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Crusade for Antioc - Prologue


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#1
Aurelius Rex

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Imperial Prologue - A Call To Arms
(Authors: Several Concerned Cricketers & Commissar Molotov)


Even in his power armour, Sergeant Rhadamanthys found that the atmosphere was electric within the briefing auditorium. Or briefing area, at least - the cavernous space was a hastily retrofitted cargo bay aboard the Emperor-class Battleship Imperator Lux. Even so, the former Brazen Claw couldn't see a single piece of the decking, such was the weight of numbers pressed into the area to receive the details of the invasion.

Rhadamanthys smiled to himself as he saw the crowd begin to ripple; Captain Golgotha had arrived. The Legio Captain managed to move surprisingly swiftly through the thick mass of Space Marines, Skitarii, Tech-Priests and Guardsmen, nodding, smiling and occasionally clasping hands with former comrades. Golgotha was well known for his exploits, and his presence among the Crusaders had done much to bolster spirits. In the weeks since the counterstrike against the Red Corsairs, Golgotha had taken to company command with ease, deftly coordinating the varied elements of the Antioc Crusade.

Golgotha stopped a few steps away from the raised stage to exchange crushing bear hugs with two Marines in beautifully-polished green power armour. It was, perhaps, the happiest Rhadamanthys had ever seen the Captain. He caught the insignia on the pauldron of one of the green Marines, a stylised 'S' that matched the one on Golgotha's armour. Scions of Dorn. It made sense to Rhadamanthys now; they were probably the first Marines in many years that Golgotha had seen from his original chapter. Rhadamanthys wondered how the other chapters comprising the Crusade force would react to having to fight alongside a Chapter known to have purged their Astartes brethren.

He had little time to dwell on such thoughts, however, before Golgotha bound onto the stage, eschewing the stairs at the side of the podium and strode to the lectern. Grasping the edges he leaned forward to his audience, a showy grin plastered across his face. He had the entire audience in his hands.

"Brothers, this is Antioc."

The Legio Captain gestured broadly and Rhadamanthys manipulated the hololith controls, bringing the image of a planet to life. It was a swollen cataract of a planet, a muddy brown disk with the swirls of toxic clouds just visible at the equator.

"A Gamma-Class Forgeworld of the Adeptus Mechanicus, currently under the control of the Seventeenth Legion of Fear."

Murmurs rippled through the room at the mention of the Legion of Fear. Most if not all had heard of the vile deeds of the Night Lords during the earliest stages of the Thirteenth Black Crusade.

"The Warmaster Tomax Hell has claimed Antioc for himself. The production facilities here are among the best in the Segmentum - more than capable of supporting a 'black crusade' against the Imperium. All manner of heretics flock to his banner; warbands of the Traitor Legions, excommunicated chapters, traitor guardsmen, even the Dark Mechanicus."

The Adeptus Mechanicus representatives hissed and crackled angrily in their techno-lingua at that, servo-arms arching defensively. The tech-priests weren't happy. Neither, it seemed, were many of the commanders.

"And we must strike now, pre-emptively, whilst we still can. And that is why the Legio has sent out the call for aid in these dark times."

Rhadamanthys knew the Captain spoke the truth. In the aftermath of the Thirteenth Black Crusade, the encroachment of the Tau and the Tyranids, and the campaigns for Medusa V, the Imperial war-machine was stretched thin, something Tomax doubtless hoped to take advantage of. By accident or design, most of the chapters who answered the crusade could only contribute a company of troops. Often these turned out to be the relatively untested reserve companies. These forces stood alongside three companies of the Legio, a contingent of the Adepta Sororitas under the auspices of an Inquisitor, a force of the famed Grey Knights and countless Imperial Guardsmen.

The Adeptus Mechanicus also had not been silent. Just days before a small number of Mechanicus vessels had arrived, sending Tech-Priests, several regiments of Skitarii and a contingent of Battle Titans from the famed Legio Pallidus Mor. It was clear that the Imperium would not set foot on Antioc without the Adeptus Mechanicus' blessing.

"But what of the planet's defences?" A voice rang out from the crowd; a young Captain of the War Bearers chapter. Golgotha didn't even blink, beginning to talk as Rhadamanthys once more manipulated the hololith's controls. Blinking red icons began to indicate orbital defence platforms, minefields and lance batteries, before circling to show similar ground-based systems.

"Not too much of a problem, I think." Golgotha said. "By the time the fleet is in position to deliver the Crusade forces and targets have been assigned, we will have more information on the forces Tomax has ready to deploy."

"How?" The War Bearers Captain was persistent.

"Two companies of the Legio led by Captain Ænides and I shall be leaving within the hour for Antioc." He smiled wolfishly, an expression that suggested he knew exactly what he was getting into. "The Adeptus Mechanicus have provided us with the appropriate authorisation codes and approach vectors in order that we should be able to reach the planet undetected and then infiltrate. We'll be breaking up into squad-level kill teams in order to discern what we can about enemy dispositions and preparing to sabotage targets of opportunity. When the fleet is in position and the assault is due to begin, we'll strike at orbital defense network power-grids, communications centres, targeting matrices and other priority targets. We'll also be doing what we can to feed data to the other Imperial forces."

The War Bearer seemed content with that. At least, he didn't say anything further.

"Now, I must take my leave, Brothers. My strike cruiser awaits. I shall see you all on the surface of Antioc, where we'll stand victorious above the bodies of the Seventeenth Legion's deluded servants. I'll leave the rest of the briefing in the capable hands of Captain Anteus."

With that, Golgotha jumped down from the podium as another Legio Captain stepped up. Golgotha gestured to Rhadamanthys, who followed him out of the cargo bay, towards the Thunderhawk. Towards Antioc. Towards what would be the greatest battle of his life.

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#2
Aurelius Rex

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Chaos Prologue - The Exercise of Power
(Author: Aurelius Rex)


+++

The Warmaster rode the ever-shifting thermals, rising higher and higher over His city. He had always loved the thrill of flight, but since his ascension to ‘Princehood and the enhancements that it had wrought, Raptor flight-packs seemed horribly crude. Evening rains had stripped the smog and ash from the air, leaving the night sky as clear as it was ever likely to be on a Forge-world like Antioc. The million points of light glittered below, each one a manufactorum, a barracks or a weapons emplacement, all bent to his will with the single purpose of supplying his army in the coming crusade.

It was good to fly, to get away from the stifling minutiae of commanding a whole world. Tomax Hell spread his leathery wings wide, soaking up the moon’s etheric rays, and then dived down to examine his domain more closely. He skimmed low over a parade-ground and with a flick of a talon decapitated the man sneaking a crafty smoke. Lho sticks… Those things would kill you.

The man had been traitor guard of some stripe. They were dispensable cannon fodder anyway. The ones he was interested in were the Astartes. There were so many armies and warbands on Antioc now that it was difficult to keep track of them all. The siren call had been more successful than he could have hoped: massaging their egos and appealing to their deepest wishes. In the aftermath of Abaddon’s latest Black Crusade it was only a matter of time until the jealousies and rivalries re-emerged – something that he and his Night Lord brothers in the Legion of Fear had been the perfect people to exploit.

So they had come. Leaders of the smaller warbands: hungry for power, to prove themselves, and the promise of carving out their own empires away from their oppressive parent legions. The Iron Warriors had been easiest, attracted by the lure of the treasures of a captured Forge-world. The construction of massive temples dedicated to each of the Cult Powers had been irresistible magnets to the Emperor’s Children, Death Guard, World Eaters and Thousand Sons. The Alpha Legion had come, although he could not guess at their real intentions, and the arrival of the Black Legion showed that even Abaddon couldn’t impose an iron grip on all of his warriors. There were even renegades from Chapters that had seen the light. The Red Corsairs had failed him and were but a shadow of their former strength, but the remnants would still have their uses. The Word Bearers had been the last to fall into line – their catastrophic reversal on Alcmene had seen them with nowhere else to go.

The Imperium was punch-drunk, weakened and bled dry by a thousand wounds. They were in no position to oppose his Crusade: within six months they would have rolled up the better part of the sub-sector, and have the momentum to strike at his real objective…

The palace stretched into the sky above him. His palace. It dominated the city, just as it should. With long, languorous strokes Tomax ascended to the topmost tower and alighted on the reinforced balcony. In the office beyond he could see the terminator armoured figure of Noctus Cain, his lieutenant in the Legion of Fear and a brother since before their Primarch was murdered. Not that he trusted him of course. Trust was not a survival trait among Night Lords.

‘My Lord, you summoned me?’ said Cain with a surprising degree of restraint. Tomax knew how it must have rankled Cain to have waited an hour to see him. The man was growing altogether too secure in his position as his second in command: Time to make it clear who was in charge.

‘What about the Order Encarmine, Cain?’ Tomax growled. ‘You tell me they can’t be trusted, but all I can see is a renegade Chapter with a deep hatred of the Inquisition…’

The next few minutes were a small joy, the exercise of power for no other reason than to show that you can. To re-assign Cain to solely watching the Order Encarmine at such a critical juncture was a major blow to his standing, and a sign that his star was no longer in the ascendant. Dismissing Cain with a disdainful wave, Tomax returned to the balcony overlooking his domain, and flexed his wings ready for a final flight through the rapidly cooling night air.

But before he could do so the distinctive stench of hot tin filled his nostrils, and the sickening hammer-strike to the skull of prophetic vision drove him to his knees. It was a rare gift, a link to the Primarch Himself, and the last time he received one it had shown his own decapitation.

Sight cleared to again show the balcony, but searing daylight rather than night. No, not just daylight, but the fires of an inferno sweeping through the ruins below his palace, and a dark patch ripped out of the eastern sky like a hole into the depths of space.

‘It is time…’ Said a voice, and his future self jerked his head round to see black armoured figures: The Legio. Here, in his private chambers! The leader, a hated stylised ‘S’ on his pauldron, raised his oversized and highly ornate chainsword, while others drew bolters and plasma pistols –

- and he snapped back into the present in a fit of gagging and retching. At least Cain had not been there to see it happen.

It was the Legio, and the Scions of Dorn. Always the damned Scions! They were coming. But forewarned, he would be ready, and make certain that the vision would not come to fruition.

Tomax threw back his head and roared his defiance to the sky.

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#3
Aurelius Rex

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COUP D'ETAT - A Crusade for Antioc Story

(Author: Aurelius Rex)

T
hrough the glare of the Thunderhawk landing lights, Noctus Cain watched his target: Captain Nicolai Heinlein of the Order Encarmine. The Chapter had been excommunicated and all-but destroyed, and like so many renegades the remnants had washed up on Antioc professing undying hatred of the Imperium. And yet every instinct screamed that the Captain was not to be trusted.

But as much as he loathed the man, the person he wanted to see boiled alive in acid was his own Warmaster. With less than a week to go before the launch of the crusade, Tomax Hell had re-assigned him from the vital duties of organising his Night Lords, and had pressed him to watching the Order Encarmine for definitive proof of their loyalties. To make it worse, it was done solely to put him in his place; to show him who was in charge.

He followed the renegade captain through the darkening thoroughfare, maintaining a discrete distance. There were few other Astartes in this area, and they towered over the crowds, but Cain was a Night Lord: He owned the darkness and could have stalked Heinlein unseen even if the city had been deserted. The circuitous route, no doubt meant to shake off pursuers, finally led them to a railway station. While Heinlein stood by a platform, distractedly tapping his newly replaced augmetic fingers on the bulky bag slung over his shoulder, Cain sunk into the shadows to await his next move.

The rumble of an approaching express train, set to pass straight through the Captain’s platform at high speed, roused Cain from his dark mood, and he realised that the renegade was staring right at him. With a contemptuous smile of triumph, Heinlein launched himself off the platform, just ahead of the express, and was gone, leaving Cain staring at a speeding wall metal.

Suppressing a begrudging twist of respect for the man, Cain turned and walked out of the station. Now that Heinlein thought himself free, he would head for his real destination. The bag was not the only thing Heinlein was carrying: At his instruction the Antioc artificers had also incorporated a tracking device when they replaced his ruined fingers with the augmetic.

Inside his helmet display, Cain watched the red blip of Heinlein moving out of the railway yard and towards the Temple of Slaanesh.

+++

‘Please, Nicolai, sit down!’ smiled the Chapter Master, pushing a glass of rich, oak-aged Blonica into Heinlein’s hand. ‘I have been saving this bottle for a special occasion.’

It was the first time that Heinlein had seen Leibniz’s private quarters since the ship refit, and he was impressed to see the results. For three decades the Chapter had been running and hiding. Unable to resupply, unable to rest, they had gone beyond ‘lean’ and had reached ‘pared to the bone’. The wages of sin were inevitably death, but at least their associations with the traitors on Antioc were going to a righteous cause.

‘Thank you, sir.’ said Heinlein, pressing his nose into the glass and savouring the aroma, but not drinking…Deferred gratification, as the phrase went, made the eventual taste all the sweeter. ‘You have been saving this bottle since before The Betrayal, my lord. Does this mean that your plans were successful?’ ‘Whatever they were’, he added darkly to himself.

‘Better than I could have hoped, Nicolai!’ said Leibniz. He seemed barely able to contain himself, his long white dreadlocks flapping madly. ‘I know it has been insufferable to deal with these traitors – you more than any of us have been pivotal in our dealings with them – but I must ask you to keep up the pretence for just a little longer.’

Heinlein nodded grimly, but with resolution, knowing that it meant another visit to the Slaaneshi temple on the planet below. He reached into the glass and fished out an ice-cube between augmetic fingers. The control was there, but no sensation. Other than the ghost-memory of the Scion’s chainsword ripping through the flesh back on Alcmene…

‘We must convince the traitors that the lies the Inquisition spread about us were true.’ Leibniz continued, ‘Lies, lies! I would have known if Pleasure Cults had infested my Chapter, Nicolai!’

Heinlein soothed the old man before he could drive himself into one of his rages. Leibniz had suffered greatly in their time of exile - an idealist who had seen his proud Chapter reduced to a ramshackle three companies. The strong, confident leader that Heinlein had seen as a father-figure had been hollowed out by the experience, leaving a shadow of his former glory. Leibniz was still beloved amongst the Chapter, but he had come to rely on Heinlein more and more. In all matters but this Master Plan, at least.

A knock on the door snapped the Chapter Master back into composure. Instantly he was the beloved figurehead that Heinlein had always known. It was the Techmarine, Dorff, carrying a pair of his beautifully crafted Devices for the mission.


+++

Heinlein had been inside the Slaaneshi temple for a good three hours now, and Cain’s patience, strained at the best of times was stretched to breaking-point. He had arrived just in time to see the Captain slip through the side doors of the building, and the tracking device located him in a room on the third floor. Doubtless the shoulder-bag had held a present for his beau for the night.

For all Order Encarmine’s protestations of piety, of the falsified charges laid against them, he was proving Inquisition right. But while Heinlein may have proved himself a hypocritical degenerate, it did nothing to support the suspicion that the Order Encarmine was hiding anything other than base needs of the flesh.

The hour was growing late. From his perch astride one of the enormous lewd statues that overhung the roof of the temple, something caught his peripheral vision. Looking up, he was just in time to see familiar bat-wings silhouetted against the moon. It was Tomax Hell, out on one of his nightly flights. What he would give for an anti-aircraft battery crew to get jittery and mistake him for a vengeful Imperial bomber… No. As much as he hated to admit it, Tomax had become so bloated with aetheric power that he doubted even a hail of explosive rounds would be enough to kill the Warmaster now.

With a snort of disgust he slipped down from the statue and made his way to street-level. The main doors had been barred to him, but he could always gain access through the warren of service-tunnels that ran beneath the city.

+++

As Dorff’s description of the Devices progressed, the lead weight in Heinlein’s belly grew heavier and heavier. The enormity of what he was going to be asked to do churned within him like an angry serpent.

At the end of the technical briefing, Dorff packed the Devices into the bag with painstaking reverence, placing wads of purple velvet between the links of the ’belt’ to protect the inward-facing powerfield emitters. On top went the package containing what Heinlein gathered was a ‘portable Gellar-field generator’. At least that was the best description he could derive from Dorff’s maze of overly-detailed and arcane techno-cant.

When Dorff was finally ushered out, Leibniz passed him another glass of the vintage Blonica, and fixed him with an appraising stare.

‘You have worked it out, haven’t you, Nicolai?’ Leibniz chuckled.

‘I think so, sir.’ He whispered, head bowed. Dorff may call those things ‘Devices’, but to Heinlein they were poisoned chalices.

‘I apologise for keeping you in the dark about this, my boy, but I didn’t want to raise your hopes if my plans didn’t work. Now… it’s time to tell you everything.’


+++

The Warmaster took a final pass over his domain, and turned back to the brooding bulk of his palace. Lining up upon the balcony, a sense of wrongness, of something out of place scratched at his spine. Aetheric senses caught the shape of a figure cloaked in the gloom of the room beyond - functionaries with more reports of production schedule delays, escalating tensions between the Emperor’s Children and the World Eaters, or Cain with inconclusive reports of the Order Encarmine renegades? He drew upon the Warp as a precaution and felt the wards of protection crackle.

As soon as he set foot on the balcony he felt his link to the aetheric falter and break. Disorientated, sickened, and cut off from the enervating power of the Warp he sprawled helplessly across the marbled floor. But it was more than the shock and impact; he could barely move, as if an invisible hand was pinning him to the ground.

‘Warmaster Tomax Hell. Please… don’t get up for me.’ said the unknown voice. ‘An interesting effect, to be sure. The analogy I liked best was that of a predator of the sea, able to grow to vast sizes in the deep oceans, but crushed beneath its own bulk and helpless when washed ashore by a tidal-wave.’

By an effort of will that left his vision spotting and heartbeats ringing in his ears, Tomax dragged his head round to look at his assailant. Red and black armour, a face in profile he recognised from Cain’s briefings. Captain Heinlein of the Order Encarmine.

‘My Chapter Master sent me to kill you. The Gellar field should neuter your daemonic powers for the next few minutes at the least - more than long enough. He said that even like this you would be proof against all manner of weapons. He even said you once came back from decapitation, and gave me a ‘necklace’ that would make sure of the deal.’ Heinlein turned and reached into a bag. ‘He said a lot of things…’

Even with lungs straining for air, Tomax felt a momentary fluctuation in the pressure. Not nearly enough to move, but enough to flare a spark of hope.

+++

They called it a Temple to Slaanesh, but from what Cain had seen it was little more than a glorified brothel. The journey through the service tunnels, and into the entrails of the building had taken him behind the opulent, rouged façade. Washed-out, dead-eyed slave wretches grinding and writhing mechanically through the imitation ecstasy… The giving of pleasure reduced to the level of an insincere and monotonous chore.

Not that he had an ounce of sympathy for their situation of course. It was simply an observation of his own superiority.

Cain moved stealthily through the back routes of the building, towards Heinlein’s room. The drabs were either too drug-numbed or subservient, and their visitors too intent on their own preoccupations for him to register in their world. Only the higher tier of acolytes, those which had willingly opened themselves to possession were likely to see him, and even they would be unwise to challenge his presence.

Ahead lay the exclusive, private suites, including Heinlein’s room. The obvious entrance to the area was guarded by a monstrosity that must surely have come from ogryn stock, its bare torso and arms covered with welts of scar tissue from systematic cutting. Cain added another across the creature’s throat, and was past before the arterial spray hit the floor. There would doubtless have been another way in, but the time for hiding amongst the shadows was over.

The heavy wooden door of Heinlein’s room splintered under Cain’s shoulder, but there was no sign of the man, just a stench that even the chokingly ubiquitous perfume could not cover. The room was a mess, with signs of struggle and the kicked-over remnants of a pleasure-cult ritual scattered across the floor. Anger flared - The scanner showed Heinlein as being here in the room - and his gaze was drawn to the bed. In a heartbeat, Cain wrenched the bed over, Dark Blade drawn, but the body underneath was not Astartes. It was the shrunken remains of what appeared to be a Daemonette - or something previously possessed by one - fast-running to putrefaction as the laws of nature re-assert themselves.

An involuntary step-back brought him to the centre of the ritual circle, and he felt the crunch of metal under his armoured boot. The tracer signal wavered, and lifting the foot he saw the three fingers of Heinlein’s augmetic, ending in a clot of blood and flesh like some gruesome offering.

And a personal taunt which would be repaid tenfold.

+++

As technically impressive as Dorff’s Devices were, such weaponry was useless unless Heinlein could get close to his target. As it appeared, this had indeed been the most difficult part of the endeavour. The slim, unassuming data-slate contained the culmination of that epic task. The maze of sewer, service and utility tunnels that honeycombed the city were mapped, and the routes marked. Every security protocol, password, shift-change and biometric scan was downloaded, decrypted and subverted to their needs. With this, he could pass unchallenged to the very heart of Tomax’s palace. Of course, there was still the homing signal the traitors had incorporated into his augmetic fingers, but even that could be turned into an advantage.

‘The Warmaster is the lynchpin.’ said Leibniz. ’You have seen the tensions building up between the factions; The Emperor’s Children and the World Eaters are all set to re-create the Skalathrax bloodbath; The Traitor Legions look down on the renegade Astartes Chapters; The Iron Warriors see threats and insults everywhere, and who knows what the Word Bearers are really here for…’

It was true. The increased security measures of the last few days had done nothing to quell the situation. If anything it had further soured the atmosphere with suspicion.

Leibniz took another sip of Blonica and continued. ’It is inevitable. Antioc is a powder-keg and it is only fear of the Warmaster that keeps it from exploding. Remove him - kill him - and the warbands will scatter, or destroy each other. Then, when the war burns itself out, we will contact the Imperium, present them the head of the Warmaster, and their lost Forge-world. It will be an act of good faith that they can’t ignore; Indisputable proof that we are, and always have been loyal to the Emperor. Even the Inquisition will not be able to deny their mistake!’

Leibniz finished his speech, swept back his white dreadlocks, and beamed down in self-satisfaction at the stunned Heinlein.

‘Nicolai, my son, what do you say? Will you do this thing for us?’


+++

‘There is a phrase, common amongst my Chapter, Warmaster,’ said Heinlein as he reached into the bag,’ ‘�Deferred gratification makes the eventual taste all the sweeter.� Well, I have deferred long enough.’

Tomax closed his eyes, focussing whatever daemonic energies might remain to ward off the killing-blow, but there was only a heavy, wet thump on the floor by his face. He opened his eyes to see a severed head, sunken eyes staring back, and long, white dreadlocks slicked with blood.

‘My Chapter-Master was a fool; unworthy of the position.’ spat Heinlein from the shadows. ’He thought that deposing you would enable us to hand this world back to the Imperium. That they would see the error of their ways and welcome us back into the fold. That isn’t how the Imperium operates! It is so hidebound by dogma and pride that they would never admit to being wrong. To the Inquisition, every one of us is a Slaaneshi-worshipping traitor, even though I know this isn’t the case. Well, I am tired of running, Tomax. I want to make the Inquisition, the Scions of Dorn, and Imperium pay for what they have done for us.’

Heinlein stepped out of the shadows to reveal a red-raw mark of Slaanesh on his cheek. ‘I am done with deferring gratification. Let them see what really happens when the Order Encarmine dedicates itself to the God of Excess.’

With that, Heinlein brought up a heavy, ornate device, smashed it to the floor, and brought a heel down upon it. The smothering weight of the Gellar Field lifted, and the energistic strength of the warp flooded back.

In a second, Tomax was on his feet, first he crushed his assailant against the wall, and then hauled the unresisting Heinlein over the balcony edge and held him by the throat over the lethal drop.

‘You should have killed me while you had the chance.’ said Tomax.

‘No! I need you.’ croaked Heinlein with remarkable calm for someone in his position. ‘I have just assassinated my own Chapter-Master - a coup d’etat - and like I said, not every member of the Order Encarmine is a worshipper of Slaanesh… yet!’

Intrigued, Tomax released the pressure on his larynx - slightly - and let Heinlein continue.

‘I penetrated your tightest security, rendered you powerless, and could have killed you. And yet I didn’t. What better proof of my loyalty to you, and an example of how useful my Chapter could be to your cause? All I ask is that you aid me in enlightening the rest of my brothers, and you will have our unswerving support and expertise in tearing the Imperium down.’

Tomax smiled. ‘You have a deal… Chapter-Master!’

+++



#4
Aurelius Rex

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Remember Skalathrax
(Part 1 Commissar Molotov, Part 2 Aurelius Rex)

+++

Techno-Plaza Alpha-936 occupied the western half of the Tertiary Processing Matrix, a seemingly disjointed mess of manufactora, worker-barracks, furnaces and processors. The place was remarkably intact, and seemed to have weathered the transition from Imperial rule to Chaos occupation well. That was, in part, due to the ruling Tech-Priests of the so-called 'Dark Mechanicus'. Fautor spat at the thought of their betrayal, the acidic spit bubbling its way into the plascrete. The traitor-magi had deactivated several key defence systems, allowing Tomax Hell to seize the world with ease.

It was, he reflected, appropriate that those same systems had been circumvented to allow two companies of the Legio to make landfall undetected. The kill-squads had dispersed across Antioc; Fautor himself had not had contact with Captain Golgotha for several days. Not since they had received their most recent objective.

He looked up at the pollutant-smeared sky. A suffocating, dreary expanse of grey, choked through with livid purples and greens. Well, Tomax Hell certainly hadn't chosen the planet as a holiday destination. A storm was brewing and Fautor didn't want to be caught in acid rain that could chew through ceramite. They would have to accomplish their task quickly and get to cover.

He turned to the squad - his squad. The marines were praying, readying their weapons and preparing for combat, should it ensue. Baruch, the Judicator, was administering benedictions to his exquisitely-crafted bolt pistol, his face hidden behind his helm. Fautor understood the pistol had been a gift from the Judicators' Master of the Forge, presented to him upon his assignment to the Legio.

Beside Baruch, Marakov was knelt down, observing the techno-plaza through his bolter's scope. Formerly of the Execrators, Marakov was a big marine. His face was plain, his nose flattened. He was uncomplicated and good what he did; Fautor was glad to rely upon his support. In truth, Fautor was glad to have the Execrator and the Judicator both in his squad. The two chapters had long-standing relations with the Castigators dating back to their founding, and he trusted both marines implicitly.

"The intelligence was right," Marakov's voice was flat, low. "They're here."

Fautor could see the squat shapes of Rhino transports, marked in the colours of the World Eaters. The fierce warriors were disembarking. The Techno-Plaza had been converted into a Temple of Khorne.

"Let's go." He said. "We've seen enough."

+++

'Remember Skalathrax!'

The phrase, and the sentiment, was sweeping across Antioc like a virus. Wherever it was heard, gunfire and bloodshed were sure to follow. It was the spark that re-ignited a simmering rivalry between the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children. The remembrance of an ancient battle between the two legions that saw a planet reduced to ashes, it was a warning for one, a battle-cry for the other. The resultant spill-over was breeding suspicion and gnawing at morale planet-wide.

Not bad for a spur of the moment piece of rhetoric, Golgotha smiled. Their Kill-Team had been discovered by a pair of World Eater legionnaires, and had left the phrase daubed at the site they had dumped the bodies. The next night they had specifically targeted a coterie of Emperor’s Children to simulate a retaliation attack, with the same words left in blood. From then on the feud had taken on an ever-escalating life of its own.

‘Sir. Here are the latest reports.’ said Rhadamanthys, his sergeant, passing a dataslate. ‘Caanah and his squad got into the Quantic Heights defence complex… When they energise their defence lasers, the chain reaction should be visible from Holy Terra.’

‘Sterling work.’ said Golgotha, scrolling through the reports. He was truly proud of the Battle-Brothers under his command. They had been on Antioc for nearly a fortnight now, infiltrating and planting hidden explosives in strategic locations, stirring up feuds, and gathering intelligence ready for the moment when the fleet arrived. Everything was complicated by the need to hide any trace of their presence. The slightest suspicion of Imperial involvement would tip the planet into high alert and render much of their work useless. The Skalathrax gambit was doing well though, drawing the enemy’s attention, but still, security had tightened significantly since their arrival. With such meticulous care being taken over whether a mission was safe to proceed, and the high number of aborted and delayed plans, every victory was to be savoured.

Epistolary Kruitzfeldt had been invaluable in relaying troop dispositions and details of Antioc’s defences back to the fleet, but something about Antioc was eating away at the man. When pressed, Kruitzfeldt could only respond that the best analogy was intense pressure in the aether, like the build-up of vast energies just before a thunderstorm. Golgotha had seen him face-down daemons and rogue alpha-level psykers, but he had never before seen Kruitzfeldt rattled like this.

‘There is still no word from Captain Aenides, Sir.’ said Rhadamanthys gravely. ‘It has been four days since their last communication.’ While Golgotha’s company had headed for the surface, Aenides and his command had been tasked with making sure the vast array of orbital defences and the Chaos fleet would be caught flat-footed when the time came. Aenides was an old hand at space combat, and had forgotten more about zero-gee warfare than most Astartes would learn in a lifetime. There were a thousand-and-one reasons why he had not signaled. But the assignment had been so high-risk, and they had reported losing sixteen marines and another twenty injured before losing contact.

‘It will be this damnable smog, Rhad. It cuts the signal reception to nothing’ Golgotha’s face lit up with a wicked smile. ‘But still, it sounds like a great excuse to get away from these rat-infested sewers. Patch me through to Brother-Sergeant Castor, and tell Squads Aiakos, Eshara and Fautor to meet us at Black Tarl spaceport within six hours. And make sure that Brother Beyaert is on a short leash.’ The Fiery Lion was a loose cannon, but his expertise at ship boarding actions would be invaluable.

It felt wrong to split his company only twenty-one hours before the fleet was to make warp-transit, but Castor was more than able to guide them in his absence. There was no choice. If Aenides and his men had not been able to neuter the orbital defences then all their work planetside would be for nothing.

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Edited by Aurelius Rex, 11 May 2007 - 11:44 AM.
Adding prelude


#5
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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Author: Ferrata.

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It was twelve years ago on the blood soaked fields of Silure that I first saw the heretic. I watched him rip the beating hearts out of brave men with nothing more than a twitch of his mind.

It was nearly ten years ago since I first met the heretic in battle, defending my mentor, in the urban streets Belgae. The heretic had fled that day as his minions were swept aside by the Emperor's finest.

It was seven years ago that the heretic wounded me, even though his mind was dimmed, his body was still too strong for me. There I stood, struggling to breathe, that I vowed that the heretic would die by the hand of one few beating hearts in that field of defiled peace.

It was six years ago that the heretic struck a blow to the Imperium, destroying the forge world of Ordovices, whilst me and my master stood side by side and watched the carnage.

It was three years ago I bested him, but the gods favoured him. His face burnt from his skull but still he lived. His gods dragged his rotting corpse from my clutches with a horde of daemons.

It was a year ago the heretic destroyed my home world, Cornovii. Its continuous rolling hills dragged under by the marching of the daemon. Its villages and towns turned into nothing more than pits of sacrifice to the chaos gods. It was this day the heretic took more from me than I can ever take from him.

It is today I make him pay for his sins. Under the oath of the Inquisition, I will purge this heretic, and then, and only then, will the Emperor judge him for his crimes.


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They had already beaten me to nothing more than a shivering wreck the previous day, and the days before that, but still they tried the easy way. I watched the giant fist crash against my cheek, splintering teeth from my jaw. I felt the rush of blood from my gums fill my mouth, choking me in my own life. They grabbed me from the floor, throwing me back into the chair which had become my home. Once again the fist swung round like a giant pendulum, nothing would stop its arc of blood-lust bar my face.

I watched my blood splatter across the wall, joining the blood of the previous beatings. I starred as it dripped down, watching its slow decent to the floor. I found peace in its journey, slow but steady; it made me think about how I used to be. I was once well built, proud and noble, but a few months of malnutrition, living on the bare minimal, had left me little more than wretched looking bag of bones, my muscle had begun to waste away as my body starved for more energy to repair the damage dealt to my body each day. Hardly noble, hardly proud, but still defiant.

Every day they had came in. Every day they had asked me the same question. If they did not receive an answer then the continued with another day of torture. I had yet to give an answer. They questioned me, cross questioned me, cross cross questioned me, hoping for some small error in my story which would lead them to my master. I had been the perfect servant so far.

Today was different, today was harsher, today had brought more pain, they must be getting desperate. They had brought all their gadgets, tools of pain and misery, my pain and my misery. They had already taken my toes and fingers, they would have had taken my ears or tongue if it wasn’t for the fact they needed an answer from me. The cut and slashed across my skin, cutting deeper each day. Sending impulses of pain into my mind, seeking for the knowledge they lay within. They had probed my mind with the most rudimental of equipment, but my master had sent up psychic blocks long ago.

“Where is your master?” the asked me, also with a hint of care in their voice, almost inducing me to do the right thing.

This question, this question had been repeated to me for what seemed like a lifetime, but the markings on the walls suggested it was little more than ninety days, maybe just a hundred. My eyes had broken long ago, blood now covered my vision, shapes blurred in a mist of red, but still I starred at them, refusing to answer, refusing to give in. My body might have been weak, but my mind was still strong.

“That was your last chance to answer us the easy way.”

I screamed as they inserted the large needle into my spine, it was the most energy I had used for a while now, but the pain was unbearable. I felt the release of some toxin straight into my nerves, straight into my brain. All of a sudden it was like every single receptor on my body was talking to my brain, and they were all shouting pain. Every part of my body felt like it was on fire, burning in a fit of agony and anguish. I could do little more than black out to numb the pain, but even then I was visited by dark dreams that pained me. I woke up hours later, my body shattered from the pain, throbbing, and my mind cracking.

I don’t know what they released into my system, but it broke me. After three days of that treatment I was gone, I couldn’t hold the information inside me any more. As the needle was injected into me on the fourth day I wept. I hadn’t wept for years; I didn’t know I could weep. But there, in the darkness of a cell, I wept. I felt redemption as my tears cold my aching face, I felt the tears cleanse my soul as the dripped to the ground. All this pain, all this suffering and it would finally be over…

“Antioc!”

…I screamed. One word. One word had saved me from another day of torture, another week of pain, another month of misery. This one word had saved my life, but also ended it. I smiled as I saw the gun, it was like an angel. Finally I would get my redemption in the eyes of the Emperor. The touch of the gun against my head was pure pleasure; I could see the end, the rest.

I felt no more pain as my body dropped to the ground.

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#6
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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From the outside the objective had been nondescript; hull pockmarked and paintwork worn back to bare metal in places, but for the next few hours it was the most important location in the Antioc system. The fleet would make its warp-translation back into real-space beyond the outermost planets, and in doing so would trigger any number of alarms and monitors. In the hours it would take for the ships to reach orbit around Antioc, the planet would be a hornet's nest. Destroying the probes would have been an act of folly - deep space was far too vast to find every one - but in a spectacularly bad piece of planning the original Adeptus Mechanicus designers had the signals all feed back to a single satellite. With that kind of foresight, it was not surprising the Forgeworld had been successfully invaded once already.

Golgotha had been relieved to be able to establish contact with Aenides once they were clear of the atmosphere, but the captain's report had been deeply disturbing. A Legio sergeant in Aenides' company had seemingly gone violently insane, killing his entire squad and the company's Librarian before disappearing. Worse still, this Sergeant Halfdan seemed to be stalking and ambushing them as they set their explosives on the outside of ships, sometimes even removing or deactivating ones that had already been set. Sixteen brothers from various squads had just disappeared, leaving only the signs of struggle or a spray of blood frozen across a bulkhead. Halfdan had transformed into a ghost in the night.

Hardened warriors being driven into fratricidal blood-frenzies? Was this related to the trouble Kruitzfeldt was experiencing? Golgotha had a gnawing feeling in his gut that Antioc was cursed. Had the planet been in thrall to the Fell Powers for so long that the taint was irrevocable? If it could drive Legio brothers to murder and madness, what would it do to the ordinary humans when they returned?

The influx of fresh troops had freed up Aenides and his men for a final check of the explosives, in case the turncoat had deactivated any more. This left the monitoring satellite to Golgotha, but it was to suffer a more subtle fate than to be torn apart by demolition charges. It had to appear to still be active so as not to arouse suspicion.

To his left, Kruitzfeldt groaned and seemed to twitch, then settled himself. Even astrotelepathy had become a supreme effort. 'Fifteen minutes until transition, Brothers.' His voice was strained, as though through gritted teeth, expression hidden by his helmet. 'The fleet is ready.'

At Golgotha's command, his men broke from cover and fell upon the stunned defenders.

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Cocooned within the Command console, Captain Kroenen of the Iron Warriors was at one with his ship. Mechadendrite linkages to The Anvil's datacores meant that the Slaughter class Cruiser was a physical part of him. The Scartix coil at the centre of the engines pulsed in time with his heartbeat, and he could hear the hiss of the solar wind through his external sensors as they powered away from Antioc and its star. Antioc. Another fruitless, dead end in his quest, but he had time on his side, and plenty more leads. The sickly planet was lost now from view behind a gas giant, and good riddance! Rivals and enemies had called Kroenen paranoid over the millennia, but trusting his instincts had kept him alive. On Antioc his instincts had screamed for him to leave as soon as possible. Tomax's coalition was fracturing; blood would be spilled before they even started their pogrom against the Golden Throne.

His frustration and anger was being transferred to the ship, not a good thing at this time. Kroenen levelled his breathing before the sympathetic vibrations built up into something more dangerous. They were close now, nearly far enough from the star's gravity well to jump to warp. He focussed on the warp core, coaxing it to life and nursing it to -

Every sensor and alarm in the ship burst into life, ripping him away from the core, as ship after ship spewed out of the warp to starboard. He instantly recognised liveries from the Long War - Ultramarines, Raven Guard, even the hated Imperial Fists, as well as a hulking black Battle-Barge he could not identify. Static filled his communication channels, and a pack of the Astartes ships banked towards him. Too many!

'All about!' his amplified voice boomed throughout the ship. 'We make for Antioc!'

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Aboard the Legio Battle-Barge, Captain Antaeus growled. What were the chances that with all of space to choose from an enemy cruiser would be waiting at the very moment they break out of the Empyrean? At least they had been able to jam its comms.

Hellfire, but it was fast! A Slaughter class, if he was any judge. If the commander was even halfway competent it would be able to outrun even their strike cruisers. They couldn't let it get out of jamming range. The vox-link filled with captains advising that they were preparing to fire. Idiots! That kind of display would announce their appearance to every traitor in the system. He countermanded them and cursed the lack of experience amongst the fleet captains.

With a calm eye Antaeus scanned the command hololith for the small skull icon amongst the chasing pack, an escort minnow amongst the Strike-Cruiser sharks. The Righteous Blade, a Legio Hunter class destroyer, commanded by Sergeant Sigrat. Perfect for the task!

By the time he got through to Sigrat, the sergeant and his squad were already climbing into their boarding torpedoes. Their orders were clear; board the ship and disable its engines. After all the planning they could not let the cruiser get word back to Antioc.

'Good hunting, Sergeant Sigrat.' Captain Antaeus growled.

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Malakai Kroenen felt the melta-rings burning through the hull as if it was his own flesh! Boarding torpedoes, their approach masked by his own engine-wake. Kroenen diverted his warriors to the stern, to box them in. With a wrench he tore free of his mechadendrite linkages and passed control back to the bridge crew.

This insult - this violation - would be repaid in person.

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