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.