The Dark of Night
The fighting could be found all throughout the corridors and battlements of the Imperial Palace, in the courtyards and gathering places, and amongst the gruesome remains strewn about. The telltale chatter of bolter fire and las weapons reverberated in the night's air, like a constant cadence singing the song of death. Every section of the fortification suffered from the assaults; scorched sections of halls from promethium-based weapons, surgical cuts made by lasers of various make, and the brutal decimation of structures induced by withering bolter fire.
The forces of the Warmaster, Horus, had finally made landfall and had pushed through the outer defenses of Terra. The Imperial Forces made up of hundreds of thousands of Imperial Guard, Planetary Defense Forces, and the Arbites had fought a tactical retreat all the way back to the well prepared walls of the Imperial Palace and Basilica where the Emperor's truest servants were waiting.
The Traitor Forces were merely being delayed by the acts of the awaiting army, the plans of the Imperial Fists incorporated a means to bleed the invaders every step of the way. Although a single man was of little impediment to an astartes, a hundred men may well prove to be a hurdle. But for all their efforts and lives spent, the citizens of Terra demonstrated they were little more than minor obstructions in the face of the Legions of Horus.
The initial assault had been brutal, once cousins, if not brothers, now battling as though lifelong foes in the name of Horus or for the Emperor. Screams of agony and anger broke through his vox set, bringing a ravenous smile to his face. Zar-Helek, Captain of the 37th Chapter "The Shadow's Sworn" and his astartes were making delicious progress. Dusk had fallen quickly and the rise of the sons of the VIII Legion was coming to fruition. The smell of fear permeated the air, generated by the thousands of mortals attempting to stave off the attack of the "traitors." Generally unsuccessful save where pockets of the scum of Dorn were found, the resistance had beaten a hasty retreat to where their saviors could be found. These bastions of hope would soon be turned to murder holes.
The 37th Chapter, 9th Company of the fearsome VIII Legion had entered the upper most battlements of the palace by Storm Eagles following the vanguard of Night Raptors, the night previous. They had suffered casualties from impressive anti-air artillery that reduced them to seventy-percent of their original starting strength. But this had done nothing to reduce their thirst to rain down death and cultivate fear. The upper-most defensive positions were taken and a Legion borne of terror began their work.
In the twenty-four hours that followed their initial delivery, Zar-Helek and his number had cleared the entirety of the upper floors and were working their way downwards, rooting out the stubborn forces of the False Emperor wherever they could be found.
The Captain of the 37th was a superhuman possessed of a devious mind, a true student of the VIII Legion's ethos of "mastery thru fear." He ultimately commanded a Chapter specifically tasked with invoking fear and perpetuate the psychological breakdown of any opposition. To lead such a detachment of villainous souls takes a singular mind, and even when combing the thousands in the Legion, few approached the proficiency he claimed.
Zar-Helek's origins could be traced to the Hive City, Secondus, on the surface of Nostramo. His family was wealthy, wealthy enough to afford the artificial light and air cleansers that were an indicator of power. His father was the head of a mining company, one of the largest on the entire planet and was the wealthiest of the families in Secondus. They wanted for nothing, and were protected by name and riches, at last for a time.
With the coming of the Night Haunter on Quintus, the fifth city of Nostamo, was the coming of the end of outright corruption and crime. After his pacification of Quintus, the monarch's intent to do the same to all of the Hive cities was Zar-Helek was young, barely attending grammar school, when his arrival to Secondus occurred. The city had already gone to great lengths to appear to clean their acts up, and they adopted many of the practices of the other cities which had already been visited by the future Konrad Curze; curfews, accountability, and public sentencing of criminals.
Of course the exceedingly rich merely hid their activities, but were eventually rooted out by the swift justice of their new ruler. This included Zar-Helek's family; his father who had a personal interest in the limitations of the human body was hung from the ramparts as his innards flowed from his disemboweled abdomen, providing a slow death and a clear message to all. His mother leapt from the towering heights of their home, both in grief and as penance for the wrongs her husband committed. The act absolved their young son of any wrongdoing, but left him wealthless and alone, not more than eleven in Terran years he was an orphan. He took to the inner Hive, and quickly assimilated himself into the gang culture, rising to a position of power.
His penchant for violence and his psychological disposition made him a likely candidate for inclusion into the ranks of the Legion, and he proved to fare well within the structures of Night Lords. His acute mind absorbed the tactical training like a sponge, while the use of terror tactics appealed to the shadowy side of his mind that developed during his earlier life. It all proved to be an environment where every aspect of him flourished, and he was eventually rewarded with a Captaincy of a full Chapter of murderers.
Few members of the VIII Legion had taken part in the Siege of Terra, but amongst them were the 37th. The majority of the Legion was bounding across the Eastern Fringe, conducting terror missions and delaying the advancement of the I Legion, the Dark Angels.
There was no mercy and bodies of mortals and Adeptus Astartes were strung along the arches and the walls as proof of what awaited the opposition. Bodies were flayed open, faces left untouched so as to display the terror the victim felt upon dying. Corpses were dumped over the walls into courtyards below bringing horror to the ranks of men guarding the Imperial Palace. As much as they had prepared for the incoming strike, the Emperor's Astartes found themselves occupied with buoying the already wavering courage of their mortal allies, as if preparing and repelling the assault of numerous traitor legions wasn't enough.
Zar-Helek rounded the final steps of the corridor and heard the calm, almost whisper-like, voice of Selevon register on the company's vox channel. "We have met with some resistance, we require some... assistance..."
3rd Terror Squad's Headmaster, Selevon, selected as such for his especially talented methods of invoking fear rarely asked for such things. He had proved in the past several decades his competence in conducting operations with little to no support, this was an interesting development. He had been born of Terra, a child to political prisoners who were never to see the light of day, and to be back here in this capacity spoke sweetly to him. He expressed his distaste of the False Emperor in every work of art he left behind, hidden in his prey's remains was the expressions of one who hated the Master of the Imperium with every fiber of his being. Now, with the proclamation from the Night Haunter that the VIII Legion would side with The Warmaster Horus, he could vocalize his abhorrence.
Being raised in a prison surrounded by rapists, murderers, and other violent offenders bred two types of people; those who adapt and become predators or those who fail to adjust and fall prey to the whims of those within the cells. Selevon had been protected by his family and the prison gang they had attached themselves to. Although his father had a noble bearing to him, he proved to be a ruthless sort, preferring to initiate whatever action he had to in order to protect his family. His mother bore this change with a stoic face and deep down a part of her loathed the person her husband had become but then another part of her was thankful for what he did to protect them.
Selevon was to eventually replace his father, but this would never come to pass. The ranks of the astartes must be filled, and so the young, pale-skinned boy was dragged from the arms of his parents, 'chosen' to serve the Emperor where his family had failed to. His hatred for the Emperor only grew, but instead of allowing it to consume him he hid it, using it to drive him onwards in the face of the impossible regimen that was the development of a mere boy to a battle-ready astartes. He lacked the effortless charisma that some could claim, but his malicious personality paired with his competence in small-unit tactics led to his promotion to Headmaster of his own Terror Squad.
With his curiosity piqued, Zar-Helek voxed back "Something beyond your skills Headmaster?"
"Would I have asked otherwise Captain?" The question hung for a long moment before any explanation followed, "We are currently out positioned, the mongrels of Dorn and such are holding a long hallway with more gall than I imagined they would have. If we do not break them soon, be rest assured more will arrive to shore up their already effective defense of this route." He looked down at his chest armour, newly wrought lacerations from las fire was evident along with a puckered mess of ceramite from a well placed bolter-shot.
A simple affirmative was voxed back while at the same time Zar-Helek indicated his personal retinue to accompany him. Heavy steps cracked the white marble flooring as his bodyguards, his Fearmongers, in their nigh impregnable Cataphractii pattern Terminator Armour formed up in a protective arrow-like formation. "The rest of you, find Commander Gerlach, After a swift weapons check, the collective tread of the eleven Astartes in their juggernaut-like suits resonated through the floor.
Dust trails fell from the ceiling, collecting on Selevon's pauldron, "Stand ready brothers... Our magnanimous leader is coming to our aid..." A steady stream of laughter voxed in from throughout the squad.
"Since when have you ever asked for aid from the likes of Zar-Helek?" The voice was rough, at odds with the softer, more sinister words of the Headmaster. Originating from the the oldest member of his squad, Karek, it sounded almost like a challenge. Severon knew that Karek longed to replace him, but his impatient manner did not see him fit for the role. He always was, and would always be a thoughtless butcher, more alike to the scions of Angron, Primarch of the World Eaters.
Karek was a child of the groups that roamed the outskirts of the hive cities and the bottom levels. He was handling weapons at an age most were still playing with homemade toys, but this was not an uncommon occurrence in the population of the lower hives. The malcontent marine had been young muscle for a small but vicious circle which claimed a small quadrant of Secondus, the same hive city Selevon came from. The beatings he gave often exceeded those so ordered by his leaders, but his visits often yielded results, so they were often overlooked. In a Legion where effective violence was well regarded he was moved to the elite special tactics unit of the 3rd terror Squad. One would be led to believe he would thrive there and his length of service was impressive, but his inability to carry out orders as dictated by his superiors kept him as a battle-brother.
"And since when have I ever entertained your inane inquiries Karek? Answer me that." A barely restrained snigger followed the question, and then more vocal laughter afterwards followed from the remaining squad members. "Look down the length of the hall and tell me what you see, then explain to me how you would deal with such a... complication."
The shuffle of armoured feet sounded to Selevon's left, as he watched Karek position himself for a view of what obstructed their continued movement. There is no illumination save for dim strips of light along the floor, but with his gene-enhanced vision the problem was obvious. The sons of the VII Legion had created a fortified station manned by Astartes and a small contingent of Imperial Guard. Makeshift walls had been erected from various materials with a what looked to be a heavy bolter A series of shots rang out as a flash from the muzzle of the heavy bolter lit the entirety of the hallway for mere seconds. Karek was struck squarely by a shell on his right pauldron, decimating it in the process. Cursing bitterly to himself he voxed, "You're a bastard Selevon!" A touch of amusement coated his words as he continued to hurl Nostraman curses at Selevon.
"You chose to look, the fault is your own... Luck was with you, but I would lead with your left until you can find a replacement..." The amusement was evident when the rest of the squad voiced their assent with dark and throaty laughter. They did so for all to hear, especially the mortals integrated with the Imperial Fists down the corridor, how unnerving is it to have your foes laugh so after such a shot? Selevon peered around, his modified Mk III armour whirring in response. Displayed on his red-tinted HUD he saw the lifelines of eight members of his terror squad indicating their condition as battle-ready. He had lost two members, Brez and Valucar, since they had began their initial assault into the Imperial Palace. Their status indicators had already been removed from his display as their armour was cannibalized by the rest of the squad to conduct field repairs on their own damaged armour. Through acute tactical awareness and luck, the Headmaster had successfully navigated his circle of murderers within the palace without a loss of another. He had a feeling that was soon to change, given the current situation.
"Attend brother, your liege has come," Vaclav announced over Selevon's squad's secure channel, "be on your best behavior..." Master of the Signal and brilliant tactician, Vaclav had mastered the art of troop movement quickly, taking to the task as waterfowl to water. It was joked he would fit in as a son of Guilliman if he pleased, which was often met with a derisive smile. His advanced mastery of communications made him a highly sought out mentor throughout the Chapter by all signals operators, and often times even by members of other Chapters. With a clear, clarion-like voice and almost singsong accent, he spoke as a noble with an upbringing in the upperhives of Nostramo, specifically Tertius, beyond that there was little any knew of him. But everyone in the VIII Legion knew not to allow that to mislead them, he was a killer, through and through.
The thunderous stomp of terminator armour could be felt before it could be heard, and Selevon made ready to order his squad a final check before advancing but the company frequency went hot as the voice of their Captain broke through the raucous laughter as a result of Vaclav's comments, "We move..." it said.
"'Ware the hea-" Selevon tried to warn, but it was too late, the six had already turned the corner and were receiving impressive amounts of fire. The near impervious suits rejected all attempts to be penetrated by the incoming shells. It seemed that nothing more than a repaint by the servitors would be required afterwards, that was until a heavy bolter round found its mark. To the left of Zar-Helek, a Fearmonger knelt to one knee. A round had found its mark and had severed the servo in his left leg, no longer able to move he provided cover for Selevon's Terror Squad. Several shots found gaps in the line, barely missing the screened members of the Terror Squads in most cases but downing Brother Alberich in the hail. But the advancing wall of Terminator armour proved to be more than could be handled, witnessing the amount of fire they were absorbing, Headmaster Selevon gave the command to advance using them as shields.
"Apothecary Fearghas, if you have a spare moment I think we have work for you..." Selevon glanced momentarily at Alberich's life signs, he could see he was still alive, mostly due to the suits internal auto-medicae and his enhanced physiology.
"I can monitor my brother's vitals just as well as you Headmaster, I am already moving, but he is moving towards Death's shadow." The grim announcement was unsurprising, the resistance they had been encountering was increasing steadily, losses were unfortunate but to be expected. But Selevon was finding the assault on Terra less than appealing as of late.
As they got closer the invaders opened fire, the arrival of the Fearmongers had certainly tipped the scales in their favor. A deadly hail of combi-bolter and plasma fire reduced the ad hoc fortification in a handful of seconds, revealing the fruit within. Several sun-bright bursts of plasma disintegrated a trio of Imperial Fists, leaving little evidence of their existence. At that moment the incoming fire from the defensive position lessened significantly and shortly after they were in the thick of it. It was now down to martial prowess and savagery. With their superior numbers and the arrival of their Chapter Master's retinue, the outcome of the contest of arms was certain.
Children, or at least they appeared to be in comparison, turned to flee while others found the last remnants of courage and found the end of their lives in the form of murderglaives, power weapons and flaying blades.
Murderglaives, or more commonly known as chainglaives, are a two handed weapon of brutality. The sound they produce is terrifying for mere men, the promise of death by dismemberment is what they bring. Wielded with two hands, their reach and very real threat was a hallmark of the Sergeants of the Terror Squads and Raptor Squads of the VIII Legion. Most humans simply went limp in the face of such weapons wielded by these demi-gods. But the palace had demi-god guardians of their own, and they came to the forefront, looking to provide inspiration and much needed strength of arm. The seven remaining defenders came on uncaring of the numbers they faced, clad in the distinctive yellow that the sons of Dorn were known to wear. They all died the same. Overwhelmed and outnumbered, they sought out honourable deaths. But they would be denied, honour and the such would find no place here, the midnight clad do not fight fair.
"Treasonous dogs! Have you no hono-" the question ended before it could be asked, a chainglaive wielded by Selevon parted the Fist's head from his shoulders. The remaining defenders fell quickly, outnumbered two to one, then three to one. The last of them died facing ten times his number, but he would fall to the bark of a bolter at short range, depriving him of any chance of taking one of the murderers down with him.
"Assess and reload. Call the apothecary if need be, you move forward once the skin has been flayed from the backs of these curs. Ensure they receive proper treatment. I suspect you will meet something of the same further along." Zar-Helek turned back the way they came, "I have other matters to attend to."
"As you will it," the Headmaster voxed to his Captain. "You heard it, prepare yourselves, our work continues..." A quick appraisal of his HUD showed he was down another member, Galeon, the thoughtless fool was the first to leave the safety of the terminator's shadows and was felled by bolter fire. Being first in this business never paid well. As he removed his most recent squad's loss from his display, Karek freed a slightly blemished MkII pauldron from him to replace his badly damaged one. Seven left...
"I have reclaimed Alberich's geneseed, he was beyond my help." Fearghas' flippant manner annoyed Selevon, but he was adept at his role and so he held his tongue. Six...
"Sergeant Emil, we have lost contact with Fourth Squad. Last message received suggests troops in contact, Night Lords..."
The Imperial Guard member manning the vox-caster looked shaken. Sweat pooled and dripped from his nose, landing in a small puddle on the floor. His heart rate was elevated, eyes are wide open, and not to mention the pallid color of his skin. These men, courageous in their efforts, were starting to lose their composure. The vox channels had been rife with screams and cries of anguish. They were repeating, looped and constantly replayed, you could tell when it ended and began again. But what made it all the more upsetting to the men was that the length of it before it looped was especially long. There was no doubt that the recorded person had suffered greatly. It all makes sense though the Sergeant thought to himself, the murderous children of Curze were known for such tactics, psychological warfare at its finest. He had to admit though, it was working.
He looked down at the mortal standing beside him, newly awarded corporal pins on his lapels, "Check on your men, give them assurances that the VII Legion is here and together we will drive back these traitors." The corporal nodded and stepped off towards the bulk of his men to pass the word.
Brother-Sergeant Emil, Seventh Legion, squad leader of Fourth Squad of "The Vaunted" Company took in his surroundings. Over twenty-four hours after contact, and they had seen no evidence of the enemy, but that looked to change soon. All electricity had been cut off for the past twenty-four hours, minus anything that had back-up generators such as the floor illuminators. A gloomy darkness surrounded the entirety of his defensive position which had no effect on his fellow Astartes but was starting to show signs of wear on the resolve of his mortal companions. Emil had commanded that all elements under his authority were to refrain from using any spotlights or personal illumination devices to preserve what battery life they had. When the time for combat arrived, they would need them so that the guardsmen could be more effective. Oh what he would give to trade the twenty Guard members for just one more Marine.
The betrayal of his once fellow Astartes still rocked him to the core and spending too long thinking on it inadvertently put him into combat posture, his suit and body responding to the unseen threat. He wondered what happened to his battle companions within the other Legions, if they could even be called upon as companions. His thoughts soon raced through the list of Astartes he had let blood with, all the members of those turned Legions, were they still loyal or were they to be found leading the charge against the Emperor? As he explored his thoughts and revisited memories of victories past, Emil made a cursory inspection of his gear and squad status; all ten members including himself showed life signs as normal and his gear was in order. A slightly modified suit of Mark II power armour protected him while a Tigrus-pattern bolt pistol and his Power Fist gave him the might to lay waste to his enemies. As of yet, his armour had yet to be scarred by the fighting, but the need for repair was a guarantee he thought to himself.
Static suddenly interrupted the vox communicator, and then silence. A slow and heavy breathing could then be heard, was there a hot mic somewhere? "All members, check your voxes, ensure you are not keyed. Clear the chan..."
"Have no fear... cousin... No member under your command has broken vox discipline..." The voice was smiling, almost pleasant, he could picture it in his mind. "We can see you..." The words spoken in a measured and almost playful manner, then new shrieks of torment began, definitely not the same track from before.
Chaos broke out in that moment. Guardsmen activated illumination devices to search for the source, cries of fears and doubts filled the still air. Discipline fell apart and the Astartes were trying to restore confidence and order with limited success. What power did mere men have when faced by the enhanced physiology and fighting capability of super-humans, and now this?
"Turn that damned thing off! Everyone switch to secure squad channels only, stay off the open channels!" Sergeant Emil's voice cut through the screaming, his armour allowing him to amplify the volume of his voice through his grille. The screams abruptly ended, and then all that could be heard were cries of pain and the struggled movements of something approaching from the corridor.
A spotlight turned down the length of hallway, and crossed movement some twenty meters away in its panicked effort to find the source. The beam was turned back and lay to rest on a struggling body. Sergeant Emil could hear weapon safeties being deactivated as the defensive force took in the sight. A body, human, with hands and feet removed was on its backside wriggling in obvious misery. An Imperial Guard commpack was attached to him and a vox headset strapped to the head, protrusions originating from the chest could be seen glistening in the beam of light. Magnification of the picture from behind his lens showed the fiends had flayed his skin open and broke his ribcage in a most painful manner. As the dying guardsman struggled the organs could be seen, heart beating in panic. Blood trailed from the limbs, painting a morbid picture, burned into the minds of the onlookers. As the body closed the distance in agonizing slowness, Emil could now see that his eyes had been removed and crimson flowed from the sockets. This had to be stopped.
"Lights off!" the squad leader commanded, the spot light cut off immediately. Everyone had been watching, too transfixed by the sight of it all to look away, but thankful for the order. "Quiet him Isaak..." he whispered into his squad-only frequency. There was no need for the mortals to see what was to come.
Not a second later a bolter barked, exploding the sad remains of the guardsman and instilling silence once again. The Night Lords had done grievous damage and yet not but a single shot had been fired. The next hour was filled with an eerie silence filled with only the rapid heartbeats and labored breathing of men.
If one could look on Grigor's face, they would probably describe it as pensive with a bit of irritation worked in, as though he was trying to work through a problem.
Indeed he was, the advancement of the 9th Company had been halted and he was less than delighted. With the casualties the company had endured during landing and their actions up till now, the prospect of clashing with enemy units of equal or greater numbers was giving pause to everyone. 3rd Terror Squad had done relatively well up to this point, just recently having cleared a juncture leading down to the next level, with help in no small part from the Captain himself and his Fearmongers. But an assessment of the next defensible position by their Headmaster, Selevon, brought to the forefront a problem. Company Champion Grigor, heard the tone of regret thickly laden in his words. This was Selevon's second call for aid, not something anyone was used to hearing.
Grigor had earned the right to be called 9th Company's Champion nigh on half a century earlier. The laurels of victory that hung on his custom-crafted armour took the form of grisly trophies of battle. Various small body parts adorned the modified suit of Mark III power armour; fingers, dried ears, and in some cases skulls. His murder weapon was a sight to behold, both beautiful and terrible in it's design. A master-worked chainglaive it was, festooned with various tokens from his victims, and etched with horrific details. Known to others from within and without the Legion as "The Bleeding Shadow" due to the abundance of blood that would coat him come the end of battle, he killed quietly, not a word spoken short of curt orders.
"You are in position, correct?" The question hung on the net for a brief moment before a response was received.
"At your leisure, we await your word." Raspy and hoarse, Neculai the Talonmaster of 7th Raptor Squad, answered back. "As ordered we will execute upon command, Champion."
The plan was improvised, a combined effort from Vaclav and Grigor, but might just give the Company what they needed to press on. Melta bombs had been adhered to the outer walls of the battlement by 7th and 8th Raptor Squad, the hope was to provide an avenue of entrance for them to enter the fray to distract the defenders while Selevon and his remaining five members of 3rd Terror Squad assaulted from the front. The past hour had probably driven the wits from the men standing side by side with the marines of the VII Legion, who numbered merely five, but the sons of Curze never fought fairly given the chance. Advantages existed, and if they didn't you had to be creative and make some of your own. Once the word to activate the meltas was given, while the defenders turned to address the would-be breachers, 3rd Terror Squad would make good their advance and strike.
The air still rang with the screams of their earlier prey. Skinned, muscles exposed to the cruel touch of air, they screamed for nearly an hour. Rib bones, fingers, toes, and various other non-vitals adorned the 3rd's armour. The result's of such acts gave the opposing force, comprised of mostly Imperial Guard, little faith in the words of reassurance being whispered to them by their protectors in yellow.
Selevon, helmet removed, inhaled a lengthy breath, taking in the heady fragrance of death and fear. "Take it in my murderers... The air is rank with the sour smell of fear and despair, what a lovely bouquet you have contrived for me Mircea..." His whisper carried and echoed over the pitiful screams of their latest mechanism of terror. The last of their stock of Guardsmen was pinned to the wall, crucified. His skin was now in a pile on the floor, in a pool of still warm blood and waste matter.
Mircea, Primus Medicae of the 9th Company, looked over his shoulder to regard the Company Commander. "What makes you so sure I did so for you Selevon? Perhaps I did so for the sake of boredom? His voice was grating through his grille, hiding his normally raspy voice, but a hint of a sneer touched his words. Switching to the command channel, he spoke directly to Grigor, "this one has minutes before he succumbs to blood loss and organ failure, he is the last one, my suggestion is to give the command before he expires..."
"Agreed." Switching vox channels so as to include 3rd, 7th, and 8th Squad, Grigor commanded, "All squads execute in thirty heartbeats, overwhelm them. Check all weapons and ensure your systems are optimal, I want minimal losses here, " The entirety of the 9th Company had suffered casualties, overall they were down to a sixty-seven percent efficiency rating, not good in any Legion's book, especially the VIII.
Acknowledgements from all squads lit up Grigor's HUD, "Selevon, helm on, unless you want your head detached." It was apparent in his tone he would care little if it were to occur.
With no immediate retort Selevon replaced his helm, and watched in satisfaction as everything was washed over in a shade of red. He then spoke, "I appreciate your concern over my welfare brother, you do me great honor..." The sarcasm dripped from the words and the channel erupted with dark amusement, showing an appreciation for the cynical turn of humor.
"Quiet your thoughts, we move in 3... 2... 1..." A roaring, like an inferno could be heard in that instance, and an almost blinding light broke through the corridor, exposing the hall to the outside elements. If not for the optical dampeners built into their helmets, the children of the dark would have been blinded. The heat was immense, and a handful of guardsmen adjacent to the wall were incinerated, while the rest of the mortals found that the oxygen from the room had been drawn out by the raging fire. Weapons fell from hands that now clutched throats which struggled to feed their starved lungs. But a threat still loomed, Astartes encased in their armour were far from susceptible to such dangers. The VII Legion proved fearless in the face of impossible odds, each one in turn covering their respective sectors while adjusting to the appearance of the newly opened entryway.
"Ave Dominus Nox!" The cry was echoed by the entirety of the 3rd, 7th, and 8th Squads and the noise was thunderous, drowning out the chorus of weapons fire.
Fearless in the face of the sons of murder they may have been, but it didn't make them any less the victims of defeat. Overwhelming numbers and exponentially increased amounts of firepower sapped any possible chance of holding back the tide of midnight that the yellow-clad wall of guardians had. By the time any of the mortals had recovered, the fight was nearly at an end and the final loyalist Astartes was crashing heavily to the floor, headless at the end of a murderous stroke from Selevon's chainglaive. 8th squad suffered a single loss, the first of their coterie to try to gain entry through the improvised opening was cut down by the initial shots of the Imperial Fist's barrage, his body serving as a shield for the rest of the 8th and 7th squad.
Seeing their plight, the majority of the mortal servants of the Emperor threw down their weapons and begged for mercy. Those who failed to follow suit and brought to bear their arms were cut down with precise fire from bolters at close range, exploding their bodies and drenching anything nearby with blood.
"I speak no lies cowards of the False Emperor, your choice to solicit for your lives was the worst of decisions you could have made..." As Selevon addressed them, Grigor motioned for the squads to retrieve ammo and prepare their prisoners for exploitation. The Raptor Squads simply exited back the way they came in and were off to continue their reign of terror from above, dragging the handful of dead Guard with them to aid them in their efforts.
"Selevon, I leave you to advance, I am being summoned by Zar-Helek."
"Of course, may the shadows ever grace your presence..." Selevon said with something akin to thanks. He knew Grigor was a superior fighter, but his tactical acumen had more in common with cunning beast on the hunt, the plan was no doubt conceived by the canny mind of Vaclav. It was rumored that the mantle of leadership would fall to the Master of Signal should Zar-Helek find his death.
The champion, christened as "The Bleeding Shadow" turned and regarded him with scrutiny, the blood flowing in rivulets down the length of his menacing form. His visor lingered for a prolonged moment. Was he perhaps searching for a hint of derision or maybe even adoration? Selevon could not tell, but apparently finding none he finally uttered in a low carrying tone, "When have they ever not?"
Completion of their assigned mission included clearing all levels from the upper battlements to the ground level floor of their allotted section of the Imperial Palace's outer wall. They were to make a charnel house of this sprawling monument to mankind as they progressed towards their one true goal, the Inner Palace. The entirety of the Imperial Palace was just as populated as the most dense of cities, and along with the people were the structures to house them. Entering the Palace was no easy task, for the Imperial Fists had a mastery of siege craft, able to create defensible structures and positions, their preparations proved to be effective overall. Reports maintained that they were buying time, awaiting the arrival of their fellow Loyalist Legions. If this were to come to pass, then the Legions loyal to Warmaster Horus would be crushed between the reinforcements and the defenders.
Selevon took in the carnage left behind by his squad. Bodies were strewn all across the halls, blood could be found on every surface, and the stench was that of death. The last twenty-four hours had been a period of dark heroism for the 3rd Terror Squad and the rest of 9th Company. Thrice they had aided brother-squads and safeguarded the lives of their fellow Night Lords through crafty intervention. No one would ever describe the midnight clad as honorable or righteous, but their shadowy Legion is possessed of a code of its own. They bled for each other, each a murderer in their own right, predators amongst their prey; to have any one single member fall to "prey" was a mark of failure and in this they did what they could to prevent it.
With malicious efficiency 3rd Squad had cleared to the lowest levels, losing another three of their number along the way. Two, Khazar and Invil, had fallen to the blistering fire of a melta-gun brandished by a member of the VII Legion. Zafrim, the third to perish, found himself on the receiving end of an Imperial Fist's power sword. On the other end was an especially courageous Captain of the Imperial Guard straining to wield it. It was disgraceful no doubt, but Zafrim underestimated the mortal and thinking him cowed he turned his back. In a moment of rare bravery the man took up the sword, energized it, and clove through the Mk III armor as though it were nothing more than cloth. He paid with his life almost immediately after the act, rent in two lengthwise by Selevon's own murderglaive.
Two of the original members were still with him, the squad numbering below half-strength would have typically been brought back to the fleet or friendly lines to replenish and reconsolidate. But with the high tempo of the invasion there was no time for standard procedures, instead adjustments had to be made on the fly. 4th Squad had also suffered losses which included the loss of their Headmaster, Kaerich, and so their remnants were combined to create a just below full strength squad of seven. Headmaster Selevon was still the ranking member and so command of them all fell to him.
"I say we remove ourselves from this place, we don't belong here. Since when do the VIII Legion spend our days besieging our enemies? We landed here, on Terra, and we gained entrance to the Palace. We cast the entirety of it into darkness, spreading fear, sending the mortals into a state of panic and terror. Even the high and mighty of the Imperial Fists, those mewling dogs of Dorn, are starting to see the effects on their meticulously laid plans as they start to crumble. Let the sons of Mortarion and Angron, and yes, even Horus bleed themselves dry hurling themselves at the defenses. Let us leave brother..."
Selevon let the words sink in, considering the position that Yavich, Sergeant of 8th Tactical Squad, presented.
"Cowardice brother?" His reply a question, the silence palpable as he awaited the answer.
He watched Yavich's face as it digested the accusation, his coal-black eyes seeming to burn with an unseen fury. The massive powerfist he wielded, a weapon of indescribable might, clenched into a fist as he spoke. "Cowardice you say? What of sense? I say we withdraw our squads, our Company, and set out to do as we have always done! Sow terror brother, that is our method of warfare! You would suggest selling our lives to complete a task below our standing, our place is elsewhere."
"Sooth your anger brother, a question it was, not an accusation. You are correct, we are weapons of a precise nature, not the blunt-headed tools of Mortarion or the mindless slaughtermasters of Angron. I too grow weary of this method of warfare, I too feel as though we have greater value elsewhere. I feel as though Zar-Helek would listen to reason, his loyalties lie with our father The Nighthaunter, not with the Warmaster." He turned away, moving to a more secluded side of the ruined room. "But he would have to hear this argument from someone the likes of Grigor or perhaps Mircea, since they have the ear of a member of the Umbrae Circulii, Gerlach."
The Umbrae Circulii, the chosen handful who could, with little worry, advise their Chapter Commander on matters such as this. They were the closest to a body of advisors. Composed of members from various Companies, they could present their opinions and perspectives to Zar-Helek and in some cases sway him to another path. Since Zar-Helek had been in command of the 37th, he made it a point to hear the minds of his senior-most Company leaders.
Gerlach "The Wraith", 9th Company's Commander, was perhaps the member of the group who had the most say, although all were supposedly regarded as having equal influence. He was a staunch traditionalist and his largest concern would be that the 37th Chapter was living their lives as Night Lords should. The greatest problem was that no one within the 9th Company dare question his course of action, save a select few, his own inner circle; Grigor, Mircea, Dalibor, and Vaclav.
Grigor "The Bleeding Shadow", Chapter Champion, was the oldest member of the circle. He would most likely be the worst candidate to champion their cause of withdrawal, he was a skilled fighter and to appear to lose face in this manner would no doubt prevent him from lending his weighty words. He had proven his mettle in battle time and time again, refusing to die. It is said he is the near equal of Zar-Helek himself in the field of martial prowess. Grigor was in possession of a particularly grim suit of Mark III armour, it was often said that in the correct lack of light, he would take on a hue of red. His murderglaive was a beautifully sculpted work of some unknown artificer, impossibly elegant and blunt at the same time, it spoke murder when activated.
Next came the Primus Medicae, Mircea, master torturer and apothecary. He would be the choice to champion their concerns. Although he had a penchant for torture, his main concern was the continuation of their Legion's geneseed. Perhaps he could be made to understand that a continuation of their current path could possibly lead to losses that would take several decades to replenish. He stood out and apart from his fellow Night Lords. His custom-armed Cataphractii Terminator armour was midnight clad, however his helm was of a crimson hue with terror marks designating him as part of the Apothecary class. The stark white of other Legion's apothecaries would not be conducive to their preferred method of warfare, so it was not a common sight within the Eighth.
Sergeant Dalibor of the Fearmongers would be more concerned with the preservation of his Captain's life than much else and so could be swayed either way. Dalibor was more brute than anything else, loyal to a fault to Zar-Helek, he brooked no insult or questioning of his Commander's final commands. The terminator suit, Cataphractii-pattern, almost seemed to want to rupture when secured to his bulk, and this was even after slight modifications to allow for his size. If it was even possible, he seemed even larger when not in his armour. He was the youngest member of select advisors, having just a decade previous, challenged the previous leader of the Fearmongers to a murder duel and won.
Vaclav, the Master of Signal, a shrewd tactician who would either see the soundness of withdrawal or who would find a way for them to continue on. Word within the Chapter was that Zar-Helek often collaborated with him in the finalization of nearly all battle plans and movements. A specially modified Mark IV suit was his, and is equipped with various tools of his trade; signal blockers, a master vox set ingeniously integrated within his pack and helmet, a unique tactical display of which few in the Legion are privy to, and much more. An array of antennas protruded from his back, giving him access to all possible frequencies. The accuracy that he could call down fire was impressive as well as his ability to shift Company forces in the midst of battle. Vaclav was often at the head of the psychological warfare the Night Lords of "The Shadow Sworn" brought down upon their prey.
"Who would he choose?" Selevon wondered to himself. It was obvious that approaching Grigor or Dalibor would be a show of poor judgement, no doubt confiding their concerns to either of them would be met with either disdain or disregard. So Vaclav or Mircea. The Primus Medicae was the obvious choice, but the insight from Vaclav, who had intimately planned many operations with Gerlach himself would prove to be a greater payoff.
Switching to a select comm channel, Selevon waited for the cryptographic tunnel to build and indicate connectivity. He was rewarded with a flashing light showing the line was secure and an immediate response to the built link. "Another rescue brother, or are you just in the mood for conversation?"
That thrice-damned smile in his voice, infuriating to say the least... "Master of Signal, Vaclav, I request to make counsel with you. A serious matter has presented itself, and I need someone with... vision," the word hung in the air for a mere moment, "to hear me out."
"Your timing is ill, but make your thoughts known, I have much to do if we are to proceed."
Perhaps this was not the best course of action he thought to himself. But it was too late, the door had been opened and he needed to show confidence in his belief, otherwise he would just show weakness. "I believe it to be folly for us to waste our lives on the wishes of Horus. He would have us throw ourselves against our enemies in a manner unsuited to our ways. We are Night Lords, not Death Guard or World Eaters, our way is not to waste our lives in this conflict, in this battle of attrition. We should be sowing terror and bringing death to our enemies as we know how, from the darkness. Here in this unfortunate series of conflicts, we are slowly moving towards our own eradication, a waste really considering our talents in other means of warfare... This is not the way we make war, brother, and you know this to be true."
He let the declaration stand, allowing Vaclav time to digest all that he had said. Did the Master of Signal already have similar thoughts? Would he report Selevon's "counsel" to Zar-Helek as cowardice talk or worse? Treason? Would he bear the "Sinners Red" upon his gauntlets come the end of this, their mark of shame? Or would death come sooner? It didn't matter anymore, if they continued on their current path, he was certain the Company, if not the Chapter, was fated to die in these accursed halls.
"You shall speak of this to no one, are we clear Headmaster?" The calm and authoritative manner in which he replied did not reveal to Selevon what he intended. What choice did he have but to concede?
"As you command, but you know in that accursed heart of yours I do not speak false..." The link cut off abruptly, ending the conversation.
It had been nearly seven hours since Selevon had confided to Valcav about his misgivings, seven hours of waiting. Any loyalists that had been captured for use had expired and now boredom was setting in. Orders from "The Wraith" were to await the late arrival of a contingent of XVII Legion marines, Word Bearers. Primarch Lorgar's lot were all a bit too fanatical about their convictions for the Headmaster's taste, and he was apprehensive about sharing the field with them, it had been decades since they could call each other battle brother. They were always a Legion held at arm's length by the VIII, but necessity sometimes had a way of driving the two together.
It turned out that 9th Company had advanced farther than their brethren and were at a severe strategic disadvantage at this juncture. After clearing the floors of the outer structures of the Palace, they found that they would have to cross an open courtyard to reach the inner defensive fortifications. Even with the limited time the Imperial Fists had to prepare for the arrival of the traitor Legions, they had done well in their formation of a deadly killing ground. It was nearly three-hundred meters from their current position to the bulwark prepared by the VII and the Imperial Army. The stretch of wall had a breadth nearly a kilometer across.
Looking through a crack through the ruined ferrocrete walls, Selevon assessed their position and goal. Manning the walls were thousands of personnel from the Guard and Arbites along with nearly an entire Chapter of Imperial Fists. Behind them was another wall, several stories taller than the fortifications they had cleared over the past forty-eight hours. On every floor windows and bays could be seen with weapons teams manning them. Lascannons, heavy bolters, plasma guns, and various other weapons found in an Astartes' armory could be identified. One member of his squad had even sighted a Destroyer Squad, no doubt armed with phosphex, patrolling one of the balconies. Dorn had truly committed fully to the defense of the Imperial Palace if he was employing phosphex-armed squads, few Legions felt the use of such weapons were justified except in extremely dire circumstances.
"I suppose this would be one of those said circumstances..." He murmured to himself.
"You are speaking aloud again Selevon," Neculai, Talonmaster of 7th Raptor Squad spoke "and that never bodes well for us." Selevon turned to regard his companion. Helmetless they peered at eachother with eyes as black as pitch, a hint of a smirk played at the corner of the Headmaster's ashen lips, he then turned back and pointed towards his observation.
"Just taking note of which direction to send Karek, you know how I fear for his safety brother..." A wheezing sound replied, almost the twin of a death rattle. Laughter, rare coming from the likes of the Raptor he thought to himself, "I take great encouragement in your mirth comrade, it warms me to the core..." He turned fully to address his brother Sergeant, "Thoughts?"
Neculai moved to take in a greater view of the obstacles before them. He made note of the defensive positions and number of foes, realizing just that alone would prove to be enough to oppose them as they stood now. The open ground had been dug with a maze of shallow trenches throughout, no doubt dug to provide a false sense of safety. With armaments high above, shells would be raining down on any advancing force, making any advantage a trench would have null and void. Razor sharp barbed wire, little impedance to a marine in power armor, was strewn throughout. No doubt there were cunningly laid booby traps throughout. A damned murder pit, no cover. The sons of Dorn had removed or destroyed any standing structures that had once stood proudly within, empty plinths proving their prior existence.
"We are going to die out there," he concluded with little humor in his tone, "we have not the numbers."
"Agreed, but I am assured of reinforcements to provide numbers to our upcoming assault."
"More like meat shields, I for one have no intention of leading this foray, someone else can have that honor... Besides, I don't play well with you foot sloggers," he subtly motioned to his modified jump pack, "I plan on finding another way through that, more than likely one that doesn't include being brought down before I see the slack-jawed look of a sniveling mortal before I eviscerate him." The Talonmaster emphasized the word eviscerate with a flourish of his flaying knife, a monomolecular blade cruelly shaped to invoke fear.
"Indeed, you speak all of our thoughts aloud. No one wants to die here, it would be... a waste..."
A pregnant pause, and then the grumbling of assent. Brethren of both the 3rd and 7th Squads, the majority with helmets mag-locked to their waists, were nodding their heads in agreement. It was quite obvious the idea of braving the courtyard was not popular, and Selevon had heard confirmation of opposition voiced to him publicly and in private channels. He hoped that his conversation with Vaclav was being taken seriously.
Hearing the crumbling of rubble beneath ceramite-shod boots, he turned to regard the approach of Zar-Helek and his Fearmongers, all of them.
Trailing the procession was Armand, former Chapter Champion, now interred within the armored might of a Contemptor Pattern Dreadnought. Six meters tall, midnight clad and armed with a devastating Kheres-pattern assault cannon and an equally ruinous claw, he was a rare sight to see. Typically he was only called upon if heavy support was required, and in most cases the prey could be handled by the likes of the Tactical or Terror Squads. Of course this was not a typical situation. Fighting a foe that could acknowledge and reject fear was a relatively new experience for a force which thrived on it to complete their objectives.
Certainly imposing he thought to himself, but no where near enough to cross that death field.
"Helmets on," spoke Zar-Helek through his vox speakers, "and switch to secure channel to receive my orders." The entirety of the Chapter obeyed, all six-hundred and twelve of them that were left of them, over a third of them have perished. "Word has reached me that we will soon be joined by our illustrious cousins. Before their arrival I wish to recognize that our role in this particular conflict is at odds with our preferred methods, believe me I have noticed. But we shall advance upon the adversary, on our own terms. Allow the XVII to push to the fore in all their zeal and fanatical devotion, if they want to meet their end so soon, who are we to stop them?"
Black laughter filled the channel, the laughter of understanding.
"Final checks my murderers, our battle brothers approach." Zar-Helek turned his bulk to face the approach of a retinue of crimson and gunmetal clad astartes. This was new to his eyes, although he had heard the Word Bearers had changed their Legion colors, he had never seen them before. That feeling of being in the same room with a crazed individual who at the moment seemed no different than yourself was nagging at him.
His Fearmongers formed a protective circle around their lord, weapons at the low and ready.
"Is this how you receive your friends, son of the shadows?" The speaker was clad in black as opposed to red, an Apostle, their version of a Chaplain. He removed his skull-like Mark IV helmet, revealing what would have been a handsome face save for the flesh wounds. Ritual scars? Trophies of battle? Zar-Helek didn't care in either case, he had no wish to indulge in friendly banter. He removed his helm as well, handing it to one of his bodyguard.
"Commander Zar-Helek, VIII Legion, 37th Chapter "The Shadow Sworn," and I lead the midnight clad." he announced, no sign of geniality etched on his face, just the look of indifference. Instead he peers into his seemingly jovial eyes, looking for long moments, the feeling that he was staring at something alien crosses his mind. No, alien that is the wrong word, more like something otherworldly. It was like two pairs of eyes were looking back at him, giving him an odd feeling.
The Apostle put his arm forward, in place to receive a warrior's greeting. "Lord Apostle Meligar, I lead the Austral Host." The Night Lord looked down at the arm extended in mock friendship, regarding it for long moments, he chooses his words with purpose.
"Forgive me my personal axioms, but we have not bled together and so words will be all that we exchange." Combat stims suddenly flood his enhanced bio system, his heart rate increases, and the subconscious urge to power his murderglaive nearly overcomes him. Where was the threat? The reactions all screamed "Enemy!" But from where he had no hint.
A thin smile showed on the Word Bearers face, as though he knew, and his eyes shone with some form of dark amusement, "Of course Commander, perhaps afterwards?"
"Perhaps..." He replied, although he truly doubted there would be any sharing of victory here. "How many with you, in your Cohort?"
"We number nearly a thousand warrior-brothers and another five thousand mortals." It was as if the word was a command to release the stench of a horde of unclean humans. It burned his sensitive nose, the smell of the bedraggled lot of men that followed seemed to take over the locale. Odd, where was the scent of fear? "They are willing to sacrifice their lives to achieve our goals, they shall be the first wave."
"Fine with us Apostle, the lives of your admirers mean little to us. You arrive here with a full Chapter's worth of brethren, apparently unscathed, I should dare to say that we follow your lead seeing as we cleared the path for you to get here..." The accusation was clear and tension seemed to take on a physical characteristic. The air suddenly became very thick, and then when it seemed it reached its climax, it was gone.
"You are quite right of course, it cannot be helped that our delivery to lend our might to the Siege of Terra was delayed. There were, how do you say, preparations to be made before our coming." The smile on Meligar's face disappeared, replaced instead with an indiscernible look, blank and unreadable. It almost reminded him of a marble statue he saw of their Primarch, Lorgar, some decades past.
Zar-Helek motioned for his helmet, effectively ending the formalities of a personal meeting between the commanders of both forces. "Until the field then Lord Apostle..." He secured his helm in place, and without waiting for a reply he turned away at the same time sending a broadcast on the command channel to all leadership to form on him. Clicks and verbals assenting to the order came in, and the Commander of the 37th began to gather his thoughts.
The Commanders all met within the remains of a holed out room, the perimeter surrounded by a buffer of VIII Legion marines. The walls were decorated in mysterious symbols made of blood, the floor lined with lit candles in a pattern of unknown origin. It made your eyes hurt to look at them, it was as though you were staring at a blurred picture forever trying to focus, almost as though they weren't truly there.
"What nonsense is this?" Rakros, the Commander of the 2nd Company blurted, his arms stretched out and hands upturned in a gesture of confusion. The sound of servos could be made out as he turned his helmeted head left to right, taking in the whole of the room, "I had heard these fools participated in various forms of ceremony and rites, but I figured it was all rumor."
"Dedication is what it is," 10th Company's Captain, Veaceslav, interjected "the candles are not mass produced in the traditional manner, what do you smell?" He held the pinkish candle delicately in his taloned hands, turning it over slowly and bringing it up to his hyper sensitive nose. "If you take the time to examine these, you will find that they are fashioned from less than standard material."
"I don't care about the make up of some damned candles..." As he spoke, Rakros, scattered several of the with the bottom of his boot, the flames sputtering and dying as they rolled across the floor.
"Enough! I do not care to discuss the eccentric nature of our esteemed battle brothers, all helmets off, we do this unmasked." Zar-Helek removes his custom-molded headgear, motioning for Vaclav to come forward. "I want no chance of this meeting to leave this room, I want privacy, do you understand Master of Signal?"
He does, and nods his assent. Crouching to one knee, he activates a signal jammer located on his elaborate vox pack and reveals a small screen hidden within his gauntlet. Vaclav spends several moments configuring the device and an audible ping can be heard. "We have the room, clear of any audio listeners, and the no signal will be entering or leaving."
"Listen closely, say nothing, this is not the time for questions. I do not like this, something is... strange... I have no evidence, just a feeling I had when talking to that Apostle. Something struck me as peculiar, it was as though I was swimming in a thick gel of some type, as though all my senses were deadened and my mind was at odds with what I was looking at..." No one said a word for long seconds, Zar-Helek had never confided such thoughts to his commanders, so the reaction was an agonizing silence. Then, "Vaclav, conduct tactical assessment, distribution of tasks..."
Without breaking stride, the only member of the gathering who was not a commanding officer began to delve into their current situation. The leaders all listened on in rapt attention, absorbing the information and memorizing the roles of their respective Companies.
On Nostromo, power and who was vested with it was a complicated matter to identify. The traditions and aspects of gang culture and politics often crossed over between each other which created a rather unique spider web of influential personas. An inner hive gang leader could have more influence than say the governess of a hive province. It was no different than now, and the carryover from the VIII Legion's home world was evident seeing as the Master of Signal of the 37th Chapter, 9th Company answered to no one within the Chapter save Zar-Helek. Even his own Company's Commander, Gerlach, was wary of the influence Vaclav possessed.
Zar-Helek had been reexamining his interaction with the Lord Apostle, Meligar, while Vaclav went over the intricacies of the coming battle. When he tried to identify what had put him into an alarmed state, he found the answer slipping from his mind, as though actively trying to escape his grasp.
"Lord, we await your assent..." said Gerlach.
He realized his commanders had been silent for many minutes, he looked around the remnants of the room, taking in the expectant faces. Someone had extinguished all the candles, no doubt irritated by the burning glare they caused and they all attended him helmetless. They all possessed the same glittering black eyes, pupils naturally dilated, bestowing heightened eyesight in lowlight environments. The dark of night was their home, the realm of the Night Lords. Their father, known as Konrad Curze to his brother Primarchs, had prowled the lightless alleys and streets of Nostromo, his physiology well accustomed to the environ. He passed on the same soulless eyes and ghostly white skin on to his genetic inheritors, and all the trapping that came along with them
"Listen well, I suspect something foul is afoot, I don't know what but I am warning you all to be wary of our brothers-in-arms. Follow the directives as Vaclav has outlined, and mind the vox for... changes..."
They had been preparing for this for several months now, preparing for this exact moment. The time when the Traitors would arrive and try to take the Palace, and with it the entirety of Terra. When word reached the populace of the impending invasion, panic had quickly followed, snubbed out by the Arbites, the PDF, and the recalled forces of the Imperial Guard. But had it not been for the backing of the VII Legion, the honorable Imperial Fists, things could have perhaps turned for the worst. Instead of outright chaos, there was a resigned sense of order. People were put to task, shoring up defenses throughout Terra, especially for the Imperial Palace, Imperial Basilica, and the Lion's Gate Spaceport. Busy minds have little time to dwell on dark possibilities.
In past three weeks, Patrol Sergeant Nolann Maticor had been supporting the forces guarding one of the outer walls that the Imperial Basilica and the Imperial Palace shared, as an augmentee. Instead of reporting to an Arbites Shift Sergeant, he was now reporting to a Sergeant of the Terran Praefects, the elite regiments of the Imperial Guard armies of Terra as a corporal. He understood that his lack of experience in military matters had to be handled accordingly and a reduction in field rank was in order, but it rankled him just the same. The military and the arbites played by different rules, and in the current situation, the Guard forces were in command, they even had control of all the Planetary Defense Forces. This was all of course by order of Primarch Rogal Dorn who by charge of the Emperor was to head the defense of the Terra and the Imperial Palace. Of course he had been reassured his rank would be restored once it was all over, perhaps even promoted...
He was now part of a ten man squad, all armed with las rifles save trooper Torin who was tasked with carrying the sniper rifle. It probably helped that he was the best shot of the squad, easily outdistancing his other mates during the qualification exercises. The combat squad was composed of mostly Arbites and PDF members who were trained under the eyes of a cadre of training instructors from the Praefects. It was eight weeks of hell, but he had to admit, he was in the best shape of his life, and he had a much more imposing uniform. Slate grey fatigues with a pattern made up of broader geometric shapes, they did well in their urban environment. The exchange of his Arbites shotgun for an Imperial Guard las rifle as his primary weapon was a happy surprise, and after their time on the firing range he had proven to be a decent shot. Nolann still kept his trusty scatter gun cleaned and on hand, "you never know when you might need a second primary weapon," was all the explanation he gave to the squad sergeant.
They were placed on the second floor, on one of the many balconies along the outer wall of the Basilica. Looking across the wide expanse they could see movement behind the openings in the outermost perimeter walls. The traitors had cleared the majority of the extreme outer defenses and looked to be reorganizing for an attack. It wasn't clear just how many of them were milling about, which only made the squad even more anxious. It had been over forty-eight hours since they had heard their first shots, nothing near to close to their location, it still made them jump. The Imperial Palace as a whole was protected by layers and layers of defensive walls, prepared by the great masters of defense of the VII Legion. What it lost in aesthetics it more than made up for as a daunting objective to conquer. There was no single space that wasn't considered and altered to fit the needs of the defensive efforts to be displayed, it would truly reap a heavy, bloody toll on the treacherous Legions and their ilk.
"What do you see Tor?"
"Same thing I saw five minutes ago Sarge, nothing's changed." Torin was nervous, you could tell, just the way he constantly refocused and rechecked his longrifle. His night sight was in place as he pointed his rifle across the trenched field. Peering thru the flat green lens, he panned the sniper-variant rifle across the width of the enemy's line, looking for activity. Only the standard movement they had observed for the past several hours. Occasionally he would see someone crossing the shallow openings, but nothing definitive. Torin looked over his shoulder and shook his head side to side emphasizing his findings, "kinda hard to tell what's going on, all of the walls are obstructing the view."
The squad sergeant nodded in agreement, took a sip of his too cold caffeine, and gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
Sergeant Maksin had been a squad Sergeant for several years, and he was good at it. He led by example, never expecting anyone to do anything that he wasn't willing to do himself. But this was something new, this was something they had never prepared for, fighting Astartes... It was an odd feeling, knowing that the Emperor's most loyal and powerful servants were turning against each other and were ready to kill in the name of either Warmaster Horus or The Emperor. It was almost surreal if it weren't for the evidence congregating out across the once immaculate courtyard, just behind walls once manned by Loyalists. It could almost be regarded as fairy tales told to mischievous children, the very idea of rebellion by an Astartes was mind-numbing and frightening.
Reports were that the forces spotted in his area were the VIII Legion, the Night Lords. Midnight clad bastards, they invoked fear at the mere mention of their Legion designation, "Send the Eighth!" they use to say. Well now the thrice damned bastards are here, and the crowd was eating their words. This was a Legion known for their effectiveness at striking terror into mortal hearts. They were known for tossing still living corpses over ledges, dropping them from heights that would allow for time to scream, and adorning their armour with trophies of the grisly sort. Acts of torture recorded and used as noise pollution often accompanied their movements, giving everyone of sense of what would happen to them if caught alive.
Three meters of Astartes bulk, charging at you and screaming for your death, what defense did they have against such monsters?
The sons of Dorn were quick to point out that such tactics would gain the enemy little against Astartes and so would ultimately fail. But then of course, how could they know the effect it was having on their allies tasked with manning the walls alongside them? They were barely human anymore, totally beyond normal human physiological and psychological concerns, what did they care? What were you supposed to say to them?
Just seeing a member of the Adeptus Astartes up close put most people into a state of shock, invoking senseless babble when you did speak. After several weeks of being in the constant presence of these demigods of battle, the effects were lessened, but there was no one here who was going to express their worries for fear of earning their ire. You put on a show when in the presence of a space marine, they could sense your fear.
Nolann turned as he heard the heavy footfalls of Astartes worn boots approaching from the hall, the entire squad quickly came to the position of attention, no need for a command to be spoken. In the dimly lit hallway approached a familiar figure, a regular to this squad's balcony.
Brother Dantor of the VII Legion, 79th Chapter, 6th Company "The Dauntless", was personally checking on the men. Although he was not tasked to do so by any superior, he felt that it would bolster the line, perhaps ease the tension. Yes, he was superhuman in every way, including the ability to process fear, but it didn't mean that he couldn't recognize it. Astartes training was thorough and brutal, giving the Space Marines the tools and ability to cope with nearly every possibility, and so sometimes they could be regarded as aloof or uncaring of the hearts of men. Dantor was here to prove otherwise, he was here to show his humanity.
"Ho there Sergeant Maksin, anything new to report?" The voice carried easily and was almost friendly in its delivery. This was not the first interaction with him he had, there had been several over the last couple weeks. Nolann watched on in awe as he disengaged his Mark III helmet, the superhuman engaging the merely human in an exchange of words, almost the equivalent of friendly banter. He still hadn't gotten use to the itching in his teeth he felt when he came near, a side effect of being in close proximity to the power armor, nor had he adjusted to the dry mouth that constantly plagued him due to the marine's brutal aura. As kind spoken as Dantor was, the visual reminder of his potential for violence was obvious in the intimidating suit of armor he bore.
The proud gold-like yellow of his armour with the clenched ebony fist gave no doubt as to his allegiance. Stubborn, proud, and utterly disciplined; it was as though they were perfectly engineered for siege warfare. The Imperial Fists were at the forefront of any siege action, in defense or offense, and the confidence they exuded whilst fortifying the Imperial Palace washed away the initial doubts.
Building himself up to finally speak to the genehanced super human, he approached, subconsciously rubbing a charm he kept secured around his left wrist; a small, silver die cut Imperial Eagle with a leather strap.
"Ah, Corporal Maticor, perhaps you would care to weigh in?" That was when it happened, when the darkness was lit up with the near blinding dazzle of las cannon fire and explosions. The gradual increase from sporadic fire to the rolling thunder that was the cacophony of war.
"I didn't even get to speak to him..." he thought to himself as his eyes tried to adjust to the brightly lit darkness.
It had begun, the mass of filthy mortal bodies pushed forward, surging towards the enemy lines. Fanatical in their devotion to The Word and the liturgies spouted by the Apostles and their superiors the Dark Apostles, they advanced with hate and faith in their conviction towards the slaves of the Emperor.
Starting as one giant mass, like a single organism, the more fleet of foot began to outdistance themselves from the greater part of the horde. The first phosphex bombs then exploded, spreading a flammable gel, alit immediately by the high temperature air-reactive mixture. The flames were an ominous green-tinted horrow, wraith-like, it attacked anything nearby. The substance seemed to gravitate towards any moving bodies in close proximity, burning through the tissues and bones. The victims attempted to extinguish themselves by rolling in the dirt and in some cases their comrades attempted to smother the flames, only to have them spread to themselves.
But the masses never stopped moving, never stopped advancing. All the while weapons fire originating from both sides lit the once dark courtyard. Bodies were ignored, trampled over in a frenzy of effort to reach the defensive blockade, to enact the wishes of their masters. The devoted were clad from head to toe in makeshift uniforms, they wielded a variety of weapons, most of them trophies free from the death grip of their victims. Nearly all of them were in a psycho-induced fever, induced by a cocktail of narcotics, numbing the body to pain and giving them unnatural focus.
The Word Bearers looked upon their servants, awaiting the signal to advance, allowing the devotees the opportunity to carry out what they were fated to do. Their role in this was to minimize booby traps, reduce the possibility of an Astartes falling to the carefully laid out traps set by the VII Legion. It was working. True, the zealots were dying, not so quickly in some cases, but they were clearing the courtyard of impediments. Once the first loyal members reached the very outer perimeter of the defensive source, the sons of Lorgar Aurelian began to advance.
A dull crimson line, cloaked in shadows, advanced from behind the outermost protective walls, initially ignored due to the massive number of zealots closing so quickly. Not a shot fired, not wanting to draw attention to their presence until they closed the gap.
After the initial shots were fired, Brother Dantor quickly restored a sense of order in the confusion that had followed. This was home, this was what we were meant to do he thought to himself. Almost immediately he was re-instructing Sergeant Maksin of the Terran Praefects what his assignment was and he began to add his more effective firepower to the efforts of the squad. It was too late to make way to his original post on the ground level, and after confirmation from his squad leader he was tasked with maintaining performance on the second level, just four meters above his brethren.
"Watch my brothers," helmetless, he chose his words carefully, finding a way to give his mortal counterparts a feeling of equality, "watch how they fall to the righteous whims of the Emperor's servants!" As he spoke, he fired his bolter, aiming for maximum effectiveness. The large caliber round was capable of decimating several mortals in a single shot if properly placed, and he demonstrated it time and time again. The squad fired their las rifles with increased confidence as they watched the bodies of the invaders begin to pile up.
A low toned sound could be heard carrying across the field, audible even above the din of fire. Broadcast through their vox speakers, the XVII warriors were voicing their devotions in a song-like metre, all in sync with each other as they moved across the crater-riddled field.
Blood was running along the ground, gathering in the trenches and holes created by indiscriminate fire or the after effects of a detonated bomb. It soaked into the ground, creating a mud-like consistency.
The volume of the Word Bearer's devotional increased, still no clear words or meaning could be derived by anyone not of the XVII. It was a hymnal dedicated to the master of the eight-fold path, a being manifested of the bloody conflicts raging across the cosmos and composed of the rage that was present in vast amounts. He demanded blood and skulls, he cared not from whence they came, he only cares for fealty in the form of death.
The mud-like pools began to form, impossibly moving to replicate an almost humanoid form. Solidifying appendages began to form; arms, legs, and heads. The seemingly undefined anatomies began to become defined; the irregularly elongated head formed a maw filled with an innumerable amount of teeth, reverse-jointed legs ending in cruel hooves, and deadly talons formed on their wiry five-fingered hands. These were nightmare borne into reality, the stuff of heathen tales from the times of dark ages of past civilizations. A moments adjustment was all it took before hundreds of these foul, horned deamons joined the press and advanced on the Imperial lines in almost orderly lines...
A cry of horror filled the squad-vox, "What in the name of the Emperor are those?!" The words had come from Torin. He had been looking through his scope, identifying potential targets when he crossed the initial formation of blood and dirt. He watched it coalesce into something unknown, never had such a thing been described to him. As he tried to come to grips with what his eyes fed him, he screamed into his mic, wanting it to be nothing more than a creature of the mind.
He looked back to reconfirm, and it looked back at him...
Torin dropped the newly stamped sniper-pattern las rifle, allowing it to clatter to the ground, at odds with his previous acts of reverence and care. Fear overtook him, sapping the strength from his limbs, he had to leave.
"I see them my comrade, but now is not the time to ask questions, now is the time to act. Take up your arms and join me, for we cannot succeed without your eye for killing! Take faith in the task set before you by my Lord Dorn and his father The Emperor!" The words broke through the fear, stirring his body and mind into action. It took a moment for him to recall the steps to fire his weapon, he was still in mental shock of what he had seen, but the stalwart presence of Brother Dantor gave him resolve.
He looked to his surroundings, watched as men he had just spoke with earlier in the day died, not in droves like the frenzied horde, but died all the same. Their allies, the sons of Dorn shrugged off nearly all incoming fire, the strength of the incoming fire was not nearly enough to guarantee injury to a fully clad astartes. Was this it?
Looking back out but beyond the battle line, he caught a glimpse in the flash of light of a shallow line as wide across as his eyes could see, a deep red venous blood-colored line. He took in the sight of a thousand Astartes marching towards them, not firing a single shot, not yet noticed by the defenders.
"Dantor! Beyond the horde, look!" He shouted into the vox mic; he then lowered his rifle, took aim and squeezed the trigger...
"Well this is going well, isn't it brother?" Yavich, 8th Tactical Sergeant, voxed to Selevon.
"No doubt, I cannot believe the fools have yet to fire upon our courageous brothers." The VIII Legion had allowed their cousins of the XVII Legion to lead the advance, "No need to claim all the glory..." Selevon had remarked to his Terror Squad just moments prior to the advance. The Night Lords forces would advance behind the line of Word Bearers, effectively reducing the chance of exposure to incoming fire. The crimson clad fools were too occupied in their religious mutterings to even notice, and so all the better.
They had covered nearly one hundred meters, nearly a third of the way across when a skillfully executed shot pierced the eye lens of Selevon's body shield, which immediately slumped forward revealing a small cauterized hole through the rear of the helmet. A clean shot, made from over two hundred meters away, it showed promise, too bad the shooter would have little chance of celebrating it. Trajectory of the las fire showed it originated on the second floor, magnifying the image on his red-tinted visor, he could make out what looked to be a sniper rifle wielding mortal. Prey...
"Son of a bitch... The little bastard took my walking shield away..." Selevon then stood upright, he had been in the position of a crouching walk, reducing any chance of being picked out. But now he was sure that any chance of of the VIII Legion advancing unnoticed was gone, and he was correct. The heavier weapons of the defensive fortification began to open up, the sporadic fire of las cannons and plasma cannons dealt death in their own unique ways while the booming sound of heavy bolter fire filled in the gaps. The Headmaster removed himself from the line of fire, finding another power armored shield, advancing in its shadow.
A storm of bolter fire opened up immediately, the line of advancing astartes placing a deadly hail of mass-reactive shells downrange continued their forward movement. Where it met ferrocrete and plasteel, it left craters and gaping holes. When it collided with the likes of power armor, it either detonated with minor effect or it destroyed limbs and organs. When it met anything softer, it decimated, leaving little behind other than a mist of blood and bone shrapnel.
Selevon watched as they fired above the ranks of their human shields, reaping a heavy toll on the forces aligned against them. The first series of shots felled dozens of Imperial Guard and their kind and brought low several handfuls of the yellow-clad marines. Of course it wasn't as if the Emperor's forces weren't bringing down several of the traitor with their well established fire positions.
As he crossed the first of the bloody pools of mud, he finally noticed the formation of the daemons, his HUD identified the being as "+++THREAT EXTREMUS+++." His sharply honed combat skills reacted instantly, and he placed a bolter shell through its head, detonating it in mid formation. "What the hell was that?!" he voxed over the company-wide channel.
"Taint... What foul powers have the seed of Lorgar been consorting with, perhaps we could obtain one intact?" The response was measured and delivered with more interest than Selevon wished to hear, of course the Primus Medicae always had an interest in the abnormal and alien. In every conflict with any race, Mircea made it a point to acquire a handful of members from a subjugated species or race, wishing to "best find the means to defeat their enemies."
"Shut that filthy mouth of yours Mircea!" Yavich, Sergeant of the 8th Squad exclaimed, "Right now the only thing I give a damn about is figuring out how we are going to make it the rest of the way across, we have yet to cross half of this accursed death trap and you are talking about studying some damned mud fiend!"
Selevon laughed heavily to himself, even in the direst of situations he could count on his fellow sergeant to provide entertainment. Crack! The Headmaster lost all vision, heard only the muffled sounds of battle, but he felt burning embers, and smelled cooking flesh. His helmet had been struck, he knelt down, seeking cover behind the press of bodies. He wrenched at the helmet but to no avail, "the seals must have fused shut!" he thought to himself. Every second that passed meant that the advancing line was leaving him behind, exposed, vulnerable...
Torin watched from his balcony as the Night Lord disappeared behind the line of Word Bearers. He wondered where he went, his shot was a head shot, but he couldn't verify if he had downed the monster. He had a handful of fanatics on his count, and an Astartes! He killed an Astartes, a member of the XVII Legion, clad in that nauseating red. Here he was now, waiting for the las rifle to recharge, its power pack working as fast as possible to provide enough juice for another shot. He looked back through the scope, back to where he saw the Night Lord disappear.
There he was, he was still where he fell, no. He is kneeling, yanking at that snarling helmet of his, trying to pry it off his head. He could see wisps of smoke escaping the vents, and he saw where his shot had connected, just above the juncture of the neck seal, fusing it shut.
It was almost ready, he could finish the job. He re-positioned his rifle, preparing for the shot, he put the thudding sound of Brother Dantor's bolter out of his mind. He removed himself from the steady scream of as rifles from all around, the continuous detonations of high caliber shells, and the cries of agony from the wounded. He was the shot. He focused on the target, everything else disappeared. Just breathe he thought to himself, a nice slow breath in, then release. At that natural pause, a nice steady pull of the trigger and...
"Identified... Selevon, Headmaster, 3rd Terror Squad at my geo-coordinates... Assistance required for removal of headgear..." The detached voice of Armand, Contemptor-Pattern Dreadnought, once the Chapter Champion of the 37th, cut through the vox net. It reached all members of the VIII Legion within a twenty-five meter radius. The response was immediate.
"If you would be so kind as to clarify, was that 'head' or 'headgear'?" The voice was raspy, almost gurgling with delight.
"Amusing Neculai... Are you en route? Assistance required at my geo-coordinates..." His near-metallic voice, seemingly devoid of any humor bullied its way across the net.
"Yes, yes, I am coming to dear Selevon's rescue, I require a moment, I make such a beautiful target out in the open though, perhaps there is something you can do to provide a distraction?" Tracking his transmission signal, Armand was able to locate the responding member of the 7th Raptor Squad, he was airborne and drawing fire. Origin of the weapon's fire targetting the inbound Night Lord was traced back to the second and third level, several squads of various make up were attempting to scatter his remains across the courtyard.
"Acknowledged..." As the Kheres-Pattern Autocannon mounted on his left arm began to spool, Armand placed the majority of his bulk in a manner best able to protect the Headmaster. He took aim across the field of battle, targeting the squads and gun emplacements set on the second and third levels. The, he unleashed hell. The initial volley scraping across the wall, puckering and demolishing the fortification. He continued to fire, hammering the teams on the upper levels with devastating effect, he eventually brought down a balcony onto the heads of the persons below effectively crushing a handful of Imperial Guards. He strafed vertically, moving towards the ledge above to address the threat of a heavy bolter team and a small squad of autocannon-wielding Fists trying to cut down the Talonmaster in midflight.
His delivery of accurate fire saw three of the five Imperial Fists explode as the shells impacted head, shoulder, and chests. The surviving two members of the squad proceeded to execute a tactical withdrawal, disappearing within the heavy walls, no doubt relocating to another fire location. The heavy bolter team no longer moved, their weapon no longer delivering rounds in defense of the complex. The two Terran Praefects who were one moment operating the bulky weapon were shredded to ribbons from the combination of shrapnel and the close quarter explosion of their squad weapon.
Neculai landed with no amount of grace, more focused on avoiding incoming fire, alongside Selevon. His jump configured pack juddered as he deactivated his jets, black smoke churning from the exhausts. He activated his vox speakers, increased the transmit volume, and spoke, "Be still, I am going to attempt to cut you free." As he spoke he grasped the rim of his collar and unsheathed his flaying knife.
The flaying knife was of custom make, possessed of a monomolecular blade, able to cut through nearly all substances. Typically found amongst terror squads and raptor squads along with apothecaries, the length of the blade extended from the elbow to the wrist. It was no more than two fingers wide at the base, ending in an almost unidentifiable point and was a tool of finesse. Sharp and cruelly curved, it often served as an instrument to induce fear and was a favorite when used to remove the skin of the captured.
He now used it to try to cut the helmet free of its bindings. He could hear the pained roar of Selevon from within, and could smell the scorching of astartes flesh. Rounds began to fall around them, the majority striking the heavily armored and shielded body of the contemptor dreadnought, but several of them found their way through. They were effectively in the open, the ranks of the advancing astartes never pausing for one moment, continuing to roll forward behind their thinning ranks of living cover. The blood-colored fiends of unknown origin absorbed much of the fire, shrugging smaller caliber rounds of the humans off as if nothing as well as some of those delivered by their genetically superior counterparts. But still closer they approached to the bulwark.
A bolter shot found its way to striking Neculai's pack, lighting it afire while the impact knocked him several meters away from the Headmaster. But the work he had done to remove the helmet had been enough and Selevon tore the helm free of its remaining bindings in exasperation. His burnt skin painfully kissed by the air, he hissed. All trace of jet black hair had been scoured from his head, leaving him bald while his skin was scorched and red. Blisters quickly began to form and his body adjusted, fighting the pain and the physical effects of the burns almost immediately. It itched.
Selevon surveyed his surroundings, his eyes locked on Neculai disengaging the securing mechanisms on the burning inferno raging on his backside. He watched as the raptor dumped the pack, and dashed towards him. The jet pack exploded, no doubt it would have seriously injured or killed him had he not removed it, it left little in evidence behind that it had even existed.
"My thanks," he muttered as he knelt to retrieve his murderglaive, "I began to feel my eyes boiling..."
"Save your gratitude for another time, perhaps if we make it out of here alive. Besides, now I am condemned to trudge across this mud-filled trench field"
"Perhaps if the pair of you are done licking each other's arses and complaining of the taste, we can rejoin the battle? Acknowledge..." Armand turned before either could answer, and made his way back towards the lines leaving the two astartes without words. He had stopped firing, the barrels of the autocannon still white hot and steaming. Some of the zealots and daemons had closed with the defenders and the urge to crush the servants of the Emperor weighed heavily on his mind.
Heavy fire still continued to rain down on him, doing little more than setting off alerts of incoming fire. A missile screamed towards him, struck the red-winged skull emblazoned on his hull, and exploded. The atomantic shielding failed to halt the missile, Legion insignia cracked and fractured, it left only hints as to what was once there.
"Death to the False Emperor!" boomed from his powerful vox speakers, his enormous armored legs churned towards the direction of the firer, "You are prey!" he proclaimed. The heavy thud of his weighty feet belied the terrifying speed at which he could move when prompted. He opened his right hand fully, exposing the pulsing lights of the plasma blaster built into his clawed close combat weapon. The lights halted for a moment, and then were released in a ball of plasma aimed at a built up weapon position. The deadly ball landed and exploded, disintegrating the handful of men who failed to leap from their reinforced foxhole.
The cry was echoed by the entirety of the VIII Legion, including the two sergeants who had fallen behind, followed by the howl of, "Ave Dominus Nox!" They rushed forward in the wake of his crashing footfalls, utilizing his bulk as cover as they sought to join the fray. Both activated their glaives, a stream of smoke spilled from the vents, and the teeth whirred hungrily. Indiscriminate fire peppered them, the occasional las rifle scorching their armor, driving them forward.
The former Arbite, Nolann Maticor, groaned with effort. His balcony along with the majority of his squad had been expelled from their position. The wreckage made up of rebar, pieces of ferrocrete, and his squad landed atop the heads of the twenty member squad of Imperial Fists below. Caught unawares, the hundreds of kilos of debris and personnel knocked many of them to the ground. Several members of the Terran Praefects were seriously injured, and the Sergeant had perished with his head cracked open by one of the larger pieces of ferrocrete.
Nolann tried to pick himself up, but he felt trapped. Crying out for help, he felt the weight on his back lighten and then disappear. An oversized, armored hand the color of a dusted sun heaved him to his feet then pushed him behind him.
He watched in amazement and horror as the gold clad angels of the Emperor clashed with the red skinned fiends. Chainswords roared and power weapons hummed as they swung to meet the blazing, almost insubstantial blades of the warp-beings. Where they met, flashes of colors burst, the speed of the movements were almost hypnotizing. Nolann nearly cheered as he watched Brother Dantor score what would have been a mortal blow with his lethal chainsword, but then cried out in dismay as the blade left only a minor wound; a black, smoky residue pouring from it. The crimson devil disengaged; a wicked smile, all teeth, was painted on the creature's face as the wound sealed itself. The beast's tongue spilled out of its mouth; long, forked, and of a sickly purple color. It licked the edge of its daemon blade, bunched its shoulders and leapt forward to renew the attack. Dantor bellowed in defiance, his power armor's fibre-bundles lending added strength to his already considerable physiology, he dashed forward with all the fury a son of Dorn could muster.
Corporal Maticor screamed his despair as he watched the smoking blade cleave through Dantor's armor at the collar, embedding itself halfway through his torso. At that same moment the astartes swept his chainsword horizontally, eating through the muscled torso of the horned creature. The monomolecular teeth chewed at the beast, not allowing it to retreat, it's warp-borne healing factor could not keep up and it burst into flames. The daemon and its blade disappeared, leaving behind a choking cloud of ash and smoke, the smell of sulfur following in its wake.
Dantor crashed to one knee, his genehanced body trying to cope with the grievous wound. Blood flowed steadily, the bright red as the daemon that had dealt the blow. Unable to cope, he fell forward, dashing his head against the rubble. A fellow astartes gathered him up hastily as his brethren rose to his defense firing bolters at close range, and dragged his bulk farther back from the lines. In mere seconds a marine clad in ivory armor, emblazoned with the prime helix on the right pauldron and the VII Legion symbol on his left, took over the movement of Dantor. Nolann stared as the healer activated his narthecium, a small whirling blade shot forth and he began to cut away at a section of his armor, no doubt intending to apply his precious skills to the task of mending him. A tube pushed out a misting substance, a sterilizer and followed with a gel-like material, a quick drying sealant. A large gauge needle sprung forward and buried itself deep into Dantor's chest. In an instant the wounded marine was up, hands grasping for a weapon, any weapon. Instead the apothecary pulled him along to within the protection of the fortification's walls, back towards the makeshift armory.
Nolann looked around and took in the anarchy. Battle was at its core chaotic, only the precursor and preparations were possessed of any obvious order. The movement of troops and supply, the well-ordered maintenance of gear, and the well-planned strategy of the upper echelon; it almost all disappeared upon initial contact. The screams of fury and pain, the spray of blood, the splintering of bone and armor; just furthering the pandemonium. But at the center of this action dwelled the well-oiled machine of the astartes response, a controlled violence in response to a threat that imperiled the very heart of the Imperium. Time slowed to a near halt, every detail of the struggle accentuated and prolonged for his mind to dissect.
His heart skipped a beat as he felt a hand clutch his shoulder and wrench him backwards. "Corporal, what are your orders?!"
He faced the remainder of his squad, only four left... He looked around and saw the remains of Sergeant Maksin, brain tissue exposed from the head wound. "What do I do?" he stammered to himself. He began to whisper incoherently to himself, overtaken by the breadth of it all, and then a stinging pain. His eyes blurred as tears formed and he felt the hot wash of adrenaline through his face and ears. Trooper Torin had slapped him, bringing him to back to the here and now.
He breathed in deeply and blew it out in half the time, "Where is my weapon?"
Trooper Vance handed a battered arbite shotgun over, "I think you dropped this..."
"From 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..." Blessed Lisigoth son of Lorgar, Sergeant of the Austral Host declared to his enemies and allies alike. He felt his twin hearts beating rapidly, a heightened reaction to the prospect of close quarters combat. The front ranks of the invaders scythed down by a combination of bolters and martial strength. The resistance put out by the Emperor's slaves was impressive in its own right, but once the sons of Lorgar closed with them, the scales would tip violently in Horus' favor. He slung his bolter to his side and armed himself with his deliverer of demise, his single bladed power axe. His gene-locked weapon activated to his touch, a thrumming field of disrupting green force encompassing the master-crafted blade.
Atop a pile of rubble to his left he watched a score of Imperial Fists lay down effective fire, harvesting daemons and astartes alike. They were efficient, half of them firing as the other half reloaded, basic marine practice but almost always effective when executed properly. Had they been combatting men or xenos, then perhaps the wave of attackers would have been halted, but this was not the case. The warp-fiends felt no fear and in some cases felt none of the effects of the hail of bolter rounds. Their mysterious foundation much more resilient to the projectile response. In the case of the Word Bearers and Night Lords, it took more than a round to down one of them, and any amount of fear that was created was quickly quashed by their psychological conditioning.
Lisigoth watched as the bloodletter, christened as such by their Lord and Primarch, before him finally ceased to exist after absorbing the lethal delivery of a plasma pistol's load. Before him was a Sergeant of the Imperial Fists, red-helmed and armed with a fearsome powerfist and his smoking plasma pistol. His yellow armor, almost brown in color, is worn but functional; rent with cuts from daemonic talons and puckered with bullet holes . He raised his right arm, extending the oversized index finger at him in an obvious challenge, and mag-locked his spent plasma pistol to his thigh. The VII Legion challenger moved to close with the Word Bearer and drew a combat knife from his sheathe clutching it in an inverted grip. This would no doubt be entertaining.
"Your blood shall feed the thirst of the master of the Eighth-fold path and your skull shall serve as his drinking vessel. Death to the slaves of a false god!"
Edited by Armond, 22 February 2014 - 10:20 AM.