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A rot had seeped into the sacred districts of Ancestor's Row. Where once the pristine halls and undercrofts of this complex has been places of serene calm and quiet, now they echoed with the buzzing of plague flies and the screams of the hideously afflicted.
Gurloch Thrax hummed along with the dirge as he worked, carving the symbols of the Plaguefather into the corpses of the slain with his rusted blade, fashioning their mouldering flesh into totems of noxious strength that would empower the supernatural afflictions his Dolorous Strain had brought to Hyperia Hivesprawl.
Thrax stood, his Cataphractii plate groaning with the motion, and observed the work of his brethren. The chamber of sanctity had been transformed into a shrine to Nurgle, filled with bubbling pits of toxic slime and fetishes of yellowed bone carved into the tri-lobe of the Plague God. Some of the bodies hanging from the arched ceiling writhed and burbled. Either they were in the last, agonised throes of mortality, or bountiful life was about to erupt from their bellies.
'Lucky souls,' said Thrax, nodding in satisfaction. It had hardly been glorious work for some of Lord Mortarion's most trusted agents, but the corruption of Hyperia was proceeding entirely as planned. The servants of the Corpse Emperor had not even noticed the horror building beneath their streets, so focused were they on the crude attacks of the Orks and the anarchy caused by xenos-worshipping scum across the hives of Vigilus. By the time they realised their doom, it would already be far too late.
There was something entirely satisfying about this particular vector of infection, as far as the Blightlord Terminator was concerned. This midden-pit of dead men and monuments to the false prophets of the Corpse Emperor would breed a new and wonderful disease, a gift of boils and pustulating lesions that the faithful of Vigilus would swiftly spread to their flock.
'We have movement in the outer catacombs,' said Suppurax Volghor, his voice like the rattling last breath of a dying man.
Thrax cocked his helmeted head. He heard a thundering in the distance. The roar of bolter rounds, but distorted strangely. Each volley almost sounded like a chorus of screams. Most intriguing. The wailing cacophony of the Poxwalkers that had been placed around the perimeter of the Death Guard's encampment was swiftly silenced. Whoever these intruders were, they were capable.
'The Emperor's wretches?' asked Mulgh the Curdled, immediately reaching for his plague spewer. The Blightlord's treasured weapon had been filled with the latest biological horrors brewed by the disease factories of the Plague Planet before the Dolorous Strain embarked upon this mission, and Mulgh was itching to observe their effects upon the hated warriors of the Adeptus Astartes.
'Perhaps,' said Gurloch Thrax, checking the magazine of his combi-bolter and drawing his balesword. 'But I smell the stench of sorcery upon the wind. In any case, our work cannot be endangered. Come, brothers. Let us reward these interlopers with the bounteous gifts of Grandfather Nurgle.'
The Dolorous Strain advanced through the labyrinth of catacombs and ossuary halls, lit only by the flickering light of braziers. They made no secret of their presence. That was not their way. Their droning voices joined in a phlegmy dirge that echoed through the halls, and their thundering footsteps shook loose clouds of dust. Let the enemy know that death was coming for them, relentless and unstoppable. Let them know despair.
They found the first corpses at the entrance to the grand vestibule. Poxwalkers, their bloated, pustule-covered bodies burst apart by bolt rounds. Shurgholgh leaned over the pile of ruined dead, picking at their ruptured flesh with the insectoid forelimbs that protruded from his Terminator armour.
'What do you see, brother?' said Gurloch Thrax. Shurgholgh gestured to the craters blasted into the Poxwalkers. The wounds were cauterised, the flesh around them warped and melted by unnatural heat.
'Warpfire,' muttered Bubox Glouch, hefting his immense flail of corruption, and scanning the colonnaded chamber beyond, which was filled with the hooded statues of Imperial saints and martyrs. Several of the monuments lay toppled and smashed upon the floor. Thrax saw more bolt craters in their marbled surfaces, and more Poxwalkers slumped inert around the hall. Despite the detritus and carnage strewn across the vestibule, it was strangely quiet.
Far too quiet, in Thrax's opinion.
'The enemy awaits,' he muttered. He might not care for subtlety, but the Blightlord Terminator was no fool. This had all the markings of a trap. So be it. More than once an enemy had sought to ambush the Dolorous Strain, only to discover to their horror that no matter how much firepower they poured into the champions of the Death Guard, their Cataphractii armour and rancid flesh could not be breached.
The Dolorous Strain resumed their battle-dirge. Droning flies whirled around their hulking forms, and choking smoke spilled from the head of Glouch's heavy flail. They marched into the vestibule, bolters and weapons ready, inviting their hidden foes to strike.
Figures stepped from the shadows. They were as tall and broad as the Blightlord Terminators, but where the Death Guard's armour was rusted and seeping with hideous fluids, these warriors wore archaic yet pristine suits of elaborate plate. Their crested helms gleamed with gold and silver, and their bolters and curved blades burned with sickly warp-light. Terminators of the Thousand Sons.
As one, the enemy warriors fired, and sorcerous bolts of flame screamed across the hall and smashed into the Blightlords' armour. Thrax felt the agonising heat even through the thick layers of twisted flesh and ceramite.
'Servants of the God of Lies,' he roared, raising his combi-bolter and unleashing a volley of his own. 'Destroy these lifeless husks.'
The vestibule erupted into chaos. Hails of bolt rounds filled the air, the chattering roar of the Death Guard volleys meeting the screaming chorus of inferno rounds. Bubox Glouch barrelled forwards, foul-smelling smoke seeping from the head of his flail, and was met by one of the Scarab Occult Terminators. The silent warrior wielded his khopesh with surprising dexterity, slipping beneath the whirling head of Glouch's weapon and carving a furrow across the Blightlord's armoured belly.
If Glouch even noticed the strike, he gave no sign. He simply accepted the hit and set his feet, swinging his flail of corruption with hideous force and striking the Thousand Sons warrior full in the chest. Ceramite armour splintered, and the silent warrior stumbled backwards, warp-light spilling from the breach in his armour.
Mulgh the Curdled chortled in delight as his plague spewer hurled torrents of acidic effluvia across his foes. The flawless armour of the Thousand Sons began to fester and boil, a patina of rust and filth smothering the royal blue of their heraldry. The noxious fluids seeped into armour joints and visors, and the air was filled with a wet, sizzling sound. Clearly, the alchemists of the Plague Planet had outdone themselves with this latest concoction.
Thrax exchanged blows with the nearest Terminator, his filth-encrusted balesword clashing upon the ornate khopesh of his foe. Empty shells they might be, but the warriors of the Scarab Occult were fearsome fighters. He struck the blue-armoured warrior several times, but could not breach the Terminator's sorcerous plate armour. He growled in frustration and disgust. These hateful beings were anathema to the glory of Nurgle, mindless automata unable to appreciate the Plague God's blessed gifts. Thrax would grind them into dust.
A wave of blue fire swept across the chamber and struck the Blightlord champion in the chest with fearsome force. To his astonishment Thrax found himself tumbling backwards, crashing to the stone tiles as if he had been struck by a comet. His entire body was wreathed in fire. Through the haze of pain and confusion, Thrax hauled himself to one knee and peered though the roiling flames.
A figure strode down the steps at the far end of the vestibule, clad in Terminator plate like his fellow Thousand Sons, but dressed in flowing robes of white and moving with a grace quite unlike the mechanical strides of his kin. He carried a gleaming staff in one hand, and from the tip of that weapon poured a steady stream of purplish fire.
'Repulsive creatures,' said the Exalted Sorcerer, surveying the carnage before him. 'What secrets might I prise from your putrid flesh, I wonder?'
Thrax began to laugh. Wet, gurgling rasps spilled from his throat as he staggered upright. His Cataphractii plate was bubbling under the supernatural heat of the witchflame, but it was not breached and he could still move unhindered.
'Is that all you have, little mageling?' he said. 'Not enough. You will make a fine offering. I will sow the twelve plagues of Nurgle into your undeserving flesh, and watch you be reborn anew in his image.'
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