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Between the 12th and 13th Black Crusades, the Eye of Terror expanded, bursting its borders and rolling its thunderhead of warp storms and dreadspace out into new territories. Ablutraphur had been one of the planetary casualties and now, cut off from the Imperium and under the influence of Ruinous Powers, the stinking plasmills of Ablutra were more likely to be manufacturing armour plating for the False Castellan's Unbound, the Blightlanders and various other cult armies of the Great Lord of Decay.
'Some say Lord Variccus and the Unbound have a presence here and that the False Castellan's cult armies benefit from Ablutran body armour,' the Relictor informed the inquisitor. 'Variccus's master, the Great Lord of Decay holds sway here now.'
The warp-seer suddenly grimaced as one of the armoured figures turned. Its face flesh was rotten white and gelatinous, like it had been slowly putrefying at the bottom of the ocean.
'Their faces...' the warp-seer shuddered.
'Three skulls in an inverse pyramid,' Epiphani told them.
Czevak nodded. 'They're the Unbound.'
'What are the Unbound doing here?' Klute asked nervously.
'They were originally the Cadian 969th. They were deployed to Cetus Tertia during the Gothic War. Their colonel, Abner Varicuss, was favourite at the time for Lord Castellan but he and his men were struck down by some horrific waterborne plague that corrupted the regiment, preventing their return to Cadia and crushing Varicuss's political ambitions. To this day Varicuss goes by the title of the False Castellan, and his Unbound, as the regiment came to be called, threw in their lot with followers of the Great Lord of Decay. Ablutraphur is one of the worlds that still supply them. It makes sense that they garrison it.'
Hands suddenly leapt out from one curtain and dragged the servo-skull and the warp-seer inside by the plas of her poncho. Czevak was behind, already with a finger to his lips. The velvet parted slightly in the slipstream of armoured troops stomping up the cloister in heavy boots. Their armour was a faded Cadian green and the circles of the regimental digits adorning their shoulder flak pads were daubed with white paint. Instead of the 969th the plates now bore three skulls in an inverse pyramid, the badge of the False Castellan's Unbound and a tribute to the Great Lord of Decay's own runic emblem. As the traitor regiment soldiers thundered past, Czevak and Epiphani were witness to their elephantine limbs and bloated bodies, lending the corrupted Guardsmen solidity and sturdy resilience. Their dead, pale skin barely held together the gelatinous flesh of their faces and a sickly paste formed a membrane that covered their diseased forms, in turn creating a sticky trap for the bugs and flies attempting to feed on their passing putrescence.
The ante-chamber outside of the royal apartments was suddenly full of ear-searing gunfire. Green flak and rotten faces flashed past the doorway. Traitor Guardsmen fell back through the chamber under blazing streams of high-velocity fire reaching out from the muzzles of their autorifles. The flash of grenades down the staircase accompanied the bombastic entrance of the Unbound, the putrid bloat of their ghastly flesh doing little to impede the precise battle manoeuvres of their Cadian origins. Traitor Guardsmen filed in through the great hall's mighty open doors, while the rearguard sprayed the unseen hordes with explosive fire from their rifles. Everyone in the apartment, cannibal and visitor alike could hear the unstoppable mob, their groaning hunger for flesh drowning out the traitor Guard firepower.
Suddenly they were in view, a sea of emaciated forms, degenerate savages crawling over each other's sharp bones and smeared bodies to get a taste of flesh. Within moments it was wall to wall, cannibal howling filling the rest of the space. Czevak and Klute watched in horror as Nurgle soldiers were swamped by the riotous mob, their own swollen bulk crawling with the light frames of ghoulish hivers. The inquisitors could suddenly appreciate how the might of the Unbound - a deadly, diseased and undying cult force in their own right - could be sundered so. Traitor Guardsmen were becoming gradually overrun - despite their withering arc of fire - and dragged into the throng. The cannibals were not waiting on ceremony and satisfied their voracious desires right there in the tumult - the foetid cult soldiers eaten alive.
An Unbound officer rasped orders at its remaining men, prompting the squad through the apartment doorway where two pus-engorged sergeants shouldered the great hall's doors closed. Almost immediately the thick metal rang with famished fists and the thunder of wasted bodies throwing themselves at the ornamental fretwork.
The officer turned, its head a glutinous sack of wan pestilence sitting in the fur collar of a Cadian greatcoat. It seemed shocked to find Czevak and his retinue there. As it opened its mouth to speak, a cockroach scuttled out from its froth-corrupted lungs.
'Off-worlders,' it hissed, flashing its swollen, cancerous tongue. 'Seize them!'
'Wait!' Czevak called, bringing the room to a halt. 'We can help each other. I'm looking for a coin - a sovereign, about this big,' Czevak explained making the shape with his fingers.
'The Lord of All cares nought for your coins and riches, his inheritance is eternity,' the Unbound officer cackled. 'Now, where's your ship.'
As the doors of the great hall boomed and creaked, the officer pointed a pallid finger at Czevak.
'Tell me now off-worlder or you're dead.'
'I'm dead?' Czevak said. 'You should look in the mirror.'
The Unbound officer snatched a rusted bolt pistol from its belt and shot in explosive exasperation at the High Inquisitor. Czevak became a chromatic blaze of light and colour, slipping out of the bolt-rounds' deadly path and up the side of a mountain of coin beside the table. The bolts tore into Lady Krulda's monstrous form, one taking her in the temple and putting a swift end to a life of cannibalistic debauchery.
The traitor Guard officer gurgled its rage, which the Unbound interpreted as an order to fire. Their tarnished weaponry blazed fire across the royal apartments, cutting through the precious silks, paintings and furniture stored there. Coins and jewellery became priceless frag storms that cut through the air, threatening to shred anything in their path to pieces.
As Czevak surged up the coin bank, his boots losing traction and sinking, the moundside began to roll and tumble, breaking away like a sand dune. Towers of stacked coin wavered and toppled under this molestation and the Nurgle frontline was buried in a downpour of silver and gold.
Torqhuil's axe, servo-arms and mechadendrite limbs were suddenly everywhere, shearing the barrels from autoguns, batting corrupted Guardsmen across the hall and plasma-torching Cadian cultists in two. With the Unbound's caseless ammunition creating nothing more than a light show of ricochets off the Relictor's power armour, some of the rotten soldiers turned their grungy weapons on the blind warp-seer. The Space Marine was there seconds later, forming a protective shell around the warp-seer and soaking up the high-velocity punishment as he walked her out of the maelstrom.
One of the pus-faced sergeants was stomping up towards Klute, a sluggish chainsword outstretched in one putrid fist. The blood-rusty weapon took heads off the still-seated Spireborns at the table, while four ghastly Guardsmen brought up the rear.
Klute brought up his shotgun pistol, blasting salt and silver shot at the Unbound and working his lever action as he side-stepped behind Lady Krulda and her throne. The traitor Guardsmen bubbled and smoked where the blessed ammunition found its mark but the street silencer had done little to stop their thunderous advance. Their gelatinous flesh had simply absorbed the blasts like an insensitive paste.
Klute screwed up his face as more auto fire ripped into Lady Krulda's colossal girth and the ferrouswood throne around her. The inquisitor saw the daemonhost Hessian watching from behind a pallet of adamantium ingots. As the Unbound closed and their bullets drew ever closer, Klute found himself back in desperate moral territory. Spitting the first few lines of the emancipations Phalanghast had taught him, Klute allowed the daemon a fraction of its abominate power.
Hessian sensed the change immediately, its eyes burning with a golden light, its outline a flicker with the lick of ethereal flame. As the Unbound stormed along the table, the daemonhost launched a torrent of hellfire from its palms, roasting the traitor Guardsmen where they stood. As Hessian brought down his hands and the inferno died, Klute finished thumbing shells into his shotgun pistol and risked a glimpse around the edge of the throne.
The suppurating sergeant and his Nurgle soldiers stood there unharmed. The daps and stipples of their paste-soggy flesh were browned and burned but the viscous bloat of their limbs and rotten features were unscathed by the supernatural firestorm. Even their Ablutraphurn flak armour had fared well beyond a few flash burns. Klute sighed. Hessian's face creased with confusion and otherwordly anger.
The Unbound turned their antique weaponry on the creature, the sergeant bringing its chainsword around to meet the daemonhost. Hessian took unnecessary cover behind the pallet of adamantium before giving the traitor Guardsmen his palms again, this time using the rage of his hellfire blast on the ingots. Bricks of solid adamantium flew at the Unbound, breaking and braining the parody Guardsmen, smashing though their armour and rotten bodies.
The wall surrounding the hinges of the great hall doors gave and the large metal doors fell inwards, two more of the Nurgle Guardsmen crushed underneath. Behind the doors was a deluge of madness, a seeming single creature made up of sunken eyes, gnashing teeth and bloodied fingernails. Cannibals poured into the apartments and set upon anything with a pulse. Traitor Guardsmen near the entrance and courtiers both dead and alive became the fascination of the first wave, giving Klute and Hessian the time they needed to reach Epiphani, Torqhuil and the High Inquisitor on the other side of the hall.
The group ran blindly through the rooms and chambers of the royal apartments, with the Unbound officer and a few remaining members of his platoon stomping up behind. Their weapons were occupied with cutting down a second wave of cannibals that had dived through the side doorway after them.
'Where's Epiphani?' Klute said - up on his feet and wandering the shuttle pad. The four of them span around, searching for signs of the warp-seer. Father appeared behind Czevak, rising up the Spire wall and above the platform. Epiphani's head appeared also and Klute's shoulders sagged in relief. Moments later they tightened again as the Unbound officer's putrescent features came up behind the warp-seer. It had in fact been the Nurgle officer who had been pulling her up through the final stages of the exhausting climb. Clambering over the edge of the platform the Guard officer had the daemonhost, the Space Marine and the two inquisitors storming towards him. The Unbound officer stood on the lip of the pad, its Cadian greatcoat flapping in the wind with Epiphani clasped in one rotting hand and the rusty bolt pistol in the other. Bringing the weapon to her temple, the Guardsman brought its enemies to a halt.
Moving forward with confidence it rasped, 'Lose it.'
Holding his bolt pistol out, Torqhuil ejected his all but spent magazine.
'I am asking for the final time,' the thing promised. 'Where is your ship?'
Without replying, Czevak began walking towards the Unbound officer. The aberration held the bolt pistol at arm's length, the muzzle buried in the tresses of the warp-seer's hair. The High Inquisitor said nothing but kept walking at the putrid soldier.
'Czevak!' Klute called in alarm, but the inquisitor continued marching. The pale, bloated arm of the creature brought the bolt pistol around to meet the oncoming antagonist. With the weapon off Epiphani, Czevak flashed his eyes at the sky.
'Up there,' he indicated.
The corrupted Guardsman looked up just in time to see the thick shaft of the harpoon fall towards him like a thunderbolt. The weapon impaled the gelatinous carcass of the putrefying soldier, falling through its ruined face and down through the soft tissue of its ruptured torso. With the Unbound officer brought to its knees and skewered to the platform, the bolt pistol fell to the deck. Above, the swale gypsy balloon silently hovered, drifting out of the clouds. A wire ladder followed the harpoon down and Czevak directed his grateful retinue up its metal rungs. With cannibal hivers clawing their way over the edge of the landing platform, Czevak stepped onto the ladder, the others quickly following. Cutting the harpoon and line away, the be-goggled gypsy captain fired his methane burner and took the balloon, the ladder and the High Inquisitor to safety.
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