KILLING A PLANET
It had started raining. The scorched ground turned to mud and got mixed with the blood of a thousand corpses, the torn sacks of meat and twisted bone littering the battlefield. Charred skulls gazed up at the hellish sky with their empty sockets as they drowned in the bloody soup. Skander led Tartaros across the field. They were just one of many squads advancing through the nightmare created by Moritat Gurthor, but they were 1st Squad; the best of the Battalion.
"To the right!” legionary Sarrak called out, before taking aim with his heavy bolter.
The enemy soldiers, clad in greatcoats and plumed helmets while carrying baroque lasguns, were hacked down by bolter shells in a matter of seconds and their remains left to decorate the dying world. Tartaros kept advancing towards the citadel, a massive construction in the middle of the graveyard that had once been a city. Barrages of phosphex shells lit up the surroundings as they hammered into a line of fortifications along the left flank. Skander looked through the enhanced scope on his bolter and spotted a large group of soldiers charging in the direction of the squad. Had they gone mad? He was about to fire when he saw how unorganized they were, some even stopping or throwing themselves to the ground, and none carried weapons. As the men came closer, it became clear that this was not an attack; it was panicked men fleeing from an unseen foe. Skander saw dark blood flow from mouths and nostrils, eyes dissolve and skin rot, before the mortals fell dead in the mud. Only a gas attack from the Destroyers claimed lives in this manner. The Moritat was probably savouring the results like a connoisseur of fine wine. A man coughing mouthfuls of blood fell in front of Skander, who stomped his head to paste without a second thought.
“Marek, Zev; take point,” said Skander and fell in behind the two veterans.
He opened a vox-channel to squads Thanatos and Styx who, according to the display in his visor, were fighting at the frontlines with the main assault.
“Still holding the line, Caleb?”
A calmand gruff voice answered him.
“It is my duty to do so while you younglings hunt for glory,” said Harkus of Thanatos.
Skander opened fire into a concentration of soldiers, watching their bodies explode in pink mist.
“Can’t let Charon take the citadel first. You know how Kruik gets.”
“Did he charge up the centre?”
“Aye, any word on his position?” asked Skander.
He got a glimpse of the lower parts of his own armour while reloading, the worn ivory-coloured ceramite covered in blood-filled mud. It was the same for his men.
“He was joining the Breachers last we heard,” answered Dur-Togan, before bellowing orders to Styx.
Rays from volkite weaponry scythed through enemy lines to the west, the humans exploding in a chaos of ash and fire. Volleys of massed bolter-fire from dozens of legionaries followed. On the right flank the majority of the Destroyers and their Incinerators kept on with their hellish work. A sudden thought made Skander grin.
“The XVIII wouldn’t like what we are doing here. Sometimes I wonder if they are true Astartes,” he said and laughed. “What was the name of that captain again?”
“Ko’shtan. Turga Ko’shtan, softest heart of all the Legiones Astartes,” said Harkus.
Dur-Togan uttered what could be interpreted as a hoarse laughter.
“The Commander sure showed him!”
Skander allowed himself a few seconds to think back on the campaign they had fought with the Salamanders. Their allies had been led by ‘the
honourable’ captain Ko’shtan, a warrior whose idealistic view on the Crusade and misplaced sympathy with the common people had caused some tension with the Battalion. Apparently were the cleansing of human planets not how the Imperium should be built, and the Salamander had been furious after the Moritat wiped out a city that surrendered. The Commander’s response was legendary among the 8th; I was there when the Imperium was born. Don’t try to lecture me on how to fight this war, little dragon.
“Ko’shtan would have wept if he saw us now. Wonder if the Sons of Vulkan cry red tears,” said Skander as he shot the head off an enemy officer.
The outer defences of the citadel were close and behind the many bunkers towered massive battlements; breaching them would prove a challenge. Sudden explosions tore up the ground around Tartaros and volleys of lasfire hammered into their armour, leaving behind fresh scorch marks.
“Duty calls, brothers. I’ll get back to you when we have taken the citadel,” said Skander and cut the link to his fellow sergeants.
He grinned, for the purging had finally become a battle. The artillery strikes intensified as the squad advanced, but Skander ignored the rain of shells and kept gunning down anyone unlucky enough to find themselves in his sights. Only when some sort of kinetic weaponry joined in did he reluctantly lead his men to cover in a crater, where heaps of human remains lay half-buried in the mud.
“They sure are resisting!” shouted Azar, the squad’s meltagunner.
Skander’s gaze was locked on the fortifications blocking his way.
“Of course they are! We are trying to destroy their home!”
He had two options. Waiting for the units following behind Tartaros would give Charon too much of a head-start, which was unacceptable, so he went with the old classic; brute force. He turned to the legionary carrying the nuncio.
“Sileas, get Nahshon on the vox and tell him we need his Medusas to clear some ground!”
The legionary obeyed and Skander looked back at the target while he waited for the Master of Signal to bring the pain. It took only a few seconds before the first shells struck and engulfed the defence line in a storm of destruction. There was a certain beauty about artillery barrages tearing apart the constructions of man.
“Move out!” ordered Skander and stormed out of the crater, his eyes fixed on the walls ahead.
He was a fighter. His entire life had been a fight for survival, from the bleak childhood on Barbarus to the most hellish of battlefields, and he had always prevailed. Not because of his weapons or armour or even his trans-human physique, but through pure willpower. He was Death Guard. A damned wall wasn’t going to stop him from fulfilling his duty. The barrage ended and it became clear that Nahshon had been very thorough, even throwing in some phosphex shells that turned men into living torches. Remaining soldiers who still fought were quickly felled by bolter rounds. Skander backhanded a man in the head as he ran, crushing the weak bone with ease. Part of him wanted to remove the helmet and breathe in the death-filled air, but such distractions would have to wait until the citadel had fallen. The sound of grinding treads made him look to the left where a Fellblade covered in old battle-damage rolled into view flanked by two Glaives. The Fourth Horseman was Siege Breaker Isearg’s command vehicle and the most feared war machine in the Battalion’s arsenal, having reaped countless lives since the day it rolled from the factories on Mars.
“On the wall, sergeant!” said Marek and pointed.
Skander saw an enemy tank, not too different from the Malcadors used by the Imperium, appear on the battlements and point its main gun at the attacking legionaries. The Horseman fired first. A single shot blasted apart the wall and destroyed the tank, sending the smoking wreckage crashing front first into the ground below. It took Skander less than a second to discover their way inside the citadel.
“Draw blades! Marek, Josip, Zev; you’re with me!”
He was already on his way up the ramp created by the wrecked tank when he gave the order, ignoring the incoming laser beams. After climbing the last few meters and emptying his bolter into a line of soldiers in the process, did he finally reach the top of the broken wall. Raindrops from the black sky beat against his battered armour as he realized that he was the first legionary inside the citadel, for there was no sign of Kruik and his warriors. Skander pulled his power sword and let a Barbarusan war cry leave the helmet’s vox grille before
throwing himself at the enemy.
In the chaos of battle was the Medicae’s duty the only constant. Titus Sarpaten knelt by the fallen legionary lying on his back in the mud and began the ‘ritual’ he had performed so many times before. The cause of death was simple; killed by a high power projective clean through the forehead. Sarpaten moved his gaze to the markings on the legionary’s armour, barely visible beneath the damage from past battles. Brother Tapio belonged to 11th Tactical who had taken heavy casualties at the front lines, but such was expected when the Legion went to war.
Sarpaten activated the chainsaw on his Narthecium and started opening the fallen warrior’s chest plate. The Seekers of Tantalus stood in a wide semi-circle around him, their modified bolters raised and ready. A Predator Infernus in the livery of the Destroyers rolled past on its way to purge the locals with toxic fire. The Medicae had heard reports that the new gas he had developed for the Moritat was performing well, but it could always be improved; lethality, attack points and horror of its victims’ death being just a few possibilities. He looked up for a few seconds, just in time to see a heavy bombardment hammer down on the defences outside the citadel. Reaching the heart of the enemy was mostly symbolic as the planet was dead anyway.
He finished with the chest plate, brought forth the Reductor and set about removing Tapio’s Progenoid Glands so that the warrior’s death would not be forfeit. Sarpaten was part of a dying breed, having fought in the last days of Unification under the banner of the Dusk Raiders and witnessed Mankind set out to reclaim its birth right among the starts. A moment of melancholy filled him. It had been another Legion in another age, for never again would Astartes wage war on Terra; the thought of it impossible. He harvested the last Gland, stood up and ordered the Seekers to follow. His duty to the Legion was far from over this day.