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REF TALE - The stories

Brotherhood of the Lost Lost and Forgotten Alternate Heresy

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#51
bluntblade

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Dinner for Eleven
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Scions Hospitalier (Pionus)
Major characters: Antonidas, Odyssalas, Glaucus, Mytakis
Time: 0 M31, shortly after the Qarith Triumph

Pionus' staterooms played host to an exceptional gathering. A sumptuous meal had been laid on; after all, it was not every day that the entire Synedrion dined together.

The Masters of the Forge and Apothecarion were fairly constant presences aboard Hell's Heart, but the captains were another matter entirely. In keeping with their Legion's drive to support their cousins, the Scions Hospitalier had always existed as several forces rather than a single whole. The Déka were no exception; even the Qarith War had only seen seven of them campaign together, and three of them had set off for other theatres shortly after that. For all their closeness, they were a scattered brotherhood.

With the Scions' reputation, few outsiders would believed the jubilation as the captains embraced. Galen and Diokles seized their brothers with particular fondness; both had spent several years away from the main Legion fleet. Their happiness was tinged with sorrow; Seventh Captain Cassandos had fallen in battle against the Qarith, and they had not been there to mourn him.

That sorrow had deepened with the walk down the Avenue of Heroes, stopping at intervals to crouch by a name which had not been carved there before. This was the burden that came with life as a captain of the XIXth. With the ever-changing makeup of their fleets, they had each lost longtime comrades and only learned of it later, at an immense distance.

Still, that sadness abated as they reached Pionus' quarters and were greeted by their lord. Pionus' joy at seeing his favoured sons together was infectious, and over the course of the meal they swapped tales of their time apart. As ever, curious discoveries, bizarre enemies and lost technology, dominated the conversation as much as the battles themselves.

Odyssalas sank into the hubbub, until he heard some words directed towards him. “Mph?” he managed, through a mouthful of Numinal beef.

“Throne, you really have spent too much time with the Bears,” drawled Galen, carving meat away from the bone meticulously. Odyssalas glanced ruefully down at the rib in his fingers, but shrugged and carried on.

As it drew to a close, Pionus steered the subject towards the matter of the next few months. He intended for the Scions to remain as active as possible while he and his retinue made for Terra. For that reason the fleet had marshalled over Laeran, rather than Iona.

“I am required on Terra, and five of you are expected.” Antonidas, Odyssalas and Mytakis’ standing dictated that they attend, and the remaining gaps would be filled by Diokles and Galen. Diokles in particular had yearned to rejoin his Legion after three hard years with the Void Eagles.

“And to think people call us clinical,” he lamented. “I guarantee you this - no Scion will ever find an honour brother among the IVth.”

“Rest easy, Diokles,” replied Pionus. “You'll find more than enough merriment on Terra to compensate. But now, we must consider what to do with the rest of our forces until we can return to the front. To begin with - I'll start with the least enticing - we have a request from the Crimson Lions for a xenocide campaign into the Acheron Expanse.” The Lions tended to be good company, but their riotous ways could be a headache for the Scions' officers.

“No danger that the merriment will be confined to Terra,” said Antonidas. “Which Clan?”

Odyssalas did not share his smile. “Karakal.”

The wince began with the First Captain and travelled right around the table. “I immediately retract my statement.”

Bepheros stroked his chin. “Have they given a timeframe?”

“Two years, from the last projections. They ask for five companies.” Pionus waited for his captain's response. No member of the Déka had ever shirked such a request, but Pionus relied on these men for candid advice and would never make a decision for them. Once the commands had been distributed, the Déka would scrutinise the plans for each campaign, be they one of theirs or Pionus' own. They were naysmiths, pouring over every strategy with forensic precision.

Bepheros looked wryly at Antonidas. “When you're feasting and quaffing, spare a thought for me and my poor lads.”

“I don't believe I've ever quaffed.”

“Yoxer Bellows should be on Terra,” said Odyssalas. “He's always happy to demonstrate.”

“Metis, if I might proceed?” Odyssalas laughed at the mock reproach in Pionus' voice, but waited silently as he continued. “Legate Licinius has asked us to join his Shepherds in an expedition into the Choubris Reach. Explorator vessels have detected a grouping of orbitals that appear to be human in origin, but they suspect xenos occupation.”

Epinondas leaned forward. “I’m more than happy to take the lead on that one. If you'll let me, I'll take young Glaucus with me. The Shepherds are always happy to serve with us, and it's an easier ride than working with the Dune Serpents or The Drowned." He looked towards Mytakis. "Just give me a hundred Depthstriders and plenty of breacher squads.”

Mytakis nodded in assent and Pionus smiled. “I'd be a poor commander if I disregarded my advisors. Mentor him well.”

Antonidas clapped Glaucus, recently elevated to Cassandos’ old post as Seventh Captain, on the shoulder. “It’ll be a good start, lad. The Shepherds are just the sort of comrades you want on your first expedition as one of us.”

Pionus nodded and continued. “I have devised an offensive of our own into greenskin-held space, to safeguard the old Prosperine Domain. I'd like to hear your thoughts.” A servitor entered, bearing dishes laden with exotic fruit. Pionus grinned, looking around the table. “Then again, I think it can wait until we've finished here. Galen, let's have another tale of the Dursk Rassan.

Edited by bluntblade, 28 July 2016 - 11:27 PM.

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#52
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The Beheading

Author: Slipstreams

Legions: The Scions Hospitalier

Major Characters: Antonidas

Time: Mid-Late Qarith War.

 

 

 

Viar III
22:00 Hours Terran Standard Time
Aboard Phaeton-Pattern Storm Eagle Aviana
500km South of Primary Landmass

 

 

Rising from his seat, Antonidas went to the Forward Equipment Compartment of the Aviana and started to equip his Obscura jump pack. They were to perform a rapid infiltration amongst the Qarith within proximity to their Primary Hive-Cluster on the main landmass of the planet.

"Commence Preparations. As ever, we have no margin for error in this. Sergeant?" He looked to his second in command, clasping the final strap for the jump pack on.

"Yes, First Captain?" Sergeant Gorgidas answered. He was one of the finest stealth experts in the XIXth Legion, having honed his skills on long assignments with the Dune Serpents.

"Recap the briefing. Everyone else, see to your equipment."

"Aye, Captain." The chorus came both from the marines in the cabin and those in the other Phaeton. One after the other, each Astartes in the cabin took turns equipping their Jump Packs, grabbing their lancea's and strapping-and-reeling their Hooknets to their forearms. 

All told, they were only twenty-one Astartes participating in this mission, discounting the Phaeton Crews. But what a twenty-one. Himself and two Phantom Squads, the elite hunters of the Scions Hospitalier.

While all Astartes had eidetic memories, it was still good form to go over mission parameters and briefings prior to final deployment. It was good for morale and helped avoid any miscommunication errors from slipping in. He ran over the details in his own head, leaving the recap to Sergeant Gorgidas.

Their target was a particular Qarith form they had yet to encounter on the field of battle. They had theorised the existence of this "queen" subtype, as Inna called it. Now, a deep scan of the enemies locations, under direct orders from Icarion, had proven it. If they could find one, it would provide information they could exploit for the war effort.

While any and all information on their quarry was nonexistent beyond the confirmation of its existence, it was deemed a target of the highest importance. However, due to the nature of the Qarith and the ongoing conflict on the planet, attempts by the Officio Assassinorum were deemed unfeasible.

This is where they came in.

They were to, under the cover of darkness, enter the atmosphere above the south pole where there was a markedly diminished Qarith presence. From there, fly due north to the southern peninsula of the primary landmass, drop in at supersonic speeds to minimize detection and enemy preparedness, infiltrate the hive cluster, take out the target. If possible, they planned to acquire one or more organ samples for further study.

Simple enough.

He mag-clamped grenades to his belt and greaves. Next he went about attaching Hoarfrost to his forearm. The Paragon was blacked out, in contrast with the brilliant blue favoured by the main Legion. He caught the tail end of Gorgidas' re-briefing, pulling him out of his reverie and back to full attention. They were now fifteen minutes out from their destination. He could feel the anticipation in the cabin building.

"Five Minutes till arrival" announced the pilot.

"Noted" Antonidas answered. "Drop positions, everyone. Remember, engage thrusters as close to the surface as possible. The less they notice us, the better. We'll have twenty minutes to get in, eliminate the target, acquire any samples and evacuate. Conserve as much fuel as possible, at least enough for a single jump; we'll be boarding mid-flight on the way out."

"Aye, Captain!"

As the internal chrono counted down the 300 seconds till destination, the speed of the craft increased even further. The blackness outside showed nothing of that, but Antonidas could feel the velocity.

200 seconds. Postures straightened further.

100 seconds. Hooknets were looked over one final time.

50 seconds. Lancea's were mag-locked to the wielders' armour, the brothers they stood beside testing the strength of the magnetic grip.

20 seconds. Antonidas' squad-monitor showed increased bio-rhythms.

10 Seconds. No external signs of nervousness. Antonidas permitted himself a small smile.

9...

8...

7...

6...

5...

4...

3...

2...

1..

BANG!

The floor hatch beneath them shot open at blinding speed and into the abyss did they fall. They were roughly a kilometre above their target and all the Phantoms had cleared the craft without issue, the black pearl of their plate disappearing into the night.

Ten seconds before landfall by his estimation. They dropped roughly three kilometers away from their actual destination, intending to use the speed gained through their Supersonic Drop to permit them to get past any unaware defenses the Qarith may have set up and to crash through the outer walls of the hive-cluster their target resided in.

His HUD displayed them as moving at just above three hundred metres per second and the hive wall was closing in fast. They would have to, three seconds from impact, activate their jump packs at full burn to reduce the brunt of the impact to Astartes-survivable levels. Not that they were planning to physically punch through - the risk of compromising their wargear was too great. Breaching charges would deal with the barriers.

Not easy, he thought, but if it was then the Phantoms wouldn't be necessary.

One after the other, Antonidas leading, they shot through the breaches, crushing multiple Qarith of various kinds as they blasted through layer upon layer of hallways and walls. As they came to a stop, each member comm'd in confirming safe arrival and reporting on their current location -- they hadn't scattered too far from one another.

Before regrouping, they went to the bodies of the Qarith they had killed on entry, seeking specimens which still had their heads intact. With the matter-of-fact way of the Phantoms, they opened their skulls and ate potions of their brains. One by one, the gathered Astartes reported their newfound knowledge of the hive, piecing together a rough map of the area. Their quarry was further down, near the center of the construct.

19:26 read his chrono.

"We have our objective. Make haste - time is not on our side." Antonidas launched into a sprint down the hallway he found himself in. Other Phantoms starting to emerge from their landing zones, also sprinting.

"Any who try to impede us are to be cut down swiftly and quietly. We can waste no time on them."

"Aye!" was the reply he recieved.

The sheer speed of the Astartes made the vast distances and spaces of the Hive-Cluster disappear beneath their feet. They had only to shoulder charge into any of the smaller Qarith types they encountered to pulp them. Their sonar emitters alerted them to any xenos in their path.

So far resistance had been minimal but, as news would travel fast, they were ready for all but the heaviest of resistance given their locale. Still, these Qarith were not to be underestimated, as they were to find out soon.

Breaking out of the hallways of the hive-wall sections, they emerged into the center, a great sprawling mass with enough open spaces at points to fly aircraft in. Before them stood a group of no less than ten Banshee subtypes. Without so much as breaking stride, each of the members selected a target and, with preternatural timing, shot into them with their jump packs as one. Their lancea blades crunched through alien flesh and bone. A single incision into the brain each, felling the monsters instantly before they continued on their way.

Now in the open, they shifted to using controlled bursts from their jump packs to propel them forwards, towards the suspended edifice at the center of the hive, the queen's location.

Resistance was surprisingly light, Antonidas noted, and felt a pang of worry: they could be heading into a trap for all he knew. Still, they were giving a mission and by the Primarch and Emperor, they would complete it or die trying.

As they approached, he noted the the structure they were headed towards was supported at the bottom and top by thick, biomechanical structures akin to support rods as well as, along the diameter, multiple smaller rods.

"See those support rods?" he asked.

"Aye Captain." Gorgidas halted next to him with a look that, even through his obsidian faceplate, managed to be quizzical.

"Resistance has been a bit too light for my tastes."

"I noticed that too, captain. What do you think they could be planning?" replied Brother Othel, jumping off a wall and landing on a worker form before continuing on.

"I've not any clue, Brother, the minds of these creatures are unfathomable us and rightfully so. As a precaution, I want us to rig those support beams with melta bombs prior to going in there. Alternatively, we simply blow them from the outside, let the building collapse and draw them out that way. Sergeants - opinions?" No room for heroics here. The Phantoms would do their work economically.

Sergeant Pargondas assented. "Best have them in place for when things go wrong; can't risk the kill." Antonidas nodded and turned to face his troops.

"We continue in formation to within a kilometer of our destination. At that point, we split up and plant the Bombs. Timer is to be put on a 10 minute fuse. Rendezvous at the opening we currently have visuals on and proceed inside. Together."

They continued on, Antonidas stabbing with Hoarfrost into those foolish enough to impede him. He dispatched them with a single blow each, the blade easily cutting through chitin, bone, muscle and sinew, freezing the wound and the immediate area around it instantly, their bodies bifurcated at the points of contact between them and his blade.

Soon they reached the launch points, a trail of Qarith bodies the only evidence of their passage. As they divided into their pre assigned teams and leaped into the air, their newfound vantage point gave them all the intel they needed: speed, violence and skill were the only reason they yet lived.

Far below them now, they saw teeming masses of the Qarith swarming from all possible locations going to previous conflict sites as well as trying to head them off. Clearly they had not expected them to be airborne for there were none of the winged forms present. Good for us, too bad for them, Antonidas thought to himself, their cries of frustration as the twenty-one Astartes quickly sped away from them music to his ears.

Himself and Brother Atrion were the first to reach their target. Using their weapons to hook themselves into the fleshy biomechanical structure, they quickly planted their melta bombs and slaved them to their internal timers, which now read 11:13. Not much time, but enough to get the job done. That part of the plan done they jumped off their perch and landed at the designated rendezvous point.

Surprisingly enough, they were the third pair to arrive. Good, he thought, less waiting around for me. Over the course of the next three minutes the remaining pairs arrived to join their brothers.

"This is it. We have one shot. If this goes sour we all bail and hopefully the trap we have laid does its job. No Heroics. The Primarch wants each and everyone of us to return. Again, in this, we shall not fail him." His speech finished he led the way inside.

The interior was illuminated with a bioluminescent yellow-green glow bright enough that they could still see but dark enough that fine details were not immediately apparent and opened into a vast, open area much larger than the exterior would have suggested. Throughout the whole structure, a soft ba-thump... ba-thump... ba-thump could be heard in time with the undulating of the walls.

Slowly as they closed in on the center, a mound had started to form. Hundreds of egg-like structures of varying sizes, but all possessed of a vaguely similar form were starting to emerge from the dim shadows. And slowly, as they climbed the mound, a few hundred meters in diameter at is base, they made out their target.

First were the legs. Arachnid in appearance but thousands of times larger. Each was as thick as an Astartes and Eighteen Legs were there in total each ending in a fine, chitinous point. Next came the thorax and Abdomen. The Former vaguely female in its humanoid appearance but just as large as a Terminator was tall, the Latter distended and gorged, occasionally spewing out eggs, the transparent flesh visible through the parted armor plating due to how stretched it was.

And finally, the head and arms. There were Six arms, different to the legs, each was well over two meters long and ended in three scything talons each, themselves being the length of a standard combat knife. And the Head. In place of hair was a large, sweeping, crest the shape of a crescent. The immediate likeness was to that of a crown; one of bone and cartilage. The face, while vaguely female, was all but alien to the Astartes. Six eyes of pure black stared out at them, where one would have expected a nose, only flat, smooth skin was found and a cheek-less, double-jawed mouth lined with razor sharp teeth to complete the ensemble.

As the gathered Astartes cautiously approached, the being before them made no attempt to strike at them, instead it looked at them with a strange expression, as much as they could read its face. Almost... yearning.

*Beep* 7:00 read the chronos.

When the Astartes made no immediate attempt to strike, the Queen lowered her upper body to match their height and, through a raspy, pained and multi-faceted voice, it spoke to them. It spoke in the language of Mankind.

"Hhhhhhhaaaaavvvvveeeee… yoooooooooou… commmmmeeeee… tooooo… kiiiiiiiiiiillllll… meeeeeeee? To.....Ennnndddddd… thisssss… tooooooorrrrmmmmeeennnnntttt?!"

"It speaks! Captain?" asked one of the squad members.

"I heard it," he said, locking eyes with the Queen to address it. “What are you?

“Tttthhhhhheeeennnnnnnnn… Dooooooooooooooooo… iiiiiiiiitttttttt… REEEEELLLEEEEASSSSSSEEEEE MEEEEEE!!!" it shrieked.

“Before we do, answer me one thing: Why does one such as yourself desire the embrace of death?"

*beep* 6:20

"Cooooooommmmmmeeeeee… clooooooooseeeeerrrrrrrrr… weeeeeeeeehaaaaavvvveeee… nooooo… TIME… fooooorrrr wooooooorrrrddddsssssss..." she rasped, her features contorting in pain as another egg spewed forth from her abdomen.

Gorgidas grabbed Antonidas by the arm. “No, Captain, we cannot risk it. Put her out of her misery and be done with this!" 

Antonidas angrily shrugged the hand off. "Not an option. If she has information about these Qarith that she can share and that we could use to our advantage, we must obtain it, no matter the means."

“Sir,” exclaimed another Phantom. “You can't intend to sully yourself like this? This alien filth must be purged!”

*Beep* 5:40


"I....am....no...alien!" The Queen whispered. "Thhhheeeessseeeee… fffffffoooouuuullllll… thhhhiiinnnngggg… thhhhheeyyy..." She trailed off, beckoning to Antonidas to approach.

He turned to look at the warrior who had blurted out. “This once, Myanos, I'll overlook your insubordination.” Then he stepped towards the massive creature.

Once he drew close for it to touch him, she placed a single clawed finger on the helmet just over the forehead. A sudden spike of pain came next paralysing him. Then came a deluge of memories that were not his own. This creature's memories.

*beep* 4:55

He fell to his knees, clutching at his head and groaning. He used his enhanced body and mind to sort through the memories and to ignore the pain. What he saw were brief flashes of the queen’s past life on an Imperial Agriworld, the sudden invasion of the Qarith, the death of her family, subsequent abduction followed by a series of blurry, unfocused memories of being in a gestation pod and feeling her body be molded, shaped and, ultimately, changed into the form she now occupied. This and much more filled his mind.

*Beep* 4:00

"Hnnngghh…gllad to have… confirmation… that these queens are psykers. Would have preferred another method but, time is indeed running short."

“What did it show you, Captain?"

“More than enough." He replied and looked back to the Queen. He walked up to her, standing face to face and, with all the authority he could muster proclaimed. "In the name of the Emperor of Mankind and my Primarch his son, and by my right as First Captain of the Scions Hospitalier, I grant thee, Imperial subject and citizen, the Emperor's Peace." 

"Thhhhhaaaaannnkkkkkkkkkk… yyyyooooouuuu..." she groaned in response. For an instant, Antonidas wondered if he saw a tear well up at her insectoid eyes.

*Beep* 3:35

And, with a single, deft swing, he decapitated her with Hoarfrost. He knelt down and picked up the head, handing it to a nearby Phantom.

[indent=1]"We have our sample. Now, we leave." And as one, they sprinted out the way they came.

*Beep* 1:15

As they exited the chamber, they did not even spare a glance at the teeming masses of assembled Qarith beneath them. Instead, all looked to the apex of the hive-cluster lay their way out. Igniting their Jump Packs at full burn, they leapt into the air heading towards their destination. As they closed the distance, those brothers who were carrying extra melta bombs for just this tasked readied them. Planting the bombs into the peak and securing them in place, they distanced themselves from them, using their lanceas to hook themselves to the organic ceiling.

As the melta bombs detonated and the fleshy roof collapsed on itself, the gathered marines all quickly disengaged themselves from their perches, leaping out of the hive-cluster and into the open atmosphere of Qarith Prime.

*Beep-Click* 0:00 

Beneath them came a dull, resounding detonation followed by a dull crushing sound a few seconds later, the result of their trap helping sow chaos and confusion among the Qarith Ranks.

Good. Let them know that even their hives aren't safe.

And, as if on cue, there came the roar of the Phaetons come to retrieve them. Dividing themselves back into their ten-man-plus-one, units they lined up for extraction. With a final thrust from their jump packs, entered their transports through the bottom hatches.


Antonidas sat in silence, ruminating on what he had learned and trying to expunge the feeling in his stomach. The Qarith had already been a foul enemy. Now their true nature was known, he desired only to see them burned from the Galaxy. The rest sat around him, nervously curious but unwilling to test their captain's temper.

As they slipped out of the atmosphere, he opened a channel to Cassandos', commanding the fleet in his absence. “Brother, commence the attack. Purge them.”


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#53
bluntblade

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Whispers and Worries
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Scions Hospitalier, Iron Bears
Time: 0 M30, immediately after the Qarith Triumph
Major characters: Nibaasiniiwi, Odyssalas

Nibaasiniiwi cast an eye over the ranks of Scylla Cohort, admiring the mastery with which the robots had been built even as he deplored the lack of craft and artistry that had gone into their construction. That was one thing the Scions had never quite embraced; their waveblades were a rare exception. His honour brother's streamlined Cyma plate contrasted strangely against Nibaasiniiwi’s ornate armour and augmentics. Odyssalas had even filled in the half-aquila carving on his vambrace with red metal, in keeping with his Legion's obsession with streamlining and efficiency.

Nibaasiniiwi smiled softly at the stares they were drawing; the bronze-handed Bear with his braided beard and mass of hair, beside the Scion whose appearance had clearly been dictated by neatness over any personal preference. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Odyssalas throw a salute to Heracleion, the Collossi Primus. You're sentimental sods, under all that empirical aloofness. His smile broadened, prompting a quick change of subject from his friend.

“Where to next, Achille?”

“We'll muster over Huron with the rest of the Legion. Daer'dd is already planning expeditions to take place while we head to Terra.”

Odyssalas nodded. “Pionus is doing much the same. He's eager to see the rest of his brothers, but he doesn't like seeing every Primarch called away from the front. Not to mention almost all their foremost warriors.”

“Well, this will be a chance for the rest to shine,” chuckled Nibaasiniiwi.

Odyssalas nodded silently before replying. “Either way, it'll be good to have the Synedrion assembled in full again. I haven't seen Diokles and Galen in over a decade.” The Déka, the ten finest captains of the XIXth Legion, were usually scattered across several expeditions at a time with their respective cohorts. The Qarith War had involved seven of them, a rare concentration of the Scions' might.

The surface of Qarith Prime was largely empty now, leaving only four Legions and several Army battalions to quit the planet. The Bears and Scions had opted to wait and renew bonds of fellowship while the rest jostled to leave. Apart from anything else, the rush felt unseemly after such a momentous occasion. Odyssalas had made a point of admiring the oceans while they remained relatively unspoilt by pollution.

“A glorious occasion, I can hardly say otherwise,” he’d remarked, “but I still wish that this could be done more… cleanly. None of these great pools of promethium and belching engines.” He had been at the fore during the conquest of this world, and clearly felt some sorrow at its treatment.

They passed the Knights of August. Now these were true works of art, Nibaasiniiwi thought as Sunclaw loomed over them, its slender form belying the fearsome arsenal it carried. Not that he would forget that after seeing Ar'assa slay so many Orks with it on Aureus.

“There was no ecology to destroy, at least. The Qarith stripped it of everything long before we arrived.”

Nibaasiniiwi’s eyes were drawn to the three figures dancing on the sand. Sparring, he corrected himself. Ellan Temeter and Minerva An'saalmo against Inna Santor, with a small audience of Astartes and mortals. The captain and remembrancer were capable duelists, but Inna was incredibly fast, faster than any mortal should be. Lotara and Ellan had received modest enhancements, but they were still adjusting to them; Inna had had decades to master her gifts.

“I never asked, Metis, how it feels to serve alongside - even under - Lady Inna. I mean, we defer to Lotara on matters of void combat, but you have a mortal directing Astartes in all areas of war.”

Odyssalas chuckled and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. “Mortal is a strange word to use for a woman who was hunting monsters back when you and I were children. Pionus' genhancements count for a lot,” he added, as Inna casually disarmed Ellan and tripped Lotara in one smooth motion, “but she has courage and wits that are all her own. None of our altered brain patterns or hypno-conditioning, but she doesn't shrink from the challenges we face. That's why we hold her in such high esteem.”

Nibaasiniiwi smiled appreciatively, as Inna helped her opponents back to their feet.“Truly. I guess that, on some level, she also fulfills the same role that Ellan…”

Nibaasiniiwi trailed off as a Lightning Bearers Stormbird soared overhead, and his eyes lingered on the craft. For as long as he had had any inkling of the Great Crusade, the sons of Icarion had been foremost among Mankind's saviours. That primacy had now been overturned; Alexandros’ elevation would change his Legion's status too. He wondered how his friends among the first and fifth would respond to those changes.

“Brother?”

“Sorry. Ellan provides a different perspective, a more human one if you will. I suppose Inna does the same for you.”

“In her own way, yes. Though it wouldn't hurt to cultivate closer links with remembrancers of our own. We all need keeping human.” His eyes narrowed, and Nibaasiniiwi realised he was watching a squadron of VIIth Legion vessels rise towards the stratosphere. “Some more than others.”

Nibaasiniiwi waited patiently, watching Andobandi and Kyr'ss Songblade converse with Darius Mytakis. Odyssalas inclined his head slightly and strode into the shallows, lowering his voice.

“In case you didn't hear anything on the way from Laeran, I've heard worrying things from brothers who fought with the Warbringers. There’s something brewing. Their apothecaries - and those in other Legions - are conducting experiments on the gene-seed that are…” Nibaasiniiwi was not used to seeing his friend struggling for words. “Dangerously excessive, especially in light of what I've seen on my last two campaigns.”

“You're likening their work to the Qarith?” Nibaasiniiwi asked in genuine surprise. The Scions’ culture had always seemed free of hyperbole. Odyssalas turned to look him straight in the eye.

“From what our historators have found, the Qarith started down their path out of a desire to improve, and eradicate what they perceived as the inherent flaws of the human frame. That escalated, and before long they had set their sights on reordering their minds.” Unease was plain to see on his face, the like of which Nibaasiniiwi hadn't seen since that hellish day on Laeran.

“There's no way any Astartes could go that far, even if they intended to,” Nibaasiniiwi countered. He hesitated, seeing the look on his friend's face. “Unless that's not the only danger?”

That earned him a small smile. “You don't get enough credit for your wits, brother. The real danger is that our work - all of it - will be threatened by their excesses. I don't need to tell you how devastating that would be to us. We need to be ready for when the reckoning comes - and I guarantee you it will - so we can protect what we can. So, with that in mind,” he said, “does the name Vizenko mean anything to you?”

Edited by bluntblade, 26 May 2017 - 10:08 PM.

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#54
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Ritual Union
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Iron Bears
Time: 1 M31
Major characters: Minerva An'saalmo, Ellan Temeter

+++++

“Sorry, how does that work?”

Minerva suppressed a grin. She had seen Ellan puzzled often enough by now, but now she appeared nothing short of perplexed.

“Ritual means a lot here, Ellan,” she replied, stifling a giggle and gesturing out towards Huron. They had retired to one of the smaller observatora, one that Minerva had more or less claimed as her own during her first year captaining the Dragon. She'd never really imagined sharing this space; it had been a place she could find some solitude when her chambers wouldn't suffice. Then again, the flame-haired remembrancer had surprised more or less everyone aboard this ship.

She swirled the contents of her glass absentmindedly as she thought. Ellan had good taste in ale, which came as a relief to someone who found Huronian mead far too sweet. “It's a different kind of ritual to what most Legions practice, obviously, and it exists because the Bears keep closer to their people than most. Iron King isn't an empty title. In a very real sense, Chief Damon is the ruler of Accer Ferris.”

Ellan raised an eyebrow. “I don't see Captain Sarrin dragging an Astartes husband around the ship.”

“That's because she told Daer'dd that the Dragon is her ship, and if he tried to marry her off she’d throw his favourite hammer out the airlock. Well, partly that. But also because, as a Terran, her political clout only comes from her station as captain. She’s not expected to rule over a moon or a planet.”

Speaking of which, one of the demiurge moons had just drifted into view just above Huron's northern ocean. With her newly enhanced eyesight, she could make out the lights of the prime forge. Ellan joined her at the window, beaming as she looked out at her adopted Legion's home. “Would that I was an imagist.”

“We've got plenty of those already. Besides,” she replied with a smile of her own, “I'm sure you of all people can find the words to do Huron justice. But you're steering me away from answering your question properly.”

Ellan frowned. “There's more?”

Minerva nodded, and gestured to the planet. “These aren't Clans and Tribes in the same sense as those in the Fire Keepers or the Lions, where size and influence are based solely on their military record and way of fighting. The society of Huron itself is made up of Tribes and Houses, and that carries over to the Legion. The political standing of a Bear’s tribe affects his authority, so that has a bearing on who rises and how fast. Before Damon and Ar'assa tied the knot, the Redds were simply a cadet branch of the Niimkiikaa. Now they're aligned with House August, they're hugely influential in their own right. It also ties the Bears closer to the people they fight alongside and fight for.”

Ellan was silent for a few seconds, digesting this new information. “So, it's entirely separate from -”

Minerva laughed as Ellan tailed off. “Procreation? Yes, completely.”

“Then how does the system function if any Clan's finest are being siphoned off? A dynasty needs heirs.”

“Well, there's another custom which takes care of that. Before each cadre of aspirants undergoes ascension, these great celebrations are held across Huron and the Three Fires. Feasting, contests and… carousing. Needless to say, any aspirant is considered quite the, err, catch.” She could feel the flush creeping up her neck. This really wasn't what she was used to explaining.

Ellen's baffled expression was in danger of becoming permanent. “I never… I mean it makes sense, but it's hard to imagine any Astartes with a child.”

“Well, they're not Astartes at the time. Most of them will have no idea whether they might have children or not. Achille once told me that a space marine remembers almost nothing of his youth, especially emotions and experiences which don't feature in his life after ascension. The child and mother are taken in by the Clan of the father, if they are more prominent than the mother's. So you see, this great web spans across both the Three Fires and our Legion.”

Ellan ran her fingers through her hair. “I never thought it'd be so complex.”

Minerva chuckled. “I'd say messy, myself. But,” she continued, spreading her arms for emphasis, “when a realm runs on this much testosterone and tomahawks…”

Edited by bluntblade, 26 May 2017 - 10:19 PM.

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#55
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Once more, with feeling
Author: bluntblade
Legion: Scions Hospitalier
Time: 0 M31
Major characters: Mersadie Oliton, Odyssalas, Mytakis

+++++

“Why would history care how I felt?” Odyssalas frowned.

Mersadie thought for a moment, composing her thoughts. “Mankind is an emotional species, Captain. History will record with precision which hand Epinondas used for his volkite and how many blows it took Kozja Darzales to bring down the Hand of Mordred, but people need something more. Otherwise the Crusade will feel abstract and distant.”

Odyssalas looked away, to where Second Company were drilling with two others, under the watchful eyes of his sergeants. While the Scions Hospitalier marshalled over Laeran, dividing their forces for the campaigns to come, Odyssalas had decided to conduct some training exercises on one of the atolls. Many of the atolls were entirely occupied by XIXth Legion facilities, but on others the Scions had allowed the coral architecture to remain.

The narrow, winding spaces were the perfect test of group discipline and coordination. From a high rooftop they watched the squads spread out through the narrow avenues. Odyssalas held a data-slate in one hand, monitoring their progress. The Second Captain was a firm believer in mentoring the Scions' file officers, readying them for the day they would command battalions of their own.

“Thýella!” He barked into the vox feed on his gorget. “Hold back and keep pace with Nychus and Keraun. You have your sonar sensors - use them. Harpya," he grinned as assault marines shot up, taking up positions on arches as they landed, “that's what I like to see! Quick and clean.” With a slightly apologetic look, he turned back to her. “So, an instance where I felt what, exactly?”

She was momentarily lost for words. The captain's ability to keep multiple trains of thought running in parallel took some getting used to. “Something strange, that surprised you. Does anything ever shock an Astartes?”

He was silent for a few seconds, tapping a finger idly on the slate. “Eä’s World.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The first collaborative campaign I took part in as one of the Déka. My company, Antonidas’ and Volkov’s Eighth of the Godslayers, under Alexandros himself. Explorators reported human occupation in one system, so we travelled there with all speed. We made planetfall and established contact. Then we learned the bizarre truth about their culture. About their religion.”

“What was so strange about it?”

“The civilisation had built itself back up after some catastrophe, piecing scraps of information together. There was one piece of literature left intact. This prose saga from Old Albyon - truly ancient, second or third millennium - and they had embraced it as holy scripture. Under another commander we might never have realised, but the Shield Lord recognised it for what it was the moment he saw the white cities and the winged helmets.” Odyssalas smiled wryly and shook his head. “Truly strange. I read those tales myself, as a child on Iona, but never considered that they could have quite that much influence. They addressed Alexandros with a title that we could only translate as 'wizard'.” Amusement from an Astartes. Mersadie filed it away as another curiosity to add to her account.

“What happened after that?”

“There were calls for us to immediately impose compliance by force, and under another commander we might have done so. But Alexandros was… tickled, to use his own words. In any case - well, I'm sure you know his reputation as far as religion goes. He implemented a gradual process to wean the populace off their theology, with the cooperation of the ruling elite. It worked, to the extent that their Numenian Castellans now serve in the Crusade. A bloodless compliance, and the strangest I have ever seen. A testament to Man's desire to believe in something bigger than himself.”

Flares went up a kilometre away, signaling an end to the exercise. Odyssalas put a hand to his headset, acknowledging reports and instructing his sergeants to start debriefs. Then he turned back to Mersadie.

“Anything else you'd like to hear? I should really have invited you for later, when my attention wouldn't be so divided.”

“No, this has been fascinating to watch. And I'd hate to interrupt you with another officer after last time.” She wasn't about to forget Antonidas’ hostility in a hurry.

“I wouldn't take that personally, Mistress Oliton.” Both of them turned in the direction of the shout. For a moment, she didn't recognise Captain Mytakis in off-duty fatigues as he climbed the stairs to join them. Terminator armour rendered him enormous on the battlefield and he seemed somewhat diminished without it. That is, until she could see that he stood eye-to-eye with Odyssalas, even with his fellow captain in full armour. “Antonidas doesn't care for remembrancers at all. Believe me, we've argued over your order more than any strategy.” Mytakis was a little more flamboyant than his fellow captain; whereas Odyssalas kept his hair close-cropped, Mytakis’ sat in an Ionan knot atop his head. In contrast with Odyssalas' aquiline features, his face was broad and craggy, but his eyes were keen and watchful.

“Whose side do you take?”

Mytakis’ laugh was a deep rumble, oddly pleasant to the ears. “If I didn't approve, I wouldn't talk about such matters in front of you. It's important that we leave a record of our work, and in any case, I appreciate a good pict. That panorama of the fleet at sunrise over Laeran fairly stole my breath.”

“Quite the aesthete, our Captain Mytakis,” smiled Odyssalas as he clasped his brother's forearm in the warrior's grip. “I have my tutees and my company to attend to, so do you mind if I leave you with Mistress Oliton?”

“It’ll be a pleasure. Strange experiences were the theme, yes?” He saw her bemused expression and smiled gently. “Astartes hearing, lady. It can take some getting used to. Please, go on.”

Mersadie leant back on a coral balustrade. “I understand you Astartes don't experience fear. They say it's cut out of your minds entirely.”

Mytakis nodded. “Most of us forget what it meant to feel it before ascension. I remember something of that, but have little to compare it to since then.”

Mersadie found it hard to picture the boy he must have once been.

“All the same, I recall one occasion that truly unsettled me. Have you heard of the Ullyris Sector?”

“No. Should I?”

“Not really; no battles of any great size were fought there. We expected to, though. Ullyris was what passed for the centre of an alien civilisation which had existed for millions of years. They were known as the Nasquelluur, a truly bizarre species to be quite frank. Gas giant-dwellers, shaped like great discs with several appendages. Their technology was incredibly advanced, though they never sought to impose their rule beyond their chosen environment. Mind you, they were incredibly protective of that. Relations with them were never truly peaceful, and our wars with them carried hideous costs.”

A truly alien race, Mersadie thought. “Why did they never venture close to Terra? The Sol system holds four gas planets.”

Mytakis shrugged. “The dominant hypothesis is that the gas giants close to us were deficient in some resources the xenos relied on. Or their settlements were too small and fragile to endure.”

Mersadie was confused. What could have been so unnerving about another dead alien race? “What happened to them?”

“Psykers,” Mytakis replied. There was no rancour or blame in his voice as she had heard in other Legions when psykers were discussed. “Their downfall was recorded both by humans who shared systems with them, and we managed to translate some of what the xenos left. They underwent a sudden, massive explosion of psyker genes. As you can imagine, havoc followed. But the part that troubles me to this day was the manner of their response.”

“They tried to purge their psykers?” It seemed too obvious a response, and indeed he shook his head.

“That happened on a thousand words. Lamentable, but nothing shocking. No, the Nasquelluur saw this as the beginning of some vast change - the subliming, they called it - that they had to embrace, no matter the cost. According to the records we translated, every psyker across every Nasquelluur planet opened themselves fully to the Warp. Accounts from nearby human civilisations vary, but they speak of things like the surface of a world contorting like a parasite bursting through skin, and great haloes of sorcerous fire that ringed them. At the end of the cataclysm, their great orbitals and gas-habs were intact, but every living Nasquelluur had vanished. Gone, as if they had never been.”

He looked her in the eyes, and she saw the unease within. “My very soul was unsettled when I beheld those halls and learned their fate, xenos though they were. The idea that a species could be erased, by the same powers they believed to be their saviours.”

Mersadie forced herself to say something optimistic. “Should we worry so much about the experience of xenos? Mankind has learned enough not to make the same mistakes.”

An utterly strange series of emotions passed over Mytakis’ face. Frustration, as if there was something he wanted to tell her but could not. Deep sorrow, even grief of a kind she had never seen from an Astartes. And the unease from before, but intensified. For all her musings on whether an Astartes was diminished by his inability to feel fear, it was deeply unsettling to see one showing this… dread.

His voice was soft as he spoke. “Once, we were so sure of that.” After that, he said no more.

Edited by bluntblade, 17 August 2016 - 02:25 AM.


#56
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Ghost Crusade
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Lightning Bearers
Time: c.900 M30
Major characters: Raiden Athrawes, Icarion

This world had no name, nothing to distinguish it from any other habitable world in the Galaxy. This was the lie that would be fed to the people of the Imperium. Only a few would ever know the truth- those warriors who waged the Ghost Crusade.

Stark, yellow-grey sunlight illuminated the clouds through which the Stormbirds descended. Raiden Athrawes gazed out through a viewing port as the craft dropped out of the clouds, and the landscape was revealed beneath them. A once-great city, its architecture gnarled and twisted. Great towers, shaped to resemble vast bones, rose from the ground. Now he could see the drop-pods of the first wave, and the lights of the battle on the ground. The flashes of volkites and power weapons, turned against beings from the Warp.

The ruined capital swarmed with the creatures, a seething tide that broke against the Lightning Bearers’ formations. The first wave under Sentinel Daivyn had engaged the creatures. Now Raiden's company, along with three others, were to secure the rest of the city, herding them into designated kill-zones. Thus the Gyges Cleansing would begin, far from the eyes of all other men.

He always felt the weight of such occasions, more than any other kind of offensive, but more so today. He had only two Terran months ago been elected to the rank of Sentinel, after the loss of the Company's previous leader Kurosion. It had been a tightly contested thing, with many backing Captain Jiro for the role instead. They had been friends since Raiden joined the company as a sergeant, but the rivalry that began as half a joke had seriously strained that bond. Now Raiden had to prove himself worthy to his entire company, not least to Jiro, who sat watching him from across the chamber. He worried that Jiro might feel that bond was fractured now by his elevation; the two had been made captains within a month of one another, during a costly war against the reptilian Keylekid.

Focus. Find the current, and it will carry you. Sensing that they had thirty seconds left in the air, he stood. “Ninth Company, ready yourselves. For Terra and Madrigal!”

-----

The Astartes surged from the transports, volkites spitting death at any foes they sighted. Many did not even look at their enemies, simply knowing where to aim. With the immediate area secure, they moved out into the city, scattered bones crunching underfoot. Skeletons littered the city; Gyges had been home to billions.

Eleventh Company, led by Manticus, were first to split off as they ran down one of the city's highways. They were mostly Terrans, and their chainblades contrasted oddly against the vibro-katana favoured by the sons of Madrigal. Still, many of them possessed a measure of the “grace”, the quality that made the Lightning Bearers such elegant and deadly fighters, and all were products of the arduous training and campaigns that honed the Ist Legion.

None, however, were sons of Cthonia. Even before Madrigal and the reunion, it had been felt that the savage ways of that world were antithetical to what the Ist Legion symbolised, and what made them so lethal. They were warrior sages, not hungry killers.

Kionen's Fifth peeled off, taking a course that ran roughly parallel to the Ninth. Finally Saiga led his company into an industrial zone, leaving the Ninth to their task.

-----

“Croniz. The name that you will heed. Croniz is no one and all those around you. Croniz will drain the blood and dance among your ashes. Look upon what you abhor, and know it as your future.”

The voice had been reported as soon as the drop-pods had breached the atmosphere. Daivyn had deemed it some looping piece of propaganda from the war that had brought Nagasus to its present state. A few subterranean power stations apparently remained functional, fuelling lights that still sputtered in the darkness. Still, the way it got into every vox channel on the surface made the Lightning Bearers uncomfortable, despite their experience. It was troubling to hear the screeds of a religion which might have driven the inhabitants into their all-consuming conflict.

Perhaps that violence was what had worn the veil so thin on this world, Raiden wondered. He could feel an overbearing sense of hopelessness and anguish, although he did not allow it to affect him. It was a common theory among the Legion that the feeling of a world and the nature of an infestation was tied directly to its downfall, and the records they found often seemed to support the hypothesis. Worlds which had simply been overrun by unbound psykers were typically jumbles of bizarre fauna, filled with creatures that varied wildly in form. Worlds that died in war were marked either by violent phenomena such as storms or tectonic activity, or the grey mien of nihilism that Gyges was steeped in.

The extent of the breach was such that the Warp creatures did not even need to wear the bodies of the inhabitants as was so often the case. Instead, the Lightning Bearers gazed upon empty eye sockets and emaciated limbs that ended in bone claws and whip-like appendages. Dispayres, they called them.

A couple of kilometres away, Katarius’ assault squads were swarming over the rooftops, ensuring that Daivyn and his elite Volta units would not be impeded as they ploughed into the mournful horrors. Raiden could hear the noise of the volkite culverins wielded by the Terminators as they reduced the dispayres to ash. Occasionally the ground shook beneath them - Fourth Company, at work in the sewers. They would be abetted by the Oni, using their precognition and teleportation units to manoeuvre in the confines of the tunnels.

-----

For the best part of seven hours they combed the district, battalions and then squads peeling off to scour individual buildings as they flushed the creatures out and channelled them into the waiting guns of the Volta. Twice they came into contact with another company, trapping the enemy between them.

Occasionally foresight wasn't enough. Every now and again a brother fell to the serrated claws or lashing whips. They were bitter losses; the Warp-taint meant that the gene-seed of a brother who fell on such a world could not be retrieved for implantation. These warriors would have a shadow of a legacy, the battles that ended them kept secret.

A dispayre would appear over a ridge to his left in three seconds. Raiden pulled the trigger before it had even fully stuck its head up, before moving to engage a pack of the creatures which spilled from an alley. His vibro-katana made short work of those within reach, and Mizuchi tactical squad dealt with the rest. Sergeant Tatsuya landed a particularly fine blow with his power axe, splitting a dispayre open almost to the hip. Instead of blood, dust and fragments of bone spilled from the wound.

Still, no shouts of triumph came from the warriors. The reserved attitude of the Legion was one factor - they struggled to muster the jovial spirits that came so easily to the Crimson Lions and Iron Bears - but so was the pall of misery that hung over the planet. Croniz wasn't helping either. At least, he reasoned, the aura of misery would lift as the infestation was driven out. Unlike a normal compliance, the opening phase of a Ghost Crusade battle was invariably the worst.

Through a gap in the buildings, he saw the Volta mowing down great swathes of dispayres and paused to take in the spectacle. Then huge figures moved into sight, dwarfing even the Terminators. The mighty Black Dragons, the subject of awe and not a little dread from the Lightning Bearers. With such a taboo within the Legion against the use of dreadnoughts, the practice had arisen in which a Volta brother would volunteer to be encased within one of these great war machines. While it did not match the horror of a dreadnought’s existence, it was still an immense act of sacrifice.

He called his squads together as they followed the avenue into a courtyard and found themselves gazing at what must have been places of governance. It took a couple of minutes for them all to respond - “Croniz” fouled the vox again and blotted out other transmissions. By now it was becoming merely irksome, to the point that the Astartes were destroying power cables wherever they found them intact in hopes of silencing it.

The bones were piled deeper here, in what must have been the final refuge for the population. Whether it had been shelter from the dispayres or other humans, there was no clue. Again they split up, first into battalions and then into squads. Jiro reported a series of catacombs that began beneath one palace. Raiden was tempted to go himself, but decided to allow Jiro to lead the exploration with his battalion. It was vital to emphasise the trust he placed in Jiro. To go himself would be to risk Jiro’s respect.

There were still dispayres here, with winged forms that swept down from gloomy alcoves to attack. The Lightning Bearers dispatched them in a matter-of-fact way; they felt no need or desire for finesse in this battle.

Raiden’s vox receiver crackled. “Jiro? What is it?”

“Raiden, you have to see this. Track my beacon. I've found… I see…”

“Jiro?”

“Raiden… it's Croniz, Raiden. It means the doom and what must come.”

Raiden frowned. Leaving his battalion under the command of lieutenant Tetsuo, he set off with Mizuchi behind him. Most of Jiro's squads had moved deeper into the catacombs, but Jiro's beacon showed him above ground, in a small, domed building whose contours bore uncomfortable resemblance to a human cranium. He was at the very edge of the district now, scree slopes trailing away behind the last few structures. He could see Byakko squad down there, performing a reconnaissance whilst their brothers finished their sweep of the area.

-----

Stepping into the dome, he found a circular chasm, with a platform at the centre, five metres across and joined to the outside by eight bridges. Jiro stood alone at the centre, gusts of wind from below snatching at his cloak. There was no sign of his squad. He turned as they entered, elation easy to read in his posture as they stepped onto the nearest walkways.

“Raiden, do you hear it?”

“Hear what?” There was something strange about Jiro's tone.

“The words, Raiden, and music. It's Croniz, Raiden. It's all around. Don't you hear it?”

“Jiro, where are Akitu squad?”

Jiro just stared back. “They didn't hear it either.”

Raiden and Tatsuya reached the platform. Jiro stepped forward, the light gleaming on his chestplate, and Raiden's breath caught in his throat.

A Lightning Bearer's irises marked how many more battles the warrior would be able to fight on Warp-tainted planets. Raiden could hardly believe what he was seeing, knew that they had been almost entirely blue just hours before, but his senses did not lie.

Jiro's irises were pure black.

He saw what was going to happen next, and he guessed Tatsuya had some inkling of it. “Brother,” Tatsuya said softly, taking Jiro's arm “easy-”

The serpenta blew a hole in his chest. Tatsuya clutched at the wound’s glowing edge and stared uncomprehendingly at his killer as he sank to his knees. “Croniz.” Jiro didn't even look at him, punching his blade up under another warrior's chin and into his skull even as his volkite killed two more, blasting their chests open. “The name you will heed.” Jiro's voice was a gurgling chuckle. Raiden had seen it coming, but he still knew that he couldn't kill another Astartes. So he barrelled into Jiro instead, the rest of the squad following his lead.

The force of the impact was like running into rockcrete. Jiro didn't budge, his madness seeming to lend him incredible strength. “-no one and all those around you.” Two of the men he swatted away with massive blows with his fist and gun. One, Hunza, landed with a shattered arm, the other with a broken neck. The third he knocked clean off the walkway. “-drain the blood-” Raiden recovered from the impact and swung a fist Jiro's face, but was thrown back by a kick before it could connect. The last thing he saw before he travelled through the temple wall was the final warrior reaching Jiro.

He landed gracelessly, and stumbled before regaining his feet. He opened the vox and bellowed to anyone who might hear. Then, not heeding the puzzled replies, he raced back into the temple. Only Hunza remained alive, dragging himself back up. No time to help him. He set off for the broken gate on the other side, glancing down to see the last man to intercept the madman. The warrior's head was barely still attached.

Raiden forced himself to speed up, as he realised that Jiro was heading straight for Byakko squad's position. “Kozuta, hostile approach north-northeast. Wearing Ist Legion colours, I repeat, hostile in our colours!” There was no reply.

No no no no thudded his hearts, matching his frantic pace as he sped down the slope. Something limp and bulky appeared over the incline - Brother Chiba, flung into the air like a twig. He crashed down a few metres away, one shoulder dislocated and his faceplate cracked and buckled. Raiden sprang up onto the ridge. What he saw brought him to a halt. Byakko squad lay in the dirt, blood still running from torn throats and punctured eye slits. One was unrecognisable, his helmet - and presumably face - stove in by blows of horrific force.

But worst of all was the figure sprawled across one of the fallen warriors. The culprit of this unimaginable deed. Thick black fluid spilled through Jiro's helmet grille, and to his horror Raiden saw the metal distending as if corroded by it. The shape of the mask twisted into something bestial, and the grille reforming into spiked mandibles like some monstrous beetle. The shoulder guards peeled back and flexed, flowing into glassy wings that sprouted from Jiro's back.

Two appendages sprouted from his side's, ceramite flowing as tissue and bone formed a second pair of arms. Almost casually, Jiro punched the claws of his new hand through the face of a still-living warrior as he pushed himself upright, and leered at Raiden through multi-faceted eyes. “Look upon what you abhor, and know it as your future!” he roared, slavering through the mandibles.

Raiden struggled to breathe. Corruption had wormed its way under the skin of an Astartes. Brother had killed brother. It was incomprehensible.

It was also a crime that he could not allow to go unpunished. He took a breath, and did what he had always done. He threw himself into the currents, seeking the one that would deliver him victory and justice. He charged, even as the thing that had been Jiro did the same. With a screech, the monster leapt, claws reaching for his throat. Raiden leant back and pivoted to the side, slashing with his katana. Ceramite parted and yellow ichor spilled instead of blood. Jiro moved shockingly fast, as if the wound was nothing, and though Raiden twisted to avoid a clawed hand from ripping into his chest, the talons buried themselves in his shoulder guard.

He had to get his enemy on the back foot and keep him that way. He saw that clearly even without his gift, and rammed the hilt of his sword into the creature's face before swinging down with the blade. One clustered eye burst and a wail of pain left the inhuman jaws. But whatever Warp entity controlled Jiro had a savage intelligence, and with two of its free hands it grasped the katana. The black talons gripped the metal and squeezed, twisting the blade out of shape. The fourth hand grabbed the back of his head, pushing his face towards the dreadful mouth. “Croniz…” rasped the creature, foul breath forcing its way through his helmet's filters.

He didn't hear Hunza until he was on them. Suddenly the warrior was there, hacking into Jiro's lower left shoulder with his wakizashi before seizing the limb and heaving with his one good arm. Ichor sprayed and Raiden fell back, one shoulder guard torn away as Hunza ripped the arm free of the joint. With an anguished howl, the Jiro-thing seized Hunza. Its jaws closed on his helmet and Hunza screamed, until there came a horrible crunch and he went limp. Raiden didn't have time to save his brother. Instead he grabbed a dead man's chainsword without even looking at it and charged. Foresight carried him through the manoeuvre. The blade roared into life and he hacked through a wing and the creature's upper left elbow. His momentum carried him into the beast and they crashed down in the rubble and blood.

Jiro had more weight, and forced Raiden onto his back. Again, he looked to the future, and found his salvation in a fallen brother's weapon.

“Croniz!” Spittle coated his visor. “The name that you will heed!”
Raiden replied with a snarl and a headbutt, hearing a satisfying crack of teeth. With the few seconds it bought him, he seized the volkite and tried to find the trigger. His foresight told him it had three shots left. Enough. He shoved the barrel against a hip joint.

“Croniz will drain the blood-”

“Shut up!” His words were lost in the blast. Jiro's leg was blown off in an explosion of gore, and Raiden threw the creature off him. He didn't even look for another weapon. No time. Instead he leapt on it, gripping the volkite’s barrel and bringing the butt down on the monster's face, letting out a ragged scream with every blow.

He kept going until the gun was twisted out of shape. Then he wondered, in a detached way, how long it had been since the thing had stopped twitching. He wanted to stand, to look away from the ruined skull, to tear off his helmet and throw up, but his limbs wouldn't obey him.

Footsteps and voices surrounded him, sounding distorted as though he was underwater. Then one cut through; a voice brimming with sorrow and concern. “Raiden, can you stand?”

He looked up, into the face of his lord. His lungs hurt; it took a few ragged breaths before he could speak. “I do not know, my lord.” Icarion smiled, and gripped his arm. With his lord's help, Raiden found his feet. “Lightning Bearers, attend to your squads,” Icarion instructed. “Sentinel Athrawes, let us leave this place.”

-----

Icarion set down two wine glasses on the wooden table in his stateroom. The space was filled with ornaments from Madrigal, as well as artefacts collected throughout the Crusade. They had both changed out of their armour; Raiden into a set of plain duty robes, Icarion into the flowing garb of a Madrigal sage. Raiden hesitantly took a sip from his glass, waiting for his Primarch to speak.

“Do you know what it was?”

“An entity of the Warp.” He sat hunched, clasping both hands around his glass. “But that - what happened to Jiro - it doesn't occur. I've seen it happen to psykers, or ordinary men where the veil is thinnest. Madness can take them and twist them, I know that. But this was an Astartes, and so much more...”

“It happens, Raiden.” Icarion's face was etched with grief. “Very rarely, and it's one of the reasons we adhere to the Silence Protocol. But occasionally the corruption finds an opening. Jiro resented that you were elevated instead of him, and it made him vulnerable. But for all that, and for all that I grieve for the warriors he murdered, I am utterly convinced that you were the right choice for the post of Sentinel.”

Raiden blinked in confusion. “How, my lord?”

“You slew the creature.” Icarion leaned forward, taking him by the shoulders. “When the other captains heard the cries over the vox, they were paralysed by shock and disbelief. You witnessed it, an Astartes being twisted into a daemon and turning on his own, and fought against it with no regard for anything but the safety of your brothers. Poor Hunza did the same, and for that he shall be honoured within our Legion.”

With a sad smile, he stood to find the jar and refill their glasses. “Raiden Athrawes,” he said quite solemnly as he turned. “I see great things in your future.” Finally, that full, glorious smile lit his features. “And because I am the one saying it, you know I'm not being facetious.”

Edited by bluntblade, 21 August 2016 - 10:46 PM.

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bluntblade

bluntblade

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Author: bluntblade
Legions: Lightning Bearers (Icarion), Halcyon Wardens, Dune Serpents (Azus)
Time: 5 M31 (shortly after the Great Games)
Major Characters: Raiden Athrawes, Sauhan, Lothar, Akylles, Brother Ezekyle, Malis, Zulfiq Fal'uak, Tannhäuser, Khaled Ibak, Kalhu Nachash

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A scant four years ago it had been so simple, fighting side by side with the Halcyon Wardens against the tech-horrors of Obzen. Three - four, if the Shepherds were counted - Legions had taken part, but the Lightning Bearers had been at the forefront of almost every battle, their conduct flawless, their primacy unquestioned by any of their cousins. Now, things had been subtly but irrevocably changed.

Raiden turned the sword over, uncertain as to how he felt about the changes. The new disruptor field glowed violet, crackling over the blade. It looked strange to him; the aquamarine light of the original had lit his way for decades. But the artificer had assured him of its potency, and it would have been impolite to refuse what was essentially a gift from the Iron Bears.

How would their cousins view them now? They had long been closer to the Halcyon Wardens; would they pivot further away from the I Legion?

A shout brought him back to the present, with a jolt of surprise as he realised his ruminations had managed to obscure his foresight. Turning, he saw a warrior in Halcyon Wardens livery standing in the doorway. The light was behind him, but even in silhouette his absurdly handsome features were easily recognisable, framed by long hair, tied in a knot over his crown, and a goatee.

Raiden smiled, and strode over to grasp the other warrior’s wrist. “Malis, I had no idea you were involved in this expedition. How are you?”

Malis smiled. As one of the preeminent diplomats in the Vth Legion, he had been assumed to be back with Alexandros, ensuring that the machinery of the Great Crusade ran smoothly. “Bored, mostly. Those Games of Hectarion's are all very well, but they're not where we are meant to excel. And Warp transits can be so strangely tedious.”

“I'm surprised the Warmaster-” the word still felt strange, uncomfortable, to enunciate “-hadn’t kept you by his side. I understand he is mostly wrestling with diplomatic issues?”

Malis shrugged, the gesture amplified by his pauldrons. “Diplomats aren't just needed at the centre. Besides, he has Pyrrhicles to advise him, so there was no real need for him to keep me close.” Malis’ normally constant smile slipped momentarily when he mentioned Pyrrhicles. He had never, as far as Raiden could tell, been fond of Alexandros’ equerry, and that seemed to have been exacerbated since the final battle against the Koloss AI. Malis was a prideful man, but he was charismatic, intelligent and brave, so Raiden made no remark. In any case Malis’ mood would improve soon, whether the diplomatic overtures were successful or if he had a chance to wage war again.

The smile reasserted itself. “Shall we walk?” Malis asked.

They made their way through the training halls, watching the Lightning Bearers spar. Foresight was a deadly weapon, but an enemy of superior skill could still best a warrior of the Ist Legion. “Your warriors are pushing themselves further than I've ever seen in the cages,” Malis remarked as he watched Blind Rasemmon weave through the bladed limbs of a servitor. Raiden had often speculated on how Rasemmon perceived the future in his sightless state - visually, or on a more primal level? Etiquette ensured that the question was never asked.

“As you said cousin, we haven't made war since the Qarith Triumph. No one wants to be at anything less than their best. I'm sure it's the same with you.”

“More than you know” replied Malis, following Raiden into a smaller chamber, where a warrior could train without an audience. “Sauhan's had us conducting exercises with five companies at a time, down in the lower levels. Not to mention Tannhäuser insisting on taking all our mechanised units on manoeuvres when we resupplied over Iyacrax.”

Raiden chuckled as he removed his robes, leaving himself clad in combat fatigues. “I'm not surprised. He hates not having a tank engine under him, and he gets fewer chances to keep his men on form than the rest of you.”

“Cantankerous too,” Malis muttered, so only Raiden heard, as the room's previous occupants stepped out. “Constantly grumbling about how he thinks everyone sees him and the Legion.” Icarion drew his sword and turned. “Are you going to talk all day?”

Malis eyed the katana warily. “Duellem extremis?

Raiden flourished the blade, activating the disruptor field mid-spin. Theatrical, but it amused him. “If the Artificer made any embellishments, I want to know about them before I use Lightning in battle again. Come now, don't make me question your courage.”

Malis laughed and motioned to an on-duty Warden outside, who offered up his weapons without a word. “Seeing as you're so eager, I won't run back to my chambers.” He tested the weight of his borrowed spear and shield. He lacked his usual Terminator armour, but nonetheless struck the defensive pose that his order favoured in battle. It made for an entertaining bout, Raiden's mobility and constant attacks against Malis’ tight, methodical defence.

“I imagine there's been plenty of talk about the change among among your Legion too,” Malis ventured, fending off a flurry of probing blows with his shield.

The blades locked momentarily, and Raiden twisted out of range before Malis could exploit it. The Warden was just a little too slow, and Raiden spun around him and slipped under his guard. Lightning's point hovered under Malis' left arm. One push, and it would destroy his primary heart. The spear clattered on the ground, disruptor field extinguished.

Raiden grinned in triumph, but it faded as he considered Malis’ remark. He was about the only warrior outside the Ist Legion who he felt comfortable discussing the matter with. “I just fail to see why it necessitates this elevation,” he admitted. “Even if the Imperium needs someone to manage relations between all the various branches of the Crusade, does that qualify him to oversee the whole enterprise?”

Malis nodded, recovering his breath. “The whole Legion are afraid to ask that question. This situation appeals to everyone's pride and none of them want to deflate it. At the same time, we all remember that Icarion was always the greatest of the Primarchs. Hell, some of the old ones can remember when Icarion was the only Primarch leading the Crusade. I'll say this though,” he added as they exited the cage. Raiden tried to hide his wince; were there any of the old guard left in the Ist Legion, who were old enough to say the same? Such was the toll of their great, hidden labour. “No one will be more aware of this than Alexandros. There's no danger of him getting high-handed.”

On some level, Raiden reflected, it was reassuring that the Halcyon Wardens were unsure about the new order too. Even if the knowledge that he felt that way felt vaguely treacherous.

-----

No one voiced the question, but Agansing Gurung could hear it hanging in the air. Every conversation with their cousins had that undercurrent, but never quite touched on it. Instead the subjects were the responsibilities of the Warmaster, whether he would pursue different strategies to the Emperor and how soon he would return to the front lines of the Crusade.

The latter had been a matter for much conjecture within the Vth Legion. They were navigating a strange new reality, and while their legates guided them, uncertainty hung over them. Nothing had really been said about what the Warmaster's elevation meant for his Legion. It had been relatively easy to contain on the voyage from Qarith Prime and those initial battles, where they had fought largely apart from other Imperial armies. Now that they were actively campaigning alongside the Lightning Bearers and Dune Serpents, the questions were never far from the surface.

“I hate this feeling of eyes on us,” Tannhäuser admitted one evening in the legate's stateroom. Prisfirah Sauhan had been given command of the Wardens detachment on this expedition, and was working hard to ensure his men were of one mind. “I feel like half the other Legions are waiting for us to put a foot wrong.”

The Legate remained inscrutable as he regarded his subordinates. He had lost his eyes in a campaign many years ago, and the icy gaze of his augmentics was deeply unsettling for those who did not know him. To his officers, however, he was an inspirational commander, with an unforced concern for the warriors who served under him.

The decorations signified the legate's heritage; he hailed from Amrissia on Delos. Alexandros had always avoided organising his Legion along ethnic lines as others were. While there were disparities - Wardens from the Teutonic regions found their way into the cavalry in disproportionate numbers - the overall result was a diversity within cohorts that often startled outsiders. It was quite apparent here, even with the officers in off-duty garb. The exception of course was ironclad Ezekyle, massive in his Contemptor sarcophagus, but even he was marked out by the Cthonian topknot that decorated his “helm”.

Ezekyle was one of those who felt vindicated by their new status, and resented the whispers from other quarters. So often the Halcyon Wardens had been dismissed because they preferred to work closely with the Army rather than seeking glory for themselves. How were they unworthy, for prioritising the common soldier over their own pride?

Others urged caution with equal vigour. The Warmaster needed the respect of his brothers, and if his sons began throwing their weight around it could undermine those efforts, as well as their current campaigns.

A smaller group were still struggling to come to terms with it, and didn't quite believe that they were worthy of their new status. For all that they loved their primarch, they could not shake the feeling that he was too much the quiet one, not the kind of figure to stand at the forefront of the Crusade. Debate had raged between the three groups for months.

“We must treat this as a temporary phenomenon,” the commander pronounced. “We do not know that he will be set above his brothers permanently, but we can be certain that one day, the Emperor will return to the forefront to lead us again. With that in mind, we must wear our elevation lightly.” He took a sip of tea, and gave a wry smile which sat strangely under the cold glow of his augmentic eyes. “In any case, Lords Icarion and Azus are primarchs. I'm merely an Astartes, here to play my part in our master's scheme.”

Lothar hesitated slightly before speaking. “Perhaps we have been looking at this issue wrongly.”

Eleven faces and one glowering faceplate turned to look at him. Ten of the faces were frowning. Sauhan’s expression was more… appraising, he thought. “How so?” asked Tannhäuser, face darkening. The tank commander was clearly tired of the constant speculation, and the possibility that a junior captain realised something he had missed only irked him more.

“If the Warmaster turns his attention elsewhere, it's a sign that we don't need to change the way we carry ourselves. He has faith that we will hold to our course while he deals with those who find it harder to process those changes. We just need to do as we've always done, and that will be enough.”

For the first time in a few days, Tannhäuser smiled. “Our young friend might be onto something.”

“If nothing else,” Vasilios added with a chuckle, “it means we shouldn't have too much to fear on this campaign, if the enemy aren't as dangerous as our own tax collectors.”

“Let's not get cocky,” grated Ezekyle. The Cthonian warrior had always been a choleric sort, even before an agma construct had wrecked his body during the Koloss Syntheticide. Now he could be relied on to puncture the humour in any situation. “We’ve received intelligence on Ark Reach Secundus from the Serpents. Their armed forces are tougher than anything we've faced before on this campaign. We're going to need those Devastators of yours.”

-----

In the strategium, Gurung found it hard not to be overawed by the two mighty figures who stood beside Sauhan. He had seen Icarion and witnessed his might on several occasions, but the sheer majesty of the First Son had not diminished in the slightest.

The other was a different matter, a warrior he had barely glimpsed before. Azus Bahmut was smaller, his wargear far less ornate, but he radiated an aura of hostility that made it difficult to meet his gaze, even for an Astartes. A snakeskin cloak covered his shoulders, the hood obscuring most of his upper face save for his glimmering eyes and the tip of the scar across his face. A huge rifle protruded over his shoulder, while at his hip a great scimitar nestled among the grenades on his belt.

Few of those grenades bore the typical krak and frag markings, the others represented the Serpents' fondness for chemical weapons. According to the rumours, some of them would contain nerve gas that could bring down an entire army in just one breath. Others, it was whispered, were filled with the hallucinogen used in the Serpents' ascension rituals, capable of reducing enemies to catatonia through sheer terror.

Gurung turned his attention to the primarch's retinue. Azus had never held with bodyguards into the field, it was said, but for ceremony's sake he had brought warriors from the Serpents’ twin elites, headed up by their respective commanders. Zulfiq Fal'uak of the Shamshir was hard to tell apart from any other Dune Serpent, except for the gold coil around his wrist and the two-pointed scimitar at his belt. That the Legion's preeminent swordsman should bear such anonymous wargear was no accident. A warrior of the Shamshir, it was whispered, would only be visible to his enemy in the fleeting moments before he killed him.

In contrast, Kalhu Nachash was easily recognisable in his modified Mk II plate, bedecked with menacing iconography. The Dursk Rassan were warriors who dealt in raw terror as well as death, and that extended to their appearance. The fearsome head of a tabarzin axe was visible over his shoulder.

Gurung tried to measure their strength and bearing against their counterparts among the Lightning Bearers and Halcyon Wardens. Their power was hard to gauge, but they radiated a kind of caustic disdain for any they perceived as their lessers, quite at odds with the compassion that defined the Wardens and the grace of the Lightning Bearers. Even to their equals, they displayed no more than a grudging respect.

However, they bowed their heads as deeply as anyone else as the primarchs and Sauhan stepped up to the platform, followed by senior Fleet and Army commanders. Each set a personal token down at the edge of the platform, signifying their right to speak at this meeting. Two Adepts of the Mechanicus stepped into the light - Quintilian, who had served under Alexandros for many years, and another tech-priest who worked with the Lightning Bearers. His exoskeleton was a strange sight beside the Martian Adept, clearly showing its origins in the forges of Madrigal. Malis and Tannhäuser, along with Raiden Athrawes and Fujin Isu, set their helms down on the dais. The Serpents remained still, leaving their master to do the talking.

Throughout the campaign these meetings had gone without rancour, Sauhan deferring to Icarion as strategies took shape and only offering small suggestions when they worked together. As always, Gurung tried to read Icarion's body language and discern how he was wearing the changes. Unsurprisingly it was in vain, although he did notice one thing. Icarion might not have taken his seat on the command throne, but he did place himself in front of it, subtly framed by the marble and gold.

“Friends,” Icarion began, and Gurung felt a thrill at the magnificence of the Stormborn. “For two years we have waged war on several fronts, that we might bring our misguided kin into the fold. Now we bring our full force to bear against their last, mightiest world.”

He gestured, taking in the various parties who had come to lend their strength, wits and valour to this endeavour. Three Space Marine Legions and twice that number of Army brigades, supplemented by detachments from the Collegia Titanica, Cybernetica and Reductor. Such forces required substantial elements of the Munitorum and other logistical elements, to say nothing of the iterators and remembrancers.

Icarion gave just the slightest nod to a crew member, and a holo of Heliosa flickered into life above the platform. “From military archives on the preceding worlds and the diligence of our friends of the XIVth, we have ascertained the structure of Heliosa’s defences, and its political epicentre.” Networks of light, picked out in red and regal purple, bloomed across the planet. Gurung felt a passing discomfort as he realised the purple matched the shade of the Wardens' plate.

Icarion noticed, and gave a rueful smile. “I fear that one of our schematists has a mischievous streak. Either that, or it is an unfortunate accident. Personally, I am glad that this is the only time we shall see this hue and identify it with an enemy. However, let us set aside this trivia, and turn to the real issue here. How best to bring this world to compliance?”

-----

The easiest way would have been to bomb the Avenians out of their strongholds. Heliosa was a world of mountain ranges and oceans. With little space to occupy in the valleys, the people had adapted to live at high altitudes as they carved homes out of the many peaks. The result was a culture superbly adapted to defend itself against the myriad threats in the galaxy, and thus its occupants had endured the Age of Strife.

It was for this reason that Sauhan, Icarion and, to a lesser extent Azus, had pronounced that such a ruthless approach would not be the best way to proceed. Heliosa held a great wealth of knowledge, which the Stormborn believed the Imperials could not afford to risk destroying. At the same time, Heliosa's easily defensible nature provided ample incentive to leave its cities intact. As Alexandros himself had observed to Sauhan, the Qarith War should stand as a lesson that their momentum wasn't unstoppable.

-----

Gunfire split the air above them as the column ground their way up the mountain. Gurung tightened his grip on his bolt pistol, his shield overlapping with those of the Astartes either side of him. The Wardens and Army units kept a continuous march, while over their heads, assault marines flitted from roof to roof, ferreting out any defenders who had dug themselves in. The Dune Serpents’ Dursk Rassan had proved invaluable on this campaign, bypassing barricades while the infantry moved steadily forward.

This formation was driven by political strategy as well as military needs. Sauhan intended to present the Army as partners rather than subordinates to the Astartes, hoping this would make the planet's leaders more amenable to a negotiated surrender.

Hopefully, this would be achieved soon enough. With Icarion's foresight and the intelligence acquired by the Serpents, they had managed to pin down the Avenians kings in this fortress. Around the peak of the mountain, fighters and gunships danced in the frigid air.

"Captains, sergeants," came Sauhan's voice in his ear. "On three." The Legate counted them in, and the officers started the Legion's famous call-and-response warcry, their already vox-bolstered voices amplified further by the curve of their shields.

"The Emperor Protects!"

"We are his shield!" replied their warriors, and Gurung felt the roar.

"The Emperor Strikes!"

"We are his sword!"

-----

Nine days before the critical push, a combined force of Halcyon Wardens, Dune Serpents and Lightning Bearers had lured the Avenians into an open battle in one of the valleys. The armies of Heliosa had intuited that some of their enemies possessed a measure of foresight. However, they didn't comprehend the extent of Icarion's gift, and in any case, besiegers didn't just turn around and commit half their strength to a frontal assault on the relief force.

Icarion's order had Stormbirds screaming down to the valley before the Halcyon Wardens had opened fire. Caught between three forces of Astartes and several hard places, the Avenians had surrendered after barely an hour. Khaled Ibak watched the remnants being rounded up by the Army units left to secure the valley while the siege was renewed.

“Not much sport there, brother,” Barsar Ghul remarked as they trudged back up the mountain track. Fresh snow had fallen, partially covering the siege guns and stationary vehicles. Now it flew off as the bombardment began in earnest. Ghul and Ibak made a strange pair; Ghul with the jump pack and extensive embellishments that marked the Serpents’ assault specialists, Ibak in the relatively spartan attire of their discreet hunters. “We hit their tanks hard, but the Lightning Bearers did most of the work. How about you? Bring down any of those damned shriekers?”

“Two flyers,” Ibak replied, almost unconsciously raising a hand to his rifle. He felt a twinge of jealousy at the word "we". The Dursk Rassan fought as a bullish band of warriors, while the Shamshir tended to work as loners, even in a pitched battle. “Five officers, various ranks. All ranged, though.” The Avenians, wisely, had little time for going toe to toe with an Astartes.

Ghul nodded. “We do as Lord Azus commands. Besides, I saw him on the field today beside Icarion. I'll take that over any measure of glory for myself.”

“I’m with you there. Icarion is about the only one I can imagine him fighting next to. Save for the Warmaster, of course.” Ghul made a strange, noncommittal noise in the back of his throat. Ibak turned his head, surprised and met with a shrug.

“Alexandros is Warmaster, and I respect his office, but I don't know how highly Azus regards him as a warrior. And that sentimentality - I've spoken to some of the Wardens and they're almost squeamish about hurting the other side. How did you get on with them?”

“Amicably," Ibak replied, though he knew that many Serpents felt differently. Timur of the 39th was especially scathing, but then even among the Serpents he had a reputation for zealotry, and an excessive fondness for the use of Destroyer weapons. "They fight well, even if there isn't much room for finesse in a shield wall. Besides, having spent time with them, I’d say their attitudes are more about achieving a secure compliance than unwillingness to dirty their gauntlets.” There had been an undercurrent of dissatisfaction among some of the Serpents over the constraints they operated under, as well as some exasperation with the Wardens' emphasis on mercy towards the enemy. These rumblings never left the Legion, but some claimed to detect similar sentiments from the Lightning Bearers.

“Well, not my place to question the Warmaster and all that, but I'll be happy when we’re free to fight in our own way again.” The wind came back, the howling they had grown used to during this campaign. It grated on their nerves and sent snow whipping around them.

This time it was Ibak's turn to shrug. “A sense of occasion doesn't hurt, brother. This is the culmination of the first great campaign since the Triumph. Besides, I don't think there's much fighting left to do here if Icarion and Azus’ strategy works.”

“Well,” Ghul rasped, fingers drumming on the vicious spike that topped his mace. “I just hope it's warm work.”

-----

Gurung carefully picked out targets from behind his shield, bringing them down with single shots of his bolter. Ahead of him a group of Avenians let loose with heavy guns from behind an improvised barrier, only be scattered as a Dursk Rassan squad landed on top of them, flamers whooshing. Flushed out into the open, they were easily cut down by the Serpents and driven into the gun barrels of the advancing Wardens. Gurung spotted Kalhu Nachash, felling enemies with savage blows of his axe.

The real threat, however, was above them. Shrieks rose above the sound of battle as a flock of dark shapes plummeted towards them. These were the avian monsters that had given Shrike its name. Their claws and beaks were quite capable of rending power armour, and one of them had almost skewered a neophyte right next to him, beak punching through his shield. The lad - Seleucus his name - had grabbed the vicious spike, fighting to hold it back, until Sergeant Gottfried ran his gladius through the monster's throat.

But after six such offensives, they knew how to counter these threats. “Envelop!” Sauhan ordered over the vox; Gurung and his sergeants took up the cry. Recon Captain Lothar and his sharpshooters, dispersed through out the formation, turned their rifles skyward, and the first cracks rang out, answered by distant shrieks.

The Army units hunkered down beneath the shields of the Wardens, their bulky winter gear impeding them from seeking other shelter. The Astartes turned their weapons to the sky, filling the frozen night with tracer fire. A blunt, artificial bellow sounded as Ezekyle and his Terminator company opened up with their storm bolters and las-cannons. Beside him, Gurung heard a snarl of satisfaction as Vasilios shouldered his beloved Stinger and put a las-beam straight through a shrike's chest. Avenian riders were torn from the saddle or had their winged mounts blasted apart under them. Feathery and furred chunks of gore rained down on the shields along with the occasional whole carcass or falling rider. They didn't escape losses completely - the odd shot from above found a gap between the shields - but the formation held. The Wardens weathered the assault, presenting their enemies with an all but unassailable wall of ceramite.

The Terminators and Dursk Rassan, however, were exposed, and the fliers quickly began to swamp them on the ground, where it was too dangerous to use massed bolter fire. The Terminators had the armour to shrug off these attacks, but the Dune Serpents were less fortunate. One Serpent was impaled through the chest, struggling as blood ran down his chestplate until the rider shot him through the eye. With a roar and a burst of flame Nachash was there, avenging his warrior with a crunching axe blow to the creature's skull. The rider died seconds later as the Serpent’s flamer immolated him.

Another Serpent fired his pack to evade an attacker, blasting a shrike's head off with a burst from his bolter, only to collide with another and be sent crashing to the ground, bolter and sword knocked from his hands. The second shrike bore down on him, stabbing with its beak as he rolled under it, jabbing his combat blade into a leg as the rider attempted to get a clear shot. A taloned foot seized him, puncturing his armour in four places.

Then Brother Ezekyle rose from the scrum and charged, cleaving the Avenian from shoulder to groin with his massive sword. The shrike itself fell to a blast from the dreadnought’s storm bolter which blew its chest apart. The veteran stooped over the Serpent, still breathing despite his wounds, and lifted him from the ground. Cradling the warrior in his enormous claw, he bore him over to the closed ranks of the Wardens, where an Apothecary could tend to him.

Despite the chaos, Gurung could tell the Avenians were taking too many losses to sustain the counter-attack, even before booming detonations from the other side of the mountain announced that Tannhäuser’s tank squadrons had breached the other gate. The remaining fliers pulled back, and the Imperials resumed the assault.

-----

Far above, the apex of the mountain was illuminated by anti-aircraft fire and a hundred dogfights, Imperial craft attempting to both crack the defences and divert the Avenians’ attention from the besiegers down below.

At least, that's what the Avenians believed. Then a bomber flight loosed a payload that bloomed into thick, white clouds, coating the upper levels of the fortress. As they were enveloped, the defenders frantically voxed for information, trying to pinpoint targets. By the time they switched to infrared, the enemy were on them. Most of the guards only had time to register movement in the mist. A few caught a glimmer of the scimitars that would kill them. None managed to block or avoid the swords. The Shamshir advanced to the sounds of snarling disruptor fields and screams, cut short.

Khaled Ibak emerged from the mist to take a soldier's head, concealment field weakening slightly as he sped up. The infrared display of his helm showed a dozen defenders nearby,and he swept through them, catching up to his brothers as they converged on the entrances. Zulfiq Fal'uak himself was among them, Hilal shimmering as it slashed left and right, ending lives with every stroke.

He knew that to mortal eyes they would appear be wraiths, like the spirits the people of Dhul’Hasa had once imagined to inhabit sandstorms. He wondered for a moment if these people had equivalent myths. They had repudiated the idea of compliance - perhaps religion was at the root of their refusal. He kept his musings to himself; Fal'uak would chastise him for such thinking. A Serpent should only understand his foe in order to defeat him. Reconciliation would be left to the Wardens and their iterators. Nonetheless, privately, he had found himself spending more and more time with the Wardens and found their ideas had a certain appeal.

It was liberating to fight in this way, free from constraints, beside his fellows, alongside the Legion's finest swordmaster. To conceal oneself in the melee and be the snake striking from the grass was a fine way to wage war. But this was the perfect way to express their skills, whether they were seen by their cousins or not.

Just as he was wondering if this might be the finest battle he had ever fought in, an explosion sounded a few levels below. The Shamshir exchanged glasses, and a dark chuckle emanated from Fal'uak’s voxcaster. Ibak had to remind himself to breathe, as Azus’ voice rumbled over the vox. “Shamshir, converge on the central chamber, two levels below you. No harm to the civilians or defenders who throw down their arms.” There was a hint of distaste as he gave that last order, but none questioned it. “As for any soldiers who resist - slay them.”

-----

The inner gate gave under the tanks’ onslaught, and the Astartes surged in.

Tannhäuser leapt from the Vindicator and took his place in the formation, as the Astartes, led by Icarion, began the work of securing the various corridors and courtyards. Mechanised warfare was his first love, but fighting with his boots on the ground, face to face with the foe, had its own appeal. It was tempting to find a good vantage point and simply watch the Stormborn, but that wouldn't do while he had his own men to lead.

A soldier appeared from around a corner and rushed him with an axe. Tannhäuser parried easily with his gladius before running him through. A further sixteen Avenians lurked beyond, but after ending three of them with the storm bolter on his forearm, he convinced the rest to lay down their arms quite easily. This was a good sign; the will of the enemy was starting to crumble.

Moving on while an Army squad attended to his prisoners, he and his troops raced up a staircase in time to catch the main force of the Wardens as they moved into the keep, clapping Gurung on the shoulder as he drew level with him. “A good fight?”

Gurung's helmet bobbed enthusiastically. “Grueling, but we've made it here. With luck, the Serpents will have done their share of the work, and we'll have a good clean victory.”

“Or they haven't, and it'll be just us and the First to share the glory!” He knew that to the young Captain he was a coarse sort, but he couldn't deny himself the pleasure of a good battle. Besides, Gurung was a son of Gurak, the mountainous borderlands of Amrissia, and once you coaxed a bit of fire out of those men, they became as fierce a group of fighters as any in the Vth Legion.

For all that, it could only last so long. Just a few minutes later, voxcasters throughout the fortress began blaring, ringing out through the air. An Avenian voice, with an aristocratic cadence. Regal, if Tannhäuser was any judge. And just a few sentences, repeated. Soldiers, throw down your weapons. We surrender.

Over the echoing vox, he heard the clatter of weapons on the flagstones. Icarion took up a voxcaster and accepted the kings’ surrender with all the grace that was expected of him, before turning and raising his spear in triumph. As the beginnings of dawn lit the jagged horizon, the mountain stronghold shook to the cheers of the Imperials.

-----

Raiden sat down on a bench, watching the Army landers ferrying troops to other parts of the world. While compliance had been fairly bloodless, the downside was that Heliosa's garrisons remained largely intact. A strong presence was therefore desirable, to ensure a smooth transition.

Hopefully, most of the work would be carried out by the the iterators who had already been busy throughout the Avenian Empire. They came accompanied by people from throughout the Empire who had for whatever reason embraced Unity, and remembrancers bringing vivid depictions of Imperial glory.

For him, this stage always felt anticlimactic, waiting for the call to depart in search of new challenges, new conquests. The Dune Serpents were already away, and soon the Lightning Bearers would set off. Athrawes looked forward to it, and not just because of the relative inactivity. The references to the Warmaster in the propaganda seemed to be growing more frequent, and each time he noticed them, they rankled.

Was it so necessary that these people be instructed to venerate a man who had never come near their system? Alexandros had conceived this expedition, but it was Icarion who had led the campaign to liberate them from their isolation and ignorance.

Is this resentment speaking? He wondered, fingers tapping on the hilt of his sword. How could it be? He had served with Alexandros on many campaigns and knew him in a way that many of his own legionaries did not. The Shield Lord was a man of faultless, unfeigned modesty; he would hate these shows of reverence. These are the errors of the mortal scriveners back on Terra, he decided. Once Alexandros returns to the front, they will cease. He would not wish to usurp his brothers’ glory, least of all Icarion's.

-----

The elation aboard The Shield of Delos was palpable, as Sauhan called his officers together to discuss the victory and the campaigns to come. They had undertaken their first real test since the Qarith Triumph, and had not been found wanting.

As the final resupply jobs were carried out, the officers waited for the fleet to be partitioned and their companies to be distributed to other fleets. To their surprise, Sauhan made no such announcement. A star chart was projected behind the Legate, and a ripple of excitement spread through the chamber.

Sauhan gestured, and a system was magnified. “We are to proceed to the Koretia System, there to rendezvous with the Crimson Lions-” he paused, and smiled, savouring the moment “-and the Warmaster.”

Edited by bluntblade, 21 October 2016 - 09:13 PM.

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#58
Slips

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    ++ ARCHIMAGIRUS RUDIS ++

  • ++ MODERATI ++
  • 13,839 posts
  • Location:Montreal, Quebec, Canada
  • Faction: V,VII,IX,XII,XV Legions

The Hunt

+Slipstreams

++The Scions Hospitalier

+++Pionus and Daer'dd

++++Pre-Qarith Triumph

+++++

Two giants stood side by side, alone, on the observation deck. Isolated from the sounds of the bridge by panes of immaculate, transparent glass, they stood in silence. Below them, rotating imperceptibly, was a globe of the purest blue with intermittent streaks of white and light gray the only things to mar its otherwise perfect surface. The only large imperfection was a spot of metal and glass visible at what could be guessed as the north pole.

As they looked to the planet below, faces awash in pale blue light, one giant turned to the other and broke the silence, his voice low and deep as the roiling ocean depths below.

“So, what do you think?" he asked of his companion, opalescent plate reflecting a million different shades of blue from the light cast upon it by the globe below.

“Huron has more variety to look at,” replied the other, considerably larger than his companion. His own armor, coal black and copper, was immaculate beyond description, with a far more warlike bearing right down to the massive claws at his fingertips. “But,” he continued, surveying his environs, "there's obviously more to your home than meets the eye."

“That there is. If we have the time, I'd like to bring you down to the surface to see for yourself,” responded the smaller of the two, his glacial eyes lighting up in anticipation - of what, his companion could only guess.

Seemingly snapping out of a reverie, perhaps recalling the original reason for the meeting between him and his brother, he turned fully to face him.

“So, daydreaming aside, Daer'dd, you said you had something you wanted to give me?" He asked, face calm but for a single raised eyebrow.

“Indeed I do, Pionus. A gift, if you would have it, to signify our reunion. Something that, I feel best represents you and befitting of your station as Primarch," said Daer'dd, his voice a gentle but deep rumble. “Solomon?”

He turned to his equerry. In Solomon Grimm's hands rested a box, longer than a man, made of intricately carved mahogany. He took the box in his hands, turned to face his Brother Primarch.

“Well, if you insist,” replied Pionus, placing both gauntleted hands upon the wood, brushing the surface gently and, finally, opening it. Within lay a trident, immaculate in its design, impeccable in its craftsmanship, purpose clear to all who laid eyes upon it. Its haft was made up of three lengths of metal, which each formed one prong of the trident. The outer two were black and white respectively and were rendered as serpents, entwined in a helix around the glimmering red of the centre. The filigree was the most delicate metalwork Daer'dd had ever attempted, and his success had thrilled him.

Even so, he felt a slight quiver of nerves as his brother handled the weapon. He had fashioned chainblades since his childhood and knew himself to be a master of the craft, but power weapons were relatively new to him. And how would Pionus, with his spartan, utilitarian armour, perceive such an ornate weapon?

Something of his unease must have shown, because Pionus looked up to meet his eyes. "It’s fitting, I suppose. Like the ancient legends of Terra described it, I am very much the ruler of my own Atlantaea, a king of the seas.” His teeth flashed in a grin. “No, brother Daer'dd, a trident is the perfect gift." He said, hefting the weapon, testing its balance, looking it over in detail.

“It will do just fine." He finished, holding the the trident upright at his side. "...Atleantaean. Yes, I like that..."

“So, have you thought of a name for it? I refrained from doing so, wanting you to have the honour." 

Pionus spun the trident. “Well, if we're going with the whole…” he waved one hand in the air, "theme, how about… Levia-"

Before he could finish, both turned to the observation deck door opening and closing and the sound of a pair of boots marching towards them. At first they seemed to belong to an Astartes, but as they drew close Daer'dd realised the footfalls were far too light. This sounded more like one of the Daughters. The figure who entered as as far as Daer'dd could tell, a mortal woman. She was clad in in power armor fashioned much like Pionus’ but on a smaller scale and just as ornate. 

She stopped a respectful distance from them and looked into Daer'dd's eyes; unflinching, to his surprise, and bowed in greeting, then turning to his brother who raised his hand before she could repeat the action.

“Now, now, dear sister, how many times do we need to discuss this? We're not in the presence of the Emperor, there's no need to be so formal with me." She gave him a quizzical look nodding her head ever-so-slightly in Daer'dd's direction.

“Inna, please, we're family." he said, raising his hand once more in a stopping motion, nodding his head slightly. Every motion, Daer'dd observed, was utterly precise, an absolute economy of effort. "Now, knowing you, you would not have interrupted unless it was urgent. What is it?"

“It's the test specimen my L-," Pionus raised an eyebrow. Inna sighed. "Brother. The results are back and we wanted you present before we went over them with the committee. Furthermore, the 29th Expeditionary Fleet has recently come back with a few xenos specimens in tow. Preliminary testing suggests that they are of the same species that have been giving the IIIrd and XVIIIth Legions so much difficulty in their campaigns across Segmentum Obscurus."

Pionus' eyes lit upon hearing the news. "Indeed?" Inna nodded affirmative. Turning to Daer'dd, he sighed "Well brother, you'll have to excuse me. Duty calls and we might finally have answers as to just exactly what is giving Hectarion and Willym such a hard time."

“It’s no insult - our work is never done. No rest for the wicked," Daer'dd smiled ruefully.

“Still, I’d hate for you to have come out all this way just to hand me Leviathan without having had some fun of our own. Tell you what…." His already soft voice trailed off as he took out a Dataslate and started inscribing notes onto it. Then his head snapped up abruptly, eyes alight. "While the other academics are readying themselves to discuss our xenos problem, gather equipment suitable to the tasks listed here and meet me on the surface, I'll take you on a hunt-"

“You can't be serious!" exclaimed Inna, interrupting the Primarch who, again, took the disrespect in stride seemingly unaffected by the nerve of the mortal. A surprise, but a pleasant one for Daer'dd. He'd been worried that Pionus would be as haughty as the other scientifically minded brother they had found.

“You want to bring him on a serpent hunt? He might be a Primarch but he isn't ready. It took you years before your first successful hunt and even then all you brought back was a juvenile!" 

“That might be the case but, this time there'll be two of us. And well, you can see the size of him? Besides, we haven't been down the Odyssian Trench in quite a while now, we need to remap the area and check for any changes to the seabed and see if any new Laboratories have been uncovered by tectonic activity. The hunt is a mere bonus. Besides, your not saying we turn away a Primarch, are you?"

“Then it’s settled." Turning back to Daer'dd, Pionus handed him the dataslate. "Make sure you bring everything on this list. I doubt anyone will give you trouble on the surface and, if we take too long, how about some sightseeing?"

Daer'dd, unsure as how to respond exactly after the exchange between Pionus and his mortal sister. "I shall take you up on your offer then."

“Good! Besides, we need to put Leviathan to the test!" Pionus clasped forearms with Daer'dd in farewell. "Now, If you'll excuse me, I'll send my First Captain to see you off." and just like that, he turned his back to Daer'dd and left, Inna at his side, who was somehow capable of keeping pace with a Primarch; the start of a conversation pertaining to the xenos specimens - Qarith, he thought he heard - starting before they even left the deck.

A serpent hunt, thought Daer'dd. What kind of beast could possibly inhabit such a world where a juvenile of the species was eight times the size of a Primarch, he wondered, turning back to the viewport to gaze back out at the sapphire globe and he finally read the dataslate Pionus had hastily written up.

“All this to hunt a serpent?" Daer'dd asked. "This might be fun after all..."

-----


It's horrendously humid, thought Daer'dd. But for all that, surprisingly cold too. These kinds of thoughts were usually of little to no concern of his given his line of work and neither were they capable of causing him any trouble due to his very nature, it was in rare moments such as this where, bereft of anything to do, that he just… thought. He enjoyed them when they came, for they reminded him that he was, at his core, human and at peace.

Daer'dd's thoughts would follow a myriad lines of thinking similar to these as he stood waiting, staring out into the black, watery abyss on the other side of the multi-metre-thick synthglass viewports, his honour guard standing near him, content to leave him to his reveries. How closely this resembled the endless void of space, he thought, sighing.

Behind him Legion serfs, Magos and Techmarines were working away prepping the three vehicles that would carry them to the hunting grounds. Turning around to survey the work being carried out, he inspected the three vehicles.

They were clearly Storm Eagles or at least based on the chassis, that much he could tell but, apart from a similar profile and armaments, that's where the similarities ended. The Phaeton pattern, the name given to him when he asked the Techmarine in charge exactly what they were, were peculiar vehicles. While the standard Storm Eagle was a void capable craft, it stands to reason that they weren't capable of standing up to the pressures present so far below the surface for this craft was noticeably bulkier than normal, the sign of a reinforced frame and structure most likely.

Additionally, they lacked forward or rear ramps, instead having two elongated side hatches that ran the length of the vehicle and one that ran the length of the Phaeton's floor; the use for which he'd probably figure out during the hunt. Speaking of front and rear ramps, he thought, these mounted rotator turrets in their place, much like the Fire Raptors they all had in their Legion armories - although, he reasoned, these probably mounted Volkite weapons due to the unreliable nature of bullets in aquatic environments. 

Finally, and possibly the most striking of its features were its generally more rounded features. While its true that shape held no real impact on void maneuvering and anything could fly under normal atmospheric conditions given enough thrust and lift, the stresses non-aerodynamic or smoothed surfaces would suffer when moving at high speeds underwater were probably enough to warrant such a drastic redesign of the general shape. This was entirely in keeping with the streamlined wargear of the new XIX Legion, which had quickly replaced the florid look of the Stygian Phantoms.

That, however, was far as his knowledge as a smith got him. How the vehicle's engines could propel it underwater without being propellers, he could only guess at. His knowledge of the esoteric only went so far. Still, they were remarkable craft. Probably another of his brother’s scientific achievements; it was hard to imagine any mind other than a Primarch’s conceiving and executing such a concept.

Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted movement. Turning back to face the viewport he caught a glimpse of a tail, scaled and massive fading into the inky blackness. An omen of things to come? He turned to inspect his equipment in their storage racks beside him. He had decided to remain unarmored down here, wanting to get out of his battle plate for at least a few hours. It stood in its transport case off to one side the helmet he usually eschewed, copper fangs glinting.

Today it was entirely necessary; for all his transhuman gifts, he could not breathe water. Pionus though, he wondered about. His gauntlets were in their own case beside the rest of his armour, resting in a portable stasis field. 

He opted to bring his throwing axes anyway. While he would not be able to use them as such, having a bladed weapon could prove useful. On a small rack beside the armour case was his Volkite Caliver. Pionus had specifically asked that he bring an energy firearm - unsurprisingly he'd discerned that Daer'dd favoured a hands-on approach.

As he was finishing his once-over of the remaining gear he had brought with him: hooks, portable grav-repellors (these supplied by Pionus), locator beacons, and so on, Pionus finally made his entrance. Clad exactly as he was at their prior meeting, the only difference being Leviathan across his back and a blank-visored helmet under the crook of one arm, he strode into the room. He was followed by fifteen of his sons, clad in what had started as Cataphractii Terminator Armor, although it had been subjected to the same streamlining as their brothers’ armour. Most carried a Volkite weapon and were further armed with bright blue swords, the distinctive waveblades of the XIXth Legion. He noted that some toted Culverins and others thunderhammers.

"They're my Depthstriders. They do this sort of thing as an initiation into their ranks, so we're in good hands." explained Pionus as he walked to his Brother, noticing the question in his eyes.

“Besides, it would not do well to have two Primarchs go into the depths of a Water World alone. Politics, diplomacy, the usual." He shrugged. "Your guard are welcome to joins us as well, if you want. I'd not deny you the choice."

“I would not deny them the experience, Brother" Daer'dd replied. "When do we depart?"

“Get into gear and we can leave immediately. We have a few hours journey ahead of us despite our close proximity."

-----

They were split up into groups of three. Of the fifteen Depthstriders, five were aboard each of the Phaetons. Of his ten honour guard, five were in each of the two back Phaetons with Pionus and Daer'dd in the Lead Craft. The interior of their craft was lit with a dim red light, the exterior an infinite inky blackness that, were it not for the sound of water moving across the hull, did not indicate movement, lacking the stars that one could use as reference points in the void.

They all sat in silence, having nothing left to talk about after their twelfth hour of travel. None were tired, a sense of anticipation slowly building among the Scions Hospitalier. It was at the eighteenth hour that the pilot messaged them that they were a few minuted from their destination. It was at this point that comms chatter resumed. As the Depthstriders made their preparations checking their gear and that of Daer'dd's Honour Guard aboard their respective ships, Pionus came over to him.

"Alright brother, stand up. We have to make sure our armor is properly sealed and tested. Wouldn't want to get crushed by the pressure or drown now would we?" He said, motioning.

Hunching himself over due to his size, Daer'dd got up and submitter himself to undergo the check by Pionus, in turn returning the favour. Once done, Pionus asked "Sound off, preparations complete?" One by one confirmations rang across the tactical readout on the HUD. Nodding, he continued "Roger that. Pilot, begin pressurization."

Immediately Daer'dd felt his armor strain a bit as the pressure was equalized with the exterior. A few minutes later he felt the vehicle slow down, come to a full stop and descend. Standing at the center point of the crafts floor, Pionus motioned for his brother to move to the side.

"Wouldn't want you to fall in as the hatch opens, brother" he… joked? Daer'dd was caught a bit off guard. He was used to Alexandros and Leman joking, but it was a little odd coming from Pionus.

"Sergeant Aeus, you get the honor of first one down." As he spoke he pulled a lever on the wall and the floor hatch iris'd open. To Daer'dd surprise, the cabin did not flood, the equalized pressure keeping the water at bay. As he looked on, the Sergeant saluted both Primarchs and hopped in, a dull impact the only indication of him reaching the ocean floor, the light of the interior being unable to pierce more than two feet of the black, lightless water. One by one the rest of his squad dropped in, each emitting their own thud upon landing.

Turning to Daer'dd, Pionus barked "Mind the fall!" and hopped in, a noticeably deeper thud marking his arrival at the bottom.

Wasting no time, Daer'dd stepped in. He sank fast as something as heavy as he would be inclined to. The instant he was entirely submerged he felt his armor compress ever so slightly, the weight of the ocean pressing down on it.

-----

The first thing he noticed was how ponderous his movements were in this medium. Next, was the all enveloping darkness and finally the deathly all-pervasive cold. Thankfully for all present, their augmented vision permitted them to see well enough in the dark with limited light, and their armor's life-support systems kept them reasonably isolated from the cold.

"Welcome to the lowest point on Iona’s surface, Daer'dd," spoke Pionus, his voice slightly distorted by the increased pressure.”We are currently equipped with twenty hours’ worth of oxygen, thirty if we push it. The Phaetons will follow us at a distance of ten kilometers to make sure they don't get in the way of any Serpents we encounter."

“Take this time for you and your sons to get somewhat accustomed to movement out here" he said, slipping out of the darkness to stand in front of his Brother, moving effortlessly despite the pressure.

For Daer'dd's part his own movements, while to a mortal were just as perfect, were slow and awkward, unaccustomed as he was to the prospect of moving under who knew how many of tons of water. His sons fared no better, but fought through with the tenacity and resilience that set the Iron Bears apart.

Pionus began another briefing as they started walking toward the aforementioned starting point. "Since we haven't surveyed this area in a while, our maps and data of the trench might be outdated. We'll be moving along the right hand wall. Try to keep at most ten feet between any two of us here at any given time. If you see a cavern, mark the coordinates and inform us over the vox. To avoid any potential trouble, at no point in time is anyone to enter a cavern - they're what serpents usually inhabit. If you find a cavern more than forty feet in diameter, again, mark it and drop a probe into it. If we're, ah, lucky we'll have a serpent on our hands shortly afterwards." 

Daer'dd watched the Depthstriders slide into formation around him and his own guards. “We'll be moving in a wedge formation, first position will rotate every half hour. Watch your step, we don't want anyone to fall into a cavern, whirlpool or other feature. If you do, activate your locator beacon and turn on your grav repeller to stabilize and use your grappling hooks to try and get out. If it gets really bad we might be able to teleport you out but it's no guarantee,” he continued.

“If we meet any local fauna, so long as they aren't aggressive, do not attack. We don't want to chum the waters and bring out some of the more unsavory inhabitants of the Odyssian Trench. Additionally, be on the lookout for anything man-made. During the Dark Age, Iona had quite a few remote research centres strewn across the planet. We keep finding them from time to time, even now, and they usually contain valuable material. That's what drove us to develop these weapons and armour in the first place.” He drifted slowly to the head of the pack to start their march.

“Finally, if we find a serpent, shoot it if you can. Failing that your first priority is to hook and climb onto it, to get to the base of the skull and to deal a deathblow. Due to the speeds at which they swim and how far up they might go, the moment you feel your armor start to give, let go and fall off. A Phaeton will be able to pick you up." he said, stopping at the first cavern they passed. Daer'dd guessed he was some sort of infrared detectors. 

"In the extremely rare even that we find ourselves against multiple serpents, go after the larger one and let the Phaetons deal with the other unless your able to climb onto it." he concluded.

The following hours of their walk was spent in relative silence, call outs for caverns and breaks in the ground interrupting the silence. Every so often, they'd see carcharoid beasts swim into their fields of vision and quickly vanish. Other, translucent fish would float in and out, carried by the currents. Occasionally eyeless creatures bumped into them harmlessly, eliciting nervous laughter from the Bears. Periodically, at the outer limits of their vision, they'd see brief flashes of light; bio-luminescent hunters using self-produced light to hunt their prey.

On a single occasion were they attacked by a squid, ten metres in length. The Depthstrider who dealt the killing blow - a young warrior named Mytakis - used his Kopis sword to carve out the creature's lethal beak as a trophy. And just as abruptly, they continued on their way.

It was at the end of the tenth hour, with Pionus in the lead, that he called for a stop. Slowly, he beckoned everyone close with blink runes, to have everyone in sight.

“Sound off, how many have noticed our pursuer?" Of the fifteen Depthstriders, seven confirmed. "Thought so." he mused. "Alright. Here's the situation" he started, addressing Daer'dd in particular. "For the past forty-five minutes I've been tracking a particularly large beast that's been circling us, slowly closing in. I'm of the mind that its a Serpent seeing as we haven't had any signs of the larger fauna in the area and there seems to be a higher density of the smaller ones” he explained.

Forty-five minutes? That's a long time to not tell me. Daer'dd hoped that was a sign that Pionus understood how these creature behaved.

"Just be ready. In all likelihood it's going to either charge at us from the front or behind, using the length of the trench to its advantage. I'm giving it an estimate of fifteen minutes before it attacks. Daer'dd, you take the lead. If anyone should get the honor of first blood and engagement, it is you, our guest. Worry not, we'll have you covered." He finished, patting his brother on the shoulder.

It wasn't long before Daer'dd's auto-senses started picking up their quarry. Over the course of the next five minutes, the whole party became aware of the beast stalking them, their suits now able to reliably track it at its current speed. At one occasion, he caught a glimpse of the beast through the all-pervasive blackness being warned of its sudden approach by the sheer displacement of water it caused. While he did not see it in its entirety, the fact remains that the little of its flank that he did see was twenty feet tall and covered in blood-red scales.

And just like that, it was gone.Though they would not wait long for Pionus signalled for a halt once again.

"We're no longer tracking it. Striders into formation, it li-" He never finished his sentence, turning abruptly to face the darkness, Graviton generators - the largest mounted on his back as well as smaller on his legs and arms - across his armor, their sudden green glow signifying their activation, whirred into life, making the surrounding water hum.

As he raised Leviathan to ready a strike and before anyone else could react, even Daer'dd, a vast, fanged maw emerged from the blackness at lightning speed. It collided with Pionus head on; a grunt on the Vox channel a confirmation. At least that meant it hadn't swallowed him. Almost immediately the Depthstriders fired their Volkites into the sides of the beast, its head and Pionus long past, drawing their blades to stab into its sides and anchor themselves to it. The only thing Daer'dd could think of doing was to grab on with his gauntlets.

Immediately he felt the speed wrenching as his limbs. His arms were threatening to dislocate, so great was the acceleration, but he would not let go. Now fully on the Beast, he began to climb towards its head, water rushing past at speeds he'd never believed a creature of flesh and blood could attain. It made his ascent hard, but he'd faced sterner tests. The real challenge was staying on as the serpent corkscrewed, climbed, dived, rolled, twisted. On his tactical readout he saw, besides himself and Pionus, astonishingly, three hundred feet ahead - and he was far from the tail- were six Depthstriders and three of his own honor guard. And they were gaining on him.

Not one to be outdone, Daer'dd redoubled his efforts and hauled himself up the writing mass of muscle, scale and bone. Communication was all but impossible, their in-helmet microphones picking up only the sound of the rushing water. Metre by metre he climbed, closing the gap between his tactical marker and Pionus'. In the distance, he could hear the muffled roar of the Phaeton-patterns keeping pace with the beast.

While it wasn't necessarily tough or challenging to climb the beast, it took a long time. Fighting against the laws of physics and an angry monster was not something one could do without effort, after all. Still, Daer'dd was better equipped for that than most, and after five minutes he was within sight of the head. As he neared he noticed that the mouth was locked open, the only indication of what was doing so being the butt of Leviathan sticking out of a corner of the mouth and the green glow of Pionus' grav generators illuminating the interior of the mouth and surrounding water.

As Daer'dd neared the crest at the back of the serpent’s skull, the beast took a dive, probably sensing the danger and wishing to rid itself of the unwanted passengers. Moving faster, he grabbed onto the crest, and pulled out one his axes and tried to hack into the area Pionus had previously described. It was hard going, the scales being much harder than one would have thought and, due to the sheer size of the beast, he would also have to carve though hundreds of pounds of muscle before reaching the weak point.

Cutting through muscle and fighting for visibility through the blood darkened water, he continued. In doing so the Serpent became more frantic in its movements, more desperate to dislodge them. Far back he couldnt tell what was going on but looking at his tactical readout, fully half of the Astartes that had gotten on with the Primarchs were now reading as aboard the Phaetons.

Suddenly, his proximity alarms rang and he felt an impact on his back followed by violent scraping. The beast decided to run itself across a rocky wall, trying to force him off. It then banked to the left and looking up slightly could see the ocean floor scant feet from him, still, he did not let go. His tactical readout now showed only himself and Pionus on the Serpent. Before the beast could attempt another run at the trench wall, a sudden intense burst of green light made the whole beast suddenly shifted downwards and hit the ocean floor, decelerating so fast that it flipped back on itself.

While the water did slow Daer'dd's fall, it did nothing to lessen the impact, which tore a furrow through the seabed. Laying on his back at the bottom of the ocean he was jolted back to consciousness by Pionus’ shouts over the vox.

“Get up Brother! I’ve pinned it, finish the bastard! My grav generators can only be overloaded for so long!" Pionus shouted.
Wasting no time, he got up, albeit slower than he would've preferred. Directly in front of him he could see Pionus bathed in green light, reflecting in all possible shades and hues off his opalescent plate, hunched over, one foot planted on the underside of Leviathan's head pinning the monster's tongue, lower jaw and by extension, the whole beast to the ocean floor, his back, left hand and armor holding back the upper jaw from crushing him.

-----

Taking a leaping start to climb back up the beasts flank to reach the top of its crested skull, Daer'dd had to fight being thrown off again as the serpent writhed in a panic, its head pinned down by its assumed snack. Now on top of the beast and no longer having to contend with rushing water and gravity trying to throw him off he set to work digging down into muscle, cartilage and bone. It was slower going than he wished but, once he had torn a large enough he set to just ripping his way through using his gauntlet'd hands.

Finally he reached it. The point on the Serpents skull where the bone was thinnest. Using his axe, he hacked into the skull removing chunks of bone as he went, exposing grey matter. Then, swapping to the Volkite Pionus had instructed him to bring, he put the muzzle directly in contact with the brain. In the split second before he fired, the whole beast convulsed and shuddered, but he still pulled the trigger, his arm three feet deep into the back of the beasts neck. As the beast went through its final death throes, Daer'dd released his hold and went to the mouth to check on Pionus.

-----

He found him attempting to roll the corpse over on its side, having probably taken the chance to stab into its skull with Leviathan when it convulsed. Levering it to rest on its side proved rather easy, the corpse being naturally buoyant. A few instants later, they were bathed in light as the three Phaetons arrived on scene and illuminated the area with their searchlights, the embarked terminators descending to to meet their gene-sires.

Turning to Daer'dd, Pionus clapped him on the shoulder and exclaimed "Well, I wouldn't have imagined anyone else pulling that off. A fine kill. This is the biggest specimen we've seen to date!"

Recovering his breath, Daer'dd simply nodded at first. "So, this is what you do for sport here? Seems unnecessarily perilous to go after such beasts." He paused and chuckled. “I mean, we'd do it ourselves, but I didn't expect it from you.”

"That we do. But, they're usually half the size of this Behemoth, it must be at least a few centuries old. Now, while we usually take a Trophy and leave the corpse to the scavengers, we'll be bringing this one back with us for research. But first" He said, walking back to the mouth "A trophy to commemorate the moment." He clambered up, and a brief whirring emanated from his right vambrace. Some specialised sort of Narthecium, Daerdd supposed. Pionus briskly cut into the guns and sawed through the bone. With a grunt of effort, he yanked a tooth free in a small plume of blood.

He picked up the man-sized fang and walked back to Daer'dd handing it to him "I believe this is yours."

-----

The ride back was just as quiet, with the sole exception of the Phaetons having to fly in a single file line due to the size of their cargo requiring all three to properly transport it. Their arrival back at Hive Alta was without fanfare but, once inside the docking bay and the Serpent on display seeing it undistorted by water or obscured by inky blackness did the impact of the did fully sink in. Nose to tail, it measured six hundred feet, its diameter 25 feet at its widest. Apart from the Orks’ gargantuan Squiggoths, Daer'dd had never seen a creature so massive.

"A beautiful specimen, isn't she?" Asked Pionus, walking up to stand beside him.

“Yes. Now I see why your legion chose red as its second color. But you said this was the largest specimen?" he asked, grinning hopefully behind his helmet.

"The largest that we've found alive. Near old research centers we've often found the skulls of Serpents and other, potentially extinct species, roughly three times as large. Its honestly a Miracle we've somehow survived on the planet with giants like these roaming the waters." He replied, looking over the corpse of the Beast.

"Still" he continued, "we're qui-"

“My Lord Pionus!” reported the First Captain. “Word has just arrived from the Emperor, beloved by all. He requests our presence at the Segmentum Obscurus mustering point.” Antonidas was well-known to Daer'dd; he had served as Legion Master for several decades. Pionus evidently valued him highly, as Antonidas still wore the black pearl livery of the Stygian Phantoms.

“Is that so, Antonidas?"

"Yes my lord." Turning to Daer'dd, Antonidas inclined hisnehad before continuing "The communique did not make mention of the Iron Bears, Lord Primarch. As of now, the only information we've received is that we and the Drowned have had their presence specifically requested by writ of the Emperor.”

"I see. Well, then. Sorry to cut the celebrations short, brother, but we mustn't keep the Emperor waiting. Captain Antonidas, send word to Inna that I wish to meet with her at the earliest convenience - either at her lab, mine or the Hell's Heart. Also, send out a message to all currently unengaged Legion assets to divert course to the muster point. Furthermore, have all captains present on world and within two sub sectors to convene aboard theHell's Heart in ninety-six hours’ time. Dismissed."

“Your will be done, sire." he said, bowing to the Primarchs before him, turned on his heel and left the docking bay.

“Sire.” Exasperation was easy to read in Pionus' voice. Turning to Daer'dd, he made an apologetic face. "Truly, no rest for the wicked. You'll have to excuse me yet again, I've matters to attend to. Please, stay for as long as you deem necessary and make yourself at home." He said, leaving his brother.

At the door he turned back and called to Daer'dd. “I look forward to fighting beside you, Daer'dd. If you can handle yourself that well underwater, I can't imagine what you're like in your element.”


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#59
bluntblade

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When Slips says pre-Qarith, I figure that should mean a few years after Pionus is found.

#60
bluntblade

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Uneasy Allies
Author: bluntblade
Time: 06 M31
Legions: Iron Bears (Daer'dd), Scions Hospitalier (Pionus)
Major characters: Nibaasiniiwi, Solomon Grimm, Perkenas, Asaev, Cass, Vizenko, Lotara Sarrin, Ellan Temeter, Damon Redd

++++++

The Warbringers watched in horrified silence as the young captain dismantled the Adepts’ scheme. The silence was at her sheer audacity, the horror at how Daer'dd permitted her to speak in this way.

The bridge aboard the Dragon of Autumn was ornate, but the strategium boasted nothing in the way of a command throne for the Primarch hismelf. While this might be Daer'dd's flagship and his Legion, the bridge was plainly the domain of Lotara Sarrin. As such, it went against everything Kozja had taught the Warbringers about the rightful place of man and Astartes in the Crusade. Asaev, 64th Boyar of the VI Principate, was working hard to rein his emotions in.

Sarrin's gauntlets had some kind of inbuilt devices that allowed her to manipulate the tactical charts as she spoke. “They're ancient Mazacria vessels, heavily armed with archeotech and therefore extremely dangerous. So while I understand that we want to take some intact, it's not workable to attempt boarding actions against the majority of them.” She spared an apologetic glance for the Mechanicus representatives. On learning of a non-compliant Forge World, Kelbor-Hal himself had ordered Mechanicus elements to assist in the offensive. “I know it's not what anyone wants to hear, but the risks to our fleet and our people are unacceptable if we proceed with the plan as it stands.”

Adept Vo-Ti 62 was barely human, but his irritation was palpable all the same. And why shouldn't it be? This woman boasted some meagre enhancements and an impressive war record, but nothing that entitled her to speak to her betters in this way. Still, while they stood on this ship and the Bear stood behind her, she could not simply be dismissed. So they endured the presence of this irksome mortal, and the amused smiles that lurked behind the beards of Daer'dd's officers.

“The Mechanicus requires any STCs that can be recovered from this rock.” The Adept’s voice crackled with annoyance. “Therefore it is imperative that as many vessels be taken as possible. With the exception of the Dragon of Autumn, neither expeditionary fleet possesses irreplaceable technology, and we calculate the potential loss of materiel and personnel to be within tolerable parameters.”

Sarrin barely repressed a snarl. Instead she looked to the mortal commander of the Warbringers' fleet. “Admiral, do you have any views on this matter?” Admiral Paliushko, an old servant of the Legion, looked faintly panicked, immediately looking to his Primarch for guidance. Kozja caught his gaze and gave a reassuring nod before speaking.

“Admiral Paliushko understands that the 23rd fleet speaks with a single voice.” The reproachful edge was faint but unmistakable as he addressed his brother. “Can I assume that Captain Sarrin speaks for your fleet, Daer'dd?”

Daer'dd replied “Aye. But you have not yet given your response to the proposal of our Mechanicus allies.”

Kozja moved to the holo charts, eyes flitting over the myriad reports. “I have no desire to sacrifice our brave soldiers or fine machines without good reason. However, for the betterment of all mankind, we can ill afford to destroy a potential bounty of technology. After all, an STC might benefit the entire Imperium, and I deem that quite justifies the comparatively small losses we might sustain in boarding operations. Therefore, I recommend that we pursue a middle course between the recommendations of Captain Sarrin and our respected Adepts.”

Daer'dd inclined his massive head. “Well brother, if you would kindly outline your strategy, we may proceed.”

-----

Lotara's anger wasn’t quite the glacial, terrifying calmness she managed at her angriest. Now she was simply fuming. Paliushko had merited a scornful remark, but her real anger was at the Magos. “It's not all about the damn tech anyway. They want to take every Heretech alive so they can do… the Emperor knows what to them.” The Iron Artificer began to speak, but she spun on her heel and cut him off. “And even if it's the tech they care for, I don't see why I should be expected to throw away people and assets we already have, so they can get their hands on more!”

It was quite something to see one of the most respected Astartes in the Legion stood stock still, eyes crossed where Lotara's accusing finger hovered in front of his face. Normally Daer'dd would have been there to roar with laughter and puncture the moment, but he, Cass and Solomon were in council with Kozja and his Knyazi.

Ellan took Lotara's arm, gently pulling her hand away from Miskwaabik’s face. She had to suppress a smile of her own, knowing that any other mortal would be risking a slap. “Easy now. Let's just collect ourselves while the Legion readies itself.” That process was already in full swing on the bridge. Fleet personnel and servitors crowded the space, checking and double-checking systems. The Astartes officers would have to depart soon and assemble their companies for the battle to come.

She caught Nibaasiniiwi smiling and gritted her teeth. She didn't want to prolong Lotara's mood. So now, she asked “What ranks do all the colours on the Warbringers signify? That looks like a lot of ranks."

Nibaasiniiwi nodded. “Kozja's first love was orderliness. Honour to a Warbringer is first and foremost knowing your place and fulfilling your role - the heraldry helps a Warbringer to identify his place in any given situation. A sub-par performance is unacceptable to them as it is to us, but just as much is overstepping one's remit. They find lone glory hunters repulsive, and see little sense in hand-to-hand combat if they can simply shoot a foe into submission.”

Cyrn'ss snorted; he plainly took exception to the glory hunter remark. “Plodding dullards, the lot of them.”

“Not necessarily,” Nibaasiniiwi frowned. “I've seen them in action, and they can be remarkably flexible when the situation calls for it. They eschew Destroyers altogether, which is no bad thing. And after those contests on Terra, it would be foolish to imagine they aren't skilled with swords and maces. You of all people should know better.” Knyaz Perkenas’ prowess with the blade had been the nastiest surprise to befall Cyrn'ss during the Great Games. Nibaasiniiwi turned back to Ellan. “But I warn you, don't expect to make any friends among them.

“Anyway, the Knyazi fulfill the role of Lord Commanders or Legates, each with his own Principate. Under them are the Boyars, then the Voiavodes who are equal to our Praetors. The Miecznik are their sergeants, and after that you have the battle-brothers. However, there are also the Legion's Orders.”

These, it transpired, each came with their own system of heraldry and ranks. Ellan understood the meaning of the Borgatyrs’ azure and gold well enough, but by the time Nibaasiniiwi reached the Asklepians she was struggling to keep it all in.

“Parallel hierarchies? They can keep it. From what you've told me, it just sounds like a recipe for confusion.” This was a far cry from the Scions Hospitalier with their minimal decorations and sparse command tree.

“They'd say the opposite, although the heraldry itself can cause confusion; senior Bogatyrs get mistaken for Wardens of Light on a regular basis. If two officers of otherwise equal rank find themselves at odds, standing within an order is the first recourse to settle the matter. Prestige and primacy matters enormously to their officers; you won't see them deferring willingly to an equal as the Scions do.”

“And if they can't settle things that way, then it becomes about lineage, stateholding, titles…” Lotara’s annoyance could hardly be plainer, and Ellan looked around to be sure they weren't in earshot of anyone who might take offence. Not too much danger of that, she decided; the Warbringers seemed to have all returned to the hangar to await their Primarch’s departure. “It goes on until you wish they'd just settle it with a duel.”

Nibaasiniiwi sighed, apparently sharing Ellan's thoughts. If they couldn't defuse the captain's temper, it would be a rough day. “Just don't mistake it for mere pride, whatever Captain Sarrin says. To them, failing to take charge if their rank seems to dictate it is to risk the shame of failure and shirking their duties. Speaking of which, if you see a Warbringer with black markings, don't talk to him. His Legion will take it poorly if you even acknowledge him. Those marked in such a manner are dishonoured in the eyes of their primarch, redeemable only in death.”

-----

Sitting in Kozja's staterooms, Solomon Grimm considered his opposite numbers. The Warbringers seemed more comfortable with Cass than they did with Redd. Both were political animals, but Cass favoured a more formal system of command which Kozja and his sons could respect. Redd was too much the boisterous warrior for them. Cass liked to lead from the front, but was quite prepared to delegate to Nibaasiniiwi or Leonas if necessary.

Valsh Holzer was a welcome presence, though Grimm didn't really know him all that well. Holzer stood apart from his brothers due to an open, gregarious nature. His face had a distinctly aristocratic look to it, completed by a meticulously groomed beard and moustache. Cass and his officers had found him pleasant company, but Holzer was an artillery officer, and as such they had had little contact during the previous campaign. Of course, Grimm had only been a Praetor during that war, and Holzer a Boyar, so most of that contact had simply been formal strategy meetings where their superiors had done most of the talking.

The other Knyaz was a much colder presence, sat awkwardly in Cataphracti plate that was all the bulkier for its extensive decorations. An azure cloak, trimmed with yet more gold, was draped over one shoulder, signifying his station as Master of the Borgatyrs. His hair was coal black, and the face beneath was grim and unsmiling. Perkenas was a master swordsman, credited with dozens of valorous deeds, but that came with a humourless, prideful demeanour that alienated many officers.

Perhaps it was fortunate that the Praetors weren't there. Perkenas’ stiff formality, which Grimm had some experience of from the celebrations on Terra, hadn't dropped now they were in a private setting. He could almost hear Yoxer and Cyrn'ss grumbling; the phrase “starch-arse” would feature heavily. Perkenas was cut from a very different cloth to Grimm and his brothers, more a soldier than a warrior. He was known for his prowess with a blade, but his penchant was for neat and utilitarian kills, not the audacious charges that got a Bear's blood up.

Perkenas' notoriety also stemmed from the disdain he frequently showed toward mortals. While Holzer believed passionately in augmenting them to fight alongside the Astartes, Perkenas considered such schemes to be a waste of time, arguing that the Astartes' superiority be increased. He had made no effort earlier to hide his disgust when Lotara voiced her concerns about the coming void battle.

Even Daer'dd's usually cheerful nature was dampened somewhat. Kozja had little time for personal news or accounts of the great deeds carried out across the Crusade, though he was pleased to hear of the success of the Ark Reach campaign.

As Daer'dd attempted to get Kozja enthused about the works of art that the remembrancers had recently begun, Grimm's eyes alighted on the other officer who accompanied Kozja.

-----

Vizhenko. Head of the Asklepians and one of the most renowned apothecaries in the Imperium. An instrumental figure in rectifying gene-flaws in his own Legion and others, among the Warbringers’ most renowned members. So what was it about him that had troubled Odyssalas so greatly? The question had nagged at Nibaasiniiwi for over three years. Now, he had begun to understand why.

He made his way through the field hospital which had been set up in the captured city, a single squad marching in his wake. The enemy Skitarii and servitors were murderous foes, never mind the rogue Magos, never mind the rogue Magos, and dozens of his men lay injured as a result of their alchemical weapons. The youngest of his sergeants, Roanoke, had been incapacitated by chemical burns down one side of his chest, the corrosive substance eating through his skin to ravage the tissue and bone beneath. Doubtless he would've died in the soured dirt had a Warbringers apothecary not reached him in time. As it was, Roanoke would have to sit out a couple of weeks’ fighting while his body recovered.

At least, contrary to what some of their leaders had feared, the enemy had been easy enough to distinguish from their own Mechanicus allies. The Heretechs of Skarius eschewed the usual robes and greatcoats, coating themselves in a strange, iridescent alloy which had been identified as being of alien origin.

After they had been destroyed for their deviation - that, and they had immediately attacked the Explorators who found them - further analysis revealed that they had integrated xenos components into their bodies and brains. The leader of this world, who identified himself as Xuvo-Lek, regarded the Mechanicus and Imperium as squeamish cowards, unwilling to commit fully to the pursuit of knowledge and power. Kelbor-Hal was incensed at the news, and petitioned for a detachment of senior Magos to be allowed to participate in the campaign, along with all the fearsome weapons they could muster.

Nibaasiniiwi had never seen so many of the Mechanicum's forces in one place before, and even after all he had seen, it had stopped him in his tracks. Combined with the Bears' arsenal, the defenders had no chance against them despite their xenos-derived weaponry. Nibaasiniiwi had been part of the first wave sent into the city, led by Damon Redd and supported by the Warbringers’ Streltsy sharpshooters. As they secured the walls, Nibaasiniiwi had looked out to see the relief force Xuvo-Lek had despatched.

The would-be relief force, he corrected himself, because the main Warbringers army stood in their way. Kozja had deployed not only his Legion, but three of the Novadeka Strelae, the ten Army regiments raised from the Legion's domain. These were among the most resilient mortal troops the Imperium mustered, able to fight in the polluted wastes beyond the Forge cities.

Nibaasiniiwi had seen the IXth Legion fight before, but that had been a splinter force of just 10,000 Astartes. This time they had fielded 30,000, with as many Army soldiers. All moving in a dance choreographed by a single mind. Kozja directed them seamlessly; Vostala Ironclad units pummeling Colossi robots, Zalmoxite Cataphracts guarding them against suicide-bomber servitors. Kzarny Rad-Walkers swarmed over tight, uneven terrain, luring in and pinning down the enemy to be crushed by squads of Warbringers. It was like a great, intricate game, Xuvo-Lek’s troops being entrapped and destroyed piece by piece. No sooner had a unit completed its objective than it would be on the move again, back into the protection of the broader army or into a fresh attack. None were left exposed long enough for the enemy to use it against them.

It was incredible. Kozja had led mortal soldiers, but the cohesion and coordination with which he used them actually outmatched the interlinked forces of the Heretechs. Nibaasiniiwi could not help but marvel at it, but at the same time it unsettled him on some level. There was no inventiveness, no chance for an inspired action from any man who fought in the formation. This was the Warbringer way, absolute deference to one's superior. For this reason, the two Legions had been largely partitioned, better able to support one another at a distance.

Now the Mechanicus forces scoured the city, destroying the alien embellishments with which the renegades had defaced their buildings. Surviving enemy Magos had been taken away by the Mechanicus to suffer the displeasure of their Machine God, a prospect that inflicted a rare unease on Nibaasiniiwi. That feeling had fascinated Ellan when they spoke via the vox, but he hadn't been in the mood to discuss it. From what he gathered, Lotara was still irritated by the imperative to seize so many enemy ships and the resulting losses. The Warbringers had impressed the Bears, but they certainly weren't making friends.

The constant solemnity of the other Legion was another barrier. Nibaasiniiwi understood it, especially among their officers. Promotion among the Warbringers meant being selected by their immediate superior to succeed him. As such, they made a great deal of their “heritage”, frequently taking up the relics of the warriors they had replaced. He could respect that, but he still couldn't get past their dour nature.

A bareheaded Borgatyr appeared around the corner, gold trim on a blue cloak signifying his status as a man-at-arms. Beside Nibaasiniiwi, Sergeant Ahatsistari went to salute. Nibaasiniiwi stopped him with a nudge and a voxed “No, he's just a sergeant”. Pity Ellan couldn't be here to see it.

Vizenko was at work when they found him. “Praetor Nibaasiniiwi,” he said, raising his eyes from the body of a fallen Warbringer, Narthecium array whirring softly. “I apologise for the lack of ceremony, but the demands are great. Even against our combined might, the dread works of Locria exact a cruel toll.”

Vizenko’s face bore testament to a life of unusual length, even for an Astartes. He was among the oldest living space marines, so old that he was now free of any battlefield duties. A fate perhaps unique among the Legiones Astartes, Nibaasiniiwi mused. He bowed his head, trying to match the Warbringer's formality. “We are well aware of the unhappy burdens your order bears so diligently. I would not demand unnecessary ritual of you while so much remains to be done. At the same time, I thank you for your fine work, and all your order have done for my men. We would have lost many more brothers otherwise.”

Etiquette appeased, he moved to the dead form of a Bear. One of his tactical marines, killed by a burst of filaments that had torn his throat clean away. It had been a small miracle that his progenoids had both remained intact, though the degree of damage to the armour and flesh around it had seemingly required the expertise of a veteran apothecary. It was unlikely that any of the Bears' could have done it this well.

He motioned to his men, who quietly took hold of the gurney on which the unfortunate Bear lay, and wheeled him away. A capsule marked with a VI stood on a surface nearby and he lifted it delicately.

“A peculiar notion, that so much of what we are can stem from so small a thing.” Vizenko stepped up beside him. “Notion is altogether the wrong word, though; we have learned that these globules exert such immense influence on almost everything about us, both as Legions and as individuals.” In an adjacent chamber, through a glass door, servitors helped another Apothecary back into his armour. Syanocron Taleko, he recalled, watching the purple Asklepian cloak settle over the man's shoulders.

“But they are only one factor of several,” Nibaasiniiwi countered. He didn't know quite why he retorted, but something had crept into Vizenko's voice that sat uncomfortably with him.

“Granted, but those others cannot be subjected to empirical scrutiny. They cannot be exactly understood and consequently there is little improvement to be achieved there.”

Nibaasiniiwi felt a chill that owed nothing to the clinical atmosphere of the room. “Improvements?”

“Logically, yes.” Vizenko's tone had changed somewhat, but there was no hint that he considered the subject to be a cause for alarm. Instead there was some strange fervour in his voice. “Our different gene-seeds gift us such potent weapons, but ones that we cannot unify as a single arsenal to be brought to bear against the enemies of Mankind. Just imagine what might be achieved if the strength of the Iron Bears could be harmonised with the cohesion of the Warriors of Peace. To learn just a little more will gift so much to us.”

Nibaasiniiwi kept his face impassive, but behind it thoughts and emotions whirled like a pict-vid of clouds, sped up. Did Vizenko hear what he was saying? Could his words really mean that he wanted to meddle with the works of the Emperor Himself?

Vizenko didn't seem to notice any sign of Nibaasiniiwi's consternation, and carried on. “Perfection is within our reach if we simply put aside exceptionalism and move beyond the differences.”

He forced himself to remain polite. “Intriguing suggestions, sir, but I am not at liberty to discuss them further. My company needs my attention, and I am loathe to distract you from your own work.”

He was Astartes, he knew no fear. So why, as he made his way back along the corridors, did the remaining flesh in his legs itch with the desire to run? The gene-seed canister felt suddenly heavy, even in his augmentic hands, and he found wondering how long Vizenko had spent with it, and more.

Now Odyssalas' unease was quite understandable.

-----

Asaev considered his armour as he set to the old routine. Legion serfs and Adepts attended to the more mechanical aspects, but the Warbringers considered it important to clean the plate and adornments themselves. These were the marks by which their deeds and worth were made known, and it was felt that this kept a warrior from taking them for granted.

At times like this, Asaev was struck by the weight of history that resided in his suit. While it was largely made up of Mk IV components, there were pieces that dated back many years, and had accrued great significance through their wearers. The Iron Bears took great care of their wargear, but that was a product of the esteem in which they held the art of smithing. Many of the VIth were like walking armouries, but their equipment was more of a testament to individualism. The Warbringer way, however, stood for something more.

His gauntlets and vambraces, for example, were Mk III, a relic of Jagiello, Asaev’s predecessor. As his cloth ran in circles over the burnished gold, he saw again those fingers buried in a greenskin’s eyes. The last blow Jagiello had struck; the Orks had mobbed him, bearing him to the ground and hacking chunks out of his chest. The Borgatyr had lived just long enough to reaffirm Asaev as his successor.

It was customary for an officer to take up some item of a warrior who he had served under and learned from. So his broadsword was another heirloom - a rare sort handed down by a warrior who still lived, but who had found it no longer suited him once raised to the Legion's Terminator elite. Such items were not given away lightly, and Asaev had been made to feel the trust that was being placed in him with such a gesture.

Valsh Holzer was known to possess one of the Legion's most prized relics, a MK I vambrace that, rumour had it, had seen battle before the first Astartes had even drawn breath.

To fight with and care for such items was to demonstrate one's worth, but more than simple self-aggrandisement. It represented the debt he owed to the men who had taught him and raised him to his current place. One day, his own legacy would be symbolised by these items. Another warrior would carry the sword of Žilvinas one day, and perhaps even the helm of Asaev might be so revered by another Borgatyr. Thus another burden settled upon a Warbringer's shoulders every time he took up an heirloom; to defend and build on the prestige that his wargear held, both that the honour of his predecessors not be besmirched, and those who followed would not have to wrestle with the disgrace of a man who had led them.

So, as he readied for the climactic phase of the war for Locria, he began not quite a prayer, but a vow to those who had gone before, that he would not fail their memory.

-----

Locria had a weak, pale sun that brought little warmth. It mattered little to the Astartes in their armour, but the cold was enough to make the mortals grateful for the survival suits forced on them by the polluted environment.

Ellan perched atop the Rhino, magnoculars trained on the two columns of warriors and war machines as they assaulted Xuvo-Lek’s stronghold. Some of the other remembrancers grumbled at the need to sit with the reserves, so far away from the siege lines, but she was content to watch from here at the moment. After all, the Daughters’ captain had pointed out, another kilometre would take them within range of the enemy guns, and no remembrancer would find renown by getting themselves blown up.

So they had been polarised between sulking in the dust, complaining about the uncomfortable suits, and hyperactivity. Imagists and painters scurried around the transports, seeking the shot that would make their name. Meanwhile the soldiers were starting to wilt under the incessant questioning of documentarists and historators, while the Astartes had mostly begun to stonewall them. The whole spectacle played out to a strange mix of distant explosions and a halting series of twanging half-melodies. One of the musicians had brought a stringed instrument and was clumsily trying to play in his suit.

Ellan tried to ignore the halting racket, humming absentmindedly and shuffling to her own tune. She’d hoped Lotara would be able to come along, but it turned out that the Dragon of Autumn was vital to the operation. Perhaps that was meant as a gesture of goodwill from Kozja, or maybe it was just a matter of practicality, just another cog in his scheme.

The climactic battle came with an appropriately grandiose plan. The primary Forge city was to be assaulted at two points by the Titans and Cybernetica robots, the latter under the direct command of Adepts Vo-Ti 62 and Licinius. Once the walls had been breached, the defenders were to be bled to the point that they could no longer hold the city. Kozja was keen to avoid fighting inside the city, as the Mechanicus would be immensely displeased if the forges were damaged. The Titans and automata were kept busy destroying artillery that threatened the attackers and repelling several attempts to flank them. It was all very impressive, but after several hours it lost a certain amount of drama.

A click behind her jolted her. Turning, she saw another remembrancer - a woman, she guessed, in the colours of the 23rd fleet. “Did you just take a pict of me?”

“Well, why not?” She'd guessed right. The woman's accent placed her as coming from Mobayi. “I can only get so many interesting shots with a magnocular lens, and you chose a good vantage point.” She looked down at the picter screen and nodded in brisk satisfaction. “You in the foreground, Lord Kozja's force just over your shoulder… doubt it could've looked that if I'd told you where to sit. Thanks.”

Then she hopped down and was off again. Ellan gazed after her briefly, slightly baffled, then turned back to the siege. She could see what Nibaasiniiwi had meant; Kozja was a master at orchestrating massed assaults. He seemed to know exactly when to deploy a unit, how far forward to send it, when to use snipers to support an attack and when to strike an exposed enemy force with artillery. She also understood now what Nibaasiniiwi had meant about not mistaking Kozja's attitude for callousness; as far as she was any judge, the losses his Army units suffered were remarkably light. The Zalmoxites, lacking the resistance of the Rad-Walkers, had been held back too, and the Warbringers and Vostok's armoured units took the lion's share of the work.

Still, even with the Shaper of Hosts leading them on one side and the Iron Bear on the other, it was a slow, grinding affair. The Bears were primarily supported by the Skitarii that the Mechanicus had leant to the campaign, rather than the Daughters of Daer'dd. The Mechanicus were unwilling to pass up a leading role in the ultimate downfall of Xuvo-Lek, and in any case there were practical advantages to letting their cyborg armies bear the brunt of the offensive. For a mortal, simple damage to their survival apparatus was life-threatening; any flesh wound was a death sentence. The only medevacs brought back to the reserve lines were Astartes.

Either Xuvo-Lek or his predecessors had constructed a sloping ring of trenches and bunkers stretching out five kilometres from the cyclopean walls of the city. These were well-defended, and it took hours of fighting to create sizeable footholds, even with the Titans and Cybernetica cohorts.

Sudden movement caught her eye, and she looked towards Kozja's position. Having apparently been about to fall back, a company of Warbringers had suddenly started forward, and as she watched their Devastator squads sprang from cover to attack, while the Rad-Walkers went on the offensive too. Her eyes narrowed behind the goggles. On its own that move was needlessly risky - it must be part of a larger gambit. But what?

Her vox-unit crackled - Nibaasiniiwi. “Lady Temeter? Get yourself somewhere with a good view of the walls.” Then he was gone. She knew better than to try and get more information out of him. Instead she shouted for the other remembrancers and raised her magnoculars again, scanning the defences as her colleagues came running out, having hastily pulled on their suits. Soldiers were suddenly everywhere too - whatever the order was, it had been kept secret up to now.

Just what she was meant to look for became apparent two minutes later. Murder servitors, modified to resemble those of the enemy, had infiltrated the breaches and then several gun batteries within the walls. Unsurprisingly, these areas held considerable amounts of ammunition, and while these were mostly safe from external bombardment, it was a quite different matter if one detonated bombs inside.

Ellan wasn't aware of this. All she knew was that a series of detonations had rippled up over a three kilometre stretch of the wall, some way to the west of the Bears' position. The defenders below turned to find a massive wave of rockcrete and ceramite sweeping toward them. Guns, troops and buildings were flattened and buried.

A too-slow imagist’s groan of disappointed anger was drowned out by the screams of drop-pods. Ellan's head snapped up to watch as a great volley of the things hurtled down to land just outside this new gap in the defences. This was where the fleet came in, delivering a second force of Bears with Damon Redd himself leading them. Redd and his warriors charged immediately, catching the enemy completely off guard.

With their mechanical minds, Xuvo-Lek’s Skitarii were immune to the shock and panic that would have overwhelmed human troops, but they couldn't change the fact that an enemy force was now within their walls. Landers set down and House August emerged, Ar'assa Redd leading them into the city in Sunclaw. The enemy went into a fighting retreat, but already Kozja and Daer'dd were mobilising their reserves.

The Rhino's engine roared under her and Ellan slid hastily off as a squad of Iron Bears embarked. Every battalion and every company was on the move.

Once the three forces linked up within the city, they would have just one objective: find the Heretech and bring him to Imperial justice.

-----

Asaev parried a Rustwalker’s attack with his broadsword, rolling his wrist and bringing the blade back around to cleave the cyborg in two. The peculiar alloy held up offered some protection against chainblades and bolts, but yielded to a disruptor field. All around him, the Borgatyrs pushed the killclade back, their finesse against the programed frenzy of the Rustwalkers.

These Skitarii were among the most terrifying creations to emerge from the Forges of Mars. Originally conceived as assassins to hunt down outcasts and deranged servitors in the barren rad-wastes of Mars, they had long since been converted to serve the Machine Cult’s military needs. Armed with transonic weapons, they used the sonic fields to cut straight through whatever armour their foes wore. At the beginning of any battle against these horrors, there was a grace period of a second or two in which their blows would be deflected by metal and ceramite. After that, every attack that struck home would find its way into flesh and bone.

The results were horrific, as skin and muscle were liquefied by the keening blades. Mortal troops would have been reduced to despair by the awful noises alone, and despite his immunity to those effects Asaev was grateful for the way his auto-senses dulled the noise as chainblades and power weapons met the Rustwalkers’.

It was unsurprising that the deranged tyrant of Locria would surround himself with such vicious guardians. Xuvo-Lek, it transpired, had destroyed his opponents through a campaign of terror and atrocities in order to advance his dreadful experiments. That explained the empty cities scattered across the planet's south pole. But now the forces of the Imperium had come to punish him for his heresy.

The nature of the Rustwalkers’ force-dispersing armour put the Bears at something of a disadvantage with their chainblades. So for the most part they blazed away with volkites and las-cannons, using their shields to throw back any foes that got too close. Normally an Iron Bear would trust in his armour and augmentics to endure against a foe, but the transonic weapons posed a risk that even they were unwilling to take. The exceptions were the most skilled and agile of them. Nibaasiniiwi's claws freed him from the limitations of chain weapons, while Yoxer Bellows opted for offence as defence; his sweeping axe blows kept any Rustwalkers well away. Damon Redd, meanwhile, simply seemed to know exactly where to strike, which foe to target. A genius of combat, Asaev thought, even if his methods were alien to the Warbringers.

But even Redd paled next to his Primarch. The idea of anything resisting Daer'dd was laughable; even the most glancing blows he landed saw more of the hunter-machines broken. Some blows by Rustwalkers connected, but no attacker found the frequency that would breach his armour before they were crushed in turn. Those he swung for in earnest became explosions of cogs, metal splinters and what little organic matter they retained. They were so inhuman that it was almost startling to split their skulls and be reminded that these had once been men or women.

Kozja could never equal Daer'dd's physical strength, but his finesse was beyond anyone else on this world. He had felled dozens of Skitarii with his pistols - one plasma, one volkite - in the first minute of the fight. Once the Rustwalkers closed in he had drawn Konvasar. Now he wielded the mace with his volkite, ending every enemy before a single blow could mar his warplate.

The Borgatyrs fought around the Bears' shield wall, dispersing during the battle to fight as individuals. When a lull came their hands went to their pistols and they blasted heads off the next wave of Rustwalkers before hefting their melee weapons again. As ever, Perkenas led by example. Such was his skill and the strength his Cataphracti plate bestowed upon him that he hardly had to parry - he destroyed almost every enemy in his path before they could go on the offensive. There was no defence he couldn't cut past or through with his massive sword.

Step by step, they fought their way into the inner sanctum of the Heretech. There, they discovered just how far the deviant had strayed from the path of the Mechanicus.

-----

Xuvo-Lek's form was in itself a gross perversion of technology and a blasphemous rejection of the human form. He walked on four mechanical limbs, as if in mockery of the mythical Saggitary. Two Skitarii torsos had been grafted onto his, their arms ending in great pincers and weapons of alien origin. Each head had several augmentic eyes mounted on stalks, which locked onto the Primarchs.

“More flesh as a solution to the weaknesses of the flesh.” His voice was harsher than most Magos, staccato speech patterns emphasising the blaring quality it had. “This is confirmation of the fallacies of Mars, that they align themselves with such.” A coiled, fluid blade rippled around him. Asaev felt further jolt as he recognised it. A Razorflail. Xuvo-Lek had coveted even the awful weapons of the Dark Eldar.

He could see more in the hands of the Skitarii who spread out behind their master. These were the most lethal of the Silencers, the specialised Skitarii who Xuvo-Lek had crafted to be his eternally loyal guards, his most dreaded assassins. Rather than use exotic or morbid aesthetics to intimidate opponents, their master had opted for a look that was utterly inhuman. Their faceplates were blank spheres, save for lenses and eye stalks.

Kozja laughed in genuine scorn. “We have destroyed your creations, Xuvo-Lek. I would hardly say that validates your heretic endeavours.”

Caustic yellow flames crackled along the edges of the pincers. “To trust in flesh is to condemn oneself to entropy. Your victories and all the victories of those who align with the fleshed are temporary.”

Daer'dd had heard enough. “Kozja, let's end this.”

Hectarion or Alexandros might have responded with a sly remark. Kozja simply raised his pistols and the hall filled with gunfire.

A dozen combatants fell on either side in the first few seconds. Skitarii helmets burst under volkite fire, even as their razored grapeshot cut through power armour and flesh. One Iron Bear had the lower part of his augmentic arm torn away by an energy blast and threw himself at the culprit, knocking the Skitarius on its back and caving in its armoured chest with the glowing stump.

The Borgatyrs got a few shots off, but almost immediately the battle devolved into a mess of blades, claws and hammers. Asaev parried a howling dagger, his power sword keeping the transonic blade at bay. Another Skitarius slashed at him with a transonic razor and he caught its wrist, forcing the weapon back into his enemy's faceplate. A few seconds, and the metal parted and the shrieking blade tore into the cogitators and what little brain matter remained within.

Asaev turned back to the first Skitarius, but before he could move four copper talons burst from its chest. Achille Nibaasiniiwi ripped his claw free with a bark of laughter and spun away. Asaev glanced after him - the Praetor moved with a speed that was so rare among the Bears. He'd seen that wildness in another Legion, once.

He shook his head and went back to work, taking heads and splitting breastplates with great swings of his sword. The might of the Primarchs and their guards was simply beyond anything their enemies could bring to bear against them. Gradually the Skitarii were worn down, and Daer'dd and Kozja closed with the Heretech. Xuvo-Lek towered over them all, even Daer'dd. The six arms whirled, and the Razorflail whipped across the side of Daer'dd's face. Blood spurted and bone gleamed, so deep had the blade cut. The Bear hardly missed a beat, but his sons roared angrily and volkite fire lashed the monstrous form. The offending limb buckled and tore free under the onslaught and a cheer went up as it fell.

Kozja and Daer'dd renewed their assault, Kozja firing with his volkite as he landed a shattering blow on one of the clawed legs with Konvasar. The limb collapsed, and Xuvo-Lek staggered as Daer'dd drew his axes and chopped through a bundle of fibre-coils. Another arm, tipped with a barbed spear, stabbed down, but Kozja batted it away and blasted the shoulder joint, leaving it hanging limply.

Xuvo-Lek wheeled around, targeting Daer'dd with its remaining weapons. The pincers closed on his tomahawks. Daer'dd looked into the glaring green eyes… and laughed. Letting go of the axes, he lunged and his massive hands closed on the steely torso, claws puncturing the metal. With a bellow of effort and a series of little explosions, he ripped the Heretech free of his murderous throne and cast his ruined form down on the floor. The great mass of forbidden tech and malformed Skitarii collapsed, spasming feebly until Daer'dd and the Terminators stepped in to disable them completely. Some sort of oily liquid seeped across the metal floor. Kozja stepped away from the wreckage, his attention reserved for the defeated enemy.

He grabbed the base of the Heretech's mask, and stared into the glowing lenses. “How long can your systems sustain you?”

Asaev knew that the rogue Fabricator would have excised his own capacity for emotion, but even so he fancied that something like hatred seeped into its voice. “Two hours, one minute and thirty-seven seconds.”

Kozja nodded. “Then I won't waste time with vitae engines, though the Mechanicus might. I hear that Kelbor-Hal himself is anxious to see you.” He looked back to his brother. “I feel it is simply expedient to grant the Mechanicum's request. I trust you have no objection?” he asked, though his tone gave no indication that he would change course in any case.

Daer'dd's face was inscrutable. “He's your prisoner. I don't care how a perverter of humanity's knowledge dies, only that he does.”

Kozja gazed at him coolly for a moment and then strode from the chamber, clicks from his helmet indicating that he was communicating with the Adepts over the vox. Asaev bowed to Daer'dd and nodded to Nibaasiniiwi, before hastening after his master.

Edited by bluntblade, 26 May 2017 - 11:02 PM.


#61
AlphariusOmegon108

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enjoyed your story blunt


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#62
Sigismund229

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The Testimonies of Traitors

Author: Sigismund229

Time: Variable

 

I'm dying. Even if I wasn't as well acquainted with primarch biology as I am I would be able to tell that. I can feel my organs shutting down as my two sets of DNA fight a civil war within my body. A few weeks ago my skin began to take on a yellowish tint, an outward sign that my kidneys have stopped working as they should. Parts of my flesh are beginning to rot as the cells die and decay sets in. My armour and the enhanced biology my father gave me have kept me alive for weeks past the point where a normal human would have died but the symptoms are unmistakeable. Death is coming for me, after all these years. 

To say I'm frightened would be a lie. I have no fear of death like all my brothers. We were bred not to fear its dark embrace. I am regretful as it's only now that I see the true nature of all that I and Izumras have done. We were party to a betrayal of such terrifying magnitude that I can't even imagine the horror of it any more, not in my darkest nightmares. My father had had a dream, a golden dream of the future which I was born to carry through but I, in my arrogance, didn't see that. I believed my own dream to be greater and so I gladly helped Icarion kill the last, best hope of bringing our father's dream to pass. In that same arrogance I didn't see that my father's judgement at the Vizenko Prosecition was an attempt to save me, a lifeline thrown to me to pull me back from the path I'd started on, not the slight of a tyrant lost to superstition as I believed for so long. It's only now, as my body starts to fail me because of my own experiments that I see that. 

I cannot permit myself to allow more harm to come upon my father's Imperium by my means but by the same token I cannot abandon my sons and the Suzerainty I have presided over for so long. So I shall sleep the long sleep as my father does on Terra and the revered fallen do, in stassis. In that long dark I will have plenty of time to consider my mistakes and my failures and ponder ways in which to reverse them, never to be awoken until the sun is setting on the final days of the universe. Until the End Times.

The Testimony of Kozja Darzalas

 

All I ever wanted was a world in which everyone was equal. All my life I saw the weak and innocent trodden on by the powerful, each of whom had the blood of a million innocents upon their hands. Everything I did, I did to protect the innocent and to see justice done against those with the blood of innocents on their hands in the hope that by doing so I could create a world where all were treated as brothers and sisters, equal by rights and means. Every battle I fought I fought for that ideal but every compliance I gave him my father turned the innocent into slaves and rewarded the powerful. 

It took me a long time to realise that nobody else cared about my dream. My father actively spat on it. My brothers laughed or told me they admired my idealism. Humanity viewed me as nothing but a weapon with which to win the galaxy, a crude, killing implement to be disposed of once it has served its purpose. Alexandros and Icarion both called me their equal, Alexandros even claimed shared my dream whilst giving more.power to the powerful and taking away what few privileges the innocent and weak had had. But when it came to shedding blood to take an enemy fortress, it was my Godslayers they sent to die not their own sons. I saw my sons lie face down in the mud of a thousand breaches made in the walls of a thousand fortresses. I had sent them to die for my dream on the orders of brothers who ground my dreams into the dust. 

Perhaps I should thank them, for they have shown me that the only true equality is in death. Never fussy, death's scythe makes no distinction between rich or poor, powerful or weak, innocent or guilty. That lesson at least, my father taught me well with his Imperium. 

With the blessings of Nurgle I can now bring my dream to fruition. Free from the shackles of servitude to Icarion I can now march forth as a bearer of pestilence and suffering and when I am finished, all the galaxy shall be equal. Equal in death.

The bitter reverie of Koschei Kharkovic

 

They are all weak. The Emperor, Alexandros, Icarion, all of them. They all paid lip service to the ideal of doing anything in the service of humanity but then baulked when they had to act on their words. It was always left to me and for that I was branded a bloodthirsty monster. I can’t help but laugh at that, even now. Since when had any of them experienced the inside of a prison where you live shoulder to shoulder with the most vicious killers humanity can breed? You’re either strong and you survive or you’re weak and you die. That is the way of the world, the way it always has been and always will be, no matter what the weak say in an attempt to make their weakness into a virtue.

 

Even the self-proclaimed Emperor was weak. He preached the purity of the human form but then he created the legions and the primarchs. He declared religion to be a flaw that had to be stamped out wherever it was found even as he preached the superiority of the human form and created monsters to win the galaxy for him.

 

Some of my brothers say that we are the epitome of humanity, the embodiment of human perfection. I have no such illusions. We and our sons are monsters, built to kill and conquer, built to cast down wise old rulers and trample civilisations that survived thousands of millennia into dust beneath our boots because they disagree with us. I don’t protest against this. We are strong, they are weak therefore we will triumph. I just call it what it is rather than dressing it up with terms like “illumination”.

 

Then, despite breeding us to kill and violating the purity of our “perfect human form” with the gene-seed the Emperor baulked when we wished to take it a step further, make ourselves stronger so that we can triumph over weaker races. He had all violated our humanity and bred a race of nightmares who he called the Astartes, what difference would one more change to our bodies make if it allowed us to kill more efficiently? Isn’t that what he wanted us for?

 

Yet he refused and in doing so displayed his weakness to all and so I found a new patron, a patron who gives me strength and I will drown the galaxy in the blood of the weak in his name.

The testimony of Raktra Akarro

All my choices were logical and made to bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number. In that I have never failed. The Great Crusade was driven by ideals rather than logical choices, as logic is by far the harder route to follow. If you tell people that they must kill a city, it’s far easier to persuade them using ideals than by showing them it’s logical too. The Emperor fell into this trap. He used ideals rather than logic and so he made several errors of judgement after the other.

 

The first was the Vizenko Prosecution. What we were doing was for the benefit of humanity and he saw that but he was forced to make his choice by the dogs in the council of Terra yapping about ideals and because he had founded the Imperium using ideals he had no choice but to obey them even when logic dictated otherwise.

 

The second was the appointment of Alexandros Darshan von Salim as Warmaster. I admired Alexandros as much as I admired any of my brothers but he was a diplomat and the Great Crusade was a military undertaking. Under his leadership it stalled as he sought diplomatic solutions and rifts opened between the legion’s over disagreements Alexandros was too busy negotiating to resolve. Appointing him was an illogical decision that was leading the Imperium towards civil war no matter what anyone did.

 

So I fought against the Emperor and continued my experiments for the good of all humanity. Now, almost a millennium from when my sons opened fire on the other legions and I have discovered the secrets of the biological and chemical engineering behind mine and my brother’s creation and humanity stands poised on the brink of a new era.

 

The testimony of the Jade General

 

On the world of [redacted] they tell tales of a terrible monster who lives in their jungles. Many tribes say he is the child of the god of death and suffering, others that he is himself the god of death and suffering. Some say he was a lone child, lost by his parents, who crawled into the jungles and became something terrible and monstrous, a thing with sharp fleshing tearing teeth and eyes that are blacker than the darkest night. 

The tribes tell of how they travelled each year to the stone circle built on [redacted]'s north pole to pay worship to their world's twin sons. They gave the suns offerings of beer and gold and the still beating heart of their finest champion. Then they feasted and ate the bounty of the gods for which they had given offerings. It was the sounds of meriment from this feast that first drew the beast to them, for he hated the sounds of joy above all else. 

Having drunk their fill and eaten many dishes, the tribesmen fell into a deep sleep. That night, the monster snuck into their midst and dragged three of them into his lair in the jungle where he devoured their flesh and bones, drinking their blood. So it was the next year and so on the third year a hundred warriors remained alert and awake when all others had gone to sleep. 

When the moon was high in the sky and the dark of night gripped the world, the beast struck again. This time the hundred warriors on guard fought it. It was a human like beast, a feral thing of snapping teeth and black eyes that struck a fear like no other into the hearts of men, a beast who had no fear of fiee and to whom suffering and despair were meat and drink. It fought them, moving inhumanely fast and ripping them limb from limb, killing three of them and dragging their bodies into the jungle like it had their fellows before them. 

For the next decade the mightiest heroes of the tribes swore that they would end the curse of the beast upon the tribes but each one who challenged it was killed and dragged into the jungle never to be seen again. Then the priests turned to their gods for salvation and confronted this deamon. They were slaughtered in a night. 

Finally, the tribes began to offer three sacrifices to the beast each year, exchanging three of their most beautiful young women and three of thr bravest young men each year for it to consume. This endured for many a year until finally the Emperor came to [redacted] and with his coming the curse of the beast was lifted. Life returned to normallity, the priesthood conducted the rituals of the gods and the tribes has bountiful hunts and travelled to the north pole each year to pay tribute to their twin suns. However, they still tell tales of a monster beneath the trees and fear the things which venture out of the jungle at night and are ever vigilant for the beasts return, watching for those black eyes observing them from beneath the jungle canopy.

The Testimony of K'awil Pakal.

 

Through me you pass into the city of woe;

Through me you pass into eternal pain;
Through me among the people lost to aye. 

Justice the founder of my fabric mov'd;
To rear me was the task of power divine;
Supreme wisdom and primeval love

Before things create were none; save things
Eternal and eternal endure
All hope abandon all ye who enter here

In my heart of fear and sorrow 
Darkness resides
Waiting to be banished
By the never coming morrow

Through me you pass into the city of darkness;
Through me you pass into eternal fear;
Through me you walk the streets of darkest woe

Injustice the fabric of my life
Abandoned by powers divine
And forever to sorrow sworn

Before me all things were eternal
Through me all things die
In death the only hope ye find here

My soul of suffering and night
On waters of pain sails
Upon the never flowing tides
Of the river Styx

Through me you pass unto death
Through me comes the final day
Through me dies life's last age

Before me were things created
By me was all hope destroyed
Amidst the dark of never ending night

The testimony of Sorrosworn Morro

 

I have never felt such sorrow as the day I discovered the truth. It was the same truth that countless of my sons had fought and died to conceal and that my father had tried so hard to deny. 

There are no gods. No heaven. No hell. There is only the empirical clarity of the Imperial Truth. This is the "truth" of the universe as my father would have me and my brothers believe. For so long I believed him, for so long I believed in nothing but the Imperial Truth that me and my brothers were tasked with carrying to the most distant colonies of mankind in the furthest reaches of this galaxy. I fought creatures from the darkest depths of the warp and my trust in my father and in the Imperial Truth never wavered. Not until Travier showed me the truth our father had worked to conceal. 

This galaxy does have gods. But no heaven. Only hell. 

My sons fought and died at the Emperor's command in the Ghost Crusade, battling the servants of the gods to keep their existence from coming to light while all the while my father intended to kill me, exterminate my sons and destroy my home as soon as I had no use anymore. 

For nearly two centuries I served my father loyally, never questioning, never looking back, never protesting. For nearly two centuries I led my sons to their deaths in the Emperor's name and in the name of his lie.

I am done serving.

The Testament of Icarion Anasem, the Stormborn. 

 

I once read of a mighty general named Alexandre from the dawn of mankind's empire in the stars. He was a visionary. He took a human army to the far edges of the galaxy. There was nothing left for him to conquer, the world was his. He grew in power and eventually he turned from the gods that had favoured him throughout his conquests, tried to become a god himself. He had his people build monuments to him that were as tall as the sky and entire cities of gold in his honour. The gods withdrew their support. The tides of the warp grew ever more difficult to navigate. His empire splintered and humanity lived in dark times, losing more than it had ever known. 

We stand on the dawn of a new age. Humanity spreads its reach across the stars once more. However, we do so under my father, the Emperor, the new Alexandre. He has declared there are no gods yet he seeks to make himself one. The dead must weep, if the dead weep. I too would weep in their place to see humanity repeating the mistakes of its past. But I would also hope. The wheel of the universe turns. What was, may come again. The gods still spin the web of men's lives. So now, perhaps the gods wish humanity to be great again. 

The wheel has turned so that we now stand at a crossroad. The road my father is taking us down will lead to nothing but a slow decay and the eventuall destruction of humanity. The other road leads to a new golden age of humanity. Icarion has already taken his first steps down the second road. I must guide him along it. But it is a narrow road. One misstep and he will step back onto the road my father walks. I cannot allow that to happen. 

I will not allow that to happen

The testament of Alexos Travier, the First Heretic

 

I have always been better than my brothers. They all know it but none of them will admit it. None of them have ever matched me in two centuries of war except for Icarion and only Pionius ever earnt my respect by stitching my iron jaws to my face and healing me when I was laid low. Some of them hate me for it, of that I have no doubt. The weak lapdogs who yapp at my father's feet are no doubt even now yapping about how I'm unfit to lead my legion. They hate me. I will give them good reason for their hate. When I've crushed their sons and destroyed their homes. 

They believe in our father's vision of the Imperium. I don't. I never have. His motives are no nobler than any other of the thousand tyrants who came before him. He sends us out to conquer the galaxy for him and when we conquer a world makes us put them to sleep with golden promises of a new era of peace and understanding. Then, when they wake, they discover that all they ever has been taken. Stolen. They are slaves to a galaxy spanning beaurocracy and are forced to call it "illumination" rather than what it is. 

The shackles of slavery are beginning to tighten on the legions too. We now have beaurocrats watching our ever move, telling what we can do and we can't do. All because civilians find certain things distasteful. Pah! They've never been on a battlefield or seen the blood from a freshly killed soldier or needed to tear out a man's throat with their teeth. They are simply servants of my father and their job to clamp the shackles shut and enslave the legions once and for all. I will never be a slave.

On my home world I lived as part of a tribe of equals. We were free. We hunted, we travelled where we chose. It was a good life. Then my father came and snatched me away and he began to tell me what I should do, as if I were some kind of servant! He gave me orders and expected me to follow them just because he wore a suit of gold armour and could do a few party tricks. He behaves so high and mighty but I never saw him live under constraints or bleed in the mud and dirt. 

He wants to enslave the legions to his will and make his sons into servants. 

I am no man's servant. I am no man's slave.

The testament of Wilym Jackel 


Edited by Sigismund229, 11 August 2016 - 10:28 AM.

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#63
bluntblade

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Lineage
Author: bluntblade
Legions: the Iron Bears (in the background)
Time: 999 M30
Major characters: Ellan Temeter, Lotara Sarrin

+++++

Ullis Temeter. Ellan ran a finger over the engraving, wondering how miniscule the odds were that she would ever have seen it. She had worked to narrow those odds, of course. She’d driven herself so damn hard, cut out so many things from her life, to tread the same halls as her ancestor.

Even with Nibaasiniiwi's directions - and damn, that made her appreciate the eidetic memory the Astartes were blessed with - it had taken her a good twenty minutes to find the engraving. The Hall of Songs was vast, and thousands of names covered the walls, picked out in copper against the black volcanic stone. Now she crouched down in front of it, lost in thought. A few Legion serfs were at the other end, carving new additions. The main Expeditionary Fleet had been on the move for a full two weeks after the Triumph on Qarith Prime, but other parts of the Legion were fighting elsewhere. The toll of the Great Crusade was almost constant.

It wasn't quite the dream she had nourished all this time; that she might meet the warrior whose voice had always been spoken of with such hushed reverence. The sheer volume of names spoke to the miniscule chance it had always been, and she counted herself fortunate to have made it here. Hell, from Cass and Nibaasiniiwi she had even got first-hand accounts of Ullis and his deeds, diligently transcribing them. The thought of sending, or even bringing them back to her family in Albyon, was enough to make her feel light-headed. How could she begin to describe the last five years to them?

A quiet cough made her head snap up. Turning, she saw a woman leaning against a marble arch. One of Lotara Sarrin’s lieutenants, what was her name… Minerva, that was it. The other woman straightened up, the movement rather more fluid than her usual, rigid manner. “Am I interrupting?” The question too was oddly hesitant, compared to the terse commands and responses which had been almost the only things Ellan had heard from her. Even in private, around Daer'dd, she had been brittle and prickly, as one might expect from someone who served under Sarrin. But here, she was at least trying to relax.

She paused for a few seconds, long enough that Minerva began to shrink back. “Nothing but my own thoughts,” she replied, trying to keep any hint of confusion out of the words. “Care to join me, lieutenant?”

“Please, Minerva will do just fine here.” Her movements still had some of that precise military character as she walked over. If you gave over this much of your life to a role like this, Ellan thought, it must get into your very bones. “So you found your ancestor’s name? Captain Achille told me,” she added. “He was before my time, but his reputation speaks for itself.”

“Yes. It's strange - he was always a sort of legend to my family. Never quite real. To actually see the truth of it - I can't quite put it into words.”

Minerva cocked her head in curiosity as she crouched down next to her. “Does your family have something of a martial tradition, then?” Ellan nodded, and a small smile broke out on Minerva’s face. “I'd guessed so; having a Space Marine for a forefather tends to have a nudge effect. Spurs people to try and prove themselves worthy of such an ancestor.” She gave a small - for some reason “shy” was the word that came to mind - smile. “We've got that in common.”

“No mistake there,” Ellan found herself grinnng. “My father’s been an Army man all his life,” she replied. “Would've been a bureaucrat if my grandfather had his way, but he wanted to do his duty and yes, Ullis was mentioned a lot in those arguments. Caused one hell of a family row and he only spent ten years on the front line, courtesy of my grandfather's influence. He got a prestigious job in the Sol Defence Fleet, but I don't know if he ever really settled into it.”

“How come you didn't follow him?”

“I was going to for a while - and I learned how to shoot, use a sword and the rest of it, but there were bigger footsteps.” She gestured to Ullis’ name. “I figured this way would give me a better chance of finding out what happened to him. Army and Fleet personnel don't get much of a chance to explore, right?”

“Not much,” Minerva conceded. “But I’ve heard good things about your shooting, and I read what you wrote about Laeran. Didn't the thrill of combat appeal?”

Ellan laughed, and stood. “You missed the bit where I called it terrifying, then. I'm better with a pen than I am with a gun anyway, but honestly, I had no idea you read any of our work. I'm flattered.”

Face-to-face, Minerva An’saamo was revealed as a lean woman with the high cheekbones and lightly tanned complexion of Accer Ferris. Ellan found her eyes roving, unbidden, taking in taut limbs and noting the slim sword at her hip.

A curious smile plucked at the corner of Minerva’s mouth. “Honestly, yours was the first I read. Solomon got tired of my grumbling about you lot and browbeat me into it. But it was excellent,” she added quickly. “I’d never realised prose could capture the scope and ferocity of the battles we've waged. I mean, the way you describe Daer'dd in combat gets right to the heart of what makes him so incredible to watch, and-” suddenly she laughed. “And bloody hell, I'm gushing, aren't I?”

Ellan laughed too, hoping it didn't sound too nervous. Reading the lieutenant wasn't easy. “Thanks. By reputation, I expected you to throw any writings of mine straight in the forge fires.”

Minerva looked half amused, half regretful. “Put it partly down to Captain Sarrin’s influence. I - we all pre-judged the Remembrancer order, to be honest. You spend too long at war and doing nothing else, you stop thinking about people who don't live that way.”

“Well, hopefully we've done good in that sense at least, and brought the armies of the Imperium closer to their they're trying to protect.” The captain nodded, but kept quiet. Ellan turned her attention to the engraving again, and Minerva stood, stepping back.

“Say,” Minerva began, one hand retreating to the back of her neck - the rest of her seemed tempted to follow, but she mastered herself. “If you can handle a sword, it’s been some time since I had a proper sparring partner. And I know a practice cage where we won't be interrupted.” Her teeth flashed momentarily. “You know, in case you're worried about everyone watching you lose.”

Ellan grinned, Minerva’s bravado tickling her. “You're on. What time?”

“Let's say 2100 hours.” Minerva was trying to suppress her smile, with limited success. Then a momentary scowl crossed her face as a faint chime sounded at her belt, and she checked the data-slate at her belt. “The Dragon’s calling, I'm afraid. I'll leave you to your thoughts.”

Ellan watched her until she disappeared around the corner. The chamber was back to the tap-tap of the engravers at work - and the growl of armour servos. “Making friends in unlikely places, eh?”

She rose again, smiling as Nibaasiniiwi drew near. His teeth flashed in a grin, partially hidden by his beard. She saw the half-aquila engraved on his augmetic, and again was struck by how strangely invasive it seemed. Irrational, she chided herself, knowing that the people of the Three Fires wouldn't see it as any different to a tattoo, which they were also more accustomed to. Terrans were used to augmetics, but didn't have that Huronian way of seeing them as just another part of a person.

“She's not entirely what I expected.”

“I dare say that every other officer from another ship who cared enough to check the files has thought the same. Her official record’s oddly dull.”

Ellan's eyebrows creased in puzzlement. “Of all the adjectives, dull?”

“It's dry as Martian sand. Care to walk with me?” he asked. “I have my own appointment with a training cage.” He set off at a casual stroll, which meant a brisk stride for Ellan to keep pace. “Like her flag-captain, Minerva’s file will tell you that she's a level-headed commander, responsive to the demands of void warfare, etc.”

Ellan nodded. It'd be a rare - and short-lived - captain on any ship who didn't possess those traits. “So, what's the other side of the truth?”

Nibaasiniiwi smiled again, an expression she was still getting used to seeing on Astartes faces. Good humour came easily to the Bears, far more than most of their cousins. The Scions had been relatively solemn, but from what she'd heard, they were cheerfulness itself compared to the dour Warbringers and the morbid Grave Stalkers. “The best way to answer that question is to see her in action.”

She shot him a look. “We’re heading to some grand parade on a conquered world, so I'm not going to see that for a few months at least. This had better be you setting up for a story.”

Nibaasiniiwi's head tilted in a near-shrug. “Subtlety was never my strong point. We’ll start at the beginning then, shall we?”

+++++

I realise this gives Ellan a rather sad arc in canonverse. Ullis is alive and well but in a Legion that ensures no Remembrancers get near them.

Edited by bluntblade, 13 October 2017 - 10:40 PM.


#64
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Treat It Like A Duel
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Scions Hospitalier, Shepherds of Eden
Time: 10 M31
Major characters: Odyssalas, Hastur Sejanus, Inna Santor, Pionus, Antonidas, Galen

+++++

Just don't take any heads off.

Odyssalas adjusted his doublet a little, and stepped up to his partner, keeping a close eye on the Shepherds. As far as he could deduce from their movements, this dance was a sort of staccato strut. He turned to the training exercises for a point of reference; synchronisation, resisting the urge to preempt. At least here it was easier to read the intent conveyed by their posture and the anticipatory movements of muscles.

Antonidas was having none of it and had parked himself firmly in a seat next to Pionus, so it was left to Galen and Odyssalas to represent their Legion besides the Shepherds and Army officers.

This wasn't too much of a step from the more florid duels he had taken part in, but even as he matched the movements of all those around him, the feeling persisted that he wasn't doing it quite right. More annoyingly, he thought he knew why.

Dancing, an ancient saying claimed, was the vertical expression of a horizontal idea. For a warrior whose mind was utterly free of that idea, this posed something of a handicap, while the mortal officers suffered no such problems. Part of it was that they did not have to negotiate the difference in height and breadth, he considered. The sheer size of his hand on the woman's hip put him dangerously close to committing some sort of indecent act.

Beside him, Galen found himself facing a question he didn't quite know how to answer. “What do you think of my dress?”

“I do not know what I would compare it to, madam.”

His partner mistook his honest reply for a compliment. “My, a warrior, scholar and a gentleman.”

At least Galen knew better than to correct her. “You honour me by saying so, madam.” But Odyssalas caught the slightly worried look in his eyes, and had to stifle a chortle.

Another song began and the dance took on an altogether livelier tone, wheeling and spinning. He could easily imagine Yoxer enjoying this, sweeping his partner off her feet as he gallivanted. For his part, this was really quite demanding, constantly reining in his movements whilst keeping up the pretense of abandon.

He endured until the song ended, thanked his partner as gracefully as he could and went in search of a drink. Just tell me we brought down some of that Ceredigian Ale.

Mercifully they had, and Inna already had a tall glass waiting for him. “Last time I saw you looking that uncomfortable, you were underneath a greenskin. Surely it can't be that bad? I mean,” she gestured, “her teeth aren't remotely tusk-like.”

Odyssalas sipped. “It's not what I was made for. Though as I recall, you had my back that time as well.” Inna had blasted the offending Ork's head open with a volkite. Nearly forty years ago, he realised, and she had aged almost as little as he had since then. He had come to view her almost as an older sibling, a quiet, reflective sister beside the taciturn but supportive Antonidas. To look at her was to see the bounty that Pionus' labours would provide for all humanity. If we can safeguard them. The worries that had dogged them of late were never far from his thoughts. He wondered whether his words to Nibaasiniiwi would be enough to start the conversation that was so desperately needed.

“At least you made the effort. The First Captain wouldn't even partake in the opening dance.” Odyssalas was shaken out of his reverie and looked up with a smile as Hastur Sejanus took a seat. The Captain-General of the Shepherds tilted his head just a fraction to where Pionus and Antonidas sat, deep in conversation with the Fabricator-Consul. “I always thought it strange that you and your mentor should end up so different.”

Odyssalas smiled tolerantly. Sejanus had served with Antonidas on several occasions and over as many decades, so there was no malice in his words. He shrugged and replied “Antonidas picked me for what he thought I could do, not my attitudes. And, if anything, I think he likes having men in the Déka who will disagree with him.”

“As any right-thinking leader should. Although I gather he's not happy that you won the argument over the remembrancers.”

Inna laughed. “Mytakis was the real force in that debate. Antonidas gave in once we promised to keep the remembrancers away from him, and after that the rest were unfussed as long as no one disrupted their routines.”

“Do they interrupt yours?” Sejanus asked.

Inna nibbled pensively on a skewer of meat and peppers before replying. “Being the primarch’s sister means I get pestered to a degree. On the other hand, it's well known that Pionus doesn't care for remembrancers, so only a few actually have the nerve to seek me out.”

“And what happens to those brave souls?” A mischievous smile crept across Sejanus' face. “Never seen again? If I venture down into the labs on Hell's Heart, am I going to find some rogue specimens?” Odyssalas chuckled, and earned himself a kick under the table.

“Actually,” Inna primly retorted, “I appreciate having some civilian company. Dear as Metis here and his brothers are to me, it can be refreshing to spend time with people who were not raised for war. It's also amusing to watch a Space Marine squirm for the first time in his life. Poor Diokles,” she chuckled.

Sejanus raised an eyebrow, chortling softly. Strangely so for a Cthonian; their laughter was usually harsh and grating. “An awkward question was too much for Diokles, eh?”

“The remembrancer was inordinately persistent, it seems,” Odyssalas replied over his glass. “Do your lads get on well with them?”

“It varies. Mostly they're welcoming, but that only stretches so far. Particularly where painters are concerned - Khârn's been sending his subordinates to sit on his behalf.”

Odyssalas snorted. “He never was the most patient man. Well, that explains why I haven't seen a single depiction of him with his helmet off. But enough about the remembrancers. How are the Godslayers, Hastur?”

“Frustrated, it seems. Half the talk in the lodges seemed to be of the Council of Terra - mortal scriveners and all that - and the rest seemed to be of the Warmaster's absence.”

“You take a more relaxed view, then?”

Sejanus' expression suggested as much. “Lord Alexandros is ensuring that the Eaxactors don't undo our work, and I haven't heard of any problems that the other Primarchs haven't been able to solve. Not that that will stop the debates over whether Alexandros was the right choice.”

Odyssalas sighed. “Warmaster is the title, not supreme commander. It's really a political role, more than anything else. I just wish more people would understand that. Besides, the Emperor's great works can't occupy Him forever.”

Sejanus raised his eyes to the ceiling. “True, but we have no timeframe for that. I had hoped the Hands of Terra arrangement would go some way towards calming the worries that we've been removed from the running of the Imperium.” A rueful smile crossed his face. “Instead, we just get more complaints that he's spending too much time on politics and away from the front. I trust you've heard about The Drowned?”

Inna was the first to ask. “What about them?”

“They refused to send a representative. I don't know if they've given a reason, but it doesn't set a healthy precedent.”

A musical prelude rippled through the air, and Sejanus stood, shaking off his subdued manner. “But enough introspection and worrying for now. They call this one a waltz; I think you'll like it.” He extended a hand to Inna. “My lady, if I might have the pleasure?”


Edited by bluntblade, 05 December 2016 - 03:25 AM.

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The Lone Wolf's Burden
Legions: Crimson Lions, Iron Bears
Time: 1 M30 (during the Great Games)
Major characters: Ellan Temeter, Ancient Ærrion, Nibaasiniiwi

+++++

The trepidation she had felt before interviewing Pyrruk of the Shepherds was nothing to what she felt now, pacing outside the Lions' Hall of Ceremonies. She tried to distract herself with the grandeur of the hall, lined with statues looming beneath its arches. A hero for each of the Clans. Here was Prasutagus of Garda, resplendent in sombre onyx, gazing warily out from behind his shield. To his left was a brazen warrior of Senonos carved from colourful sandstone. Evidently this Ogmir had been the epitome of his Clan's cavalier ways; his likeness looked ready to spring into life in the muted light.

Whether they stared down in silent judgement or roared a challenge to unseen foes, they served to remind any warrior who entered the chamber beyond of the honour that was theirs to uphold, and the fearsome weight of the Legion's history.

She certainly felt the latter, and as she read the dates of each warrior's ascension and death, she realised that the individual behind those great doors would have seen every one of these heroes come and go. Her apprehension must have been easy to read, for Nibaasiniiwi gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. The effect was somewhat undone by the hard metal digits of his fingers, but she appreciated it all the same.

She felt more than heard the single word. “Enter.” Nibaasiniiwi smiled encouragingly, and pulled one of the doors open.

Ærrion had an intimidating presence even by the standards of the revered fallen. His Contemptor sarcophagus was festooned with iconography that harked back to the beginnings of his Legion; the days when they had been not Lions but Blood Wolves. Indeed, most prominent was a bronze wolf head snarling from the “prow” of the great shell. A silver tree snaked around the left leg, a symbol from Nordyk myth, and two Ravens of Jurfik sat above his “helm”. Yet there was no mistaking him for the counsellor that some ancients became. Not with the silver-coated skulls that hung from his carapace, both human and alien.

Most fearsome of all were the claws at the ends of his arms. Each bore a stylised wolf’s head on the back of the hand, with fangs as long as her arms serving as the claws themselves. They were monstrous, serrated things, and she could easily imagine them sinking into flesh before pulling back, ripping apart whatever creature had the misfortune to face Ærrion.

She could stand easily enough in the presence of Daer'dd these days, but the ancient’s simmering anger was in some ways harder to shrug off.

Nibaasiniiwi's knee clicked on the stone floor. Ellan quickly knelt as well. “Revered ancient,” Nibaasiniiwi spoke low and quiet.

“Rise,” came the reply, almost too deep for Ellan to easily understand. She stood hesitantly, watching Nibaasiniiwi for a cue. Ærrion's next words swept that crutch away. “Captain, leave us.” Nibaasiniiwi dipped his head and withdrew.

Now Ærrion turned his attention to Ellan. “I take it that you wish to hear of my deeds? Leave them to the lesser scribes, those worthy only to praise the righteous and not understand them. Nibaasiniiwi assures me that your worth is greater, and as such I have something else to impart to you.”

“What would that be, Ersa Laoch?” She hoped she’d remembered the title properly.

“There is a matter we must address first. The blood of a Lion runs in you and Bears speak highly of you, but I require a further guarantee. An oath if you will, though I lack the means to write the vow. Nonetheless you must pledge not to publish the account of our conversation nor any works that allude to the matters I will speak of - until my confirmed demise. You understand what I ask of you?”

“Yes.”

“And do you consent?”

She hesitated, considering that her own life could easily end before his. “Yes.”

The vast bulk shifted slightly, signalling approval she supposed.

“We will speak not of glories and undying valour. Such is merely half the tale of an Ersa Laoch. Perhaps less, as far as I am concerned.” There was silence where a living man might have sighed. “As a child of Albyon, you will have heard the tale of the tyrant Sonaminos?”

“I have.” It had been a ghoulish favourite of her elder brother. Sonaminos of the Bloodkin, the story held, had been a monstrous sorcerer who had led his family to seize control of Albyon. A wanderer known as the Cunning Man had defeated him and turned his own powers upon him. He had been imprisoned, changed into a statue on a mountainside overlooking his broken fortress. There he had been cursed to watch as the land thrived, free of him, until he crumbled into nothingness. What comparison did Ærrion mean to draw?

“Think upon the tyrant regarding his old fortress. The place he called home, eroded by forces that are beyond his power to influence. That, after a fashion, is my burden.” She waited again, afraid to interrupt him. Sure enough the rumbling voice began again, as if the ancient had been lost in thought. “As you may have inferred from the markings of this peculiar tomb, in life I was not a Crimson Lion but a Blood Wolf. I do not say this to besmirch the Legion as it is now; they are worthy successors to the old III. Many of us, including your ancestor, made the change easily. Indeed, Ullis became as fine a Lion as I ever saw, and I rue his loss to this day.

“But for me, already interred as I am now, the gap was too great to cross. My true brothers are gone, and I cannot follow. I glimpse them, in every battle I fight. Drust, Cinnaed, even Ullis… for a moment I think I might raise blades with them again. But then I look to see them properly, and they are lost like smoke in the winds. For they are on their final, greatest adventure, and I am left here.”

“Why then,” she began hesitantly, before forcing some steel into her voice. Nervousness would cut little ice with this fearsome old warrior, she suspected. “Then way do you spend so much time out of stasis? It's widely spoken of among the Bears.”

A thrumming… growl, she supposed, emanated from the ancient's vox-caster. She forced herself not to step back, reminded herself that she’d faced the Bear without flinching, damn it. She had a duty to future generations to learn all she could. The people of the Imperium ought to know what trials their defenders had to contend with. The rumble ended, hopefully signalling irritation with the Bears rather than her in particular.

Then Ærrion spoke again, his voice taking on a strange quality despite the voxcaster. “Because I am not most ancients. I have not the temperament nor the wisdom to serve as a counsellor.” Ellan was reminded of the Vth Legion's mighty Brother Ezekyle who, even in his half-life, remained a Terminator captain rather than the usual venerable ancient. But something about Ærrion's condition seemed to go deeper. “And there is another reason, one I have not dared to speak of before.” Ellan's discomfort was only fuelled by his inexpressive, static form. Such an outpouring of humanity sat awkwardly beside such a strange form. “I know not whether it affects me alone and what it stems from. I find myself… reluctant to speak of it to another Astartes.”

She bowed her head. “I would be honoured, if you considered me worthy to hear it.” Again a nervous wait, and she wondered if he was still pondering it. Then at last he spoke.

“You have heard of the way in which our memories of past lives recede after ascension?” She nodded, thinking back to her conversation with Pyrruk. “I cannot put names to the faces that haunt my sleep in the vault, but I know they belong to those that I myself left behind. I see them, as alive as you, but know them to be long dead.”

Ellan was mute and, to her surprise, found herself fighting back tears. With an effort, she kept her composure as he intoned, “This is my existence. Haunted by those I left along with my mortal life and stranded in a Legion where I do not belong. So I chase my lost brothers on the battlefield and seek a foe mighty enough to end me. I must find an honourable end, one that will at last see me rejoin the mighty company of the Blood Wolves. That is all I will say, save to thank you for listening.”

Beyond the gate, Nibaasiniiwi was waiting discreetly at the far end of the passage. “Quite singular, isn't he? Anything you can repeat?”

“I could,” she replied, “but you'd have to kill him first.”

He looked at her, waiting for her to laugh or raise an eyebrow. He waited in vain, and eventually looked away, a low whistle escaping his mouth. “The Emperor, beloved by all, teaches us to overcome our ignorance. But then he never had to worry about going through Ærrion.”

Edited by bluntblade, 27 August 2016 - 09:55 AM.

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#66
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A Question of Damned Honour
Legions: Scions Hospitalier, Warbringers
Time: the Vizenko Prosecution
Major characters: Odyssalas, Antonidas, Pionus, Perkenas

+++++

Antonidas wasted no time once they were in their chambers. “I'll accept the challenge. Easily done.”

Bepheros shook his head. “Antonidas, you're many things, but a duellist isn't one of them. The Warbringers might look askance at us should you step into the ring against Perkenas.”

Antonidas' eyes flashed. “This is what you get when you make your Legion ethos all about prestige,” he snapped. “Times like this I really appreciate the Halcyon Wardens - they get heavily involved in politics and all that, but you don't see them losing their own heads up their ar-”

“That will do.” Pionus sat, his expression troubled. “The Warbringers are what they are and to fulminate against their nature is to waste time and energy. We are committed to this duel, and we can't be seen to not give it our all. At the same time, we must not allow them to find further insults in our actions. Bepheros, given your experience with the Warbringers, would you not consider yourself the best man to answer Perkenas' challenge?”

“For the sake of the Legion's honour, I think it best not to.” Bepheros spoke lightly, but there was a tinge of regret. “Perkenas bested me in both our bouts, and I was never one of our finest swordsman in any case.” Rising from his seat, he went and poured himself a glass of water. “We want someone who is a relatively unknown quantity to Perkenas, but who he'll recognise as a duellist.” He turned and gestured to Odyssalas. “Everyone underestimates a Second Captain, after all.”

-----

They wasted little time after that. Sergeant Patroclus went to accept on Odyssalas' behalf while he was helped into his armour. Just this once, he went without his helmet. With everything so delicate, he had no desire to cause unnecessary offence.

Then he made his way down the corridors and into the amphitheatre. Perkenas waited at the centre with a Custodian, who would adjudicate for them. As he drew Ladon, Odyssalas noted that the Warbringer’s broadsword had been unsheathed from the start. It was a subtle but unmistakable sign of aggression, and Odyssalas felt a twinge of regret again at their cousins’ easily wounded pride. Step away from those thoughts now. They will shackle you if you permit them. This is now, you have your Legion's honour to uphold. He hangs on to his anger. Lose your shackles, and use his against him.

The dance began. Every second, he read his opponent's posture for signs of old injuries, as much as an Astartes could be marked by them, clues of vulnerabilities he could exploit. These were few, especially given the massive Tartaros armour. He kept his movements minimal, sliding or even leaning away from attacks whenever possible and using Ladon for deflecting moves when it wasn't. His attacks were rapid, probing stabs, nothing that would allow the blades to lock. Perkenas' greater strength and heavier weapon would tell against him if he allowed the Warbringer to dictate the terms. In any case, the less he was seen the work, the angrier Perkenas would become.

In the back of his mind, this was an interesting fight. The Warbringers didn't thrive on anger as the Jackals or Lions did. Dignified finesse was their stock in trade. Perkenas struggled to keep his composure, and while his blows were a fraction harder to predict, he was also putting more force into each stroke than was necessary. His movements were exaggerated by his bulky armour, so his intent was easy to deduce.

Odyssalas had one other advantage. By insisting on duelem extremis, Perkenas had pitted himself against a foe with a weapon he didn't fully understand. The principle of a waveblade and its grav-field was well-known, but a truly experienced wielder could go beyond simply adding the full weight to his attacks. Odyssalas lightened the weapon for rapid parries, let the heft do his work for him in keeping the blade moving. If you knew the blade as well as he had come to under Pionus’ tutelage, you could make it move in ways that made little sense to the uninitiated.

That strangeness was an ally to him. As the duel continued, he watched the Warbringer's temper deteriorate. Perkenas was evidently not used to opponents he couldn't outmatch for finesse or batter into submission. Eventually Perkenas came at him with a particularly vigorous swing. Odyssalas feigned a parry, only to slip to the side, pivot and jab Ladon into the back of his knee. He sprang back as the sword whipped down, but Perkenas was too late and cursed as blood seeped down his white greave.

Odyssalas paid no heed to the crowd, bowing to first the Emperor, then Perkenas, then stepping forward to shake hands with his opponent. Perkenas took his wrist with a rough, jerking motion, then turned on his heel and limped away to the apothecaries who stood at the arena's edge. Odyssalas paused for a moment, watching him and regretting that the fight had ever happened. None of his brothers showed any real elation either. Antonidas wore a look of cold satisfaction, and Odyssalas inclined his head, acknowledging his mentor's approval, but no one shouted praise or slapped him on the shoulders as they had during the Games on Terra. Ladon was whisked out of his hands and taken away to be cleaned.

Pionus' expression was even graver than before, as they watched Raktra make his way to the centre of the amphitheatre. They had played the bad hand dealt to them as best they could, but the fight had served only to cement the Warbringers’ perception of Pionus' remarks. No matter which way the verdict went, they would be seen as having impugned their cousins' honour. Casting his eyes around, Odyssalas noted the icy looks emanating from the Warriors of Peace and the Drowned. No matter what else happens here, we've lost allies.

He tried to put such thoughts from his mind, as the White Devil began to speak.
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Circumvallation
Legion: Fire Keepers, Eagle Warriors
Time: 984 M31
Major characters: Maximus Fyrstr, Iztralli, Tarkus Savoy, Niklaas

+++++

Gazing out over the plains around the enemy fortress, Maximus Fyrstr reflected with satisfaction that no one but the Fire Keepers could have pulled this off. The other side of the great ring of siege weapons and bunkers was silhouetted against a thin, yellowy sunset, their shadows reaching out to the fortress. Circumvallation was a truly ancient method, but the old ways had their uses and Niklaas believed that if the despot who occupied the fortress could be defeated, the enemy resistance would crumble.

Every servant of the Emperor on this world looked forward to that day, and the downfall of this degenerate regime. It reminded Fyrstr of what he had read about the techno-barbarians who had ruled Terra before Unity, though their armies were like a twisted reflection of the old Thunder Warriors. The heavily polluted worlds around Ghassulia had suffered a high incidence of mutation, turning to the scientists of Ghassulia to halt their degradation.

Rather than use their scientific knowledge to ease the turmoil, however, the Ghassulians had looked at the mutants and seen weapons. They enslaved, bred and augmented the beastmen, creating loyal and staggeringly violent soldiers. More perversely still, they seemed to delight in modelling them on grotesque mythical creatures from Ancient Terran cultures.

The Crimson Lions of Clan Atrebetos, who first came across the Ghassulian Empire, had swiftly deduced that these were enemies for whom only the might of the Space Marines would suffice. A combined fleet of Eagle Warriors and Fire Keepers were the first to come to their aid, but it was only with the arrival of Niklaas and the bulk of his Legion that they had really been able to advance.

Some voices had called for wholesale eradication, deeming the Ghassulians utterly corrupt. Chief Jehu and Itzcoatl, who led the Eagle Warriors here, had been the loudest advocates. Niklaas had been wary of such hasty action, however, reasoning that such monsters were likely the weapons of tyrants. As the war progressed, this hunch had been proven correct as they learned of Adjudicator Lercconis, the gene-wright and warlord who held sway over this Empire. Niklaas had resolved to take the fight straight to the tyrant, driving him back and pinning him down in his fortress.

-----

Simply establishing the siege against the monstrous enemy soldiers had taken an enormous amount of force and coordination. Tanks and jetbikes had led the way, followed by Titans and Cybernetica cohorts intended mainly to ward off enemy aircraft. Fyrstr had to admit that the Eagle Warriors had been especially useful in this endeavour. Advance posts had been smashed aside by their armoured divisions and their warriors had successfully forced bridgeheads for the Fire Keepers to secure. Enemy bombers had taken to the skies, but the Imperials held them off with their fighter craft while anti-air guns were dropped by bulk landers and rapidly assembled.

Once this was done, there was little the enemy air force could do to prevent them from entrenching. Pre-fab fortifications and machine-dug trenches followed, and by day's end the Imperials had built a great ring of plasteel and ceramite, a hundred metres thick and twenty kilometres across, around their objective.

The Ghassulian armies kept attacking, and they were monstrous foes with feral cunning, directed by the cruel intelligence of their masters, but they could not break the lines of the two combined Legions. The Fire Keepers stood firm against the onslaught and the Eagle Warriors punished every failed attack with lightning counterstrikes. Time and again the abhumans were splintered and thrown back by the Astartes, and before long the invaders were as busy clearing mutant corpses from their fields of fire as they were fighting. The entrenchments grew deeper and the artillery began saturation bombing on the fortress itself as the siege dragged on and winter set in.

The regular bombardments and frigid temperatures did bring some complications, given the amount of work required to maintain the fortifications and siege weaponry. The pace of the campaign also meant frustration for some of their cousins and even a few Fire Keepers. The assault companies felt it most of all, and were sent off on the patrols to which the Eagle Warriors too were swiftly assigned. These were to ensure that no enemy got close to the siege lines without their knowledge, and if possible to pursue and destroy any force they encountered.

-----

Several remembrancers had joined the convoys recently. This had caused some angry mutterings, but Fyrstr was quietly pleased about it. He found them as irritating as anyone, but his duties kept him within the fortifications and more remembrancers out there meant fewer of them were here to pester him. Not to mention there was less of the racket that ensued when you put mortals in a confined space for months on end. Once the novelty of the siege wore off, they had reverted to type. After that, no one with an Astartes' enhanced hearing was ever free from the sounds of arguing, singing, idle chatter and the other ways in which mortals passed the time. Fyrstr didn't have much interest in the organic, especially when the organic pestered him with picters.

No, what really interested him stood about half a kilometre away, resplendent in red and dark iron against the thin snow. A cohort of the Legio Cybernetica. Just a decade into his service, Fyrstr had watched a Praevian of the Godslayers command a maniple of Castellan robots against the Ngymite, sowing destruction among the xenos and reducing their palaces to dust. On that blood-slicked mountainside, he had found the dream that he sought to realise even now; the dream that had seen him make the transition to Mars to study under the Adepts of the Mechanicus.

The honour that came with commanding the automata was magnified by their role within the undisputed siege masters of the Imperium; the Mechanicus assets were front-and-centre of so many of the Fire Keepers’ campaigns. How many gates might be breached, how many walls torn down by the will of Praevian Maximus Fyrstr? He tried to keep such sentiments in his head, but he knew that many of his brothers picked up on his ambitions anyway.

Well, we all have our pride. The rest all dream of Chiefdom. In comparison my desires are quite modest.

Clockwork steps clacked on the rockcrete. Down below, Ock-Tav 34 was doing his rounds, checking the gun-servitors to ensure they were still functioning properly. In the cold and wet conditions there was always some danger of infection, and servitors lacked the capacity to anticipate or respond to it.

Even twelve weeks into the siege, Fyrstr was still slightly bothered by just how precise the Adept's routine was. He had privately timed him several times and the start of Ock-Tav 34’s inspection never varied by even the barest chrono-slice. There was none of the urge he had observed, in even the most fastidious of the unaugmented, to introduce some measure of variation into their lives. The Mechanicus seemed to have liberated themselves from boredom, he mused, but in doing so had they cut excitement out of their minds as well? Despite the years of his apprenticeship on Mars, the priesthood remained deeply strange to him.

He didn't bother to watch the priest as he became aware of tank engines rumbling nearby, drawing closer. This meant possible maintenance work, and certainly some news from his brothers. With a blink-rune, he ordered a file of repair servitors to assemble at his destination.

He marched briskly through the trenches, lit by the same harsh lights that now snapped on around both sides of the great ring to illuminate the perimeters, Army soldiers stepping smartly out of his way as he proceeded to the outer walls. Good regiments; Jaggedpanzor mechanised cavalry and the Greatstriders of Umbra, wrapped in furs against the cold. One Ogryn was rather less quick on the uptake, and Fyrstr had to clear his throat noisily before the brute moved. Still, not worth getting angry; the abhuman could hardly be blamed for its stunted mind.

-----

Down into a tunnel, then up into and out of a gatehouse to where Procyn Crist waited with some of his breachers. Crist gave him a cordial nod, before stepping forward to greet the captains of the convoy which was starting to disgorge its troops. Takar of the Eagle Warriors had already stepped smoothly from his jetbike, and made the sign of the Aquila as Crist and Fyrstr approached. Slightly unnecessary, as like all his Legion, he already bore the symbol upon his chestplate. But then they had come perilously close to losing that honour and much more besides, so their insistence on decorum was understandable.

Cyrus Lott of the 55th Tactical swaggered down the embarkation ramp of his Rhino, helmet grasped loosely in one hand. “You haven't grown too fat in my absence then, Procyn?” he called. Everything about Lott spoke of the impatience which made him difficult company during a prolonged siege; sending him away regularly was good for all concerned. “Techmarine,” he added in a grunt, jerking his head in a rough nod towards Fyrstr. “No combat damage, but 238-H has a fault with one of its storm bolters. Reloading issue, maybe. I'll leave it to you and your menials.”

Crist’s exasperation was easy to read, even with his helmet on. “If you're quite done being rude to the man who keeps your vehicle running, it's rather hard to get fat in this cold. A cold that you're spared having to stand around in, courtesy of Brother Fyrstr.” Fyrstr himself had now begun his preliminary inspection of the gun in question, ocular sensors whirring softly as they skipped through the expanded spectrum they made visible to him. No external damage. Lott, for all his boorishness, might be right.

He thanked Crist with a blink-rune. The two captains had been aspirants together and had a mostly amicable rivalry. Partly for this reason, Crist was about the only one willing and able willing to take Lott to task for the way he treated the Legion's Techmarines. Fyrstr’s desire to become a Praevian dictated that he would have to cultivate a more thorough understanding of tactics than most Techmarines possessed, and while like most of them he belonged to the Merarite Guild, he had also spent a great deal of time fighting beside and learning from Crist.

He didn't pay attention to the rest of the exchange, but replied when Crist shouted a farewell. He was one of the few who would readily associate with a Techmarine; most saw them as little better than the cultists of Mars, only a step away from heresy in the sight of the atheistic Imperium. Frustratingly, many also bought into the perception that anyone who took up the red of Mars shed his interest in all but the mechanical.

He stepped back to gaze for a time at the mountains that rose to the east, greyish blue to match the clouds in the weak winter sunlight that turned the snow and thinner clouds pale yellow. A pleasing sight, though it couldn't match the terrible beauty of Obsailes. Bare rock was never seen on the unyielding slopes of the Gulai, and every ridge was murderously jagged. Still, this vista had its merits, and he would take it any time over Barbarus and its poison-wreathed peaks, to say nothing of the abominations they had fought. In all his years, the blasphemy of the alien witches was the foulest thing he had witnessed in all his years of war. This enemy came close to matching them, however.

-----

A four-eyed skull, with a mouth full of jagged tusks and molars, leered at Fyrstr as he ran a final check on the now repaired storm bolter. Satisfyingly, Lott had been wrong; the problem had lain with the firing mechanism. He studied the skull from afar, recognising it as one of the furred dzu-teh. They were massive abhumans, larger than an Astartes and used as line-breakers. Surprising that it had remained untouched; presumably it was from the latest of the defenders’ attempts to break the siege. That had marked Fyrstr’s only taste of melee combat during the last four weeks.

He strode over, leaving his servitors to finish the checks on the other vehicles. Ten minutes to get them back in the warm or there'd be frostbite to reckon with, and the tech-priest’s displeasure as a consequence. His servo-arm reached down and scooped up the skull, which turned out to have a large hole where a bolt had pierced the base of the cranium. He felt anger and sorrow at how it had come to this fate. Had its masters used their gifts correctly, this might have been a man, free and strong, who could have joined the mighty endeavour of the Great Crusade. Instead, it had been condemned to a life of animal violence, and died for a doomed master.

Many would be surprised at such sentiments from a Techmarine, which confounded and irritated Fyrstr. Training under the Magos didn't necessarily mean you ceased to care about horrors inflicted upon the flesh, and in any case his disgust was entirely logical. This was precisely what the Emperor - “beloved by all” he breathed - had taught them to abhor and fight against. Taking one last sweep to ensure the task was complete, he signalled to the servitors and strode back through the gate, still grasping the skull.

“A curious memento for the mechanically inclined warrior to take,” came a voice to his right. Fyrstr turned to see an Eagle Warrior leaning against the wall. A Techmarine, no less.
“I didn't waive my humanity on Mars,” he retorted, the fingers of his free hand drumming on the pommel of his sword as he tried to discern the other marine's intent. “The same beliefs I carried there drive me now. I can still abhor this,” he growled, holding up the malformed skull.

The Eagle Warrior nodded and removed his helmet in a gesture of openness. “Apologies, cousin. My curiosity got in the way of politeness.” He stepped forward and extended a hand. Beneath the helmet, his face was light brown and defined by a prominent, hooked nose. A ridge of coarse black hair ran down the centre of his otherwise shorn scalp, and small jade spikes protruded from his lower lip. “Iztrallii of Seventh Company.”

“Takar's?” Fyrstr took his wrist in the warrior's grip. “Fyrstr, of the Molten Tide.”

“I'm aware. I actually came here to say I admire your work. The madness on Kynsha - they say you were carrying out repairs under constant bombardment for what, seven, eight hours straight?”

“Eight, but there was a lull at one point. I'm flattered all the same; most wouldn't consider maintenance work to be admirable no matter where you do it.”

Iztralli rolled his eyes. “You're telling me. I understand why, but it still grates. I mean, we don't even get the luxury of taking cover much of the time.” He tapped his right boot against his left shin, an augmentic. "Had the original shot off while I was trying to salvage a nuncio vox, back on Yumis. Still, the tech won't sort itself out."

“On which note,” Fyrstr said as he turned to head for the battlements. “I have some unglamorous work to attend to on the inner gunlines. Care to make it less tedious?”

-----

“I'm already tired of artillery maintenance,” Iztralli growled as he tended to the Quad Mortar's roller gears. “Rhino's and Vindicators, that's my meat and maize. Though I guess this is yours?”

It was strange to carry on a conversation whilst not using your own eyes. Right now, Fyrstr saw through the vid-capter mounted on one of his servo-limbs, scrutinising the loading mechanisms and replacing fractured springs. Apparently this altered sight eventually became normal, but most of the men who'd told him that were about to start their third century. “Doesn't mean I’m all that fond of it.” He switched back to the eyes he’d been born with, fighting back the wave of nausea that came with the change.

“You’ve got dreams then?” chuckled Iztralli, still at work with his Fyceline Torch. “Was easy for me, all I wanted was to be part of the charges and not forget how to use my chainsword.” The weapon in question was one of the Eagle Warriors’ signature macahuit blades, rather at odds with the power weapons prized by the Fire Keepers. The forges of Obsailes produced distinctive, angular blades. Fyrstr’s own was a diamond-headed broadsword, designed to thrust over an enemy's guard in the melee.

“Not a bad dream, as they go.”

“And yours?”

Fyrstr rested his elbows on the rampart, gazing out towards the automata, silent ranks waiting for their orders. Beyond them, he could see the flashes of artillery on the far side of the ring and, still further off, points of light on the mountains, signs of the coming dawn. “With luck, it's not too far off. We've got a fresh cohort of Castellax on their way, in search of a Techmarine with a good grounding in siege gunnery.”

Iztralli looked up from his work. “Praevian Fyrstr, eh? A noble calling, though I have to admit, the idea doesn't really get my heart racing. Then again you Fire Keepers kick down doors for a living, so I see why you'd pursue it.”

Booted feet drummed on metal steps, curtailing the conversation as Sergeant Zebulan emerged. “Sir? Captain Crist wishes you to know that Captain Tarkus has called a muster. All officers and Techmarines are to report to Redoubt 23-Upsilon.”

“Thank you. Please inform the captain I will attend in ten minutes. Did he give a reason for the muster?” The question was only asked out of politeness; he could easily guess the reason.

“Enemy movement, sir. We will be under attack in seven hours.”

-----

Even among the veterans of the Great Crusade, Great Captain Tarkus Savoy stood out. He had been plucked from a nomadic mercenary band in Franc, before the barbarian state was conquered by the Emperor. Rumour held that he had seen his first battles in the mists of Cambrai, and had even witnessed the sacrifice of the last Thunder Warriors at Urartu.

Unlike his Obsailan comrades he was clean shaven, revealing a brutal, scarred countenance. Two heavy broadswords, with broad heads reminiscent of axe blades, sat either side of his hip. An unusual choice of weaponry for a Breacher, the brutal cutting edges nonetheless seemed fitting for Savoy. He had gained a moniker from the blood he spilled with them; Tarkus the Black.

“An estimated 380,000 enemy troops coming from the southeast,” he stated, looking up from the holo charts. “Not an immediate concern for our units and in any case, they are mostly travelling above ground. Niklaas is confident that they can be decimated with precise lance strikes at key locations, and bombers and gunships can mop up after that.”

The Host’s officers were gathered in the bunker which served as a strategium. Fyrstr and the other Techmarines were present to, as in these situations their expertise was of vital import to formations and overall strategy.

“The real cause for concern is a force using the tunnels beneath the range to the west. From that we can infer that they're widely dispersed and lack much in the way of artillery, but are believed to number up to 450,000 troops and many of those will be heavy infantry.”

“Are we to go out and meet them?” Lott enquired, drawing disapproving glances from his fellow officers. A Fire Keeper was not expected to preempt his superior’s judgement.

Savoy did not acknowledge the question initially. “The Eagle Warriors will move out. Some will flank the enemy,” he said, and green lines appeared, flowing out over the plain, “while others will come around to encircle them and pin them against our lines. We-” and now his glowering eyes came to rest on Lott “-will stay put, and hold the line against the attackers on both sides. But you should know this; if we take the brunt of the attack, we will get to witness our Primarch at work.”

-----

The enemy advance had been audible for the best part of three hours now. The sounds of wheels and tracks on rock and snow, animal roars and the screaming engines of Imperial bombers doing their best to disrupt or halt the advance. They had killed thousands of the enemy in the southeast and halted many more by destroying mountain passes. If the initial assessments were correct, only two thirds of the projected 380,000 would make it onto the plain.

As Savoy had predicted though, the 450,000-strong force encroaching on their position had been protected by the subterranean paths, and now that host came into view. Their transports were brutish things, showing none of the pride that the Mechanicus took in the Imperium's war machines. Fyrstr found their lumpen, artless forms strange to look at. No true Machine Spirit animated the Ghassulians’ technology, and sure enough their weapons were inferior.

Then again, Lercconis hadn't built his empire with steel alone. Even as the long-range artillery opened up, the transports disgorged their monstrous passengers. From the other direction, the Astartes heard the noise of vast gates opening as the defenders sallied forth.

The newcomers were two kilometres away, but they crossed the terrain with remarkable speed as their artillery began to pelt the circumvallation with shells.

“Five hundred metres!” barked Sergeant Bannus. The enemy had reached the great slope that led up to the trenches. Behind the walls, shouted orders rang out and Imperial artillery boomed. Holes immediately appeared in the enemy horde as explosions of dirt, snow and body parts bloomed.

Satisfied with his final round of checks, Fyrstr shouldered his gun.Around him Crist's men, the 55th Tactical, formed up toting rotor cannons and volkite calivers.

“Four hundred metres!” Fyrstr took one last glance at his gun. He had every confidence in his knowledge, but knew better than to take his wargear for granted. His was a combi-weapon, a bolter with a melta gun bound to it.

“Three hundred!” Guns were shouldered, targets picked out. Army units in the trenches opened fire. The Fire Keepers awaited their orders.

“Two fifty!” Bannus shouted.

Crist followed it with a roar. “Fire!” The Astartes opened up with a murderous volley, and metal and flesh were ripped apart as bolts found their targets.

Fyrstr split his concentration between shooting and directing the gunnery servitors. He couldn't control them with mere thoughts as a Praevian could automata, but blink runes sufficed. He snarled triumphantly as a pack of dzu-teh vanished under a volley of incendiary shells. The first ranks of the monsters became a mess of shredded meat and armour, and their surging pace was suddenly slowed, but they kept coming.

“Two hundred!” Fyrstr set the servitors to fire deeper into the mass of enemies, autocannon and las-fire corralling them together and artillery crashing down on any knots he could pin down.

“One hundred! Melta range!” Which was just as well; bolters were close to running dry. Those with meltas to hand switched to those while others reloaded. To a Fire Keeper it was simply more satisfying to burn these monsters, and triumphant shouts rang out, quickly drowned by the agony of the beastmen as their armour melted and the very marrow in their bones boiled. Craniums exploded under the searing rays of the meltas.

The same cacophony broke came from the lines facing the fortress, with the addition of blaring war horns as the Warhound Titans of Legio Tonarum moved in to hold off the attackers. He had no worries about their ability to hold out; Tonarum were one of the fiercest Titan Legions in the Emperor's service, tempered by a brutal, nomadic existence.

For half a minute the attack was halted. But the sheer weight of the enemy could not be contained by even this onslaught. They were almost like Astartes in their tenacity.

No. Fyrstr glowered at his own blasphemy. This is bestial rage and programmed loyalty, exploited by callous masters. We would never fight in such a way. Yes, the enemy were advancing, and the sound of gunfire from the other side of the siege lines meant the force from the citadel were close. A few dozen made it to the trenches or even leapt over and up to the wall, and had to be brought down by point-blank gunfire or melee weapons. A feline mutant with a mouth full of sabre fangs made the leap and slashed at Fyrstr. He batted the claw away with his gun and seized its head with his servo-arm. Then he squeezed, relishing the crack of bone, before dropping the limp corpse to sprawl in the snow. Flamers erupted from the trenches, mortal troops falling back as Assault Marines and Breachers readied themselves to meet the horde.

But for all the frenzy, the enemy's advantage was an illusion. Over the hills came the Eagle Warriors, striking the flanks to conceal their surge to the attackers’ rear.

Through the din, Fyrstr perceived shouts and running feet which were not a part of the battle on either side. Even as he continued to fire outwards, he permitted himself a moment to glance behind him through his servo-limb’s oculus lens. He caught only glimpses, but they were enough to elevate his pulse. Glimmering silver trim on the armour and scale mail tunics and shrouds. Banners depicting a sceptre, wrapped in the coils of a great sea serpent. Tribe Nerius. And that meant...

The ranks of the breachers below parted to allow the Triakonta through. They wore ornate Terminator armour, and bore massive axes and swords. They were the most formidable melee fighters the Legion possessed, the toughness of their Corinthian warplate unsurpassed by that worn by any other Astartes. Behind them stood the Maveshalak, elite Devastators armed with heavy weapons that would have looked quite at home on tanks. They were the pride of the Fire Keepers, and yet they were reduced to insignificance by the warrior who now came forth.

His armour was sparsely decorated, but somehow more beautiful for it; all flowing curves set against sharp angles. A massive obsidian warhammer, spiked at one end and bearing jagged teeth at the other, was hauled into position. Niklaas, the Steel Prince, roared his challenge to the oncoming horde.

“Ash and dust!”

The enemy had been stalled before. Now they were thrown back, reeling under the fire of the Maveshalak and the blows of Niklaas and his retinue. No foe that the Steel Prince struck with the Redeemer rose again. There was no blow he couldn't roll with, that his armour could not withstand. And yet there was more to his presence than merely wading into the fight. Where Daer'dd or Hectarion might have charged deeper into the fray, Niklaas was rigidly controlled, anchoring the counter-attack.

Runes flashed across Fyrstr’s HUD, the sigil of the Primarch himself among them. Orders, firing solutions. Even as he wrestled with the mutants, Niklaas had taken over directing the bombardment, disrupting the enemy formations and closing to deal with them one isolated knot at a time. The intellect required for such mastery was beyond imagining. Assault marines pitched into the fray, picking of isolated groups of mutants. The human infantry were left alone for the most part - their own fear would be enough to undo them. For Niklaas had set the trap in motion like an inexorable engine of cogs and crushing gears, and there would be no escape.

On the ramparts, fresh orders were barked out. Smoothly, Savoy’s company disengaged and handed over to a brigade of Greatstriders. Then, reloading their guns as they went, they marched swiftly through the trenches towards the nearest vehicle bays facing towards the fortress.

Quite abruptly, the Imperial artillery on the side of the ring stopped, and Fyrstr’s eyes were drawn upwards as a shadow fell across him. Then half a dozen vast metal cylinders, descending on pillars of fire, slammed into the plain beyond the wall with enough force to shake the ground itself. As the Astartes hurried along Fyrstr only caught glimpses of their sides falling away and the enormous machines striding out into the battle, but there was no mistaking Warlord Titans. Lord Burl himself had taken the field to lead Tonarum against the Ghassulians.

-----

“The second phase of the plan will overlap with the first.” Tarkus steepled his fingers. “Artillery will be used to herd the enemy infantry as close to the Titans as possible. Their proximity should afford Tonarum some respite. We will need armoured units to advance quickly in order to safeguard the Titans and quickly secure the foothold they create. Assault Marines and Breachers as usual, backed up with Devastator support. Tsalmaveth squads will slip in under the cover of this attack, and give Stormwall units their way into the fortress.”

-----

Now this phase began, as Savoy's company moved out in Rhinos, Predators and other variants, the convoy following in the wake of the Titans. Through his Predator's oculus Fyrstr could see the division of Eagle Warriors transports accompanying them, Iztralli aboard one of them. Every warrior was buoyed by the prospect of decisive victory and the feeling of moving again. Best of all, using the vehicle's mechanical senses, Fyrstr could gaze up at the Titans. From here he could see four of the six Reavers and a couple of Warhounds hammering any tanks that might attempt to attack their larger brethren, the two Warlords.

These behemoths were geared almost solely towards demolishing walls like the ones before them, and over time the Warlords had been fashioned into Nemesis-class variants, augmented by Niklaas’ technological genius. Lercconis would soon come to rue the brilliant mind he had sought to defy as quake and volcano cannons tore chunks out of his fortress.

Niklaas had opted to march the Titans right through the defenders’ ranks, banking on the unwillingness of their commanders to risk further losses to their infantry and armour. In doing so he had effectively called their bluff. By the time they accepted that tanks and field artillery were insufficient to bring these giants down, the Warlords were in range. After that, they were all but powerless to prevent a breach.

Aircraft wheeled over their heads, Imperial fighters and the Titans’ shields working to frustrate the efforts of the Ghassulian bombers. As the tanks and the smaller Titans scattered the Army before them the Warlords stripped the huge walls of their guns before turning their fire on the gates. To the credit of their builders, the gates held for the several minutes it took the Imperials to reach them, but that was nothing more than a delay. Lord Burl was not about to let a mere gate stand in his way. The Flagellum Deiis stepped up, struck a single blow with its power ram, and the Fire Keepers poured into the fortress.

-----

Lercconis and the men who had ruled before him had built great open spaces for displays of military power. A fitting punishment of their vanity then, that these parade squares now allowed the Fire Keepers to bring so many of their war machines into the city. In the van were the Vindicators, while the formation was anchored by Savoy's Mastodon, the Hand of Stone. The other tanks rumbled along just ahead of the behemoth, sweeping enemy soldiers from atop the walls with their turrets as they forced a path down a long parade avenue that led to Lercconis’ palace.

Infrared sensors alerted Fyrstr to the approaching tanks before they emerged from the smoke, and the avenue filled with fire. Through the racket he barely heard the announcement of enemy infantry approaching down a side alley to their right, and Savoy's breachers spilling out to block them. The two sides met with a crunch, the beastmen recoiling from the Fire Keepers’ onslaught.

But the defenders hadn't run out of low cunning yet. Sections of wall blew out behind the line of breachers and another horde of dzu-teh flung themselves at the backs of the Astartes. There were dozens of them, and the kill-zone was completed by gunmen who appeared on the roofs. Fyrstr caught a glimpse of Savoy, wheeling and cleaving any mutant within reach. Then he too was stolen from sight.

The vox was a mess of conflicting shouts.

“To the Captain! We have to aid him!” Lott shouted.

“Hold, damnit!” snapped Fyrstr, with enough conviction that even Lott shut up. “I have a better idea. Lott, you kill the bastards up there. Hand of Stone, block the tanks ahead of us. Vindicators swing right. Everyone else, back up and disembark!”

He barked coordinates to the two Vindicators as he swung the Predator's melta-cannon into place, using the infrared sensors to gauge Savoy's position while the driver directed it towards the mound of debris. Doing his best to keep the machine spirit at ease, he urged the tank forward even as two Demolisher shells whipped through the air to gouge chunks out of the walls, sending debris cascading onto either side of the force swarming around Tarkus’ men. “On, on,” he growled as the Razorback reached the pile of rubble and carried on up, Astartes leaping from the Rhinos to scramble up in its wake or soar overhead with jump-packs to engage the enemy troops above.

Cresting the heap, he trained the cannon and the sponson-mounted heavy bolters on the thickest knots of remaining monsters. His ruse had worked, and he laughed in delight as he saw that Tarkus' company had not only emerged unscathed as he had predicted, but had quickly seized the initiative while their enemies floundered. A few mutants had survived this side of Savoy's force, but those that the Great Captain and his warriors didn't slay fell quickly to the guns of the 55th Tactical and Eagle Warriors. More mutants emerged over the far slope, only to be pulverised by the hail of fire both from the tank and the Astartes. The survivors fell back as the Astartes regrouped, jeering at their thwarted enemies.

Someone hammered on the hatch of Fyrstr’s Predator, and he hastily disengaged from the vehicle's auspex as it opened to reveal Savoy. True to his moniker, his armour was darkened by the blood of his foes. “My thanks for the assistance, Techmarine. We’ll form up again and move out, infantry behind the vehicles. For the rest of this attack I want you directing the tanks. Understood?”

“Aye, Captain!” Fyrstr had to work hard to conceal his elation.

“Good man.” Savoy slammed the hatch shut behind him. The company reformed, Astartes in or dispersed around the tanks, and pressed on.

-----

When the Master of the Forge found him, he and Iztralli were busy at work in a repurposed hangar, inspecting vambraces recovered from fallen brothers. Just as their gene-seed was collected to be implanted in new aspirants, so too was their armour retrieved wherever possible. However, after a battle of this scale that meant those Techmarines who could be spared from repair work were busy taking an inventory of the recovered components. Damaged pieces were to be allocated for either repair or disassembly and melting down to be recycled into fresh suits.

They did not speak of promotion or the opportunities for advancement that had now opened. Such talk would be crassly disrespectful while they tended to the raiment of the dead. Instead the measured words were reserved for sober reflection upon the undertaking that had brought them to this spot, and the evil their comrades had given their lives to defeat. Still, Fyrstr fancied he heard some cause for optimism that didn't just stem from the downfall of Lercconis.

In a coincidence that would move a lesser mind to superstition, he watched a maniple of Castellans lumber past, and hoped that his smile went unnoticed. If not now, then one day soon if I persevere. That I may bring down more strongholds of tyranny and aberrance such as this, for humanity and the Emperor.

Edited by bluntblade, 13 November 2016 - 05:16 AM.


#68
Apothecary Meros

Apothecary Meros

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In the Arms of the Valkyries
Author: Apothecary Meros
Legion: Crimson Lions
Time: An undisclosed period during the Great Crusade
4352 words (20,916 characters)


“The cool wind in the atmosphere, the lush grass around your feet, the sun kissed hilltops on the horizon and even the cool depths of this sanctum; we call Tarsis.” The speaker begins, raising his arms and letting his fur cloak trail in his wake while stepping down a marble staircase at the front of the platform. His pointed shoes met the carpet of grass that grew in a ring around his square pavilion. Stone stretched from the edge up to the walls of the large granite dome, with light pouring from a drop-pod sized hole nearly a hundred metres above: the vent of the volcano that was active here many thousands of years prior to Tarsis’ ownership by the Eldar. “Our land has come under siege by savage mon’keigh, who seek to destroy us and our culture for nothing more than their own ego and self-satisfaction.” His wrinkled face contorts in a sorrow expression. “We must defend it to our last breath. Rise, my sons, harness the wrath of Khaine!” He raises an azure blade in the air and it ripples with psychic lightning.

To punctuate his speech, the light on the grass intensifies with a golden sheen licking at each emerald blade. A distant roar grows ever louder as seconds pass by. His audience looks up at the light. On closer inspection, some begin to run. Others shiver where they stand and squirm with fright. The sound takes on the quality of a dragon’s snarl ripping through the air. The golden light breathes a blinding orange flare through the dormant vent that climaxes in a ripple of impact knocking the psyker and his audience down onto their backs. Like a meteorite slamming down from the heavens it leaves a smoking crater where his pearl white platform used to stand. Grinding metal followed by a brisk slam and dust kicking up over the psyker’s fur cloak signalled the opening of one of the first of five adamantine petals around the hull of the vehicle. The others open up in quick succession, revealing a squad of ten armour clad humanoids. The sigil of a roaring lion on a bronze background fills the space on their left shoulders while a deep crimson paints the rest of their large, bulky suits.

“S-sir knight. Please…” He sobs, as the closest giant stomps slowly toward him.

“Farseer Indryll? The Emperor of mankind sends his regards.” It growls, pointing a blocky yellow and mithril pistol between his horrified eyes, before everlasting darkness envelops Indryll’s once bright world.

One single shedding of viscera is all that needs to be seen to usher forth the next field of war for a legion long starved of it. One bolt is all that is needed to seal the fate of whoever blocks the Lion’s path. Xenos are a stain on the Imperium. For a beacon of such majesty and hope it cannot afford to let stains go uncleansed.

“Target down. Squad, rally on me.” A humoured growl escapes once the vox link goes quiet and the air quickly fills with the inferno of battle. “Everyone not in power armour is hostile. I want to be knee deep in gore in less than two minutes, so you’d better get cracking!”

No more than a second later, the vox chimes again, and a suit of crimson ceramite glares with emotionless cyan lenses. “Don’t hostiles shoot back? Personally, I’d call these terrified civilians, Kahoier.”

“Do you have a problem with my orders, Stoyäk?” He snarls, firing wildly into the dispersing crowd.

Somewhat impertinently, a response hails through the Kahioer’s helmet’s vox. “Of course not, I’m just correcting you, Mekallios.” He was filled with the same manner-of-fact attitude that the Kahoier had seen from his brother in arms since their first combat mission. He acknowledged this fact himself with an amused snigger.

Mekallios barked in laughter, feeling his jubilation reborn while great swathes of fleeing Eldar were gunned down before his eyes by the bolter fastened in his grip. The collection of Astartes warriors at his flanks began to advance on his order down one of four corridors that lead away from the semi-spherical courtyard area. They locked in tight formation, a wall of armour plate to sweep away whole families of the xenos. They made the stone floor so damp with blood it was akin to looking in a mirror.

Finding themselves in a moment of near silence as the few survivors escaped out of effective range, save the bones of the living wounded crunching under the Trodaiar’s advance, an unsettling mood seeped in and whirled around the air. Something spoke in a soft, umber tone that gnawed away in the backs of their skulls: until the wailing of captured Eldar, with serrated blades cut across the neck, echoed around and swept the shrouded voice away. Their vital fluids painted the pearl dressed wraithbone columns holding up the cave ceiling a much more eccentric pattern, which Mekallios and his brusque subordinate paused for a moment to admire.

“A fine piece indeed. Reminds me of the Monus Lisarius in the Terran galleries.” His broad grin peaks midway through the sentence.

A marine from the advancing line turned his head and nodded. “My pleasure, Ka-“ the word trailed into a wet gargle caused by the molecule thin slice cut through his gorget, punctuated by several more shots puncturing his chest and abdomen. The fusillade coming to an end, the marine’s peppered carcass splashed onto the ground, adding his own unique shade of crimson to the lake around him. Others in the barricade took glances on their bulky shoulder pads, but were not disabled in the same way the unfortunate artist found himself in.

“Bastards!” The squad snaps to attention, those closest to the walls taking cover behind the looming wraithbone arch holding up the dizzyingly tall ceiling while the violent chorus played in the background. The others withdraw their chainswords and chainaxes and throw themselves into a melee.

“You see, these are hostiles.”

“Not for long they’re not. Get a grenade down there and advance.” Snapped a brisk reply. “Or else I’ll stick a melta bomb on your chestplate and tell you to hug them.”

The resultant explosion called the Lions forth to continue to carve their blood stained road through the Eldar construct. Thus far the environment was unusual in many ways, as noted first by Kahoier Mekallios and his vanguard, such as the Eldar’s choice to live underground and a lack of Aspect Shrines. Further investigation by legion serfs and the ‘clean-up crews’ of the Crimson Lions would unveil the fact that the realm of Indryll Krone had been isolated from the contact of any other Eldar civilisation since the Eye of Terra shook their species into disarray and near extinction. It was evident that they hadn’t descended into savage barbarianism; judging from (what was left of) the architectural design of their structures and its similarity to other maiden worlds. The Shuriken weapons recovered afterwards were in line with the most up to date Index available, as well as the small array of War Walkers deployed and promptly destroyed by Heavy Support units. Such trivia wasn’t of Mekallios’ concern at the time, when he lopped a sapphire shaded mesh armoured soldier’s head from her pale skinned shoulders with a fluid swing of his Power Sword.

“They’re like children!” One of his more thirsty warriors roars. “Even Stoyäk could stand a chance against them in a melee.”

“Some of them are children.” The more cautious voice of Stoyäk lingering behind Mekallios replies quietly, while peppering the defenders with more one handed bolter shots and the occasional swipe of his blade. The highest concentration of Eldar warriors shielded a group of civilians on a makeshift barricade made by a fallen column which, as much as Mekallios hated to admit, was proving difficult to dislodge.

“I don’t think they particularly care” another squad member calls, looking upward while he and the squad storm onward to meet a squad of jump-pack bearing Getae landing in the centre of the barricade, cracking the stone underneath, and barging headlong into the fray; “and neither do I, Stoyäk.”

The Getae, bloodthirsty and rebellious by nature, had deployed outside and had fought their way in through another entrance. As it happened it was luck that brought them down the same path as this squad. Swiftly, their assault cleared the way.

Stoyäk grunted, hanging his bolter around its strap reaching around his shoulder. The intricately detailed skin belonged to a Stone Lion, the primary predator of his home planet of Mycenae that he had slain with a combat knife during the Blooding – the final test for an aspirant to grow into a fully-fledged Crimson Lion – in a scabbard of the same pelt. The squad jogged alongside while the eager Getae bounded away in search of more bloodshed.

“Good work squad. Apart from Kessorat who dropped his chainsword.” Chuckles broke out on the vox. “We should face harder resistance as we make our exit, which means Stoyäk should hide and wait ‘till the loud noises stop.” The Trodaiar nodded to the order with another smattering of laughs before they picked up the pace, bristling as anger boiled within them. “The Getae shall make the first strike, and we mop up.”

“Janitor duty is normally left to servitors as far as I’m aware.” Stoyäk countered.

“You’ll become a servitor soon if you keep that up, I can assure you of that, brother.” He exhaled, taking position at the front of the squad, “unless your sarcastic comments can win wars.”

“I have yet to test that theory.”

Distant bolter discharge caught the collective attention of the squad, and they unanimously advanced to the source. The more steps they took the more instruments joined the symphony. Chainswords, Shurikens, and guttural vocals spoke in unison, communicating with the grind of adamantium teeth and the ending of life as the sound of wet thuds on the ground. “Sounds like someone is having fun without us.”

Mekallios turns his head briefly. “Let’s crash their little party.”

Despite Stoyäk’s outward appearance, he was as likely to feast his urges in a thick melee as any other Lion. This came as a result of his geneseed, and the geneseed of all sons of Mycenae that caused increased physical strength even by standards of an Astartes. His blood was up; he felt it flow with intensifying speed through his arteries and veins. The warmth encouraged him to speed up, and not to give the shrewd knife-ears an opportunity to flee. Mekallios had no reason to stop him. The sooner he was fighting the less time he’d spend talking. Turning a corner, their blood caked armour suits glistened with natural light. They’d arrived in a domed chamber, an exact copy of where Indryll had spoken and where squad Mekallios had cut his valiant speech short.

“By the blood of Mycenae…” He trails off, craning his neck skyward. The surviving members of his squad followed suit and braced themselves.

“Not a bad size for an Eldar, eh?”

They pause as the lumbering yet graceful behemoth anchors its feet into the ground and pulls up its arms, both ending with long barrelled and volatile cannons.

“Almost as large as Stoyäk’s ego.”

They would have laughed given the chance, but war would not stop and wait for them. The Getae squad that had helped them previously dove from the skies into a fierce hand to hand fight with a cluster of Eldar fighters at the feet of the looming construct. Their apparent last-stand position was at least a glimmer of hope, though very much overshadowed by the Wraithknight glaring down at Mekallios.

“Squad Rhal just coming in for a look around.” He paused, and looked up. “What in the Emperor’s name is that?” Just the same as the first dome chamber, this room had four entrances. Kahoier Rhal and seven of his squad emerged opposite Mekallios, barely visible through the Knight’s legs and the rippling ocean of the Getae’s combat.

“Aim for its legs, let the Getae sort out the Guardians.” Mekallios yells into his vox, reaching Rhal and the Kahoier of two other squads emerging from the remaining tunnels. Thankfully, one of these was Kahoier Malconus’ Heavy Support Team. His Lascannons set themselves up in a wide arc, each marine’s weapon then lightning up in an ethereal turquoise light and pelting white hot beams into the knight’s leg plates. All other units aimed upwards toward the centre, peppering the sleek Wraithknight with hundreds of bolter rounds in barely a second. Save for the deep gouges and blackened armour caused by the Heavy Support’s superior weaponry, the hail of gunfire sought only to invite the construct into battle.

Starcannons mounted on the Knight’s shoulders swivelled to either side, shearing through ceramite and adamantine composite armour like a Meltagun. The Wraithcannons affixed to each arm made swift work of any marine with the misfortune to be on the other side of the barrel, as well as the surrounding environment blown asunder into a dusty crater where they used to stand. The melee at its feet was going the opposite way: now joined by another squad of jump infantry at the heels of Malconus’ advance the Eldar warriors and their noble yet feeble resistance struggled to hold against the crimson tide.

Then Mekallios noted something was wrong.

Not the deaths of many of his fellows as a result of the Wraith. Death was a certainty of war, and not a thing he would stop to consider. A despondent alternation within a fellow warrior’s spirit was worth stopping for. A dark steel blade tore free from its lion pelt scabbard and left the material hanging lifeless. An ornate bolter strap split and fell away in rags when the weapon was tore from its resting position. Stoyäk ripped away his helmet and subsequently shredded the black carapace around his neck in the process. He, glared at Mekallios with hungry eyes surrounded by a maze of red tattooed pictograms, and froth flooded over his open lips and rained on his power armour. In his mind the patch of sunlight in the ceiling glowed like an incandescent halo that gripped him and propelled his body forward. A red tint painted the landscape but the sounds of the battle faded and the feral war cries came back as inviting laughter and clinking tankards. He, now it for all intents and purposes, charged headlong to the source of the feasting under the supervision of shadowy guardians forever at the corners of his eyes. Like a freak on a leash, none of the glances on his armour or ear-splitting detonations at his feet dragged him off course. Guided too for reasons only the insane could justify, Mekallios rushed in with his power sword and followed. The five left in his squad had little reason not to follow. Neither did anyone else in that room have a reason not to free their minds from the shackles of reason, and embrace the calling of the blood.

Seeing the game change to a violent brawl, the Wraithknight stomped its right foot into the ground, clearing an area where Space Marine and Eldar alike were once fighting and now scattered like leaves in the wake of a storm. A battle like this would be best suited for a Wraithknight of a different loadout. Firing its guns now would only take more Eldar life than it had a hope of saving.

Was this even about saving lives anymore? They were huddled together and surrounded like Grox on the day of the cull. The Eldar were few and becoming fewer by the second. Not too dissimilar to how their entire race was faring at this point. The Knight could try and save the Eldar lives but for how long? Mon’keigh reinforcements wouldn’t be far away. They could fit a Contemptor through these corridors. They were so wide that (maybe with some strategic demolition to clear obstructions – mainly corpse piles at this point) a Fellblade could fit down there. That wouldn’t be much fun…

“Hey, why don’t we get a Fellblade down here? That would be fun!”

Stoyäk merely growled a reply, returning to his feet after being knocked down by the seismic tremors from the Knight. The Eldritch blood running down his armour and dripping from his fingertips gave the impression of his armour melting, the cruor pooling in a thick sludge around his feet. Whether the other Guardians thought this too, or if they were just terrified at the sight of a chainsword armed giant who had just cloven its way through their allies, was of little importance when they soon found themselves in a pile on the floor and missing a majority of their limbs.

Somehow surviving despite the intestines hanging out of his pelvis, one knife-ear stroked a messy hand over Mekallios’ greave. The sergeant put a bolt through its skull as easily and instinctively as one would find the act of breathing. It wasn’t a mercy killing; given the option the Kahoier would have enjoyed eviscerating the remnants of its torso with his sword. He had to be swift though, or else Stoyäk would be lost amidst the carnage without a chance of saving himself from the gene curse that had plagued the Crimson Lions since their inception.

“Slow down you mental bastard!” His responsibilities as squad leader rested heavily in his arms like his sword, although only one of them was currently embedded in some unfortunate sod’s spine at that current moment. Stoyäk on the other hand was relinquished of all responsibility for collateral damage, and was thoroughly enjoying the experience. There was one thing not bleeding in the room. That fact troubled him greatly. It was blasphemous to think that he’d left even one thing alive. Even with his eyes glazed with insanity and blurred by the primal cravings circulating through his conscience and blocking his moral sensibility, he could see the white and blue scheme of the Wraithknight and the blanket of shadow it made against the ceiling light. He had clambered his way up many mountains in his time. The arid climate and harsh winds could shear his skin away if exposed for too long, and the petrifying cold always spelled ill for his vulnerable extremities. The environmental dangers were replaced now with the threat of a shuriken severing his spine, or the seemingly omnipotent Wraithknight simply shaking him off and crushing him under its heel. Both were unfortunately fatal consequences, but as many Trodaiar exposed to brothers under the gene-curse’s powerful hold would soon come to realise that their afflicted brethren truly knew no fear.

The Kahoier’s eyes widened. “You can’t be serious…” while Stoyäk dug his blades deep into the foot of the construct like ice picks and began to determinedly climb up. Sighing, and muttering various curses under his breath, Mekallios discarded his empty bolter on the floor and made a running leap into the other leg, poised to insert his power sword through the side and continue his ever more elaborate pursuit. (The bolter had been empty for some time already. He’d bashed so many bodies in with the stock that he’d need a Techpriest to fix it back into shape. Even then, he’d be hard pressed to remove the pungent aroma of Xenos viscera that had gouged itself into the mechanism like glue. The younger Astartes had made it to the knee when the pilot caught wind of what was happening, and tried to pluck him off with a sweep of its hand. Stoyäk’s chainsword dislodged and he was left to hang by his combat knife. Mekallios reached a parallel position, and in what he considered to be a vain attempt to get its attention he plunged an adamantium thorn into the beast’s side.

Torn between two targets slowly making their way upward, and the sea of other hostiles at its feet, it was needless to say that the pilot of the Wraithknight wasn’t especially confident about how the next few minutes would turn out for him. With the defeat of the Eldar defenders below him though brought the freedom to kick and swipe anywhere he liked.

Stoyäk was ungrateful for the aid it would seem, and stormed ahead without as much as a glance. Mekallios continued and remained near enough level with his comrade throughout. Getae marines flared up their jump packs to join them like hornets, their chain blades slashing into the armour. These attacks were as harmful to the Knight as a real hornet’s sting – viewed as nothing more than a mild inconvenience. If lascannons were having difficulty punching though then a chainsword would need to be far luckier. By now of course, with so many friendly units attacking the Knight in unison, Malconus and his Heavy Support unit had ceased fire. There was more ceramite in view than wraithbone at this point.

The Wraithknight swatted at its body, as if trying to extinguish an invisible blaze engulfing it. One of the Getae had managed to get their hands on a flamer and made a show of sending a gout of golden fire into its face.

“Stoyäk!”

The two marines met on either shoulder, grappling onto the Starcannons to avoid falling off – not without stabbing them a few times to deactivate them first of course.

“His blood will be mine to spill.” He spits, in a daemonic sounding fusion of a hiss and a snarl. Tossing the now blunt and broken combat knife away, he sets his cerulean blue eyes on the face mask of the Knight. Before Mekallios had a chance to recover from its violent swaying Stoyäk was upon its head and beating the cockpit with his bare fists. The armoured glass began to splinter, sending black shards scattering around the gorget upon which the marine stood. Using his power sword to keep himself upright, Mekallios came to Stoyäk’s flank as the cockpit fractured and rained millions of tiny black jewels in all directions.

He reached inward with raw fingertips, keen on tearing the pilot’s jaws apart and hoisting the ragged body from atop the Knight like a trophy.

“Savages!”

A slender, pearlescent dagger slides through the crystal mist and pierces through Stoyäk’s throat. All motion from that point on slowed considerably for Mekallios, as a thin slither of crimson drips down the length of the knife and washes over the pilot’s hand like a river joining the ocean shade of his body armour. The Eldar’s pale face is drenched in a panicked sweat that trickles through strands of russet shaded hair to rest on the blue mesh plates on his shoulders. His eyes blinked rapidly and he hid his face from the sun with his arm the best he could. Having barely woken up from the trance-like state that an Eldar Wraithknight pilot is held in to use the construct, it was understandable that he wasn’t in the best physical state.

Without hesitation, he removed the knife with a wet squelch and opened up a wide slash across the marine’s neck. A spout of red fluid burst amidst disorientated gargles. Mekallios caught the other marine in his arms and pressed a firm hand over the rapidly bleeding cut. “I bet you’re wishing you’d listened to my orders now.”

A savage smile crossed Stoyäk’s bleached skin, before pushing the Kahoier’s arms away and falling from atop the knight.

Without a moment to gather himself, Mekallios was faced with an Eldar pointing a short blade caked with the blood of his friend in his direction. “We were perfectly fine here, we weren’t a threat to you.”

He slowly looked up, the brewing fury coursing around his circulatory organs. He prepared a retort, but noticed the pilot shy away from him. Instead of blurting out Imperial propaganda or the repetitive dogma of a Firrinoimeadai Sagartaith he stood in silence, resting his baleful stare on the Eldar.

He seemed to think it was some kind of standoff, and began to circle around. Mekallios went along with it, moving to his left and into the open maw of the cockpit while his impromptu sparring partner stepped gingerly around the crest of its torso. “You didn’t need to come here, no you could have just-”

A Remembrancer might have put the climax of this tale in such a way as to idolize Mekallios, and to seal his deed as one of heroism that would forever be remembered as the act that secured Tarsis for the Imperium. There’s no doubt that climbing up the Knight was a courageous spectacle, but the true ending is a lot less glamorous.

“You dropped something.” Mekallios grunted suddenly. The pilot snapped his eyes downward, buying the diversion completely, at which point the Kahoier punched him in the teeth and sent him reeling backwards. Terror and bewilderment manifested as a mortified yell that slowly faded into the distance. The knife escaped his thin hand and clattered near Mekallios’ left foot, as the cobalt figure slipped away from view. A muffled crack and the cheer of the Astartes was enough to convince him that his assailant had been successfully broken by the fall.

Exhaling, the torn and scarred crimson body flumped down in the slightly undersized seat within the Wraithknight’s cockpit. He glanced around at the various runes and ran his fingertips along the intricate details on each glossy black surface. The atmosphere shattered with the interruption of an impatient sounding Heavy Support trooper.

“No, tell Malconus to bugger off. I want to keep it.” Mekallios put his feet up and leant back, closing his eyes and smirking to himself while shuffling deeper in his seat to find a more comfortable spot. “No wonder Stoyäk wanted to get here so fast.” He allows himself a flash of humour before a heavy handed dose of regret and melancholy seep into his bloodstream. “May he rest in the arms of the Valkyries, forevermore.”

Edited by Apothecary Meros, 10 September 2016 - 06:25 PM.

  • MikhalLeNoir likes this

Remembrancer for the Brotherhood of the Lost project: http://www.bolterand...od-of-the-lost/

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Viva la Cofradía!


#69
bluntblade

bluntblade

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The Jackals and Their Prey

Legions: Stygian Jackals, Lightning Bearers

Time: 999, M30

Major characters: Ulten Tuskan, Pengan Bunyir, Susanoo Empyon

 

+++++

 

Uten Tuskan’s voice hissed over the vox. “Go quiet and fast.”

Pengan Bunyir raised his bolter, the rest of his pack doing the same as the Astartes spread out, vanishing into the smoke. While the Lightning Bearers advanced in groups of fifty, individual packs of the XVIIIth peeled off down smaller corridors. Some even cut their way into the ventilation and filtration systems, crawling into the largest pipes.

The Qarith ship was the crux of the defences over Qarith Prime, its destruction the key to breaking the planet open. It was also a hive for the xenos, and their bizarre processes of enhancement and mutation used all manner of chemicals in huge quantities. The same architecture and apparatus had been observed on smaller ships and Qarith cities, but here it was rendered on an altogether grander scale. The biggest pipes here were large enough to accommodate even an Astartes in power armour.

Tuskan took a larger force, facing the enemy head-on. The First Captain had never cared much for stealth tactics, though he understood their usefulness. Thus the packs under Bunyir were tasked with launching hit-and-run attacks, aiding the main forces as they raced towards the heart of the vessel. He breathed a word of thanks that his Legion disdained Terminator armour, which would have left them unable to exploit the environment in this way.

The walls of the passages and pipes glistened with the same queasy iridescence as the other Qarith structures they had encountered so far. Mutilation committed against Mankind's inheritance. Bunyir imagined that the Mechanicus would find some useful technologies on this ship, but nonetheless he just ached to see it blasted into nothingness with its masters.

“Now.” The charges went off, ripping a hole in the wall. The Jackals piled through, hitting the Qarith flanks on either side. With vox-shredded snarls, they struck out with scimitars and bolters aiming for eyes and joints. With their foresight, the Lightning Bearers were able to weave around their cousins, wiping out the xenos.

The Jackals aimed to incapacitate, but not kill. In such a state, the Qarith emitted pheromones which served to alert their fellows, but could also disorient them. Like the Astartes, the creatures had largely purged themselves of fear, but they hadn't completely freed themselves from it. At the same time, the wounded Qarith could be used as a distraction, drawing away defenders that might blunt the advance.

Bunyir parried a claw with his bolt-pistol and slashed his scimitar across a Banshee’s stomach. The creature howled as its guts spilled across the floor. Bunyir smashed the hilt into the scaly face for good measure and moved on to the next foe as it crumpled. Then his pack withdrew, leaving the Lightning Bearers to sweep aside the remnants as they moved ahead.

The hunter's instincts of the XVIIIth Legion and the arcane gifts of the Ist made for a truly lethal combination as they moved towards their objective. Normally the Jackals refused to work alongside any aether-weavers, but Jackel would gladly make an exception for the brother he revered above all. Called away by other fights, Icarion had entrusted the lives of his warriors to the Hunter. Such trust and responsibility was not taken lightly, and all the Jackals felt the weight on their shoulders. Not that the Lightning Bearers, led by Susanoo Empyon, were not truly formidable warriors. The "grace", the name for their foresight, belied its lethal potency as Qarith fell to warriors who did not even glance at them, riding the currents of the future through the mass of xenos.

As they moved through the pipes the vox chattered again. Qarith heavy infantry, blocking a key access corridor. Hastening to a pipe above this location, Bunyir positioned his pack accordingly. As the sounds of battle were renewed below them, their chainblades sank into the floor of the pipe.

Bunyir dropped through the hole, landing on a Banshee with a crunch of chitin. His chainfist roared, and he disemboweled another enemy as he straightened up. The Jackals might lack the Terminator plate used by so many of their peers, but here they could exploit their mobility to the hilt. The Lightning Bearers veterans wore Cataphracti plate and shrugged off most of the blows landed by the Qarith, while the Jackals darted around them, preventing the aliens from flanking the veterans.

But for all their fervour and speed, they weren't getting there quickly enough. Warriors fell in every fight, their throats ripped away by alien fangs, cut apart by hissing blades and eyes punctured by claws, and the urgent vox-snatches from the fleet only intensified as they tried to hold the line against the colossus.

The remaining squads and companies broke out into a vast chamber. Guided by the Lighting Bearers' foresight, they had timed perfectly, emerging as a single force from four tunnels. At the far end, a gate flickered with lurid alien energies- the reactor, the heart of this monstrosity. And, illuminated by those lights, a huge army of Qarith. The xenos poured in from every other entrance, surrounding the Astartes. Bunyir looked around him in horror; despite their strength, it would be all but impossible to defeat this swarm.

The Lightning Bearers were the only ones to get an inkling of what was about to happen, suddenly staring up at the vaulted ceiling. Bunyir followed their eyes just in time to see the stone blow apart, pulverising the aliens with great chunks of rubble. Then a lone figure emerged from the dust. Two beasts with slavering jaws stood at his side- the Devils. Despite the plain brown of his warplate, there was an undeniable grandeur to him that went beyond his huge stature. A great axe leapt to one hand as the other fastened on a dagger, and his metal jaw jutted as he surveyed the hated enemy.

More figures dropped from the hole in the ceiling- Wodoi, the primarch’s elite guard. They immediately formed up, weapons drawn, in a loose semicircle at their lord’s back.

“At them!” Willym Jackel roared and charged forward. Tuskan, Bunyir and then the rest followed, screaming their fury as they went. The Devils’ howls rose above the clamour, hideously loud. The first few ranks of Qarith fell like wheat beneath a combi-reaper as the Wodoi hurled their Tecoma spears. The adamantine points plunged into skulls and hearts before whipping back to the hands of their masters as the Primarch and his guards closed with the xenos.

Banshee or Juggernaut, it didn't matter- to stand before the Jackal was to die. His axe split skulls, his dagger punctured eyes, and his fearsome jaw ripped throats clean away. He stood at the head of the speartip as the Jackals killed Qarith by the hundred.

A huge, eight-limbed Qarith beast, the size of a Knight walker, advanced on him, a bizarre energy cannon spewing plasma from its forearm. The bursts tore holes in the floor, but the primarch dodged each one and slid between the behemoth’s legs as its bladed arms cut the air around him. He plunged his dagger into the back of a leg joint and hauled himself up, swinging his axe. The huge blade bit into the chitin and wedged firmly. Deflecting the swipes of its blade-limbs with his free arm, Jackel dragged himself up to seize the monster’s head. Then his metal jaws opened, wider than Bunyir would have believed possible, and crunched through the chitin and bone. Ichor spurted and the behemoth collapsed, the primarch retrieving his weapons and hurling himself back into the fray.

Bunyir swelled with savage pride as he followed in the Primarch’s wake, pushing into the vast reactor chamber. Now they saw the full extent of the barely contained energies that powered the ship, like a caged aurora. Jackel surveyed the equipment that controlled it, taking just half a minute to comprehend the bizarre machinery. Then he snapped orders and thirty blades severed cables and valves. The vast roar died away and Bunyir looked up to see the bizarre nimbus of light sputter and fade.

It was like a wave of quiet, rolling out across the massive ship as every weapon and every system lost power. Soon the only light came from the Astartes’ lumens emitters and power weapons.

“Now what?” Tuskan asked, twisting his helmet free to look at his master. Jackel’s eyes glinted as he activated his vox-feed.

“Pionus, Morro, it's done. Send me three companies and ten Army brigades to secure the ship, and maybe I'll join you down there before you're finished. If not, fight well, and enjoy the battle. Now, my sons,” he growled, hefting his axe again as screeches echoed down the halls toward them, “we purge this ship, every deck. Make it fast and thorough, because I for one want to be on Qarith Prime to see their filth burned from the Galaxy, once and for all!”


Edited by bluntblade, 13 September 2016 - 08:00 AM.


#70
bluntblade

bluntblade

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For the Living, for the Dead
Legion: Halcyon Wardens, Iron Bears, Stygian Jackals
Time: Battle of the Forge
Major characters: Ezekyle Abaddon (yeah, you read that right)

+++++

We were brothers on Cthonia, even with our enemies.

He couldn't grimace at the ugly parallel with the fighting here. The Contemptor mask that served as his visage scanned the area impassively, taking in the bodies of his comrades, the Harbingers his sword and claw had eviscerated and the Baneblade he’d reduced to scrap. Around him the warren of streets rang with the sound of isolated, desperate fights. His home world, rendered in fire and metal.

The Battle of the Forge had passed the time for grand strategy and formations long ago. Now squads or individuals fought to find allies and momentary refuge or simply to spill more of the enemy's blood. We wrought another Cthonia in just five days.

A gaggle of traitor soldiers sprinted round the corner and screamed when they recognised the dreadnought's colours. By then the great storm bolter had swung up, and seconds later they were a smear on the rockcrete. He headed in the direction his victims had come from. Sure enough, power armoured figures soon appeared, jogging towards him. A second of tension, then a shoulder guard caught the firelight. Iron Bears. True brothers. He stepped out of the shadows, displaying the amethyst hue of his carapace.

Their leader made the sign of the aquila as he drew to a halt. “Hail, venerable brother. Captain Roanoke, 28th Company.”

“Ezekyle Abaddon. What news, captain? The vox has been no use to me the last two days.” Radiation and enemy action had seen to that; he had been fighting alone for thirty hours before his chrono gave out.

“We are to make for the hangars, brother. Command deems the planet too badly damaged to be worth holding. We are ordered to seize all we can take and withdraw.”

Abaddon had fought xenos, mutants and abominable intelligences. He had endured the breaking of his body and the unique trials of existence in a sarcophagus, but the import of Roanoke's words still rocked him. “We are to… retreat?” He grated. Not one step back had been the mantra ever since that last day on Cthonia. “Well, if every other certainty is being overturned, I guess it was only a matter of time. Which way, captain?”

The Warbringers and traitor skitarii who attempted to waylay them died messily, broken and thrown aside as an old warrior vented a kind of rage he had never felt before. The desolate fury of a man who, for the first time in centuries of war, has tasted the ashes of failure.

-----

Even before being interred, Abaddon had never quite belonged as a Halcyon Warden. However much he relished the prospect of a new family after the exile of his youth, he was too choleric to fit in with most of his brothers, and he struggled to adjust to his gene-father’s favoured tactics. The role of advisor which so many of the revered fallen occupied seemed wrong to him, and thus he remained a leader of terminator squads instead. Now those brothers were gone, lost to this treachery.

The Battle of the Forge had plunged him back into his old life, after a fashion. Alone, hunting through the tunnels of debris, fighting vicious battles in the dark, crawling over the dead. Now he could see more of his fellow Loyalists up ahead, assault Troopers flitting from rooftop to rooftop as they set off flares to attract any remaining allies. Transports were loading as the Loyalists prepared to abandon the planet.

-----

The trouble with the flares, of course, was that the Insurrectionists could see them too. Sirens broke out as they reached the hangar, and as they turned to face southeast a booming warhorn sounded. “Titans” spat Roanoke. As if his statement needed confirming, white light suddenly engulfed a tower block about three kilometres away. Through the fire strode a colossus, an Imperator, surrounded by a retinue of smaller Titans and Knight walkers.

“We don't have anything that can even delay that thing,” snarled an assault marine sergeant.

“Don't be so certain, sergeant.” Abaddon strode over to a stack of munitions. Demolition charges, if he was any judge. “Do your jump packs have any life left in them?”

-----

It was a mad plan, even he was willing to admit that. The upside was that, if he failed, no one would live to speak of it.

The Titans were a few hundred metres out of range when the assault marines opened fire with rocket launchers. As the Titans responded they fired their packs and shot away, pausing only to detonate the charges placed on either side of the concourse. To the Titans it meant little, but their crews were disorientated and their space marine escorts were buried in the rubble.

Now for the mad part. Abaddon burst from cover, storm bolter blazing and missile launcher hurling ordnance as he tore into the leg of the nearest Warhound with his sword. He'd placed himself right among the machines and aimed to cripple any within reach, not destroy them. Hopefully this would give them pause before they opened up with their ranged weapons. The terrain helped, the uneven ground providing a degree of cover and obstructing his attackers. Above him the Imperator turned ponderously, its princeps trying to bring its foot down on the irritant below. No doubt they thought him insane; even the mightiest dreadnought wouldn't stop them for more than a minute. If they did believe that, then so much the better. It would buy him a few more seconds. He could hear enemy Astartes getting closer. He would have to end this soon.

Fire engulfed him as another Warhound joined the fray with a flamer. Abbadon roared and crippled it with a missile to the knee. He tore into his attacker, armour scorched black and his helm's topknot aflame, bellowing war cries in Cthonian, damning them for their treacherous deeds. A canon tore chunks from his carapace, and he felt an unfamiliar sensation within his amniotic cradle. I bleed? Now there really was no going back. Time to finish it.

He switched to Low Gothic, bellowing a furious valediction. “I am Ezekyle Abaddon, son of Cthonia, warrior of the Halcyon Wardens!” As a Knight came at him, he made no effort to parry its huge sword, just twisting enough to avoid his organic remains being speared. As it was the blow was fatal anyway, destroying several vital components, but all that mattered was that his power claw remained functional and he stayed conscious for just a few more seconds. “I die for the living!” he snarled in defiance.

The Knight made to pull its sword out and deliver the deathblow, but Abaddon’s talons sunk into its arm and he pulled himself further onto the blade, staring into its ocular sensors. “And I kill for the dead!” At the same time, he severed the failsafes on his reactor, sending it into overdrive. In his last moments he saw the walkers recoil as they realised what he intended, knowing it was too late. Within his cage of fluid, a shark’s grin spread across his ruined features. “For the Emperor,” he whispered. And the Battle of the Forge claimed a few more hundred lives.

Edited by bluntblade, 15 September 2016 - 07:14 PM.


#71
MikhalLeNoir

MikhalLeNoir

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The Parting
Time: 071.M31 Siege of Terra
Legions: Eagle Warriors, Wardens of Light
Major Characters: Alexos Travier, Gwalchavad
Author: AlphariusOmegon108, MilhalLeNoir


 

           'I looked up, spreading my dark veined wings wide. I felt like a god, my body was full of dark energy, and my muscles aflame with the warp. I saw Raktra lead the front assault on the fortress, his godlike form slicing through crimson lions and wardens of the light alike like wet paper.

I suddenly felt something pull my attention away from Icarion. I looked around me, trying to find it's scource. I noticed a golden armored warrior with black blades standing on one of the rooftops of golden fortress. An old friend, once my student and once my tutor, a god amongst men.

I jumped, my wings carrying me to the warrior, I raised my spear when I was almost within speaking distance. I looked around me one last time, seeing thousands upon thousands of astartes die hundreds of meters below me and my old brother.

"Brother!" I jelled in my demonic twin voice, I saw the warrior standing straighter. His body language betrayed disgust, but also love to me. I grinned, my adamantium teeth shining in the almost smoked out sun.

I landed in front of Gwalchavad, my dark spear shimering with purple warp flames, my eyes aflame with energy. "Brother, it has been so long! I know our last... Conversation... Went rather downhill, but everything changed! We changed! We are at the triumph now! Join me brother, let me show you the future, become the king warrior of the god!" I said, slowly walking closer to him. "Alexos... You were perfect already Alexos. Now you are nothing more then a pawn. I will never join your gods, why did you do this... Deamon" Gwalchavad whispered, slowly bringing his blades up, he started pacing towards me, his mask hiding the ancient warrior's emotions.

 

 

========================================================================================================

 

 

          Alexos met Gwalchavad head on, his spear blocking three lightning quick perfect strikes from the ancient warrior. It would have killed any mortal and at least have severely wounded any primarch. But Alexos was no primarch, he was a deamon now. A living god. Gwalchavad struck once more, a strike unexpected by the deamon, a hidden knife bit into Alexosses stomach, a telling blow indeed.

Alexos groaned but then struck back with warp fueled muscles, using his energized demon claw. He ripped into Gwalchavad's chest, jerking out a pumping heart. It would not be enough to kill his brother, but it was a severe blow anyway.
Gwalchavad staggered, his second and third heart pumping heavily. He fell on his side, almost at the edge of blacking out.
Gwalchavad quickly regained his senses, and jerked upright. Blocking a hammer blow from the deamon primarch with crossed blades. He kicked the deamon in the stomach where the knife was still stuck in the deamon and disengaged, quickly bringing his left arm around, slicing through the power field generator of Alexosses spear. Gwalchavad then used his centuries of training to weave aside from three of the lightning fast strikes of Alexos with his energized claw. Then suddenly, Alexos was gone.
Gwalchavad looked around him, confused at how Alexos managed to dissapear so quickly. A sting of pain suddenly hit Gwalchavad hard, his own hidden blade stuck in his side, Alexos was standing a few meters away, looking at the wounded primarch before him. Gwalchavad jerked the knife out, barely believing his brother had made such a cowardly move. He tossed the knife aside, and ran at Alexos, the deamon seemingly enjoying that Gwalchavad was in pain. Gwalchavad smashed his right blade into the shoulder of Alexos, he had aimed his blow at the chest, but the deamon melted into the wind like water, even Gwalchavad's martial art techniques weren't quick enough. Soon he was lying on the ground, one of his blades ripped off and another wound on his belly.

Alexos walked closer, throwing his spear and pieces of Gwalchavad's armor in his deamon claws to the ground below, and he lifted Gwalchavad. The deamon primarch lifted the damaged warrior over his malformed head, ready to throw the primarch a hundred meters down into the raging war below. As he threw Gwalchavad, a mask fell by Alexosses head. It took the deamon a moment before he realized what it was. Gwalchavad was now in mid air in front of him. And the time froze...

Alexos looked into the eyes of his old friend, seeing the two beautifull glowing white orbs that were his brother's. He saw the fading stars in them, only suddenly being covered by a sea of sorrow and loss. And... Then suddenly, Alexosses muscles started to ache, he felt his body being sucked away. He opened his eyes in a unfamiliar face. The warp was all around Alexos. He was floating in a sea of deamons and lost souls, screaming his anger and fear, knowing he had been banished to the warp for eternity.

Gwalchavad hit the ground hard, landing on top of an Eagle Warrior rhino, crushing the front half whole.
He stared around him, bloody tears painting his face. And... He screamed and moaned out of sorrow into the air of ancient Terra. Alexos had been banished and Icarion was losing. The traitors were losing, the war was ending. Gwalchavad would remember this day until the stars burned out, his sorrow of losing a brother never fully fading away.'

 


=========================================================================================================

 


          The golden figure stood alone on the top of a white marble roof. The imperial palace was no longer the peaceful place Gwalchavad had enjoyed staying at. The past few days, hell had broken loose and the place had become a living nightmare. Amidst this hell fought the prideful astartes, who defended mankind against a collaboration of once loyal space marines and daemons. Deep down, Gwalchavad could see his Brother Raktra, now a corrupted image of his past self, leading the main assault against the defending marines, mere children to his dark power.


As Gwalchavad prepared to support the astartes against his brother, his attention was caught by something else, something observing him from afar. The hairs on Gwalchavad’s neck tingled as he saw the watching beast. An enormous creature, with an eagle like head, pale leathery wings folded to its back. Its spear was raised high into the air as it landed in front of Gwalchavad with bent legs. A three fingered claw coated in purple flames, flickering heavily. The monster looked around as if delighted by the massacre which took place hundreds of metres from him. This was no normal daemon; Gwalchavad recognized the once proud armour and stance of a Primarch, now a twisted travesty of its past glory. But what convinced Gwalchavad of the bitter truth was the spear the creature held in its hand, a golden spear with eagle ornamentation covering it. The spear his brother Alexos had received as a gift from Daer’dd at their first meeting. The blade was now black, covered with the same purple flames carried on the daemon’s bestial claw.


“Brother,” the creature smiled. “Brother, it has been so long! I know our last... conversation... went rather downhill, but everything has changed! We have changed! We are at our triumph! Join me brother, let me show you the future, and become a god!"


Gwalchavad tensed his muscles while the monster slowly came nearer. “You were perfect already, Alexos. Now you are nothing more than a pawn. I will never join your gods. Why did you do this, daemon?” he whispered, slowly bringing his blades up, pacing towards his old friend, hiding his emotions behind his mask.


Gwalchavad increased his speed and at the last second activated his jump pack, gaining momentum, crashing into Alexos with his shoulder. In a fluid motion Gwalchavad threw three perfectly timed strikes against his enemy, strikes which would have proven deadly for a mortal. The daemon blocked them with his spear, as if they had not bothered him at all; this was no mere mortal, this was a Daemon-Primarch, a living god. The power of the Emperor’s sons, fused with the power of the dark gods. No human could dream of standing a chance against such a foe.


Gwalchavad did not give in. He attacked again, even faster than before, a dance of death. He attacked from different angles and worked himself piece by piece past Alexos’ defence. And then he connected, a fast feint, a swirl, one quick motion with his head, and the hidden blade inside Gwalchavad’s braid found its way into the stomach of his adversary. Alexos hadn’t seen it coming, surprised by the unexpected strike.


The daemon groaned, while Gwalchavad disconnected and danced backwards, preparing himself for the next attack. Alexos countered mercilessly, smashing his fist into Gwalchavad’s mask, making him fly through the air. The stunned Primarch was able to recover, but the warp infused muscles of Alexos gave Gwalchavad barely any time. He charged, letting down an overwhelming flurry of attacks with his spear which Gwalchavad could hardly escape, and then struck forward with his energized claw. Unknowable pain exploded in Gwalchavad’s chest as the daemon ripped through his armour and tore one of the Primarch's still-pumping hearts out.


Gwalchavad toppled, his remaining hearts beating wildly. His’s vision faded, but he forced himself up, just in time to block a fast swing with his black blades. Alexos and Gwalchavad stared at each other over their weapons. On one side the burning insanity of Alexos, and on the other the calm silence of Gwalchavad. Alexos forced Gwalchavad slowly down, but in the blink of an eye Gwalchavad jumped backwards. Kicking the Daemon-Primarch in the stomach, the knife still stuck there bit deeper into the flesh of the fowl beast. Fast like the wind he turned a counterattack from Alexos aside and with a riposte he cut through the field generator of his foe’s spear. Thanks to his centuries of training, Gwalchavad was able to dodge three explosive strikes from Alexos’ claw, but then suddenly when Gwalchavad focussed, Alexos was gone.


Gwalchavad searched for his enemy, irritated. Incredulous that his former friend could vanish so quickly, a sting of pain hit him in the side. Alexos stood a few metres away and had used Gwlachavad’s hidden blade against him. Gwalchavad jerked the knife out of his flesh, barely believing his brother had made such a cowardly move. Alexos stared bemused at the wounded Primarch. The golden knight threw the knife aside in disgust and charged at his laughing enemy. Alexos savoured the sight of Gwalchavad’s pain and awaited the next attack. The Primarch aimed for Alexos’ chest, but as Alexos melted away like water, his black blade smashed into his shoulder. Even as Gwalchavad’s increased they speed and dexterity of his attacks, he failed to connect. All his strikes were dodged, the former Primarch simply melting away. Gwalchavad’s attempts were as hopeless as trying to cut through water with a sword.

 

Gwalchavad concentrated, calmed himself; the void within him erupted as he opened his inner gates, removing his own limiters. He felt new power searing throw his veins. His muscles filled with fresh blood, his awareness increased. Gwalchavad released his natural powerreserve, like the servants of the laughing god showed him aeons ago. His speed increased with every strike. He was the wind, he was the light. Alexos form vanished faster and faster, but with every strike Gwalchavad came closer. It seemed as if he foresaw where Alexos would materialize next. The two figures were only a faint blur that no mortal eyes would have been able to track. But Gwalchavad knew that he couldn't keep this pace up for much longer. He needed an opening. Then suddenly the golden knight threw a melta bomb with as much force as he could muster to the place where he thought Alexos would take solid form next and the twisted Primarch was shocked as he appeared in the midst of the burning light of an explosion. Gwalchavad used the fraction of a second he had, and in a fluid pirouette, disembowelled his daemon-brother, cutting his arm off, before drawing his archaeotech pistol and shooting the daemon in the centre of his twisted face, taking off half of his head in the process.


But instead of losing the bout, the daemon vanished, leaving a startled Gwalchavad behind. Alexos limbs seeped away, vanishing into the ground and an unhurt Alexos materialized laughing before the heavily-breathing Gwalchavad.


“Well, well, my dearest brother, it seems as if I have the upper hand, wouldn’t you say? You know, back on my ship, I was terribly sad when you left me. I had so much in mind for you. But now, we can make up for the lost fun. If I’m honest, I think I will be the only one laughing.”


Once the hellish figure had had enough of this mockery, he attacked with full force. Gwalchavad was a leaf in the wind encountering a tornado, crashing hard to the floor, one of his blades ripped from his hands and a gushing wound on his lower abdomen, several ribs cracked.


Alexos walked slowly to the wounded figure, throwing his broken spear and parts of Gwalchavad’s armour to the floor.


“Brother, you should have joined us. You should not have declined my offer; now there is nothing left for you. Nothing but death!”

 

Alexos then lifted the broken warrior over his deformed head, ready to throw him into the abyss. As he threw the Primarch, Gwalchavad whispered softly: “Forgive me brother, I have failed us. Forgive me,” Gwalchavad lost all hope of saving his brother and removed his mask while he fell. The mask flew down beside Alexos head and, suddenly, burning eyes met white glowing orbs.


Time froze.


Gwalchavad saw the madness in his brother’s eyes. The eternal damnation that Alexos had chosen. But then he also saw his brother looking back at him. His former tutor, his former pupil, his friend. Then Alexos’ pain, as the reality bent and Alexos' soul was sucked out of his daemonic form, which slowly burned inward as it dissolved into the warp.


Time moved on.


Gwalchavad hit the ground hard, landing on top of an Eagle Warrior rhino, crushing the front half whole.


He stared around him, bloody tears painting his face. And he screamed and moaned out of sorrow into the air of ancient Terra.


Edited by MikhalLeNoir, 13 September 2016 - 09:52 AM.

Open for Comissions, just PM me. The Wardens of Light were like golden blades, cutting down their enemies scarring the darkness.

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#72
Kelborn

Kelborn

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Desperation

 

Author: Kelborn - revised by Bluntblade
Time: 942.M30
Place: Ghanaka, capital city of Jurios
Legion: Predators

Why are they standing over there? Why aren't they do anything at all? Just standing and staring.

Squad leader Helwisz Hamant stood atop the mighty walls of Ghanaka. Wherever he looked upon, his brothers and sisters of the Royal Guard of Jurios stood ready to defend their home. It had taken only a single day to rally the forces of Jurios, and his pride swelled at the achievement. From across the world, its children were called upon. Across the world, they helped the population to find shelter within the main cities.

It was quite routine, as the planet had been wracked by conflict with green-skinned aliens, which called themselves Grinskulls. They came to ravage and plunder, and though they were broken, some had survived in the wilderness and several times feral hordes arose to threaten the humans again. The early attacks had caught them off guard, and dozens of cities had been burned or occupied. Yet the people of Jurios were not easily broken, and they had rallied against the monsters, destroying them wherever they could be found. The fervour of the aliens had seemed to increase with the strength of the defenders, but ultimately they had been eradicated and Jurios basked in its power. Until one day, more strangers came to their door.

 

They came out of nowhere in a single huge ship, Screaming Fist picked out in bone-white on its obsidian hull. At 10 kilometres long, it was larger than any ship of Jurios. The host aboard it proclaimed the supremacy of a distant Imperium of Mankind that none of them had ever heard off. Contact was made. The royals of Jurios claimed that they would not join strangers, even if they were of the same kind. The people of Jurios had weathered the dark age and faced down the Grinskulls. They would not bend their knee before someone who had the affront to send soldiers to negotiate, without the due respect.

 

Hamant hadn't seen the ambassador but he had heard rumors. Twice the size of a man and clad in thick black armor, this ambassador had spoken just a few words to the indignant royal court before leaving the great palace.

"You have chosen. The consequences are yours to face."

 

The royals were confused by that statement. Would the strangers just leave them alone? However, protocol dictated that they did not break their imperious facade, and the refusal remained their last words to the massive emissary. As a precaution, Jurios’ armies were kept at readiness.
The answer came two days later, addressed to the whole planet. An unthinkably large fleet appeared in Jurios' orbit, disabling the ships trusted to protect the system. The maws of their ships opened wide and released countless drop ships. Like a swarm of steel and iron, they had descended upon Jurios' surface and gathered in front of the main cities. Standing. Staring.

 

Hamant’s mind was wracked by questions - what did these intruders intend? Did they fear the consequences of open battle, and wish to simply scare them into surrender? Were they truly that arrogant? "Steady yourself. Don't let them unsettle you," he told his men, forcing iron into the words.

Lord General Hoka Maneris, stood right next to Hamant, nodded approvingly. That gesture alone was enough to bolster Hamant's resolve. A renowned hero of countless wars, General Maneris was in charge of Ghanakas defense. Clad in a colorful uniform, decorated with medals representing his deeds, he was the bulwark against every foe had miserably failed.

 

That feeling of confidence persisted as the brigades assembled and Maneris boomed, “Brothers and sisters of Jurios! Today, we will face a new threat! We have fended off the green skinned bastards! We will fend off these-”

 

+YOU HAVE CHOSEN YOUR FATE.+ Hamant should have felt the words resonate in his chest, and for several seconds they should have reverberated in the air. But everything was still, and his ears registered nothing.

 

“What was that?” demanded Maneris, all thought of oratory forgotten. “Where did that voice come from? Operator! Check our radio! The enemy seem to have hijacked it!”

 

“Sir! Everything is fine with the radio!”

“How can this be?!”

 

“It is in our heads. Some kind of witchery - telepathy,” Hamant suggested.

 

He looked back to the enemy lines. They still stood there. Starring like before. He grabbed his field glass to take a closer look on them.
Saw again the absurd stature. Again the black armour with bone-white faceplates and other details in other, muted colours. Some had green on them, some wore red. He assumed that to be a sign of certain affiliations within their ranks. The plate, they saw through binoculars, was decorated with some kind of runes or glyphs, while reptilian hides and tokens covered their armour. Their first rank bore shields and guns. He couldn't see what those behind them used as weapons but he suspected that it would be more sophisticated - and still more deadly - than the weaponry of the green skinned aliens.

 

But wait. There is movement.

 

Three figures walked towards the city, striding ahead of the major force. They came to a halt and again, stared maddeningly at the defenders on the battlements.

 

“Open fire!” General Maneris shouted. “Cast them out!”

 

“We can't, sir! They are still just out of range for our artillery, sir!” replied a gunnery officer.

 

“How far out?” growled the general. His brow furrowed as he was shown the figures. “Just beyond danger-close. Uncanny,” he muttered, keeping his voice low so as not to worry the rank.

 

One appeared like the rest of the army. The only difference between him and his brothers was the fact that his armor looked more detailed, and he carried a spear that shimmered with a curious light. The second was clearly a psyker of some sort, carrying a staff whose head coruscated with electricity. The head itself, once Hamant saw past the crackling light, had a harsh, aquiline aspect. A sinister radiance emanated from his eyes, so terrible to behold that none could meet his gaze.

 

The third stood in the middle. Nearly twice as large as his companions, he was the most intimidating and fascinating of them all. He wore a monstrous suit of armor, covered with a filigree of runes and morbid symbols. Skulls of varied form were attached to his shoulder pads, leg plates and so on. Some seemed to derive from large reptiles, reminding Hamant of ancient scrolls of saurid beasts from primeval Terra. He wielded a massive sword which seemed to be made of bone. But the most remarkable thing Hamant noticed was the fact that no eyeholes or lenses broke the smooth expanse of his helm.

 

A blind one? What are they?

 

The great sword rose, levelled directly up at them. Hamant waited for the words, and again they bypassed his ears, thundering in his skull. It carried a timbre of nobility and terrifyingly vast presence, like unbearable pressure inside his head. Above all else, however, he felt utter fury in every syllable.

 

+YOU HAVE SET YOURSELVES AGAINST THE ANGELS OF DEATH, THE SONS OF THE EMPEROR. HE ALONE WILL LEAD MANKIND INTO A GOLDEN AGE OF PROSPERITY. YOU HAVE DENIED HIS OFFER, AND MADE YOURSELVES OBSTACLES TO THE UNITY OF THE SPECIES.+

 

The one with the spear finally spoke aloud and the rest of their army answered. Though he couldn't hear the exact words, he got a impression of rhythm within them. The enemy's first line began to slam their guns against their shields, building on the rhythm of their roars. With constant beat, the yelled words formed a chant. The wind carried it towards the walls of Ghanaka. Although they did not understand it, its meaning was unquestionable. It heralded war, glory and death.

 

+YOU HAD YOUR CHANCE. NOW, FACE THE CONSEQUENCES!+

 

“Sir!” Hamant cried, wrenching his eyes away from the spectacle below. “What do we do?!”

 

He stared up at his general. Maneris in the meantime had climbed up on the ramparts, facing the enemy. Never had Hamant seen such determination. This, truly, was resolve worthy of -

 

Maneris turned his trembling head towards Hamant, and ice flooded his veins. It seemed like the general was forcing his head around. He was bathed in sweat, his face distorted in panic, panic Hamant had never seen or even imagined on that face before. He tried to speak, more forcing the words through his lips than speaking.

 

"Please, forgive me. I… don't… want this.."

 

And with the words ringing in their ears, he fell to his death, dashed across the rocks at the foot of the wall. Across the walls of Ghanaka, leading officers dropped like stones, the anguished screams of their men echoing above them.

 

Then more noises cut through the lament. Behind them, deep within the city, explosions erupted. They turned around just in time to see strategically vital structures blasted into fragments; generators, gun emplacements, depots. With every second, yet more havoc was wreaked upon the city of Ghanaka. Hamant could see shadows marching across the streets, clad in black armour.

 

His hands were trembling even as he tightened his grip on the rifle. He was losing his composure, muttering under his breath, asking the air how this could have happened as the gate was blasted down below them, how -

 

Engines snarled below, dragging his eyes back to the enemy. A sea of vehicles tore across the plain towards Ghanaka Hundreds of bikes - some lean hunters, other bulkier and bringing fearsome guns to bear on the defenders. Enormous tanks and transports followed. Ghanaka was broken, they were already victorious and still they came on, howling and shrieking.

 

Cursing their arrogance and weakness, many of the defenders fled into the city. Hamant gathered together what men he could and staged a defence that, unknown to him, the invaders deemed commendable. When he met his end, three hours after the breach, watching one of the giants advance on him with a howling axe, his last thought about was:

 

We were the prey. They were the predators. We had no chance.

 

---------------------------------

Hope you're enjoying it.

CC please per pm or in the Predators thread. smile.png


Edited by Kelborn, 17 October 2016 - 09:33 PM.

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Brotherhood of the Lost - The Icarion Insurrection: http://www.bolterand...od-of-the-lost/


This is my mod voice. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My mod voice is a means to an end.

Let us avoid it, alright?


#73
Big Bad Squig

Big Bad Squig

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Splitting up the previously posted stories into separate posts as requested :)

 

 

The Fallen Eighth

Author:  Big Bad Squig

Legions:  Godslayers, Void Eagles

Time:  113017.M31

 

- Void Eagles 8th Flotilla, Distress Call Response, Nemurtivius IV. Date 113007.M31

 

>>Collected vox transmissions to orbiting fleets, Legion Apothecary Gurvarev, 113007.M31. Recovered from wreckage 967007.M31

 

***Recording begins.

 

Transmission 1 – “Small detatchment of marines, including myself made planetfall on Nemurtivius IV after intercepting a distress call from local colonists, reporting sporadic attacks by a relentless, never-before-seen xenos race – the last thing we need at this point.  Landing party was led by Captain Kisakey.  We made our way towards the largest settlement, finding only 76 survivors of a population reported to be in the thousands.  Many of the dead seemed to have been killed using stolen bolt weaponry, most likely taken from the planet’s armouries.  Some, however, had been clawed and bitten apart.  The bite marks were incredibly large, suggesting perhaps a creature that could distend its jaw at will, with a mouth easily the size of an Astartes.  Out.”

 

Transmission 2 – “We waited for dawn before following in the direction the locals pointed us in, into a large sunken, wooded area from where the xenos supposedly attacked.  Not far in we found bodies hung from trees with stakes driven through their eyes.  Perhaps part of some primitive victory ritual?  We also found footprints, all large, but varying in size from those of an Astartes to that of a greenskin squiggoth.  Prints were bare and humanoid, but many were misshapen, as if broken or otherwise changed.  Out”

 

Transmission 3 – “We have now been searching the forest for three days.  No further breakthroughs in classifying the xenos.  Out.”

 

Transmission 4 – “Three men went missing last night while taking patrols around the encampment.  Reports are in that they have been found with bite marks and stakes through their eyes.  Only one survived, and he is being returned to the encampment for treatment by myself.  Out.”

 

Transmission 5 – “Patient is in a stable condition, and looks set to recover, unless the infection the bite mark has acquired him worsens.  At the moment he has a light fever, which is being easily treated.  In the meantime, patrols have been tripled, with reinforcements arriving from the ship to continue scouring the woodland for more clues.  Out.”

 

Transmission 6 – “Fever has worsened tenfold, with not even the combined efforts of all present apothecaries being able to lower the temperature within 20 degrees of normal.  Another patrol has reported men killed, with survivors claiming being attacked by an enormous figure possessing heavy armour.  It is thought to be the one coordinating the attacks.  We recovered bodies of the marines slain in the encounter.  They had been stabbed through the eyes with wooden stakes, and, on one of the trees the message ‘Now may you see’ had been written.  Other fleet elements should be notified.   Out.”

 

Transmission 7 – “A possible xenos encampment has been sighted.  Captain Kisakey has requested me to accompany the assault force, and to acquire specimens for research.  Out.” 

 

Transmission 8 – “We are currently approaching xenos positions.  They appear to have fortified a large hollow in the earth, approachable from all sides.  Preliminary scouting has revealed very few buildings and defences.  *voice lowers* *recording adjusts to compensate* We have visual.  Loading weaponry.  Preparing for assault.  *inaudible discussion* *loading of bolter weaponry* Moving in.  *twig snaps*.

 

-Silence for 395.7 seconds

 

*voice raises* *recording adjusts to compensate* Forward, brothers!  *chainsword activation* *narthecium activation*

 

-Sustained bolter fire for 67.3 seconds

 

*growls*

*voice pattern – match – Elaban Kisakey* Reload, reload! 

*unidentified voice* Bolters are useless!

*voice pattern – match – Elaban Kisakey* Keep firing!

*unidentified voice* There are more coming, captain.

*unidentified voice* One down!

*clash of blades* *growl*

*scream*

*voice pattern – match – Apothecary Gurvarev* Captain! *narthecium activation*

 

-Sustained bolter fire and screams for 35.4 seconds

 

*voice pattern – match – Apothecary Gurvarev* Fall back!

*power fist impact*

*voice pattern – match – Apothecary Gurvarev* It can’t be…

*power fist impact* *scream – voice pattern Gurvarev*

 

Heart rate slowed.

Heart rate stop.

Apothecary Gurvarev deceased. ”

 

Transmission 9 – “*voice pattern… analysing* If you’re listening, Yucahu...  *data banks compromised* I hope you are.  I hope you all are.  We ate your legionnaires.  We tore off their flesh with our teeth.  And we will find all of you, and we will do even worse.  We came to Him for help, and He took everything from us.  And now all we have left is to take everything from you *voice pattern – match – Koschei Kharkovic*.  You will know my pain.”

 

Transmission 10 – “

Heart rate speeding up

Heart rate stable

Apothecary Gurvarev - - - records corrupted?

 

Bug fix?

 

No bugs detected.

Apothecary Gurvarev alive

 

 

 

***Recording ends.


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#74
simison

simison

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Desperate Measures

Author: simison
Legion: Halcyon Wardens (Alexandros) and Craftworld Ulthwé (Eldrad)
Time: 038.M31

 

A moment of hesitation held him for a moment. It was true, the war did indeed grow desperate as Icarion continued to expand his counterfeit Imperium, which had led to many sacrifices. But this was a line etched by the Emperor's own hand. What would the price be for this decision? A reprimand? Banishment? Execution? More importantly, would it matter? Every day, a new report of his forces retreating before the Stormlord's overwhelming might as his brother had now called upon the foulest beings from the Warp to augment his armies. 

 

He took a deep breath, a gesture in symbolism more so than biology. Alone, in his private quarters, he reached for a small, crystal ball. It had come from the Interex at his request, who's leaders had not only agreed with his choice but encouraged him to not delay. He cupped it in his giant hand and closed his eyes. 

 

His physical shell remained as his thoughts sped through the void. Already, he detected the other, the one he reached for. The other soul waited patiently for him as their thoughts neared one another. Although neither were physically there, they each took the form of their usual selves, the other soul bedecked in symbols older than humanity itself. 

 

The connection established, the other 'nodded' towards him. "Warmaster Alexandros Darshan VonSalim. You risk much to speak with me."

 

"Much is at risk should Icarion prevail, Eldrad," Alex replied, his tone neutral. 

 

The Eldar 'glanced' toward the stars. "More than you know, child of Terra." His attention focused on Alexandros. "Let us begin."


Edited by simison, 18 June 2018 - 11:34 PM.

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Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#75
Chief Captain Redd

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Chills! I want more Simison, it speaks so well to the reality of war, where many become strange bedfellows.
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