Minos centred the Traitor Marine's eye lens in his sights and exhaled. He mentally recited the Emperor's Judgment as he squeezed the trigger of his rifle. It kicked ever so slightly in the Scout's grip.
It took a moment for the bullet to travel the distance. It bounced off the Traitor's helm, a hair's breadth over his eye. Minos muttered a curse under his breath as he reflexively ducked back behind the wrecked bulkhead he was using as cover.
"The neck! Not the head!" Sergeant Arkhos bellowed as he thumped the back of Minos' head with the butt of his own sniper rifle. Arkhos stood up, shouldered his weapon, fired, and ducked back behind cover, his camo cloak seeming to fall into exactly the right position to obscure him. Minos grimaced at his inability to mimic his Sergeant's fluid, precise movements.
Minos' Chapter, the Night Watch, had responded to Cadia's call. Minos and Arkhos themselves had been here with their squad for the better part of a week, harassing the Black Crusade's forces wherever possible, and while they had accounted for themselves admirably while behind enemy lines, they now found themselves at the most heavily contested part of the front.
The sound of rolling thunder boomed over the battlefield, the unmistakable sound of craft entering the upper atmosphere. Minos searched the skies, looking for what dire turn of events the sound heralded.
Then he saw them. Bursting through the grey clouds, three Thunderhawk Transporters screamed toward the ground, their leading edges white-hot from re-entry, their gleaming silver hulls bringing blessed light to the smoky battlefield.
The enemy noticed too. Red beams lanced up at the gunships, mostly going wide. One tore into a wing, though it did little more than leave an angry black trail of smoke from that particular craft. Baleful energies arced up toward the lead craft, but succeeded only in breaking themselves against the gleaming body of the Thunderhawk.
Swarms of missiles broke out of the grey clouds, streaking down into the Traitors' forces as more silver craft descended into view from the firmament. Stormeagles and Stormtalons unleashed salvo after salvo of missiles, while a few Stormravens weaved across the battlefield discharging beams of destructive light into Traitor strongpoints.
The Transporters screamed closer to the ground, heedless of the constantly-increasing torrent of firepower directed at them. They slowed as they approached mere metres above the ground, before releasing their cargo from transport clamps. Three Land Raiders plummeted the distance between gunship and ground, the powerful tanks' weapons blazing mere moments after release.
The three vehicles landed in a triangular formation, crushing a substantial number of mutants and renegades under them. Immediately, the mighty behemoths lurched forward. Minos recognised the lead vehicle as a Crusader, it's assault cannon and bolters spitting an unforgiving amount of firepower at the enemy, while the trailing vehicles were Redeemers, and their mighty flamestorm cannons silenced large swathes of the battlefield around the tanks.
As the Thunderhawks released payloads at targets ahead of the Land Raiders before pulling up and disappearing into the firmament once again, the vehicles on the ground pushed forward, absorbing prodigious amounts of fire before their assault ramps dropped open and the Astartes within disembarked, banners unfurling defiantly in the wind.
Minos watched the leading Astartes, a regal figure, his armour gleaming in resplendant silver and gold, his stature and strength at odds with the grace and agility of his movements. He wielded a sword so massive, it was almost as wide as himself, and far longer than he was tall.
"This is Lord-Commander Darius Killian of the Sentinels, speaking to all loyal warriors of the Imperium..." The calm of the Chapter Master's voice smothered the profane chants that were jamming the open channel.
"The Despoiler intends to crush us, to swat us aside as he grasps at the very heart of our Imperium. He wishes to cast our worlds into ruin, to break our will, to offer our souls up to the powers he serves so that we may become as debased as him."
"He has erred, for we are the Imperium. We will not abide, we will not yield, and we will not relent."
"Pledge your service to the Emperor, for you are his subjects, and he will guide your hands!"
"Pledge your resolve to Cadia, for you are her defenders, and she will shield your souls!"
"But pledge your fury to me, for you are my brothers, and we will deny the Despoiler!" And at that, thousands of voices rose in zeal, in faith, in hatred, and the defenders of the Imperium resurged against the Traitorous tide.
The Lord-Commander's honour guard fanned out around him, spitting Emperor-blessed bolterfire at their dazed and charred adversaries.
He waded into the crush of the opposition, and he was unstoppable. Each swing of the massive blade sent flashes of white light ahead of him, cracking earth and crushing bone. Man, machine, monster; all were sundered alike.
A squad of Traitor Marines loped at the leader of the Sentinels, the Traitors borne forward on bursts of warpfire from the twin engines on their backs. The Traitors leapt into the air, flung aloft on eldritch energy, their paths traced by bolter fire from their Loyalist targets.
The Lord Commander looked up after them, almost casually, as if their impending murderous descent bothered him not. His left wrist flicked up, spitting blasts of plasma into the Raptor swarm. Their blasphemous descent continued, heedless of the violence being directed at them.
Minos's hearts swelled with empathetic pride as Darius swept his massive blade into the air, tracing a gleaming arc of white light into the air. Some of the Traitor Marines were swept from the air. Another sweep, and more were halted their dive, flung away from their targets. Only one remained, and Minos thought he could hear the Traitor's warcry, even across the massive distance between them.
Darius struck a swift blow as the Traitor entered his reach. One of the Raptor's engines was sent careening away, foul red fire spitting from the stump on his back where it used to be. Before the Raptor even hit the ground, the Lord Commander had planted his blade in the dirt and, with divine speed, jumped up to meet the Traitor. One of his gauntlets wrapped around the Traitor's neck, and as Darius descended he flung the Raptor away into the midst of the Traitors that had survived their failed dive. The bisected jump pack reached catastrophic failure as the Traitor impacted his comrades, showering them all in daemonfire and unholy energy.
Minos, spirit bolstered by the Sentinel's display, nodded to his Sergeant and shouldered his rifle once again. Minos' squadmates followed suit, their conviction in their purpose renewed.
Silver drop pods rained down through the dark clouds, and the gleaming Astartes gunships returned to strike once more.
The Lord Commander did not pause to savour his victory; already his attention was elsewhere, his plasma pistol spitting death at the ever-encroaching sea of heretics, mutants and traitors all around his brethren. He raised his sword again, and motioned the blade at their adversaries.
"For the Emperor, for eternity!"
* * *
Lord-Commander Darius Killian, the Sentinel Ascendant, the Dawnbringer, the Dragon of Sacred Light, Chapter Master of the Sentinels
While the earliest recorded archival information relating to the weapon that would come to be called the Dawnblade dates to the end of M32, when it was encountered in, and liberated from, the hands of a daemon prince of plague that lead the forces infesting the Vaults on the surface of Antios, Inquisitorial sources claim that the Dawnblade was originally a large but otherwise unexceptional power sword belonging to a Sergeant of the Death Guard.
At the climax of the Antios Campaign, Captain Wes Pollack of the Fourth Company, the Sentinel who had won the honour of landing the final blow of the war, lead his Company into the festering, dank, and now-nightmarish confines of Vault Zero. The Fourth had finally breached the cesspit that was the daemon prince's lair.
The battle was savage, unrelenting and lethal; and it ended when Wes Pollack killed the daemon prince with the daemon's own weapon: the Dawnblade, which was now a massive blade, longer than the height of an Astartes.
It hummed with power, and the Chapter's Librarium found that the weapon was remarkably free of Warp-taint, which the Reclusiam took to be a sign of the Emperor's favour.
Wes Pollack, now First Chapter Master of the Sentinels, was not so easily convinced. He ordered the massive weapon shrouded with hexagrammic wards and anointed with sacred oils. The weapon was not to be examined by any, save for the Master of Sanctity, the Chief Librarian, the Master of the Forge, and the Chapter Master himself, and even then, these esteemed warriors were only permitted to examine the weapon once in their lifetime. This sanction would remain in place until such time that Reclusiam, Librarium and Armoury (though, notably, not the Chapter Master himself) were all in accord that the weapon was indeed beyond all doubt to be free of all forms of corruption, and would be one of the many commands that every Chapter Master henceforth would adhere to.
Over the thousands of years that the Dawnblade has been sealed away, successive Chief Librarians, Masters of Sanctity and Masters of the Forge have performed untold numbers of rituals of purification, warding, and amplification. The blade has been anointed with the tears of a Living Saint. It has been treated with the pulped bones of some of the Chapter's greatest heroes. It has been polished with scraps from the most storied of the Chapter's banners.
Not long after Darius Killian's ascension to Chapter Master, Synod-Marshal Hector received a vision of prophecy, of light, of fire, and ultimately, of victory. At once both shaken and emboldened by this vision, he went to Paragon-Magister Luthien. Luthien interpreted the vision as a portent of great challenge, a call to arms for the Chapter. The two enlisted Artisan-Exemplar Petrias Sharn, and the now-trio entered the Dawnblade's vault.
While already renowned within his own Chapter (much like any Chapter Master), it was during the 13th Black Crusade that Darius would become known outside of his own Chapter, when he brought both Throne Company and Shadow Company to the aid of the defenders of the Cadian system.
While he had shown leadership ability from his earliest years, Darius Killian's time as a Squire was somewhat unremarkable, particularly when compared with the Captains who currently report to him. It was not until he was assigned command of his own squad that he truly came to be noticed by his seniors. Through his years as a Paladin, Darius would lead many a squad to exploits that would be remembered for centuries, and many of the Knights and Paladins serving alongside him would go on to become some of the greatest heroes of the Chapter.
When Darius ascended to Lord-Commander, he was younger than his predecessors, a fact that did not diminish the Chapter's faith in Darius. Indeed, such an occurence provides ample evidence that the Sentinels truly believe in "...deeds, not words..." and, with the onset of the 13th Black Crusade, the Chapter's faith in their Chapter Master would prove to be well-placed.
All of that having been said, it would be ill-advised to believe that Darius' only skills lie in command and leadership. The Lord-Commander is a veteran of centuries of battle, a slayer of countless monstrosities, and the living embodiment of the Emperor's unrelenting will. He is an Astartes first and foremost, versed in all the ways of war and every form of combat.
Darius is the first bearer of the Dawnblade, an ancient, immense weapon that strikes with power beyond what should be possible for a weapon of it's not-inconsiderable size. The blade itself hums with latent power, which discharges in destructive waves of glowing white energy as it is swung.
Flarecaster is an artificer-crafted plasma pistol that Darius only started using in conjunction with the Dawnblade. The plasma cores in Flarecaster are both more stable and longer-lasting than those of every other plasma weapon in the Sentinels' armoury.
The bulk of Darius' right pauldron is occupied by the sun motif that constitutes Darius' personal heraldry; his refurbished Crux Terminatus, awarded to him by Throne Company; the preserved skull of a psyker slain by Tome Company; the skull of a great enemy of Lance Company; and the Darkened Wreath, an Imperial Wreath once worn by a Captain of Shadow Company.
On the edge of Darius' right pauldron is the the Steel Gift, a badge composed of the Bright Point, an exquisitely-crafted short blade from Sword Company; the Sol Guard, a heraldic symbol from Shield Company; and the Tempest Wing, a token of Storm Company.
Hanging from the outer edge of the pauldron are the Stern Visage, an armour adornment awarded gifted from Grail Company; and the Crux Azure, a token of honour from Sigil Company.
Darius' left pauldron has been affixed with the first purity seals he was awarded in his lifetime, while the pauldron itself serves as a sheath for the Hidden Blade, a ceremonial shortblade inscribed with the names of the greatest heroes of Dagger Company.
On Darius' left greave is another variation of his personal heraldry.
Before Darius started bearing the Dawnblade into battle, he wielded a relic blade and a storm shield called the Argent Pinion. The Argent Pinion has played a significant role in safeguarding Darius, and as such is still borne into combat when Darius feels the need for added warding.
Darius' relic blade, Valiance, has a storied provenance. Valiance has been wielded by every Chapter Master of the Sentinels, and Darius still takes to the field with Valiance in hand for smaller engagements.