Read Part One of Morbus Est.
The Pilot steadied himself whilst heading through the plague ship’s internal corridors. It was not just a mental act of steadiness – although there was definitely a large degree of that – but physical too, as his boots collided with the flesh-like growths that made the corridor contract and drip like the internal organs of some great beast.
Descent to the planet’s surface had started, that much he knew. Drop ships stuffed with mindless and pox-ridden servants of the Great One were even now hurtling through the atmosphere towards the Imperial world, soon to be followed by companies of marines, and the enslaved daemons encased in their cursed machines. Such is the way the Poxmongers plague company wages war, but the Pilot had not been informed of his role to play. In fact, he was almost certain that his absence from the battle plan was no mere accident.
He stalked onto the bridge of the Putrid Blessing, his be-tentacled hand twitching about his sidearm as the plague marine guards rose boltguns in response to his presence. He ignored them. To kill them would be more arduous than it was worth, and he had learnt to show no fear in the face of these horrors, previously unknown to him.
“Captain Bulgrog,” he announced formally, “could you do me the most excellent turn and explain to me why you have determined to hold back your strongest asset in this upcoming battle?”
The command throne began to rotate towards him. It was not so much a chair but a crustacean shell, grown over centuries to envelop its occupier, providing what the Pilot assumed was better protection than the original ship could ever afford its captain. One of Father Nurgle’s many gifts.
“Speak clearly…welp.” The voice came from the shell. As it fully turned, an opening was visible and a horned helmet extended towards him from within, its voxgrill almost fully converted into the shell material. Bulgrog was one of Typhus’ oldest captains. Some say he hadn’t left his command throne since the heresy years.
Bulgrog began to make a chattering noise, reverberating throughout the shell. He was laughing. The Pilot grimaced. He hated it when they laughed. Why do they always do it? He was coming to know that the servants of Nurgle had truly accepted the end of all things, and in such acceptance they found an endless and irritating mirth.
“The invasion. It is underway. Morbus Est would see action or you should see great casualties or worse: enemy reinforcements before our job here is done.” The Pilot affected his most noble stance. He would not be treated like some common soldier by this…beast.
“Very well. Depart and…we shall see…” croaked Bulgrog, and chattered again, louder now.
The Pilot spun on his heel and left before he could be dismissed, beginning to imagine Captain Bulgrog’s eternal throne in the blood red aiming reticule of one his knight’s thermal cannons.
The pilot made his way to the depths of the ship, sinking below the command stations, the living quarters, the ship hangers, and at last, to the deep bowels where chains rattled and daemonic-infused machinery howled in the dark, the ship’s millennium-long biological transformation now too affecting them. He walked through the eerie blackness to the one place where light was emanating. He could see Morbus Est, bent low and intimidating like a predator before a strike. Around it were skulking priests of the dark brotherhood in their grey robes, orchestrating the pre-battle rituals and services.
The most senior tech priest turned and bowed to the Pilot as he approached, trying not to look into the darkness on either side, and at the strange noises coming from the shadowed hollows of the hangar. “Lord Kvaran”, the senior tech priest intoned, “Morbus Est is near battle ready, we are just…applying the changes you requested.”
The Pilot, Kvaran, nodded and glanced up at his Knight. He could’ve sworn its red eye was looking straight into him. “Good. Did the machine spirit take to the new armaments?”
“Ah, yes, Lord. The gauntlet was rejected at first but I led a ritual to…acclimate the weapon to Morbus Est‘s preferences.”
“A ritual? What kind?”
The tech priest fidgeted with one of its many mechatendrites emanating from its spine, clacking like a braying beast. “A few captives were placed in the gauntlet whilst it was slowly closed. We believe Morbus Est observed and heard the slow deaths of the Imperials and was most convinced.”
Kvaran winced inwardly. He’d been among the forces of Chaos for nearly two decades now, and still had not gotten used to the ways of the Dark Mechanicum and their blend of machine and pain. That was what he and Morbus Est were now, he supposed.
“Very well, Magos. I shall leave you to finalise preparations, I have orders to depart to the surface immediately. In the meantime, I need to reach out to our commander. Have it ready within hours.”
The tech priest bowed low, and turned back to his work, urging his caste on with haste. More speed probably meant more blood, Kvaran thought absently. Not wishing to watch, he went to leave the hanger for now. He glanced up again at his chaos knight. The red eye glinted through the rotting face mask of ceramite, watching him as he left.
Planet fall. Morbus Est strode out of the enormous carrier vessel of the Dark Mechanicum, built millennia ago and meant for constructs many times bigger than his machine. Kvaran could barely imagine. His right mutated hand worked deftly at the controls, getting used to the weight and swing of the new thunderfist gauntlet. He could see the bloodstains on the talons through the helm-pict screen as he practiced some swings.
This will do, he thought.
The infamous dreadblade, seconded to the Poxmongers plague company, stalked into the battle zone where the fighting was most thick, it’s one red eye coming slowly but surely through the murk. And what murky air there was on Felthus-112. He knew he needed to get closer, to find the source, until his ancient auspex picked it up at last. He had found the centre of the Death Guard lines, a row of daemonic metal and flesh, inexorably crawling through the ruined landscape of the last Imperial city and holdout in an unhurried order.
At the rear of the line, he spotted it: the Ironclot Furnace, the secret and most precious relic of the Poxmongers. It was melded to a fleshy husk made from the hull of two Rhino transports, flanked by a trio of Myphitic Blight Haulers. It churned out a dark grey smoke, flecked with a green, thick dust. As it settled on the surrounding daemon engines, he could see it almost harden into a second carapace as it touched the sickly metal of the other vehicles. He watched as small arms fire and even missiles that should have pierced Morbus Est glance off the daemon engines, or explode harmlessly on their surface, before returning fire.
Kvaran located the Imperial vehicle that was releasing the missiles, created a target lock, brought his laser destructor to bear and loosed a volley of super-heated plasma rounds designed to penetrate asteroids. He didn’t bother to check the remains, and instead continued to scan the Death Guard line as clandestinely as he could. His mutated arm made operating multiple functions of his knight, all at once, second nature. He still struggled with the idea of such ‘gifts’ as the others called them, but he could see the allure. He could see the improvement. And he was grateful then, at least.
The line of daemon engines rolled forward, taking minimal damage. In return, they unleashed hell upon the remaining Imperials. Missiles, melta rounds, ejections of viscous liquid that melted armour and men alike removed any obstacle that was put in their path. Kvaran kept close in a defensive stance, easily matching their grinding speed whilst operating as a long-range, armour-destroying platform. The spirit of Morbus Est was not satisfied. It disliked restraint and Kvaran knew this. It was also curious; curious of Kvaran’s plans, and so kept some modicum of patience, such that it could. That made him smile. You will like this, he promised.
Upon reaching the last line of defence, what Kvaran was waiting for happened. He could see the thick wall guarding the internal bastion, manned by thousands of troops, mounting dozens of Imperial Guard vehicles retrofitted to work as turret emplacements along the balustrades, and then finally, through a grinding gate came a monster of a metal and guns and cannons. It opened fire and a Blight Hauler’s front track was obliterated, its front plate slumping into the mud. Another took its place but already the combined fire from the defences were causing concerning amount of destruction on the Death Guard line. Morbus Est slid to the side, using the ruined buildings as cover. And then Kvaran heard it. He heard him.
“Morbus Est! Destroy that abomination…immediately! We are taking…heavy fire!”
Kvaran grinned wide, his plan now coming to fruition. It was the voice of Captain Bulgrog, forced to leave the safety of his ship and man the Ironclot Furnace himself. Kvaran had suggested to Typhus before he deployed that it would bring swift victory over the last defenders if the notorious commander took to the field. It was the Captain’s treasured relic after all, and for any other to man it would look unfortunate for the cretaceous captain. The words ‘coward’ and ‘unfit’ had already begun to spread throughout the plague company. Or so Kvaran had said.
The Baneblade was taking hits but its main gun was nowhere near being silenced. Kvaran loosed fire, making sure to land hits but not directly, destroying sponson armaments and tracks, but let Bulgrog’s escort thin out even more to the devastating onslaught.
The captain was panicking now, but any retreat would mean death, his only hope was to go forward. His only hope was Kvaran, and he savoured the moment well. His vox was filled with pleading and encouragement and threats and blame. Kvaran listened to it all, waiting for his his opportunity. Bulgrog’s escort was now just a single Blight Hauler, the rest immobilized behind them. They reached the point Kvaran had marked, a distance to the Baneblade the Magos had assured him was enough. Morbus Est burst with speed into the firing line, taking the majority now of the small arms fire which caused his ion shields to glitter harmlessly.
The Captain was calming now as Kvaran had come to his aid. But it would be short lived.
Morbus Est rotated its abdomen with a metallic groan, its new thunderfist gauntlet reaching down towards the Ironclot Furnace, and grasped the entire mishmash vehicle at once, its dark red claws piercing the metal like it was made of paper. Bulgrog was screaming now, as if one of the talons had penetrated his shell and into his ancient flesh. Kvaran liked to think so. Morbus Est hauled the vehicle into the air with a screech of metal, and using its full power threw it towards the Baneblade’s position.
The Ironclot Furnace hit the monstrous tank, and exploded. The entire gatehouse that enveloped it erupted into the air, decimating the defensive lines within a hundred metres, and sending shards of poisonous metal even further. The air was thick with pallid dust as Morbus Est skulked through to inspect the damage, and remove any survivors.
Satisfied, he opened his vox to give the good news to his commander, that the main enemy defence had been neutralised, but at an unfortunately high cost. If Grandfather wished it, the new captain of the Putrid Blessing would be a more competent commander. One that has shown their prowess on the battlefield many times over.
The spirit of Morbus Est positively vibrated with murderous glee, and not a little amount of amusement. It began to turn, its heavy tread now turning to face the new wave of Death Guard entering the city. Debris and fire was turned to dust underfoot, and Kvaran liked to think he heard the crunching of shell as well.