The basilicanum had been constructed during the glorious heyday of Sicara V. Once a thriving agricultural centre in the system, mercantile greed and exacting tithes had long stripped the planet bare, leaving an impoverished dust bowl. The world now scraped by as a rest-stop, on the pilgrim trail that marked Saint Kildare’s historic crusade through the sub-sector. Its inhabitants lived to minister the many chapels, shrines, and reliquaries that drew faithful travellers to the shabby conurbations, scattered between scorched deserts. They supplemented the meagre stipend — offered by the Ministorum for their toil — by selling paltry supplies to the itinerant pilgrims, who never tarried in such a hopeless ramshackle place.
Indeed the basilicanum was the only structure of note left on the world. Built in the High Gothic style and remarkably intact, its cavernous knave was a beautiful lantern of stained glass. Immense flying buttresses, that supported the ornate filigree of piers, ribs, and windows, were encrusted with the devotional icons of the Imperial Cult. Towering a full kilometer into the parched sky were two spires, thrusting into the air from the massive bas-relief friezes adorning the main entrance, like the horns of a titanic beast long dead. They even dwarfed the colossal statue of the venerable Saint Kildare that imperiously guarded the basilicanum doors, from an immense balcony.
Each spire was festooned with statues — exquisitely rendered in white marble, grey granite, and lustrous gold — of noble winged figures and grotesque gargoyles. They snarled down at apprehensive visitors and curled up in agony at the gleaming angels, descending to vanquish them on shimmering wings that seemed to dance in the weak dawn light. The expansive bulk of the towers occupied the full width of a great plaza, its coloured tesserae surface one of the few relics of Sicara’s glory days. The plaza was the culmination of a processional route, leading from the landing docks to the north, cut straight through the city fabric by the ambitious Cardinal Sixtus Romus generations ago. By midday, when most of the day’s pilgrims would have reached the plaza after assiduously praying at each shrine on the boulevard, the golden angels would glow in the strong yellow sunlight. The sublime descent of the Emperor’s Holy Light, glinting off the glorious sculptures, was so awe inspiring that many would simply fall to their knees and weep before its majesty.
However far above them, near the very pinnacle of the spire, one crouching figure was not like the others. Unlike the hulking craggy stone of the gargoyles, this one was lithe and refined. But unlike the glowing pride of the marble angels, this one was a skulking matte black. It was barely distinguishable from the shadows and even a keen observer could not spot this sinister addition from the ground. Unlike the others, this statue had a pulse. Although they all served the purpose of reminding the Imperium of their Emperor’s absolute power, the methods deployed were very different. The svelte, invisible imposter had a very specific remit indeed for choosing such a singular eyrie amongst the stone panoply; that reason was parading into the city at that very moment. The creature subtly adjusted its position and exhaled gently, triggering each muscle group to contract, relax, and prepare for the coming task. A red gimlet eye – set within a stylised skull – glimmered slightly as spectral filters adjusted to the shifting conditions and focussed on the target, still ten kilometers from the plaza. The creature was no gargoyle; but the scant few who knew of its existence, would never hesitate to call it a monster. It was an Assassin, a member of the Vindicare Temple.
Its gaze flitted away from the lumbering, dusty, morass of the parade and down into the square, that was starting to fill and seethe with bodies. The crowd appeared to be a mixture of locals and some pilgrims that had missed the only shuttle of the day, away from this heap. They were gathered before a makeshift wooden stage, draped with cloth of gold and surrounded by silken pennants. They bore almost-mocking facsimiles of Imperial iconography. Each image was fundamentally correct in form, but would have driven a true adherent of the Creed to apoplexy, with its nigh heretical laziness. Perhaps it was tiredness – or a reluctance to linger amongst the dour Sicarans – that seemed to distract the pilgrims from this blatant insult to the Ministorum, the Assassin idly pondered. But the bizarre icons, hanging limply in the placid dawn, did not seem to worry the growing throng. The Imperium had never bothered to consult the inhabitants of Sicara on anything before, why would an update to their symbols be any different? The pilgrims likely assumed the backwards Sicarans were simply too dull to do the job correctly.
They had all been drawn from their sleeping pallets, prepared to weather the searing heat of the day, by an excited curiosity. Rumours had flooded the city for weeks about the most remarkable Preacher ever to grace the world, since the hallowed Saint Kildare himself.
He had appeared in a neighbouring city some months ago, his fiery oratory declaring Sicara V’s imminent return to grace and splendour. That was, only if they followed him on this path to restoring their tattered homeworld. He had picked his new flock well. Centuries of neglect, by an uncaring Imperium, had left the world’s denizens jaded and disillusioned. Charmed by his alluring promises of prosperity – and whipped into a zealous fervour by his rhetoric – every level of society in the city had joined his cult and word of this messiah spread across the world like wildfire. However there were plenty that harboured doubts about him at best and outright suspicion at worst. The more verbal dissenters were literally branded as heretics, for denouncing such a holy man. The mutilated remnants of their debased bodies still swayed forlornly, hung from an improvised gibbet and slowly desiccating in the desert wind.
Whilst the Ecclesiarchy proper was hardly innocent of luxurious ostentation, the devotional feasts held by the Preacher nightly in his opulent compound strayed a little too far from the strictures of conventional religious indulgence. There were faint fearful whispers of licentious orgies, of secret rituals and dark shadows. Rumours that, for those with any knowledge of such matters, were very uncomfortable indeed.
So a tangled skein of contacts and informants had quivered into life, silently couriering the alarmed message across the Imperium to the bowels of Holy Terra. Something was gravely wrong on Sicara V. Ancient protocols rumbled into life, urgent conclaves were held, and options tensely discussed.
A single ship was dispatched in the deepest secrecy and made its way to the world with impossible speed. The lone occupant had been slumbering on its long voyage, psycho-indoctrination feeding it all of the available information about the mission. Slipping unnoticed into orbit on the dark side of the world, this angel of death made planetfall. The first task was crystal clear in its mind: ‘know thine enemy’.
Days passed as the Assassin assiduously watched over the Preacher’s compound , instinctively noting angles, distances, and impediments. Eventually though, he decided this was not the place. For amongst his mentally implanted orders, three words shone brightly in his mind: praejudicium in extremis. The Preacher’s death would not be a discreet, ignominious end. This particular Vindicare was dispatched because of his affinity for the end Terra had in mind.
The Assassin concentrated on gleaning as much information about the Preacher and his coterie of priests, bodyguards, and hangers-on as possible, trying to better understand how to execute his divinely violent orders. He eavesdropped conversations with impunity, his stealth-suit rendering him totally invisible to his drunkenly garrulous prey. From this massive and tangled web of intelligence — often augmented by regular uploads to the advanced servo-cogitator unit aboard his hidden ship — the Assassin finally discerned a window of opportunity to fulfil his mission to the letter. The Preacher was ready to take his eccentric brand of gospel to the masses.
The Assassin shuddered imperceptibly on his lofty perch atop the spire, as he recalled the Preacher’s erratic change of plan days ago. It had utterly dashed his own fastidious preparations. After returning from scouting a possible exit route to use, the Assassin was aghast to find the entire palace emptying nine days ahead of schedule! Without warning the entirety of the cult had suddenly departed from the compound and began to drift, in a stately flotilla of litters, palanquins, and trudging porters, into the desert. His meticulous calculations now in disarray, the Assassin had to think fast and act faster.
An unwitting citizen turned, from chatting to their neighbour, and found their wash-basket mysteriously empty; the Assassin crept away through a rubbish strewn alley. As he pulled the coarse fabric over himself, his posture gently stooped and his gait became erratic. When he emerged from the alley a few paces behind the flotilla, the Vindicare was unrecognisable. One tender chokehold later and he replaced a straggler at the back of the caravan, now partying its way into the sandy wastes. His priceless wargear had been hastily stuffed into various ragged pockets, rifle-case disguised by the affected stoop of a hunch-back.
From there he drifted, unregarded, through the gaggle of followers, until he was surrounded by the burgeoning elite of the cult at the head of the loose column. This was largely thanks to his extensive training, skill, and improvised disguise, but the billowing clouds of obscura and lho smoke suggested the cult was hardly in a vigilant state. He looked around with terse, concealed disgust as naked bodies writhed and cavorted on silken sheets. Attendants frantically tried to keep pace with their masters’ insatiable appetite for alcohol, food, and narcotics.
Had he been prone to philosophical introspection, the Assassin would have thought there was no worship of the Emperor in these acts. Instead they seemed to defile His name with their lascivious self indulgence, more akin to the followers of much older, much fouler entities. However none of these academic musings meant anything to a Vindicare Assassin. The Temple had ordained the infidel’s demise by his hand; the Assassin did not care why. The justification was as irrelevant as the man’s death was certain. Still, he cast around the perfumed debauchery of the caravan and a grim smile crossed his lips. He was going to enjoy this one.
Night fell and so did the temperature. Either too cold or too intoxicated, the cult finally collapsed into a ramshackle sea of lavish tents, amidst the silver moonlit dunes. By loitering unnoticed outside the Preacher’s tent, the Assassin was finally able to inspect any potential flaws developed by his spy-mask and pistol, during their hastily improvised concealment. His preternaturally attuned senses kept a permanent ear on the endlessly droning Preacher, who paused only to eat, drink, or smoke.
Emperor with him! The thick rags had cocooned the irreplaceable equipment quite adequately. There were only some minor calibration issues with the mask and a brief wipedown required of his Exitus pistol. Both were easily resolved with materials from various utility pockets on his stealth-suit. Nevertheless ‘easily’ came from months of brutal psycho-conditioning, years of intensive training, and decades of practice; the process would still take several hours to complete.
The potentially fatal delay did, at least, give the Assassin time to piece together some coherent information before slipping away into the night. He had their destination and the start of their plan. The Preacher was to deliver one of his dazzling sermons before the Great Basilicanum of Sicara and shepherd thousands more citizens into his control. It was to be one gigantic spectacle, in the de-facto capital city, aimed at converting near the whole planet at once. The Assassin spat before returning to the comfort of his spy-mask’s augmented vision. He did not care what their endgame was; it would never come to fruition.
The Vindicare crept between the rolling dunes for several kilometers, ensuring he was well beyond the reach of any cult’s lazily arranged perimeter sensors, or drunken lost sentries, before casting off his tattered Sicaran rags. After luxuriously stretching like a panther, he tapped an encrypted message into the pad on his wrist. During his unsettling time amongst the cult, he picked up on far more than the drunken broad strokes of a plan. Details like the number of guards, their weaponry, and discipline, were eidetically stored with the merest glance. How many courtesans surrounded the Preacher at any given point was noted. Minutiae of the corpulent man himself were logged and fastidiously cross-examined, as the Assassin ghosted across the midnight desert and towards the unmistakable heat-haze of a city.
For all their shambolic revelry, the caravan was still heavily armed and well furnished with expensive security devices. A Vindicare could not afford to be as lax as they were. The ceramite armour plate under the Preacher’s robes, unnoticeable to all but the Assassin’s studied eyes, was of little concern though. He mumbled wordlessly and calculated the extra grain count required to ensure his rounds’ penetration, regardless of the armour. What really troubled him though, was perceiving a subtle haze that seemed to surround the Preacher’s vast litter. In the scorching brightness of the day, it had been impossible to discern if it was the heat, or something with more resistance.
The Assassin had heard the shamefully whispered tales of his Temple’s failure, which had instigated the hellish Siege of Vraks. Continuing to muse on the apocalyptic consequences of that fateful shot, the Assassin began to wonder if the haze was more esoteric in nature perhaps? It might explain the inexplicable discomit the Assassin felt, whenever he was close to the Preacher. However, before he could really articulate any suspicions about the Archenemy’s involvement, pre-indoctrinated subroutines shut it down and wiped his memory of the thought. Imperial Assassins are not allowed to think about It; the risk is far too great. Blinking, he returned to pondering the mundane, the wave harmonics and power outputs of a force shield. On Vraks his star-crossed counterpart had made a superb shot, through a two meter pillar, to strike his mark. Were it not for a personal force shield, billions would have lived. It was not a mistake he would repeat.
After analysing thousands of variables and contingencies, the Vindicare shortlisted his tools for the task ahead. Those three words in High Gothic still burned bright in his mind. He grinned again as he keyed in a coded designation. He entered two more designations, customised for this situation. His magazine held three rounds and the Assassin preferred the reassuring heft of a full clip. Enviro-coils in his stealth-suit struggling against the ferocious heat of the rising sun, he entered a final code. It was almost an afterthought, but one that would prove crucial in the coming hours.
Far above, in high orbit, his cloaked ship whirred into life. Silver canisters cycled their lethal materials into view and a mono-servitor painstakingly assembled each high-calibre round, to the exact specification of its master on the surface. Casings machined from molecularly engineered brass alloy were filled with the highest quality propellant known to Mankind. Arcane and devastating warheads, crafted by the greatest artisans in the Imperium, were delicately pressed into the casing; the servitor was calibrated to work in nanometers. Every round was a work of art; perhaps only the legendary Custodes could boast of finer ammunition. Each precious instrument of death was carefully loaded into a masterfully wrought, pre-blessed, magazine by another mono-servitor. This, along with a heat-shielding cloak, was reverently parcelled into a void-capsule and ferried to the Assassin’s location by a servo-skull.
The package finally arrived, softly whirring over the shimmering dunes, as the baleful dawn already began to overload the Assassin’s stealth-suit. He was finally ready to move. With the plumes of dust and colourful smoke, from the cult, already at his back, the Assassin began running towards the distant spires of the basilicanum. Though far from the transhuman augmentation of the mighty astartes, an Imperial Assassin was far beyond the human baseline. A lifetime of gruelling training and subtle augmetic surgery meant he could perform well beyond the endurance of a regular man. He maintained his rapid, loping pace for hours across dusty exposed plains. Nevertheless the heat was brutal, the heat-shield cloak barely compensating for the blistering sun. Silica-flecked air seared his throat, even through his mask filters, and he gasped in ragged breaths; the spires were now tantalisingly close. He could barely run straight by this point, how was he going to enact his real plan? But there was no other choice. Despite all his excessive vices, the Preacher was clearly not a stupid man. He would not be late for such a vital stage in his bid for the devotion of a whole world. It was going to take a miracle to stop him. The Assassin doggedly gritted his teeth and ran on.
He arrived at the outskirts of the city at dusk, staggering with dizziness, his head spinning with dehydration. Still he effortlessly skirted the listless guards and crept into one of the dilapidated hovels, crammed against the imposing perimeter walls. He needed water. After a moment’s furtive deliberation, he padded noiselessly across the hovel’s threadbare rugs and over to a large decanter of water, set on a battered countertop in the corner. He emptied it in a few massive gulps. With it, relief washed down his parched throat; he felt alive again.
A rustle behind him put every nerve on edge. In a single, fluid motion he turned, drew his Exitus Pistol, and levelled it at the source of the noise. His finger expertly held the last few micrograms of give in the trigger. Yawning widely and stupidly rubbing its eyes was a child. The boy could not have been older than three. Standing in his ragged nightshirt, he seemed unfazed by the nightmarish intruder. The Assassin cocked his head quizzically to the side, like a bird, and he weighed the options in his mind. He had no qualms about shooting the boy. What was one innocent to a literal killing machine? However, without his silencer and no time to retrieve it, the shot would attract attention, the kind of attention that could jeopardize his whole mission. He slowly raised an index finger to the mouth slit on his spy-mask, pistol still levelled at the child. The boy grinned sleepily and mimicked the Assassin, his own tiny finger pressed to his lips. A grunt from the next room was all the Assassin needed. He slipped past the distracted child, who had already started to wander trance-like back to his cot, clearly bored of whatever half-dream this was. A stern, self-imposed penance awaited the Vindicare back at the Temple. The punishment would need to be severe, for such an egregious lapse in his concentration.
His thirst was slaked though and his head was finally clear enough to begin his final preparations. In the velvety blackness, he crept through the crumbling warren of alleys and up one of the flying buttresses of the basilicanum. He vaulted noiselessly onto the roof and scampered towards the spires. He ran his fingertips along the monumental likeness of Saint Kildare, as he passed, and felt the nascent potential to make this mission really count. With a leap, he began to scale the eastern spire. Adhesive hooks in his gloved hands and feet were activated by neural impulse and made easy work of the slick ashlar masonry. He climbed perilously high, before alighting on a precipitous ledge that hosted a particularly ugly gargoyle. Its distorted face was craned upwards, to the golden spear thrust into its neck by one of the angel statues, holy alabaster marble softly glowing in the dimming moonlight. There was a couple of hours before daybreak and there was no point calculating a shot, to be fired at midday, at this hour. Pressing his back against the stonework, Exitus Pistol drawn and ready in his lap, the Vindicare Assassin closed his eyes. Not to sleep, but to sit in restful meditation, preparing his mind and body for the impending climax of his mission.
The crowd below had swelled considerably as the morning drew on. The plaza was now jammed with bustling masses, their indistinct chatter wafting up to the Assassin. Some acolytes had arrived ahead of the procession, officiously bustling to set up a carved mahogany pulpit, in advance of his prey. Doubtless their haughty performance was a calculated move, designed to ratchet up the anticipation ahead of the Preacher’s main event. They had also graciously provided the Vindicare an ideal marker, from which to calibrate his killing stroke. It was almost like they wanted the Emperor’s justice. Earlier, after arising from his meditative torpor, he had gently unslung the slim case on his back and assembled his Exitus Rifle.
The Vindicare had overseen its construction personally, working in close conjunction with the Master Adept that crafted his unique weapon. Every single parameter had been discussed, tested, and laboriously honed to perfection. His rifle had been calibrated to best enhance the Vindicare’s already formidable skills and meticulous preferences, when dispatching his foes. His signature modus operandi was to double-tap a target within two kilometers;not that he was incapable of shooting further, or using a single shot if necessary. However, long years of experience had taught him the perfect balance of range and power achievable with his rifle and ammunition, not to mention a flair for near-artistic results. This was an extension of Divine Will — a part of his own being — rather than a crude tool of execution.
His trademark double shot technique was nonetheless controversial within the Temple. Many purists decried it as sloppy and wasteful; one shot, one kill, that was the Vindicare way. The Assassin did not mind this criticism particularly. Again, experience had taught him the value of caution and his rifle was designed to fire those two rounds as perfectly as a single shot. The hair trigger was customised to pull in two stages, the bolt was streamlined for faster reload. The hammerhead muzzle was packed with intricate gyroscopes and accelerometers, directly linked to his spy-mask, that re-levelled the rifle into its exact position prior to firing. They could chide his ‘eccentricity’ all they wished, but his results spoke for themselves. He had never failed a mission. Moreover where others had failed, he performed the impossible.That was vindication enough for him.
After whispering the necessary rituals, he levelled the exquisite weapon at the podium. Wincing slightly as the rifle’s scope linked to his spy-mask with an electrical jolt, he focussed on the sacred mathematics necessary to hit the Preacher behind the pulpit. Though the air was relatively still, at this range and elevation there were thousands of variables to be integrated. Information coursed through his subconscious until he was certain, his psycho-conditioning permitting mental effort well beyond the capacity of the Astra Militarum’s finest marksmen. Luck was never a factor.
With his final calculations completed, his breathing slowed. Every cell in his body enacted their pre-programmed routines, automatically preparing to hold the rifle utterly immobile until the deed was done. One eye, behind the spy-mask, flicked upward to the gaggle of cultists, now marching into the plaza from the processional route’s triumphal mouth. His other eye remained connected to the rifle scope and fixed on the pulpit far below. His entire being was harmonised with the graceful arc towards the centre of the Preacher’s considerable mass. With imperceptible shifts in his position, he held the Exitus rifle’s muzzle perfectly still.
The crowd roared in anticipation, as triumphant drums and silvery trumpets heralded the Preacher’s arrival onstage. The less salubrious vapours of the caravan had been replaced with the smoke of flaming braziers and censers of incense, the heady scent even registered in the Assassin’s mask filters high above. Far more appropriate for an ostensibly Imperial religious cavalcade. Another micro-movement and the new molecules of gas had been accounted for. Still there was something ‘off’ about the relics being carried and the prayers being sung.
Having heard the Preacher lecturing his acolytes in the previous city, he knew the demagogue would crescendo to an ecstatic climax of rhetoric, whipping any assembly into frothing excitement. Emperor only knew what carnage such zealous madness would wreak upon this vulnerable world. That was his moment; he could almost taste its perfection. All the data pointed to the delicious irony of this conclusion. Not to mention it simply felt just. Savouring the fevered sweetness of anticipation, the Assassin brought his full gaze back to the pulpit, just as the Preacher waddled off his litter towards it.
His gilt vestments were sardonically modelled on an Imperial Cardinal, though it was distorted by his obese form and shrouded in tacky, expensive, jewellry. If he felt proper emotion at all, the Assassin would have been aghast and outraged at such heinous mockery. He settled for the dull satisfaction that this heresy would be over, before it had ever truly started. He settled on one of the cassock’s tortured velvet buttons, his true target, and waited.
The Preacher had stretched his pudgy hands out, to silence the cheering masses, and began to speak. He started softly, likely still suffering from his earlier drug-fuelled excess, but his voice soon rose. He began to shout, harmonics booming unnaturally around the plaza, thick arms gesticulating wildly. The words were unimportant, likely heretical nonsense. It was the rising atmosphere that the Vindicare was using as a countdown.
The Preacher’s ruddy skin seemed to pulse with a sickly glow, as though he was feeding off the rapturous attention of his audience. Somebody in the crowd joyously threw a bunch of flowers towards the stage. There it was! A faint crackle and ripple of distortion, as the bunch fell incomprehensibly short of its trajectory. The Assassin’s gambit had paid off. The perfection of his load-out gently sung in his ears, telling the Assassin’s mind to settle. This was it.
Breathe out. Position was still secure.
Breath in. Optics calibrated, the scope now filled his perception, seconds ticked away.
Breath out. Variables confirmed, distance, altitude, temperature, humidity, wind vector and Coriolis; they still matched the proposed shot parameters.
Breath in. Target now leant over his pulpit, as much as his repulsive paunch would allow.
Breath out; ten seconds. Finger moved to trigger, safety removed. Breathe in; five seconds. Target filled his vision, trajectory locked. Breathe out; three seconds. Trigger squeezed, death imminent.
The Preacher had reached the ecstatic, sweaty apogee of his despicable sermon. He was positively throbbing with insidious energy, the air around him contorting as reality struggled to cope. Cast in the harsh shadows of the midday sun, the monumental statue of Saint Kildare positively glowered at this utter betrayal. As his hands rose, in scripted magnanimity, the force shield guarding the pulpit exploded in a fiery cascade of sparks. The crowd howled its approval, believing the pyrotechnics to be part of the Preacher’s famous theatrics.
His hatchet-faced bodyguard frowned slightly, sensing some impending danger to their lord. Was this part of the script?
But weeks of benefitting from the cult’s membership had dulled their minds; too slow! The Exitus Rifle’s second trigger stage had already been depressed, half a second after the barrel auto-levelled. The shield-breaker round had worked exquisitely and the subsequent warhead that streaked down would strike true. A second later, the Preacher goggled, silent for the first time in hours. He clutched at his gross stomach, now sporting a huge bloody crater that exposed his entrails. However the true horror had yet to begin.
Praejudicium in extremis, that phrase meant only one thing to the Vindicare; Hellfire Round. A nightmarish concoction of chemical and biological technology, the Hellfire Round was not designed for clinical execution. It was designed to make a statement. The custom round, now spilling its noxious liquid into the guts of the whimpering Preacher, had an unique modification to the standard pattern and the Vindicare felt rightly proud of his contribution to such a terrifying display of Imperial power. As the supersonic warhead flew forwards, small acoustically tuned slits at the rear forced the rushing air to whistle through them. Moments after the round hit, the soundwave would catch up, rending the air with a piercing shriek, as though it were the Imperial Aquila itself that had delivered the blow.
The transfixed crowd cowered in fright at the deafening screech of the round, still echoing off the rooftops. All eyes remained on the Preacher though, as he began to convulse violently. The liquid inside the Hellfire round had begun to react with his blood, converting it into a volatile superheated alkali. He began to squeal, his panicked attendants utterly helpless, as his considerable fat layers bubbled and popped. The sizzling smell of cooking flesh was undercut with stinging vapours of lye and his agony forced him to his knees, the wooden pulpit splintering under his immense bulk.
Foamy pink goo spurted from his mouth, dissolving his lips and chin before eating through the bone of his jaw. His veiny nose popped as the corruption sprayed from disintegrating nostrils. His useless dripping mandible flapped hopelessly and the Preacher appeared to swell, his softened ribs crumbling under the strain. The vicious gases building inside his body had finally reached critical mass. With an awful whistling sound, the Preacher’s torso exploded.
The first five rows of horrified onlookers were soaked in a fine smouldering mist of gore. The traces of Hellfire compound, still present in the shower, melted faces and scorched clothes. Dozens of citizens collapsed screaming, vainly attempting to claw the caustic liquid from their eyes. The rump of the Preacher had collapsed under its own weight. Suddenly exposed to the air, the diabolical Hellfire ignited into a searing geyser of dancing green flame. Disgusting bubbles of melted flesh and bone popped and spat. The stench was unbearable, acrid chemicals and sickly sweet flesh competed to be the most abhorrent odour wafting over the crowd. Those not whimpering in pain vomited and retched.
Silence. Nobody in the crowd knew how long they had stood there, staring at the remains of the Preacher. His ruined form was slowly liquifying and dribbling through gaps in the wooden boards. The emerald flames had dropped but still burned fiercely, spitting molten fat. It was as though time had frozen for all — save the Vindicare who was watching impassively and counting the seconds, as he was trained to do after firing. Thousands of shocked statues were rooted in place, failing to comprehend the hideous power they had just witnessed.
Nobody could gather enough sanity to think beyond one simple fact; this was the Emperor’s Wrath incarnate. He had smote the heretic from on high and the message was clear. Stray from the light and this is your fate. No matter where you are, no matter how backwards and isolated your world is, He is watching. He is judging. He is merciless. As one, everybody in the plaza – citizens, pilgrims, and erstwhile cultists alike – turned about towards the towering righteousness of the basilicanum and fell to their knees. It now seemed to cast a very long shadow indeed; Saint Kildare had delivered one last miracle.
It started slowly, one or two cracked voices, trembling in the still air. But slowly their collective voice began echoing up to the golden angels that encrusted the spires, stern faces glowering admonition down at their abject contrition. The song’s mournful notes and penitent verse was known to every Imperial, the ones they hoped never to utter; the Hymn Repentia. A funerary dirge sung with fatalistic sorrow, at the horror of committing the deepest heresy and vilest treachery. The verses of lamentations and chorused pleas for forgiveness echoed through the streets.
Meanwhile the Vindicare slunk around, into the shadows of the spire, to begin his long descent. It would not be difficult to slip past the ashen-faced penitents and return to his ship, another mission complete. Another enemy of Mankind destroyed. Another Imperial world miraculously saved from eternal damnation. All with just two shots; not bad going.
About the Author
Originally trained as an architect, Ainslie is relatively new to writing fiction. However his passion for the rich tapestry of Warhammer 40,000 lore stretches intermittently over fifteen years. His project draws on a diverse array of interests and knowledge to probe the darkest corners of this universe.