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Crusade for Antioc: Round 2


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#1
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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From the window of his makeshift command-post in the Agranthus Memorial Spaceport, Colonel Welker watched the ships of the Crusade taking off and landing. Lumpen, ugly Navy landers filled with guard troops and armoured regiments, Aquila shuttles, even the brutal nobility of Thunderhawk gunships. He'd seen more Astartes today than he had in the whole of his long career on the Emperor's battlefields, but to witness the mass-lifters of the Pallidus Mors Titan Legion had been the greatest thrill of all. To see the Titans, living embodiments of the Emperor's Will, striding from the cavernous holds was a sight that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

Even through the thick, soundproofed armaglas window the roar of rocket motors was deafening. It came up through the feet, vibrated the chest and reached into the skull to squeeze... He popped a pair of analgesics, washed them down with a mouthful of cold recaff, and straightened his uniform. Among the leviathans he caught sight ofnavy blue shapes patrolling the gloom. His men; the guardsmen of the Mordian Eighty-first. Mordian had itself suffered at the hands of the Dread Powers, had itself been invaded. With the aid of the wider Imperium, Mordian had been reclaimed. It was only appropriate that they should be present to do the same for Antioc.

It was one of the reasons he had pushed hard to get this assignment; to be the first Guard regiment - aside from companies of drop-troopers, of course - to land on Antioc. The Astartes had cracked open the enemy defences, allowing the Guard to follow up and secure the area. It was happening across the planet, but Agranthus Spaceport was the first and most important strategic location. It was the key to getting Crusade forces planetside, and if - Emperor forbid - the invasion failed, his men would be the last to leave. They would protect the evacuating forces with their lives if need be.

On the stroke of the hour his senior officers filed into the room. Fine men that he had served with for decades, but the last twenty four hours had been wearing on them all. He could see from their mien that they were going through the same thing. It went beyond the incessant noise, the choking smog and the effects of zero-gee when their transport ship had been attacked. The planet was a leech... Antioc was a sick world.

'Thank you all for coming, gentlemen.' he said, welcoming them and starting the proceedings. 'You know my golden rule on meetings... 'Keep them short and to the point!' We are in a warzone here, not a scholam debating society.'

They smiled appreciatively at that, all except for the Commissar, Harker, who looked even more icily cadaverous than usual. Major Kells, their liaison with Crusade Command was first to speak. After a painfully slow start, the volume of men and materiel coming down from orbit had increased dramatically, and it was only going to get busier in the coming days. The noise was going to get worse.

Captain Asters reported that the weight of traffic was drawing huge amounts of unwanted attention from the Chaos airforces. The wall of flak the Hydra emplacements had been forced to throw up had kept the jackals at bay, but it meant that they were already digging into their reserve stores of ammunition. While more was expected from Munitorum stores within the hour, things would not improve until the Navy relocate its Thunderbolt fighters down here rather than fielding them from orbital carriers. When they would finally do so, and why they were stalling at the moment, was anyone's guess.

Next was Major Albright on base security. In the twelve hours the regiment had been on Antioc there had been no engagements with organised Chaos ground forces in the vicinity of the spaceport. With the mass of troops flowing through and out to take the battle to the enemy, this was not unexpected. There had, however, been multiple skirmishes with cultists trying to infiltrate the area via service tunnels, and even unconfirmed contacts with Legionnaires of the Traitor Astartes. Welker told Albright to assign Captain Symes and his combat engineers to the task. Symes was a strange one, with a distinctly un-Mordian eagerness to submerge himself in filth, but he could certainly be trusted to make life interesting for anyone trying to break into the spaceport by a subterranean route.

Disturbing as the threat of infiltrators was, the dramatic increase in indiscipline, violence and, unbelievably, guardsmen turning their weapons upon one another was far more concerning.

'This is completely unheard of, gentlemen, and totally unacceptable.' Welker said, shaking his head in disbelief. From the way his officers were shifting uneasily in their seats, it was clear that they were as mortified as he at this stain on the reputation of the Eighty-first. 'We are the Mordian Iron Guard, and yet from these reports the men are acting more like Savlar Chem-Dogs or underhive juve-gangers.'

He had barely credited the confidential Legio report warning high-ranking officers of the curse, but about now he was willing to believe that the Warmaster had warpcraft powerful enough to curdle the mind and twist the Emperor's loyal subjects into his murderous puppets. 'Harker; what is the Commissariat doing to enforce order? Is this malaise linked to the Golgotha Memorandum?'

All eyes turned to the Commissar, who stood sharply, sending his chair flying back against the wall. Lips curled back into a rictus grin, eyeballs rolled back to show just the whites, and from his mouth an inhuman, falsetto screech.

'Khartahkor faed ron'tal! Golgothagolgolgolgotha!' The assembled staff sat stunned, mesmerised by the hail of hard consonants that bore no relation to the way the mouth was moving. 'The Golgothan will lead you all unto fire and damnation for naught but his own greater glory! J'harak sul vuglo r'garr! What I do for you now is a kindness!'

In a fluid motion the thing possessing Harker threw open his full-length black leather storm-coat and drew his chainsword from its scabbard. At this the spell was broken as decades of combat reactions and survival instinct spurred the staff to action.

The room resounded to the howl of scything blades and the roar of gunfire.

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#2
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Ferrata)

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'There is always fire left in the heart of the Inquisition!'

The words rung off the cold walls, echoing back to Belenus. His forces had already ripped through the meat shield of the enemy, a force of mindless zombies, entranced guardsmen from the silver tongue of chaos. Many of his men lay bleeding on the surface of Antioc, many had lost their lives, but still he pushed them forward. With the Emperor on their side, Belenus would lead his men to the depths of the Eye of Terror and still return victorious. That was his duty as an Inquisitor, that was his duty as a human.

With the heart of the Inquisition behind them, the warriors of Damnonii raced forward into the new enemy which had emerged. Belenus led the charge, as he always did. He might have been a member of Inquisition, he might have been nearly twice as old as most men behind him, he might even be considered civil by some, but he was still a son of Cornovii. His hair bleached and spiked, his axe pumping at his side as his pace quickened and the tartan which adorned most of his clothing, he was one of the last remaining sons of Cornovii, and the bastard who had destroyed it was going to pay.

The Damnonii finally crashed against the interior guard, highly trained guardsmen who had willingly subjected themselves to the torment of chaos. The disciplined traitors and the blood-raged loyalists were swept into a frenzy of combat, axe crashing against sword. Las fire at short range cauterising flesh as it burnt deep. The Damnonii wore little armour, and compared to the heavily armoured traitors, they looked little more than savages.

Belenus leapt in the air as he closed on his opponent, a swing of his axe slashing across the chest of the first fool to cross his path. His men might be brutal, but he was worse, he was barbaric and he had the backing of the Imperium. Belenus released his flamer, the fire of the Inquisition into a tightly packed firing squad of traitors, each screaming as the body was burnt to a crisp by the liquid fire. Many an enemy had fallen to Belenus' weapon, the quick inferno coming as a surprise hidden beneath the elongated combat shield that straddled his left arm.

'Klich juzr lor hrezg plu'gzh jaar huyx j'jekuch kilvarl.'

Dammit! Another soldier of the Imperium was muttering the insane words which had almost become normal to the ears of the Inquisitor. His men had been falling to this curse since the moment their feet had first touched the god-forsaken planet. In comparison to many of the regiments on this planet, the Damnonii were less disciplined in battle, less organised, but they were more loyal to one another then any other force in the galaxy, and even they had been turn insane on this planet, raising their axes against each other. Belenus personally decapitated the latest victim of the ramblings, the lips still moving as the sharp blade cut through muscle, bone and nerve alike.

Watching the eyes of his men, Belenus stood in horror as more and more of them flicked back, showing nothing but white. He was thankful they were surrounded by the enemy, as in their blind fury they slaughtered both friend and foe. Even the disciplined men of chaos had began to fall, their training and doctrines soon forgotten in a flash of mindlessness as they turned their weapons on anything that moved. Belenus had felt none of the whisperings which had been spoken about, but then again his mind never sensed anything, it was blank to the outside world.

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Belenus could feel the shooting pain in his leg; the shards of his armour were buried deep within his thigh. The bolt had detonated before impact, but the sheer force of the explosion had shattered his cuisse, shoving it deep into his calf. His face was covered in blood; his own, and that of his foes. Cuts and bruises formed an integral pattern across his body, all causing pain and many of them bleeding.

Dragging himself to the wall, he began to administrate emergency medical treatment on his leg, but the blood was gushing from the wound. His men were all but lost; those which did not lie bleeding had fallen to the whisperings of Antioc and were slaughtering anything that stood in their paths. The enemy had also lost, even minds trained by chaos could not resist the temptation, blood lust had took them all.

His mind began to escape him, the lack of blood in his system was causing it to shut down, deactivating non-vital functions, unfortunately for Belenus, consciousness was deemed non-vital. If his mind let go, he was worse than dead, his mind was the only thing that protected him from a life on insanity as a puppet of the enemy. He kicked his mind awake; how had he got here? What had happened to his men? Memories flashed before his eyes, the initial assault of the crusade, the ground assault across Antoic, the horror the enemy forces had unleashed upon the loyalists...

The initial assault had gone acceptably, within range of the predicted casualties for an assault on a highly defended world. The main strike force, consisting mainly of Astartes, had managed to form a beachhead on the planet for the waves of Imperial Guard to land safely. There had been loses; several missions had been reported as failed, with a high casualty percentage. Others had never even reported back, classified as killed in action to a man.

It had not all gone to plan though; the rearguard of the Imperial Crusade had been ravaged by chaos pirates and many vessels had been lost or badly damaged, and the loss of reinforcements and supplies had numbed the momentum of the crusade. Through the bloodshed, both in the space surrounding it and on the planet itself, the Imperial Crusade had prevailed and the real work had now begun. As more ground forces landed each hour, the body count increased. The little water on Antoic now flowed red with blood. The Crusade for Antioc was far from over.

Belenus mind flashed further back, back to the battle fields of Silure. The horror as men were lifted from the ground, pain racing through their bodies. The grief as they disappeared in a cloud of red mist. The anguish as the murderer laughed as his mind destroyed more souls, absorbing them for the throne of chaos. Belenus remembered...

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#3
Aurelius Rex

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With glacial slowness, His Holy Inquisition vessel, Inviolate rose out of orbit above Antioc. Away from the influence of the damnable disturbance in the Warp, but also away from the mutual protection of the Crusade fleet. It was a terrible gamble; The Warmaster's fleet had been shattered and driven away, but what remained was more than capable of falling upon isolated vessels. If only there was another way.

At a distance approaching the orbit of Antioc's closest moon, the mistress of the Astropathic choir informed him, with great relief, that the distortion in the Aether was gone. Only then did the Inquisitor sit down at his desk and opened the box. It was carved from solid, impossibly rare Nalwood, and yet to him the contents were worth infinitely more.

Folding back the neat silken lining revealed the deck of 78 psycho-reactive wafers. Beautiful, hand-crafted, and definitely frowned-upon by his more Puritan brethren in the Ordo. They saw the use of the Emperor's Tarot was nothing more than a conduit to the Ruinous powers - that its use was tantamount to heresy. As a Puritan himself he could understand such suspicions, and yet could not agree with them in this case. He took the deck out of the box and caressed the neat pile. They were warm to the touch. Body heat. His body heat. They were, after all, attuned. While reciting the Litany of Purification the deck was cut, thoroughly shuffled, cut, and shuffled once more. Only then was he ready.

With reverend care two cards were laid side-by-side in the centre of the desk, and then another five encircling them in a clockwise direction. He could quite believe that without the correct precautions, wardings and abjurations that the malign could use the cards as a tool, but he was no dilettante. In his hands the pack became a link to the divine spark, a conduit by which the Emperor Himself warned, counselled and blessed him with insights denied to lesser men.

He took a deep breath, and turned over the central pair. The Daemon, the image morphing to show the Warmaster, but inverted, alongside the black armoured Space Marine. An unusual conjunction, whose implications would doubtless become clearer as the reading progressed.

Then the outer cards. The Fabricator flanked by the three and eight of Ships. The alignment was obscure, beyond a simple reference to the Forgeworld below, and tied into what the Dark Mechanicus had said under interrogation earlier in the day. His instinct to spare Kilgore after their last session was right. He turned over the penultimate card, and the shock almost saw him knock the deck off the table. It was The Chaplain. Reversed.

One card remained, yet he didn't need to turn it over to know what it was. Antioc had been denied the Light of the Emperor for centuries. If it was beyond hope - if it held some irrevocable taint - then even if the Crusade was successful it could not be allowed to return to production. The thought of a Forgeworld unknowingly supplying chaos-contaminated weapons to warzones across the Segmentum was something that he could not allow, no matter what the rest of the fleet, the Astartes or even the Mechanicus might say.

The four precious and rare Exterminatus missiles in their vaults in the belly of the ship were orders of magnitude more powerful than anything else in the fleet. Even the battle barges of the Astartes had nothing to compare, and if it was required he would be the one to scour the planet to the bedrock.

With resignation, the Inquisitor turned over the final wafer. It was as he had dreaded...

The Destroyer of Worlds.

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#4
Aurelius Rex

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Round 2, Battle 1
Renit the Bloodstained vs. Explorator Forb and Lord Inquisitor Maxim Atrich

(Author: Daeothar)


'Ykrzra maa gree ti grahz co'traa zelo'szas khor ont...' The roar of a boltpistol discharging cut off the daemonic utterings of the writhing stormtrooper. Head exploded, the man's body lay twitching on the ground, as several shocked stormtroopers behind it were now covered in the blood and tissue of their erstwhile comrade.

'Any one else having aspirations?' demanded the diminutive, armored explorator, lowering his boltpistol. None reacted, and satisfied to take their silence for compliance; he turned and ambled further down the corridor. 'Let's go then lads, my readings tell me we're getting awfully close.'

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'Are you sure?'

'Yes.' answered the monotonous robotic voice of the voct servo skull linked to Inquisitor Atrich in his place. 'And the brave sacrifice of those many astropaths divining the location of the ritual must not be in vain.' it continued. 'Esteemed Captain, we must act swiftly and we must do it now, while we still have a chance of stopping this madness.'

The Space Marine of the Ultramarines looked pained, as he struggled to find the words to tell the mutilated, but tireless Inquisitor opposite him, that he had no more forces to deploy. All his men were either dead, killed during a suicide attack by a renegade frigate, or engaged in combat on the surface. He had even deployed a large portion of his ship's crew, to man and repair essential parts of this orbital station.

But Inquisitor Maxim Atrich was blissfully unaware of the predicament of the Ultramarine Captain. On the surface of Antioc, he had faced death and conquered it by sheer force of will. Any lesser man would have succumbed to the grievous wounds inflicted upon his once noble frame, but not he. Several more servoskulls were being outfitted right now, to restore at least a portion of sight back to him, after his eyes had been boiled from their sockets by the unholy fire that had engulfed him. His once handsome face was gone, the flesh singed from the bone. Breathing in the flames had seared most of his windpipe and had destroyed his vocal cords. But these things were trivial to a man doing the Emperor's bidding. He had been touched by the divine and he knew he had yet a part to play. 'We...'

'I know captain,' interrupted the mechanical voice of the servoskull. Captain Berachus could have sworn a hint of amusement clung to that robotic utterance. 'My stormtroopers are more than up to the task at hand. Intel has shown that little remains of their forces after the bombardment. We will meet little in the way of resistance when descending into that foul place.'

'Maybe not,' replied the Space Marine, 'but our surveys of the area after the bombardment has shown that the mountain stronghold is all but obliterated. All entrances to those caves will be either molten shut or will at least have completely collapsed! Let us leave them there; we have trapped them inside, they'll all die down there.'

'As tempting as that seems captain, our goal now is to stop that ritual before it can be completed. It is already infecting more and more of the Emperor's loyal soldiers on the surface of the planet. I know; I've seen it with my own...' The inquisitor let the sentence hang, as he realized the irony of his wording, the servoskull whirring and clicking, as its cogitor banks decided what to make of the unfinished phrase.

'Digging through the bedrock will prove time consuming, even if I had the resources to spare. And who knows how deep we need to go? You know it is too deep and shielded for us to teleport into.' The captain still felt uncomfortable bringing bad tidings, but it had to be said to this commendable but fanatical inquisitor. What he wanted did simply not lie within the scope of his powers right now.

'Did someone say digging through bedrock?'

The captain turned towards the new voice, both relieved at the shift in attention and annoyed at being interrupted. 'Explorator Forb,' he began, 'I am certain you have other things to attend to right now. The station is still not completely operable.'

'I have done what I could, but with my servitors destroyed or damaged, I fear no more can be done for now, without additional supplies and manpower. But I have a feeling I might be able to help you lads out there though...'

The inquisitor painfully turned towards the source of the new voice. 'Please go on dear explorator, what do you have in mind?' Even though the phrase was worded as a question, the crude voct skull was unable to produce the right intonation to make it sound like one. The squat, bearded tech understood him regardless though.

'My ship is not too far behind in the fleet. It carries a contingent of the finest Termite crawlers; we use for exploration of geological strata and ore deposits. With little effort, they can be used to carry personnel instead of ore samples, say, ten each or so. If the good captain here is willing to help us get to the surface, I can dig you a hole all the way to the molten core of this planet in a day!.

Had he been able to, the inquisitor would have smiled, 'You are surely Emperor sent, explorator. Make it so.'


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'Pathetic' spat the traitor, as his axe easily deflected the weak thrust of the inquisitor's powersword. The two were the only ones alive on the rim of the circular, massive chamber housing the monolithic object in the middle. As they exchanged blow after blow, none was able to find a weak spot in the other's defense, pitting brute force against finesse and technique. Where one lacked in strength, the other lacked in speed, as both battered and wounded combatants circled each other on the ancient, carved stones that encompassed the summoning pit.

Renit the Bloodstained's appearance by now truly lived up to his name, having slaughtered scores of black clad stormtroopers, and this now worked against him. Swinging his massive axe, the blood made the handle slip in his hand, ever so slightly changing the direction of the blow that was meant to decapitate this blind man foolish enough to face him. Instead of severing the completely bandaged head from its shoulders, the axe turned upwards and barely clipped the top of the inquisitor's head, breaking through the servoskull just behind him, shattering the large loudspeaker worked into it, and sending the morbid creation smashing into a carving of a particularly nasty daemon on the wall behind.

The swing met with a lot less resistance than Renit had expected and the momentum of his attack left him vulnerable and overstretched as the inquisitor's sword arced up towards his exposed side...

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The roar was deafening and for a moment Inquisitor Maxim Atrich almost wished the previous battle had also taken his hearing. He willed his Pict servo skulls to pan around the shuddering, cramped machine, taking in blurry images of his loyal stormtroopers, seemingly less affected by the din of the ancient subterranean craft by virtue of their enclosed helmets. A luxury he would have to do without in his present condition. It had taken all of his powers of persuasion and even the threat of pulling rank, to have the medical staff brought over from the Inquisitorial ship the Viscere Bracis Meis, release him from their care to do his duty once more.

'How long explorator?' demanded the inquisitor over the vox link. The stunted techpriest had been adamant in his request; He wanted to come along, to 'look after his babies' , as he put it, but Attrich suspected the little, stocky man was looking for an opportunity to get out of the reach of the ever demanding captain Berachus up on the orbital platform. Whatever his motives though, his help in getting them to and through the surface had been indispensable and once returned, he would surely have a letter of commendation written for the brave technician.

The answer came almost immediately. 'We'll be there in under half an hour, inquisitor. The lower strata of this particular rock formation are surprisingly soft. I would not have expected that so close to the equator in a mountain range as young as this. It must have been...'

'Right.' interrupted Atrich the geological musings of the explorator. 'Make certain you stormtroopers are ready then. We'll be moving fast once inside the complex.' Once again, the voct skull managed to imbue a certain emotion to its utterings, even audible over the crackling vox link. It sounded remarkably like disinterest to Forb. How anyone could not be thrilled by such geological enigmas was beyond him though...

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Renit watched from afar as lord Xamot lead the circle of sorcerers in the ritual on top of the monolith like island in the center of the chamber. At least fifty meters separated the round, carved column from the platform surrounding it in a perfect circle, it in turn enclosed by the sheer rock walls of the dome that made up the giant chamber. Sorcerous light flickered pale blue around the vaulted cavernous room but not even these arcane flames were able to drive all shadows away. If anything, they seemed to deepen the darkness straight over the summoning circle carved into the surface of the column. Certainly the top of the domed ceiling was no longer visible and the bottomless abyss separating the central column from the encircling pathway seemed filled with the same swirling blackness.

Chanting and weaving mystics formed the circle of which lord Xamot was part. They had been at it for hours and Renit was becoming more and more impatient. He doubted the wisdom of coming down here. It had been a gamble at best. He had returned to the surface of Antioch, after the boarding action had been successful. They had scuttled the ship and he had been glad to be out of the way of that suave Rogan. Renit relished honest combat, and a bit of dishonest combat as well, but despised the sneaky, wily ways of the renegade inquisitor that had basically handed them the White Laurel.

He had switched vessels as soon as he could, gathering some of his compatriots around him, as he made his way back to Antioc. Once there, he had found himself faced with the choice of being re-assigned to a flanking attack, sure to dig deep into the tender sides of poorly defended Imperial Guard beach heads or to be part of Warmaster Tomax Hell's sorcerous brother, Xamot's, accompanying escort, going somewhere undisclosed. Not often faced with the luxury of choice and sensing opportunity when it presented itself, it had taken Renit little time volunteering.

And now that he was here, it all seemed less important than he had imagined. Over five hours! Five hours they had been at it already and they were not showing any sign of slowing down. Again Renit questioned the wisdom of his choice, when he heard a distant rumble. Torches started to vibrate in their sconces and the pale blue light shuddered, making the deep shadows of the manmade cave seem even more alive. He cocked his head, to focus on the rumbling sound that rapidly became louder. It seemed to come from the walls.


+++

'Inquisitor, we have lost contact with crawler seven', came the garbled vox message from explorator Forb, 'I still have control over it, but the lad monitoring the controls does not respond to my calls anymore.'

'Perhaps their communication apparatus has been broken,' answered Atrich's servoskull, directly linking into the voxcaster. 'How much longer now, explorator Forb. We must be getting close.'

'Can't be more than a couple of minutes now.' Forb adjusted the dial on the Termite's built in vox caster. 'Forb to all crawlers! Make ready lads! We'll be there any second!'

In near a dozen shuddering and rambling ancient subterranean capsules, eating their way through the living rock of Antioch's equatorial mountain range, squads of elite Inquisitorial Stormtroopers did a final check of their weapons and equipment in a routinely and efficient way. They had been ready since leaving the ship for the surface of the planet but followed procedure nonetheless. Training was everything, overcame everything, and accomplished everything.


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With a howl of suddenly unrestricted driller heads, the termite came to rest after breaking through the wall of the corridor. The engine shut off, the rotating drill sections slowly losing speed, having been disengaged from the engine, now ticking over after pumping away for several hours. With a hiss, the drill head moved forward on pistons and swiveled sideways, opening the front of the crawler up for the passengers to disembark. Forb jumped down on the stone of the passageway, his servo arm settling in its place on his back. He hefted his trusty poweraxe and set out down the corridor, his assigned stormtroopers close behind, covering the hallway with their hellguns, targeting lasers shining over his head through the clouds of dust and smoke. For once he didn't mind being reminded of his smaller size; he was sure those glory boys would be pretty handy in a firefight.

As he rounded a slow bend in the corridor, he heard the distant crack of hellguns discharging. It was beginning. 'Okay lads, look sharp. We're about to get company methinks.' No sooner had he finished those words, when the deafening bark of a nearby bolter claimed the first member of his squad. Muzzle flash lighted the walls and the smoke some distance into the passageway as the lead stormtrooper fell backwards, his chest completely blown away by the exploding bolter round. As one, the entire squad fired into the haze, unphased by the explosions around them in the corridor.

Screams sounded as their hellguns claimed victims of their own, invisible in the dusty gloom of the corridor. More stormtroopers began to fall, as Forb added his barking boltpistol to bear and telemetry data began pouring in through the neural connection of his Signum. 'To the right lads! No, half a meter down! Yes, that's right now two meters to the left of those flames. Yes!' Soon, the hallway was cleared of opposition and Forb and his thinned out squad were able to see for themselves who their attackers had been.

Several Space Marines lay dead, smoldering holes in blood red ceramite armor testament to the hellguns' power. The hulking brutes were surrounded by a score of human troopers, some of which had defiled Imperial eagles still on their uniforms. Forb turned around to take in the remainder of his men. Of the nine he had started out with, only three remained after the pointblank firefight. He fervently hoped they would fare better next time, or their little foray would be over rather quick.

They advanced carefully, rounding several bends before coming up on another crawler protruding from the corridor wall. It was empty, its squad obviously already further down the hallway. Forb tried using his transmitter to seek contact with inquisitor Atrich but he only got static on their designated channel. 'Must be the copper deposits in this layer.' he muttered to himself, as he kept trying, whilst moving ever further down the corridor. A hundred meters ahead, again they discovered a termite crawler. Except this one was still closed and had advanced so far into the hallway, its adamantine drill tip almost touched the other wall. Suspecting a malfunction in the mechanism, Forb prepared for some tinkering with the machine's systems, when pushing a button on the side of the crawler set the hydraulic pistons hissing, the drill head swinging open in their direction.

Forb stepped back and sideways, making room for the drill to completely open. He ducked under the drill head and stood on the other side, the stormtroopers following suit, somewhat slower due to their greater size. As they joined Forb, they found him staring mutely at the contents of the crawler. The inside was a dripping, gory mess of blood and viscera; a barely recognizable charnel house, covered with the remains of the once human contingent that had boarded it on the surface. Bloodied interior lights flickering in a red hue, they spotted movement at the back of the compartment. Covered in the blood of his compatriots, a lone surviving member of the crawler's stormtrooper squad slowly edged forward, towards the dim, pale blue light of the hallway, slowly emerging from the dark shadows in the back of the Termite. 'Say lad, what happened here?'

'Czro khor zelo'szas ontra'jzi!' With a snarl, the blood-soaked form lunged forward, swinging a gored chainsword. As one, Forb and the remaining stormtroopers opened fire, ripping the oncoming abomination to shreds in a hail of bolter and lasfire, the body coming to a halt just inside the crawler.

'Just like the reports, sir.' said the stormtrooper sergeant behind him, speaking for the first time. For a hardened elite soldier, he sounded profoundly shaken.

'Indeed,' mused Forb. 'This is what we've come to fight down here. Let's hope the others have fared better than these poor sods.' More shots rang from further down the hallway.

'... inking up wi...rgently requesting back...own this corridor only a coup... ters...' Forb's vox stuttered garbled communications from other teams.

'Hah! There's more of us still, lads. Let's go. That way!' The squat form of the intrepid explorator moved further down the corridor towards the firefight, as the stormtroopers, throwing last glances at the carnage in the Termite followed suit.

+++

Maxim Atrich's crawler had breached the wall of the inner summoning chamber on its own, having strayed slightly off course during the long hours of tunneling down there. Upon swinging the doors open, a vicious firefight had ensued, pitting his elite stormtoopers against a duo of renegade Space Marines and dozens of traitor guardsmen. The firefight cost all of his men their lives and only the intervention of another squad of stormtroopers, coming from a side corridor had saved him from a pointless death at the hands of these unworthy but vile foes.

The continuation of the gunfight further whittled down the traitors and one of the marines went down to a boltpistol shot that owed more to luck than skill, considering the crudeness if the inquisitor's temporary optical aids. The other marine was able to reach the stormtroopers and decimated them with his fell poweraxe, casually killing the proud troopers, seemingly without effort. He made his way over to the combat, needing to round almost a quarter of the circular pathway around the pit, all the while aware of the incantation taking place in the center; his ultimate goal.

+++

Xamot was only dimly aware of the combat raging on the other side of the abyss surrounding him. The incantation proved more perilous and difficult than he had anticipated and it caused him every bit of concentration to maintain the weaving spells required for the ritual to be completed. The firefight had ceased to echo through the massive dome but flashes of light now pierced the oppressive darkness of the incantation. Annoyed, Xamot could not resist eying the source of the lightning, on the edge of his peripheral vision.

The puppet Renit was engaged in, what looked to be, a one-sided fight with a blind, lightly armored man, several servoskulls hovering and darting in and out of the combat. Strangely drawn by the fight, Xamot couldn't help but watch some more as that fool Renit overstepped and missed his opponent. The blind man seized the opening and thrust his powersword up under the traitor's arm, making him reel back, as Xamot's heightened focus registered breaking ribs and cracked armor.

Sealing his weaves and letting his acolytes momentarily take over, the chaos sorcerer walked to the edge of the platform. He could not let this meddling fool interrupt this most important of rituals. If that weakling Renit couldn't on his own, Xamot would make sure he would. Concentrating, he began to recite a well practiced combat spell, momentarily closing his eyes.

+++

Renit the Bloodstained was furious. How could he have made such an elemental mistake? Coughing up blood inside his helmet, he weaved his axe in a figure eight in front of him, to regain his composure. This blundering fool would not get the better of him and with a roar, he charged once more, flicking the sword aside with a slash of his axe and shouldering the blind inquisitor against the wall behind, repaying his sustained injury in equal measure. Cracking ribs were a pleasant indicator of the force of his impact.

The inquisitor's powersword crackled harmlessly off his shoulder pauldron, its force blunted by the momentum of Renits charge. The traitor marine took a step back and swung at the two remaining servoskulls that were providing the blind and mute inquisitor with sensory input. Shattering to the ground, the destruction of the skulls spelt death for the inquisitor, helpless now without the aid the vulnerable devices had provided.

Feeling his doom at hand, inquisitor Maxim Atrich felt nothing but grief and guilt at not being able to complete the Emperor's work, as he swung his powerweapon wildly about, in the vain hope of hitting his foe. Renit however easily stayed out of the crackling blue arcs of the sword, easily predicting each swing. Playing with his prey now, he made a swift attack, cutting off the last restraints holding the cut up bandages to the inquisitor's head.

'Let's see what you really look like, imperial lapdog.' Renit was both amused at the mutilated face staring blindly into the void and intrigued at what had caused this massive disfigurement. 'You sure are more handsome than the last inquisitor I met, you'll be glad to know. In fact, you look more touched by Chaos than he does. Are you sure you're not a renegade yourself?' Renit had always enjoyed taunting his victims and he certainly enjoyed this one.

A salvo of gunfire abruptly cut his musings short, as a horde of stormtroopers made its way around the cavern, firing into the circle of wizards in the middle. He turned to take a better look at their leader, a strange, short armored form, firing a boltpistol, disrupting the ritual in the center. As he turned, he all of a sudden felt a screaming pain exploding in his chest. He looked down, to see the blind inquisitor's powersword sticking halfway into his front plate. He looked up in the unseeing sockets in the leering skull of the senseless inquisitor and mouthed 'Bastard.'

Half falling backwards, he freed himself of the blue, crackling blade. He wanted to swing his axe at the small human form leaning against the wall, but his arms were heavy. So heavy. In a last act of defiance, he gathered all of his strength and with two hands, managed to lift his axe halfway up, just over the blind man's head. It was no swing by any account, but it was enough. Unable to hold it up any longer, the axe slipped from his hands, onto the head of the oblivious inquisitor. The axe's weight and the powered up blade did the rest, as the heavy weapon sliced cleanly through the disfigured skull, ending the inquisitor's life.

Renit fell to his knees, unable to stand any longer, his vision narrowing, blackness seeping in from the sides. All of a sudden, a searing pain hit him in the back. A force, more powerful than he had ever experienced lifted him up from the blood-soaked stones and held him in midair, as the searing pain expanded from his back to his entire body, making him feel like he was engulfed in flames.

Which he was, in some way. Xamot's spell had been completed and with surgical precision, his body was knitted back together through sorcerous healing. The spell cared neither for pain, nor for esthetics but strived for pure function. As he was lowered back to the ground, Renit felt his body was completely healed. Coarse scar tissue could be felt even inside of his body, where the powerweapon had seared his innards, but the wounds were no longer wounds, there was no internal bleeding and he felt his strength return.

He heard his master roar, 'Take them out you fool! They're killing my acolytes!' and at that he turned round to face the oncoming tide of the imperium's finest. Their leader had come rushing round while Xamot had been healing him and was almost in striking range. Renit lunged for his weapon and rolling out, he swung at the oncoming explorator with all the power he could muster.

The diminutive man, put off guard by the traitor's dive, got hit in the leg, and the massive blow, together with the slippery floor was thrown over the edge of the walkway, barely able to hang on by one hand. Renit gloatingly approached the edge of the abyss, enjoying the prospect of yet another slow kill. 'Well well, the Imperium mist be in dire straits indeed, if they have to rely on freaks and mutants to do its dirty work now.'

Renit sat on his haunches near the one hand with which Forb managed to hold on. He saw the swing come, awkwardly delivered as it was and caught the axe by its haft. He wrestled the weapon away from the outstretched hand of the explorator, who desperately clung to the edge with two hands now. Contemptuously, he threw the weapon on the floor next to him; 'crude and cumbersome, that thing. Now, this is a prope...'

The chaos marine would never finish his sentence, as the explorator's servo arm suddenly reached out and clamped itself around Renit's neck. Squeezing tight, it then swung back, pulling the traitor over the edge, over Forb's clinging form, releasing him on the lowest point of the swing. Renit's form tumbled into the black void below, the swirling black tendrils seemingly reaching out for him.

Xamot witnessed the death of his only remaining footman without emotion. All of his acolytes had been slaughtered by the imperials' lasfire. The ritual had been prematurely interrupted and his stay here should not be prolonged. He mentally released the one remaining constraint on the prepared traveling spell and disappeared in a puff of green, acrid smoke accompanied by a single lightning bolt.

+++

Warmaster Tomax Hell stood overlooking the cityscape on the balcony of his rooms high in his palace, wings folded behind his back. Strobing light could be seen in the distance, accompanied by the rumble of artillery shelling. Although it was night, a ruddy glow lighted up the city, as large parts of it were in flames. Destruction on a grand scale. On any other occasion, he would have enjoyed the spectacle. Suddenly he felt the hairs on his skin stand on end as without warning a sudden smell of ozone permeated the air behind him, in his chambers.

'Welcome back brother,' he said without turning around, 'did you succeed?'

'Only partially I fear,' came the hesitant reply, 'we were interrupted by the imperials but I have been able to glean some information on the effect that is spreading. It is also as we thought; the imperials are suffering from it as much as we do.'

The Warmaster grinned and turned around to enter his chambers, 'Tell me everything.'



Victory to Explorator Forb, may Lord Inquisitor Maxim Atrich find the Emperor's Peace


#5
Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Plague Beast)

+++

Inihilus pushed his way through milling mindless automatons. His trip to the medicae had been relatively successful, the spindly mechanised arms of the autodoc servitors had pushed and pulled at the wound in his leg with a cold disregard for the waves of pain re-knitting his nerves was causing. The sides of the gurney he'd lay upon had buckled under his massive gauntlets as he'd tried to block out the pain. He doubted whether he'd escape without the wound bearing some kind of infection, but he knew he'd heal, such was the lot of the servants of the Lord of Decay.

He collected the techadept that had become part of his retinue, albeit unwittingly. Walking together, the striding giant plague marine and the scuttling technician made their way through through the power plant to the shuttle bays. Inihilus paused and concentrated, imbuing his zombies with enough self-awareness to keep the plant functioning, cycling through the same actions they'd performed in life.

The loading bay of the Croesus lowered with a tearing groan, seemingly voicing its discontent at forced servitude. Inihilus turned to the adept; "Go, begin preparations. We are to leave this place."

No sooner had the words left his mouth when a searing agony burned through his mind, and he pitched forward, landing heavily on his left pauldron with a sound like a temple bell. The tech adept hovered around his master, caught between sycophantic concern and fear of disobedience of his orders. In the end, he succumbed to fear, seeking the sanctity of the ships systems and the familiarity of mechanisms.

In Inihilus' mind images flicked between painful clarity, and dim obscurity. He was moving through service shafts (Agranthus spaceport, he knew, the knowledge slotting into his mind like a shard of ice). Faceless Imperial uniforms crawled in slow motion, unloading men and materiel from indistinct ships as he drifted between them, unseen. He moved without effort to the fringes of the spaceport, past razorwire and chainlink fences to a camp of sorts. Here stakes had been driven into the ground, and to them were lashed bodies straining at their bonds. Eyes were rolled back into skulls, tendons bulged whip-cord tight, spittle and blood flecked every face, and as they gnawed at their lips Inihilus felt, rather than heard the language of Chaos chanted by every raw throat.

"Kry'xz hrn aahrkc, bzu'h phrr ftu kry kry'xz slz't. Axc jn'och kzuk Kry'xz hrn aahrkc! "


He could feel them entreating him, summoning him, begging him to lead them to slaughter. Then he slid again, moving to the apex of the camp, and the picture took on a painful note of discord. Here a figure in white armour moved from captive to captive, muttering litanies to the false emperor, and as she completed each one, the stubby pistol in her hand roared, incinerating a straining figure. Inihilus could feel the heat rolling not from the pistol, as he'd have expected, but from the figure itself. He'd felt something like it before....the inquisitor...but the alien memory filled him with disgust.
The voice of his patron shook the scene like a pebble dropped into a pond, coming through with more clarity than he'd ever felt before.

"You are our spear, our sword, our champion. This cannot go unanswered. Strike them from the face of this world."

The vision retreated, and Inihilus awoke with a rivulet of blood pooling from his nose to the floor. Even as he staggered to his feet, his mind was moving through battleplans, reviewing years of experience of warfare on countless worlds. A scheme selected, he pushed with his mind again (and the rivulet ran anew). From all through the complex abominations poured. Zombies, plaguebearers, nurglings, the dead, the near dead, and the unholy. For all their shambolic diseased bulk, they trooped into the cavernous holds of the Croesus with military precision. Turning on his heel, Inihilus strode up the loading ramp. It whined closed, and the Croesus lifted off its berth, arrowing towards the spaceport.

+++

#6
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Teufelskerl)

+++

Sergeant Karlsson led his men in trying to push the disabled Chimera off the road. Wisps of smoke billowing from underneath it's chassis, it made faint grinding noises from somewhere inside it, but it's machine spirit was unable to move itself now, leaving the men of the 88th Brigage to try to move it's iron bulk.

Perhaps, thought Karlsson, this foul place had even begun to contaminate our tanks. "C'mon you mucks! The artillery can't get through unless we get this buggy out of the way!"

The squad heaved again, grunting with the effort of moving tons of metal. With a sudden squeal, the Chimera lunged forward and to the side of the road, almost throwing Karlsson and some others to their knees. Looking up, Karlsson was almost blinded by a vision in white.

A woman dressed in the white battle armour of a Sister stood behind the Chimera brushing the dust from the palms of her gauntlets. For a long second, Sergeant Karlsson couldn't place what it was that seemed so striking about her, but finally realized that she was the first thing he had seen since arriving on this farsaken planet that seemed clean, that still seemed pure. From the smoothness of her face, Karlsson would have thought her to be a young girl had it not been for the gunmetal grey of her hair. He didn't know how the Sisters showed their rank, but it wasn't obvious like the bars he wore on his sleeve. She certainly outranked he or any of his men though, and needed to be shown the highest respect.

Brushing his dirty hands on to the legs of his filthy uniform, he called, "Sister! Thank you for your assistance. If you hadn't happened by we would have been stuck here for at least another hour."

Turning her gaze on him, he was struck full force by the power of her attention. Her aura was breathtaking, as if the full force of the sun had been turned on him during a cloudy day. Karlsson suddenly felt as self-concious as the time he'd had to stand in front of the schola's Director to answer for having stolen an apple from the neighboring farm trees. Even though he hadn't been the one to take the apple, he'd felt as if the Director could see into his very soul to search for any guilt.

The coldness in his stomach was taken away though by the warmth of her voice when she spoke. "Sergeant. Are these your men? A fine looking lot of the Emperor's soldiers you have."

Karlsson hesitated. Fine looking? He glanced around at his men. Neither Karlsson or his men had been clean since they appeared in-system, and having to march through the foul chaos-torn landscape had only been making it worse. Perhaps she was being sarcastic?

"Sister - I apologize for the state of our uniforms, but we've seen action pretty much as soon-"

"I'm not speaking of your uniforms, Sergeant. When the Emperor calls upon us to face the Enemy, it is natural that their foulness stains our garb; there is no dishonor in that." Turning to one of Karlsson's men who had drawn into a group nearby, she gestured to Private Ulfric. "You there, soldier, come here."

Ulfric's eyes widened to have been singled out, and hesitantly stepped towards the Sister. Turning back to Karlsson, the Sister said, "You can judge the worth of a soldier through how he maintains the Emperor's weapons. Soldier, present your rifle."

Snapping to attention under the Sisters close gaze, Ulfric pulled his rifle around and off his back. He finished in a Present Arms with a precision that Karlsson hadn't seen since Ulfric had first joined the 88th.

"There, Sergeant." The Sister said, pointing to Private Ulfric's Lasgun. "Despite the dirt that may be on his uniform, his face, or his hands, do you see any on his weapon?"

"No Sister, I don't."

"And there is how I know you and your unit are faithful servants of the Empire. The care to a weapon shows the worth of a soldier, the soldier shows the worth of his commanding officers, the commanding officers show the worth of the army, and the army shows the worth of the Empire. You are the Emperor's soldiers, and good soldiers, one and all."

Karlsson couldn't have imagined feeling prouder than at that moment; it was almost as if he'd receive the personal blessing of the Emperor himself.

"Canoness!" came a shout. From around the Chimera came another Sister, dressed in white power armour as well. "The call has come from ahead! There's been contact." The grey haired Sister nodded, "Then we will move to meet them. Bring my Immolator."

Turning back to Karlsson, she smiled and gave a brief nod. "Sergeant. The Emperor's blessing be upon you. Bring fire and death to the Enemy."

"Thank you Sister! The Emperor protect you."

A column of armour rumbled up and the grey-haired Sister climbed into a modified Rhino who's white sides had been emblazoned with paintings of saints and the golden symbol of the Sisters. Karlsson stood watching the tanks move off until they'd been obscured by the dust. Although he did not know the Sisters name, he knew that he would remember this day for a long time.

+++

#7
Aurelius Rex

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Unfinished Business
(Author: Commissar Molotov)


Sergeant Fautor studied the auspex in his hand. An explosion of lights flared across the device's screen. He nodded to himself, his suspicions satisfied, and put away the auspex before unsheathing his chainsword and preparing to thumb the activation rune. Just two hours beforehand he and his squad had been fighting in one of the tertiary uni-matrices against the forces of a Tzeentchian Warp-witch; that was until Captain Golgotha had recalled them immediately. It went against everything he knew to allow such an abomination to continue unmolested, but this task was of greater importance. They had... unfinished business that had to conclude here, in the Chernobium Generatorium.

"It's here. I sensed the creature's warp-taint." Inquisitor Holst's face was hidden by the helm of her ornately-crafted power armour, but Fautor could hear the slight trepidation in her voice.

"Something is here, at least." he clarified.

"Then let's get in there and find it." Fautor didn't need to be a witch to hear Golgotha's impatience and irritation. He knew that the Captain wasn't happy to be torn away from the main focus of the Crusade. He knew that Golgotha wasn't happy to come face to face with the thing, especially given the injuries he'd suffered the last time.

Fautor's Squad moved with Holst and Golgotha; the other two squads of Marines took different paths through the dank corridors of the Generatorium complex. As they moved, he studied the whitewashed walls, examining the signs and symbol-notices, trying to orient himself with the schematics he'd studied of the base whilst on the Thunderhawk. The place was oppressively, ominously quiet. As quiet as the grave. The heavy bulk of machinery loomed everywhere. Everything was coated in thick dust and thicker ichor. The disgusting touch of Chaos.

The silence was broken soon enough; the staccato bursts of bolter-fire echoed through the hallways as Baruch's under-barrel light illuminated the necrotic hordes shuffling towards them. Fautor didn't waste his time shouting useless orders; he knew that his squad well enough to know their actions. True to form, the Marines presented a disciplined wall of fire; Marakov was taking his time with exquisite head-shots. Much to the Execrator's chargrin, however, the walking corpses didn't seem too inconvenienced.


"Something's wrong!" Holst cried out. Fautor saw Captain Golgotha turn towards the Inquisitor out of the corner of his eye.

"That much is obvious, Madam Inquisitor." He said, languidly snapping off a string of shots that scythed through the zombies.

"The creature. It's not here."

"Not here?" Golgotha seemed on the precipice between disbelief and outrage. "Then where is it?"

The Inquisitor's response was drowned out by a shout from one of Fautor's squad. The Sergeant turned to follow the Marine's outstretched hand. He fought for a moment to prevent shock and primal terror from consuming his conscious mind as a writhing stream of maggots, burning pus and rotting blood began to pour from the walls. He saw the metal floor begin to warp, shifting into an awful quagmire. This pox-ridden torrent was unnerving - no more so than when human forms began to grow from the foul slurry. The Bearers of Plague.

"This place is changing. The God of Decay is growing in strength here." Golgotha was matter-of-fact, as though nothing could phase him. "Sergeant Fautor, take the Inquisitor and your Squad and get out of this place. Do whatever it takes, but find the creature and kill it."

Fautor knew it would be futile to disagree with the Scion once his mind was made up - he nodded curtly, checking his bolter and getting ready to fight his way out of the Generatorium. He motioned for Baruch and Marakov to lead the way, then the Lady Inquisitor.

As they ran through the hallways, putrescent filth splashing with their foot-falls, he heard the roar of an Apollyon-pattern Chainsword.

+++

Captain Symes moved carefully, the autopistol braced in both hands, following the movement of his eyes as he waded through the sewer-tunnels' ankle-deep effluent. Behind him, a team of his best combat engineers, flashlights and under-muzzle torches bobbing as they followed him.

This far beneath the Agranthus Memorial Spaceport, the noise of the colossal ships landing was muffled. The base had quickly become the single-most vital facility on the planet. If Chaos could dislodge the Guard from the port, their supply-lines would be cut and the Arch-Enemy would be victorious. Every Guardsman in the Mordian Eighty-First Regiment knew the importance of their role; Colonel Welker had subjected them to many lectures. But only a few were down in the tunnels, experiencing the war first-hand. The regiment had only been planet-side for half a day, but there had already been a number of running skirmishes as Symes' men had repulsed disorganised cultist hordes - and worse.

Symes stopped suddenly as his torch-light played across a bunch of figures. Plague zombies, feasting on the innards of what appeared to be the body of a Chaos Cultist. As the Mordians stopped, the zombies turned their scabrous heads to face them, their clouded eyes fixing upon them in a mockery of sight. Unintelligible moans issued from gaping mouths as the zombies were enticed by the prospect of fresh meat. They moved dumbly forward; Symes noticed with horror that these unnatural creatures still wore the fatigues and flak armour of Imperial Guardsmen. The ripped and torn fabric just covered the rotting flesh and discoloured bones. He recognised them as Elysian Drop-troops.

Spittle hung in thick strands from their lolling jaws as they shambled forward. Symes' jaw set hard as he was overcome by an instinctual hatred. He despised the warping touch of chaos, that unnatural foulness that had once threatened to claim Mordian and now coveted Antioc. He raised his autopistol fluidly, snapping off a shot that shattered the skull of the lead zombie in a shower of blood, brain and bone. The headless corpse stumbled on a few steps further before dropping into the dirty water, convulsing jerkily.

The Combat Engineers' weapons snapped up. They might be covered in filth and foulness, but they were still Mordians. They were the best the Guard had to offer. Their parade-ground precision showed as the lasguns fired and the dank tunnel was consumed by the Emperor's light.

+++

#8
Aurelius Rex

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Round 2, Battle 2.
Canoness Betiand Veronika vs. Inihilus (Red Corsairs)

(Author: Commissar Molotov)

The explosions tore apart the Canoness' dreams. Before she was even consciously aware of it, she had drawn the Malleus Pietae and thumbed the activation rune, coils of energy wreathing the sacred hammer-head. She moved quickly from her tent, keeping low as gunfire filled the air. She recognised the thunderclap explosions of bolter-fire from her many years in the Emperor's service, but she couldn't discern whether they belonged to her Battle-Sisters or to whoever was attacking the Spaceport.

The night had been turned into a mockery of daylight, the burning hydra flak emplacements seeming almost like funeral pyres. The Canoness felt a sinking sensation as she realised the Spaceport was now totally unable to defend itself against enemy airpower. That sinking sensation soon transmuted into a burning rage. How dare the Defilers strike the Righteous here, in their stronghold? The insult would be repaid threefold in blood.

The camp was full of the restless undead; the Canoness scythed through hordes of the shambling corpses, returning them to true death with a prayer on her lips. The part of her brain not engged in fighting the interlopers knew that the Mordian Guardsmen would be readying themselves to combat the enemy. It was the duty of her and her Battle-Sisters to delay the Arch-Enemy until the Guardsmen could commit themselves to the fray.

That was when she saw him. A terrifying giant, a full three heads taller than her, wreathed in baroque power armour, cutting through her beloved Sisters. A mockery of the Adeptus Astartes; a mockery of the Imperium. She knew instinctively that this was the monster responsible for this carnage.

"Your pestilence defiles my presence! Renounce your sins and be purified!" She shouted.

+++

Inihilus paused, letting the mangled bodies of the Sisters drop to his feet. He inclined his head towards the Canoness, almost quizzically. It was a look of almost callous disregard, as one might observe an insect.

"It is a matter of faith, Sister." He said, a voice of tremendous power issuing forth from cracked vocal chords. "I wish I had your luxury of simply believing in my Gods, but I am a living instrument of their will."

"Cease your blasphemy and submit to His judgement!" she screamed. Inihilus found himself growing bored with the same unceasing, tired rhetoric. He hefted his Plague-sword, preparing to finish her off.

"Come, then, Sister..."

He charged towards the Sororitas, his power-armoured footfalls shaking the ground. The Canoness wasted no time, raising her Inferno Pistol and depressing the trigger. There was the terrible hissing sound, and then it hit him. A searing white-hot agony as half of his abdomen dissolved away in super-heated mist. He roared in pain, his enhanced physique already trying to overcome the searing wound. He had endured worse than this before, and he would not let it stop him.

He thought wryly that this insect could sting.

+++

The Canoness could feel righteous outrage consuming her with the spirit of countless Martyrs. Her anger, her disgust seemed to build up into a blinding corona of heat. How could he still dare to live, to breathe? She would put an end to his heresy. He might have the power and strength of the Astartes, but she had the purity of the Emperor, and He would see her through. She brought up the Malleus Pietae, the holy blade clashing with the diseased weapon of the traitor.

+++

The two warriors exchanged a stunning series of blows as weapon locked against weapon, sparks like molten gold fluttering to the ground. Inihilus was stunned by the Woman's skill. His arrogance began to falter, replaced by a steadfast determination to put the bitch into the ground once and for all - or perhaps to raise her as another servant of the Plague-God. The irony of the pure being defiled had never been lost on him.

But the end seemed to loom low over the horizon. Sticky blood and black ichor had filled the gaping hole in his chest cavity, and it was surely due to the blessing of his patrons that he continued to fight, but he was growing tired. His muscles felt leaden, his plague-sword not dancing with his customary skill and precision. The Battle-Sister was easily turning away his clumsy blows, tiring him out and preparing for the inevitable end. Every nerve and sinew in his body screamed for his Lord to help him. His powers seemed to have deserted him - or had they been stripped from him, now he no longer served to amuse his Master?

Inhilius, for the first time in over ten millennia, suddenly felt incredibly alone.

+++

With a cry, Canoness Betiand Veronika swung the Malleus Pietae. She could feel the Emperor guiding her as the blessed hammer struck the traitor's breastplate, the ceramite cracking and splintering as he was thrown through the air, coming to a stop in a crumpled heap several feet away. Still. Dead.

The Canoness said nothing, turning and heading for the closest sounds of mayhem. This spaceport must be cleansed of the filth that assailed it.

+++

Inihilus found himself once more upon the eternal plain. Everything shone from within, a sickly green light that turned solids transparent. Everything seemed malleable here, wreathed in smoke. Wispy tendrils assailed him, and he felt the touch of other minds, other memories. This nightmare land was the realm of his Lord, Nurgle. The acrid stench of death assailed his nostrils, a welcome and familiar smell that hung in the foetid air.

"You have failed, once again."

Inhilius turned to suddenly find himself in a mockery of an Imperial Cathedral, although the walls bucked, pulsing almost as with his own heartbeat. The pews were overturned, the Imperial Aquila cracked and cast down. The stained glass windows were blown out. He stood face-to-face with one of the Plague Bearers. Its voice was harsh, yet sibliant. A whisper, yet a chorus of a thousand suffering.

"I'm tired of this. I chose you for a reason, yet you fail me; you thwart my designs."

"My Lord..." Inihilius began. He knew it was a dangerous thing to displease a God.

"Silence." The Plague-bearer's appearance began to change, to warp. First to the Lion, the Primarch that had betrayed them so. Luther, Tomax Hell, Lufgt Huron, the hated Fautor, the Bitch-Inquisitor, the Battle-Sister. Inhilius clutched his head as pain wracked his brain. There was something wrong here. "I lied to you, Inihilius. I let you believe you had won; that you had driven me from you. It was easier, it drained less of my power. I had no patience for a constant battle of wills; I played to your boundless arrogance. You only had to succeed and I would be able to continue my plans. And yet you FAIL!"

Inihilus collapsed to his knees, the import of this information pressing down on the edges of his mind, his synapses firing crazily. He had been so sure that the alien was gone from his mind. That his lord Nurgle had spared him from a fate... a fate worse than death. Every word from the alien's shifting maw seemed to be a psychic nail driven into his skull.

"I have lost my patience, Inihilius. I use you because taking a new host would drain far too much of my power. We will continue with my plans. This time, however, you will be an unwilling observer..."

Inihilus found his body floating to the cathedral's ceiling. He fought with every muscle in his rapidly regenerating body, but it was useless. His eyes were drawn upwards towards the mural that adorned the arched ceiling. The artistry and fine detail were shocking. Although faded with great age, and chipped here and there, the image was still starkly recognisable to his eyes; the Emperor facing down Horus, His golden sword pointed accusingly at the infamous traitor and His bright eyes literally glinting like azure jewels. As he was pulled up, through, into the scene he found himself engulfed in a horrific laughter he'd always attributed to his former master...

+++

The faintest light began to creep into the edges of their vision. They opened their eyes and screwed them shut again as the pain blossomed inside their head. More than anything, Inihilus wanted to be unconscious once more. But he wasn't in control. He could feel their fingers twitching as the Keeper became accustomed to a physical body once more.

The Spaceport's sirens were like a choir screaming out-of-key and the blazing gun-emplacements seemed to taint everything with shades of orange. The dirty, soot-smeared rain streaked from the sky, and their corrupted lungs were filled with the smell of death. What was wrong? Something was wrong. Inihilus could feel the Keeper, in his mind. It was curled in on itself, mental spikes raised like a vicious animal. Inihilus felt a creeping dread as he realised the alien was scared. Scared. What would scare it?

Their eyes focused on two silhouettes in the fire-light. Two figures that were all-too-familiar.

"No..." They tried to move, to struggle, to reach for the bolt pistol, the plague-sword, anything. They had to fight. But then suddenly, one of the silhouettes moved, a huge power-armoured foot slamming down on their hand. They screamed in pain, in anger, in hate as the burning light illuminated the features of Fautor.

"You won't escape this time, Keeper." the voice of Inquisitor Embeth Holst was composed, calm. They could feel the psychic radiance emanating from her, like a cyclonic missile primed and ready to crush them.

Inihilus felt the pressure on their - on his mind easing. Why? He could feel the Keeper readying, preparing to jump to another mind. To abandon him to this death?! He would not allow that. Ten thousand years of bitterness welled up inside him. If he was dying, he'd take the bastard alien with him to the grave. To the multitudinous hells of Chaos, if it came to it. Inside his mind, he grabbed hold of the Keeper's form, the quills impaling him, blood spilling forth. He grappled with it, determined not to let it go. If it wanted their union so badly, it would have it - forever. It hurt. Of course it hurt. His entire existence had always been pain and betrayal. But he took satisfaction from this pain. He would ensure this Keeper suffered for everything he had endured, once and for all.

He saw the muzzle of Fautor's bolter, and despite himself, he smiled.

Victory to Canoness Betiand Veronika of the Order of the Sacred Rose

#9
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Aurelius Rex)

+++

On the Command hololith the area surrounding the generatorum had been dark; a black hole which Crusade forces went into, but never returned. Here on the ground it was easy to see what had swallowed up the Howling Griffons, Angels of the Lion, Elysians and Black Dragons before them. Captain Golgotha and his squads had been pressed back into an ever-tightening ring by the tireless hordes of the Plague-God, but at least they had been able to buy time for the Inquisitor Holst and her bodyguard to reach the Thunderhawk.

Golgotha had total faith in Fautor and his men to see their mission at the spaceport through, but now it was time to consider their own escape.

'Dao, Renfrew, Tenges, Morrow, Upala!' he shouted, 'Switch to Inferno ammunition. Target the plaguebearers and burn out the infection. Rhadamanthys, plot us the best way out of here if you would. Everyone else, I want to see single headshots on those zombies... We are the Legio - The elite! Anyone wasting the Emperor's ammunition will be sent out there to ask for it back!'

Confidence now was the key. Doubt and fatalism would drag them down into the slime and devour them as surely as the creatures massing just out of sight. And it seemed to work, as around him power-armoured shoulders became less hunched and fire discipline sharpened.

The facility was skewed out of true; honest, sharp lines of rockrete and metal softened and warped under ribbed layers of necrotic organic residue. It brought to mind the mission above Tiris, when they had boarded the bio-ships of the Hive Mind. Their vessel had been struck down by some kind of phage and was decomposing in a similar way. It was barely conceivable that anything could live in such a highly radioactive area, but it seemed that where the Plague God was involved, life, decay and death all became interchangeable.

A trio of vaguely humanoid forms pressed their way out of the floor and walls, as though extruded from the slime itself. The Apollyon screeched in protest as it chewed into the diseased things, which writhed, lost cohesion and sank back into the mire.

'Sir, auspex returns are as compromised as the comms,' shouted Rhadamanthys over the roar of bolter-fire, 'but unless the layout has radically changed, heading due north and then skirting the containment tanks to the perimeter fence is our best option.'

+++

'Movement.' Weissmann raised his eye to the lens of the sniper-sight and zeroed in.

Their position in the wooded hills above the generatorum complex gave an excellent vantage-point, but there was still so much dead space. The Legio Thunderhawk had departed, and for whatever reason their target had not been among the troops to board. The scope filled with the image of a shambling, walking corpse.

'Well? Is it him?' whispered Sergeant Kreutzmann anxiously.

'False alarm... Plague zombie.' Weissmann was about to lower the weapon when the creature's head blossomed soundlessly, and the cadaver dropped jerkily to its knees. A bolter-round. He had seen enough headshots in his time to recognise the effect from a mile away. Or in this case three miles away. Weissmann smiled, knowing that the Legio would not be far away. The scope tracked back and forth until at last it alighted upon a group of black armoured figures.

He tracked them for several minutes to be certain, then called out softly to Kreutzmann. 'Seventeen Legio Astartes, including Golgotha. They are heading north towards the containment tanks.'

At this the entire force of marines, all fifty-two of them broke cover, and stealthily made their way down the incline to the generatorum complex. Only with difficulty was Weissmann able to catch up with Sergeant Kreutzmann as he was about to put on his helmet.

'Gregr, wait. This seems... wrong. Are you sure about -' The haunted look in Kreutzmann's eyes shocked the former scout sergeant to silence. They all knew the enormity of the path they had embarked upon.

None of them would have chosen this, but it was for the honour of the Order Encarmine.

+++

On the long, hard slog north, it was clear that the taint was spreading. When they had landed less than an hour ago the outsides of the buildings had been covered with no more than the usual grime and corrosion than would be expected in such a polluted atmosphere. Now though, fractal patterns of black, algal slime were evident, and the drains in the roads were overflowing with the same necrotic filth that had been so prevalent at the centre of the complex. At least they seemed to have left most of the walking corpses behind. Straggling groups of twos and threes were dropped with little effort; single headshots of course. Not through choice, or pride; the firefight to break out of the central complex had been so intense that they had but a handful of bolt-rounds left each.

Golgotha wished that Kruitzfeldt were here with him. The Epistolary had a far better frame of reference in dealing with warp-craft, but he had heard enough Librarium reports on the situation to know that whatever Tomax Hell was doing was dangerously weakening the boundaries between the aetheric and the physical plane. Whatever their quarry had done here, consciously or not, had planted a seed that had taken root and was being fed by the distortions in the Immaterium.

Perhaps Kruitzfeldt would have been able to suture the tear closed with his mind. Then again, perhaps not. Either way, he was not here; he was under deep sedation in high orbit aboard their Strike Cruiser, which meant that it fell to Golgotha to stop it from spreading.

Well, to hell with what the Mechanicus may say, and to hell with the dangers of fallout. As soon as they were out of the radius of the communications blackout, Golgotha fully intended to order the fleet to bombard the site from orbit until nothing remained but a series of faintly glowing craters. He was going to see the reactor and anything else within blast range decommissioned on a permanent basis, and pray that the explosion didn't widen the rift any further.

The bulk of the containment tanks lay to their left, and beyond the ragged layers of the perimeter fence. His mind drifted back to Alcmene, and the communications blackout that had been used to trap him and his squad. The memory was an open wound, raw and bloody... but not the kind of thing to dwell upon in such a place, or at such a time.

Why would the Warmaster do this? Too many things didn't add up. Averting the rite below the mountain fortress hadn't stopped the effect, and if anything the incidence of insanity and 'possession' had risen in the twelve hours since the assault. A Forgeworld like Antioc couldn't possibly effectively supply his forces under such conditions. He would have adjudged it a perverse defensive mechanism that had got out of hand, had he not witnessed the effects in action days before the Crusade fleet had even arrived in orbit.

A sound of tearing metal snapped him back, and to their left a river of glutinous filth began to pour from the containment tanks. Struggling to be born from the mess were scores and scores of unmistakably daemonic figures. An army of plaguebearers.

'Get to the perimeter fence.' Golgotha shouted. 'Now!' He looked up towards the ragged fence to see black and red armoured figures moving through the gloom... Order Encarmine renegades!

Then everything was drowned out by the howl of bolterfire.

+++

#10
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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Round 2, Battle 3.
Sigismund Pain, Aspiring Champion of the World Eaters vs. Sergeant Sigrat of the Legio
(Author: Daeothar)

From orbit, the massive, swirling red clouds of dust and ash were stunningly beautiful. The enormous storm raging over the ash wastes was decidedly less attractive when on the ground though. With wind speeds high enough to topple over vehicles and destroy buildings, it spelled death for the numerous traitor guard troopers dug in around the major airfield of the Chaos forces. Towering walls of toxic ash washed over the defenders, blinding all eyes, making it impossible to see more than a few meters ahead, choking up filter masks and engines, jamming weapons and turning everything a dirty, ruddy colour.

The numerous Hell Talons and Hell Blades were grounded in the blinding, choking hurricanes, forced to cease their harrying of the Imperial landing forces. The only bright side to that was they got much needed time to refuel and do maintenance, after their almost continuous action in the days before. One advantage of the storms was that they affected both sides in equal measure, ensuring no Imperial fighters or bombers could reach them either. And with the cover of the storm, the field was relatively secure from orbital lance strikes as well.

Sigismund Pain strode through the storm as if unaffected, checking both the defences of the complex and its defenders. Its defenders maybe even more closely, as morale had been dropping with each passing hour the storms endured and he had little faith in the weaklings left under his command. Executing some as an example had gotten them to shape up at least. The battles had been fierce, much to his liking but they had been costly. Only two of his compatriots remained. Battle brothers of untold years had died at the hands of weak upstart loyalists. Pitiful, pale reflections of the true Astartes they had killed. But each victim was a sacrifice, each drop of spilt blood a gift dedicated to the Blood god and his brethren had been more than worthy offerings.

He had tasked his two remaining World Eaters with supervising the two opposite points of the triangular stretch of levelled ground that contained the airfield they were guarding. With them, they had a hundred expendable guardsmen each. He himself commanded the remaining three hundred dug in on the easternmost side of the complex. The most likely avenue of attack for the loyalist forces.

He caressed the fresh skulls hung from their scalps on his belt. So long had he fought his true calling. So long he had denied himself the ecstasy of true slaughter but no more. Inside his helmet, shielded from the slashing red storm, he threw his head back and laughed out loud as the whispering voices in his head repeated his new mantra over and over again, Khor ha'ontra'jzem, Khor ha'ontra'jzem, Khor ha'ontra'jzem...

+++

The Rhino lurched and slewed its way through the uneven terrain of the ash wastes. The raging storm outside not helping to smoothen the ride. Sigrat sat calmly against the inner bulkhead separating the Rhino's crew from him and his squad. The internal speaker crackled, 'Get ready boys, we're almost there.' With a last growl of its engines, the Rhino dug into a steep hill of ash and came to a stop.

'This is as far as we go sergeant.' came the tinny voice through the speaker, 'Any nearer and their scanners might pick us up, spoiling the surprise, eh?'

Some of the chapters out there just did not know how to behave properly. Sigrat stood up and donned his helmet. 'Please accept our gratitude for your aid in transporting us so near our goal brother.' he said, picking up his bolter and making his way through the cramped space of the Rhino compartment towards the door.

'Nah, don't mention it. We were in the neighbourhood anyhow.' came the nonchalant reply.

The door hinged down and Sigrat ordered his squad out, himself the first down the ramp. The full magnitude of the storm now dawned on him, as all its brutal force now directly hit him, almost pushing him back towards the Rhino. His men fared no better, initially surprised by the sheer force they had to overcome to just stand in their place. The last of the marines out, the rear hatch of the Rhino closed again.

Sigrat, having found renewed confidence in himself and his squad after their first blooding on the traitor vessel, led them towards their pre assigned waypoint. They had disembarked almost two kilometres away from the dug in positions of the traitor forces. They were only one of many squads deployed in such a fashion, several chapters taking place in the capture of the Chaos airbase, as well as several hundred guardsmen of different regiments. Not ten meters from the Rhino, Sigrat turned to look a last time at it and already found it difficult to discern its bright orange hull through the slashing red swirls of ash and dust.

Inside the Rhino's crew compartment, the driver squinted through the view port at the disappearing marines; 'Zealous lot, aren't they?' He sat back and retrieved a half empty bottle from under his seat. He took a swig and held it out to his squad mate next to him, 'I guess we'll be here a while. Rum?'

+++

The sharp cracks of firing lasguns were hardly audible over the howling of the storm, but Sigismund Pain finally identified the characteristic sound. No sooner had he located its approximate location, when the unmistakable roar of bolter fire erupted not far from it. He howled with pleasure as he leapt over the trenches of the lesser humans, cowardly hiding behind sandbags and earthen mounds. To charge the enemy and to slay him in hand to hand combat, that was fighting. Not cowering at a distance and shooting foes from afar. There was no honour in that. No. There was no bloody offering in that. As he ran blindly towards the sound of bolters firing off to his side, he spied the first blue armour through the haze of swirling ash and swung back his massive axe.

The Ultramarine was oblivious to the crazed fury coming at him from his side, focussed as he was on the faint beams of laser light, visible in the sweeping clouds of dust. The axe cleaved at an angle through the neck of the loyal marine, severing his head and part of his upper torso from the rest of his body, as his hands still held the bolter, firing at full auto. The spray of bolts took down two other marines, whilst Pain swung his axe at his next victim.

+++

Sigrat heard weapons fire all around him now, even though he could not see it. They had been trudging through the ash and dust of the plains in the raging storm virtually blind. The only indication they were still on course was the rangefinder of his helmet display, showing him they were but meters from the suspected enemy positions. He tirelessly advanced, ahead of his squad now, keen on leading them to victory once more. And all of a sudden his footing gave way, as he crested another low mound of dust. He stumbled, futily trying to find a solid surface and fell down into a deep trench, on top of a surprised guardsman.

The traitor died from the impact, crushed beneath the weight of a superhuman warrior and his heavy ceramite suit of armour. The traitor's comrade though, was spared the crushing weight of the space marine sergeant. In utmost terror, he backed away crawling from the tangled mess that was his erstwhile fellow traitor and the Astartes come to kill them all. His frantic hands found the detonator that formed the focus of their task here and fighting the numbing fear of a man knowing his death is near, depressed the trigger.

A series of deafening explosions rang out over Sigrat's head, cries of surprise and pain following seconds later. He finally managed to stand up and kicked the paralysed renegade in the head, ending his pitiful, traitorous existence, detonator still in hand. Gathering his bearings, he ignored the ringing in his ears, straightened up and looked over the edge of the trench, being significantly larger than the men that had dug it. The sight appalled him. Of the squad he had so proudly led, only mangled, torn forms remained. All seven of his men had been blasted by the point-blank force of the hidden mines the dead traitor had detonated. None lived, Sigrat saw in an instant, and grief overcame him.

His first command. It wasn't supposed to be like this. He had failed his chapter, had failed his brethren by being overzealous. Overcome with grief, Sigrat knelt down, bowed his head and solemnly swore to atone for his failure. He would repay the debt the death of his men had created and honour his chapter, so that one day, he could hold his head up high once more. He finished the Litany of Eternal Atonement and rose once more. The first step would be to complete his mission and scour this planet of these foul traitors. Anger rose in him as he thought about those that had killed his men and with renewed resolve, Sigrat gripped his weapons and clambered out of the trench on the other side, while the battle raged all around him, unseen in the raging, red dust storm.

+++

Pain had dispatched the squad of Ultramarines with no difficulty, tasting absolute joy as he mauled and maimed the weak loyalists. They had been no match for his fury, the sergeant offering no real challenge either. Pain had taken off his sword arm with laughable ease had watched with glee as the marine, overcome with shock bled for the Blood god. He had attempted to come at Pain once more, but suddenly bored, Pain had simply beheaded him and had stalked off, in search of a real challenge.

The storm seemed to lessen as the World Eater made his way along the perimeter of the airfield, taking down everything he came across, be it loyalist or traitor guard. He met no more marines and he was starting to believe no more real challenges would come his way that day. Then a large explosion somewhere ahead caught his attention. The setting off of those charges meant that the perimeter was broken and some blood worthy of Khorne might be ahead. He felt a surge of anticipation as he ran towards the source of the blast, not even aware he was roaring at the top of his lungs.

+++


'Khor ha'ontra'jzem! Khor n'akritzji bfarkz trychtrz na'fuul!

Sigrat turned towards the frantic, rambling voice behind him and instinctively raised his combiweapon and let go with a melta charge. The superheated beam seared and burnt the swirling dust and ash in its trajectory before disappearing into the clouds. Unseen to Sigrat though, the beam singed the right greave of Sigismund Pain's armour. Ancient ceramite vaporised, leaving a gaping hole in the armoured leg's side but leaving the superhuman flesh inside untouched.

Pain did not register the hit to his leg, overcome as he was with the rage bestowed upon him by his new, and only, master. The touch of Khorne surged through his body and his blood sang with the anticipation of battle. He did not see his foe, but leaving control of his body to the driving force of rage, he swung his axe two-handed over his head and leapt up, through the raging red storm.

Sigrat barely had time to bring his sword up, as the raging madman suddenly appeared in mid jump from the red haze of the dust storm, swinging his axe down towards Sigrat's head. Power sword met thirsting axe and the impact, enhanced by the World Eater's descending body mass threw the space marine sergeant to the ground. Still enraged by his recent loss however, Sigrat was able to parry all attacks, seemingly coming in from all sides. He felt his rage growing and found the power to, even from a sitting position, force the bloodstained traitor marine back far enough for him to stand up again.

Pain saw the fire burning in the eyes of his opponent and recognised the rage. This might prove entertaining after all. He willed the power taking over, to back up and regained partial control over his actions, allowing the fallen marine to stand up once more before hitting him with full force in the shoulder. Yes; this might be very entertaining...

The enraged sergeant didn't even notice getting hit. He had never known he possessed such skill with the blade, the powered weapon almost a blur in the lightening haze of the storm dying down. He felt all powerful, driving the traitor back and feigning a high attack, supernaturally fast spinning his blade in a downward thrust, stabbing the World Eater in the chest.

Sigismund Pain registered the hit, which luckily was not delivered with enough force, with barely contained anger. Backing up a bit to make things more sporting was one thing but getting hit was not part of the plan and with renewed fury, he swung his axe at his opponent, thirsting for blood.

As the renegade marine attacked him with renewed fury, Sigrat's perception narrowed, as whispering words wormed their way into his mind. Fighting the incomprehensible words forming in his thoughts, he strained to meet his opponent's skill in battle. Gone were his confidence, his faith and his pride; he only felt rage as the blows kept landing, with him barely able to parry the flurry of axe swings. Concentrating once again on the battle outside, as opposed to inside his mind, he was able to stand his ground and strike back at his opponent but he felt his mind slipping.

Pain fended off his opponent's attacks but parrying one particular vicious swing to his head left him open to a strike from the left. The loyalist's sword swung left and then held there for the shortest of moments. But it was enough for the worshipper of Khorne. He whirled around, his axe in his outstretched hand carving towards the neck of the marine. The loyalist's face had gone blank, showing only the whites of his eyes, as he uttered 'Khor ontra...' and the swing of the axe decapitated him.

+++

Sigismund Pain stood overlooking the plain before him. He stood on the very edge of the airfield, the clouds of ash and dust slowly dissipating mere kilometres away. In the clear air between him and the storm, the last of the imperial dogs were being put down by his troops. Their assault had failed miserably. He touched the skulls hung from his belt with one hand, holding that of his latest offering to Khorne, still slick with blood, in the other. It had been a good fight and he could feel the pull of his deity strengthen with each victory, with each skull he claimed. And he slowly cared less and less. For the first time in days, the sun broke through the dust clouds above and as he looked up to the blue grey sky, visible through the red haze, a flight of three Hell Talons came screaming deafeningly overhead, taking off from the airfield...


Victory to Sigismund Pain of the World Eaters

#11
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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Round 2, Battle 4
Executor Calcraft vs Rogue Inquisitor Rogan and Warsmith Oudo of the Iron Warriors

(Author: Ferrata)

+++

The ground shuddered as the immense foot of a titan smashed into the ground. Even through his armours shock absorption systems, Brother Elwor could feel the trembles, his teeth grinding together which each impact. The Mourning Templars had been drafted into the main Imperial push towards the centre of Tomax’s power, an assault which was to be spearheaded by the Pallidus Mors titan legion.

Brother Elwor was in the point rhino, scanning the path for enemy forces and traps, the titans’ manoeuvres could hardly be masked so assaults on the column were to be expected. The enemy had attempted to be cunning, to be crafty, but their attempts had been little more than feeble in the face of the Imperial might. Several small armies of cultists had been butchered as they charged against the titans, attempting to climb the great beasts to place explosives on their under carriage. Other cultists had dug large holes and awaited the arrival of the titans, hoping that just one would fall into their pits. While none of the titans had fallen into these pits, the designated path had to be altered to take into account the enemies mischief.

The instrument in front of Elwor bleeped, the machine scanning the surrounding area for changes in density of the ground. The large trough showed steep drop in the density, another hole for the column to avoid. Elwor passed the message onto his sergeant who steered the rhino around the pit, soon followed by the giant war machines.

The war column found themselves navigating between a steep ridge to their right and a sheer drop on their left. Elwor felt embarrassed for his sergeant, leading them into such a perfect environment for an ambush. The legions of Tomax had been more cunning than his sergeant had given them credit for, each of the pits and assaults had guided the column to a specific path, into a bloodbath. Elwor was already switching his bolter off from safety before the first missile shattered its way through the rhino’s side armour. The missile had ruptured the fuel tanks of the vehicle, and when the head of the rocket detonated, a flaming inferno ripped through the metal coffin, killing all in the rhino.

Another missile smashed into the ground near the destroyed vehicle, its modified head releasing a stream of flames. It was at this point that Calcraft discovered the extent of the chaos ambush as a wall of fire erupted from the dirt, cutting of the columns advance. While the inferno would not halt the titan’s advancement, it would stop the other forces in the column from continuing.

A deep rumble filled the air, the sound of tank tracks grinding against rock and dirt, loud enough to overcome the roar of the titan’s engines. The crest of the ridge was soon filled with the silhouettes of ruinous super heavy tanks against the setting sun. Shadowswords, Stormblades, Baneblades, all equipped with titan-killing weapons and with their height advantage, able to target the heart of the Imperial beasts. The Princeps of the titans were already engaging the newly awoken foe as Calcraft bellowed orders into his vox-unit.

++

“When did I stop being radical and become rogue??

“Many would say they are one and the same. Others would suggest you became rogue the instant you summoned me into this shell for your own purposes.? Vulgare raised his host’s arms, shackled in chains and covered in hexagrammatic wards, if to emphasise his current state.

“Others would believe it was when you acquired the dark incense, or when you sabotaged an Imperial ship and left it to the mercy of the chaos vultures. Personally I would say it was when you became my puppet.?

Vulgare smiled a cursed grin, bearing his pale yellow teeth. He knew this comment was neither true nor false, both he and the Inquisitor served one another, using the other and being used by the other for their needs. He had expected the Inquisitor to return some response of quick wit, the wit which had made Vulgare almost like the fool, almost like him. His old friend was under a lot of stress with the events of late and was starting to lose his grip on reality and his sanity, and with this, Vulgare was losing his judgement of his companions mind. He didn’t expect the lash of pain which the old man released upon him. Rogan lowered his bolt pistol, the smouldering wound would heal over time but the daemonhost could still fell the pain.

“Just remember who the master is and who the slave is. I don’t see any chains on my limbs.?

Vulgare laughed, it had been a long time since he had tasted the pain from his “master?, it reminded of his life before his was encased within a lowly human and became a servant of the Emperor. The fear in the eyes of the Inquisitor excited him, with each step away from the Imperium, Rogan became easier and easier to convert and Vulgare became closer to his freedom from this corpse shell.

++

Executor Calcraft watched the roar of the fallen Shadowswords and Stormblades as their huge weapons fired upon the titans, Volcano Cannons and Plasma Blastguns making up most of their arsenal. The titans themselves were armed with equally devastating weapons and were ripping into the heavy armour the chaos tanks. He had seen at least four of the tanks explode, while a number of others damaged to the point of uselessness, their crews fleeing from the monstrous machines. The day was looking saved when the bombardment began.

From out of sight, the Earthshaker cannons were releasing all manner of exotic shells against the titans. Napalm shells erupted in a ball of fire engulfing the heads of the titans. Few of the shells were doing serious damage to the titans, but the combination of the shelling and the destruction of the titan-killing weapons of the super heavies were starting to take their toll on the titans.

“Brothers of the Mourning Templar’s and all other units under my command, dismount and take the ridge. Assault formation Psi Blue 7a. May the Emperor be with you.?

The words trickled from Calcraft’s mouth, it was suicide. To charge against the tanks would be charging into the mouth of hell, the sheer volume of anti-personal weapons on the tanks could bleed the Imperium dry, but it was their duty. He depended upon the tank commanders being too concerned with the lumbering titans to notice an infantry charge and this combined with the tanks angle due to the ridge so they might be unable to bring their full force upon his infantry, they might just reach the tanks.

Imperial forces poured from their armoured transports, the Mourning Templar’s, the 112th Gredian Rifles, the 23rd Penal XVII Legion and the 8th Simician Conscripts. The twenty-third formed the first wave of the assault, dressed in the orange flak armour standard for a Penal Legion. Before they had even reached the bottom of the ridge to start the ascend, smaller silhouettes filled the spaces between the busy super heavies. Calcraft’s heart sank as he saw a flash of their insignia, Iron Warriors.

++

2.37 percent chance of failure, which included the loyalist’s stubbornness and foolhardiness in the face of defeat as factors. Warsmith Oudo flexed his mechanical limbs, the slaughter of the Imperial regiments was little more than target practice for him and his men. They had set up firing squads on the ridge, firing down the slope. Keeping much of their mass behind the ridge they were almost impermeable to the Imperial fire, and while their targeting area was reduced, the survival factor made it favourable over other strategies.

Oudo’s mind ran a string of calculations, firing angles, exposed surface area, accuracy of the guardsmen, the horror as their numbers were reduced, 7.92 percent of one of his men being killed by a lasgun totting guardsmen on the slope. It was the contingent of Space Marines which worried him the most, well worry was the wrong word, Oudo did not worry or fear anything, the Astartes merely increased the likelihood of one his men being wounded. A quick set of orders would soon have the Space Marines pinned under torrent of fire and allowing him and his command retinue to select their targets.

++

The twenty-third had almost been slaughtered to man, but still they pushed on, the pain from the punishment they would receive if they fled from battle was much greater than the simple pain of death. The conscripts had begun to form the second wave behind the twenty-third, victory through numbers. The Mourning Templar’s had taken up firing positions to try and keep the Iron Warriors from firing upon the guardsmen, but the heavy bombardment from the basilisks had destroyed much of the cover. Some of the shells fell onto advancing guardsmen, limbs flung high into the air, Calcraft dreaded to think what the rain of limbs was doing for the guardsmen morale. Most of the shells were landing behind the titans, near the rim of the cliff, the ground slowly crumbling away from the sheer force of the shells. Calcraft watched as one of the titans strayed too close to the edge, the floor dissipating from beneath the war machines foot as it fell from the cliff.

“With me my brothers, Death or Glory awaits us!?

++

Rogan’s rhino screeched to a halt, its chassis still shuddering from the bombardment and the weapons of the titans and the titan-killers. The chance to get his hands on an Imperial titan was too great to miss, the power one of these machines would grant him was unbelievable. With one of these beasts he could wield the strength and firepower to take down an entire force of traitors, he would win his loyalty back on the battle field. To earn this loyalty he decided he must first sacrifice more Imperial soldiers. Reinforcing the Iron Warriors on the ridge, the forces under his command added their fire power to the defence of the super heavies.

His force was never that great, numbering fewer than sixty men, but they were good soldiers and loyal to him. Even when he destroyed the White Laurel, his men stayed by his side. Since landing upon the planet, his force had been depleted to two rhino’s worth, himself, Vulgare and eighteen soldiers of the Gravediggers. He mourned the loss of his three other aides, Tiny was the first to be lost. His simple mind could not withstand the whispering of Antioc, he had soon begun to speak in some unheard tongue and had killed Lars and seven members of the Gravediggers before he was brought down by two heavy bolter teams. Mickan had been killed as he repaired the platoon’s transport, a driver falling to the voices. The Gravediggers had torn themselves apart slaughtering one another in a vile thirst for blood, the voices had not been kind to the Inquisitor either.

++

Oudo glanced at the newly arrived support, an Inquisitor and his small force. For the first time in his long life Oudo was confused, but as long as the guns of the Inquisitor remained firing upon the Imperial forces, he would not question their motives. The loss of such great machines distressed the Warsmith, these were machines of beauty, of craftsmanship, of power and of destruction. He wondered why he had been given the task of crippling them, but he knew he was the only commander capable of commandeering such a display of anti-titan weaponry. The mechanicus of Antioc had proved useful, the shells and bullets in most of the weapons were of special design, specifically created for puncturing the thick armour of the titans.

The white armour of the loyalist Astartes gleamed in the light of the setting sun, bursting from behind their cover to join the assault on the ridge. Instinctively the Iron Warriors armed with plasma weaponry altered their targets, switching from the lightly armoured guardsmen to the Space Marines. The Mourning Templars soon came under a surge of plasma fire, many falling by the sheer number weapons brought to upon them. Oudo smiled as they dropped like flies, 71.63 percent of his men hitting a target, 63.98 percent of the hit being fatal to the marine, 46.83 percent of a hit killing the marine.

++

The wave of plasma fire had wounded much of their force but the Mourning Templar’s had managed to ascend most of the ridge by now, the guardsmen swarming around the armoured giants. Calcraft had forgotten about the titans by now, the heat of battle had taken over him. He was leading his men from the front, he was the furthest up the ridge and he was going to be the first one over it. Raising his powerfist to signal to his men to prepare for combat, Calcraft leapt over the brim of the ridge.

++

All of the Mourning Templar’s lay dead, the combat on the ridge had been bloody and short. The Iron Warriors had deployed a secondary line of fire, so while their primary force remained firing upon the ascending warriors, the second line tore into any man which managed to reach the top. Executor Calcraft had been brought down by two plasma shots to the torso and two bolt to the head from the pistol of Inquisitor Rogan, Calcraft’s eyes wept as he died from the treachery of an inquisitor.

The titan’s lay smouldering as night fell, the fires burning through their husks lighting the path along the cliff top. The Gravediggers had begun to place the bodies of the fallen Imperialists on the fires, but the task could not be done by such a small number of men. The Iron Warriors had departed swiftly after the destruction of the foe, caring not to be in the company of the fallen titans, the death of such machines pained each and every member of the force.

Vulgare turned to Rogan and smiled,

“Still believe you can save yourself from the voices of chaos??

+++

Victory to Inquisitor Rogan (Rogue) and Warsmith Oudo of the Iron Warriors.

Edited by Aurelius Rex, 10 May 2007 - 04:04 PM.


#12
Aurelius Rex

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The Schism
(Author: Aurelius Rex)

+++

'That is quite a story, Captain Golgotha, even for you.' smiled Inquisitor Holst as she finished reading the report. 'The Scions have been scouring the planet and trawling the system for the Order Encarmine, and half a company of them just walk up, save your and your men's lives from a mass daemonic manifestation, and then surrender to you personally?'

'We could have dealt with the Plague-Bearers, My Lady.' Golgotha rumbled icily. It never failed to amuse Embeth the pride and defensiveness the Astartes had for their brothers. 'As to the Order Encarmine, they have had three decades to hone their skills in concealment and evasion, and have a whole world of traitors and renegades behind which to hide. They sought me out specifically, and I think they are the key to tracking down the rest.'

'Indeed! Chapter Master Eumenides was most interested by your report, captain. My concern is why they would turn upon their brothers? I have seen at first hand how strong the fraternal bond is within a chapter, so the real question is, can we trust what this Sergeant Kreutzmann has to say? Could it be some kind of trap?'

'You want my assessment of the man? I would like nothing better than to put a bolt-round between his eyes. He was one of the Order Encarmine who... killed my men on Alcmene...' Embeth had never seen Golgotha so seething with frustration and anger as he was at that moment. The careful wording Golgotha had used, that the Order Encarmine had killed his squad, was backed up by the official Legio report, but something about it set her investigatory senses jangling.

Composing himself, he continued: 'From what Kreutzmann has told me, there was a schism among the chapter, and if history has taught us anything, it is that the bitterest of enmities are reserved for when brother betrays brother.' That was true enough, Embeth reflected sadly; the Primarchs of the Great Legions had been brothers. 'If what he claims really happened, I think it entirely possible that his information is correct.'

'I want to see Kreutzmann.' said the Inquisitor.

+++

'You have to understand,' said Kreutzmann, 'Heinlein was my captain, my commanding officer for years. He held the Chapter together after you - the Inquisition and the Scions - turned on us and nearly wiped us out.'

Kreutzmann sat, manacled securely to a specially reinforced chair. Before him, Golgotha and the tiny female Inquisitor stood in stony silence. 'You were wrong. We were not pleasure-cultists; we were all loyal to the ideals of the Imperium and the Throne, and we were driven to do what we had to out of pure survival.'

It was like the thing he had once been told about frogs. Drop it into a pan of boiling water and the creature would jump straight out. But put it into cold water and slowly increase the temperature, and it will stay there until it dies. The gradual, tiny increments that saw them eventually throw their lot in with the Warmaster had all seemed so reasonable at the time. Looking back it was like the actions of another person. One he didn't like in the least.

'I came to you, Golgotha, because you are the only one who would understand what happened. It was the Quintessence Daemonica,' at that he saw Golgotha's body language tauten, 'the side-effect of the purification process our Apothecaries and Librarians developed to shield us from the warping nature of Chaos. We needed it as we hid on the fringes of the Eye of Terror. Apparently Liebniz, my Chapter Master, sent Heinlein to assassinate the Warmaster and prove our loyalty, but instead he killed Liebniz, did a deal with Tomax Hell, and returned from Antioc backed up by Night Lords - The Legion of Fear.

'He gave us a choice; submit to Slaanesh and his rule, or to be injected with the Quintessence Daemonica and serve him as a mindless, mutated Chaos spawn. I am truly sorry that Heinlein' that we injected your squad with it when we captured you on Alcmene.' The implication of the glance exchanged between his two interrogators was beyond him, but seemed to be loaded with deep significance.

Kreutzmann told them about the marines that, knowing the consequences, fought their Night Lord guards with the hope of a clean death. He didn't mention the number who capitulated willingly, or worse still those who proudly came forward to reveal tattoos or brands bearing the mark of the Pleasure-God. Admitting that the taint ran beyond one man was too much to bear, especially to a Scion and an Inquisitor.

'Then your fleet arrived and the battle-station alarms went off... The Night Lords just left, back to the Warmaster's side I imagine, and in the confusion I got as many of my brothers as I could off the ship. When your squad was mutated by the Quintessence Daemonica you got the chance to put them out of their misery before they stained the memories and honour of their Chapters, Golgotha. By giving you all the information we have on the Order Encarmine, I am doing the same.'

+++

So it was that seventeen hours later, the Scions of Dorn fleet, along with the Legio Strike Cruiser, Virtuous Sword, broke Antioc orbit. Even with the entire Antioc system to search, the information supplied by the Order Encarmine Techpriest, Dorff, saw the Scions rapidly chase down, cripple and board the renegade Chapter's last remaining vessels, a Battle Barge, and a Strike Cruiser.

The few renegades on board were killed or captured, and the flight logs and officers interrogated for where on Antioc's surface the bulk of the Chapter had chosen to go. It was finally revealed to be centred upon an area on the equator that was a nest of traitor activity, and the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting on the planet.

With the renegade ships secured, and visual confirmation of the Order Encarmine finally achieved, nearly five full companies of the Scions of Dorn prepared to descend upon the area, determined to finish the job they had started more than thirty years before.

+++

#13
Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Aurelius Rex)

+++

'Killgore the Damned, of the Southern Forges.' said the Inquisitor, looking down upon the wrecked body on the table. 'That is what you called yourself, isn't it?'

The silence lengthened, so the voltage was increased until the subject responded with an affirmative grunt. Stimulus and reaction, applied until acquiescence was achieved. Unfortunately, time was against him, and in the absence of his more protracted techniques, the dog was proving more resistant to training than he would have expected. The subject was now resisting answering even innocuous questions about his name. The Inquisitor spiked the voltage for a moment, and continued.

'Exactly which of the Southern Forges did you command? Hel-Hanuk? Torhu? Craisus? The Sisters?' Each was greeted with a jerking shake of the head. 'Which one?' With the Southern Reaches being largely dominated by ash-wastes and detritus from millennia of industrial production, there were not many to choose from.

The question seemed to amuse the subject, who despite the horrendous pain started to laugh. 'My f-forge is not on your liss-st.' At last he was beginning to talk.

'A new one that the Warmaster started, then?' he asked, but the subject found this idea even funnier.

'You couldn't be more wroh-ng!' he sneered back. 'Old! Forgotten, but rediscovered! They saw the ones on Cadia, but were just blundering about in the dark! Yesss, dardarkark! Dark One!'

Without warning, as if a switch had been flicked inside his head, the subject lapsed back into resentful silence. Sweeping from the room, Inquisitor Qin ordered the subject returned to the holding cell. Next he voxed to Chard to bring the Inviolate to a new orbit and prepare the men for planetfall. The uninitiated would have dismissed it as the ravings of a man driven insane by Chaos and pain, but it confirmed and clarified his readings of the Emperor's Tarot.

At last he knew where to start the search.

+++

With a snap of hydraulic pistons, Peruvai launched himself through the air and scrambled under the bulkhead before the thick metal slab ground into place. He propped himself up against the impregnable blast-door to catch his breath and organise his thoughts.

Straining his augmetic hearing, he faintly made out frantic banging, muted by the sheer mass of metal. It would either be Herzog or Martik; brothers he had served alongside for more years than he cared to recollect, but at the moment he would not raise the bulkhead if the Warsmith Himself was trapped out there.

The black armoured marines had struck from nowhere. Possibly Raven Guard, but more likely it was one of the Legio Kill-Teams he had heard about. It would mean that in theory there would only be a squad of them, but in the dark it had felt like many times that number. Hope was gone for the others, but he was safe, and one vox call would have reinforcements at his doorstep inside fifteen minutes.

Before Peruvai knew what was happening, he was sprawled across the floor with his ears ringing and skin pinpricked with gobbets of superheated metal. The blast-door he had been leaning against moments before was glowing cherry-red - a meltabomb! Even as he watched, a huge section of the weakened steel bowed inwards, and then exploded, spraying the room with fist-sized lumps of molten metal. The loyalist who strode through the impromptu doorway came in with a swagger, powerfist crackling threateningly by his side, but by that point, Peruvai was too busy cradling the heat-cauterised stump of his right arm to put up any resistance.

He was manhandled through the compound and towards a jet black Thunderhawk. He was pleasantly light-headed from the cocktail of drugs his suit was pumping into his system, but he was certain he heard the words 'Inquisition ship', 'questioning', 'Inviolate', and 'complete waste of my valuable time'. By the time he was aboard the vessel he knew he must be hallucinating, as a piece of night detached itself from the shadows and slipped un-noticed onto the ship just as the access ramp hissed closed.

But by that stage Peruvai was beyond caring about anything outside his own head.

+++

'How can I serve you, My Lord?' asked Heinlein. The bitterness in his voice was barely suppressed beneath a thin veneer of deference. 'I have just been informed that my ships have been attacked and boarded, and I beg your leave to return to my men.'

'Good to see you again, Nicolai.' smiled the Warmaster, showing row after row of needle-sharp teeth. 'When you came to me before, you pledged the unparalleled skills of you and your men to my service, but so far I have seen little to distinguish you from the pack. It is time for you to prove yourself, my boy. I have a mission for you - one that I am sure you will relish.' He tapped a control and a massive hololith sprang up in the middle of the chamber, showing Antioc, surrounded by flocks of green aquila, and a thin scattering of flaming orange eight pointed stars pushed to the outer reaches. It was a sad and largely accurate reflection of the way the Imperial vessels dominated Antioc orbit.

-We were all taken by surprise by the size of the Imperial fleet - who would have thought there was that much life in the old corpse - but their strength is fading fast. In recent days we have broken their main spearhead...' The hololith resolved into an image of a blasted battlefield dominated by the shattered and smoking carcasses of Imperial titans. A stirring sight. 'And our dominance over the skies is unchallenged.' The picture jerked, and was replaced the vid-capt from a fighter, coming in low for a strafing run on a column of tanks.

'Now it is time to push back and break their remaining seat of power; their stranglehold in orbit.'

Tomax tossed the silver oval to Heinlein, who caught, and examined it in wonder. It was an Inquisitorial badge of office. The Warmaster smiled as Heinlein mouthed the name inscribed upon it; Atrich.

'My brother picked it up a few days ago. Keep it if you like; the previous owner won't be asking for the thing back, and it will come in very useful where you're going.'

The hololith returned to the image of Antioc orbit, specifically the southern hemisphere. Magnification increased until a single ship filled the screen. Tomax could see a look approaching desire in Heinlein's eyes.

'The Inquisitorial vessel; Inviolate. A powerful ship, certainly, but isolated at present. My Wolf Pack will soften her up, ready for your marines to board and claim her. Not a Mycenae Inquisitorial ship, but their time will come, I promise you. The sixty men you have with you will be ample for the task, I would say.'

'Your servant, My Lord.' whispered Heinlein, eyes still glued to the Black Ship.

'There is one, vitally important thing. Aboard the Inviolate are a large number of my subjects that the Crusade has taken captive. There is one in particular that I badly want back.' He passed Heinlein the picture of the Dark Mechanicus; Killgore, but did not mention why; he appeared to be his brother's only link to whoever was destabilising the Immaterium around Antioc.

'You bring Killgore back to me alive, Nicolai, and you can keep the ship to replace the ones you lost. Fail me, or bring him back dead, and you'll share his grave.'

+++

#14
Aurelius Rex

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Round 2, Battle 5:
Techer of the Legio vs. Halfdan the Guided, Legio Renegade.

(Author: Aurelius Rex)

+++

Techer was still in the detention section of the Inviolate, having his time wasted by petty clerks and pen-pushers when the attack came. Over the sirens he just made out a broken transmission from Haas, their Thunderhawk pilot, shouting that the enemy had taken the flight-bay. Its punctuation with the sound of gunfire and a static hiss made it clear he would not be leaving the Black Ship by that route.

He had just put out a burst transmission for his scattered squad to congregate on his location for a counter-attack, when another voice whispered into his vox.

'Sergeant Techer? Is that you?' It was Donner, the Captain of the Inviolate. The relief in Donner's voice on finding that Techer was on the detention section was palpable.

'Sergeant, the ship is lost! The renegades are using some sort of Inquisitorial over-ride to paralyse our systems and my master is not on board to countermand the instructions. Even the automated point defences are down. I am purging the secured datacores, but I need you to do something vital before you go to the escape pods.'

In the event of the ship being catastrophically boarded, the prisoners held in the detention levels should automatically have been executed to prevent their escape or rescue. Unfortunately, this was one of the many systems compromised by the enemy, but there was a manual option beyond the obvious one of opening each of the scores of armaglas cell doors and wasting his ammunition. There was a valve which led directly from the ship's sewerage tank, which when opened would deluge and fill every cell in seconds.

The renegades, heretics and traitors in custody would drown in their own filth. The Magos who designed that particular feature was either a poetic genius, or more likely a certifiable grade-A sadist.

As he rounded the corner, the panicked clamour from the inmates rose in volume. If they knew what was in store for them, Techer thought, they would really howl!

At the end of the long corridor was the security door, and behind it would be the manual over-ride valve. As expected, the dependable Brother Jaworska was already there, massive armoured gauntlets tapping away at the recessed keypad. One inmate caught his eye, a haunted, mutant wretch, bearing the remnants of a corrupted Mechanicus uniform. This sort of corruption was why he was on Antioc. He wanted to punish them for daring to turn their backs on The Emperor, and show them the error of their ways.

A roar from the inmates reached a crescendo at the end of the corridor, and Techer looked back to see Jaworska slumped in a pool of blood against the wall. Standing over him, blade still bloody, was another Legio marine.

The murderer. The ghost. The betrayer. Halfdan.

+++

'Kharzak Tlorg arr'dhu! Kerezarh dugh-tikh.'

Deep within his prison of flesh, Halfdan struggled for a way to end this. His mind had cleared in the last few days, but it was far, far worse than the numb amnesia that had gone before. Now he was fully aware of every single unspeakable act, every betrayal of his brothers and every desecration of Dark Fang, yet had no chance to prevent them from happening or even look away.

It was his arm that raised the bolter, his finger that pulled the trigger, but he was powerless to prevent it. He couldn't even deflect the aim in the slightest, and cried out in silent anguish as one of the Kraken bolts caught the man heavily in the shoulder, forcing him to discard his pistol. Halfdan didn't know the Legio marine bearing down upon him, but he prayed that his brother was strong enough to stop him.

+++

Techer danced backwards to avoid the scything chainsword, and then seeing his moment, stepped past the renegade's guard. The powerfist discharged messily against Halfdan's chest with a thunderclap, and he saw the renegade get up from a blow that should have torn him in half. He had been warned about the precautionary dampening field on entering the containment section; it was just a shame that it had not been one of the systems circumvented by the invaders.

Continuing to chant that maddening jibberish, Halfdan came at him once more. Techer cursed as the chainsword danced across his armour, chewing great rents in the surface, but ultimately unable to make a good enough purchase. Feeling truly invulnerable in his faith, Techer brought the powerfist round once more and felled the renegade. Finally, the damnable chanting was silenced.

Knowing that the invaders must only be minutes away, Techer turned to open the security door, and straining against the agony in his shoulder and decades of corrosion, slowly turned the valve to the 'on' position.

The cells rapidly started to fill with human waste, and the frantic cries of the prisoners trapped inside. The system was clearly not totally sealed, as the stench of something putrid leaked into the corridor, but he couldn't help but smile.

To Techer, it smelled like victory.

+++

Halfdan's wavering hand reached out to pick up the bolter. He was broken inside, flesh and armour fused to an inseparable lump, but it did not stop the barrel from lining up on his target.

The difference was that the voices were silenced... at least for the moment. Before they could return, Halfdan pulled the trigger and fired a Kraken round into his own brain.

+++

Victory to Techer of the Legio.

+++

#15
Aurelius Rex

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With the prisoners terminated, and his commitment fulfilled, it only remained for Sergeant Techer to get off the ship and await rescue. Not that it was a simple matter, of course. The ship was being over-run with renegade Astartes, and there were obviously no escape pods in the vicinity of the detention section. However, with luck, skill, and the aid of Captain Donner - who had elected to stay at his post to the end - Techer and five of his Brothers met up at the sanctuary.

The escape pods were slim, armoured tubes with a locator beacon and a short-burn chemical rocket motor to blast it clear of the parent vessel. They had no guidance or re-entry ability, only rudimentary environmental systems and were barely large enough for a single warrior of the Astartes. But it was all they had.

Of the scores of pods that blasted away from the Inviolate, more than half were picked off and destroyed by the guns of the Wolf Pack. An unlucky handful were fired directly towards the planet and roasted alive on forced atmospheric re-entry. By the time the Spear of Justice arrived, the Wolf Pack, and the Inviolate were gone, but by the grace of The Emperor, every one of the six Legionnaires were still alive when the strike cruiser brought them aboard.

+++

Heinlein - Chapter Master Heinlein - had fallen in love with his new ship. The vessel was a match for a battle-cruiser, and without the Inquisitorial over-ride that had paralysed its systems, their attack would have been bloody, one-sided, and very short. Beyond the joy of commanding such destructive potential was the knowledge that it was taken at the expense of the hated Inquisition.

It was fitting that this would be the vessel to help him take back the boarded Order Encarmine ships. He looked down at the Inquisitorial rosette, the badge of office, and wondered briefly if the same trick would work on the Scions of Dorn fleet. The chapter was so deeply embedded with the Mycenae Inquisitors that it was entirely possible they would suffer the same vulnerability.

He strode onto the bridge the Inviolate ... the name really would have to be changed to something more appropriate - and sat back in the command console. The ship's former captain, a man with white hair and heavy cybernetic adaptations was glaring defiantly, but impotently at him. He had met the type countless times; officers who augmented themselves with more and more neural interfaces so they might better commune with their ship. Well, it was his ship now. Captain Donner had stayed with his vessel, rather than leaving like the rest of the cowards. Such dedication was due a measure of respect, and that trait had kept him alive up until now.

'Capt... Chapter-Master,' said Brother Heinkel, momentarily forgetting his new position. 'The Night Lord vessel is asking to speak to you, sir.' Heinlein settled easily into the seat, and then nodded to be connected.

'Heinlein.' snapped the distinctively sour voice of Jharr, one of Tomax Hell's elite Legion of Fear. 'I'm coming aboard. Have you secured the Warmaster's prize?'

Such high-handed disrespect was unfitting, but Heinlein bit back the withering retort. Instead he assured Jharr that according to the plan, the automated execution protocols had been over-ridden prior to boarding, and that Killgore would be ready within the half-hour. With a contemptuous grunt, the Night Lord broke the vox-link.

It was only then that Heinlein actually thought to check on Killgore's status. It really should not have taken his men this long to find and release one man from the Inquisition cells. As he spoke to Wehrgen, the sergeant in charge of the detail, the blood drained from his face.

+++

Half an hour later, Heinlein showed the delegation of Night Lords through the ship. As they approached the prison area the stench became more and more overpowering.

'What the hell happened here?' asked Jharr, face screwed up in distain. Heinlein explained gravely that while the automated systems had been disabled, the defenders had flooded the cells with sewage manually.

'Thankfully though, Killgore's cell must have sprung a leak. It was a close-run thing, but we were able to get to him in time, and our Apothecaries were able to save him.'

They walked past row after row of darkened armaglas tanks, with the occasional body part visible through the murk.

'And the Imperium calls us evil.' Jharr laughed.

They found him on a medicae gurney, surrounded by Apothecary Kleiss and several members of Wehrgen's squad. The stinking remnants of the man's tunic had been cut away from the upper torso to reveal heavy augmentations, as was to be expected from a corrupted devotee of the Mechanicus. He was struggling against the heavy straps, with a look of terror in his eyes, but was unable to speak because of the plastic respirator tube fed down his windpipe.

'Kleiss tells me that the tube is vital for the next few hours to aid his breathing. There was a lot of fluid, and' other materials, in his lungs when we found him. By the time you deliver him to The Warmaster he should be ready to have it removed. Lord Hell will be able to interrogate him as planned.'

'Luckily for you, Heinlein.' said Jharr nastily. 'If you had failed in this mission you and your bunch of parasites would have been for the chop.'

It was not until the Night Lords and their white-haired prisoner had departed that Heinlein allowed himself to sag with relief. The ultimatum had been clear: 'Bring me back this Killgore alive, or you will be sharing his grave.' He had to get the rest of his men off Antioc and get as far away as possible before the Warmaster discovered the deception, because when he did, his fury would be incandescent.

Things would have been so much simpler if Killgore's cell really had sprung a leak...

+++

#16
Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Brother Tyler)

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The manufactorum was a charnel house, rife with the stink of death. The bodies of the fallen had been stacked high and set afire, hundreds of bodies in the uniform of the Imperial Army - or the Imperial Guard as they had been renamed after the False Emperor had been struck down by the Warmaster. The oily black smoke from the unholy bonfire danced eerily throughout the cavernous chamber, reducing visibility to mere meters. The only bodies that remained segregated from the pile were of gigantic proportion and adorned with mighty power armour. Those in deep red armour were arrayed in a row, helmets removed and arms folded across chests. The face of each cadaver was daubed in blood, blasphemous sigils marking out the fell patrons to whom these warriors had pledged their souls. There were six of these warriors, and even in death their appearance would provoke fear in anyone sane enough to understand what they were. Word Bearers. Sons of Lorgar.

In contrast, the bodies of six other similarly statured warriors had been arranged in a pentagon - five in remnants of blue armour surrounding the sixth in black. Most of the armour had been torn from the bodies, and their remains bore gruesome wounds, only some of which had been sustained in battle. The neck and chest of each had been torn open, and the fleshy organs that had been removed from those ghastly wounds had been set afire in braziers.

Deux Iblis, Lieutenant of the Word Bearers, permitted himself to smile as he looked upon the scene. To see the inheritors of Roboute Guilliman struck down, their gene-seed denied the Ultramarines, gave the veteran of the Long War a feeling of deep satisfaction. Though his warriors chanted the dark catechism in the aftermath of the battle, they failed to completely drown out the sound of battle. War raged around the Word Bearers upon the world of Antioc, late of the Adeptus Mechanicus until it had been wrested from the machine cultists by the servants of the universe's true powers. Pickets had been staged to prevent the distant battles from encroaching on Iblis' ceremony. Though not consecrated as a Chaplain of the Dark Gods, he served his masters faithfully.

Unexpectedly, a body of one of the Imperial Guardsmen shifted unnaturally. The man's body was mostly intact, though stained with the blood and excrement of battle. A gaping hole where the man's heart should be marked where a bolt had penetrated his chest and exploded. His death had been quite quick and, unfortunately, painless. The movement of the corpse was, therefore, not derived from the motive power of the trooper whose right shoulder pad bore the name "Schlosser". The body sat upright awkwardly, head twisted at an angle that a living man would have found quite uncomfortable, arms hanging limply. Slowly the corpse sat up. Then it stood, legs twisted. The dull lifeless eyes began to move and gain color as an inhuman hiss erupted from the pallid lips of Trooper Schlosser.

"Deux Iblisssss, it isss time."

Iblis stood nonplussed throughout and betrayed no surprise at the declaration. Removing his helm, he looked upon the revenant with a mixture of disdain and respect. The voice that spoke was instantly recognizable. Though marred by the swollen tongue and dried throat of the cadaver, it was the voice of his master, the Dark Apostle Victarius. Iblis knew, though, that the true anima behind the corpse was that of his master's servant, a daemon.

"Ravagnon."

"Yess." The mouth of the corpse shifted as the daemon grew accustomed to it, forcing it to speak properly. "The Dark Thorn awaits."

Iblis turned his head in curiosity, mind weighing the import of the daemon's message.

The daemon spoke again, the body beginning to work properly, "Our ally's plans near fruition. You have a role in ensuring the success of those plans."

The other Word Bearers continued their chanting, none considering the dialogue between their lieutenant and the reanimated corpse as anything other than normal. The sounds of battle had not slowed in tempo, nor had the nearest battles apparently shifted markedly. The air was electric with the necromantic energies, though, as the daemon Ravagnon forced a corpse of a mortal to contain its energies.

Deux Iblis nodded in acknowledgement. "What must I do?"

"Warmaster Hell's fleet has drawn many of the enemy vessels away, forcing them to protect their precious supply lines. The leader of the Corpse God's forces is vulnerable, his ship alone. You must board his vessel and kill him."

"Where is the Dark Thorn?"

"It is in near orbit, its crew tasked with performing picket duty. There is a mechanicus vessel near here that will take you to your ship." An ungainly ship appeared to Iblis' mind, it's location apparent from the terrain that surrounded it in the vision.

"My crew?"

"Those that live remain faithful to you. I have seen to their compliance."

"And the enemy ship?"

"A craft of the Legio - the battlebarge Purgator." The last was spoken defiantly.

"Betrayal!" roared Iblis, his fist shaking with rage.

Ravagnon's pitiless gaze fell upon Iblis through the near-lifeless orbs of the Imperial Guardsman, the head shaking slowly. "No betrayal, son of Lorgar. Most of the Astartes of the Legio are engaged upon this world. The few that remain will be no match for you and your warriors."

Still seething, Lieutenant Iblis stared at the daemon through hateful slits, a guttural roar issuing from beneath his clenched teeth. "Who am I to kill?"

The image of the intended victim formed in Iblis' mind, projected there by the daemon minion as the creature spoke the name aloud, "Anteus."

"Give my master a message."

"Certainly."

"Tell him that I will bring him the head of this 'Anteus'."

"He expects no less, mighty Iblis."

"Don't patronize me, daemon-thing."

A low chuckle issued forth from Trooper Schlosser's lips, the spite-filled daemon taking delight in the discomfit of one of his master's favored warriors.

"Go, creature, and relay my message before I strike down the vessel you animate."

"Of course," replied the daemon, the body suddenly collapsing as Ravagnon's power vacated it.

Deux Iblis stood still for long moments, calming himself as his warriors continued the liturgy. At last, he would take the fight to a worthy opponent. Not fooled by the soothing of the daemon-servant, he knew that the battle would not be in his favor. Full complement of Astartes or not, closing with and boarding a battlebarge of the Adeptus Astartes was no small feat. He had fought for thousands of years, though, and knew himself to be equal to the task. If anyone was up to the task, it was Deux Iblis, Lieutenant of the Word Bearers.

With a mighty roar, he silenced the chanting of his brethren. "Follow me!" Then he took off running, re-donning his crimson helmet as his dauntless warriors quickly fell in behind him.

+++

#17
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Brother Tyler)

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Brother-Silex stood respectfully in the corridor outside the Apothecarion aboard the Purgator. He had watched Brother-Sergeant Ferrum launch himself from the Gaias space station in a suicidal attack that, by the blessing of the Emperor, had actually succeeded. Moments later, the silent explosions of the oncoming Chaos attack craft told him with utter certainty that his Sergeant's attack, though successful, had been the last audacious act of the Guardian Angels Space Marine. The superhuman warriors of the Adeptus Astartes were above such foolishness as sentimentality, so none of the remaining members of Squad Nexum lowered themselves to weak grieving. They did, however, acknowledge the boldness of their late Sergeant, Brother-Meton leading the battle-brothers in a prayer for Ferrum. When the team was later extracted from Gaia and returned to Purgator aboard thunderhawks, they dutifully reported the combat actions of the squad and recorded the deeds of Brother-Sergeant Ferrum for the Liturgis Honorum.

Several hours later, as the squad performed the rites of cleansing upon their wargear, they were shocked to see the bedraggled figure of their Sergeant carried from a thunderhawk. The gunship had returned to the battlebarge after dropping an Inquisitor off aboard one the Imperial Navy vessels in the vicinity of the Purgator. Silex stood instantly upon recognizing Ferrum. The Sergeant looked like he had been through the Warp unprotected - his armour scored and pitted, the paint almost completely scorched from the ceramite power armour. Brother-Silex could only imagine what Brother-Sergeant Ferrum had been through.

Ferrum's unconscious form was supported by medicae servitors who followed a white-armoured Apothecary as he led the troupe from the ramp of the thunderhawk. Silex immediately bolted to intercept the group, the rest of the squad hot on his heels. At the commotion, the Apothecary halted and faced the squad, holding his hand up to signal that they cease. "Brothers, he is in dire need of our attentions."

"We must speak with him," said Algidus, second in command of the squad.

"You may see him when he has sufficiently recovered. I will alert you when he regains his senses."

Algidus nodded respectfully and signaled that the squad should return to its duties. As the Apothecary and his servants carried their Brother-Sergeant to the Apothecarion, though, none moved. Only when the group departed the hangar deck did Squad Nexum return to its ministrations.

+ + + + +

That had been the previous day, and one of the squad's members had stood watch outside the Apothecarion ever since.

Though he stood stock still and appeared inattentive, Brother-Silex was completely focused on the hatch to the Apothecarion. That chamber and whatever lay within was one of the most highly protected sections of the battlebarge. Only the Apothecaries and senior members of the Legio hierarchy were allowed within, except for those who needed the attentions of the Apothecaries. Silex had received the report from Brother-Meton, the squad's own Apothecary, that a Techmarine had entered the Apothecarion hours before. He wasn't sure what to think of that. He doubted that Ferrum would be interred in a dreadnought sarcophagus if his wounds were that extensive - only one of the venerable sarcophagi was aboard the Purgator and it was occupied by Brother-Captain Dayn who had fallen in battle over five decades previously fighting against the Hrud. When the hatch suddenly hissed open, Silex turned immediately. Brother-Apothecary Juras passed through the hatch and turned to face the battle-brother.

"He'll live. We'll have to replace his augmetic arm. Most of his original augmetic had been reduced to slag by whatever it was he went through, and it cooked the rest of his arm. We removed the rest of the original and are He suffered extensive injuries, breaking seventeen bones. His body has been burned - whatever it was that he went through, it tore through his armour. He's extremely lucky to be alive. He should be ready to see you in a few moments."

Silex received the Apothecary's report silently, nodding in acknowledgement. When the white-armoured specialist turned and re-entered the Apothecarion, Silex contacted Brother-Algidus over the squad net and reported on Brother-Sergeant Ferrum's condition.

"I'll be there in three minutes," was the laconic reply.

+ + + + +

Brother-Sergeant Ferrum was in good spirits, if a bit weak. Techmarine Paulus was still calibrating the new augmetic, assisted by the Apothecaries, though they had allowed Brothers Algidus and Silex to enter the hallowed chamber and speak to their Sergeant. The two listened attentively as the Sergeant described what had happened to him after leaping from the space station. When he completed the tale, his two subordinates had broad grins.

"I knew you where chosen by fate," said Algidus.

Ferrum laughed, then looked down at his armour. The Techmarines had repaired the damage it had sustained, but its appearance remained unsatisfactory. "I'll have to see the artificers to get this fixed," he said. "Where are my weapons?"


+ + + + +

Within one of the training rooms on the Purgator, Brother-Captain Anteus was training with members of Squad Draconis. Only a handful of Astartes remained aboard the vessel, perhaps thirty. The few squads currently embarked had been retrieved from earlier missions and were being held in reserve. There were enough drop pods to drop them should any of the ground forces require reinforcement. Brother-Captain Antaeus was more concerned with space-borne threats. The Inviolate was under attack, though it was on the far side of the planet. Antaeus needed the Purgator to remain in its current position to support ground strategy, so he had dispatched the bulk of his attendant craft to assist the Inquisitorial vessel. Only a few squadrons remained with the battlebarge, their presence probably only a precaution since the Imperial Crusade had achieved dominance of the space surrounding Antioc.

Meanwhile, the venerable Captain was enjoying the exertions of combat training. His position as leader of the crusade required him to spend too much time coordinating ship and troop dispositions. He much preferred direct combat and the actions of a small strike cruiser. His experience and seniority within the Great Company, however, meant that he was in command. Brother-Captain Antaeus was nothing if he wasn't dutiful. The occasional respite of training was cathartic, allowing him to put the complicated stratagems and coordination in the back of his mind while he focused on more primal matters.

As he ducked beneath the swing of a training rod, alarm klaxons sounded and the lighting shifted to dull red glow of a combat alarm. Almost instantaneously, Brother-Sergeant Grimm's voice addressed Antaeus over the vox. "Incoming vessel, Brother-Captain. It's an unknown Mechanicus pattern vessel being pursued by a Slaughter-class ship."

"Have we identified the Slaughter?" asked Antaeus. That class of vessel was over seven-thousand years old, and very few of its type remained in use by the Imperium. None of those were in the Crusade.

"We think it might be the Fidelity, sir."

Antaeus laughed inwardly at the irony of that statement. The crew of the Fidelity had mutinied in M35. It had later been sighted on numerous occasions, each time in concert with actions of the Word Bearers. Antaeus had never encountered the vessel before, but he'd studied the reports and knew the new name by which its corrupt crew called it.

"Have we made contact with the crew of the Mechanicus vessel?"

"No visual contact, sir, although we have made limited vox contact. They claim to be the surviving members of Squad Camillus, one of the Ultramarines squads that dropped yesterday."

"And how is it that they are now aboard a craft of the Adeptus Mechanicus fleeing the Dark Thorn?"

"Aye, that's a good question, sir."

"Very well. Sound battle stations and protect the Mechanicus craft. Don't let them enter, but shield them from the Dark Thorn if possible. I'll be there in two minutes."

"Aye, sir."

+ + + + +

Deux Iblis smiled to himself as his plan unfolded. The Legio fools were predictable. As the Legio battlebarge loomed larger in the viewscreen, Lieutenant Iblis and his chosen entered the teleport chamber. The location of the bridge had been programmed into the machine moments before, and Iblis chambered a bolt as he looked at the traitor Space Marine who manned the controls of the teleporter.

"Maintain this heading and activate the teleporter on my signal," he commanded.

+ + + + +

As the alarm sounded, Ferrum and his brothers looked up in astonishment. Without hesitation, they departed the Apothecarion over the protestations of the Apothecaries. Algidus grabbed the Brother-Sergeant's weapons from the table as he ran past, Ferrum still not having full use of his new augmetic arm. Over the squad's tactical net, Brother-Algidus ordered the other members of the squad to rendezvous with them near the Apothecarion.

+ + + + +

Brother-Captain Antaeus demanded a status report as soon as he entered the bridge.

Brother-Sergeant Grimm stood at attention and reported, "Sir, the Mechanicus craft appears to be approaching at full speed. The Slaughter-class vessel is much faster and gaining rapidly. Our efforts to maneuver into shooting position have been foiled by the Mechanicus craft's own maneuvers, reacting to each of our maneuvers by turning directly towards us each time. We haven't been able to raise them on the vox to give them tactical guidance. They appear to be navigating by visual. The captain of the Slaughter continues to ensure that the Mechanicus craft remains in between."

"I don't like the sound of that. How far away are each of the ships and what are their speeds?"

"Sir, the Mechanicus is fifteen hundred kilometers and closing at four hundred meters per second. At this rate, he'll be within our shield space in three seconds and we'll be able to engage the Slaughter. The Slaughter is four-thousand kilometers away and closing at eight hundred meters per second."

Antaeus' command came almost immediately as he considered the tactical implications. "It's a ruse. Evasive action, brace for impact!"

+ + + + +

"Now!" roared Iblis. The room faded from sight as the sickly feeling of teleport-transmission occurred. As he and his chosen appeared upon the bridge of the Purgator, Iblis led the charge.

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#18
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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The Adeptus Mechanicus craft held only one remaining crew member after Iblis and his chosen teleported onto the bridge of the Purgator. His name was Krodus, a Word Bearer in the Long War for over a century of his personal time. He had been taken from his home world, an industrial world in the Galactic East, by the sons of Lorgar, one of a handful of worthy candidates drawn from the cults the Legion had created there. He had reveled in the transformation from mere mortal to superhuman servant of the dark gods, killing and speaking unholy praise in their honor. Lieutenant Iblis had chosen him for this singular duty based on his knowledge of the mechanical. Though the controls of the vessel were unfamiliar, he had been able to discern the apparatus that controlled the teleporter. Likewise, he had been able to perform the necessary course corrections to keep the vessel interposed between the Purgator and the Dark Thorn. The fact that his efforts had appeared clumsy was just as much a part of the ruse as they were real - the limited time in which he'd been able to launch the craft and take it to the Dark Thorn, then to lead the Slaughter class ship on a chase toward the Legio's battlebarge, hadn't given him time to master the ship's navigation systems.

Still, his efforts had succeeded.

Chanting praise to his Fell Gods, Krodus of the Word Bearers dove the ungainly Adeptus Mechanicus vessel into the superstructure of the Purgator. The void shields of the battlebarge had already cleared to allow the ship some protection from the apparent hostility of the Dark Thorn and failed to protect the craft from the impact. Krodus watched as the port engines grew larger and larger upon the viewscreen, until he could make out the details of the litanies scrawled upon their surface. As his craft crushed itself into the larger vessel and a gigantic explosion ripped a hole into the structure of the Purgator, Krodus commended his soul to Chaos.

+ + + + +


Lucius lurched as a massive tremor suddenly rocked the Purgator. The call to brace for impact had sounded scant moments before and the discussion he had overhead minutes earlier during his training session with the Captain told him all that he needed to know. Whether the fleeing Adeptus Mechanicus craft had accidentally crashed into the Purgator or the pursuing Slaughter-class cruiser had engaged the battlebarge was irrelevant. The Purgator was under attack.

And then the alert came over the tactical net.

Boarders.

It would be nearly unthinkable for an enemy to board an Adeptus Astartes battlebarge. The normal ship's complement was three companies of Space Marines, complete with materiel and a crew of mortal thralls who were nearly as ferocious as their masters in ship boarding actions. Only the most capable or foolhardy of opponents would dare such an endeavor.

Lucius had been seconded to the Legio from the Blood Ravens, a Chapter known for its knowledge. He had studied the vessels of the Imperial Navy - all Chapters did. The long history of the Imperium had proven that the Adeptus Astartes might just as easily fight against renegade vessels as with them. The Slaughter-class was a perfect example of erstwhile loyal Imperial Navy ships that had turned renegade over the years. Perhaps it had been a flaw in the ship design that made them prone to the predations of Chaos. Perhaps it was just bad luck. Regardless, none of the class of vessel remained in service to the Emperor - numerous ships within the class now served the Dark Gods, though. Lucius didn't know who crewed the Fidelity now, nor if it continued to be known by the name under which it had served the Imperium. All he knew was that its corrupt masters were slaves to darkness and that they had sent boarders to the Purgator.

As damage reports sounded over the tactical net, Lucius and his brothers, Lukan and Bethor, retrieved full combat loads and gathered two squads of the ship's crew to them. Squad Grimm had rallied to their Sergeant who had stood the duty on the bridge. Squad Ferrum, meanwhile, was en route to the bridge from the Apothecarion. As the three battle-brothers and the ship's warriors hurredly collected their load, they invoked the Litany of Hate. Finished, they rushed to the bridge.

+ + + + +


The bridge was in utter chaos as battle raged all around. Though many of the Word Bearers and their servants had died as they transmitted either wholly or partly into portions of the ship's structure and furniture, over two score survived the transit and attacked with bloody abandon. Three of the terminators remained, as well as two of the daemonic obliterators.

Two Legio Space Marines were upon the bridge when the Word Bearers appeared. Veteran Sergeant Grimm, seconded to the Legio from the Rainbow Warriors and veteran of over ninety-five missions, acted without hesitation, driving his thunder hammer through the brains of one of the hulking obliterators as it manifested. The creature didn't even have a chance to react before it was reduced to a quivering mass upon the deck of the bridge. A second swing of his hammer crushed three of the Chaos Space Marines as it described a deadly arc. He and Brother-Captain Antaeus were outnumbered and outgunned, though, and it was only a matter of time. Luckily, Grimm had called for his squad before the Captain arrived and they were converging on his position. Backing up to the Captain, Grimm fought desperately.

Brother-Captain Antaeus was responsible for the death of one Chaos Space Marine terminator, driving his sword through the traitor's exposed throat. Gunfire all around him killed the thralls who manned the ship's controls. One of the monstrous creatures that were a hybrid of Space Marine, machine, and daemon launched a punishing volley of heavy bolter fire into the tactical array, causing the ship's alarm system to erupt in white noise. As a squad of Space Marines leapt into the bridge, the obliterator turned its fire on the squad, dropping two before the remaining members of the squad concentrated their fire on the beast, including white hot plasma from Brother-Dern. The creature howled inhumanly, changing its shape as it moved into the squad. Where its arms had been launching a high volume of bolter fire just moments before, each was now shaped as a massive spiked fist. It swung wildly, killing three more of the Legio Space Marines before it was consumed in plasma and fell to the deck. Only two of the squad members remained, and though they fired repeatedly into the horde of traitors aboard the bridge, they fell quickly.

+ + + + +


Iblis drove his blade through the chest of the crewman seated before him as he materialized. The battle raged around him and he quickly took stock of the situation. As the rest of his force killed the remaining members of the Legio squad that had suddenly appeared at the entryway to the bridge, Iblis advanced on the two other Space Marines who stood back-to-back on the command deck. He recognized his prey.

Charging forward, the Word Bearers lieutenant watched as bolter fire injured the other Space Marine, a round exploding within the upper thigh and removing a leg. As the hammer-bearing warrior reached out with a hand to steady himself and keep from falling, a second round exploded within his abdomen. He fell to the deck, hors d'combat.

Iblis' blade descended toward the other Space Marine's neck, seeking to end the battle quickly. The Legio Captain sensed the attack, though, and parried as he sidestepped. Iblis swung around, with his other arm, striking the Captain's sword arm away as it sought to thrust into his guts.

The two eyed each other for a moment, taking stock of the opposition.

"I have come for your head, Antaeus of the Legio. I have promised it to the true powers that rule the galaxy."

Brother-Captain Antaeus snorted in disgust, deigning to speak to the turncoat. He answered, instead, with a quick thrust of his blade.

And then the duel began in earnest.

+ + + + +


Lucius and his squad rushed through the ship's corridors, seeking to reach the bridge as fast as possible. En route they encountered Squad Nexum as it joined them from a side corridor.

"Welcome back to the Purgator, Brother-Sergeant," said Lucius. He had heard the rumours about Ferrum's exploits in the Gaia station incident and welcomed his presence as a true warrior. They were only a few meters from the entryway to the bridge, the corpses of several red-armoured Space Marines merged with the bulkheads telling them all they needed to know about the desperate situation they faced.

Though disheartened at following in trace of another squad, Ferrum retorted with vigour, "Brother, why don't you and your squad announce the arrival of Squad Nexum?"

Both laughed mildly as they reached the hatch. As the portal to the bridge opened before them and they poured onto the bridge, though, none were smiling. Crew members and Legio dead lay all around them. Worse, Brother-Captain Antaeus was kneeling upon the deck, stump of his sword arm spurting blood from the dismemberment that happened just seconds ago and the still-bloody sword of his red-armoured opponent poised for the coup d'grace.

"For Knowledge and Justice!" roared Lucius as he raised his bolter. The rest of the Space Marines and ship's complement followed suit.

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#19
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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(Author: Brother Tyler)

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Though the cacophony of battle raged around him and his victory over the Legio Captain was a sword's thrust away, Iblis sensed the threat from the newly arrived servants of the false Emperor and reacted instanteously. As the report of a score of bolters echoed within the bridge, Deux Iblis dove forward, putting the Legio Captain between him and the interlopers. A fusillade of bolter rounds thundered into the space he had occupied but a moment ago, penetrating into the machinery that controlled the Purgator. Still rolling forward, Iblis brought his weapon to bear and fired off a round. The mass of targets rendered a miss impossible and a Space Marine with a heavy bolter took the round full in the chest, the bolt exploding within and ending his life.

Lucius Draconis reacted to the death of Brother Lukan calmly. The battle-brother, seconded to the Legio shortly after the Defense of Cadia from the Purple Stars Chapter, had been a recipient of the Marksman's Honour, a device represented by an engraved bolter shell worn upon a chain at his side. Lukan had been a skilled marksman and his value to the team was inestimable. Lucius vowed to return Lukan's gene-seed to his Chapter. There was no time to reflect on the honour due the fallen, though, and the Blood Raven became intent on his mission to defend the Purgator from the Chaos boarders.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Chaos Space Marines reacted to the appearance of over two score new defenders, pouring a torrent of fire at the entryway. Half a dozen of the Legio thralls fell to the incoming fire. The remaining defenders spread out as much as they were able, some using the still smoking corpse of a fallen obliterator as cover from the incoming fire.

Brother Sergeant Ferrum directed his squad, "Brother-Apothecary Meton, see to the Captain. Brother-Techmarine Asper, we need to establish comms with the rest of the crusade and alert them to our situation. Everyone else, cover them!"

+ + + + +


Iblis peered from between the internal communications apparatus, body of the thrall who had manned the device screening him from detection by the Legio Space Marines. Checking the ammunition in his bolter. Satisfied that he had a sufficient load, he studied his adversaries intently. Almost ten of the Space Marines remained, accompanied by over a dozen mortals. The odds upon the bridge were almost equal, though the tightly-packed Legio warriors were easier targets. Even as he watched, his minions felled another Legio Space Marine and two more of the mortals died messily. Gauging the tactical situation upon the bridge, Iblis prepared himself to deal with the new threat.

#20
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

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Round 2, Battle 6
Lucius and Ferrum of the Legio vs. Deus Iblis of the Word Bearers

(Author: Brother Tyler)

Lucius and his remaining comrade, Brother-Bethor of the Bloodied Hand Chapter, continued to scan the area in which the renegade had taken cover. Two of the other traitors charged them from the side, monotone chants to their dark gods emanating from their vox-casters. Lucius, furthest forward, calmly turned his bolter on the leading traitor and squeezed the trigger, sending a bolt into the face of the Word Bearer and watching in satisfaction as his head exploded. As the momentum of the headless body carried it forward into Brother-Bethor, fire from behind the two struck the second traitor in the chest and abdomen. Lucius looked back quickly and saw one of the other Legio Space Marines, Collinus, nod in acknowledgement. Collinus then turned rapidly, engaging traitors on the other side of the bridge.

A voice echoed upon the bridge, mocking the loyalists, "Speak the words of Lorgar and you shall live forever in the glory of Chaos. Speak them not and every one of you shall die today!"

Looking back, Lucius was surprised to see the original target leap forward from behind the intercom. The renegade dove over the now prone form of Captain Antaeus, rolling low and allowing the Legio Space Marines' loyalty to their Captain prevent them from firing. A cruelly muzzled bolter belched loudly, sending a bolt at Lucius. The Blood Raven anticipated the attack and knelt low, the bolt crashing into the bulkhead above him and exploding, sending white-hot shrapnel into Lucius' armour. Brother-Sergeant Lucius fired his bolter at the traitor, but succeeded only in forcing the Word Bearers Lieutenant to throw his body to the side without injury. Unexpectedly, though, another of the Legio Space Marines behind Lucius fired, explosive bolt ripping into the traitor's auto-reactive shoulder pad and exploding, and ripping into the flesh beneath. Iblis was thrown violently backwards and he careened into one of the servitor stations.

"To me," he called over the vox-net to his minions, the Chaos Space Marines swiftly rallying to their lieutenant.

+ + + + +

Khor'a'ath watched the forward tactical display intently. The Legio battlebarge loomed before him, helpless. He considered how easy it would be to ascend within the ranks of his Legion. Destroying one of the Astartes' capital ships would surely put his star in the ascendant.


His hand was stayed, though, as he considered the words of the daemon Ravagnon when the fell being had spoken to Deux Iblis upon the lieutenant's successful return to the Dark Thorn. He shuddered inwardly at the thought of the tortures that would be visiting upon him if Iblis failed in his mission. Though destroying the battlebarge would normally enhance his prestige, it would require that he kill the lieutenant before he could complete a key task in the larger plan. Khor'a'ath would have to bide his time.

"Fire!" he bellowed, slave gunners relaying the command to the ship's lance bays. Moments later, a shaft of brilliant crimson energy thrust forth from the Dark Thorn's prow. It speared into the Purgator's starboard panel, burning through the Legio skull emblazoned thereon and penetrating the hull.

+ + + + +

The ship rocked violently and hull breach alarms sounded. As the battle raged upon the bridge, the true threat to the Imperial vessel worked towards its goal. In the ten thousand years since the followers of Horus had fled into the Eye of Terror, many had given themselves wholly over to Chaos. The form of their devotion varied, and one group had embraced the variety of Chaos in a unique fashion. Fanatics about heavy firepower, they had welcomed the corrupting influence of daemonic entities, fusing with their armour and weapons and becoming creatures that were neither Space Marine, armour, nor daemon. Rather, they were a terrible hybrid of three disparate entities. Able to manipulate their bodies at will and form their limbs into immense weapons, they had come to be known as "obliterators" from the potency of their firepower.

Veteran Sergeant Grimm had initiated the melee upon the bridge by crushing the head of one of the daemonic obliterators as the creature materialized. His blow, however, had succeeded only in destroying the mortal portion of the entity. The daemonic portion still resided within, weakening as its mortal frame failed to sustain it. The corpse had fallen upon the machinery that formed the controls of the bridge. Sensing the path to its salvation, the daemonic portion of the obliterator surged forth, seeking to find a host capable of supporting it. As the fell being permeated the physical portion of the Purgator, the ship's machine spirit cried out in revulsion.

Deep within the Librarium, Epistolary Jaris stirred. He had been locked within the chamber, searching with his mind as the attack on the ship he had envisioned moments before slowly came to be. His vision had revealed the destiny of the ship's crew and he knew what needed to be done to prevent the disaster that would befall the entire crusade if the Purgator met the corruption that the powers of Chaos planned for it. The other members of the Librarium had descended upon the besieged forgeworld below, lending their psychic might to the efforts in the ground campaign. Jaris would have to succeed alone in his quest.

He suddenly bolted upright and took his force axe from the hallowed rack in which he had placed it earlier. Flexing the mighty power glove that adorned his other hand, he strode forth from the Librarium in his tactical dreadnought armour. None would profane the holy Purgator while he still lived.

+ + + + +

The Word Bearers host upon the bridge of the Purgator was sustaining heavy casualties. Though their ranks were thinning from accurate bolter fire, the weight of numbers was still on their side and they continued to kill the Legio defenders.

A horned terminator fired upon the bridge entryway from opposite Iblis, combi-bolter belching explosive bolter death into the ranks of the Legio thralls. The carapace armour they wore was little protection from the deadly projectiles and they numbered less than six. The Astartes of the Legio focused on the threat, their attention drawn from the traitor lieutenant. Two of the Astartes charged forth, Techmarine Asper and Algidus with his plasma pistol. As the Astartes who provided the base of fire poured a concentration of bolter fire at the near-impregnable terminator armour, Asper's servo-arm struck forth. The weight of fire failed to penetrate the armour and the traitor reached out to grasp the striking servo arm as it attempted to punch down through his armour. The struggle between the two was interrupted by a blast of plasma from Brother-Algidus.

Meanwhile, Iblis had regained his feet and took advantage of the enemies' momentary lapse in attention. He bolted forward, bolter spitting suppressive fire as he closed the gap. As two of his fellow traitors bounded forward with him, he watched with satisfaction as one of his shots took one of the Legio Space Marines in the leg. The damaged limb failed to support the Astartes and the warrior fell to the deck. The wound failed to render him a casualty, though, and the wounded Astartes brought himself upright quickly, pulling himself up with a power fist that dug into the bulkhead for purchase.

Another of the nearby Space Marines turned his attention on the Lieutenant and his fellow boarders. One of the Chaos Space Marines fell to return fire from the two Legio Space Marines, though Iblis and the remaining traitor continued to burst forward under fire, the lieutenant calling out:

"From the fires of betrayal, unto the blood of revenge,
we bring the work of Lorgar, Bearer of the Word,
The favoured son of Chaos - All praise be given unto him.
For those that would not heed, we offer praise to those who do,
that they might turn their gaze our way,
and gift us with the boon of pain, to turn the galaxy red with blood,
And feed the hunger of the Gods!"

His minions took up the chant with him, the corrupted warriors invoking their fell patrons as they blasted at the loyalists.

Across the bridge, the traitor terminator died as Techmarine Asper's servo-arm punched down into the renegade's helmet. The servo-arm was a useful tool for recovering damaged vehicles and moving heavy equipment, and the Techmarines of the Adeptus Astartes often put those tools to use in combat. Their high strength allowed them to penetrate nearly any armour, even the thick front armour of battle tanks. Though tactical dreadnought armour was the ultimate in personal protective armour, the mighty strike of the servo arm was sufficient to bypass the thick armour and crush the life of the traitor within. One of the Chaos Space Marines near the terminator engaged Asper in assault, chainsword biting into the Space Marine's left pauldron. The red-armoured techmarine struck back with his power axe, energy-sheathed blade tearing through the power armour of the traitor and ripping out the heretic's innards. The stink of burnt flesh and offal filled the bridge as the dying renegade screamed.

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Jaris was nearing the bridge. He estimated that it would take him two more minutes to reach his destination. He reflected on his earlier visions and sped his pace. He needed to reach the bridge as soon as possible in order to deal with the threat to the Purgator.

+ + + + +

Iblis crashed into the ranks of the Legio Astartes with a sweeping strike from his power sword. The Legio Space Marines were veterans of countless battles, though, and kept their heads. Lucius back-pedaled as he struck forth with his fist. Neither warrior's blow succeeded in drawing blood, though, and Iblis leapt forward and to the side as the Blood Raven's bolter was brought to bear. Though Lucius Draconis squeezed off a bolt as soon as his targeter indicated target lock, the dark gods smiled upon the traitor. The bolt struck the traitor's right pauldron, spinning the renegade around without injuring him. Within his scarlet helmet, Deux Iblis smiled a death's head grin. The spin imparted by the impact of the bolt swept him around and his combat-honed mind used the momentum to his own advantage. Shifting his weight with the impetus, his sword swept around, the warp-powered blade cutting through the armour of the Legio Space Marine and driving forward into his vitals. As his fellow's bolter fired two bolts into the ruined body of his opponent, Iblis turned his attention on the nearest Astarte.

Durus Quatinus Ferrum didn't hesitate to attack as Brother-Sergeant Lucius fell dead at his side. Ever the canny fighter, he shifted his grip on the bolter, grasping his chainsword with his now-free left hand. The bolter feinted forward, seeking to become the focus of the traitor's attention. Ferrum muttered an imprecation as the renegade released his own bolter and pulled at the Legio bolter with his hand, pulling the Legio Space Marine off balance for a moment. His attack thwarted, Ferrum was forced to parry the incoming blow. His extensive training and acrobatic skill prevented the traitor's blow from landing and Ferrum leapt back.

Ferrum detected the ebb and flow of battle around him. None of the Legio's mortal soldiers remained among the living, and only three others of Squad Nexum were able to continue the fight. The others had been killed or extensively wounded. The number of traitors was severely diminished, though, and Apothecary Meton continued to advance carefully on Brother Captain Antaeus' position. Seeking to draw attention to himself in order that the Apothecary might succeed, Ferrum let out a battle-cry that drowned out the din of battle upon the bridge. He leapt suddenly, moving within the range of his renegade opponent and lashing forward with his chainsword.

The Word Bearers lieutenant watched as the plasma-wielding Astartes fell to one of the other Word Bearers, a chainsword driving up through the abdomen of the armour and mutilating the flesh and bones beneath. He smiled as his adversary closed in. His sword smoked as the energies of the blade sizzled the blood and gore that coated its length. With a deft flick of his wrist, he smashed the bolter from the grasp of the Legio Space Marine. The chainsword of the Marine thrust out, though, biting into Iblis' upper leg. He brought his weapon down forcibly, driving the buzzing blade into the deck.

The Guardian Angel reacted instantly to the traitor's riposte, bringing the still-numb augmetic arm up to block the counterattack. The renegade bellowed in frustration as his attack failed. The shock of the blow numbed Ferrum, though, and he withdrew a step from the heretic.

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Khor'a'ath cursed as the thralls announced the approach of two Imperial vessels. "Enemy vessels closing. Estimate within engagement range in three minutes." If Iblis didn't hurry, the gambit, and likely the entire plan, would fail.

+ + + + +

Ferrum had not moved fast enough, though, and both the power sword-wielding traitor and his companion both struck forward. Ferrum swept his blade up with shocking agility, the sword knocking the chainsword of the horned traitor to the side. Deux Iblis' blow, though, landed heavily in the space between the neck guard and the helm. The burning blade chopped down, cutting deep into the torso of Brother-Sergeant Ferrum. The blow knocked the Legio Space Marine to his knees. Iblis kicked the body of the Space Marine off his blade, quickly turning to assess the situation on the rest of the bridge. The red-armoured loyalist still fought, several bodies surrounding him. Two other Word Bearers remained - Brandis beside Iblis and Durk engaged with the Techmarine.

A flash of white in his peripheral vision caught Iblis' attention and he whirled around to see the Apothecary ministering to the Captain's wounds. Iblis let out a bestial roar and hurled his sword at the Apothecary. Preoccupied with treating his Brother-Captain, the Apothecary failed to react to the missile. The blade embedded itself in the combat-medic's head, instantly ending the life of the specialist. Iblis hurled his body across the distant gap, blind with rage. He took the haft of his weapon and withdrew it from the Apothecary's body.

Then, lifting the mutilated body of Antaeus up by the power cables, he struck the venerable warrior's head from the neck with one sweep of his blade. His temper abating, he knelt down and retrieved the trophy.

His gloating was stopped as a disruption in the entryway of the bridge caused a blinding flash of light. As Brandis' body was consumed in a storm of energy, Iblis realized that the odds had just shifted out of his favor. Slapping the teleport homer upon his chest, he called out over the suit's comms, "Khor'a'ath, teleport me out now."

As Jaris burst forward upon the bridge and split the still shuddering target of his psychic attack in twain with the force axe, an explosion of darkness engulfed an area across the bridge. His psychic eye detected the taint of warp-spawned energy there and he knew that someone had just teleported away. He instantly turned his attention on the remaining battle upon the bridge, watching as Techmarine Asper landed a killing blow on the last remaining traitor.

"Quickly," cried out the Epistolary Librarian, "daemonic corruption seeks to blaspheme this holy vessel." Jaris attention turned upon the corpse of the obliterator and the foul aura of the daemonic entity flared brightly in his warp-eye. "There," he pointed.

Asper's servo arm pulled the body of the obliterator off the deck, severing the contact with the machinery that the daemonic spirit was attempting to infiltrate. Jaris concentrated his psychic power, focusing the energies of the warp in erecting wards against the warp-presence.

He relaxed inwardly as the obliterator-thing retreated into the corpse that had housed it for millennia, watching as it faded from reality.

"Thank the Emperor. We have saved the Purgator from the befouling corruption. Now, tend to the wounded and see to the fallen. We must alert Brother-Captains Golgotha and Aenides of Antaeus' fate. Command of the crusade must shift from this vessel or the endeavor will fail."

+ + + + +


As Iblis materialized within the teleport chamber, he immediately contacted Khor'a'ath over the vox-net. The mission was a success. Return to the coordinates we were given."

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Victory to Deux Iblis of the Word Bearers

#21
Aurelius Rex

Aurelius Rex

    ++ GESTORIS ++

  • ++ MODERATI CEDO ++
  • 5,726 posts
(Author: Ferrata)

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...Belenus remembered. The streets of Belgae were covered in the bodies of the fallen; the fighting had been nothing short of a two way slaughter. The Imperial counter-assault had blunted the Chaos incursion on the fields of Silure, but now they had started a new war, a new blood bath. The traitor had sent his legions of both human and daemon against the forces of the Imperium. The Planetary Defence forces had quickly been overrun, but the swift retribution of the Imperial Guard and Astartes had turned Belgae into a meat grinder, suffocating the life of the planet with the deafening roar of guns and terrorising screams of the dying.

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The clash of metal awoke Belenus from his reverie. Forcing himself upright, his head was swimming in lost memories. The sum of his actions upon Antoic had started to affect him. Lack of sleep, malnutrition, thirst and worst, massive blood loss from his leg allowed Belenus' mind to slip into a semi-conscious state where the nightmare of the past haunted him.

The body of a traitor guardsman fell against the wall, a large chunk of his torso missing from consecutive axe blows. Looking up, Belenus saw the blooded face of one of his Damnonii warriors, raging in the thirst of battle but still loyal to the Imperium. The warrior dropped to his knees as a sword impaled him through the heart. The whitened eyes of a traitor replaced the blue eyes of the Damnonii warrior. Survival instinct kicked in, and even before Belenus himself knew what he was doing, he had cut clean through the traitor guardsmen's ankles, leaving them nothing more than cauterised stumps from the field of his axe. The traitor didn't scream in agony, he didn't even notice the pain of his missing feet; instead he dragged himself towards Belenus, sword arm out in front.

'Grith zkarth echou larxy grah'munutch hakch.'

Now in control of his body, the axe stroke was smoother and more deadly, the large blade of the Inquisitor's weapon cracking through the traitor's skull, digging deep into the concrete ground. Using the shaft as support, Belenus raised himself to his feet, the pain in his leg almost making just standing unbearable. He could hear the roar of combat, it was close. Managing to pull the axe from the floor, he made his way towards the cries of battle. As he placed his weight on his injured leg, a flash of white pain submerged his brain, all his senses cut off as he felt nothing but the agony, the torment.

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Belenus remembered the pain of watching the daemon legions on Belgae tear through men like a power sword through cloth, leaving nothing alive in their wake. He had stood side by side with his mentor, an old uncle, a leader of the Imperial Guard. A warlord of the Cornovii Dragons Seventh regiment, one of the many regiments who had been sent to the slaughter against the hordes of chaos. They had been armed with nothing more then las pistols and axes and armoured in nothing but faith, the Dragons had charged into the wall of daemons. Where other regiments had faltered, the Dragons had gone readily. Where other regiments had fled, the Dragons had charged. Into the daemons they had screamed, into the daemons they had sung.

Blue painted faces had soon become covered in the sickly dark blood of the daemons and the pure red of their own. Belenus had watched a man being dragged down in an orgy of blood and hatred, as daemons consumed his flesh while he still breathed. The cries of his uncle had shaken Belenus to the core, urging his men forward into the heart of the daemons when something worse than daemon broke the ranks, corrupt Astartes.

A dark preacher had crushed the very bones of Belenus' mentor with nothing more than a thought. Tormenting the warriors of the Imperium with the slow death of their leader. Revenge, retribution, a thirst for blood had taken over Belenus; he had become an avenging son, and in this fury he had charged towards the dark warrior. The combat was short; Belenus was smashed aside with a single blow from the armoured fist of the traitor. Belenus had known he was dead, but as the blood slowly fell from his eyes, his vision returned...


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As his eyes reawakened, he could see the Damnonii were still in a raging combat with the guard of the enemy and with each other as the voice gripped more minds under its warped influence. Belenus watched as one of his sergeants decapitated a member of his own squad who had fallen, a 'Gealaich' as the men had begun to call them. Tears ran down the eyes of most of the Damnonii, such loss, such dishonourable deaths to such worthy comrades. Belenus felt their pain, his body was on the verge of failing him, but it was the pain that his men felt that hurt him the most.

Raising his axe high above his head, Belenus let out a scream of agony and fury - if he was going to die on this cursed planet, he was going to get the damn traitor first. He charged towards the fray, each time his leg pumped against the ground another round of pain almost engulfed him, only his wrath kept him conscious.

As he smashed into the wall of traitor guard, he could feel nothing but fury and pain. His mind was beginning to lose its grip on reality, everything became a blur, images flickered in his sight, half-beings, memories. This combat, this blood shed reminded him of the first time he had met the Damnonii, his bodyguard, his brothers.

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Belenus remembered Regini, another planet which had been infected by the taint of chaos, and under his damn iron grip, the planet had fallen into carnage. Inquisitor Thorne and his warriors had been one of the first off-world forces to arrive on the planet, and in this force was a young acolyte called Belenus, a warrior from the planet Cornovii. Many Imperial Guard regiments had begun landing upon the planet, its resources more valuable to the Imperium than the lives of the soldiers it sent to release it from the grip of the traitor. Of these units, one of the most brutal was the three regiments of Damnonii Bears which had been drafted from a nearby system.

The traitor had summoned a force which overshadowed that of Belgea. His power had grown in the years between the two conflicts and now rested and favoured by the Dark Lords, another planet was going to fall to his inhuman forces. Inquisitor Thorne stood against the traitor, the heretical space marine. Belenus remained close to the Inquisitor under orders, his mind able to disturb that of the psyker marine, Belenus was more than just a warrior, he was a fort against the intrusions against the mind.

The traitor had become distracted from the battle by the negative presence of the young warrior, becoming fixated on removing the nausea from his mind. Lashing out with his weapon, he cut the boy deep across the chest but still Belenus mind was awake. Thorne leapt at this opening, plunging his power sword deep into the traitor's torso. Injured and in dire need of medical attention, the traitor limped into his daemon horde.

Belenus remembered two things from his last waking moments on Regini, the symbol of the fallen Astartes shoulder guard, a screaming daemon on the eight pointed star of chaos and the voices of the Damnonii as they battled their way through the daemonic horde singing a song Belenus would later learn to be called 'Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau', the Land of my Fathers. Belenus remembered the words...


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His lips were dry, he hadn't had a decent drink since the landing and his water had run out hours ago, his body was broken from days of combat and brutal punishment and his mind was on the verge of letting go, but the words came easy. Recited as the Damnonii charged into battle, it was meant to bring courage, strength and honour to the warriors. Belenus had learnt it when he first adopted the Damnonii as his bodyguard and brothers.

Mae hen wlad fy nhadau yn annwyl i mi
Gwlad beirdd a chantorion, enwogion o fri;
Ei gwrol ryfelwyr, gwladgarwyr tra m'd
Dros ryddid gollasant eu gwaed.


His voice rang of the barren walls of the underground temple, the noise of combat washed his words away. He was closing in on combat, his leg making him incapable of running, but if he was going to die he was going to go down fighting. He could sense little about his surroundings, his mind preoccupied with the pain stemming from his battle wounds. He would not let his voice fail, if he had learnt anything from his bodyguards, his uncle or from his home world, it was that evil could only be defeated by the pureness of thought.

Belenus smiled as an old sergeant appeared beside him, his lips mouthing to the words of the song. As one, they charged towards the enemy, the sergeant helping the wounded Inquisitor. Other warriors of the Damnonii soon gathered around them, each one lifting their voice in song. By the time Belenus smashed into the last remaining guard of the traitor, there were no fewer than twenty members of the Damnonii attacking with him, while others were still stuck in the bloody combat at the entrance to the inner sanctum.

Gwlad, gwlad, pleidiol wyf i'm gwlad.
Tra m'n fur i'r bur hoff bau,
O bydded i'r hen iaith barhau.


The fighting was fierce once more, but the sound of clashing swords and axes was overpowered by the song of the Damnonii, each one fighting harder and stronger than they had since landing on the cursed planet. The Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau filled the small battlefield, each member of the Damnonii was now in perfect harmony, their voices, their minds and their hearts, all united under the banner of the Imperium and the God-Emperor.

Hen Gymru fynyddig, paradwys y bardd,
Pob dyffryn, pob clogwyn, i'm golwg sydd hardd;
Trwy deimlad gwladgarol, mor swynol yw si
Ei nentydd, afonydd, i mi.


The power of the song soon became evident to Belenus, the deep sentimental roots of the words reached deep into the entire platoon of Damnonii under his command, even the Gealaich. Inside the minds of the fallen, a battle between the voices of chaos, tormenting the psyche with promises of power and immortality, and the song of their brothers, their tribesmen, preaching the sanctity of the Emperor, the loyalty to the Imperium and the good of mankind. In some of the Gealaich, the power of the ruinous forces had gripped too tightly and their minds were lost forever to the damnation of the great enemy, but for others hope still held on. In their minds, some small spark remained, something of their home world, who they used to be, their love for their brothers and the God-Emperor. Their eyes returning to the pale blue that dominated the Damnonii gene pool, the Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau saving them from eternal servitude to the chaos gods.

Os treisiodd y gelyn fy ngwlad tan ei droed,
Mae hen iaith y Cymry mor fyw ag erioed,
Ni luddiwyd yr awen gan erchyll law brad,
Na thelyn berseiniol fy ngwlad.


The traitor's guard had fled; the overwhelming faith of the Damnonii along with their reawakened brothers had destroyed the morale of the enemy. Belenus stood with his adopted brothers at the entrance to the inner sanctum, where his aides had located the ritual of the traitor. If Belenus allowed this ritual to be completed, another world would be lost to the traitor, to his foul pleasures. He would not allow that to happen, too many worlds had been lost under the foot of his nemesis; Antoic would not become another name on that list.

The singing had stopped, as the Damnonii realised their fate. Inside the sanctum, hidden in the gloom, was a force to powerful for them to defeat, yet they had to enter. The last defence of the traitor would consist of his greatest warriors, the corrupt members of the Astartes, brothers of the Word Bearers legion. Against such beasts, such strength, even the faith and courage of the Damnonii would fail. Belenus could sense his men's feelings, each taking the last moments to say a prayer to the Emperor.

'You have done me well my brothers, you have fought harder and longer than any other force on this planet, you are credit to mankind. I do not command or even ask that any of you follow me into the darkness for only death will greet you. I have seen what this traitor will do for his thirst for power and I will do all I can to stop another planet falling into his hands. I or Tal Doran will be dead before the Imperium leaves this planet. For the Emperor.'

Even before the last syllable had left his mouth, the Damnonii answering shout rang from the walls.

'For our fathers, for the fallen and for Damnonii!'?

Belenus smiled, he knew his men would not leave him. As one, they charged into the darkness, Belenus could do little to keep up with them. As the first sounds of combat could be heard, Belenus disappeared into the black, as he faded two words echoed off the walls:

'For Cornovii!'

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