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SIXTEEN

The Lavrentian preacher dropped, reeling from the unexpected blow, and Jenna stepped in to deliver a second. She could not afford to give Culla an opening for retaliation, and her weapon arced around to render the man insensible. The blow never connected.

Enforcer Dion slammed into her, knocking her from her feet and driving the breath from her. She rolled with him as he took hold of her wrist and tried to smash the shock maul from her hand. Jenna squirmed from his grip and drove her knee up into Dion's groin. He hissed in a breath, but kept hold of her, using his weight to keep her pinned to the ground.

'What the hell are you doing?' Jenna yelled at him. 'I'm your commanding officer!'

Dion didn't answer, which was smart, saving his breath for the struggle. He smashed his forehead into her nose and she felt it break. Blood filled her mouth and bright lights burst before her eyes. Dion tried the same move again, but she twisted out the way and his head cracked against the floor.

He yelped in pain, and Jenna freed her left arm. She hammered her fist into Dion's throat. He grunted in pain, and his grip loosened on her other wrist. She heard a shout of alarm and sounds of a struggle behind her, but couldn't spare a second's focus to see what was happening around her.

Though she hated to do it, she swung the shock maul and slammed it against the side of Dion's skull, finally dislodging him. Breathless, Jenna struggled from beneath his suddenly prone form as she heard the angry bellow of an eviscerator roaring to life. She froze for a moment, the innate fear of such a painfully lethal weapon like a bucket of freezing water to the senses.

How had Culla recovered so quickly? The man must be possessed of superhuman resilience to even be conscious after a shock maul to the face. A dreadful scream filled the chamber, louder and more agonised than it was possible to imagine. It was the sound of a human being in the most insufferable pain, the sound of raw, naked terror. A sound that was abruptly cut off and replaced by an even more hideous noise.

Jenna rolled to her knees. Dizziness swamped her and she fought to keep from vomiting. She saw Culla was still on the ground, the skin of his temple burned by the energy field of her weapon. Who had activated the eviscerator?

Blood sprayed the air in an arcing fountain, and Jenna felt it spatter her face. She blinked it away, and saw the source of the horrific screaming through a blur of tears and red liquid. The enforcer that had been holding the tau prisoner was on his knees, and he had been virtually split in two.

The roaring chainsaw blade of Culla's eviscerator was buried in the middle of his stomach, having ripped downwards through collarbone, ribs and sternum. Jenna screamed as the weapon was torn free, removing the upper quadrant of the man's torso.

She caught motion from the corner of her eye. Apollonia was bringing her shotgun to bear. The eviscerator swung around and hacked through the weapon before she could fire. The blade bit into Apollonia's shoulder, and the jagged teeth of the sword chewed through plasteel, mesh, meat and bone to saw her arm from her body in a vile spray of mangled flesh.

Apollonia fell, blood squirting from her shoulder like a ruptured hydraulic line.

The enforcer was dead before she hit the ground. Jenna pulled herself unsteadily to her feet and yanked the alarm pin on her belt. Blaring klaxons erupted throughout the Glasshouse.

La'tyen advanced towards her. Jenna circled around the surgical table, keeping it between them, and trying to buy some time. The gigantic weapon looked absurd in the tau warrior's hands, almost too heavy for her to lift, but Jenna didn't doubt that hatred would give her the strength to wield it.

Her eyes flicked towards Culla and Dion, but both men were out of the fight for now. Jenna was on her own until more enforcers responded to her alarm.

She and the tau continued circling the surgical table, the room filled with the deafening roar of the enormous chainblade. Jenna tried not to think of how painful it would be to die being carved up by such a horrific weapon.

'It's over,' said Jenna. 'Put the weapon down.'

From the corner of the room, the xenolexicon servitor repeated her words.

Instead of attacking, La'tyen backed towards the cells and brought the giant sword down on the locking mechanism of the nearest door. It exploded in a shower of sparks as the adamantine teeth tore through the metal as though it were pulped wood.

The cell door swung open and one of the captive tau emerged. The eviscerator swung down again and another door was carved open. Jenna's eyes snapped towards the chamber's main entrance but there was no sign of other enforcers.

Once more the eviscerator tore through a door lock, though the tau that stepped from this cell was clearly no warrior. Taller than the others, he was possessed of a serene poise that the others lacked. This tau spoke a few words to the others, and Jenna saw the effect his words had on them. The warlike cast of their features softened, and their eyes grew a little wider, as though hearing the words of a revered saint or a god made flesh. The servitor repeated the words in Imperial Gothic, but the roar of the eviscerator drowned them out.

One of the tau swept up Apollonia's shock maul, and, as Jenna watched, another alien warrior lifted Dion's weapon. They began to spread out, intending to surround her, and though their features were alien and unnatural the hatred in their eyes was plain to see.

The odds were already against her taking out La'tyen, but with yet more tau against her, she was dead if she stayed to fight.

Jenna turned and ran from the chamber.


FIFTEEN | Ultramarines 5. Courage and Honour | * * *