They affixed the cells to the plasma cannon with the due reverence of holy men completing a sacred rite, prayers on their lips as they backed away. Power coursed through the now-armed weapon, the accelerator charging to a hot blue glow, static building in the air. Khurvash felt the power, his few remaining biological systems interpreting feedback from the cannon like a spreading warmth in the cold dark of the dreadnought's armoured tomb. Satisfying. It countered the pain, somewhat. The pain was always there, but the warmth that flowed from the cannon's rising killing power eased it. It was better when it fired. To unleash white-hot, sun-hot fire against his enemies was one of the last pleasures of his hollow, deathless existence. Then, he almost felt alive. Then, he-
Khurvash realised he had fully charged the cannon and cycled it into prefire; another half-second and it would have been too late to power down. With a snort of frustration and disgust he aborted the firing sequence, hot gas venting from the overheat ports. Several parchment strips affixed to his hull blackened and smouldered.
Fool. He cursed inwardly; he had been many things in his millennia-long existence as a warrior, but he was never careless. Unless the rage took him. No. That wasn't true. He had almost disintegraded half a dozen members of his own cult and blown out the bukhead of the arming chamber. Had he killed his cultists before? Were they in the way on Thannix Tertiary? No, he had simply exchanged fire with the false emperor's dogs and-
Several cultists, hooded and robed, replaced the damaged parchment on his hull. He was glad of that. To go to war adorned with the Word of Lorgar was right. He would bear the Word even from within his tomb. Even through the pain, he would bear it. More than that, to the cultists who armed and readied his war chassis he was an idol of the great powers, his hull itself a shrine. The word went with him, in every thundrous iron footstep, in the howling light of his plasma cannon, in the bladed talons of his right arm, he carried the Word. he was a weapon of the Gods as surely as he had been when he had waged war, under the power of his own limbs, on the killing fields of Calth.
He snarled, the sound somewhere between the growl of an engine and that of a rabid dog. The pain made it hard to concentrate. It compounded thousands of years of rage and hatred. In part, he resented being woken. In part, he resented existing at all. But he existed to enact the will of Lorgar, and enact it he would, even if he had to do so from a tomb. He was not some mindless brute to be chained in the hold like an animal. He had seen the wretched creatures other legions brought to war and loosed like beasts - he had put several out of their misery over the centuries. That was not him. He was not like that, he never would be.
A woman stepped forward from the throng of cultists, her hood thrown back. From one side of her head stood horns like those of a goat; still small, one vestigial, but growing to prominence. From a bowl of iron she annointed Khurvash's hull with blood.
"The great one stands ready" she declared, and the others bowed their heads and whispered. "It is time."
They led Khurvash from the arming chamber, filing past the racks of small arms, each siezing a lasrifle or hard-shot autogun with a savage bayonet slung under the muzzle. They struck up a chant as they made for the hangar deck, heading to board the assault transports bound for the planet below. By the time they were halfway there, they were no longer leading Khurvash. They were keeping out of his way.
The incendiary payloads hammered down ahead of the assault craft like a bow wave, screaming from orbit to drown men and steel in a tide of fire. The first wave of landers blew their ramps as soon as they hit the blackened, smouldering earth, and rom within their armoured bulks issued forth a horde of cultists, their frenzied war cries quickly drowned out by the roar of descending Dreadclaws and the throaty growls of the war engines disembarking or unclamping from the landers.
Imperials. Slaves of the corpse god. Khurvash spat with contempt, his hull vocalizer translating the gesture as a burst of harsh feedback. Ahead of him lay a shattered waste of broken ground and broken ruins; the fractured outer rings of a fortress network, ruptured by orbital bombardment. Cracking the next ring would be done the old way - he didn't know why. Something to do with orbital defence batteries and firing arcs. He didn't care. The plasma cannon sang hot and furious, its warmth filling his sarcophagus as he unleashed its fury. Between that and the overwhelming hatred he felt, he almost forgot about the pain.
Gunfire filled the air around and above him. Smoke darkened the sky. Fires blazed out of control in every direction. This was where he was at home. This was why he had been woken. A round from his plasma cannon struck an Ultramarine predator in the flank, blowing out the sponson gun and scattering severed track links as the tank reeled from the catastrophic damage. Seconds later it was consumed by a series as heck devastating explosions as its ammunition and fuel reserves detonated, leaving the ruptured hull to offer black smoke to the skies like a sacrifice. Not Ultramarines. A sable hull with a white cross. Focus.
He barely noticed the cult around him as they exchanged fire with the scattered guard forces attempting to impede the advance. The cannon sang again, reducing a sentinel to slag and white-hot shrapnel. A hail of shells from the twin boltgun barrels slung under his right arm talon fell among a guard section contesting the wreckage of a shattered gatehouse - the mass reactive rounds severed limbs, burst skulls and splintered ribcages, dropping men like broken puppets and forcng the survivors into hard cover. This was mere culling work. There were Astartes of the false emperor on the field, and he hungered for their blood.
Through the smoke, he saw a hated standard of the enemy: the despicable livery of Sigismund flying from the banner pole of a dreadnought. He surged forward, trampling corpses underfoot, roaring a warcry that served at once as a declaration of hate and a challenge to the rival ancient. The Templar had already seen him, and the barrels of its assault cannon had spun up to firing speed. A storm of shells broke against Khurvash's hull, tearing chunks of steel and adamantium away in a hail of sparks. Several pierced his armour, one causing a maddening spike of pain and the other damaging servos and severing motive cables in his shoulder and impairing the movement of his left arm. Cursing the limitation placed on his firing arc, Khurvash pivoted at the waist to bring the plasma cannon to bear and unleashed its fury. The plasma burst struck the Templar's own weapon and incinerated it; the massive gatling gun and its mounting replaced, in a blinding flash, by a red-hot wound of molten metal. Hull scored and burned, the Templar ancient reeled, but found its footing and readied the power fist that comprised its other arm, prepared to meet Khurvash's imminent charge.
"Dog of Sigismund," he roared, "hear my challenge! I am Khurvash of the Word Bearers, son of Lorgar, and by the great Kings of the Warp I will have your head!"
The Templar said something in reply, but Khurvash wasn't really listening. he was already charging, anyway. They collided hard, each meeting the other's weapon with his own in a shower of sparks and a thunderclap of displaced air. The power fields hissed against eachother for a moment before each dreadnough sought a new killing blow. Each fought hard for the slightest advantage, turning his heaviest and least damaged armour toward his opponent, attempting to shove his foe off balance - Khurvash, momentarily forgetting logic, even sought to gore his enemy with his horns. The power fist dealt a crushing blow to the Word Bearer's hull and several of his readouts went dark. The adamantium had buckled and something, somewhere was leaking. In retaliation he lanced the talon blades into his opponent's dark armoured form, shearing through internal systems. He stepped back to avoid another powerfist swing, then lunged forward, shoulder lowered. The Templar's fist struck hard, tearing off his right pauldron and shaking him to the core. His talon ripped directly into the Templar's sarcophagus. With a roar of triumph, he tore the blades free, splitting open the armoured plating of the sarcophagus and partly exposing the now-bisected form within. Burnt blood hissed from the powered blades. Khurvash had won.
He yelled a warcry in praise of Lorgar. Warmth flooded his cold, dark tomb - a satisfying, familiar warmth. The world went white. Khurvash was uncertain why. He certainly had no time for imaging faults now; he had a war to fight. The rest of Guilliman's welps had to be shown the glory of the Word in blood and cinders.
A helbrute. She'd heard the stories, but until now she'd been fortunate enough not to actually see one. It was even more horrible than she could have imagined. It resembled the revered dreadnoughts of the Emperor's Astartes, but everything about it was hideous, wrong. Symbols of the archenemy were emblazoned on its crimson hull and on the parchment strips that hung from it like devotional pennants. Atop its hull were dozens of candles and a halo of iron spikes on which the skulls of men had been impaled. It had horns like a daemon, and it moved like one, too - at least, as much as any machine can be said to.
It came at them howling, a mad beast loosed to murder and maim. The plasma cannon it carried was never silent; she'd already seen it fire into its own ranks at least once in its frenzy to bombard the Imperial lines. A throng of heretics surrounded it like celebrants around a shrine, yet it semed to care nothing for them. As she watched, it charged forwards, crushing several underfoot and leaving the rest behind. It was coming towards her. Weighing her options - and fighting back the choking terror that threatened to overwhelm her - Sergeant Morav stayed in the rubble-filled trench she had taken cover in and hoped the helbrute wouldn't see her. Morav was no coward, but her lasrifle would be less than useless against such a warp-spawned monstrosity.
An exchange of fire overhead almost deafened her - the whine of a rotary cannon, the blast of plasma. Nausea wrenched her gut when she realised the helbrute was crossing the trench she was in; it cleare it in one bound, iron hydraulics shaking the earth. Then it stopped. It had stopped firing. She forced herself to look. It was facing down a revered ancient of the Black Templars. An Angel of Death. Why had it stopped? Suddenly it made the most hideous sound she had ever heard; somewhee between the howl of a wounded animal, the snarling of a wolf, the roar of a blast furnace, the screams of the dying and the sound of an engine pushed beyond its tolerance. It was the sound of madness. It made this sound as though it were speaking, and then it charged.
She watched in absolute horror as the battle between the adamantine immortals turned abruptly and brutally in the helbrute's favour. Stunned by what she witnessed, she couldn't begin to comprehend what happened next: in the moment of its triumph, the battered but victorious helbrute inexplicably fired its plasma cannon at the dead or dying Black Templar ancient at point blank range. The resulting blast incinerated both of them, leaving the Templar dreadnought as an exploded wreck, but also destroying the Word Bearer completely, so that it remained as an upright hulk, consumed by fire, like so many walkers on the battlefield that day.