him,” Riggs began intoning his own prayers.
“Do you humans really believe this foolishness?” The voice hissed, “My sisters and I tire of this. We want your secrets now, human. Navigator Krosp, I demand you give me your soul,” The echo of the words resounded deep in Krosp’s mind. He felt his will drain away; he had misjudged the power of these daemons. He turned his head to look directly upon the daemon and felt himself begin to surrender.
“We serve the throne,” Riggs continued. The voice startled Krosp in this haze, “As he died for humanity, we will die for him.”
Seinor Navigator Krosp squeezed the trigger of the laspistol and his vision faded for the last time.