Planetfall

 
"I'm afraid not," she says, referencing the narthecium, though she looks at the device with wonder. "I look forward to the day when Aurans know much about such wonders, but for now, the traditions hold. It is only the implements of the hunt."

She looks disappointed that the Marines won't be taking their rest within the fortress, but nods. She insists on leading them back down the road to the Aspirance, even though the way is easy enough to find, remembering where Heth broke off from the group during the first ascent earlier. It is nearly nightfall when you reach the barracks, Aurum's bloody sky streaked with red gashes. Alkedre departs, promising to return at dawn with some midasaur armor cut to fit for the Hunt tomorrow.

***

The Aspirance is a native building, though what it's function was before becoming a Guard barracks is hard to tell. Upon entering, you see that the soldiers are billeted down here on the main floor, half a dozen bunks lining the walls on either side. Drab green footlockers blazoned with aquilas sit at the foot of each bed.

Six soldiers leap to attention, abandoning card games and the cleaning of broken down lasguns as the Astartes enter. They wear the white and pale green fatigues of a Valhallan regiment, though they have a much darker pallor than the typically pale denizens of that world. Clearly, in a typically brilliant maneuver by the Departmento Munitorum, a detachment of ice worlders were assigned to a world of desert mesas and jungled canyons.

The soldiers say nothing, standing rigidly at attention. A door at the back cracks open and Heth steps into the room, followed by a spindly, balding man in priestly robes. Heth snaps to attention, the priest bows.

"My Lords," Heth says. "Welcome to the Aspirance. What can I do for you?"

Camael gives Hesh the sign of the aquila, obeying the formalities for the sake of the soldiers.

"Thank you, Brigadier. We need billeting for the night, if you have the space. Tomorrow we embark on a hunt to prove the worth of the Imperium to the Aurans, and we may need our rest." He smiles to belie his own words; a space marine could go for weeks without sleep if necessary.

"That is good news, my Lords. Of course you may take your rest here. Sergeant, clear out some of the space here. . ."

The night passes quickly into golden dawn, and Alkedre arrives as promised with an honor guard Auran warriors in two. She holds up an Astartes sized suit of midsaur scale armor, the seams apparent where two smaller suits have been splayed open and then stitched together.

"They're ugly, but they'll do, I think," she says. "Come, let's be off."

Heth and six of the Guardsmen join the group, along with Father Marius, the priest. As the procession makes its way down the empty streets, Marius' chants and prayers for protection draw out a stream of curious onlookers. Hundreds follow in your wake, babbling excitedly to themselves. Some cheer at the sight, excited at the prospect of a successful hunt bringing good fortune.

The march takes you a handful of kilometers from the walls, to where a wall of black rock swoops out from the thick jungle growth. A jagged fissure, twenty meters wide, is the entrance to the Reaving Canyons. Grinning saurian skulls impaled on spears mark the entryway, and from within you can hear the cacophonous chorus of jungle creatures, shrieking and roaring and endlessly chittering insects.

Alkedre daubs red paint across the cheeks of each Marine, muttering some ritual words. "Follow the canyon, it will exit right in the Deadlands where diablodon lives. Once you slay him, take the head and bring it back. There will be warriors here, watching night and day for your return. When you come back with diablodon's head, we will feast together in the lodge as fellow warriors." She steps away, clearing the path into the jungles.

"The Emperor protect you, Astartes," Father Marius calls, hands fluttering into a spastic aquila.

"Good luck, my Lords." Heth salutes. The Guardsmen snap their lasguns to present.

"I will scout ahead, Brothers," Ydnar says. He readies his bone bow, nocking an arrow to the string, and walks forward with an easy caution, sniffing the air as he advances. The rest of the Kill-team follows him into the jungle.

Continued in The Divested Hunt




 

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