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REF TALE - The stories

Brotherhood of the Lost Lost and Forgotten Alternate Heresy

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#76
bluntblade

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Nihil
Author: bluntblade
Legion: the Knights Errant and Blackshields
Time: circa 60 M31, just before the Blood Crusade
Major characters: Nix, Khârn, Odyssalas, Ystwyth and Muniza

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The black was all around him, next the black was on him, in him and he was up again and he was the black, and the pain told him to keep going and another pain told him feed, then thin mortal blood on his tongue, thin mortal screams in his ears, poor meat, not rich and full like his own kind, then rain storm and prey that fought back and a bright blade that roared with purple fire and his chainsword split down the middle, his left eye taken by a stray tooth, right hand taken by sword before it could close on combat blade and warm rush through the hole in his chestplate, guts in left hand, knees in mud, guts in mud and voice in his ear that said

“Any last words?”

Looking at his killer, wondering about taking him with. Not Blackshield. Not Legion-marked either. Still marked - marked with nothing, silver armour bare. Sword blade sharp, cared for. Helm same - knightly, noble, foolish hanger-on to delusions. Posture wary, curious. “Who are you?”

Name, dredging depths, void. “None.”

Pause. “Fine. We tracked you across six worlds and found no reason for your crimes.” Crimes. Fool inventions, shackles cast off. “What brought you here?”

Truth, sought. Wanting to tell, surprised at that. Vocal chords rough, not spoken words in how long? Found something of what the old him, fool, called eloquence.

Voice rasping, long unused. "I'm here, doing what I do because I used to be you, believing in some cause to die for. Then one day I died and woke up to find no one could be bothered to kick me into a fresh hell. Had to make do with this one.

"So I dragged myself up and all I saw was this mountain of rats and hyaenas and vultures and they were gnawing, gouging, packing more corpses into the pile, fighting to stand at the top and every creature that reached the top saw every one before it die, become another corpse in the mountain and still they came on dying to reach the top or dying at the top and you couldn't see what the mountain had been before the vermin started, and then I blinked and they were men in armour. They didn't stop being vermin though.

"So we learned that was us, and we did what vermin do if they have wits. We roamed and fed and didn't care where the meat came from. And if you pretend you're any different, you're a rat who's going to die on that mountain.”

-----

Marek slashed down. The Blackshield's head came to rest face down, as ignominious as his second life had been. Nix bent to retrieve it and wiped mud from the unseeing eyes. He gazed into them, trying to find some clue to the defect, wondering how much of the Astartes had returned in those last lucid moments. What had taken the warrior he must have once been, and made him a beast?

“He’s gone,” Odyssalas said. He was already crouched in the muck, Narthecium peeling armour away from the stump of the renegade's neck. “You'll find nothing in those eyes.”

Nix regarded the Scion with surprise. “You'd claim the gene-seed of a degenerate like that?”

“I heard his words.” Odyssalas was now cutting flesh. “Sounded like sickness of the soul, not the seed.” He read the question in Nux's posture. “Prospero taught us the flesh is not all, and we've all learned more since the Insurrection began.” He scooped out the progenoid gland, regarding the fleshy capsule with the oddly reverent look Nix had learned to recognise, even when Odyssalas wore his helmet as he did now.

“Corruption can flow between the two,” Muniza interjected. He remained still, where he had dealt his last blow of the battle. At his feet lay two headless Astartes, clad in a strange collection of armour marks. They had been two dozen, yet they had fallen swiftly, easily. They weren't warriors any more, Nix supposed, and they had no guns with which to return the Knights’ fire. They had fought like animals, their armour stripped of all markings and nothing added, where so often these Blackshields adopted fresh symbols, hinting at their loyalties or seeking to mislead. These savages had lived without loyalty, dying in the manner their nihilism told them they must.

Odyssalas nodded in acknowledgement, sealing away the gland in a capsule. “It’ll be screened as always, be assured. If nothing else, I'd like to know where he's from.”

Nix considered. Accent - he didn't recognise it from any particular -Legion - and appearance were of little help; almost every Legion had recruited outside its usual domain at some point. Any decoration to the armour had been utterly obscured or scoured away, leaving the weapons as his only clue. Mass-produced, but indicative of Coabanna, for what that was worth. Analysis of the gene-seed was the only certain way of finding out. Even then, it could only tell him so much. If he was from Coabanna, this wretch could have been a Void Eagle or a Morning Star.

Nix felt cheated not to know who he had been, not to know whether he and his fellows had been turncoats without even the decency to defect, or traitors driven mad by the carnage they themselves had wrought. To kill an enemy without understanding him was a concept loathed by the Shepherds of Eden.

So far, Blackshields were a disappointment. Rumours told of noble bands waging guerilla wars against the Traitors, but those the Knights Errant encountered proved to be nothing of the sort, except that some tried to retain their old pomp and establish little fiefdoms. Ystwyth found it most disturbing: having served the same role to his Legion as a chaplain did for most, he had kept spiritual degradation in check on many occasions, to say nothing of the bloodlust that dogged the Lions.

Now he saw it unfettered, as they all did. There was nothing as purposely repulsive as the Ravagers, who had proudly worn skulls too small for their owners to have fought back, but such feral behaviour was almost worse. These Sons of Nihil didn't even care enough to mock the old codes. They had simply abandoned them, and saw people as something else to feed on. Ystwyth's last kill lay next to the lower half of a woman. The rest of her had been pulled apart and devoured, scraps of flesh and chunks bone littering the degenerate's chestplate.

Truly, the Blackshields were a disappointment.

But they had something, or at least its promise. Here, in the shadow of the pretender's domain, many warbands sought refuge close to the Maelstrom, where the target lay. Turrus.

Edited by bluntblade, 22 October 2016 - 11:15 AM.

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#77
Sigismund229

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Author: Sigismund229

Legion: None

Date: 071.M31, Siege of Terra

 

My sons…

 

For tens of thousands of years I have been alive and wandered among mankind’s teeming masses. I have seen civilizations rise and fall. I saw the Golden Age of Technology begin and fall down into a smoking ruin. I rose from those ruins and set out from Terra to reunite humanity and usher it into a new Golden Age that will last until the end of days. Never once did I doubt my course. Not until now.

 

Icarion, Kozja, Jackel, Morro, Koschei, Alexos, Raktra, K’awil, [the Jade General]. Nine of my sons raise their arms against me. Yet they are not wrong to do so and it is my fault that they do. I did not tell them the truth of the warp, of their birth…I sought to protect them from it and in doing so damned them. Oh my sons. Why do you tear me away from myself? I hate the pacts I needed to make to create you with every fibre of my being. There is not a day that goes by when I do not regret creating you. And yet I love you with all my heart.

 

I have done enough, made enough mistakes. I can already see the outcome of this war. There is only one way in which it can end. That final day, when Icarion charges forth from the webway shall be the beginning of my penance. Every day of my life has been leading up to this point. I could defeat Icarion. I shall not. I shall allow myself to be interred on the Golden Throne. There, I shall suffer and have time to contemplate every one of my mistakes. And by the time of the last days, perhaps my sons will be able to forgive me.

 

The testimony of the Emperor of Mankind.


Edited by Sigismund229, 22 September 2016 - 05:09 PM.

The Brotherhood of the Lost

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The IIIrd legion, the Crimson Lions formerly known as the Blood Wolves. http://www.bolterand...-crimson-lions/

 

 

 

 


#78
simison

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The Two Brothers
Author: simison
Legion: The Storm Riders and Lightning Bearers
Time: 829.M30
Major characters: Alexandros VonSalim, Icarion

 

Not much of a good-bye in human terms, but the words were carefully wrapped with pride, happiness, and anticipation. Alexandros turned and smiled. I as well, Father. With a deep nod, the Emperor walked toward his brother. After a quick round of words, the Emperor strode toward the mansion, while the other primarch approached him. Although Alexandros was eager to learn and interact with his sons, the amount of his time with his brother would be more limited. Best if I take advantage of it while I can.

 

Formal introductions had been made quickly earlier, so Alexandros knew his name. Now, it was time to learn much more. With an easy smile, he hailed him, "Greetings Icarion Anasem."

 

The giant in pale armour stopped a respectable distance from him and bowed. "It is an honour to make your acquaintance, Prime Minister VonSalim."

 

Alex hesitated before indulging in temptation. With a though the thousand paths of the future laid bare to his mind. In a third of a second, he found the answer he sought. Wearing a confident grin, Alex returned the bow before answering, "Please, we are equals. Alex will do just fine."

 

Anasem raised an eyebrow before assenting. "As you wish, Alex. Then, it would only be fair to address me as Icarion." The Primarch glanced over the mansion before his eyes settled on the garden covering the acres before them. "You have quite the abode. I have seen the homes of many generals and warlords and few are as filled with warmth such as yours. You especially have a capable horticulturalist."

 

Releasing a hearty laugh, Alex said, "I'm glad to hear it! I've only recently picked up the hobby."

 

Icarion quirked an eyebrow, but Alex could sense he wasn't as surprised as he let on. "This garden was made by your hand?"

 

"Every seed and tree," Alex answered before he swung a hand towards it. "Would you care for a walk through it?"

 

Icarion nodded. "It would be my honour."

 

With a subtle hand sign, Icarion signaled for his sons to remain where they were. Alex turned to his own sons and said with a smile, "I'll be back shortly."

 

The head of the Storm Rider company, Irvin, bowed. "As you will, my lord."

 

The two giants walked off the terrace and into a world of green. Alex lengthened his stride to match Icarion's gait as they passed by several crops. "I must confess, I'm surprised you would take the time to grow your own food," Icarion commented. "I assume you could afford any meal that could be made on this planet."

 

With a chuckle, Alex reached over to pluck a cluster of grapes from its stalk. "You assume correctly. With a snap of my fingers, I could order any dish I wish, but my reasons for growing my own food is threefold. First, farming was the key for the ancients to establish themselves and to no longer bend to the fickle fate of hunting. It allowed us to establish roots that led to cities and then to civilizations. Thus, it is a way for me to connect with our collective past. Second, for millennia, it was mankind's primary occupation. When I work here, the Delians see it as a form of humility and respect my leadership all the more so. Third," he finished as he picked a few grapes before tossing them into his mouth, "food tastes better when it comes from my own hand."

 

He held out the rest of the branch to Icarion. "Would you like some? You're lucky enough to arrive just as the crops have ripened." 

 

"I would be honored," Icarion answered as his fingers adroitly handled the tiny fruit. Although he could eat the branch in one bite, their advanced biology able to digest wood, the Stormborn picked and ate one grape at a time. "Delectable." 

 

Alexandros grinned. "Thank you." He gestured toward the path, and the two continued their trek. "Have you ever tried to see how long you can last without eating?"

 

"The idea to try never occurred to me," Icarion admitted before glancing at his companion. "I assume you tried?"

 

"You assume correctly. Alas, I had to give up after three years."

 

Icarion nodded. "I imagine the pain was distracting by that point."

 

With a laugh, Alexandros shook his head. "Fair guess, but no. I suspect I could have last several more years, but the problem was that the longer my fasting lasted, the more disconcerted my people became with me. I ended my fast to reestablish my connection to them, which is a pity. I'm still really curious what our limits actually are," Alexandros mused as the pair moved to a different part of the garden. 

 

"Were there really enough complaints to justify ending your experiment? If you were really concerned with the people's perceptions, why not just pretend to eat in private?

 

"Because, I'm a telepath," Alexandros said bluntly. "All my life, I've been able to see past any front, deception, or facade meant to conceal a person's true self. In a few seconds, I can understand a person as deeply as their most intimate lover without their consent or their knowledge. I have used this power to manipulate, to protect, and to build in my rise of power to create unity and peace on my world. I was voted into office upon a promise. Since no man or woman could be safe from my gaze, I surrendered any claim to privacy." Alexandros stopped and waved a hand over the entire mansion. "I'm sure you noticed it when I gave you the tour. Every single square inch of my home is monitored by an entire web of cameras with only one room exempted. That surveillance network is plugged into this world's information network. At any point in time, any citizen can log into their personal cogitator and watch my actions as I go about my day. Thus, I have earned the Delians' trust, and it allowed me to enforce my own requirement that any who seek the office of Senator has to make a similar kind of sacrifice. So, no, no eating in private for me."

 

"I confess," Icarion began as they turned another corner, a wave of pleasant aroma welcoming them. "It is a rare moment for me to be surprised, but I know of no other ruler, not even the Emperor, who would go to such lengths to reassure his own people. Pardon me if I'm being too far forward, but why? Why do you sacrifice so much of yourself for them?"

 

"You're not being too far forward," Alex quickly reassured him. "We are brothers, after all. As to your question..." A pause lingered between them as the marched down between a row of bright orchids. Alex chuckled. "You know, I think you may be the first person to ever ask me that question. A third of my people believe me that I am some deity's servant and assume that my generosity is part of my nature. Another third would never ask, lest my thinking tempt me to indulge in more base desires. And the last third are too busy trying to find a way to take advantage of my kindness to bother inquire as to why." He came to a stop and turned his attention back toward the estate. Icarion halted as well, patient for his answer. "Perhaps I'm selfish. One forward question for another. I know you are a psyker, like me, but what powers do you command?"

 

"Command is not the word I would use," Icarion said. "It implies a level of control that I don't think is truly possible. The Warp, for all of the potential it offers, is more wild than a raging fire. No one can hope to tame it, but only unleash it in controlled measures."

 

"There is much wisdom in that," Alex agreed as he turned his gaze back to his brother.

 

Icarion nodded. "Thank you. For a more prosaic answer, I have some mastery of most known disciplines, but I focus my efforts in the arts of divination and... purity."

 

In the back of his mind, Alex noted the awkward pause but chose not to pursue it at this time. "We are alike in that way, then," he said cheerfully as he held up an open palm. A miniature fire sparked into life a few centimeters above the center of his palm. "I too have knowledge of most of the styles out there, but I find them a distraction." Without a sound, the fire ceased. "Like you, I have a natural inclination toward divination. Yet, my best expertise lies in telepathy." Alex dropped his hand, and his eyes swiveled back towards the Salim. "I burn with a desire to know and learn about people. Telepathy has served as my greatest tool in that regard and provided me with some of the most beautiful images of humanity. You know something about telepathy. Have you learned how to see auras? Have you ever seen a metropolis at twilight?"

 

"I haven't," Icarion said. "While I know some of the basic principles that guide the art of telepathy, I've never pursued any of the more advanced techniques."

 

"Ah, you don't know what you're missing. You see..." Alexandros trailed off. "Actually, I could show you, if you're willing." 

 

Icarion glanced at the Delian sun. While the day was late, the Primarch estimated that sunset was still an hour or two away. "I do not wish to be rude, but I have duties I must return to before long."

 

"No, no," Alexandros quickly explained as he shook a hand. "I understand that we're nearing the limit of our time together today. No, I meant, I can show you my memory of it. As though you were there yourself."

 

There was a moment of hesitation before Icarion nodded. "As you wish."

 

Alex grinned before suggesting, "It might be easier if you closed your eyes. Less of an abrupt transition that way."

 

Another pause before Icarion complied. The world changed. The soft sounds of a garden were replaced by the distant sounds of the city. The warmth of the afternoon sun was gone as a chill was carried by strong winds. Icarion opened his eyes and saw an evening sky greeting him. Next to him was Alex who was watching him, amused, as the pair stood on the edge of his mansion's roof. Glancing behind him, Icarion was surprised to see a second Alex, who did not notice either himself or his duplicate, dressed in casual sleepwear. The other Alex was walking towards them before stopping a foot away, his eyes fixated on the city with a smile.

 

"You settled?" The current Alex asked.

 

"I believe so," Icarion murmured. "When is this?" 

 

"A few weeks ago before the first of my visions of our father." Current Alex pointed toward the city. "Watch."

 

Icarion turned his full attention toward the city. As any city in twilight, artificial light had filled the void after the last rays of sunlight disappeared beneath the horizon. Despite being a typical city of mid-level technology, no smog threatened to obscure sight of it. Vehicles traveled along the roads, offering their own small lights to the cityscape. 

 

For a moment, Icarion thought his eyes failed him. As he watched, the lights grew brighter and morphed into different colors. The roads became veins of red and light blue. The skyscrapers reflected bronze and vermilion. By far, the most colorful were, what Icarion assumed, were the city's dormitories. They were rainbows emanating from these buildings, but when Icarion focused, he saw that there was a subtle domination of light greens. 

 

Alex answered the unspoken question without prompting. "To me, light green is the color of excitement. Or, at least, that's the color I see when I see someone excited. Salim is a new city. Most of the people here feel like they are a part of something new. Something that is bigger than them. That they're on the edge of something new and powerful. The city was like this even before I began dropping hints that the Emperor was coming."

 

"Now," Alex began, "here comes the main event."

 

For a moment, nothing happened. Then, the dormitories exploded with even more color as shades split further into lighter and darker iterations, briefly intertwined to create a stunning sight. These tornadoes of auras engulfed entire neighborhoods as Icarion watched. Almost as quickly as it had come, the cornucopia of colors subsided, yet grew more wild as the spectrum bounced between different hues.

 

Alex happily sighed. "Normally, a human being uses only one hemisphere of their brain during the day, alternating between the logic and the creative given whatever task they're on. But, for a few moments before a person falls asleep, both hemispheres are active, creating some truly incredible sights to my eyes."

 

"Were only I an artist capable of capturing such beauty," Icarion murmured.

 

With a wave and a chuckle, Alex dissolved the scene before them, returning them to the garden. "Perhaps that's why I serve humanity so diligently. To indulge in the wonderful sights they offer to me." 

 

"If only more men were as 'selfish' as you," Icarion said with a wry smile. 

 

Alex's grin grew wider. "I appreciate the thought." He glanced at the sky of today, and his grin shortened. "Ah, I suppose we are out of time. My how quickly it can travel when one wishes otherwise."

 

Icarion nodded. "True words, but only for this day. You'll soon see. The Great Crusade may become your primary mission, but our Father allows quite a bit of leeway when it comes to personal execution of the war. There will be campaigns where we will fight side-by-side, times we can reserve for leisure, and, eventually, the Great Crusade will end. Then we, and our other lost brothers, will have all the time we desire to learn about one another."

 

"Then let us return, so we can bring that happy day closer!" Alexandros declared before leading Icarion back to the mansion.


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The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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#79
Demus Ragnok

Demus Ragnok

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Urgent News

Author: Demus Ragnok
Legion: Fire Keepers
Time: Three days after the Day of Revelation

Lene tugged at her coat. She wasn't sure why.
The sound of her foot steps drummed in her head. Lack of sleep and stems had given her a headache of terrible intensity.
But she knew this could not wait. She quickened her pace. The hooded figures behind her struggled to keep up.
She caught herself fidgeting with her braid, she wished now she had put it back up. But this couldn't wait for her hair.
She turned the corner and her heart jumped. She hurried a half step more. She could see the door to the sanctum. Two hulking guards standing watch.
They knew her, the guards. She was a deputy equerry to the primarch. Liaison officer to the Imperial Army. She frequented the sanctum. But the two Triakonta guards did not step aside.
Lene Zarya was not tall, even though, she was not slight. But in that moment she felt tiny. The terminator guards were immense. Their armor gave them the appearance of hunchbacked ogres, with broad shoulders and thick limbs. The guard to her left turned to look at her, and leaned down.
“This cannot wait.” She said, trying to keep an official tone.
“I cannot let them in.” the stooping terminator replied, looking at the two figures behind her.
Lene straightened her back.
“This cannot wait. Do you think I would bring them here if it could?”
“I have my orders. I will not let them in.” Lene was tired, she had no patience for debate.
“I will see him.” She snapped at the giant.
“Very well” he replied stepping aside, “but they stay here.”
The great iron door swung open and she entered the primarch’s quarters. The door closed behind her.
The only light was from a hearth at the far end of the room. She did not wait for her eyes to adjust. She had walked this floor enough times to know every stone.
“I was not expecting a briefing at this late hour Commandant Zarya.”
Commandant was not an official rank among the Sarmant Silahdars. Lene was technically a Captain, a company commander. When the primarch chose her for his staff Sarmant High Command had created the rank of Commandant to reflect her unique status.
The primarch Niklaas was reclining on a low couch. He looked at the woman standing in the fire light. She seemed tired. Strung out even. Her umber skin lacked it's usual ruddy undertone.
Her braid of jet hair was draped over her shoulders rather than pinned up. Her golden eyes were weary.
Niklaas thought back to when he had first noticed her. When the Sarmant regiments first joined his expedition. They were odd to him.
The Sarmant were a Gynarchy, a society ruled solely by women. Not only were they ruled by women but the majority of the population was female, and their military was entirely female. The women of Niklaas’ home world took up the blade only when need was most desperate. To see entire regiments of women soldiers was strange to him.
But they were soldiers, elite soldiers, with advanced gear and a fearsome disposition. The Silahdars proved themselves time and again. And so when Niklaas had need of a new deputy he chose the most fierce but unassuming officer among them, Lene Zarya.
And now she stood in his sanctum as she had many time before, with something heavy on her mind.
“What brings you here Lene?”
The primarch’s voice was soft but still powerful.
She was so tired. She wanted to reach down inside and find some anger to use to press through this. But she was empty even of anger.
“May I sit?” She breathed out.
“You needn’t ask.” The primarch gestured to the couch opposite him.
Lene adjusted her armored jacket, gathered her great coat and sat, straight backed, on the edge of the soft sofa. She looked up at Niklaas, his dark eyes were questioning.
“There is a message my lord.”
“A message?”
Lene looked into the primarch’s dark eyes.
“It is from the Warmaster himself.”
She could see Niklaas’ patience beginning to slip.
“The message is sealed. It is for you and you only.” She clenched her trembling hands into fists.
“I have brought two Astropaths, they cannot read the message it must be passed directly to you, my lord.”
Lene used an implanted hypnoroutine to control her breathing.
The Fire Keepers were wary of psykers. They did not use librarians as other legions did. The Astartes officers seldom dealt with Astropaths or Navigators, most times allowing other staff to serve as go betweens. Niklaas himself was known to actively hate psykers save for The Emperor and some of his brothers. Astropaths had never even been on the same deck as his private quarters. And now Lene Zarya had brought two to his door. But these were perilous times. And it seemed now that all rules stood to be broken.
“And my Triakonta wouldn't allow them in?” Niklaas asked tilting his head to the side.
Lene shook her head in response.
“Go bring them.” Niklaas gestured toward the door, moving to stand.
As Lene walked back to the door she concentrated on breathing.
This was far from over.
The primarch seemed phlegmatic but she had seen how quickly and violently his moods could change. As she walked she heard the click of a vox from behind her.
The great iron door opened, rotating on a central pivot. She beckoned the two green robed figures to follow her.
The lights in the chamber increased to a more comfortable level.
The Commandant and her followers walked to a large table next to which Niklaas stood. The primarch’s expression was unreadable.
“This is Chief Astropath Relan and Astropath Mara.” Lene announced.
The two figures bowed slowly.
“Mara received the message, my lord. Relan is here to direct the transfer. I understand it to be an unusual operation.”
“What is involved in this transfer?” the primarch queried.
Relan looked to Lene and Lene to Niklaas. “Speak.” He spat.
Relan took down her hood. She appeared ancient, sharp features covered by sallow skin, a scalp with sparse wisps of feathery white hair and empty orbits where eyes had once lived.
“My lord primarch.” Relan released a long breath. “The transfer will require physical contact.” Relan’s voice embodied a strength directly opposed to her appearance.
“Be on with it then.” Niklaas rumbled.
Relan instructed Mara to take down her hood and come near the primarch.
Mara was young, with a complexion that still appeared healthy and brown hair that was only just beginning to fade to white. In place of eyes the young astropath bore a pair of finely wrought augmetics, brass with ebon trimming and blue lenses. She was obviously terrified, lip trembling, unable to look up at the primarch.
Relan held a hand out to Niklaas. “My lord could I ask that you kneel?” The giant primarch lowered himself to one knee. Much to Lene’s amazement.
Mara’s trembling increased.
“Please… d d don't hur hur hurt me.” She sobbed.
“Focus”. Relan commanded. Niklaas glared at Mara seemingly unmoved.
“Just place your mind at rest my lord, but be prepared. There is no way to say what the content of the message may be.” Niklaas released a heavy breath.
Relan brought Mara nearer Niklaas and reached up as if to touch his face. He almost recoiled.
“Could you come closer?”
Niklaas leaned lower. Relan took Mara’s left hand placing it on the primarh’s right temple and then leaned the young astropath’s forehead against Niklaas’. She then place Mara’s right had on her own forehead holding it their with her left hand while placing her right hand on the primarch’s left temple.
Lene had broken out in a cold sweat and her stomach ached.
“We will begin” Relan almost whispered. “Close your eyes and be at peace my lord.”
There was an agonizing moment of silence before Relan begin to murmur.
Then it happened.
Niklaas roared. An ear splitting, heart stopping bawl of deep agony.
The sound was enough to stun Lene, she tried to move but was frozen. Niklaas reared up sending the Astropaths through the air. Mara struck Lene knocking her to the floor.
Relan rolled across the stone floor, limp.
Before Lene could react there was a heavy foot fall beside her.
Niklaas shouted something in the Obsail tongue. She turned to see one of the Triakonta guards. His great ax held ready to strike.
“Get them out of here.”Niklaas bellowed. “Leave me.”
Lene thought he sounded heartbroken.
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Of Fire.

Fire gives light removing dark and shadow.

Fire gives purity driving out corruption.

Fire gives strength consuming weakness.

#80
bluntblade

bluntblade

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Severity
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Scions Hospitalier
Time: circa 10 M31 (I think) directly prior to the Vizenko Prosecution
Major characters: Pionus, Antonidas, Inna, Odyssalas, Mytakis

+++++

The orders had come with the mark of the Sigillite and the Aquila, blazing in gold. That truly brought home the immensity of the occasion - the Emperor had set forth from Terra because of this matter. As further missives arrived, the Scions learned why they were ordered to Baal. On this unassuming, radiation-soaked world, a legionary - Vizenko of the Warbringers - was to be tried for unsanctioned experiments on gene-manipulation.

The Scions had rarely found themselves so busy during a Warp transit. Almost every waking hour was spent scrutinising the information available to them, whose support they could be sure of, where they would have to tread lightly. Most of all, what had happened to light the fuse. They had been anticipating a reckoning of some sort for several years, but suddenly matters had come to a head. It was plausible that the Lions’ claims were true - according to Nibaasiniiwi, Vizenko himself had insinuated a desire to study the gene-seed of other Legions - but ethically, it was still shocking.

Perhaps more ominous, however, was the implication that the entire issue of gene-augmentation would be decided with this trial. The potential ramifications were so great that none of them had considered that even more was at stake, until Antonidas rendezvoused with the main fleet.

The First Captain had wasted little time, striding straight into Pionus’ staterooms where the Primarch and his advisors were analysing an account from the Crimson Lions. “Is it true? Do you intend to see the Warbringers condemned?”

Pionus gazed evenly at him. “I intend to see that the truth is made known and any transgressions meet with justice.”

“And you are sanguine about the weight of those penalties?” Antonidas’ voice was flinty, brittle.

“That severity is for the Emperor to determine.”

“And we both know the severity He is capable of.”

Pionus steepled his fingers. “You know the dangers of the unrestrained urge to improve, become more powerful, better. Above all else that is my concern. The rest of the Synedrion are in agreement. On this of all matters,” he gestured to Odyssalas, “surely you would side with your protégé?”

Antonidas’ eyes never left his master. “Metis would follow you into hell even if you told him not to. But neither he, nor any of the others, truly understands what we might be about to do. You know what I speak of, Pionus.”

Looks of consternation flitted between the other Scions. Antonidas had always had the right to address Pionus by name, but never had he chosen to speak in such familiar terms. The significance wasn't lost on the Primarch. Pionus slowly raised his eyes to meet Antonidas'.

“Say it anyway, for the benefit of the others.”

Antonidas ran his eyes over the rest of the Synedrion. “I served with the lost before I knew any of you. One was a figure of legend before I met you," he said, his gaze returning to Pionus. "I walked on Prospero the day we found the other. I owe life debts to warriors from both Legions, debts I can never repay. Of the people in this room, only you, Inna and I truly know what was lost on that world.” His voice rose, and he couldn't keep it free of accusation. “So tell me, are we about to become accessories to a repeat of that tragedy?”

The room had gone very still. Anger was clear to see in Pionus’ face too. Not bursting out as Antonidas’ did, but smouldering. “You know full well that is not what happened that day.” Odyssalas glanced at Mytakis, seeking a sign that his friend knew what Antonidas was talking about. They had been on Prospero, but as junior warriors of the Phantoms and Depthstriders, they'd had no idea why those events had come to pass.

Antonidas leant forward, both hands on the desk. “How it ended does not change the purpose with which the second were despatched. The end result was the same.”

The Primarch sighed, and broke with his gaze. “You think I want to take a hand in the forgetting of another Legion?” Pionus' voice was soft, but there was tension running through his voice. “I want to avoid that more than anything else. Kozja is obstinate and misguided, but he is my brother. One of seventeen beings in this galaxy with whom I have true kinship.”

He got up, and strode over to a great canvass on the wall. A scene from the Triumph; himself, Alexandros, Hectarion and Icarion, meeting on the great plain beneath the mountain. The last time they had gathered as equals, Odyssalas realised.

“For the first seven decades of my life, I knew of no beings like me. There are facets to my being that I do not believe I will ever comprehend, but on a biological level I understood just how different I was from everyone else. You cannot imagine how it felt when Alexandros stepped from that Stormbird, you beside him.” He smiled. “Of course, it was a glorious thing to meet my Legion, but to know that I was not alone in this, that I had been raised up in this manner to serve humanity… I had only wept for the death of my adoptive father before that.” A finger delicately stroked the oak frame of the painting.

“Eighteen more brothers awaited, already there to guide me or out there for us to seek. Some, I admit, were not what I had hoped for, but others were all that and more. Two were especially close to my heart. One was brash and vulgar in a way that drove me to distraction, but he taught me to read the currents of battle as I did those of our seas. The other was in some ways so far removed from our brotherhood, but in others was more admirable than any of the rest. An intellect and love of knowledge that all of us paled beside. And misfortune stole them from us.” For a moment an old man wore Pionus' clothes, his shoulders sagging under cruel memories.

Then the apparition was gone, leaving Odyssalas to chide himself for the superstitious phrase which had sprung to mind. Pionus turned once more to regard his lieutenants. “My friend, my sister, my sons, I promise you that I could not wish less to see a similar fate befall another Legion. We do this to save our misguided brothers, and bring them back to the correct path.”

Despite this answer, Antonidas didn't relent. “And if they will not come back to the correct path?”

Pionus put his face centimetres away from that of his First Captain, visibly working to restrain himself. Had Hectarion spoken those words they would have left his throat in a roar fit to shake the room. From Pionus they came quietly, but in a way that was worse.

“Then, no matter how much it hurts us to do so, we must remember our duty. We were created to serve Mankind, not to rule. If Kozja has strayed, I must trust in my father to know what to do, and hope that He will be merciful.”

Edited by bluntblade, 22 October 2016 - 11:11 AM.

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Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

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#81
bluntblade

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Ruiner
Author: bluntblade
Legions: the Black Legion (working title)
Time: long after the Insurrection and Scouring
Major characters: Raiden Athrawes, Slynnat, Legba

+++++

Lossek Tacanius watched the last rays of sunlight ebb away, over the desert beyond the walls of his fortress. He was glad of the dying light; such dealings as this should not be conducted in the light. He signalled, and a servant began the long process of unlocking the large chest that took up the centre of the room.

Then he turned his attention to Vitellus, the Inquisitorial agent sent to retrieve the artefact within. “I am too old for foolish talk of hope, too old even for rejuvenation to keep the years at bay, but to have travelled such distance as I have cuts both ways. Misery upon despair…” He had lost count of the years he had spent both as a Rogue Trader, haring into the unknown during the last days of the Crusade, later running reconnaissance for the Scouring and reconquest, and then as a hermit, magpie, gathering up relics wherever he could, safeguarding what he could of Man's inheritance. “I have seen too much, and to see this of all things fall into the wrong hands would be to inflict yet more grief upon this unhappy Galaxy.”

“You do yourself a disservice with those words,” replied the Inquisitor. His name was Vitellus, which fit him well; he was well-built, and his brown skin was unmarred by age. That was no guarantee of youth, as Tacanius knew well. He could be a talented agent in his thirties, or a well-preserved veteran in his fourth century. The eyes gave no clue, but they were bright as he studied the vast book, bound with great chains, which emerged from the casket. “Such secrets as lie within these pages could change our fortunes utterly. The High Lords of Terra will be most grateful.”

“The High Lords are nothing to me. I do this for Mankind.”

The other man was quiet for a moment, watching the old Rogue Trader. “The Imperium thanks you regardless.”

-----

Vitellus struggled to keep himself from focusing solely on the book. The product of such an intellect, the work of one so steeped in the lore of the Warp, had unguessable potential. Certainly that mind had been naive, shackled by half-truths, but if the secrets here could be viewed through the prism of the Inquisition's hard-won understanding, they would gain potent weapons indeed. More importantly, they would be kept out of xenos and Secessionist hands.

The door opened suddenly, jolting him from his reverie and revealing one of the mercenaries who served Tacanius. “Sir, augur readings. A fleet has arrived in-system, just minutes out from here.”

“No attempts at communication?” And too close. No one could translate so close to a planet without their vessels being destroyed by gravitational stresses. Not without access to technologies and power that the forces of the Imperium did not possess. He switched on his vox-unit. “Shipmaster, report.”

“It's a large fleet, sir. Astartes-cohort size -” even these days, humans would rarely admit the unpalatable, most likely scenario when there was a glimmer of hope they could cling to “- or larger. They appear to have a Gloriana, or a ship of similar size. Attempting -” static crackled through the device. “Sir, we are under attack! We -”

Vitellus, already on his feet, switched off the vox. “Our ship will be destroyed in minutes. I have to leave.” Tacanius nodded, and a stormtrooper picked up the book and followed his master out into the night.

Lights were already descending towards them, spewing volkite rays, bolts and las-fire even as anti-air turrets tried to acquire targets. Vitellus’ augmented vision showed him sixty-four, but without a second look he was off and running, leaving Tacanius to conduct the defence. Eight times eight. That was enough to tell him the nature of this incursion.

He glanced back, cursing himself for the lapse. Sixteen of the gunships came to a halt, hovering - Fire Raptors, Vitellus realised, as they continued to fire. Stone and rockcrete shattered and melted under the onslaught, and soldiers disappeared in clouds of ash or blood.

The mercenaries were loyal and skilled, tempered by a lifetime of service. They were the equal of any mortal troops the Imperium possessed, save for the Daughters of Daer'dd and the Tempestus Scions. Their arsenal was augmented by the lethal archeotech that Tacanius had acquired over his long career.

They never had a chance. Embarkation ramps lowered even as the Storm Eagles set down, and with a roar the warriors within spilled forth, giants brandishing huge weapons. Their armour was black save for the brass ornamentation and a few patches of red. A knight of jagged thorns led them, a fanged longsword held high as their guns answered the defenders’ first volleys. Vitellus saw the glint of a spiked brass muzzle welded onto his helm, and immediately recognised Slynnat, once called the Feral. A murderous servant of Khorne, undoubtedly brought here by the promise of bloodshed.

“Blood for the Ruiner!” The blade crackled into snarling, crimson life and the warrior charged, cleaving through any who stood before him. A few of the mercenaries managed to draw melee weapons or thrust at the attackers with bayonets, but none so much as landed a blow. Their blades broke on those of their attackers, and they fell in mangled heaps.

As they moved out into the fortress, dozens of larger gunships swept down behind them. Stormbirds, surrounding one whose long wings folded upwards as it landed like some monstrous flying creature, its curves displaying the heritage of Akira's forges.

Vitellus didn't wait to see who emerged from it. “Ruiner” was a new title to him, but it mattered little. Chaos warlords numbered in the thousands, jostling for power, rising and falling only to be replaced. All he needed to know was that the Ruiner was an enemy of the Imperium, coveting the knowledge contained in this tome. He turned to the stormtrooper carrying the book. “You know your duty.” Without hesitation the soldier handed it to him, before he and his comrades came to a halt and turned, shouldering their weapons. Vitellus ran, not seeking to find or contact any more of his men.

Recovering this book outweighed all the lives on this world. He knew that for an empirical certainty. The same went for the fleet in orbit. His ship was fast and Warp-capable, and there were detachments and outposts he could reach as long as he made the jump successfully. The intervention of a hostile force had been factored into the scheme, contingencies devised. Few illusions survived an Inquisitor's education, and the rest were dispelled by the early stages of active service. Nothing else mattered if he could just get clear, reach his ship and -

He stopped, muscles locked. Silence around him, nothing to mask the sounds of his men being cut apart. He collapsed, frozen as his sinews yielded to a more powerful will than his own. Something moved in the gloom ahead, then a figure was silhouetted against an explosion. His ship, gone. He felt the paralysis leave him as new footsteps sounded behind him. He went for his gun, only for the handle to turn to dust. Rising to one knee, he drew his power sword, which was simply torn from his grasp by an unseen hand.

At least now he could see his assailant. The helm lay beneath a scaly hood, but he saw the faceplate had been worked into the semblance of a skull, gleaming in black and gold above a string of fangs and claws which hung from the traitor's neck. The haft of a force spear tapped on the ground as the sorcerer reached him. Bones tied to the base of the blade rattled with each step.

He forced himself to stare into the eyes of the skull, clutching the grimoire. “I’ll die before I talk.”

The sorcerer gave him a look that was perversely close to sympathy. “We know everything you could tell us. What matters is that you cannot say anything to your masters.” But the numbness spreading through his body had told Vitellus that before the words were even spoken. The book slipped from his fingers, retrieved by hands whose owners he could not see. The sorcerer had severed the parts of his nervous system that governed his vital organs, and as he walked away the agent died in silence, lungs stilled and blood pooling in his heart.

The last thing he saw was a sky full of traitor vessels and Tacanius, standing before a figure who must surely be the leader of the traitors. Two curved swords hung at his side, and his Mk IV armour was graven both with Chaotic symbolism and images from fallen Madrigal. A gem sat in the middle of his breastplate, seething with purple light, and the eight-pointed star rose above his head. The savage knight and the leaders of other warbands drew near, and saluted. Chaos warlords did not acknowledge mere allies in such a way. A fresh chill ran through Vitellus' heart as he saw the sign of allegiance repeated, and realised that every warrior bore the black and silver livery.

It couldn't be. Raiden Athrawes had vanished in the Scouring, come to anonymous death at the hands of some fellow traitor. But here he was, at the head of a Legion, a damn Legion with an air of authority never seen before in a Chaos warlord. Vitellus’ final moments were of terror, as his failing brain comprehended the threat this figure represented.

-----

The Ruiner gazed down at the old man, the faceplate of his helm hiding any expression. “After all this time, age has run you down at last.”

“Yet I look upon you, and count myself fortunate.”

One of the Ruiner's lieutenants, the spined mockery of a knight, hissed in anger and began to step forward, but was stilled by a gesture from his lord, who otherwise paid no heed to the remark. “You know what I've come for.”

The aged Rogue Trader stood his ground. “I know where you came from. When it still stood, you carried the title Sentinel, not Imperator.”

Again, his words were ignored. “The Book of Magnus. We know you recovered it.” He straightened up as the sorcerer and his retinue emerged, bringing with them Vitellus and the vast book he had tried to escape with. “And now it passes into the hands of the Black Legion.”

“The Black Legion arose from Chaos. You -”

The glowering helm was inches away from his face. “The Black Legion arose from my ambition, and by my will. Do not think to lecture me that I do not belong within the army I created.”

“Then we have nothing more to speak of.”

“I do not dispute that.” The unsheathing of the sword and the killing blow were a single, perfect motion. The Ruiner turned the head over with the point of his blade, gazing silently down at the face. Then he turned to the vast book as it was set down at his feet, and for a long minute there was silence as he studied his prize.

One of his Terminator captains stepped forward. “Lord, the prisoners?” the behemoth rumbled, his former identity betrayed by a Delian accent, and the enormous shield and spear he bore.

The Ruiner looked to Slynnat, who rasped from behind his spiked faceplate, “Khorne cares not for the blood of the weak. There are worthier pickings out in the wastes.”

“Very well,” Athrawes nodded. “Go. Hunt.”

The gore-stained knight crashed a fist against his chestplate. “Blood for the Blood God.”

“Skulls for the Skull Throne.”

The Hell Walkers boarded their dropships. As the sand scattered, Athrawes turned to his remaining lieutenants. “Will the Lord of Decay and the Prince of Pleasure look more favourably upon the spoils?” They inclined their heads. “Then I leave them to you. Spare none.”

Jeering laughter, clinking chains and piteous moans filled the night as he turned to his final advisor. Legba gazed back from beneath his hood. “The Lord of Change makes no claim.” He knelt and ran a finger over the grimoire. “This is all the prize we require. With it, we will strike a blow against the Imperium such that it has not seen in a thousand years.”

The Ruiner did not acknowledge the words as he gazed to the horizon, where the lights of the Hell Walkers' dropships sought out fresh prey. Around him, flamers saw to the remaining buildings. A little fiefdom of the False Emperor, burning. Soon a thousand others would join it, a portent and a stepping stone to the ruin of the Imperium. The pompous fools on Terra had forgotten to dread them.

Now their long punishment began.


Edited by bluntblade, 17 November 2016 - 06:11 AM.

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#82
bluntblade

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Daughters of Daer'dd
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Iron Bears (with the Daughters of Daer'dd)
Time: 1 M31
Major characters: Ellan Temeter, Lotara Sarrin, Daer'dd, Ar'assa Redd

+++++

They stood in great ranks of black iron and copper, guns held loosely but never losing their discipline. Power armour glinted in the bright but cold autumn sun. At a sign they snapped to full attention, with such precision that it was if a single massive boot had stamped down on the rockcrete.

But the cry of “Huron!” did not have the almost impossibly deep pitch of Space Marine voices. They weren't male voices either.

“I’ll bet you never saw Terran women quite like these,” Minerva remarked. Which was true enough; the Daughters of Daer'dd were among the most disciplined and deadly mortal troops the Imperium possessed, up there with the Cachatan Devils and Darzalan Cossacks in terms of skill and martial fervour. Moreover, they were perhaps the best-equipped, as evidenced not only by their armour but the hellguns and bolters in their hands.

“You’re a rare breed out here, no question,” she replied. Minerva chuckled quietly, and Ellan glanced sidelong at her. “Though I don't really know how different a Xephyrite is from a Huronian.”

“I still can't bring myself to drink mead, so there’s a bit of a divide.”

“True, but you swing a sword harder than any Terrans I know.” A bout with Minerva in the practice cages was always a tiring exercise, and Ellan wondered just how lethal she would be with power armour added to her speed and strength.

They lapsed into silence, taking in their surroundings. Huronian architecture featured almost organic shapes, with metal and stone supported and entwined with trees. All of this was very apparent in the square, where a great crowd had gathered to watch the Choir of the Singing Arrows receive the commendations they had earned over long years of war. The people of the Three Fires were strong and handsome, and their adoration for their defenders was palpable. This, finally, completed her image of the VIth Legion.

She nodded over to the giant in the centre of the parade ground. “Does Daer'dd usually attend these parades?”

“Whenever he can. When he named them his daughters, he really meant it.” When Daer'dd unified the Three Fires, many of his troops had been women. Denied a place in the Legion by their gender, they had been granted their present status through augmentics and bio-artificing. “Honestly, I find it strange now to see Primarchs who treat mortals differently. Let alone those who don't hold any affection for their own sons.”

Ellan blinked, frowning in confusion. “Surely every Primarch feels a bond with his sons?”

Minerva grimaced. “Well, if we ever campaign beside the VIIth, you’ll find out. Not that I expect it to happen in our lifetime.” Ellan thought about that in silence. She could hardly claim ignorance about the antipathy between Raktra and the Shepherds, but…

“Surely he cares in some way for his “true” sons?”

A bitter half-laugh answered. “He named his bodyguards after the slang name for death row inmates. As he sees it, he sentences them to death by recruiting them. And by giving them that name, he cracks a joke about it.” Her hand clamped itself around the hilt of her rapier. “That should tell you all you need to know about how fatherly a figure he is. I count myself lucky to serve under a far better general.” She closed her eyes for a moment, took a deep breath - her usual response when she came close to losing her temper, coupled with a change of subject. “In any case, it’s not just about the Daughters. There is also the matter of him wanting to spend some time with his wife.”

What?" Ellan was well aware her mouth was hanging open, but all she could do was stare incredulously at Minerva, who burst into thoroughly unhelpful laughter, quickly stifled with the back of her hand and replaced with a look of innocence as Ellan tried to gauge whether she was serious. With some effort, she regained her composure. Not before time; Ellan was acutely aware of the eyes of several Legion serfs on the pair of them. The Daughters, with one or two exceptions, kept their eyes forward. Hopefully the constant clicking of picters had drowned it out further away.

“I'm not messing with you here. See her?” She pointed to a figure who had come into view beside Daer'dd - a mortal woman as far as Ellan could tell, but incredibly tall, close to an Astartes in height. “Grace Binesi Niimkiikaa. The Lady of the Flame, Firestone Queen, and wife of the Lord of Huron.”

With Solomon, Nibaasiniiwi and the other officers stood to attention some way off, she had to take Minerva’s word for it. It wasn't that hard to believe, when she looked properly. Grace was as singular a figure as all those accolades would suggest, as she drew closer, inspecting the Daughters arrayed before her. Lotara's armour was finely wrought, but Grace's put it to shame. Richly decorated but never garish, her armour was copper rather than the usual black, which formed Huron characters across the plate. The breastplate was ornamented in white gold, a swirl of imagery. Ellan recognised the same symbols of Niimkiikaa that marked Daer'dd's armour, entwined with a rose which, she assumed, stood for Grace's own House. The vambraces had been given a shape reminiscent of wings - a gesture of reverence to the Imperium itself.

All that finery, however, would be wasted without the bearing to match it. She moved with a regal assurance that Ellan could only compare to that of the Primarchs - to measure it against the Emperor's presence on Qarith Prime would simply be unfair. There was immense affection too as she surveyed the Daughters, in her voice, and acknowledged in the fervour of the shouted replies, which became individual murmurs as the ceremony turned towards the handing out of individual honours.

Lotara nudged Ellan. “We’ll be here all morning if you want to watch the whole thing. Even the youngest of the Singing Arrows have been away from Huron for over a decade. That's a lot of accolades to be handed out. Besides,” she grinned, “there are more than enough remembrancers here to chronicle the Daughters’ homecoming, and I've called in a favour for you.”

-----

Exactly what favour Ar'assa Redd owed her for, Minerva didn't say. They found her watching the ceremony from the feet of Sunclaw, idly polishing a dagger. Her skin was deeply tanned, and knotwork was tattooed on her exposed arms. Under a mass of chestnut hair, sharp green eyes peered keenly at Ellan as she approached.

“I was hoping I'd get to meet you sooner,” she smiled, standing to shake her hand - or so Ellan assumed, forgetting the warrior's grip even now. Her arms were corded and muscular, and she gripped harder than most Army men Ellan had shaken hands with. “Daer’dd wasn't going to pick just anyone to be his personal remembrancer. I would've sought you out on Qarith Prime, but then there were so many old acquaintances and the planet was so damn crowded.”

“And unlikeour flag-captain, your title of Iron Queen means political duties,” Minerva prompted.

Ar'assa nodded, and gestured to her fatigues. “I couldn't wait to stow my uniform away for a while. After a week you start making plans to flee the system if one more banquet or council is announced. Just want to find some Orks -” she patted one of Sunclaw's legs and grinned at Ellan “- crack some skulls, that sort of thing. Cathartic stuff, believe me.”

“I can imagine.” After all, she’d seen the bridge crew jubilant in victory on a few occasions. Up close, with the very fibre-muscles of a Knight Walker obeying your commands, the release must be so much greater. “How long have you had her?” Surely Sunclaw must be a she. The walker was huge and its weapons formidable, but it had a slender, graceful quality to it that was at odds with many of the Imperium's war machines. Another example of how highly the people of the Three Fires prized beauty in their creations, she supposed. Huronian symbols ran in filigree along the barrel of the las-cutter, and even the Graviton Singularity Canon was pleasing to look at.

“Ever since the Three Fires were formally united. Damon and Daer'dd designed her together.” Haha! It was a daft thing to be satisfied about, but Ellan couldn't help it. “The giving of gifts is integral to betrothal ceremonies in the Three Fires, though it was really just a formality. There aren't many mortal men who don't disappear in the shadow of a Primarch, but Damon was one.” A wistful look settled on her face.

“Was it hard to watch him change?” Ellan asked quietly.

“Terrifying, more than anything else at the time. He was one of the oldest men to attempt ascension, and that's always dangerous.” Ar'assa paused, contemplating. “In some ways it helped that I was bonded to Sunclaw around that time; the process changes you, so at least I wasn't standing still and watching him transform. The thing is, the changes aren't a single event. They're ongoing, a process.” She gazed into the distance, tapping a nail on the blade of the dagger. “The cybernetics - watching those add up can be hard. They don't leech at the spirit, as some believe, but it's troubling to watch someone you love lose bits of themselves.”

Ellan nodded, wondering about that. The Bears themselves made little of their augmentics, save to reflect gratefully on how they belonged to a Legion of such craftsmen. Nibaasiniiwi was more philosophical than most, describing them as a constant reminder of his debt to Daer'dd and his duty to humanity. This side of it was never addressed.

Looking at this woman who stood somewhere between a mortal and a transhuman, the next question came quite easily. “Do you feel set apart from mortals, even the Daughters?”

“I’d say it's impossible not to. In some ways I envy those bound to a normal lifespan.” Ellan was surprised to hear anyone speak this way about enhanced longevity. It was the dream of so many, indeed the dream that Pionus yearned to make a reality for the entire species. “There is a certainty to knowing that ten or eleven decades is your allotted time in this Galaxy. I do not know how long I will live. None of us really know how far the human frame can be made to last. All I know - if I can indeed know it - is that I cannot keep pace with my husband. Someday I will leave him alone to face the untold years an Astartes is made to last.”

Ellan had no idea what to say to that. The gulf of years between her and Ar'assa was suddenly very apparent.

Ar'assa sighed, and looked up, towards the ships that hung somewhere beyond the blue of the sky. “All is as the Skyfather wills.”

Minerva caught Ellan's eye and gave a half-smile, knowing that even after four years away from Terra, the vaguely spiritual terms of reverence used by the Huron often smacked of superstition and idolatry.

Ar'assa saw it and shrugged, smiling wryly. “Millenia of tradition and belief take a while to ease out of. If you can look past the phrasing, it just means what will be, will be.” She sheathed the dagger. “For now, I’d be happy to show you the rest of our Knights.”

Ellan grinned eagerly. “Do you have many stories about them?” Hopefully she would be able to tell her more about the Daughters too - her sister Molleigh was well-known as their commander, and Ar'assa must have served beside them in hundreds of battles.

“We've got enough that you'll have to dine with us tonight. No objections,” Ar'assa said, forestalling her with a raised hand. “After all, you need to experience real Huronian hospitality, and my family would love to hear some tales about the Throneworld.”

“How much mead is this going to involve?” Ellan muttered to Minerva as they were led inside.

“Not much. You know she's not Huron herself, right?”

Ellan thought for a moment. “Accer Ferris, then?”

“In one. So rest assured, if there's one thing the people of Ferris go in for, it's damn good ale.”

Edited by bluntblade, 26 May 2017 - 10:39 PM.

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#83
bluntblade

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Prospero
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Scions Hospitalier, Iron Bears, Lightning Bearers, Predators, Warbringers, Halcyon Wardens, Crimson Lions, Wardens of Light, The Drowned
Time: circa 970 M30
Major characters: Pionus, Daer'dd, Hectarion, Gwalchavad, Alexandros, Icarion, Kozja, Morro, Andezo, the Emperor, Malcador the Sigillite, Constantin Valdor

+++++

Pionus wants to tear the helmet off and remove the barrier between himself and the ruination around him. To see it with his eyes and breathe the air might finally make this real. Make this not some mere nightmare vision of Prospero, for such a world, his mind says, one of the true jewels of the Imperium, surely cannot be reduced to this. He does not, of course, for he understands better than anyone that to do so would be suicide. There are particles that would acidify the lining of his lungs and kill him long before his flesh corrodes, but not before his eyes ooze molten from their sockets.

Ash and debris mask any path that any living soul might make, even an Astartes. They know they are not the first to set foot here; the ships of The Drowned hung in orbit when they arrived, and their dropships still sit brazenly in the centre of Tizca's spaceport. With no desire to wait, Pionus has sent Diokles to demand answers from the Drowned Men in orbit while he seeks the truth on the ground.

The Scions Hospitalier are dispersed behind him for the most part, Depthstriders at his side. Their heavy strides and the Phantoms' jump packs as they scour the rooftops are the only source of noise here. They see downed ships in IInd and XIth Legion colours, mummified corpses both in the garb of the Spireguard and civilians. A groan of loss wrenches itself from him as they come within sight of the ruined libraries. Knowledge, diligently acquired and preserved, perhaps none of it left to be salvaged.

Sudden movement on a rooftop. Young Odyssalas, Antonidas' protégé, signalling. By unspoken consensus, every Astartes has kept silent so far, limiting themselves to blink-runes and battle-sign. Odyssalas has seen something, and the hand with which he points trembles. Pionus speeds up, forcing his retinue to trot as they make their way to the Pyramid of Photep.

Confusion and horror as they find things that once had the shape of Astartes. Bestial forms in shattered grey armour. Grotesque appendages sprouting from red plate. And worst of all he recognises them, here and there. The axe that can only belong to Kjaran, double-headed and adorned with dark gold at the head. The owner lies close by, his proud form unmarred by the Legion's curse but rent by savage claws. A ruined Leviathan sarcophagus, broken from within as whatever Imrik had become burst out into its aberrant second life.

He keeps his silence as he passes between all these broken and abused bodies, until he finds what he has known he must, from the start. The obsidian blade of the axe caked in dust, the haft lying in splinters. And almost touching it, a massive sword lined with teeth as long as his hand. Snapped, a little less than halfway along the blade.

In the silence, Pionus' knees hitting the stone is a thunderclap. He throws back his head.

He howls.

-----

The Iron Bears snap into combat postures at the sound, but Daer'dd stops them with a raised hand before a chainblade can roar into life. The sound signals not danger, but the death of their hope that anyone might still live on this planet, that they haven't really lost two brothers on this world.

Pionus hasn't moved by the time he reaches him, as the dust on his shoulders attests. Utter misery is apparent even through his blank obsidian faceplate, and Daer'dd too regrets that here he can only show the snarling aspect of his helmet. Antonidas stands by his primarch, one hand on his shoulder, but he steps away as Daer'dd draws close. Pionus gets unsteadily to his feet, and is immediately enveloped in Daer'dd's massive embrace, the only sound his vox-twisted sobs. The Astartes slump down around them, until the whine of dropships pierces the quiet and more figures emerge from the ruins.

-----

Icarion has not had the luxury of his brothers’ uncertainty. He has seen the malformed shapes even before he claps eyes on them, so instead of the half-hoping dread of his brothers, he has felt a deadening certainty ever since he received the call to make all haste for Prospero. He wonders who has it worse, then berates himself inwardly for such thoughts at this time, in this place. He has always taken seriously his place, first among the twenty. Now his brothers will need his support and guidance more than ever.

It is hard to look at the broken forms of Leman and Magnus - theirs is no merciful sleep, as their faces are etched with desolate grief - but pointless to look away until he finds the arms of Daer'dd and Pionus around his shoulders.

But even as he is welcomed into the embrace, the accusatory finger hovers behind his eyes. The failure it points to led them here, to the ruin of two Legions. The injunctions to caution, constant, disregarded by Magnus in his desperation. Can there be a more awful fate than what the Crimson King did to himself? Destroyed by his own children and his efforts to save them, dragging another into the abyss as well.

His nerves still ache from the final detonation, potent enough that it seems to have cut the world itself off from the aether. The psychneuin are as dead as everything else, and mercifully no daemons are left to gorge upon the torment. Had there been any, the Imperial Truth itself might have been overturned, calamity upon calamity. As it is the half-truth will prevail; genetic disorders, merely catalysed by the Warp.

-----

Andezo understands the need for such secrecy, but it pains him all the same as he draws near, wading through the water that has spilled from ruptured fountains. He was never close to either brother, though such a primal kinship must be mourned. Like Icarion he feels the ripples of the final, soul-scouring blast, and wonders what it conceals. What malevolent forces did this to his brothers, invading and twisting them into these… things, and driving them to attack the very people they protected.

He hears the psychic echoes of Magnus’ scream and guesses that the sight of the city that raised him being destroyed was what forced him to attempt this last desperate measure. Or maybe it was to protect his brothers against the menace he comprehended only in those final moments. My brilliant brother, that was the one gap in your understanding, and it was enough to undo all that you wrought.

He nears Daer'dd, who had assigned him to lead the search through the residential districts, and gives a regretful shake of the head. Icarion is the first to bow his head anew, and makes the sign of the Aquila. The rest follow, Andezo somewhat hesitantly.

For it is by the authority that the Aquila represents that the lessons of this day will be kept from the wider Imperium, the Primarchs forbidden to speak of it even among themselves. It smells of injustice to Andezo, for his brothers committed no sin other than ignorance. He knows that his father does nothing without good reason, but he cannot perceive it himself. He simply fears the consequences of what might happen if some of his brothers seek what they think is a solution to the dangers that led here, as half-sighted as Magnus was. He sees dropships slip from the clouds, and from the shimmer of white and gold he knows that one such brother draws near.

-----

Kozja doesn't consider an alternative hypothesis as his gilded Stormbird flies low over the broken pyramids. An Astartes is first and foremost a product of his gene-seed, and Primarchs even more so. It is an entirely logical inference; there was nothing of them before the Emperor and His scientists commenced their work. All they are, their strength and flaws, are born of genetic artifice beneath the peaks of the Himalayza.

Moreover, he is more familiar than almost any other with the processes that have shaped the Legions. While he does not know the specific peculiarities of the Wolves and the Sons’ genetic makeup, he can guess at the factors that brought them low. Undoubtedly Prospero’s psyker population played a part in exacerbating the changes, but the doom of both Legions lay within their very DNA. His guards maintain their dignity, save for the odd gasp of horror; etiquette dictates that none break from formality unless the Primarch himself does.

He does not say it - such a blinkered man as Daer'dd would never hear his arguments, let alone at a time like this, but more than anything else this disaster shows the need to eliminate any flaws from the Astartes, the need to make them better in every way. Had they been forged into a single army they would never have been dogged by these terrible losses, nor the conflicts that may have led to them and have disrupted the progress of the Crusade.

So silently, as he acknowledges the gaze of his brothers but holds himself apart from their embrace - decorum means nothing if he lapses, no matter the circumstances - he resolves to accelerate his work. All must become known to them.

-----

The three brothers who arrive with him are not as composed. Hectarion does not understand how Kozja can hold himself apart, even now. He even took Alexandros’ words with that maddening stoicism, and insists on choosing the pomp of his Legion over the company of his brothers; Alexandros gladly accepted the offer to fly down with him. All the same, he struggles to remain in one place, refusing to even take a seat even when the craft lands. He can't be still, can't truly accept his brother's words, until he sees the proof. For the first time he hopes that Alexandros’ vision is false.

The ramp lowers and he dashes forward, shrugging off Alexandros’ restraining hand. Not even glancing at the warriors stood around the area he barrels forward, Astartes scattering before him, hardly hearing Gwalchavad's shout from the ramp, until the sight of his fallen brothers brings him to a halt, steadying himself against the remains of a statue. The sounds that escape him are as uncharacteristic as Pionus’ lament, a low, quiet moan as he beholds the proof.

Something glinting at his feet draws his eyes downward, and he crouches to pick up a Kraken tooth. Numbly, he stares at it, unable to shake the thought that he should have been here, that he should have done something to avert this despite the knowledge that he could never have imagined this.

A hand slips beneath each arm. His hand closes on the fang and drawing in a deep breath, he allows Gwalchavad and Traghaias to pull him to his feet. He must master himself and not sully the place where his brothers have fallen.

As his eyes rove across the fallen Wolves a chill settles over his hearts. Daer'dd meets his gaze with a nod, understanding even through the barriers their helms place between them. There are still fleets of the IInd out there, and it is not yet certain whether they have survived this disaster. Even if they did, however, they will not be allowed to remain as they were before; the initial communication made that clear. This disaster will not be made public knowledge, and its victims will vanish from the histories of the Crusade. The survivors must go somewhere.

He runs a finger along the curve of the fang, closing his eyes. I could not save you brother, but I will see to it that your sons find shelter.

But this relative solace cannot last, as footsteps - too relaxed, almost languid - echo from the pyramid in whose shadow they stand.

-----

Morro emerges from the pyramid after his excursion into the catacombs. His curiosity is satisfied; nothing lives on Prospero save for the newcomers. He had already viewed the bodies of his brothers - falling dust has masked his tracks and those of his warriors, but even so the ones standing before him must have had their wits dulled by sentiment to miss them. Again he gazes upon the Wolf King, in the dirt where he belongs - but that he were cast there by my hand - and the sneer returns beneath the gem-haloed helmet.

Daer'dd bristles immediately, the bestial anger of his helm suddenly quite appropriate. Hectarion is less restrained, immediately stepping forward, and a growl escapes his vox-grille. The Drowned and Lions tense, while their cousins look to their Primarchs in confusion.

Morro almost laughs, watching the animals strain at their leashes. Impotent, because the Emperor's hand holds them back even when he is absent.

His harsh, croaking voice stirs the dust in the air. “Do you expect me to weep for this?”

Hectarion's hand clenches around the handle of his axe. “What part did you play in this? Answer me!” Morro can almost hear the spittle flying inside his helm.

“I only ascertained that the destruction was absolute. But rest assured, if more of the dogs still draw breath,” and he relishes the words, lets them drip from his tongue, “rest assured that I will put them down myself.”

-----

Alexandros hears the words before they are even spoken, but still it takes enormous control to keep Xiphos in the scabbard.

“You dare?” roars Hectarion, always the quickest to be roused to anger.

“Enough!” snaps Icarion at the same time, and Alexandros can feel Morro’s contempt deepening. Even as Daer'dd and Hectarion restrain themselves, he finds it harder to let go of Xiphos’ hilt. I feel it too, Alex, but don't rise to it. Father will deal with this. For now, peace.

Then Icarion speaks aloud, addressing the assembled Primarchs. “Events on this world have wronged us already. I will not see my remaining brothers brawling in a place such as this. Least of all,” Icarion adds, gesturing to the clouds, “under the eyes of our father.”

Icarion insists on handshakes, which are brusque, but not refused. The way that Daer'dd's hand envelopes Morro's forearm, right up to the elbow, underlines that the Impure Prince is in no position to defy the First Found.

Then at last, Alexandros is free to take in the awful sight. Almost as much as the loss of his brothers and their Legions, the deaths of so many citizens of the Imperium is horrific to behold. Worst of all, as his vision told him, so many of them were killed by the things their protectors became, and that cuts like glass in his heart. The sheer force of the vision, and the wrongness of what it showed him, was enough to send him to his knees aboard the Elpis, crying aloud in horror and grief. His sons had feared this was the Legion’s curse of madness, manifesting in the Primarch himself.

Alexandros looks at Ruel, feeling the faint but discernable current of relief, the proof that madness has not claimed his master. Instantly that feeling is subsumed by guilt, and Ruel's disgust at his own feelings. Alexandros cannot stand to watch him torture himself, and places a hand on his son’s shoulder. Ruel regards him silently and then, with a strangled sigh, replicates the gesture, the points of his talons coming to rest awkwardly on Alexandros’ pauldron.

-----

Gwalchavad stoops, brushing dust from a cracked shoulder guard. He almost picks it up, but then a great wind - unnatural, tinged with the aether - sweeps across the cityscape, and everything is blinding light.

The Astartes immediately drop to one knee, as much to keep themselves from being bowled over as to signal their reverence. Anguished gasps are just discernable through the cacophony, as they struggle to withstand the psychic force. Gwalchavad raises a hand to shield his eyes, buffeted by the gale. When it ends, the square is pristine in its desolation, and a dozen new figures stand at its centre.

-----

Malcador steps forward slowly, his staff tapping on the stone, frailty juxtaposed against the bulk and vitality of Constantin Valdor and the other Custodians. They do not make any exaggerated gestures of watchfulness, trusting in the wits of their master's sons, but certain instincts cannot be let go of, especially on such a terrible day.

The Emperor does not move, and his bearing, his expression defy any attempt, even by minds as potent as the Primarchs’, to put it into words. Reaching out to his warriors, he speaks with words that never leave his mouth. The force of emotion that accompanies them is overpowering, and guns and swords fall from the fingers of those still holding them.

No closure will be forthcoming for the Astartes. The words of the Emperor leave no room for ambiguity; a curtain must be drawn over this disaster, for the sake of the Legions and the Crusade. His commands meet with no protest, but behind the unyielding masks of their helmets, many legionaries are fighting back tears, or entirely failing to do so. An oath is required on this matter, and the hundreds of kneeling warriors make the sign of the Aquila. A chorus of Astartes voices should be a roar, fit to shake the stones around them, but here it emerges as a downcast murmur; almost apathetic from some mouth, wracked with misery from others.

The Primarchs are silent, their loyalty unquestioned. Gwalchavad turns to Icarion, beseeching even though his face is obscured. All Icarion can offer is sympathy; nothing can be done to avert what is necessary. The mighty deeds of two Legions will be forgotten, erased so thoroughly that few Imperial citizens will ever question the absence of a II and XI Legion. None will speak of the wealth of Prospero's libraries. There will be no wolves on Fenris.

The space marines withdraw. In due time the orders will go out to pull down statues, lock books away, reallocate assets, and personnel, and blast a planet into nothingness. They will go unspoken of, and any references made will be veiled and preceded by a cautious look over the shoulder.

But these things can wait, briefly. For now, a family mourns.


Edited by bluntblade, 30 October 2016 - 05:16 AM.

  • Nomus Sardauk, MikhalLeNoir, simison and 3 others like this

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#84
Apothecary Meros

Apothecary Meros

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Apostle
Author: Apothecary Meros (Edited by Big Bad Squig)
Legions: Apostles of War (soon to become the Wardens of Light)
Time: Sometime during the early Great Crusade
Major characters: Legion Master Guaire Amalasan, Captain Arngrim Valten, Sergeant Voskatt Moragh, Brother Cervantes de Leon

 

“We haven’t made planetfall already… what’s the delay?”

 

“The Captains are still discussing tactics – this is our first encounter with the Orks-“

 

“Tactics?” The masculine tone released a feral growl of discontent, “we need not bother with tactics! These are primitive greenskins who can barely fire a pistol! We could go in there unarmed and still claim victory in a matter of minutes!”

 

“You fail to see past your own foolish ignorance, brother. They are no match for the Emperor’s fury, but it doesn’t allow us to show hubris when faced against them.”

 

“Any other Legion would have pasteurized them without a second thought! Yet we, the noble twelfth of his Lord Emperor’s Astartes, dawdle on this ship discussing tactics!”

 

“This is our first major xenos engagement, brother, we can’t afford to go in blind-“

 

A grim pause followed as a third figure, tall and clad in armour, walked slowly to the elevated segment of the command bridge, bathed in a cyan glaze projecting from a holographic image of the planet Batu on a square gunmetal-grey table. He paced his way across from the tall, onyx shaded door fixed to a bland metal wall, his eyes averted from the data displays and sprawling information that filled a number of blue glass screens, and focused on the two grumbling Astartes who stood either side of the hologram.

 

“Brother-Sergeants Kelenteil and Moragh – Twenty First Company, squad leaders of the Second and Third respectively. I do request you cease your ‘discussion’. We should save our anger for when we are fighting the enemy, not fighting ourselves. I doubt your Lieutenant would be best pleased.” His voice projected around the entire bridge, yet it was not another malicious shout. Soothing authority dominated the room in its stead. A couple of human crewmen in silver uniform turned their heads for a quick glance, letting the temptation of fascination lure them away from their workstations, before returning to their idle state at consoles on the semi-circular bridge of the Firebrand – the flagship of the legion – amongst the rows of astropaths and servitors; their eyes were wide and faces suddenly damp with sweat at the sight of the third figure, regardless of his soft tone.  The last time they had felt truly nervous in this way was when they first looked down to see four floors of identical operating equipment suspended over the infinite cosmos. The closest to the void was the Orbital Deployment Command Bridge, with the advantage of the best view of any planet unto which the Firebrand was orbiting. Advancing upwards was the Navigator Choir, Deep Space Auspex Control and Primary Weapon System Command. The crew here busied themselves with Orbital Artillery and Internal Defenses, ignoring the bustle of feet above them conducting a multitude of other vital tasks, from Vox Relay Operation to the Engines and Thrusters. It was a command structure fit for a Primarch. All sentient life aboard the Firebrand hoped that one day they would have proof of that statement.

 

“Of course, Legionmaster Amalasan. My apologies,” One of the two marines mumbled, his Mk.II Crusade helmet bowed between two white ceramite and plasteel ablative shoulder pads trimmed with a shade of ultra-blue, proudly bearing the black sigil of his legion – a winged fist, clutching a sword in its grasp, raised for a killing blow. His armour was vaguely reminiscent of the ancient knights who roamed the kingdoms of Terra, back in time many millennia when it was known as ‘Earth’. At least, the helmet shared the same design of vertical slits at the facial area, like a visor on the ancient counterpart. That is where the similarities ended. The rest of the armour plating is substantially bulkier, housing within it a biologically enhanced super soldier. A benevolent angel of the Emperor’s will made manifest. A Space Marine.

 

The other, the more agitated of the two at the table, grunted in recognition. He did not hide his face behind a war helm; instead the twisted frown was completely visible to Amalasan, as well as the swept dull grey hair that covered his left eye, leaving only the right to stare grimly at his commander with an emerald varnish. The wrinkles on his ageing brow contorted, a vein twitching beneath his skin, as he slowly breathed a reply.

 

“Legionmaster… I… I simply do not understand why we laze upon this starship when the Orks wreak havoc below us, on Batu!” He directed a flat power armoured hand in a gesture to the flickering blue sphere, rotating slowly on its tilted axis.

 

“That was not a suggestion, Kelenteil.” Submitting, the sergeant’s downturned palm rolled into a fist, and he returned his arm to his side, the green balefire of his eye boring into Guaire Amalasan’s noble expression. The Legionmaster let angelic white hair flow down to his shoulders, the minuscule outline of a smirk on his lips below soft azurite eyes. His left hand flexed, the fingers of the Power Fist he wore mimicking the action as it cradled his helmet. His right was tightly gripped around the sheathed hilt of his power sword. Ancient texts described this specific kind of weapon as a ‘Bastard Sword’. Amalasan considered this a more than suitable name, considering their lack of a Primarch. The fitting name humoured him, but a deep seed of concern would always seep through this irony in regard to their lost father. He was out in the cosmos somewhere. He vowed to find him before damnation beat him to it.

 

“Of course, lord.” Kelenteil worded behind gritted teeth. Any other commander would have discarded a marine with such an attitude, even going as far as execution in the case of the more ‘strict’ legions. Even those who took pride in being more ‘human’ would not put up with such apparent disrespect. Amalasan knew why the Twenty First Captain kept this temperate marine close though, for his rage was a beautiful sight to behold with a chainsword in his hands and a target in his sights. Every commander needs tactical advisors, but Chief Berserker is much more appealing to some than Chief Vox Operator.

 

“Very good.” He grunts, his smile pushing itself down into a straight line across his face, determination gleaming like the distant light that now shined umber tones through the bridge windows, sprawling an orange glaze all around. “You may be pleased to hear, brother sergeant, that a decision has been made.”

 

Kelenteil raised his revealed eyebrow keenly. “Then speak, m’lord. I wish not to spend another second aboard this hulk.”

 

Guaire moved his eyes to his sergeant, after spending a moment to admire the glint of the sun off Batu’s surface. “We have created a battle plan that we believe to be the most effective against the Orks. The entirety of the expeditionary fleet is readying to deploy within the hour.” He paused, looking across to Moragh. “You two are to return to your squads and gear up – details of the plans shall be relayed to you by Captain Arngrim.”

 

The sergeant had already began moving to the door, his muscles aching with impatience. “Understood, lord.”

 

Moragh watched his comrade exit, glaring beneath his helmet. His gaze turned slowly to meet the Legionmaster’s and straightened his stance, before promptly bowing and marching purposefully through the dark void beyond the entrance.

 

Content, Amalasan strode deeper onto the bridge and into the golden light now flooding uncontrollably onto the deck like a virus spreading. A new sensation made him pause for a split second. The illumination brought an aura of heat – natural warmth had become a rarity during their deep space expedition. The corridor was littered either side with serfs at consoles, frantically tapping at screens to ensure the stability of the Firebrand. Guaire took a purposefully slow and dramatic walk between the serfs, watching as each one quivered at the sound of his footfalls. Even the servitors seemed to shrink in their seats, anxious in the presence of their master.

 

One, however, seemed to resist the aura of intimidation that stalked Amalasan like a shadow.

 

“Phillipe. What’s the status of the fleet?” Guaire bellowed, his voice deep and slow.

Dwarfed in size by comparison to the towering form of the Space Marine, Phillipe twirled his command throne at the head of the bridge to face the Legionary. The glaring sunlight was now behind him, leaving him drenched in the oily black shadow that hid all facial features in a blank mask. White hands sat upon the armrests - they were all that was visible. In this light, even Amalasan – the Legionmaster of an army revered enough to earn the name the Apostles of War – was ever so slightly unnerved by the shady demeanour of Admiral Abras.

“Our fleet, my Lord, has been orientated in the formerly requested manner,” The man had a very particular speech pattern, his softly spoken words emanating like a dull hum that would be best suited coming from the engineering deck. Each letter rolled off his tongue and slithered to the Marine’s finely tuned ears, and his left hand danced around the armrest; the elastic noise of contracting muscles and stretching skin on his face just audible by the Astartes’ acute senses – allowing Amalasan to hear the Admiral’s sly smirk form on his wrinkled lips. “The warships of the Imperial Army are readying their regiments for immediate distribution to the surface.”

 

“Good. We shall deploy soon,” Came the reply.

 

“I know; the terse words between you and your sergeants told me enough, sir.”

 

Guaire walked up to the Admiral, and past his chair, placing his helmet – gleaming golden in the distant sun – over his flourishing white hair. The heat had changed to a sudden chill extending down his spine. Guaire carefully rested his hands on the silver bar running along the length of the bottom of the curved window, being careful not to bend the metal with his strength. “Aye. The pair seem to be ever at arms. One day they’ll end up killing each other, and the blood will be on my hands.”

 

“That is not a very optimistic view, monsieur.”

 

“It wasn’t supposed to be, Abras.” He replied, his voice amplified by the internal Vox into a volcanic rumble.

 

He nodded, slowly. “Now that the petty infighting is over-” He suddenly grunted. The Legionmaster felt at unease with a mere human ordering him around. But while he was aboard the fleet, that was how things had to be. Abras drew his right hand upward to bring down a floating, digital display showing numerous data logs and scans. “Long range Auspex readings show the Orks are banding together, and likely preparing for our planetfall.”

 

“They can prepare however they see fit, they have no hope of stopping us.”

 

“That,” he began, grinning, “is correct, mon Seigneur,” The expression soon faded and a sinister tone took over as he stalked towards an officer at a console, his face illuminated in watery shades by the blaring screen. “You, bring the orbital weapons systems online.”

 

“Yes Admiral!” The officer shouted in response, frantically tapping at the keys – various blueprint images of the ship and its terrifying arsenal flashing up on his screen.

 

“Très bien, monsieur.” He whispered, his own long and ageing brow caught in the ultramarine hue.

 

“I bid you leave, Phillipe. I must attend my brothers. Ensure the order that we move out with haste reaches the whole fleet,” The space marine stood upright from his resting position and marched steadily between the quivering serfs, past the floating hologram image on the table and through the sliding onyx door into an elevator – taking him down into the bulk of the ship and far, far away from the warm serenity of Batu’s golden sun.

 

***

 

Gentle thuds of ceramite on deck plates caught her attention. Ill-maintained gears in the neck and upper torso made her click her neck to the right. What were formerly legs, and now a pair of tank-like tracks spun around a second later, and wheeled her toward the noise. Outside of the crosshair provided by her bionic eyes, she saw her outstretched arms that ended in metal rungs, used to lift and carry heavy duty crates or weaponry from storage departments to the Astartes armoury. The steps came closer still, and she paused to think.

 

++Service protocol 022 enabled++

 

She reversed and stood parallel to the nearest door, with her head bowing slowly while the servos screamed. A shard of light pierced the gloomy veil, glinting on the blade of an axe. She had seen the weapon before, but she knew that not.

 

“Understood my lord, I shall assemble them at once.” A brutish, low voice rumbled through the voice amplifier of a curved rebreather covering the figure’s lips and nostrils. His demeanour was a perfect antonym of graceful. The axe swinging with each heavy step in his huge right hand was an unusually detailed and visually pleasing weapon in comparison to its wielder. The head was shaped like the spread wings of a gunmetal butterfly, razor sharp at every edge.

 

Looking up, the memory implants within her skull sifted through thousands of database entries to find a physical match with the axe’s handler. Half a second and 2836 database entries later, she located an identity which was remarkably similar. The entry shared the same unwavering brown glare and the dark braid which flourished in a downward spiral from the cap of his skull and reaching the tips of the tattered white cloak he wore around his waist. The shredded material provided false implications of how much warfare the legion had seen. However, what little there had been was enough to prove the warrior’s rank.

 

++Identified: Captain Arngrim Valten – Apostles of War Legion Astartes 21st Company++

 

++Service Priority: HIGH++

 

Her voice was not her own, but a static-filled mechanical tone created by a vox implant on her neck. “My lord, what do you require?” She spoke to the armored giant, its dull grey highlighted by a nightshade blue on the shoulders trimmed with marble white. The broad chest was a single slate of dense ceramite with a small vent in the center, from which black pipes sprouted and burrowed into his back and armoured neck.

 

Arngrim didn’t spare her a glance as he placed the axe horizontally into her open arms – with an uncharacteristically high degree of care that would be expected from a man of his stature. Sensing the cool metal, the clamps at the end of her arms naturally curled around the grip. “Return Agony to her spot in the armoury.” The emotionless broadcast from his mask was one she was all too familiar with, but she knew that not either.

 

“I exist to serve.” She turned and hurried down a passage to the Astartes armoury, her tracks emitting a low hum over the sounds of distant training cages as the motor span within her pelvis. The movements inside her were a cause of immense pain, a feeling which would have driven any sentient creature to insanity over the course of her long service to the Apostles of War legion. She wouldn’t complain. Or rather, she couldn’t complain. The conscious part of her mind was a captive within a cell of flesh and bone – a prison engineered by the Legio Cybernetica for her crimes against Imperial rule. Her father had told her to pursue a career in the Imperial Army, instead of petty theft and addiction to narcotic substances – to be like her brother in the Expeditionary Fleets, claiming the galaxy for the Emperor alongside his Space Marines. If only she had listened, and avoided the lure of anarchist rebels and cults who didn’t like to pay their taxes, she would have avoided the desolate and torturous fate within which she was trapped. True, she served in the Fleets with the Astartes. However, this was not the way her father had imagined. Distraught, he had hung himself from the lume-lamp in the living room of the family’s hab-block, unable to find out where he had gone so wrong.

 

But she knew that not.

 

Captain Valten dismissed the servitor with a slight nod of his head, keeping his focus on the passage ahead. His only concerns were the maintenance of his beloved war-axe, Agony, and the destruction of those who opposed the will of the Emperor. It was no secret that he urged the warriors under his command to embrace the calling of close quarters battle. He was the physical incarnation of that doctrine. Those with the honour of fighting by his side give their wholehearted support to that claim, one of whom approached him now, with the familiar rhythm of purpose.

“You come to me directly, sergeant?”

 

“I sought admittance to the training cages sir, although I did not doubt the possibility of finding you here.” An emerald iris glimmered in the dull light. Grey hair swept across the left eye shimmered. The ends scratched at the skin of his lips while they flexed into a sly grin. “Apologies for the disturbance; you seem deep in thought.”

 

“Thoughts about the best way to beat some sense into you.” Although his superior’s eyes gave nothing away, Kelenteil knew the humour had been returned in what would have otherwise been a threatening gesture. “Besides, I wouldn’t be heading to the training cages right now if I were you, I’m assembling the company on the muster deck for delivery of Lord Amalasan’s orders.”

 

“I’m fully aware of that, captain. Just as I am aware of his orders,” He paused, looking up with the same distrustful smirk. “Now, I’d like to commence my own preparation for the coming battle.” He slowly cocked his head to the left side, the swathe of hair jumping a centimetre before settling over his eye again.

 

Muttering a curse under his breath, the twenty first captain shifted to one side. Kelenteil’s grey armour brushed gently against the ceramite of his captain. There was plenty of room to avoid the contact. A deliberate move. A seed of annoyance planted itself in Arngrim’s mind as the sergeant was enveloped in the shadows behind him. It simmered in his mind as an immediate thought came to his lips.

 

“I wish I had more men like him.”

 

***

 

The Firebrand, in all its majesty, was only one steel warship amongst the sizeable mass of adamantium armour and broadside cannons which called itself the Eleventh Expeditionary Fleet. The Astartes warships didn’t come close to making up half of the fleet’s numbers. Approximately five thousand Astartes covered eight barges and cruisers that lay in formation with a tempest of Imperial Army craft of all sizes. With the Imperial Army soldiers making up for their biological inferiority with sheer numbers, the manpower easily exceeded ten thousand personnel. Despite the stunning figures, it was dwarfed by the countless millions of Orks which now plummeted in their crude scrap metal dropships to the rocky surface of Batu, keen to escape from the jaws of the Emperor’s naval warmachines, in front of Cervantes’ crystalline orange eyes. The unique trait did little to dissuade the youth’s peers and commanders alike that he was no more than a hothead and in the words of his sergeant: ‘so reckless that he’ll get the disrespect shot right out of him’. At least, that’s what it said on the dataslate he has procured from said officer’s records. It was their fault really, for leaving it in such plain view – the locked door, however, should have dissuaded him. It was an unfortunate casualty of the slate’s retrieval that, from what he could gather, was unavoidable. Acceptable losses.

 

His squad leader had never taken kindly to Cervantes De Leon, not since their training on the ancient plateaus of Basques. This world was a common ground for recruiting tithes of new recruits and slowly whittling them down to a fraction of the size. For the nomadic citizens there, life consisted of trying to find a source of water and not getting picked off by packs of carnivorous birds.

 

“This is it, eh? Months of labour in the Apothecarion and these scrawny children are what we call a success? They look like they can barely lift a Boltgun, never mind drive an Assault Bike.” The grumble paused, surveying the line of stone faced neophytes standing firm on the arid rocks. “Prove me wrong, sergeant Moragh.”

 

I rolled my shoulders back, trying and subsequently failing to find comfort in the officer’s presence. “I can assure you that I shall, lieutenant Valten.” I said, stifling a harsher response, glad for the helmet masking my displeasure of my officer’s somewhat unnecessary, yet dishearteningly accurate deduction of the half a dozen faces looking my way.

Crackling soil underfoot sang while painfully slow steps took the Lieutenant back to his Land Speeder. The neophytes waited until the powerful din of the engines blended with the desolate, whining wind. Slightly relieved, I made an effort of stalking my way along the line of the newly engineered Astartes – not a bad number considering the multiple risks which geneseed implantation presented, not to mention the staggering number of aspirants who died before even reaching that stage. Venomous memories flashed images before my eyes of a human form swallowed by the inescapable maw of a ravine in Basques’ icy northern continents. The lad did not scream, so at least some honour was preserved in death. I suppressed subconscious twitch of my left eyelid as my mind’s eye pictured another young aspirant impaled on a nightshade pillar of stone, the auburn strands of his hair pockmarked with scarlet.

 

While I methodically marched my way down, one neophyte dared to shuffle his sandal bearing feet, the heat of Terra’s single star burning the bare flesh on his back and areas of the neck unprotected by the blanket of blond hair that cascaded down like liquid gold.

 

“Struggling with the heat?” I immediately rounded onto the fourth man in line, towering above him like Goliath over David. “When you’re a space marine you’ll need to walk over rivers of fire, wade through volcanic seas, and wield the element of fire itself to smite the enemies of mankind in righteous fury!” I barked, my over-exaggeration clearly hitting some emotional chord when the closest two flinched slightly, although it did brighten my mood to see them keeping their resolve. “You won’t achieve that if you can barely handle the light of a distant star. The difficulties in life to concern yourself with will be not getting shot, and shooting everything you see that doesn’t wear an Aquila.” My target shrank slightly, although I was swift to realize it was only the result of my firm hand pressing down on the human’s shoulder. Content I had suitably shaken the brightly haired youth, I carried on, glaring as deep into their souls as my lack of witch-sight would permit me, scouring the muscle movements of their faces and studying the flashes of emotion behind their eyes for something else I could give them a lecture on. I felt another burst of rhetoric brewing nevertheless, so spinning on my feet at the end of the line I spoke once more. “To be an Astartes you must know no doubt, no regret, no hesitation” I brought my feet together with a minute clank which echoed while I prolonged my declaration, “and above all you must know no fear!” I slammed my right hand against the golden eagle on the front of my armour with a deep clang. Despite their plainly visible discomfort the aspirants follow suit, although their bare skin gave a sound akin to meat being tenderized.

 

“And they shall know no fear!” They cried in a brutal harmony of harnessed rage and savage enthusiasm for slaughter. They did not need such rage at the moment, they weren’t sent here to kill. Although, that would not lessen the risk of dying, as time would shortly tell.

 

“It’s quite a view, isn’t it brother?”

 

Cervantes turned quickly, but relaxed at the sight of alabaster white armour and an Apothecary’s narthecium. “I told you to stop sneaking up on me like that, Alexandre.”

 

“It’s not my fault you’re more paranoid than an Imperial tax collector in a Hive city.” The white-armoured figure stood alongside him. “Besides, your reaction was quick, something I’d hope for from a jetbike pilot.”

 

“Sergeant Moragh would rather see me with Sergeant Jorus in the Heavy Support Squad. At least that way I can’t crash into my squad mates,” He smirked in response.

 

“Sergeant Jorus has had a full squad since the Crusade began. I’ve only seen his name on my medical records once before and that was when he was having his geneseed implants. I’ve seen yours so many times I’m surprised you’re not half adamantium.”

 

Abruptly they both ceased conversation, sensing a newfound tension and averted their eyes to the twinkling universe beyond the armour-glass window. 

 

Cervantes carried on reading for a few minutes more, only slightly aware of another presence having a look over his shoulder. He opened his mouth again at last, shattering the icy barricade between them.

 

“How’s the arm?”

 

“You’ve all lived on the streets of Holy Terra. You should know how to start a bike,” I began, as the trainees braced against great gouts of sand as a result of the snarling updraft from a landing Storm Eagle, “and I would hope you know how to get one past one or two obstacles.” I hoped they could, I was on bad terms with the Apothecarion as it was and giving them more indistinguishable lumps of meat on a morgue slab to sort out wouldn’t brighten their mood.

 

Had it not been for myself scheduling the Storm Eagle to arrive at this time I might’ve put a bolter round through the cockpit. Our loud prayer had masked the sound of its arrival entirely. However, I was too focused on trying to discreetly slide my pistol back into its holster to be impressed by the Apostles of War junior choir.

 

A string of brisk orders and the refreshing aroma of promethium disturbed the atmosphere for the briefest of moments, before five expectant Astartes found their mechanical steeds. I was tempted to start another string of barbed orisons until I realized it was the light haired one from my previous onslaught and came to the conclusion that he didn’t deserve another bout of verbal abuse in the space of five minutes.

 

“I don’t know what the captain might have put you up to previously, but I can assure you that you’ll have a much harder time with me.” With that remark I waved them away to drive off into the horizon. Of course, they knew what they were doing – mostly – I had given them the general instructions during transit to the surface, although I had left this part out due to fears of cracking a smile during the briefing. I hurried into the back of the Storm Eagle as the rear door rotated to a close and slid open the cockpit door.

 

The pilot serf nodded as I took my place in the other seat. “A pleasure to see you, my lord.”

 

I returned the sharp head movement and observed six sand trails dissipating in the humid atmosphere through the glass, double checking that there wasn’t a bolt sized hole in it before positioning my hands on the control panel. My vox crackled as it linked to the device in the pilot’s ear. “Swiftly, pilot. These young ones seem to have discovered where the accelerator is. I’d like to reach them before they find out where the triggers are to their Boltguns and we lose a few good bikes.”

 

“I think those two have already, my lord,” He hinted with a joyful expression and pointed at a pair of metallic shapes which sailed out far beyond the others – a staccato of muzzle flares briefly flashing in the dunes, followed by a small explosion of yellow grains further away.

 

 Without words, I glared at him for a few seconds until he received the message.

 

“As you wish, my lord,” He responded, pale faced. We lurched skyward, levelling off when their bikes seemed equivalent to the size of my hand. I felt a joystick appear between my clasped hands. Looked like I’d found my own trigger.

 

“It’s not bad. How’s your ego; still bigger than the Sol System?” The view of Alexandre’s tablet-device was blurred for a moment while he chuckled. Facing away from his companion to lean on the mithril railing that separated them, he flicked the page down and began to read.

 

“First one to fall off owes the other a drink.”

 

“Bite me,” He retorted, spitting a few rounds of the nose mounted bolters on our bikes into the sand ahead of me.

 

“Such harsh language! Didn’t Remembrancer school tell you to be polite to true Imperial servicemen?”

 

We exchanged many similar pleasantries on our sandy voyage. We humoured ourselves with the knowledge that our other companions were growing ever distant and that we were sure to win. Whether it was a competition or not I had no idea. Either way I doubted there would be a bottle of champagne and a pretty woman at the end.

 

I braced for my near-white hair slashing at my eyes with the savage elegance of a Howling Banshee to glance over my right shoulder. The kicked-up sand from the thick tires made those two seconds an even more painful moment, yet I endured with my vision just about functioning. Maybe it was just the particles of sand digging in under my eyelids, but I thought I saw a gunmetal grey Storm Eagle rising up behind us. The shout to my left informed me that my current companion, perhaps starting to border on friend – although that prospect unsettled me slightly – had spotted the same thing. “Oi, the Sergeant wants a race it seems!” He semi-snarled, if such a thing was possible, and gunned the engine to its full capacity.

 

“I wouldn’t bother trying, he’s got a lot more fuel than you and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he has more ammo t-” I was cut off by the ground being sliced between myself and Cervantes caused by a dozen high velocity bolter shells smashing the sand apart. We veered away while more rounds traced our paths. The rounds stalked me like a shadow, weaving as I weaved and scattering large amounts of hot sand onto my back, which I far from appreciated considering the sun was already doing the best it could to make my pale flesh uncomfortable. The firing paused and the white-hot bolter muzzles hissed in exasperation high above me, almost impossible to hear over the engines. Cervantes decided that instead of highlighting his concern for possibly becoming a smear of scarlet paste trapped in the inferno of a flaring bike, he’d relish in the chance to stand out in Moragh’s eyes. It was a success, if you count standing out as being intensely hated for years to come.

 

“First one to get shot owes the other a drink!”

 

“You’re a fool, Cervantes. A wonderful, wonderful fool.” I roared in time with my engine, a harmony of flesh and machine which, perhaps rather ironically, would be what I would become by the end of all this.

 

We drew our bikes in closer together, bathing in the dark shroud projected by the dropship. I suppose you could say I was quite surprised that the sergeant was willing to fire live rounds at us – more so at the bikes with which from past, although limited, experience I knew he had a strange metaphysical bond. Unless it wasn’t the sergeant and the local wildlife was decidedly more intelligent than we first perceived.

 

“Incoming!” My foolhardy companion clamoured. Expecting a hail of bolter shells, I curved my steed to the right hand side. I braced, the clap of bolt impacts spearing through my cochlea, after which the stream of empty shells created a merry tinkle that seemed very much out of place. To my unhidden bewilderment, a taste of the crimson fluid that had splashed across my cheek during the fusillade wasn’t mine. How pleased I felt knowing that I still had all four limbs and a functioning bike seemed irrelevant when the gaping maw and nine inch talons of a Basques Uçan bird presented itself upon the flat ground no more than twenty meters in front.

 

“Emperor’s blood!” I darted back to the left, skimming the tires over the edge of its wings and leaving a dark smear behind me.

 

Squawking animalistic curses, a flock of nearly a dozen Uçans descended upon myself and the other aspirants – who it would seem had noticed the danger long before Cervantes and me, and had done their upmost to catch us up – with sets of five fatally sharp talons on a pair of legs thick with muscle and sinew. Their beaks seemed akin to a Terran Kestrel, if Terran Kestrels were capable of snatching up a speeding bike and swallowing its rider whole as these did, as the gargled shriek from behind told me.

 

“Cervantes, maybe we can use the bolters mounted on the front.” I yelled, pulling up to his right flank. By the time we were level however, it would seem that – to use an ancient Terran saying – great minds think alike.

 

Wrenching free the Boltgun mounted onto the left of the front fender, De Leon sprayed the sky with wild, random bolter shots apparently aimed toward the circling flock before they came back. By now, Moragh’s pilot had split off and was following the Uçans like a harvest servitor would herd Grox on an Agri-World. A feathery hulk drooped from the crowd every now and again and made a small crater in the bronze sand. My companion’s fire drew their attention to us – something which I would have rather preferred not to happen. To my surprise a good few met the spout of Cervantes’ bolter, but even when affixed to a bike, those weapons only had a limited ammunition supply.

 

They seized us, trying to wrench us off our handlebars, and keen to show off their scything talons and their ability to gouge painful lacerations across my back. To this day, the Uçan variety of Paraves have the most impressive unguis on a creature of their size in my records. Impulse reaction took Cervantes to his combat knife – more akin to a gladius outside of the power armour we would soon wear – and saw that one particular foul organism was a couple of arms short. Maybe the one on my back had been a close friend, for its attack grew into a violent frenzy. Not to say that it had been like a back massage before; the scars running the length of my spine provide enough evidence for that. My own attempt to reach for my weapon was hampered by the disablement of my right arm. I wasn’t quite as educated as the Apothecary I am today, but screaming so loud that it bounces off the distant mountains is normally a good sign that something is definitely wrong. My right arm fell limp, and I heard the clattering of my sword against the side of the bike and then the whoosh of air as it flew away behind me. This was the moment I began to theorize on the intellectual properties of the Uçan, as well as curse it to the warp and back for being sentient at all. Both of its legs grappled around my shattered bone and launched me into the air. The smell of promethium died away and my senses were flooded by moving air and rhythmic flapping. My attempts to rid myself of the beast’s hold had the look of a child squirming when faced with an arachnid.

 

Glancing at his arm now, Alexandre felt the servos of his armour working to lift the ceramite plate on the outside closer to his eyes. His fingers flexed with dread and anticipation. Fighting the feeling, his eyes fixed once more on the screen. Cervantes found himself hesitant to continue. The entities within his mind were not so considerate, and cast memories of a decade ago into images scrolling past his eyes.

 

The bike next to me buckled and swayed, before tipping over on its side and rolling in the sand a dozen times while I rode on past. For a single moment of fleeting apprehension, I thought that my friend was amongst the twisted metal remains. Feeling relief after identifying his safety I began to grow in viguor, but then I found myself washed with dread at the sight of his dangling legs 25 feet above my gormless expression.

 

“I hate to admit this Cervantes, but I think I might need a bit of help.” He shouted down, shaking in his voice.

 

“Fear not, Moragh is coming round for another pass.” I yelled back, turning my head to see the sleek silver hull approaching and the nose mounted cannons spooling.

 

He clearly wasn’t as pleased as I’d imagined. “You can’t be serious! By the time he’s stopped firing I’ll be more bullet than man!” He tried to shake free of the grip around his shoulders but to no avail. A more violent method of punching the Uçan’s underbelly was attempted but without any physical enhancements courtesy of power armour it was as effective at hurting it as using a toothbrush to wash the tracks of a Fellblade.

 

I was conflicted to say the least. My mind was alive and flaring with activity, at the time I was searching for alternate methods but I knew from the moment he was caught that the Bolter in my hand was the only useful tool I could employ. Moragh’s ship flew by for a final time to scatter the shattered remains of the flock. This one here though was determined to fly off, yet their ignorance at their inability to ascend and carry the full weight of a Space Marine was somewhat of a blessing.

 

My target was shaking as if we were amidst a sea-bound tempest. My shaky, one handed grip on the bike’s steering and the irregular flight of the Uçan assisted in making this an even more perilous shot. I was timing myself, steadying my aim until the bird’s feet came directly into the sights. Making my last heavy breath I gritted my sand filled teeth together and squeezed my index finger around the trigger.

 

An unpleasant chill emerged from the base of my neck and snaked a path down my spinal column. The sensation sent my armored steed into a swerving pattern like a pendulum, before embracing the tires with its icy illusion and shaking the sand beneath. Now nested in the ground, whatever thought had escaped my mind reached up with phantasmal hands and warped around the legs of the aspirant. Panicked agony pierced into his pale flesh with enchanted blades and lured the masculine form downward on a lucid plume of vermillion. My work done, my errant vision faded into sand, as did a bleeding body which Cervantes could never forget was of his inception.

 

The Apothecary rested a hand on the biker’s shoulder pad. His recipient didn’t feel the warmth of kinship that was intended, only the icy shiver of regret.

 

“You should know it was the right thing to do. I’d prefer being shot by you to being eaten by a giant bird any day.”

 

Cervantes smirked and rolled his eyes with masked ire at his own history. Alexandre didn’t appear to have changed since then, if his choice of words was anything to go by. Yet even the most imperishable relationships can be a source of deceit.

 

“At least your aim has gotten sharper since then.” Cervantes squinted, trying to uncover a hidden barb in the remark but seeing only a sly grin spread across the healer’s mouth. “You’re too easy, honestly.”

 

A light crackle emerged from concealed vox relays in the ceiling and ushered a monotone and controlling voice from within. “Twenty First Company, assemble – you know where. War is calling. We shall answer.” It cut off abruptly, allowing silence to slowly diffuse back into the air.

 

“Valten sounds thrilled.” Cervantes stood up straight and affixed his helmet with a clank and a delicate hiss.

 

“That’s his happy voice,” The other replied. “Try being in his command squad; you’ll swiftly learn that right now he’s absolutely ecstatic.”

 

The pair paced along the length of the starboard window, occasionally breaking step to allow a huddled serf to scurry past. Their steps masked the muted throbbing of the ship’s power. Cervantes could see its veins and arteries twining above his path. Thick rimmed tubes of iron stretched for miles, drawing fuel and energy from all over the ship to the starship’s herculean engines protruding from the stern.

 

They took a turn and went deeper, until their footsteps faded into the steady heartbeat of the Firebrand.


Edited by Apothecary Meros, 13 October 2016 - 10:00 PM.

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Remembrancer for the Brotherhood of the Lost project: http://www.bolterand...od-of-the-lost/

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#85
Sigismund229

Sigismund229

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Dragon hunting

Author: Sigismund229

Legions:

Time: After the Qarith Triumph 

It was a rare occassion that two such warriors were present in the same place. Let alone three. Four was almost unheard of. Yet here four were, gathered in orbit over Mycenae, watching it slowly rotate beneath them, a world of a thousand shades of green, blue and grey, with two continents of purest white at either pole. "It looks like Huron, just like last time I saw it" said the first warrior, Daer'dd of the Iron Bears, his arms bare and clad in the burnished copper and iron of his legion. 

"I concur. Mycenae and Huron look very similar from orbit" said the smallest of the warriors, Alexandros, the Warmaster, still smaller than his brothers, even in his hulking terminator plate. 

Hectarion chuckled at that and said "I can assure you having seen Huron myself that the similarities are only skin deep". 

It was then that the fourth figure, clad in pearl white armour, spoke. "I hear that Mycenae's oceans are home to a form of serpentine predator. Huron lacks those" said Pionius Santor, causing the small human female at his side to grin. 

Hectarion turned and smiled Pionius saying "Drakfaraigge, aye. They're tough bastards. Perhaps you'd like to hunt some while you're here?". 

Pionius returned the smile and said "I think I would. It would be fascinating to acquire some samples for comparisom against those I've taken from Ionian serpents". 

Hectarion laughed and slapped Pionius on the back saying "Then we shall! After all, it would be a shame for you to travel here without seeing some of the sights of Mycenae" then turning back to Alexandros and Daer'dd, he said "Now tell me brothers, what message does the council of Terra have that's so important it needs three of you to deliver it?". 

Alexandros and Daer'dd shared an uncomfortable glance before Alexandros began "There have been reports made to the council of Terra Hec. Reports of Crimson Lions going berserk and killing everything in their way. Foes, Imperial Army. Everything". In that instant, Hectarion's posture changed. Where before it had been relaxed and welcoming, it now became tense, with every muscle prepared to spring into action at the slightest provocation and his teeth bared slightly in a small snarl as a flicker of what might have been fear passed through his eyes. 

"So they sent you here to lock me in chains and bring me back to Terra, is that it?" Hectarion growled.

Alexandros shook his head in horror and said "No. Do you think we would have come if they had?" and Pionius placed a gauntleted hand on Hectarion's shoulder guard.

"Brother,we came so that we can go back to the Council and tell them that these allegations are baseless" whispered Pionius softly. 

Daer'dd nodded and said "The Council needs to know the Lions can be relied upon. Terra knows that Raktra's rages and Kozja's petulance are bad enough since Baal without adding more worries to that".

Hearing this, the tenseness vanished from Hectarion's muscles and he whispered "Have I or my legion ever given you cause to doubt our loyalty?" with a note of weariness in his voice that Alexandros didn't like. It sounded like the weariness of a man who had concealed a secret for far too long and for whom the weight of it was becoming crushing. Yet Alexandros let it pass, making a mental note to inquire about it at a later date. 

As Daer'dd opened his mouth to speak, Alexandros planted the words Leave it in his mind and grinned, saying "Good. Then I'll tell the Council of Terra that their fears are unfounded. Now I believe you mentioned a hunt?". 

Hectarion let loose a small feral grin at that, although Alexandros could see that it was a fragile thing, forced for his brother's benefit, and said "That I did. After all, it would seem a shame for you to have come all this way without seeing some of the sights of Mycenae". 

Daer'dd broke out into a booming laugh and said "Then let's go hunt! The Great Crusade can manage without us for a few hours".

Alexandros nodded and said "I agree. After all, I need to blood the Spear of Terra. I've been spending too long in the Senate and not enough on the battlefield recently" and even Pionius smiled at that.

Shifting uneasily from foot to foot, the human female at Pionius' said "My lord I..." and Pionius turned saying 
"How many times must I ask you Inna? Pionius. Only my lord on formal occasions. And I think I an guess what you're about to say so it can wait until I get back". 


The Brotherhood of the Lost

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The IIIrd legion, the Crimson Lions formerly known as the Blood Wolves. http://www.bolterand...-crimson-lions/

 

 

 

 


#86
bluntblade

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Corpora Ferro
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Eagle Warriors
Time: circa 65 M31 roughly twenty years into the Insurrection
Major characters: Alzratan the Doubter, Alexos, Xander the Shaper

+++++

Out here, so far from the heart of either Imperium, alien and aetheric energies shimmered in the void. Even through the clouds of pollution that covered Tartarus, Azraltan could see them. Perhaps, somewhere out there, the Pantheon signalled their pleasure at the acts done in their name on this world. For six years now, the most forward-looking elements of the Mechanicus had turned their minds to forging new weapons to be used against the False Emperor's lackeys. Anticipating the Stormlord’s decision, they had accelerated their research into how the Warp might be harnessed to create new engines of destruction.

Five months ago, the decision had finally been made and Alexos had travelled here, ordering his Legion to muster for a new campaign. Most of the Eagle Warriors gathered in the Mexicatii system or in the Mithran Cluster, but one fleet was to follow their primarch to the edge of the Galaxy itself and take up these new weapons for the approaching campaign.

The skies were full of landers and personnel carriers, and Azraltan stopped again to watch a maniple of super heavy tanks roll up an embarkation ramp, before hurrying on. As magnificent as it felt to see this army preparing for the true Crusade, he had summons from his master and those took precedent over all else. His retinue tailed behind him as he strode into the greatest of the tech-cathedrals.

He had expected great ranks of siege guns, tanks, even Titans. Instead, adepts ushered him into… an abattoir. He had expected that some facilities would exist here for Alexos’ biological projects, but this on was a scale he had never imagined before. Moreover, this freezing chamber was not filled with the perfect fruits of the Legion's gene-manipulation, but twisted and deformed appendages that looked to have come from botched augmentations and ascensions.

“Ah, Azraltan,” croaked a voice from the shadows. Azraltan and his men knelt as Alexos stepped forward, smiling. He was fully armoured, every surface inscribed with devotional glyphs and scripture. For the prophet, wargear and a holy man's robes were one and the same. “Perhaps some warning would have been more considerate, but I preferred to wait and let you witness the daring of Xander’s order first hand.” Normally the master of the Eagle Warriors was cold and distant even to his sons, but now he burned with zeal. This was why they dubbed him Ixiptlatlan, the one who bore the visage of the gods beyond the Immaterium.

Alzratan bowed his head to Tlahtoāni, Master of Ritual and leader of the Kaskuta berserkers. Tlahtoāni responded with a smile, congratulating him on his recent victories. The Jaguar Toa remained still and silent but for the thrum of their Tartaros armour, their bolters, macahuit swords and tepoztō spears held ready.

“I have seen much of the innovation that our enlightened friends pursued under Kelbor-Hal,” acknowledged the Doubter as they set off through the charnel hall. “But I have never seen anything quite like this.” My erstwhile brother walks a strange road indeed.

A smile tugged at Alexos’ lips as they stepped into another room. This chamber had the look of a temple, with rows of sacrificial altars and devotional carvings on every surface. “Quite. For what the Cognis do here is far beyond anything you will have seen before.”

“My lord?”

“You assume that the Magos here have been working on the gene-seed, as our friends do across the new Imperium. That is only part of the truth.”

Fires lit the next corridor, reflected by the augmentics of the adepts who scuttled past them. Each bore the marks of the old Aztecki faith, their faceplates modeled on death masks or the native fauna. One, his staff worked into the shape of a deer skull and his mask engraved with rippling flames, approached and bowed to the Prophet. In the flickering light, his scaled limbs appeared like fiery serpents.

“My lords, the Shaper sends his regards and waits beyond. We are ready to commence the rites of wakening.”

-----

To say that Xander Travier had changed in the years since Azraltan had last seen him was a pitiful understatement. A strange feeling nagged at him, almost like what he imagined fear to be, as he neared the slab where the Shaper lay in the centre of the hall.

A lens sat in the middle of Xander’s helmet’s forehead, giving him the tri-ocular visage common to the Adepts of the Mechanicus. Strange metal links sat between the plates of his armour where once there had been fibre-bundles. Then servitor-limbs prised open the chest plate, and Azraltan realised just how little of his fellow Astartes remained. Xander’s torso was a mass of gears and cables. Every surface covered in both Aztecki characters and runes such as he had seen on Davin and other worlds, all offering praise to the Pantheon and the Omnissiah.

“My lord, Hunter Master Alzratan.” The words buzzed from the helm; evidently Xander no longer possessed vocal chords. “I apologise for not bowing, but my energy sources are somewhat limited at this stage.”

“No gesture could compare to the courage and devotion you have shown in this undertaking,” Alexos replied with a smile as his eyes roved over the warrior's new form. “Adept Spierius tells me you are ready to commence the ritual?”

“Now you are here, master, yes.” As if it a signal from the Shaper, the gates at each side of the chamber opened and a great procession entered. Adepts, leading servitors who dragged great stretchers with the forms of Astartes on them. With a mounting sense of horror Alzratan saw that they were dead; lifeless flesh wedded to metal and ceramite. No two were identical, and all sported vile weapons grafted onto their armour and bones. Blades, cannons, flails and more esoteric armaments. Some even had mechanical tendrils in place of arms. Most were helmeted, but a few bore partial or complete visages of steel, worked into the same bestial shapes and death masks as the Adepts of Cognis.

“What happened to them?” He asked, turning to stare at Alexos, who calmly held his gaze.

“These are the false Eagles who failed to embrace the Primordial Truth. You will recall that we sacrificed them and took their gene-seed; I saw no sense in wasting their bones, muscle and sinew either. Thus I had them interred in stasis, waiting for the day when they would serve their Legion again.”

“And the others?”

“Unsuccessful gene-enhancement experiments,” grated Xavier. “We cannot afford to waste such resources, and thus they will also be recycled into weapons for the war against the Anathema.”

Alzratan reeled. The gene-seed experiments had become normal, but this…

Alexos stepped quietly towards him, placing a hand on his shoulder. “My dear captain, I understand that you may find this difficult to take in, but this simply marks another step along the road lit by the Primordial Truth.”

“How can this be? I see only the glorification of the Mechanicum’s sterile, false god, not the true divinity that you exhorted us to follow.”

Xavier's voice was like wire on rock. “Be glad that I am not in a position to exact retribution for your remarks, Alzratan.”

“Peace, Xavier,” growled Alexos. Then his face softened. “Alzratan, I have valued your scepticism more than you could know, but you must believe me when I say that these experiments glorify the Pantheon just as much as our gene-manipulation, if not more.”

Alzratan stood his ground. “How can that be, when we are simply reanimating fallen Astartes as glorified servitors? No amount of runes can hide the fact that this will be an army that marches on the sterile energies of crude matter, and not the righteous fervour that drives us!”

The rebuttal came not from Alexos, but from Xander. “My warriors will not be animated by material energies. Our lord has devised a communion by which the power of the Neverborn will infuse these shells of chrome and flesh. All that remains is for us to perform it.”

As if on cue, a new sound entered the vast space; hundreds of voices, shouting, screaming, weeping. Alexos swept out of the chamber, up a steep flight of stairs, Alzratan and the rest of his retinue trailing behind. They stepped out onto the grated floor above the hall, where long chains hung down from the roof. On these chains dangled prisoners of every kind, in their thousands. A few were even adepts of the Mechanicus who had remained loyal to the false Emperor, their occular lenses broken and their limbs shackled by crackling shock-restraints.

Alexos stepped towards an old man whose tattoos marked him out as a senior Army officer. “General Molsov, I believe?” The officer, to his credit, responded with a series of vicious epithets, but was drowned out as Alexos began the chant. It mixed the Aztecki litanies with High Gothic and invocations of the ancient tongue, and grew in volume as Astartes, cultists and Magos added their voices.

Alexos’ knife tore up through the man's sternum and he prised the ribcage open. Blood splashed on the grating as he ripped the heart from the officer's chest before moving on to the next victim. Tlahtoāni and the Jaguar Toa followed, plunging their blades in and ripping upwards. Adepts seized their former brethren and brutally tore out the augmentics from their remaining flesh. Vitae engines kept the butchered people alive as long as possible, that their pain might provide more fuel for the ritual. The old general convulsed in his manacles, still trying to shout as the blood flowed out of him and his innards dangled wetly, quivering. Howls of agony knifed through the air, and the chanting grew in volume.

Mayaq huizoca hotolitl Tlazolteotl-Slaanesh…” Alzratan felt the build-up of power, like a scalding wind. The runes inscribed across the stone and metal lit up, searingly bright. They were matched by the symbols borne by the priests and Astartes. Travier was a beacon, Ixiptlatlan revealed in all his righteous potency. Alzratan’s nerves sang to see it, to feel the sheer majesty of the Empyrean. Yes. The Pantheon smiles upon this work. He gave himself over completely to the chant, somehow knowing the exact words and rhythm as he drew his own blade and opened a woman's ribcage. “Ovnashka k’tip uos Tzeentch-Calacoyanti vorsaka, gras…” Blood gushed in a red tide, trickling through the grates and splattering the warrior forms below.

The holes in the grates were irregularly shaped to the uninformed observer, but in truth they had been fashioned with the most exacting precision. Invocations wrought in metal with the sacred geometry that would channel and focus the shockwaves these sacrifices stirred in the walk. By the time the fluid trickled down to anoint the cyborgs, it was not wholly of this Galaxy.

Brukh echashegnac noryag Chalchiutotlin-Nurgleth!” A thousand inhuman voices merged with the intonations and the agony of the victims, as the ritual built to a fever pitch to invoke the lords of both Change and Death, binding entropy and hypertrophy into a single mad process. “Hyrua xope hjeldavriok blurad gei gnak blurad vorg, Khorne-Mixcoatl vok lkod gra maurak!” Alzratan threw back his head and howled the words, feeling a heart burst in his hand. He felt the power of the gods as never before, and cast aside the last shards of doubt. It was glorious, and then it ended.


Silence fell, broken only by the dripping. Then strange droning noises sounded from below. Without a word Alexos strode to the doorway and descended the stairs, his retinue trailing behind.

As the group stepped out of the stairwell, the Shaper rose from his slab. Eldritch flames lit the inner workings of his chest and burned behind the grille of his helm. A hand with seven steel claws fastened on his staff, and he raised it above his head. As one, the other cyborgs lifted themselves and stood, utterly still but for the flickering energies that powered them. Then, with the same synchronised motion, they brandished their terrible weapons, which now burned with the same sorcerous glow. Ceramite and metal stretched and warped like skins and tissue, and blood hissed as it met their blades.

As his master approached, the thing that had been Xander Travier saluted, and spoke with two voices. One was the vox-crackle Alzratan had heard before. The other was guttural, yet sibilant; a voice that could never have emerged from any corporeal larynx. “We are the walking walls, the bodies of steel, the power of the Immaterium our lifeblood. We are the Corpora Ferro, and we shall burn all who will not see the truth.

Edited by bluntblade, 28 October 2016 - 07:20 AM.

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

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#87
bluntblade

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A Strange Knight
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Shepherds of Eden
Time: 992 M30
Major characters: Nix Pyrruk

+++++

Mikken didn't know which parts of him didn't hurt any more, he'd been running so long. Once he had seen a sinner lashed in the holdfast, and his lungs hurt more as his mind connected the two.

His ears didn't hurt, but they did worse; they told him the monsters were still at his back. Throaty, cracking laughter, animal. He had never seen them before, but he knew what they were, and he knew to fear them. Even before men had been cast out of the stars and fallen to the dirt, they'd known to fear the Ork.

The old tales said that the Knights, with their mighty steeds and shining swords, had broken the greenskins’ rusty cleavers and cut the monsters down, but the new talk said otherwise. The lord's were beset in their holdfast, and no help could come to their people. That was why he wasn't running home. He was making for the woods, hoping he'd lose them there. If that wasn't enough, at least they'd run him down far from home, and he wouldn't have his village's blood on his hands. A peasant boy couldn't be a Knight, so this was the best he could do.

He passed the treeline, ducking between branches and rocks. He could outpace them here and briefly he heard them falling behind. But then he heard crashes as they just knocked the obstacles aside, and finally his legs began to give way. But before he could fall or trip, he was swept from his feet.

His scream was cut short as he saw what had grabbed him. There was no green skin, but bone-white armour, on a man as huge as an Ork. Something inside it thrummed, and his helmet was shaped like those of the great lords. But his manner was different. Great knights didn't look at a frightened boy like that.

“They've frightened you, eh, lad?” The words were a whisper, though they were deep and growling.

Mikken couldn't speak; he could hear the greenskins getting close. They must've seen the giant who cradled him in one hand, because they began to bark and holler.

Metal sighed as the giant took a sword from his shoulder, and then Mikken heard a strange, snarling noise. He looked down and gasped to see purple fire kindle along the blade. Something clicked behind the knight's faceplate as he shifted his stance. “Let's give these monsters something to fear.”

Mikken looked behind him, and saw more of the giants - scores - striding forward, swords and axes in their hands. As one, the blades rose, the warriors bracing themselves. Out of sight, the Orks halted, snorting and grunting in confusion.

“Shepherds of Eden!” roared the knight who held him, and Mikken felt his ribs shake with the noise. “Illuminate them in the name of the Emperor!”

“The bell tolls for His foes!” shook the forest, and Mikken’s world exploded in noise and light.

Edited by bluntblade, 13 November 2016 - 05:21 AM.

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#88
bluntblade

bluntblade

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Parallel
Author: bluntblade
Legions: Halcyon Wardens
Time: the closing years of the Insurrection
Major characters: Alexandros, Magnus

Note: all the scenarios Alex witnesses are borrowed from alt-heresies, stories on Archive of Our Own, Sim's scenarios from when he was test-driving Alex's rules, or the original tales of our Legions in their forms as the II or XI. See how many you recognise:

+++++

Alexandros wandered the corridor, musing on what he saw, seeking a pattern with which he might make sense of all these things that might have been, beings he might have called brother. Horus, vast and furious, loomed still in his mind, but others soon jostled with him. A blonde, bearded giant named Roboute, hailing from the same world Leman had called home. A brutal warlord clad in yellow and black, the eight-pointed star carved into his forehead; a contorted reflection of the Praetorian Alexandros had seen himself bow to and implore to trust him, through another doorway. Battlefields where Legions he did not recognise waged war.

Here and there he saw something familiar, in a strange place or circumstance. Pionus alone in the Webway, battling an Ork of unbelievable size and power. Malcador the Sigillite, standing mournfully by Gwalchavad, who lay still with his throat cut and his blood on the blades of his own sons. Raktra, paralysed by dread as the shadow of great wings engulfed him.

He saw Ezekyle - no Dreadnought, but a living slayer in Terminator armour, leading thousands of Astartes in black, red and white against a swarm of arachnid monsters. “For the Emperor and the Warmaster!” boomed above the cacophony, and Alexandros permitted himself a small smile. There was some consistency at least, even here.

Then, on his left, screams, resolving into a yell of “End him, Alex!” He moved toward the sound, trying to peer through the smoke, fire and muzzle flashes that only granted suggestions of what was happening.

The black stone became sand under his boots, just as dark and trodden by hundreds of thousands of booted feet. A battle between Astartes, larger than any the Insurrection had seen, though again the colours were strange to him, save for his own Halcyon Wardens. Suddenly he was wearing not the Lorica Praeses, but his old armour, scorched and scarred, and the Spear of Terra was nowhere to be found. Xiphos was peculiarly heavy in his grasp, and he glanced down, wondering how it and Aegis had found their way to his hands. Blood coated the blade, dark as wine, the essence of a Primarch.

A figure in midnight blue lay at his feet. The face spoke of despoiled nobility, teeth filed to points and bared in a final grimace. There was a hole in the breastplate where Alex knew he had driven his sword through his brother's heart and twisted.

His name again, this time spoken as a half-groan, half-whisper. Another brother's face, made golden by tattooed scripture. He knelt in the sand, hands clutching at the bloody ruin of his stomach, beseeching him through the pain. “Alex, Corvus will not hear it, but you must. I have seen what our Father will be. A living corpse lashed to an engine of torture, screaming forever into the abyss.”

“Your lies have done enough,” declared a third brother - his eyes as black as his armour - and a lightning claw ripped the golden one’s throat away.

-----

Alexandros staggered back, but found no respite. Now he lurched from one scene to the next. Through the smoke he came to a ruined Delos, its people torn apart and devoured by beasts who wore the red of the Crimson Lions. He saw the offal-strewn streets, the killers with ropes of gore trailing from their mouths, and rage broke loose inside him. He charged forward as the greatest monster saw him and leapt. They met in midair, Hectarion's greater weight hurling him backwards. A marble fountain cracked beneath him, then he was borne into the red spray, Hectarion trying to bite his throat out. Teeth closed on his cheek, a crunch of bone, a chunk of his face torn away. He reached up with his hands, weapons forgotten, jabbed, felt an eye burst under his thumb. He rose in fury from the water

Stagnant, rancid. He hauled himself out into a forest wreathed in corruption. More red, but a different hue. Angels in corroded armour swarmed him, reduced by disease to necrotic wraiths. Their master swooped towards him on rotted wings, shrieking his name. For an instant the scene was obscured by the flash of a volkite

Whose wielder, clad in purple, died under Irvin Ruel's claws. Another took his place, but Aegis caught the scimitar and Pyrrhicles impaled the Dune Serpent, screaming “Vengeance for Koschei!” Icarion stood among his Volta atop the ridge, demanding that the murderer Azus come and face Imperial justice. A heavy bolter round burst in a Serpent's chest and all Alexandros saw was blood

Sticky on his face, flowing from where the flail had crunched into his forehead. The bone-clad maniac renewed his assault, looking to cave Alexandros’ head in, but a massive hand closed on his wrist. A flamer gouted, but the Bear would not be so easily thrown off. “You will not take another brother from me!” A howl of pain and a scream of yielding metal. Blinking through the gore, Alexandros saw the bone chestplate rent and crumpled by Daer'dd's claws. An orange flower bloomed from a Land Raider and everything was fire

Licking at the palace walls, illuminating the two figures at its centre. “I have to do this,” declared one, a fanged sword in his hand and a strain in his voice that Alexandros had never heard from him in this life. “I am not like you. I cannot draw a line in the sand and say 'no further’.” More murmured words of regret, then wings of lightning burst from a Primarch's back. The first clash of the two blades was blinding

Two power weapons, but not two blades. “Ferrus!” bellowed a Primarch clad in white and bronze. “What madness has taken you?” His opponent attacked again, swinging a vast hammer that the hooded warrior barely deflected with swings of his scythe. “End this now! You cannot prevail against both Vonsalim and myself!”

“The one you called Ferrus could not,” the other replied, in a voice that even a Primarch should never have been able to speak in. “But he is no more. Now he is a vessel for a greater power.” Silver fingers tightened on the hammer. “Learn from his example, and bow to the Void Dragon.” The next blow was of such force that dust engulfed the duelists

And dissipated to reveal his Legion, cast down and broken in the ruins of a city he did not know. Squalling rain fell across the vista, but through it he saw a mighty host. The main strength of five Legions, and parts of four more. Giggling sobs came from somewhere, and he recognised his own cracked voice. Over him stood his Father and the Wolf King, with eight more brothers at the foot of this hill of corpses and rubble. Mjalnar glowed with psychic gold, the same he had seen the Emperor wield against the tech-monstrosity on Strength. This was judgement. Execution. As the sword came down he closed his eyes and dug his fingers into the dirt

And found jagged rock that cracked and flexed, reflecting cold lightning from the skies as his eyes opened again. The landscape was all of this nature. Everything was in flux, mountains shifting and warping even as he watched. Figures in power armour, once so mighty as to expect the universe to make way for them, scuttled across the landscape, unable to trust even the ground beneath their feet. They too were changing, some fighting their own unruly flesh, others sporting hideous shapes as if they were badges of honour. Others… well, they were no longer Astartes, he could tell.

The only constant thing on the horizon was the tower, tall enough to dominate even the mountains. Black as the rocks around it. Cyclopean. With a pang, he realised his choice of words could not be a coincidence.

“For indeed, our lives know no coincidence,” came a voice behind him. “Welcome, brother, to the planet of the sorcerers.”

-----

He looked just the same; crimson skin, baroque armour and one solitary eye. Except the eye itself was different, a portal to the wrongness that Alexandros could feel boiling off him. The brother he had known delighted in the pursuit of knowledge, ever eager to build on his understanding. The one that now stood before him had the air of a man who knows all, and finds no joy in any of it. He didn't carry the fruits of discovery, diligently acquired. Wisdom had been heaped on him, crushing his spirit.

“Magnus,” he whispered. “Can I trust my eyes and believe this is really you?”

Amusement and sorrow mingled on the face of Magnus, or the thing that wore his aspect. “Dear Alex, you were never as naïve as I, even when you wanted to be. See the nature of this world and then tell me whether anything here can be trusted.”

Alexandros didn't look away from his face. “This is the realm of Tzeentch.”

Magnus nodded. “Nothing here can be believed, and yet all of it must be heeded. A style of lurid journalism was once devised in ancient Merika, on the premise that falsehood can be truer than any fact. Such is the place where we stand. As for your original question,” he sat, a throne of rock rising into existence as he did so, “I am truly Magnus, but not the one you knew. He is in here, a part of me, but there are others subsumed into the whole.”

He gestured, and Alex turned to see another seat behind him. He paused, eyes lingering on it, and reached out cautiously with his mind as he sat, remoulding the stone, doing away with the ostentatious patterns that ran across it. The throne became a chair. “You have become a daemon,” he stated simply. Magnus dipped his head in acknowledgement, with a sorrowful look that caused Alexandros to pause before carrying on. “Alexos and Icarion stir the Warp and its denizens against us. Are you another of their weapons?”

“I am but a shade in this Galaxy, so you need not fear any antagonism from me. I am merely called upon as a messenger, and in truth, thanks to my demise in your universe, that is the limit of my power. Would that my fate in every other life had been such,” he said quietly. “I miss brotherhood, the freedom of ignorance, the capacity to learn and make my own choices. I would still take back the sorrow of Prospero, were it in my power.” His eye scanned the heavens. “In every life I have lived, the loss of the two seems to have undone some fundamental balance among the Twenty. Never immediately, but each catastrophe loosened a few keystones, readying the edifice for its collapse.”

Alexandros nodded. “I missed you and Leman, especially after the Triumph. Even if managing relations between the two of you might have proven a challenge, your counsel and support could have kept this all from unravelling.” Magnus sat wrongly, he thought; the old Crimson King had always undercut his own grandeur, reclining to take in everything and relish he could see around him, or leaning forward, a vibrant debater ever on the verge of springing from his seat. Now he was icily regal, accustomed to dominance, apathetic.

It was there in his voice. “Likewise you might have kept Rogal’s anger from its boiling point, and Icarion might have averted my foolishness at Nikaea. Hells, had he lived still when Horus perished, perhaps Roboute and the Lion might have acclaimed him as Warmaster, and we would have been spared their dreadful feud.” Alexandros waited; time did not seem to be a concern here, and the Crimson King had always been one to meander in his musings. “So now, lost brother, I find you labouring under the other curse. That of the Warmaster. Which brings me to the matter I have been sent to discuss.”

Alexandros narrowed his eyes, peering at Magnus. “A curse?”

“In every universe, there were a few doomed roles allocated to some of the Primarchs. Some overlap, but the curses are always there; the lost, the betrayer, my own, and the Warmaster.”

“You speak of a curse of your own?”

Magnus gestured towards the obsidian spire. “I was always too close to the aether and hungry for knowledge, ever coveted by the Lord of Change or the device by which he carried out his machinations. The only time I truly cheated him was what you know as the Cataclysm of Prospero. Death was my only way out. A peculiar inversion of the choice offered to you.”

So this was the reason. “Tzeentch has a way of enticing me?” He didn't try to keep the scorn from his voice.

“To be named Warmaster is to have your doom set in stone. Knowing what is arrayed against you, you can hardly delude yourself. You will perish, and in the wake of your fall the Imperium you fought for and nurtured over so many years will decay, consuming every ideal you laboured for until barely any hope remains for Mankind. Or if you fail, the collapse will be swift, and your people perish. You might turn traitor, but that would merely guarantee the latter outcome. Only one escape offers itself to you.”

He didn't want to know, but then that was the power of knowledge. It was addictive. “And that would be?”

“Throw it aside. Pledge yourself to neither the Emperor nor the usurper. Know only the Lord of Change as your master. The powers at your disposal; the ability to discern every scheme, understand how every thread interlinks and gain knowledge beyond what even your foresight can grant you. I need hardly remind you of Keoluga, and I invite you to consider how it will feel to close your enemies’ paths to victory even as they find them. Know the minds of those close by as you do now, and you will those of every consciousness they touch. It will be within your gift to exploit that knowledge, unfettered, no longer hobbled by the frailties of lesser beings but orchestrating their every step. No enigma will be beyond your understanding, even the means to eradicate your sons’ affliction.”

Despite everything, those words sent a chill through him. Alexandros ran his eyes over the more malformed sorcerers, and the automatons who stood in unmoving ranks around the tower. “I see little sign that he cured yours.”

“It is my punishment for defying him, and for my neglect. I locked myself away and tried to assuage my guilt, rather than tend to my sons. So they undertook a desperate measure of their own, and bound the curse to themselves in a new form. Willing service would see you rewarded.”

“And the people? Our people?”

“My people no longer.” Magnus’ eye was cold, his expression stony. “They would cease to be of any concern to you. You would be liberated from the shackles of compassion. Above the board, free to see how inconsequential the pieces are. Seek to rule them or defend them, and they will only disappoint. Sycophantic devotion, abject fear or deceitful false fealty will be your reward for the trouble. Instead you can be the hand that guides a thousand thousand intrigues, every day bringing a different goal. You will not find yourself striving to impose stasis on the Galaxy, and once you understand all there is to know about the common man, you will not care to carry his burdens.”

Alexandros hated to acknowledge it, but he would be deceiving himself if he imagined he was not tempted. He could avoid looking into the darkness the loomed at the end of the Siege, but the impenetrable shade told him what lay ahead for him. Tzeentch's patronage was the one chance to avert that, avoid leaving his sons to face their curse and trials without him.

And yet, the cost. Higher - the thought amused him in a hollow sort of way - than the price of his own soul. Compassion would drive him to this, but then the gifts would include having that trait excised. Everything he had striven to do was, on some level, driven by a desire to better the lives of his people.

His eyes roved over Magnus, taking in the eldritch blade at his side and smelling the blood of Astartes that clung to it, millenia after the gore had been wiped away. Images flashed before his eyes - murdered Wolves, civilian corpses arranged in patterns with a complexity and precision that could only spring from a intellect which viewed minds, lives, souls as mere resources. He saw what Tzeentch would make him.

He tasted bile. There was the truth, the hollowness of every promise Chaos made. Unimaginable power, for the loss of all the purpose that made such power worthwhile. He held the gaze of the lone orb as the wind whistled around them. “Then Tzeentch is perhaps the foulest of the Chaos Gods. I am offered apathy for the people I have lived to serve, and the expectation that I would flinch from my duty. At least the other three had a cause to entice me with, and view their followers with something more than academic interest.” He stood. “Before I leave you to inform your God of my refusal, I must ask two things of you, brother.”

Magnus sighed, a sad smile playing over his features. “You'll find the way out behind you.” He pointed, and indeed there was the doorway, leading back into the corridor beneath Molech. “Your other question?”

“Did you, yourself, wish me to choose your master?”

Magnus stroked his chin, eye closed. “I would grieve for you, no matter the path you walked. Yet I must concede that I am glad you are, at least, stronger of spirit than I.” He stood, throne crumbling away, and began slowly walking towards his tower. Alexandros watched for a while, and then turned to the doorway.

At the threshold, he heard Magnus' voice again, distant but clear. “I do feel envy, when I see a soul decide their own fate. In that, you have better fortune than our brothers.”

Edited by bluntblade, 13 October 2017 - 10:57 PM.

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#89
Raktra

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Echo
Author: Raktra
Legions: Berserkers of Uran, Silver Scorpions
Time: Shortly after Nomus' discovery
Major characters: Raktra, Nomus

Raktra stared intently at Nomus, as was his usual manner. He of course absorbed every tell-tale sign of a healed wound and every twitch that proceeded a full movement as Nomus spoke, mildly pacing as he did so. It was a typical meeting of one of his genetic relatives, and yet something bothered him. Behind each step, each flourish of the arm, there was a malformed echo, as though the actions of another shadowed the Scorpion's actions, that behaved not as a methodical analyst, but instead moved with the tense wariness of a lonesome jackal. If Raktra focussed hard enough, he swore he could see a genhanced circulatory system not unlike his own superimposed over Nomus.
"Ashen one?" Nomus said, either finally noticing or finally becoming tired of Raktra's distraction. "Something troubles you?"
A moment of silence hung, as Raktra split his vision between the corporeal Primarch before him and the echoes that still yet lingered.
"No." He finally said, albeit a good deal flatter than was appropriate. "Just an echo."

Edited by Raktra, 07 November 2016 - 12:58 AM.

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#90
bluntblade

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Of Bears and Predators
Legions: Iron Bears, Predators
Time: 0 M31
Major characters: Nibaasiniiwi, Ellan Temeter, Daer'dd, Andezo, Damon Redd, Legba

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0 M31

Nibaasiniiwi paused, brush in one hand and one of his pistols in the other. “I think I’ve covered the Legions I took the most pleasure from fighting beside. I have to confess, I don't really know what to speak of next.”

Ellan leaned forward on the bench, looking almost child-like in a room designed with Astartes in mind. Her eyes retained that glimmer of guileless curiosity that had so endeared her to his Primarch. “I can think of something. Vain ambition, I guess, but then, most remembrancers will focus on the Halcyon Wardens, Lightning Bearers and the Crimson Lions. Can you tell me anything about the lesser-known Legions? I mean,” she grinned, “if I’m able to learn and write about them, surely I'm obliged to?”

Nibaasiniiwi nodded thoughtfully, and resumed cleaning the gun. “Well, that has a certain appeal. Most of your compatriots do tend to just go for the same subjects every time. So, which Legion to tell you of… I only fought briefly with the Eagle Warriors, and the Grave Stalkers largely kept apart from us… ah.” He looked up, smiling. “How about the mysterious XXth?”

-----

Sixty-two years before, the Dragon of Autumn's embarkation deck rang with the sounds of engines, booted feet and a hundred voices, but one joyous bellow cut through all the noise.

“Achille!” Damon Redd seized Nibaasiniiwi with a sound that to mortal ears was more suited to a hammer blow than an embrace. “Far too long since I saw you last, brother!”

“Steady on, brother,” Nibaasiniiwi replied as Redd released him. “It's only been three years.”

“Isn't that long enough to miss me?” Redd gave a laugh that was raucous even by the Bears' standards. “How are the Shepherds?”

“They thrive. Khârn sends his regards, looks forward to a rematch at taking Ork heads.”

Redd nodded, beaming happily. “I'd welcome a challenge like last time. It was a close-run thing. Khârn is a Shepherd of Eden, no doubt, but he’s also a born slayer. To imagine what he'd be like had he embraced the Berserkers’ ways… I'd weep for our enemies. As it is, I might still weep, were we fighting other humans. The XXth are on our heels.”

“Truly?” Nibaasiniiwi looked away, towards the warriors and vehicles of the 4th Wartribe as they emerged from their transports, forming up before Nibaasiniiwi’s company. “Why do they join us now? We’re only fighting Orks.” The XXth Legion, the Predators, were not as elusive as the Grave Stalkers or Dune Serpents, but rarely did they seek out their cousins. The Bears were as close to them as any, yet Nibaasiniiwi had only seen them a few times back when he was a mere battle-brother and then as a sergeant; before his limbs were copper and adamantium.

So now he looked back to Redd, who had already been a praetor when the Great Crusade reached Mardum. “These aren't your typical Orks,” Redd answered. “Moreover the Imperium has history with them.”

“Unfinished business, then,” growled Nibaasiniiwi, rolling his shoulders. “From how long back?”

“Fifty-seven years. When the horde occupying Thravia was broken by the Lightning Bearers, Lions and the Jackals under the Emperor Himself, one of their most powerful psykers managed to escape. From what the Rogue Traders learned, he began building an army of his own. You take that Ork thing where you get them to believe something and it comes to pass, and given enough time you get a society that views Warpheads as their divinely appointed leaders. And now here they here they come, looking for another round. So yes, the presence of our cousins is quite justified.” He paused, grinning and plainly relishing some information he had kept from Nibaasiniiwi. “Such is the judgement of Lord Icarion anyway.”

“The Stormborn is directing all of this?” hissed Nibaasiniiwi, hardly daring to believe it.

“Not all of it, but his hand guides us. We will lock horns with the beast and the Lightning Bearers will hit its flanks, closing off any escape.”

“A glorious day,” murmured Nibaasiniiwi.

“Aye.” Redd's voice dipped from its usual boom to a low rumble. “How are you finding your new hands?”

Nibaasiniiwi spoke yet more softly, circumspect. “Strange, though I am thankful beyond words for our Primarch's craftsmanship and care.” He flexed his right hand, gazing at it intently. “The pain passed soon enough” - surprising, when he remembered the shattered greenskin chainblade shredding his forearms - “and it’s good to be able to feed myself again, but the strangeness hasn't passed yet. It’s troubling, in some ways, the significance. The debt. It’s part of me now.”

“You learn to wear them lightly, in time.” Nibaasiniiwi nodded silently. Ironbound Slayer was a common enough title among the Bears, but few fitted the sobriquet as Redd did. A copper plate lay somewhere under his hair, two copper fangs were only the most prominent of his artificial teeth and his eyes were glimmering black augmentics. Beneath the armour, much of him was also metal, albeit covered with synth-skin. A brutal fight with a Squiggoth had left him in need of a partially adamantine spine. Even one of the hearts in his chest was cybernetic.

-----

That, of course, had marked the point where Redd’s legend really began. His deeds as a mortal on Huron had won him renown, but when the then Lieutenant Redd had been swarmed by a pack of Dark Eldar and slain them all, even with a ruined secondary heart, that had set him apart even among the Legiones Astartes. That battle had been fought beside the Wolves, and so it was one of their “priests” who pulled him back from the brink of death. The Wolf had spoken of a “deep wyrd” taking a hold of Redd, and no one saw any reason to question his judgement.

Nibaasiniiwi caught himself before he could speak of Wolves and wyrds. It was tempting, dear Throne it was, to tell her. Wasn't it right, wasn't it just that the second and eleventh find their place in the histories of the Crusade? Maybe there would be a time when the Crusade was done and the truth could have its day. At the same time, Ellan's curiosity had a way of nudging him into divulging; even during the Locria campaign he’d kept her apprised of how the campaign was unfolding, and he knew Daer'dd, Solomon and Yoxer had done likewise.

But no desire could compete with the writ of the Emperor. So he improvised - lied, his conscience corrected him - and said that battle had been fought solely by the Bears, and an apothecary had been there to see it. Hoping the guilt didn't show in his face, he barrelled on before Ellan could begin to question.

-----

Now Redd smiled and added, “Might I be so bold as to ask about the claws? Daer'dd's creations are always a delight to behold.”

Nibaasiniiwi could hardly refuse. Extending a single hand he concentrated, and wires shot from his knuckles in a blur of copper, resolving into three claws, wickedly sharp and crackling with electricity. They were hard to look at, despite the beauty of their form. It marked a step that few made even among the Astartes; becoming one with their weapons.

Redd, however, clapped him on the shoulder. “Wear them with pride, Achille. They're the perfect weapon for the Firebound. When you take them into battle, you'll know the truth of that.”

Nibaasiniiwi couldn't hide his smile at that, and the heady notion that he might fulfill his potential. The implication of their craft went unspoken; such weapons were not crafted for a warrior who was merely adequate. A wyrd must lie upon Nibaasiniiwi's shoulders too, and so he would strive to be worthy of it. Not for acclaim, but because his oath to the Emperor and His people required all that he could give.

His mind at peace, they moved casually across the deck, Redd greeting officers as he went until he reached Cass. The differences between the two Warchiefs were quite apparent - Redd a flamboyant force of nature, a warrior above all else, Cass’ bearing that of the reserved, consummate commander - but there was no mistaking the fondness with which they embraced. The two had been Daer'dd's right and left hands on Huron, and any occasion where they waged war together was to be celebrated. Even more joyous was the moment when Daer'dd emerged from behind a row of tanks, and even the enormous Redd threatened to disappear in his arms.

Then they formed up, their precision and formality utterly at odds with how they had been minutes before. Despite their demeanour, the Iron Bears would not be caught greeting another Legion without due decorum.

-----

“What do you know of the Predators?”

Ellan ran her teeth over her bottom lip, tapping a finger on her data-slate. “Not much. They include more psykers than most Legions, and they shun the attention of the common people.”

Nibaasiniiwi started on his second pistol. “That is true.”

“They also hail from a jungle world and divide themselves into tribes, as you do. So people tend to mistake them for a savage army, in the same way many see you.”

“You're mostly right,” Nibaasiniiwi replied. “Except for that last bit. It's not as much of a mistake as you might think.”

-----

The Predators’ livery was a purer black than the Bears’, the utter darkness of the forest floor complimented by animal hides - furs and reptilian scales were both in evidence - and dangling bones and fangs. As they drew nearer, Nibaasiniiwi spied scrimshaw on the charnel artefacts, Imperial symbols beside Mardumian glyphs. They didn't have quite the morbid aspect of the Grave Stalkers, but their feral heritage was plain to see. The Predators wore it proudly, the engravings meticulous.

They formed up in a single formation, one half marked with the mahogany trim of the Ebonspear Tribe, the other with the pale grey of the Phantom Blades. All had faceplates the colour of bleached bone, save for the two warriors who led these tribes. They represented the dual faces of the Legion; Adewale of the Ebonspear showing all the heritage of Mardum's warrior culture, a spear with a curious, intricately shaped blade held loosely in his hand.

Thoruk, on the other hand, hailed from the Asiatic hives which had languished for so long under the Pan-Pacific Empire, and risen with such spectacular fury when their chance came. That legacy could be seen in his dao sword, and his Mk II armour, heavily modified, bore little decoration. The sparse markings were drawn from Terra rather than the Legion's new home. Yet he was not begrudged for the difference, and Terran and Mardumian Astartes stood shoulder to shoulder behind him. Instead of the usual, solid bodyguard clad in Terminator or Mk III plate, his retinue were lean, swift killers, dubbed the Velos Reavers.

A drumroll echoed through the vast space, and the centre of the Predators’ ranks parted, creating a corridor of warriors who pirouetted to the side, guns held high. Breacher shields and the hafts of spears clanged against the deck as the master of the XXth Legion emerged from his Stormbird.

Few things could make the Deathsworn Terminators look small, but Andezo Sambedi utterly eclipsed his bodyguards. He was encased in Terminator armour, the power pack topped by a lattice of bones. Others decorated his vambraces, forming a cluster of jagged tips at the elbows. Beneath the metal hood of his armour, stark white paint stood out against his dark brown skin, and his eyes were obscured by a band of blood red cloth.

The Bears bowed low, making Daer'dd appear still larger among them. Andezo waited in silence, one hand gripping the sword at his hip. Then, with a grace that Nibaasiniiwi would otherwise thought impossible in such massive armour, Andezo sank into a bow of his own, followed by his guards, commanders and then the entire body of Predators.

“That will suffice,” Daer'dd proclaimed, humour ringing clear in his voice despite the formality. He stepped towards Andezo, who straightened to meet him. With a clang, they clasped each other's wrists, Daer'dd placing his free hand on Andezo’s shoulder. “You call me brother, not Lord, Andezo. Never forget that.”

“I am not like too.” Andezo's words had an aristocratic character to them, that was apparent even to one unfamiliar with the accents and cadences of Mardum. This was a man who, on a planet where he might have been a feral king, had instead made himself a Baron, unmistakably noble and utterly dignified. “But respect such as I owe you is not to be forgotten either. However, I will forego ceremony, as this duty is entrusted to us by Icarion himself. Better than to tell the Stormborn that I delayed in doing his will with mere prattling.”

“I concur; Chiefs Redd and Cass have drawn up the preliminary details already. If you and your commanders will step this way, we can begin.”

-----

True to Redd's word, it was declared that the Bears and Predators would strike at the Orks head-on. Strategic projections had the greenskin fleet making for Yutan III, a world of windswept tundra and forbidding mountain ranges.

The Imperials would make a show of their advance towards this world. Most enemies would see this and evade the challengers, seeking to flank them or withdrawing to find easier opponents. But Orks rarely thought that way. This horde were driven by their desire to avenge their defeat, and the glory of defeating such an army - to say nothing of the promised thrill of the fight - had an appeal that no greenskin could refuse.

Still, none would call it easy. The bait was taken, to be sure, but the Orks took it with vicious, crushing teeth.

-----

Rain and blood splattered the jagged rock, the main source of light gunfire, though occasional cracks of lightning lit the vista.

An Ork lunged past Nibaasiniiwi's guard, arms mangled and looking to crush his head in its jaws. Nibaasiniiwi rode the momenrfum, seized the brute’s head and crunched it into the rock, repeating the motion until one side was pulverised and his fingertips had sunk through the other. Another Ork came at him and only then did he release the other, bringing his foot down on its neck for good measure; a mostly destroyed brain was hardly a guaranteed way of killing an Ork, after all.

Three of his claws tore into the thick neck. “Huron and Terra!” Nibaasiniiwi twisted, and the head came clean away. Beside him one of the Predators, a Librarian called Legba, attacked any of the aliens within reach with a broad-bladed stabbing spear and cast bolts of blue lightning at those he couldn't strike. The last of the Orks immediately around them were felled, and as they gained the ridge Nibaasiniiwi could take in the carnage below him. The terrain and the weather made it impossible to perceive the full scale of the battle, but what he could see was as vast as any battle he’d seen before.

The VI Legion's famous Iron Tide slowly rolled forward, the shield wall bolstered by tanks, Knight walkers and Titans, while bombers strafed the horde. The Orks were unrelenting, a constant avalanche of green flesh and metal. They attacked with even more fervour than usual, and it took the combined firepower of all those war machines and the Daughters of Daer'dd to thin their ranks enough for the Bears to repulse them. The Daughters had taken up positions on the various hills and ridges, allowing the Astartes to take the brunt of the fighting.

A few kilometres away a ruddy glow blossomed as repeated bombing runs crippled a gargant, allowing a squadron of the Predators’ Sicaran Venators to advance and finish the job. Fellblades and Astartes followed, and the noose tightened further.

In the mountain valleys and against such a dense mass of enemies there was no room for jetbikes and Mashkode. The only things that moved swiftly here were the hunters - assault marines, Nibaasiniiwi's Firebound Slayers and their ilk. They scoured the battlefield for the Ork psykers where they channelled the storm's energies. They were ill-disciplined but powerful by greenskin standards, and the gusts and lightning were enough to deter the bombers from ripping into the heart of the enemy.

So, with the shamans guiding and concealing them, they surged into the press of Orks whenever they spotted a target. Predator assault squads roared as they shot overhead towards a point where unnatural lightning fizzed and crackled in the air. Thus they found their target, hurling frag grenades and loosing melta fire that reduced dozens of the xenos to cinders. Nibaasiniiwi leapt down to impale an Ork through the heart, lashing out with his free claw even as he ripped the other free. A crude sword swung at him and he caught it with a claw, forced his talons down the blade and seized a green wrist with his hands. Bones cracked in his grip, and Chief Sergeant Bellows brought his axe crunching into the Ork's skull.

They raced towards the assault marines, who had engaged a Weirdboy and his guards. The monster had been wounded with a flamer, the inexplicable blue feathers it wore catching light, but it still stood, and with a flash of green light brought a fresh charge of Orks straight to its side. The marines went for their blades even as they opened fire again, but the reinforcements threatened to sweep them away.

“For the Emperor!” Nibaasiniiwi roared, and the assault squads ducked down as he and his men opened fire. Holes quickly appeared in the Ork ranks, and Nibaasiniiwi vaulted over the warriors in front of him to meet them hand to hand. He parried blows with his claws and emptied his pistols into the faces of his enemies, covering his armour in blood and green flesh. Around him the rest of the Astartes followed suit, forcing a path towards the Weirdboy.

Against another enemy this unrelenting fervour would have been terrifying. The Orks, on the other hand, were exhilarated, and their crude weapons continued to fell Astartes. And that was before the Weirdboy raised his staff and began to ready a psychic blast that would pulverise anything in its way. Nibaasiniiwi tried to lunge for him, but his claws jammed in an Ork's ribcage, and he could only watch as his death came for him in a surge of blue light.

A figure in jet-black armour darted forward, spear raised and glimmering with aetheric powers of his own. The Ork's blast boiled away like steam against metal, tracing a sphere in the air around the Astartes. A kine-shield, Nibaasiniiwi realised. Then Legba charged, ducking under a brutal swing of the Ork's staff and slashing its forearm with a short, curved power sword. The staff clattered on the rock, spinning away into the mass of xenos. The only thing that allowed an Ork psyker to dispel the Warp power that was already building up again inside him.

The Weirdboy howled in horror, and the bizarre apparatus atop his head suddenly glowed lurid green. He hurled himself after the staff, but the other Astartes understood Legba’s intent, and Bellows hurled one of his axes. The roaring blade tore through green flesh, and the Weirdboy crashed down one-legged.

“Back! Back!” Legba roared, as the green light flared still brighter. The Astartes immediately fell into retreat, assault marines taking to the air again. The Orks gave no thought to the danger, not when there were enemies here to kill. They swarmed over their fallen leader towards the Astartes, wanting only to fight. All that mattered was that the power of the WAAAGH! told them to kill, and it was getting louder, like someone knocking them on the skull from inside. Or getting hotter, like a fuel can when fire gets -

-----

Nibaasiniiwi had to pause for a moment to find the right words to describe a few hundred Orks’ heads exploding all at once. They seemed to suffice, and after he told how they had stood swaying, even as the gory mist had been blown away by the gale, he had to wait for a couple of minutes as Ellan was overcome by laughter. He thought that if she found this story so funny, then he really must find someone who could tell the tale of Alexandros and the looted tanks that he couldn't call Leman Russes any more.

“If you've recovered completely,” he began again, “there's more. Better too.”

“Better?”

“Certainly. After all, any deed of ours pales beside a Primarch.”

-----

As they withdrew, letting several companies of Predators secure the ridge and beat the Orks further back, Nibaasiniiwi saw the same gruesome feat pulled off three kilometres away, except that it looked to have killed twice the number of Orks. Adewale, no doubt. Confirmation came as the hunters refused to withdraw, instead becoming part of the wave of Predators that swept forward. Land Raiders ploughed past them, flattening Orks and ripping into their crude vehicles.

A flash of lightning showed him an Ork tank flipping end over end, with no sign of an explosion. Now he knew where his Primarch was. As for Andezo, he saw no sign, but the Predators were certainly holding their own.

But then his attention was drawn to movement at the centre of the Ork horde. A group of Weirdboys had gathered, channelling their bizarre powers into some kind of portal. Green light, more searing than even the lightning, saturated the landscape. Then it dimmed, leaving wisps of aetheric residue clinging to the behemoth that now strode forth to confront the Imperials.

It was almost like a Knight walker, but far cruder and covered in barbaric imagery. Smaller than the gargants, but its sheer presence was breathtaking. One arm ended in an immense power claw, the other with an enormous replica of the staffs the Weirdboys carried. As it crackled with that baleful green luminescence, there could be no doubt that this was the master of WAAAAGH! 'eadbursta. A Morkanaut, this thing was called; the greenskin’s bastardised answer to the sarcophagi of the revered fallen. The huge figure threw back its head, and despite its mechanical voice, the Orkish bloodlust was apparent to all.

With that bellow, the storm intensified tenfold. Astartes were hurled back in their dozens by the gale, lightning strikes reduced their victims to scorched corpses and the bombers that had swept down to press their advantage were torn from the sky. Nibaasiniiwi, Legba and the rest scrambled for cover as a Marauder smashed into the company beside them, the explosion slamming the Astartes against a rock wall. As they recovered, the greenskins advanced, their hunger for the fight redoubled. Astartes were mauled to death before they could pick themselves up.

An Ork barrelled into Nibaasiniiwi, hurling him into the stone so hard that he felt the bone plate in his chest crack. He staggered and barely blocked the brute's cleaver, catching the other hand and squeezing. Again bones broke, and he felt the green fist pulp in his, but there was no respite. Undeterred, the Ork slammed its head into his faceplate. The helmet held - so much for fears about the then new Mk III helms - but he tasted blood as his head crunched against the rock behind him. The Ork continued, battering away at him until suddenly it howled in pain and reeled back. Dohmnall Sakima, one of his sergeants, had sunk the blade of his power axe deep into its skull. Now he put his bolter to the base of the struggling Ork’s neck as he hauled it away from his captain. An explosion and a twist of his axe, and the Ork's head flew free of his body.

Around them, the Astartes had stalled their enemies, Legba’s blasts of lightning turning reducing aliens to ash wherever they struck. Yet it was barely enough against the sheer weight of Orks. Nibaasiniiwi could see the balance of this fight, standing on a razor's edge. What could stand against a fiend like this?

The answer was brought to the feet of the monstrosity by a green flash of a deeper, richer hue. As it died away, twenty mighty figures raised their weapons and roared a challenge. The twenty-first said nothing that could be heard at such a distance. Rather than brandish a blade, Andezo Sambedi simply charged the Morkanaut.

-----

Nibaasiniiwi smiled ruefully. “Now, I have to be honest; I didn't see what happened next. The Orks attacking us weren't about to let up, and we were up to the eyes in them until a force of Daughters gained the ridge above us and thinned their numbers a bit. So this is what I've cobbled together from what Damon, Cass and Cherubim Naa'coma of the Daughters saw.”

-----

Green fire billowed at Andezo, only to be met and dispelled by crackling blue lightning. Moving so fast that, had he not seen it, the onlookers would have sworn that no one could move so quickly in Terminator plate, Andezo closed the distance, and tore into the monstrosity. He truly was a predator, targeting any vulnerability that presented itself.

The huge walker turned, hammering at the ground to catch and kill this irritant, but Andezo was too swift, too agile even with the outsized armour. Any blows he couldn't evade outright he swatted aside as his sword and claw severed cables and fibre-coils. Here and there he found thinner plates of metal, and fractured them with the blunt force of his limbs. Around him the Deathsworn were implacable, indomitable even as the Orks tried to swarm them.

There was no sudden blow - sheer Orkish belief ensured that the machine withstood far more punishment than such crude materials should have been able to take - but like a raptor of Mardum he wore his foe down, bleeding him of his strength. The greenskin psyker might have drawn on the faith of his army, but others could tap into that power too. Right now, no Ork doubted that they were watching an incredibly potent force at work, and Andezo's already superlative strength was bolstered even further. The momentum of the Orks’ counter-attack faltered and the Astartes pushed back, Daer'dd leading the charge toward his brother.

The Morkanaut took another swing at Andezo with its claw, but Andezo had done too much damage to its legs. With a grinding scream of metal, the left knee ruptured, held on only by a few pistons and ragged strips of iron. Several Orks were flattened by the falling walker, and then Daer'dd was there, claws making ribbons of metal. The flailing giant was taken apart systematically by the two Primarchs, until finally Daer'dd wrenched its chest open. Even then the Ork psyker wasn't done, and came out blasting at them with the lurid green fire. Even Daer'dd was forced back, but Andezo met it again, then overwhelmed it completely with a crackling surge of lighting.

The twisted remains of the Morkanaut burst into flames as it's occupant was roasted inside. Andezo pushed his gift still further, and was rewarded with a detonation that shook the battlefield. Like ripples in a pond, this was followed by a series of smaller, more organic explosions as the remaining Weirdboys were overwhelmed by the psychic turmoil and their heads burst, swiftly followed by the bulk of their followers. The rest still yammered and charged, but now there could be no doubt as to who would prevail here. Now it was simply a matter of cleansing this world.

-----

It was later, assisting the Apothecaries, salvaging items from fallen brothers and taking relics from the foe for the study or the museum of conquest, that Nibaasiniiwi observed Legba and his fellow shamans at work. They moved strangely through the battlefield, following no pattern he could discern. Curious, he moved over.

“Legba, what do you seek?”

The other Astartes turned at the question and stiffened slightly, as if debating whether to withhold an explanation. Then he relented, smiling. “Trinkets, you might say. Except they're more important to me and my fellows than that.”

“It’s not really my inclination, but you seem to be passing by plenty of worthwhile trophies.” Ironically, given the savage image that so many ascribed to them, the Bears had never cared for appropriating the remains of their foes as personal trophies.

Legba shook his head, frowning slightly. “This is the thing; we don't simply claim them for appearance's sake. I'm tracing the psychic spoor of an enemy I felled. Ah.” He crouched to retrieve something and held up the gory fragment of an Ork's jaw, bits of meat and gristle dangling unpleasantly. “Recognise him?” His other hand came up, holding a blue feather. “The spoor gets a little hard to track when there are so many bits, of course.”

-----

Ellan pulled more or less the same face Nibaasiniiwi had made that day. “I don't know what's worse, the straight-faced ghoulishness of the Grave Stalkers, or the way he made a joke out of it. That's… really quite foul.”

Nibaasiniiwi chortled a little. “Gallows humour, Ellan. Legba himself told me he didn't like doing the work, and morbid jokes beat stoicism most times.”

She still seemed troubled by it. “But if he found it so unpleasant, did he have to do it? Are the XXth that demanding when it comes to observing their customs?”

“Ah, well you see…”

----

“...it's not about aesthetics,” Legba explained, prising the canines out of the jaw and placing them in a small pouch on his belt. “Believe me, otherwise I'd abstain from all this. This is to do with the connection we forge with the worthy foes we best. You defeat an enemy, you gain some measure of power from it, be that some physical strength or a lesson learned in the struggle. Whatever its nature, it will have an echo in the Warp, and by claiming a token from that battle, we reinforce it and bind it to ourselves.”

Nibaasiniiwi nodded, understanding. It wasn't all that different to how some Legions used runes or other symbols, he supposed, considering the filigree that a sorcerer of the Lightning Bearers would gradually extend across his weapons as he advanced in years and prowess. An apt metaphor for the Legion's way of war, perhaps; outwardly primitive practices masking a deceptively sophisticated purpose.

-----

Ellan looked up from her data slate, eager to hear more. “And Andezo himself? What's he like?”

Nibaasiniiwi leaned forward, shaking his head. “You overestimate the circles I moved in back then. I only began to meet Primarchs in the years leading up to the Triumph. As it is, however, you can look forward to meeting two whom I have never personally met before. One of them, the Stormborn himself.”

Ellan sat bolt upright at the prospect, but her grin faltered when she saw that Nibaasiniiwi didn't share her elation. “And the other?”

“The Ashen King. You're about to meet the Berserkers of Uran.”

Edited by bluntblade, 12 December 2017 - 10:32 AM.

  • simison and Kelborn like this

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


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bluntblade

bluntblade

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Scientific Projects
Legions: Scions Hospitalier, Halcyon Wardens
Time: 10, M31
Major characters: Odyssalas, Pionus, Alexandros, Irvin Ruel, Sauhan

+++++

It was a rare Scion Hospitalier indeed who bothered to put pen to paper, at least in the literal sense. Odyssalas had friends in the other Legions who took genuine pleasure in using ink, inscribing poems or personal accounts in such a way that the handwriting alone would be pleasing to behold.

The Lightning Bearers were especially attached to this where their Black Dragons were concerned. The idea of prolonging the agony of a mortally wounded warrior was anathema to the sons of Madrigal, to the extent that a Lightning Bearer would have to demand the sarcophagus instead of the Emperor's peace. The Black Dragons were Astartes who, being whole of body, volunteered to be interred in a modified Dreadnought shell that the Legion's need for such weapons was fulfilled. Among other things, this meant that the marine in question would never be able to write again, and so the custom had arisen in which each would write a “half-death” poem before being interred, captured in peerless calligraphy.

But it wasn't the way of the XIXth. Odyssalas had affixed a keyboard to his data-slate, as he took a fresh stab at his current thesis. Officially he hadn't held the role of Apothecary for decades, not since Antonidas had recruited him to the Phantoms, but he still bore the Narthecium and regularly turned his mind to medical matters when his training and responsibilities didn't interfere. This was a long Warp transit, so he had plenty of time to spare.

This current project was a long-running one; advanced bio-artificing, with a view to supplanting augmentics. It was an entirely reasonable avenue of research to contribute to, he reasoned. Cybernetics were not a once-and-done solution; they needed regular maintenance and were prone to environmental stresses, especially when the wearer assumed that just because part of him was metal, it didn't need armour. Also, in almost all the cases he was aware of, while augmentic limbs might be stronger than the originals, they didn't seem to respond as quickly to nerve impulses, and synthesised organic materials should be cheaper in the long run. Finally, he knew well that a patient would simply welcome a procedure that left them more human than the alternative.

There were problems, however. Military priorities dictated that these experiments be geared towards Astartes before mortals, and that brought complications. Ceramite-infused bones and the Black Carapace developed over time during Ascension, whereas here they had to be synthesised along with everything else, and Odyssalas was no gene-wright. These were the issues which drove even Scions towards augmetics when there was a pressing need to get back in the fight.

He scowled. The necessary understanding might actually be beyond anyone in the XIXth. He'd have to confer with some of the senior Apothecaries in the near future, and then try to make contact with potentially interested parties in the other Legions. Assuming they weren't all at work on these far-reaching projects the rumours spoke of, with their worrying implications.

In the meantime, he'd have to consider the logistics for the early stages of tests and then implementation. Looking for inspiration, he went to his cabinet, quickly finding the dissertation Pionus had written on similar projects he had pursued on Iona. Most of his personal effects seemed to be academic in nature, though there were a few more sentimental items here and there. A single pebble from Qarith Prime, beside a vid-capture from his helmet, taken on the beach as he glanced up at the Knights of Toho battling the war machines of the Qarith.

Antonidas had chided him for that; it was bad enough that they had remembrancers loose in the fleet without the Astartes playing at being imagists. Odyssalas could only imagine how aghast his mentor would be to see the painting that hung on his wall now; a small print of Honour Brothers. His eyes locked onto it for a while, remembering the battle on the Laer atoll, the precision of the Scions balanced with the ferocity of the Bears.

Maybe it was a matter of perspective. Antonidas was a warrior who had first waged war barely a year after Alpha Centauri, the product of an era when military victory was all. Senaedon, the old Second Captain, had been much the same, Ionan or not. Odyssalas and his contemporaries were a step forward, looking to the day when humanity could focus on things besides conquest, and realise the dream of Unity. In a quiet moment, Antonidas had even suggested as much.

At this point, he had to admit that his mind wasn't on the work today. Better to go and find some inspiration. So he set off down the corridors.

-----

Pionus stood in the middle of the lab, clad in a pristine white lab coat and holding a dataslate. Around him, above holo-casters, chromosomes and helices danced slowly in the air.

Odyssalas always loved the spectacle of his Primarch at work. It wasn't the thrill of watching him in battle, but in some ways to see a born - or rather, gene-forged - warrior turn his hand to such a discipline as this was even more precious. Pionus’ brilliance and dedication had reversed the slow decline of Iona, and granted its people happiness to rival any world in the Imperium.

So diverting was the sight, that it was a few seconds before he realised there was another Primarch in the chamber. Right next to him.

Resisting the urge to freeze, he dropped to one knee. “Warmaster. Forgive me.” He'd known the Halcyon Wardens would be making the trek with them, but he hadn't expected Alexandros to be aboard while they were in the Warp.

Alexandros smiled, and gestured for him to rise. “That's enough etiquette, captain. It’s not lost on me how hypnotic a sight it can be.”

“The messy part was done before you arrived,” Pionus smiled as Odyssalas stood again, noting the presence of Pyrrhicles and Legates Ruel and Sauhan. “Though some would say that's the more interesting bit, if not for the visuals I employ to dazzle my guests. I mean -” his fingers danced over the slate, and a few links of DNA were magnified by the nearest projector “- there's a practical use to them; those who know their genetics can look at these and understand how what I'm doing. But at the same time, they serve to keep the interest of those who aren't so knowledgeable. This seems to be happening more and more, especially now Metis and Darius have started bringing remembrancers in here.”

“We'd stop if you told us to,” replied Odyssalas, trying to keep his tone casual. Alexandros was not one for formality, behind closed doors, but his presence took some getting used to each time. “No noises that might give you problems, you said, and we've made them abide by that.”

Following Mytakis’ example, he had grown fond of his time spent with the remembrancers, when he could tell the stories of the Scions’ expeditions. Most of all he liked to speak of the Qarith Crusade, where the Scions had assembled a force mightier than any Pionus had led before.

The Qarith's home world alone provided scores of tales. How the Knights of House Toho and the Titans of Gojira had plunged into the shallows from the air, trading blows far above the heads of the Scions as they surged onto the beaches. The battles that stretched to every horizon and beyond, the landmass thronging with soldiers of a hundred cohorts and regiments. How the Lightning Bearers under Susanoo Empyon had carved a bloody foothold at the heart of the planet's lone continent and held it through a day of constant battle until The Drowned reached them. The sheer spectacle of all five hundred Depthstriders fighting as one, Pionus at their head. Most of all, the sight of his Primarch fighting alongside his brothers.

He shook himself out of the reverie. Pionus gave Alexandros a rueful smile. “This is what you've done to me, brother. I'm getting soft.”

Alexandros laughed, stepping past a desk laden with vials and test tubes to stand beside his brother. “My insidious influence. I trust Antonidas still resists?”

“Absolutely. Darius went so far as to read him a poem that one of the remembrancers wrote about the Phantoms on Laeran.”

“Was it appreciated?”

“He walked out after the second stanza,” Pionus said, shoulders sagging slightly and one eyebrow rising just a little. A rare bit of theatricality, that only one of the "dauntless few" could coax out of him. “Now, do you want to hear what the purpose of all this is?”

“If I might make an educated guess, this is mortal DNA, not Astartes.” Alexandros raised a hand to the nearest holo, his index finger seeming to tap on each link. “You know well that I'm no expert, but Astartes genes carry more information than theirs.” He craned over Inna's shoulder at the slate she held, and met with a look of mock reproach and a laugh. It was unusual to see her at ease with anyone from outside the Legion, but then that was Alexandros. He had that utterly unforced way of making you trust him. “Why is this of interest to you?”

Pionus flicked his thumb across the slate, and the helix became a bundled strand of DNA. “This isn't from the genetic mainstream,” he explained. “Did you ever see the reports from Sulaco?”

Alexandros nodded. “Some fine stories, too. Hortensius and dear Cassandos’ expedition. He's much missed among the Wardens, brother.”

“He fell in glory, lord,” Odyssalas replied, as heads dipped in acknowledgement. “We find comfort in that.”

“As we all must, when kinsmen are lost to us. Sulaco was one of his glories, but please, don't let me get sidetracked. What do the genetic divergences mean?”

“Not purges, if you're worried about that,” Pionus replied. “The inhabitants rejoiced when we overthrew their rulers, and it would be wasteful and vindictive to slaughter willing subjects. However, mutation that leads away from the evolutionary path of Mankind cannot be permitted, so this is the beginning of a programme that should bring their genetic makeup back in line with the majority of our people.”

“An ambitious project,” Alexandros smiled.

Pionus gave him a tolerant look. “What is the point of being a Primarch if you're not going to be ambitious? Besides, I'll need something to keep me busy when the Crusade is finished.” Alexandros chuckled and nodded, waiting for him to continue.

As it was, Inna took up the narrative. “It won't be a single momentous change; this is merely the first phase. We anticipate there'll be three, maybe four if a more cautious approach proves necessary. It's a trial run of sorts, but we’re hopeful, and it's worth pursuing. The numbers of Mankind are vast, but not infinite. Besides, the Emperor would undoubtedly wish us to move beyond an attitude that treats our people as disposable.”

“You are preaching to the converted there, my dear. Have you been able to enlist any of our similarly inclined comrades to this endeavour?”

Inna scowled and shook her head, and with a quizzical look Alexandros turned to his brother. Pionus’ expression was about as frosty, but it eased as he glanced at Odyssalas. “You don't have any scribes beyond that door, do you?”

“No, sir. They're all asleep or down in the Symposium, and frankly, I doubt any of them are sober enough to manage the walk here.”

“Good.” Pionus’ face hardened once more and he turned back to his brother. “The Jade General cares nothing for the project. Instead he squanders his energies on his obsession with psykers and pariahs. It's not healthy, Alex.”

“Not healthy?”

“Spiritually. A poor choice of words, but it will do. He just can't recognise that he's waging war against his own nature."

“How so? It's common knowledge that he's no psyker,” Sauhan hazarded, cautiously. It was rare indeed to see Pionus agitated.

Pionus gestured impatiently. “But he's one of us. On some level, he's of the aether. All of us have abilities rooted in something more than our genes or upbringing. Quite apart from that, I don't like agitation against psykers. They bring their risks, but they're vital to everything we do in the Crusade. It's an insult to every Librarian who has given his life in the name of Mankind, every astropath and navigator who serves aboard our ships.”

Alexandros' face was impassive, though as a psyker himself it was easy to guess his views. “You've spoken to him of this?”

“In more temperate language, I assure you. But he's a stone wall. To him I am myopic and small-minded, subject to whims that the rational mind should eschew.” He didn't try to hide his exasperation. “I see it every time I refer to Iona.” He gave a hollow laugh. “Iona, outpost of sentiment and irrational thought, in his worldview.”

Alexandros nodded pensively. “I will endeavour to speak with him before the next campaign starts. What of Kozja?”

“The same as ever. All he thinks of is his bizarre scheme of unifying the Legions.”

“An offensive notion, and a waste of resources better spent elsewhere,” Ruel growled. “Warmaster, you ought to speak to him about this again, and try to dissuade him.”

Alexandros shook his head. “Would that it were so simple. Kozja may be the proudest of our brotherhood, and I hardly want to begin my tenure by using my rank so brazenly.”

Irvin bowed his head apologetically. “Sorry. I’ll never be a political animal, I fear.”

“And yet I'd mistake you for a masterful provocateur, if I didn't call you brother,” smiled Sauhan. “My lord, we may find a way to achieve this indirectly. Perhaps we might find a suitable project, and ask Lord Darzales to turn the energies of his Apothecarion towards that?”

Odyssalas’ head snapped up at those words, but before he could even speak, the moment was snatched away.

A knock came at the door, with a call of “My lords, the astropaths have received an urgent missive. A summons.”

Pionus’ brow furrowed, and he stepped towards the door as a mortal man in XIXth Legion livery entered. “Gaius. Who has the nerve to summon the Warmaster?”

The man held a command tablet whose crystal surface allowed it to carry astropathic missives. “It carries the mark of the Sigillite, lord.”

Odyssalas, standing nearest, took it and began to decipher the runes. Almost as quickly, he came to a halt, seeing a stylised I, crossed twice near the centre. “Throne,” he breathed. “Urgent” was a woefully insufficient adjective for this.

Pionus took the slate, and gave a sharp intake of breath. “You bloody fool,” he growled, apparently to no one present. Then he began to read aloud. “Following an altercation between Apothecaries of the Crimson Lions and Warbringers, it has been alleged that the latter has pursued experiments in genetic science that run against the edict of the Emperor, beloved by all. The Emperor Himself will judge the actions of the accused and determine the fate of these projects. Owing to the complex nature of this matter, the leaders of each Legion are commanded to attend or send a suitable representative in their stead.”

Alexandros took a seat, fingers toying with his beard. “Reading between the lines, this has the potential to be far-reaching indeed.”

Pionus shook his head. “It’s everything I've worked to avoid.”

As his Primarch reeled off the details, Odyssalas gazed blankly at the holos, mind echoing with the name of the Astartes whose trial they were to attend. Vizenko. The Apothecary had worried him when they had met, but the Scions had always assumed any really dangerous advances were decades away.

Pionus looked weary, but there was no mistaking the grim purpose in his eyes. “The choice is made for us. We will attend and speak our part, and try to salvage what we can from their excesses.” He grasped Alexandros’ arm. “Will you stand with us?”

Alexandros shook his head, slowly and regret clearly visible in his face. “I would risk stoking resentment from the IX, and we don't know how many of our brothers will take Kozja's side. I must remain outside this argument, save for where Imperial law is concerned. The ethics and practicalities I must leave to you.” He turned, and leaned on a desk, gazing into space. “Above all,” he pronounced, “it must be seen by all that our Father will rule. Do what you feel right, Pionus, but this is a matter for the Emperor, not His Warmaster.”

Pionus nodded, swallowing his disappointment. Then he was in motion, motioning to his officers. “Gaius, I want messages conveyed to every officer of the Synedrion outside the fleet. Then do the same with the Dragon of Autumn, and the Lupa Sanguis. See what we can learn of the extent of this Vizenko's transgressions. My eyes and the eyes of the Synedrion only. Metis, review the disposition of each fleet, and devise contingencies for the absence of your Déka brothers. A war of words calls to us.”


Edited by bluntblade, 10 December 2019 - 11:14 PM.

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Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#92
Raktra

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The Surgeon
Legions: Scions Hospitalier, Halcyon Wardens
Time: Soon after the destruction of Prospero
Major characters: Raktra Akarro, Leman Russ, Magnus the Red, Riktus Innorvak

 

All was sterile and quiet for hours, only the disquieting pull of a scalpel blade against formaldehyde-preserved flesh and the occasional scrape of a radiation-scrubbed tray being moved to break the cold silence. The sound constantly managed to be at odds with itself - dry papery rasping from parting skin gave way to a perversely succulent slurp of sliced muscle and subcutaneous fat, a dribble of blood not yet coagulated making its slow crawl down the shaven torso, treating the surgeon to a noise so minute that only those possessed of hearing such as his could ever appreciate it. Beyond these side affects of his art, even the mercilessly bright lumen that illuminated his work seemed to dare not hum.
 
   Silence, as with all things, is never to last, and a trio of heavy knocks rang out. To the inelegant ears of mortals, these sounds could have come from any brave soul daring to ask audience, but to a son of the Emperor, the level of force, order in which knuckles struck the metal, and amount of time the sound reverberated around the chamber, were all as distinctive as a fingerprint. Of the scant seven granted the honour of his time, there could be no doubt as to the visitor. A hand wrapped in a surgical glove briefly broke away from its methodical operations to press an activation rune that permitted entry, before returning to the specimen on the slab.
   “My lord,” said Riktus, his voice a cascade of sparks hissing as they cooled upon water. The Primarch before him gave the slightest of recognitions, a minute twitch of the head, to show that he was listening.
   “Word comes from Prospero.” Every syllable rang cold, the stiff formal tone of one expending calculated effort to suppress their own enthusiasm. "The legions of the second and eleventh are… No more.”
   The statement hung in the air for several seconds. The surgery stopped. Riktus, implacable before almost any other being, knew to take his leave, and then there was but one once again.

  

   He stripped off his gloves and placed his surgical tools in cleaning solution. Stepping towards a set of shelving towards the rear of the room, he placed his now bare hand against the steel, activating the hidden scanner placed within. The wall parted with a gentle hiss of compressed air, and he entered the hermitage. Lighting archaic gas lamps, a creature comfort from Uran, his eyes ran across a series of inhumanly detailed anatomical sketches, each laden with hundreds of minute annotations detailing physical flaws, scar tissues, and echoes of old injuries. Indulging himself in a small moment of fantasy, he amused himself with the thought that the Scions Hospitaller were still naive enough to keep records of a far more philanthropic ilk. Shaking his reverie, Raktra plucked down the drawings labelled “II” and “XI”, and put them to the flame.


Edited by Raktra, 27 November 2016 - 05:28 PM.


#93
Nomus Sardauk

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Spoiler


[b]

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Formerly SanguiniusReborn, proud Creator of the Scarlet Sentinels, my 18th Century British Redcoat Chapter and the Steel Legion, my Cyberpunk-inspired Lost Legion!


#94
Grifftofer

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Ascension

Author: Grifftofer

Included Legions: The Grave Stalkers

Time: around 012.M31; though the rituals began after the taking of Kabyieb and continue all through the Legions history

 

Today was it, the day of his ascension. He had passed through the fire and wore the scars of his trials with a fierce pride. This final test would judge him worthy of becoming a Reaper. After this day he would fear no foe and stride into battle as an avatar of death.

 

The room around him was dark, lit only by a pair of flaming braziers whose light had little impact on the oppressive atmosphere. Though he could not see them he could sense the crowd gathered to watch and tried to hold himself even taller under their scrutiny. The heat of the fire was strongly contrasted by the cold metal of the shackles that held him by the wrists and ankles against the bulkhead.

 

The noise of footfalls echo around him with a metallic ring, he turns his head to look towards the sound and watches as a Keeper emerges from the gloom, his black robes concealing him until the last moment. The Keeper considers him for a moment before intoning. “We come to bear witness. This brother seeks to become a Reaper. The right hand of our master and bringer of death to his enemies. His scars tell the tale of his bravery in battle, he has already given up his name and now he offers of his body that we might continue and grow as a Legion. This final test, the Ha'kun Ch'am, will prove his dedication beyond all doubt. Look upon him as he takes this last step to become a legend among astartes and revere his sacrifice. Attend!”

 

As this final word booms through the chamber a pair of Blood Hands enter, bearing heavy-duty saws as well as other instruments the nameless Grave Stalker knew little of. Knowing what was to come he held his eyes on the keeper, knowing that to do else would break with tradition. He hears the reverberations of the saw being activated and feels it begin to slice into his sternum. He holds his jaw clenched to hold in any sound, another part of the ritual. Soon his torso has been cut down the centre and the two Blood Hands move forward to spread his ribs.

 

It is then that the pain truly begins. It takes the combined strength of both the Blood Hands to pull apart his ribs that they can access that most carefully husbanded resource, his geneseed. On the verge of passing out the nameless astartes holds desperately onto consciousness through willpower alone. The agony is already so great that he barely notices when they remove the first of his progenoid glands. The large needle going into his neck he does notice however and he struggles still to hold from crying out. The moments seem an eternity to him until the needle is removed and the Blood Hands move to close his gaping chest. Primitive metal staples pull the wound shut, but the additional pain is as nothing beside the torrent flowing through him already.

 

The restraints release and he topples forwards to be caught by the two Blood Hands. “Behold,” calls out the Keeper. “A Reaper has ascended.” Knowing that these words mark the end the nameless Grave Stalker allows himself to slip into blessed unconsciousness. He knows that his enhanced systems are already working to repair the damage done to him, but it matters little to him now. His life is over, all that is left is for him to die amid the fallen bodies of the enemies of his Primarch.


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#95
~Drakzilla~

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Taskmaster

Author: drakzilla

Legion: Warriors of Peace

Time: 033. M31

 

+++ +++ +++ +++ +++

Despite being one of the 2,000 mortal auxiliaries aboard the battle-barge Tranquility, Yongfu rarely had a chance to see the Space Marines. His company was sequestered toward the stern of the warship, surrounded by the constant hum of its massive engines. Their days were spent in a rigorous cycle of training exercises and maintenance interspersed with brief break periods, usually lasting no more than half an hour. Thus, it was only on rare occasions that Yongfu was afforded enough free time to make the twenty minute trek to the Astartes’ training hall.

On this day, the room was alive with the sounds of a duel. The clashing of blades rang through the air amplified by a vaulted ceiling. Yongfu sat above it all, perched atop one of the catwalks that spanned the room’s width. Below, a crowd of legionnaires clad in lacquered black armor watched as two of their number sparred in a roped-off ring. Toward the outer edges of the room, even more congregated. Their armor was of a different make than their brothers’, the otherwise smooth plates of ceramite interrupted by exposed power cables and bonding studs. Yongfu recognised it as Mark V power armor, a detail that he had gleaned from one of the serfs on the vessel. Such knowledge was a point of quiet pride for him, although he would never mention it to his squad-mates.

In the center of the room, the two warriors fought with a fluidity that belied their massive appearance. They flowed from one strike to the next, their weight shifting with each motion. Attack and defense blended together as they redirected hits and returned them with lethal precision. All the while they methodically paced around each other in perfect synchronicity. The glossy black of the pair’s warplate made them seem like two droplets of some ferric liquid, circling the ring as if moved by a magnetic force. To Yongfu, their grace was almost soothing. Many in his company would joke about the paradoxical name of the XVIIth Legion, but in watching the serene motions of the men below he knew that no title could fit the Warriors of Peace better.

A bulkhead opened at the far end of the room and a lone figure entered. The duelists paused and the hall fell silent as he strode in. He wore a full suit of archaic power armor with a fraying grey sash tied around its waist. The chestplate was inset with a circular metal casting of his legion’s symbol. Two glowing green eyes peered out from the studded faceplate of an otherwise featureless helm. As he made his way to the center the crowd parted, giving him a wide berth when he passed. He stood no taller than the other marines, and yet they moved around him as if he were a giant. At last the figure arrived at the forefront of the crowd, where Yongfu could see him more clearly and at last recognized him as Taskmaster Zhen. As Lord Preceptor of the Seventeenth, it was rumored that over a tenth of the legion passed through their initiation under his watch.

The Taskmaster surveyed the ring before turning his gaze toward the two warriors in the middle, both of whom were now kneeling. He spoke.
 

“Why did you stop?”


He motioned for them to rise. Slightly embarrassed, the marines obeyed. They assumed a combat stance and crossed blades before looking to the Taskmaster for confirmation. He gave them a slight nod and they resumed fighting, his emerald gaze following their movements.

Where before they fought in perfect harmony, this time one began to put more strength into his blows. Each time their blades met, sparks flew and the duel became a steady crescendo as the warrior advanced toward his foe. The other duelist was quickly put on the defensive, overpowered by the escalating barrage of blows. It wasn’t long before he was pushed to the edge of the ring, his power armored greaves digging into the stone floor as he struggled against the onslaught. The attacker at last summoned his strength for the coup de grâce. He surged forward while his blade made a beeline for his opponent’s torso. In an instant his foe sidestepped and grabbed his sword-arm, spinning around and redirecting his momentum to the ground, where he crashed in an armored heap. His weapon clattered away.

Seconds passed. Yongfu could practically feel the tension in the room as Zhen approached the downed Astartes. The warrior quickly picked himself up, then kneeled and hung his head low in front of the Taskmaster.
 

“That...was sloppy. Was it your intention to impress me with such careless technique?”


Zhen looked around and addressed the entire room.
 

“War is balance! Strength means nothing without control! You are Space Marines of the Warriors of Peace! You will either fight like one of us, or you will fail in battle as he failed today.”


He knelt and brought his helmeted face near the warrior’s.
 

“Do you consider yourself one of the Seventh Legion brutes?
Or perhaps you would like to join the ranks of the Peons?”

 

A few marines in Mark V grimaced.
Zhen extended his hand toward the bowed legionnaire’s chin and lifted the his head.
 

“I never forget a face. Yours is not familiar to me. Who trained you?”


“...My tutelage was under Lieutenant Fang of the Sixth Company, sir.”


“I see.
And I take it you know who I am?”


“Yes, sir.”


The Taskmaster leaned over and carefully picked up the fallen sword. Holding it by the blade, he thrust its handle before the kneeling warrior.
 

“Then keep training. Or I will personally see to your removal.”


Zhen calmly stood up and turned around to leave the training hall. The armored crowd dispersed out of his way.
 

“And tell the mortal that he is welcome to come down from the rafters and watch from the ground.
He may learn something.”


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#96
bluntblade

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Above Mars
Author: bluntblade
Legions: The Halcyon Wardens, Iron Bears
Time: shortly after the Day of Revelation, immediately before Alexandros' arrival on Mars

+++++

The mural displayed an Army regiment in battle against Orkish hordes under a blue sun. Recognising neither the world nor the mortals who fought to take it, Nibaasiniiwi was forced to seek the details on the plaque. Phoreas Zephyr Brigades on Hypheum.

He glanced up and sideways at Alexandros. "No Astartes had a hand in that victory," the Warmaster said, by way of answer. "Most of my brothers were bemused when they learned that. Kozja most of all... he never understood. Some of them I managed to make understand it. But Daer'dd..." He finally looked away from the painting. "Daer'dd never questioned its significance, nor the right of mortal soldiers to stand beside the Astartes in posterity."

Nibaasiniiwi inclined his head. "It is for them that we fight, ultimately." Then, steeling himself, he looked into the Primarch's eyes. "We are ready to fight beside your Legion and the Fire Keepers, Warmaster."

Alexandros looked graver still, but nodded. "I would not presume to dissuade you, even if I judged it wiser for your Wartribe to hold back. As it is, we will be crippled should Mars fall. Has Cass’ interring succeeded? Will he join us on the surface?"

"Aye, sir. He has been interred within a Leviathan sarcophagus, and armed with the mightiest weapons our artificers could gift to such a machine. Guns to make ashes of Skitarii, and claws to rip tanks and robots apart."

Alexandros' face was freshly troubled for a fragment of a second, despite his satisfaction. "So readily do we accustom ourselves to hating those we had never doubted before." Only then did Nibaasiniiwi realise he had been snarling.

The thought stilled him. He had slain Skitarii on Locria, even duelled Protectors and led his companies against Ursurax cadres. But that had been against a rogue Forge World, one that Martian armies had helped them bring to heel. The twin kingdoms of Mankind had slain the recaltricants together, their unity unquestionable.

Until now. Perhaps some of those divisions and maniples waited on the world below, or perhaps they already drew blood against Ruel's forces.

He cleared his throat. "Lord Cass will be as ready as any warrior of our Wartribe."

"Your Wartribe, Lord Chief."

Nibaasiniiwi gave a quick bow. "The responsibility weighs heavy on me, Lord."

"You are equal to it. Else you would not live, let alone stand here, armed and armoured once more."

Almost unconsciously, Nibaasiniiwi's hand went to the helm mag-locked to his belt. Mimic-nerves threaded throughout the augmetics affirmed that the acid-etched rune was still there below the right lens, that Achille Nibaasiniiwi did indeed hold the reins of the Fourth Grand Wartribe.

In an hour's time he would gather his warriors in the hangar set aside for them, and they would board the gunships brought over from the Dragon of Autumn. He had insisted on those gunships; he wanted it known that the Bears still remained to fight for their Emperor.

But first, he had a question of his own. "Warmaster, our flagship -"

"Is in the care of Jupiter's best. She will soon be Warp-worthy, and the smiths of the Three Fires will have their chance to restore her. She will fly again, as mighty as before."

"And her captain?"

Sorrow creased the Warmaster's face, deepened by the rareness of the admission that came with it. "That, I am afraid, is entirely out of my hands."

Nibaasiniiwi bowed his head, but his grief could not be allowed to rule him. Mortals, however dear, were irrelevant here and now, when the Skyfather bade him to wage war on the doorstep of the Throneworld itself.

He made the sign of the Aquila, and strode from the gallery.
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Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#97
TheBlindPrimarch

TheBlindPrimarch

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Author: TheBlindPrimarch

Characters: (In order of appearance)

Kang Fusei, Remembrancer of the 2200th Expeditionary Fleet, "The Disciple"

Admiral Guan, Admiral of the 2200th Expeditionary Fleet

Captain Gang Dong Jie

Captain Li Ru

Captain Qiang Tao

Sergeant Ju Rong

Date: unknown (pre-insurrection)

~~~*~~~

 

Kang Fusei sat on his feet in front of the small table in the sparsely decorated chamber that had been afforded to him by the master of the Tranquility, Admiral Guan. His eyes closed, he breathed deeply, trying to calm his chi before he began his work. Opening them, he looked down at the paper that was weighed down by the two finely carved jade tigers that had been gifted to him by a friend within the legion, an Astartes now long dead.

He ground a fresh ink stick into the water of his ink stone as the memory of the dead marine conjured up the unwelcome thought of the events of the latest compliance won by the 2200th expeditionary fleet. It had been a long, hard fought victory. One fought honorably and worthy of being recorded in the annals of the histories of the Great Crusade. It’s ending however, as cold and calculated as it was abrupt, proved a difficult barrier to Kang’s ability to record it. The Admiral’s position had been logical; Kang could admit that, though he was loath to do so. He closed his eyes again as he played the final events of the compliance of the planet they had labeled Huo Zhi Gou II over in his head.

Kang stood in the corner of the command tent, watching as Admiral Guan listened calmly to the advice of his officers from the raised platform where his chair was located, nodding from time to time as a particularly good point was made. They had been debating the most prudent course of action since they had arrived at the staging area for the assault on the final bastion of the planet’s misguided resistance well over four hours ago, while the rest of their forces moved into position and established their base. Suddenly Admiral Guan indicated that his men were to be silent, as he stood from his seat and walked to the hololith projection of the battlefield in the center of the room.

Kang waited, along with the rest of the officers as the Admiral studied the projected image for a minute, absentmindedly stroking the long whiskers of his mustache and goatee together in contemplation.

"This city represents the final opposition to compliance," he said as he walked slowly over to a version of regicide popular on the legion's home-world that sat unfinished against the eastern wall of the tent. "We have defeated all other resistance on this planet, though we are now two full months behind our projected date of compliance." He looked pointedly at Captain Gang Dong Jie.

" I am shamed, Admiral," Gang Dong Jie muttered as he bowed.

"The enemy seeks to use the city as a shield, cowering behind it." Guan continued, satisfied by the officer's show of humility. "Sergeant Ju Rong's infiltrators have revealed the true size of their force, roughly twenty thousand men. They are deeply entrenched and the city's supplies are well stocked. More than enough to last through a prolonged siege. Your men do you credit Sergeant." The Admiral nodded towards the legionary as he returned to the projection.

"Thank you Admiral," Ju Rong bowed deeply in reply. "We serve."

The Admiral sighed as he looked over the battlefield once more, clasping his hands behind his back. He looked at each of the men, even giving Kang a passing nod of acknowledgement, indicating that he could speak if he had reason to.

"Suggestions?" He asked. There was a heavy pause, as the assembled officers looked at each other.

"As I understand it, in the pursuit of farming the land, when a sickness if found in a field the prudent farmer will purge the affected crop rather than risk further losses." Captain Li Ru began after a moments pause. "He does this because he understands that the loss of the one crop is not greater than the gain he produces from the remaining crops and as such, is an acceptable loss. Comparatively, in war, it can be concluded that the loss of one city is acceptable compared to the losses one might incur by attempting to take said city, especially when the rest of the territory has already been claimed."

"You suggest we destroy the city in order to destroy the enemy?" Captain Qiang Tao asked. Captain Li Ru nodded curtly before he looked to the Admiral.

"Shi, yes," Guan replied in Jin after considering Li Ru's suggestion. "The losses our forces would sustain by taking this city are not acceptable considering the situation. We have all but conquered this world, and its' compliance is already past due. The Jade General requires our forces elsewhere, for what i cannot say, but we will answer his call." He paused as he let his words sink in. In surprise Kang realized that many of the Officers began to nod in agreement. Surely they weren't going to condemn an entire city of innocent people because of the enemies that walked among them. He looked up as he notice the conversation had continued.

"The city is located at the base of a volcano, here," the Admiral indicated as he manipulated the controls of the hololith to zoom in on the peak in question. "A concentrated orbital barrage should be sufficient to cause the caldera to explode, destroying the city and its' inhabitants in the process." He nodded to himself, apparently pleased with the plan. "Captain Li Ru, Qiang Tao; give your men the order to withdrawal in good order. Gang Dong Jie, relay the order to the fleet."

"Yes, Admiral." The disgraced Captain replied, snapping to attention.

The meeting adjourned and the orders passed down, it didn't take long for the forces of the Warriors of Peace to withdraw. Kang stood with Admiral Guan on the hill his tent had previously occupied, the leader of the 2200th Expeditionary fleet's honor guard waiting silently behind them, a storm-bird idling on the grassy field behind them. He could hear cheering on the wind, coming from the defenders of the city. He shifted uncomfortably.

"You take umbrage with my decision, Kang Fusei?" The Admiral asked, his gaze on the city unwavering.

"I admit, I do not understand it," Kang replied after a second. "To destroy an entire city, to kill all those innocent people. For what purpose? What do you achieve?"

The Admiral looked at the sky, before turning and walking towards his transport, indicating that Kang should follow, his guards having already embarked the transport as its' engines spun up.

His answer was almost swallowed by the noise of the engines as they began to walk up the ramp while the mountainous volcano behind them was stabbed by a dozen pillars of blinding light, seconds before a massive explosion ripped the craggy peak open from within and buried the prematurely celebrating city under tons of molten rock and ash.

Kang sighed as the memory passed. Grabbing his brush between the thumb and first two fingers of his right hand, and using his left hand to move the sleeve of his changsham out of the way, he dipped the tip of the brush into the ink and with a fluidity born of decades of practice he wrote the Admiral's answer that day, one simple and yet unattainable word.

Peace.


Edited by TheBlindPrimarch, 30 January 2017 - 03:50 AM.

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Creator of the Paladins of Midterra- A Second Legion Project(Link above)

Project Lead for the War of Light Alternate Universe Project-Link

Writer for the Brotherhood of the Lost Alternative Heresy Project-Link

Creator of the Vasalius 1st Terra Heredes Imperial Auxilla-Link

 


#98
bluntblade

bluntblade

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Children of the Destroyer God
Author: bluntblade
Characters: Alexandros, Niklaas, Akylles
Legions: Halcyon Wardens, Fire Keepers, Iron Bears
Time: a month after the Day of Revelation

+++++

From a distance it must seem that two cities, bristling with weaponry, moved across the Mariner Plain. Closer, they revealed themselves to be formations of vast metal bipeds, apex predators of the Machine God's world. Massive enough to be named god-machines. Titans.

One of the seeming cities was made up of the Burning Stars, Legio Magna, Death Stalkers and the remnants of the Legio Mortis’ Martian garrison. One of the triumvirate of Titan Legions that had first marched under the Imperial banner, now they were relegated to the flanks after the Warmaster had seized control of the Aquila Ignis and turned the Imperator's guns on its brethren.

Their onetime comrades of Ignatum, Auris and Tempestus were in far better shape and greater numbers, but they too had conceded the speartip. Legio Tonarum led the way, savage machine spirits matched by a fierce, canny martial tradition among their pilots. Even so, their mightiest machines were dwarfed by the Warmonger, Imperious Prima, which looked over the battlefield as its long-range weapons belched and gouted fire.

Below and between the walking fortresses, the sands were covered by tanks, infantry and all manner of machines. The Loyalist army was a strange hybrid of the typical Space Marine arsenal and the more exotic weapons of the Mechanicus. The Insurrectionists fielded solely the latter, augmented with technology plundered from the vaults of Mars - knowledge they had seized in defiance of the Emperor.

Across a front thirty kilometres wide, the forces of the Warmaster and the Fabricator-General grappled and gouged at one another. Ordinati and the weapons of the greater Titans wiped out scores of troops with every shot, making scrap metal of tanks and Knights or even felling the god-machines themselves. When a Titan fell it reshaped the battlefield itself, with the forces on the ground scattering before they were crushed, or cut off from their allies by the heap of metal which had suddenly become part of the landscape.

Most spectacular was the death of the Warlord-class Tantus Abolitorus. Coordinated fire from Tonarum Reavers cracked its shields, and the Victorix Magna of Tempestus sent its reactor critical. The Skitarii at its feet lived just long enough to learn, via noospheric canting, what was killing them.

-----

Akylles saw almost none of this. Even if he had been disengaged, the scale of the Titans in combat was too large to take in from where he stood. As it was, he saw only helms, shields, weapons, blood and gunfire. This was what his world had shrunk to, enough that he had lost any track of time. At the start Secutarii Hoplites had stood just the other side of the company next to him. Now he had no idea if they remained alive, or if it was the same company at his other shoulder. What he knew was that the formation held, enemies stood in his way, and that the future of the Imperium demanded he slay them.

Shield walls had their limits, when volkite and arc weapons were levelled against them. So the Halcyon Wardens spread out, moving fast and bringing Heavy weapons to bear at every opportunity. The Iron Bears and Fire Keepers moved beside them.

Ursurax and Ruststalkers charged ahead of the Astartes, moving with a precision that their cybernetic bodies forced on them, propelled by the strangely sterile fervour that the betrayal had ignited in the Martian loyalists. The Protectors spurred them on, religious fury canted in sacred binary. It was almost impossible to detect in the movements of the cyborgs, but it was there, a fraction more speed in their movements, every blow and shot that landed just a little more murderous.

In the rare pockets of calm, when the air wasn't mutilated by ordnance, Akylles fancied that while he couldn't hear them, he could detect the chants and orders that carried over the noosphere. Martian cant was transmitted and comprehended at speeds beyond any form of communication that the Astartes possessed. Every second, the soldiers of the Mechanicus would receive a fresh sermon, new orders that had to be updated every second as the battle ebbed and flowed.

-----

Alexandros knew about that canting. He knew the limitations that cyber-conversions placed upon the minds of thralls, servitors and Skitarii. They were vulnerabilities that could be exploited, with a little guile and imagination, and a great deal of concentration.

"Myrmidons, hold," he voxed, sinking to one knee and raising Aegis over his head. Confused but trusting, his bodyguards joined him, power fields strengthened by their overlap. "Irvin, you have command of the Vth for now."

"Brother? What hinders you?" Niklaas asked.

"Nothing, Niklaas. I'm going to try another avenue of attack, but I'll need you to carry the assault for me. Can you do it?"

Niklaas' laugh was like rubble moving beneath tank treads. "My shoulders are broad enough. What do you intend?"

Alexandros felt the crystals of his hood sear fully into life. "Witchery."

-----

Every child of Mars understood that human speech - the flapping of wet billows of meat, passed over chords that could strain and bits of enamel that could break, was fundamentally flawed. Voices could be lost or mangled by defects of physiology.

But beyond that, it was inefficient; leeching off the body's pulmonary system for communication hindered the individual. For an example one only had to look to the unaugmented catching their breath after exertion, or to hear them incoherently call out in the midst of battle.

When Mars had risen, red again after its verdant surface died in the fires of Old Night, the noosphere had marked one of the most profound victories over biological sentiment. Respiration and verbal communication were partitioned, and sacred binary rendered all other modes of expression irrelevant. Faces, for example, no longer had to convey emotions and higher concerns like durability could be prioritised.

Better yet, canted binary was received and transmitted at speeds that the unaugmented would mistake for instantaneous. Where their ancestors would waste entire minutes in greetings, Magos of the Cult Mechanicus could conduct entire conversations in the same time - in parallel.

Binary was free of posturing and inflection. Clarity was inherent. Binary was truth as language.

So when Skitarii Protector Ru-Hau 92 learned that he had received canted instructions to destroy the Thallax squad to his left, he did not question them. He turned and opened fire with the volkite culverin and melta gun that comprised his ranged arsenal. Most of the thralls went down immediately, and the rest were destroyed by fire from their Magma City counterparts.

Orders to desist and renew the attack on the loyalists were rescinded seconds after they were issued as a Thanatar robot unloaded its plasma mortar onto its neighbours. The chain reaction ripped a sizeable hole in the formation, and reorganisation was thwarted by Halcyon Wardens sharpshooters and Devastators. Ru-Hau 93 was denied redemption by an assault cannon round which bored into his neck before detonating, pitching him to the dirt in a spasming heap. The Magma City forces advanced unimpeded, now free to bring an Ordinatus Saggitar forward with its escort of Krios tanks and scatter a pack of Warhound Titans. The Burning Stars were unwilling to risk their machines in these circumstances, and even the Reaver Lampade Venatora retreated rather than face the Ordinatus and its volcano cannon.

-----

Commander RTY-3423 had passed the Crux Mechanicus within her very skull - now largely an adamantine case, the original bone having become metaphorical. Her brain, bleached of sentiment, was overwhelmingly supplanted by cogitators. Blessedly free of primitive emotion, she did not feel anger or alarm when it became apparent that something was causing troops and machines under her command to turn their weapons against their own allies. It was nothing detectable, and appeared unable to subvert those who had accepted sufficiently extensive improvements to their own minds.

This was correct. At several points the mind behind this had found a target whose brain was simply too augmented to subject them to its unusual methods of control. But then there were solutions for that. In this instance, a group of Vorax with las and rotor cannons, stationed just a dozen or so metres behind and to the left of the Commander, served admirably.

Niklaas' companies and Commander Keyrik's brigades mopped up the remnants with little difficulty. Behind a dune, beneath his helm and the shields of his guards, Alexandros grinned wickedly.

-----

It was hard work; not a single violent struggle like his work on the Imperator Titan, but here Alexandros had to move swiftly, skimming enemy minds to discern their intent, finding and directing suitable targets and all the while keeping his officers aware of what he was doing. Servitors were deliciously easy to turn on their own, lacking any capacity to do anything beyond their assigned tasks. Even Skitarii could be used in this way, so long as their augmentations were limited enough that they didn't realise that their cybernetic parts weren't echoing the binary orders he planted in their brains. But it was... fiddly work, and he couldn't call upon anger as he had when breaking the Aquila Ignis' spirit. He was glad of that; channelling such rage had proved draining for him, cathartic though it might have been.

"Alex," Niklaas' voice rumbled, punctuated by the thunderous booms and cracks of his brother's hammer, "your cunning-art has done its work. Now I have some use for your spear."

Alexandros rose quickly, shaking off the discomfort of his consciousness contracting. He gained the ridge, and he saw why Niklaas had made his request. He saw the mono-eyed predators whose scythe-claws fizzed as they raced across the dust. He saw the armoured figures trudging behind, almost mockingly close to the profile of Astartes.

But most of his attention was reserved for the vast forms that loomed over them, noting the slab-thick armour, the power fists, the grav-hammers.

"Delightful." he voxed. Then he charged.

-----

Akylles fired, feeling his shield tremble as blows rained on it. As the enemy had been caught up in the Warmaster's psychic ruse the Tactical Squads had charged, reforming the phalanx and driving hard into the ranks of Skitarii and servitors.

It was a strange sight, tech-guard mired in confusion, and a testament to just how far conversion had taken them from human nature. Akylles felt like they should have reeled in shock, or been paralysed, or at least shown they felt something. Instead they had moved with precise mechanical certainty. The only strange thing was the stop-start nature to the movements as they tried to respond to one calamity after the other.

The battle of Knights, Titans and tanks made a mockery of the notion that any semblance of order could remain on the ground. The infantry fought to claim the heaps of wreckage and hopes that they wouldn't find their own deaths raining down from above.

The vox told of a few dozen disparate battles raging mere kilometres away, which bore no resemblance to the scrum of the phalanx which Akylles was mired in. A company of Halcyon Wardens had been cut off by two fallen Warhounds and only saved by the intervention of Venerable Ezekyle. The Fire Keepers’ Maveshalak elite were reaving through a squadron of crippled transports, turning them into murderous ovens with heavy flamers, volkite culverins and lascannons. The Iron Bears were racing over wrecks, descending on knots of Skitarii scattered by their Knights. Some lunatics, their identity unclear, had launched an audacious boarding action against one of the enemy's Imperator Titans. Whether by boarding torpedo or leaping from gunships, it wasn't clear.

Orders were relayed by Sauhan and the captains, coming from the Warmaster. Alexandros, somehow cognizant of the shape of the battle, keeping the advance going despite the anarchy.

But here and now, Akylles only had eyes for the fight immediately around him. Ahead of them, explosions bloomed, rendering the enemy as grotesque silhouettes. A warhorn blared, and Akylles glanced left to see a Reaver Titan open fire on a cohort of combat servitors. Not the crude sort, with boltguns and chainblades grafted to the stumps of limbs, but Kataphrons, encased in armour of Martian red and moving on heavy treads instead of legs. It was a testament to the value the Mechanicus placed on these weapons. Raised voices flooded the vox net as the things trundled closer, demanding that the servitors be prioritised. The Kataphrons might be lobotomised, but their heavy weapons would wreak havoc even among the Astartes.

There could be no withdrawal now they were face to face with the Skitarii. They were inhumanly coordinated, and would exploit any opening. Something electric blue cracked through the air next to him, and Akylles heard the unfamiliar sound of Space Marines in agony as the Arc Scourge struck. Then he recognised the voice of Captain Gurung, and horror seized him. The captain was down, and before anyone could react the Skitarii Alpha had thrust a taser goad into his throat, finishing him with a torturous surge of electricity.

Rage coursed through him, acid in his veins. “Forward!” he bellowed to his squad. “No step back!” He leapt the prone forms of his brothers, thrust his shield into the face of the Alpha. Beside him, more Astartes forced an advance, shield wall intact. Akylles paid no heed, fired a burst of bolts into the downed Skitarius’ torso, oil and vitae fluids splattering him, cloying even through his helmet filters. The hatred had an acrid strength to it he had never felt before. This war is a different order of vile.

As the Skitarii lines thinned under the attack, he wondered where the Kataphrons had gone. Then he realised the Reaver from earlier was looming above him through the dust, close enough that he could easily pick out the name Metallus Cebrenium engraved on the head. He saw smoke curling up from its missile launcher and magna-bolter, and then the churned earth and gleaming red fragments at its feet. A tremor of unease ran through him at the tunnel vision his rage had forced on him.

A voice dragged him back to the present. “Sir, what do we do now?”

Without their captain, he asked the Lord Commander the same question as they ground down the remaining Skitarii, met with an enquiry of how many remained. Most of the company, sixty men from what he could see.

“Then hand over to the company behind you,” Ruel ordered, “before the next wave engages us -” and no wonder, as the Reductor and Cybernetica units appeared through the dust “- and move diagonal right, guarding against flankers.”

Akylles glanced to the right, shield raised against sporadic fire from the approaching enemy. He felt a twinge of confusion. “Who would they be flanking, sir?”

“The Warmaster, sergeant. Now get to it!”

-----

Alexandros sprinted down the incline, heavy weapons fire whipping over his head to smite the Martian horde coming their way. Niklaas and his Triakonta were already grappling with the enemy, trying to scatter the Ursarax and Thallax thralls before the Domitar brutes could reach them. Twenty of the things, more than Alex had ever seen deployed at once and surrounded by hundreds of lesser cyborgs. A force to slay a Primarch.

The loyalists were now clambering over wrecked tanks and downed automata to reach their foes. Sauhan had most of the Halcyon Wardens holding, ready to absorb the traitor counter-attack, while Ruel and Nibaasiniiwi were poised to begin flanking attacks or support their comrades. Where Niklaas and his sons stood, however, the fighting hadn't abated, and now some of the Legio Cybernetica’s deadliest weapons were trying to gouge out the heart of the Loyalist formation. So that was where Alexandros headed, parting the ranks of his warriors with a mental command, seeing a point which would allow him to splinter the enemy spearhead.

That melee's too hectic for a spear, he realised. So as he closed in he drew Ultimatum , bursting the heads of three Thallax, doing the same to one Ursurax and putting a hole clean through the abdomen of another. Then he released the gun to snap back to the mag-lock on his belt.

He came in low to attack, Xiphos punching through metal and a few scraps of organic matter. The Ursurax lashed with him, but he caught the worst of it with his shield. He turned away to slay a Thallax with a thrust to the head, spilling viscous fluid through the visor even as Eckzart cut down the Ursurax. “The Emperor strikes!” Alexandros roared.

“We are His sword!” came the reply, and Alexandros felt the shout resonate through his shield.

The thralls couldn't grasp the concept of foresight any more than most organic warriors, so Alex went for whatever opening he sensed, trusting his sons to clear up after him. For his part, he parried attacks they couldn't anticipate and warned of others when he couldn't intervene directly.

But then there were something things which required his full attention, such as the four arms of a Protector, two ending in chord claws which he swerved away from, the other two tipped with power blades that swung for his head. He deflected them with his sword and shield, but his counter-attack was preempted by a wash of heat, the crash of something heavy landing and the squeal of a volkite. Fire leapt from gaps in the Skitarius' armour, bursting through augmetic eyes and stripping the remnants of its face to charred bone. Alexandros braced his shield against the murderous wash of heat, glancing right to see Irvin Ruel bury his claws in another tech-guard as the first fell back and fire spread to its comrades. The volkite serpenta built into his claw - a memento from the Pact of Mars - still smoked. Ruel heaved upwards, and the wicked edges carved through Martian metal and spilled what should have been blood.

"I didn't like the look of him," the Prefect growled. Privately, Alexandros agreed. Protectors were troubling to him - this one had been given backward-jointed legs with talons to match its surplus of arms. A human being with all its intellect and potential turned towards violence, any other inclination excised.

Ruel's assault marines, finest in the Legion all, came in from above, following their leader and ripping into the enemy ranks before allowing their brothers to envelope them. “Just a few squads,” Ruel explained. “I thought you might appreciate some support. The rest are with the Bears.”

Alexandros nodded his thanks to Ruel and ordered his guards to force a passage to Niklaas. A Ruststalker sprang for him with shrieking blades, and he crushed its skull with Aegis before the transonic razors could find lethal resonance. Another abomination.

And yet, necessary. He counted thousands of cyborgs among his own army, altered just as ruthlessly, hailed as a sacred elevation of the human form by the Martian Cult.

The Domitar robots that beset Niklaas sat easier with Alexandros, but their inhuman origins set them on the verge of heresy within the Mechanicus. And they too were fielded by both sides, the idea of dispensing with them made unthinkable by their strength. Strength that gave even Niklaas a few problems.

Only on two occasions had Alexandros seen Niklaas forced to evade attacks rather than deflect or weather the onslaught. The Domitars demanded that kind of response, and Niklaas veered away as their grav-hammer fists arced towards him. His own hammer crunched into joints, crippling them before the Steel Prince or his guards struck a terminal blow.

Alexandros had appreciated the durability of Cybernetica constructs well enough when they were shrugging off the attacks of Eldar Wraithkind or Gorkanauts, but he felt he hadn't fully understood it until now, watching how easily they slew elite Space Marines, clad in some of the finest armour ever worn by Man’s defenders. One of the Triakonta levelled a melta at the faceplate of a Domitar, and it took a full three seconds before the obsidian lens became molten, collapsing inwards before the cyborg's exploding skull blasted the fragments out.

But no amount of plating could answer against the fury of the Steel Prince. No son of the Emperor was solely gifted with strength or martial brilliance. Beyond the might of his posthuman physique, Niklaas had a consummate understanding of what his wargear could do, and a finesse that defied belief. Nothing that large, clad in such a weight of armour, had any business moving that fast.

Redeemer didn't simply crunch into armour. It sheared through it, metal fragments, cabling and synthetic viscera trailing comet-like in the wake of Niklaas’ blows. A Protector sprang for him on back-jointed talons and met its death on the spike of the hammer’s reverse head. Niklaas dislodged his attacker almost casually, immolating another foe with one of his wrist-mounted flamers.

“Traitors of the Ordo Reductor!” His brother’s voice rose above the sounds of battle. “You named my Father the Destroyer God. Now you seek to defy him.” Distortion only added to the savagery of Niklaas’ laugh. “Did you really think this would end any other way?”

Niklaas smote one of the massive robots, hammer head ploughing deep into the chest. But even as it collapsed, a clade of Ursurax joined the fight, and Niklaas was forced to relinquish his weapon as they came on. He barely broke stride as he did so, cracking a metal skull open with a backhander as he went for his pistol. A pistol which, it had to be said, fired heavier projectiles than the typical space marine’s rifle. Projectiles that ripped through armour as if it was tissue paper, scouring their targets’ innards with green tongues of phosphex fire even as Niklaas broke their fellows apart with his free fist and his elbows.

His elbows, his free hand and the sheer weight of him reaped their own toll. Niklaas used his enemies’ movements, grabbing arms to steer claws and blades into the faces or chestplates of other assailants. Every time his pistol barked, another renegade soldier or construct fell.

Niklaas had named the pistol. He called it Peacemaker. He hadn’t, as far as Alexandros knew, named the other gun he carried, built into his right vambrace. Nor had he divulged the exact nature of the technology that powered it, but as he tore an arm from an Ursurax and left it to the chainfists of a Triakonta warrior, he gave Alexandros a glimpse of just how potent it was.

Niklaas’ head snapped around as another robot, almost insectile and unmistakably predatory, raced towards him. Rotor cannons hammered the loyalists, punching through power armour and even putting holes in Corinthian plate. But against Niklaas’ armour, the Vorax could do little more than scour the paint. Niklaas leaned into the onslaught as it if was a strong wind, extended his right arm, and a small sun leapt from his hand.

The beam was painfully bright, even as the auto-senses of Alex’s helm tried to compensate. It passed clean through the Vorax, both the head and the torso it hung in front of, and left a perfectly circular hole. The machine’s sprint became a graceless, tumbling collapse, sweeping Skitarii off their feet in a way that made Alexandros laugh aloud.

Five Domitars remained. The Warmaster and his Myrmidons took the opening Niklaas had created, driving a wedge into the enemy formation. Bracing their shields, they fired with the lethal coordination provided by Alexandros’ telepathy and foresight. Knowing how each of his guards was armed, Alexandros directed them accordingly. Vasilios and his Devastators, guarded by Tactical Squads, followed in their wake. Three Domitars turned to face them and met a torrent of las-fire and plasma.

Any sentient creature, even a Primarch, would have reeled in agony as its flesh was stripped away, peeling off in molten strips. The Domitars simply came on, aiming for Alexandros, but it did them little good. One fell to the sheer volume of fire, innards ravaged and aflame as it toppled backwards. The other made it into striking range of the Warmaster, but Alexandros deflected the blow with Aegis and unloaded his gun into its cracked faceplate. Hold, his voice boomed within his sons’ minds, and the giant crashed down at their feet.

A fresh wave of Thallax emerged, only for Niklaas to fell a dozen of them with his heat ray, the beam scything through their ranks. Another Domitar was dragged down by Eckzart and five of his brothers, its legs mangled by power fists and thunder hammers before they stove its head in. The Triakonta did the same, for once cast in the role of pack hunters tackling larger prey. The robots’ weapons took a heavy toll and killed their victims in horrific fashion, but they couldn't slay these warriors quickly enough.

One remained standing. A single Domitar remained of the maniple that had attacked the Fire Keepers. Niklaas crippled it, blasting one knee and crumpling the other with a power maul he had snatched from a Skitarius. A swing of the robot's fist forced him to relinquish the weapon, but Niklaas kept his footing, swaying back. As the robot pitched forward, still reaching for him, he thrust his freehand clean through its visor. An abrupt yank, and the cerebral cortex came free with a tide of whatever substances had bathed the artificial brain. The behemoth fell.

“Out, out, vile jelly,” Alexandros drawled.

Niklaas retrieving his hammer, didn't look up. “Aye. The minstrel got that much right.”

As the remnants of the Insurrectionist army fell into retreat, Alexandros’ attention was suddenly occupied by the chime of a vox-link to the Elpis. A blink brought the image of his mortal shipmaster up before his eyes. “Johann, I trust it's good news?”

Johann smiled - a touch grim, but it was a smile all the same. “Lady Mortera’s fleet have just translated and are making all speed for Mars.”

“Excellent,” Alexandros replied, watching the artillery his forces were hurling after the enemy. Bombers and gunships continued to harry Kelbor-Hal's forces as they withdrew. “Niklaas and I will be ready to confer with them when they arrive.” He felt eyes on him then, and turned to see a sergeant gazing at him. Alexandros saw no sign of a captain; this man must have led the charge to shield their flank. He held a power sword that looked to have been taken from a Skitarius, and burned oil marred his battleplate. Abruptly, as if just realising who was looking at him, the young warrior turned away, hastening back to his men.

“Reinforcements, Alex?” Niklaas was already reforming the ranks of his Fire Keepers; further off, the Iron Bears were doing the same.

With a peculiar reluctance, he looked away from the sergeant. “That, and some new toys for you.” He returned to the head of the Wardens’ formation, surveying the terrain below Olympus Mons from which they would mount the siege. “Abyssii is coming, Niklaas.”

Edited by bluntblade, 01 February 2018 - 11:04 PM.

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Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#99
bluntblade

bluntblade

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Beneath the Surface
Author: bluntblade
Characters: Alexandros, Malcador, the Emperor, Icarion
Time: 16 M31

+++++

Primarchs had a presence about them that few other beings could rival, so much so that, combined with their towering stature and grandiose wargear, it was unthinkable that one of them could ever go unnoticed.

Alexandros slipped across the hallway, shoes making no sound on the floor. His black robe was just loose enough not to impede him or give him away with a whisper of fabric.

His absence would have been remarked on, but it would not elicit undue concern among the Council, least of all among his own advisers. Primarchs had idiosyncrasies to go with the unnatural scope of their minds, and every one of them had been known to seek seclusion for days at a time. Alexandros was no different. It just happened that this time he was not enjoying the solace of his private chambers, and instead had ventured into the depths of his Father's catacombs.

For two days he had made his way through passageways, down shafts and across scaffolds. The downward trajectory had been constant, sometimes in sight of the great subterranean road, sometimes straying a kilometre away or more, yet never deviating from its descent.

It was guarded not so much by sentinels of metal and flesh as by the very nature of the structures. Alexandros had had to contend with balancing acts across beams hundreds of metres long, suspended above such depths that even his eyes couldn't penetrate the gloom. These led into leaps and swings that the finest mortal gymnasts would have shied away from. They were still difficult for a Primarch, with his superhuman bulk, but his reflexes and reach saw him through.

Now he could feel the presence of other posthuman souls, potent, but mere candles around him. Custodians. So now he called upon an understanding of stealth that no one ever expected from the Warmaster.

Alexandros had always felt that true mastery of psychic powers was much like any physical weapon. To weave tapestries of fire and lightning, or to move a sword in swirling arcs that confounded an enemy, were fine things, but just one side of a coin completed with the understanding to slay with a single opened artery or charred cluster of nerves.

The most important thing in the psyker’s art was imagination, and Alexandros had been inspired by a writer of ancient Terra to pursue more subtle uses of his gifts.

In battle, he exploited his ability to transmit images and concepts with flawless clarity into the minds of his warriors. The key here was to do the opposite and touch the minds of the Custodians so softly that they were not even aware of it. He glided over their busy thoughts, occasionally steering them or stoking an emotion, letting that steer them.

Here, for example, was one of the Kataphraktoi. A restless mind, even by Custodian standards. Where some Custodians could be nudged into dismissing a noise as just being another sound from the city-sized web of machinery, Ebulai was overzealous in his drive to check every nook. With a slight feeling of guilt, Alexandros fed that urge briefly, suggesting that perhaps this and then that alcove could stand a second inspection. Then, as he left the Custodian behind, he compensated by gently amplifying the warrior's thought that maybe his urge was excessive, even counterproductive. Hopefully this subtle nudge would begin to correct it.

He slid away into the shadows, until he no longer felt the presence of their consciousness. Sometimes, when he brushed against a Custodian's mind, he felt a certain amount of arrogance and disdain directed towards him - not his presence, still undetected, but the fact of his existence and station. He had never remarked on it, but over time he had come to understand it; some of the Custodians looked down on him, believing that they understood his Father in a way he never could. It amused and irked him in equal measure, but he felt it would be unkind somehow to show them the truth, just as it would be cruel to let them know that he had slipped through their barriers so -

“Alex?” He whirled round. A frail, cloaked figure emerged from the gloom, leaning on an iron staff. His face was gnarled with age, and this, coupled with his bearing and rather drab accoutrements, sent a clear message; in a palace of marble and gold, inhabited by sumptuously dressed nobles and watched over by gilded sentinels, he was utterly irrelevant.

Alexandros had never believed it. “Regent,” he said with a nod, “you seem to be stalking a miscreant.”

“Warmaster.” Malcador's voice was thin and perhaps a little hoarse, yet oddly pleasant to hear. “I did always say that the office of Grand Master of the Assassins required more than bureaucratic competencies. As for the miscreant, I see him before me now.” A smile tugged at his mouth as he began to walk slowly down the corridor. “Yet what to do with him? I could chastise him and order him away, but he's a willful sort, and to hide the truth from him might send the wrong message.”

Alexandros smiled, keeping pace with the Sigillite. “So what solution do you propose?”

“Answers do not come easily to these questions. I am old enough to have been told as a boy that curiosity killed the cat.”

“So I have heard myself. All the same, in the stories I was told, it was usually ignorance that held the knife.”

Malcador considered for a moment. “So you would reward subterfuge with enlightenment? Or perhaps it would serve as a punishment. This knowledge, in my own experience, is a burden to compare with any I have carried.”

“Enough to compete with running the Assassins?” Alexandros probed.

Malcador looked at him with an appraising look on his face. “I have not taken a direct hand in the Officio’s business for many years, as you well know. Does this mean that you had a part in refusing the Officio’s offer of assistance in the Ginlas suppression?”

“I don't presume to instruct my brother in such a way. But I would have refused it had I been the commander.”

“It might have been a cleaner victory.”

“It might, except that they proposed sending Eversors.” Alexandros’ hatred of the Eversor Clade was twofold; firstly they were programmed to kill anything they were not explicitly ordered not to and secondly, the suffering of the Assassins themselves. To be an Eversor meant a binary existence, caught between narcotised stasis and chemical frenzy. So strong was his disgust that on those occasions he had been obliged to behold one, his nausea had been transmitted by his aura to the point of others sharing it.

When mortals felt it, the nausea became regrettably literal. Every one of those occasions had involved multiple people vomiting.

Malcador was willing to play devil's advocate on a plethora of issues, but not this. “And it is for that reason that you direct the Crusade, and they maintain the sadly necessary apparatus for judicial murder. Is this your way of saying you had a hand in Icarion's refusal after all?”

Alexandros laughed. “I would never tell Icarion how to deploy his forces, or which he can and cannot call upon, save for logistical reasons. He made no mention of any offer to me, and on any case the force he had drawn up seemed quite sufficient.” Then a smell, faint but unmistakable, reached his nostrils.

Malcador saw him stiffen, and nodded. “Now we come back to the matter at hand. Perhaps you begin to see what I mean by a burden.”

“Incense.” Alexandros had to resist the urge to speed up. He looked hard at Malcador. “I smell it, and that alone would be enough to raise questions about what projects my Father is undertaking for His secular Imperium. But there's more, isn't there?”

They passed through an arch, emerging into a corridor where vast cabinets of cogitators rose to the ceiling. Alexandros saw peculiar numerical sequences flickering across the screens, forming patterns that some primordial part of his mind recognised as being not quite of this universe.

He kept his tone matter-of-fact, inviting no argument. “There is sorcery here, Malcador. Not in the feudal worlder’s sense, but true, expertly devised invocations wrought with alien technology and relics from the Age of Technology. I see symbolism drawn from dozens of religions that I, my kin or some other servants of my Father have quashed. I look upon glyphs and runes that He declared false promises of power, and feel potency course through them, swelling as it does so.”

Malcador stopped, inscrutable. “You wonder why the Emperor has embarked on work that flies in the face of all He has taught?”

“It is a mildly interesting proposition,” Alexandros replied, deadpan.

“Then I will let your Father begin to explain.”

Impatience mastered Alexandros, but before he could frame a retort, everything was white.

-----

It took Alexandros a while to recognise the warriors who stood as a wall of plain metal beside the Thunder Warriors and their fellow Astartes. Indeed, he only deduced their identity when he looked at the landscape. Dirty white flatness, a testament to how Man in his derangement had boiled the very seas. Now it clicked. The Shakletian Desert, the campaign which saw the emergence of the embryonic IIIrd Legion.

Alexandros prowled around the lead company, fascinated by the sight of the warriors who did not yet name themselves Blood Wolves. That moniker would come in seven years, once the sons of Jurfik had been inducted en masse. These were the scions of Meriac and Kynt, who had pledged themselves to Him and fought beside Him to bring their neighbours to heel. A few hailed from Jurfik, but they had been recruited from the conquered lands of Ursh or the vassal states that had turned against Jurfik as the Emperor's power became apparent.

And here, the wastes they had been brought to pacify. The birthplace of another Legion, though none knew it yet. The people of the Desert had been forced to adopt a nomadic existence to survive in the overlapping shadows of Orioc and the Pan-Pacific Empire. They had endured and evaded for centuries, too insignificant to warrant the full might of Narthan Dume's armies as the Unspeakable King waged his wars against Hy Brasil and Merika. Now the forces of Unity ruled in his place, and they had begun to tug the noose closed, crushing a dozen upstart rulers who had served Dume and now sought to crown themselves in his absence.

However, they had suffered far heavier losses than expected among the salt dunes, harrowed by expertly devised ambushes and traps. They had bled the Shakletians heavily, but every victory had taken an unwelcome toll on the Emperor's armies. The nomadic war-packs flitted between shelters and strongholds that the invaders mistook for ruins, emerging from burrows in the salt to strike at the intruders.

The IIIrd, fresh from the conquest of the Tasman Enclaves, had deployed and bloodied the nomads, only for the Emperor to restrain them from further action. Scrutinising the reports, He recognised not defective strategies by the Thunder Warriors, but exceptional strategists resisting them. Minds that He might yet add to the weapons at His disposal.

Now one of them approached in cloned furs and boiled leather armour, handing a rifle, long knives and a set of pistols to a lieutenant. As with the kingdoms of Albyon, the Emperor had sought negotiation, recognising a worthy ally for the wars to come when His armies moved beyond Terra. The enemies who lurked in the cosmos would need guile as well as strength to defeat. So the nomads had come, slipping into sight so quietly that mortals might have thought them ghosts.

Although the Custodians retained their composure, Alexandros could feel the ripple of surprise at the age of this general. He was barely past his youth, that much was clear from the face revealed as he pulled his cowl and goggles away. The eyes, however, Alexandros knew well, alive with a predatory intelligence that would only be honed by the coming centuries, and make John Lawrence the first and only Astartes to command the XIVth Legion.

+Hello, Alexandros.+ He blinked. He had been so engrossed that he had forgotten the purpose of his “visit”. The Emperor turned to face him as Lawrence submitted to a search from a mortal soldier. +So you have found your way to the threshold of the Dungeon, and now grasp a fraction of the truth. Thus Malcador has sent you before me, seeking illumination.+

Alexandros nodded, trying in vain as ever to find something constant in the always changing face. “A portal into another realm has been carved, wrought and summoned into being underneath the fortress you dedicated to secular truth.” He followed the Emperor as He stepped to the side, where a legionary bowed his head and accepted his master's sword. Alexandros brushed against the warrior's mind, wondering if he would find recognition. No; this man would fall before the Crusade had fought its way to Delos. “The how intrigues me, but I would rather know what you intend to achieve with it.”

A Custodian - Amon, not yet the most venerable of his kind after Valdor - took the Emperor's boltgun. Now weaponless, in appearance at least, the Emperor moved towards Lawrence, who was already speaking, cautious and questioning.

The Emperor did not seem to address Lawrence, but gestured to the mountains that loomed to the south. Orioc, visible a thousand miles away thanks to the flatness of the salt plains. Whether because of suspicion, or the Emperor did not move in this vision as He had on that day, Lawrence's eyes did not follow the hand.

+The Shakletians will ally with us today, fight with us and ultimately swear allegiance because of the depredations inflicted on them by the priest-kings of Orioc. Over the centuries, untold numbers of their people were taken for blood sacrifice and ritual excruciation, that Orioc might endure and prosper.+

Alexandros tilted his head, trying to determine what the Emperor was driving at. “And like all religion, it failed to save them. What else am I to infer?”

+The cultists of Orioc endured amidst those mountains of madness until we laid siege to their strongholds. They arose when the Age of Strife was only centuries old and lasted almost to its end; do you not find significance in that?+ The Emperor was silent for a moment, save for the thrum of His armour. Even in this epoch, before Martian artisans refashioned it into something truly peerless, it did not make such crude noises as the MK I armour borne by His soldiers, with their grinding and growling servos. For a few seconds, Alexandros had a clear impression of the Emperor's visage - a judge, patient and wise, but moved to fury by the crimes He was called upon to punish. +Their prayers were answered.+

“You mean to say the gods they prayed to were real?”

+I never said their gods answered. But certain entities did. They gave Orioc’s priests a means to provide for and shelter their flock. Then they gave them the means to defend themselves from their enemies, though they never attained the might of Kalagann and those others empowered to rampage across Terra.+

Alexandros gazed towards the peaks, where the low sun of the summer night cast a reddish light. “So every cultist was slain and every temple pulled down, that there would be no cries for the Warp’s denizens to answer. Why then are you suffusing the Imperial Dungeon with arcana?”

+Because the nature of the Warp requires it, if we are to block out the siren call.+ The Emperor's face remained, as ever, inscrutable. Alexandros wondered if it had looked any different the first time Lawrence had lain down his terms for any alliance against the clerics of Orioc. +It is not enough to stop those who seek out the aether's touch. Warp is the reflection of all emotion, a source of power and a source of peril. Humanity will only find more of both as time goes on.+

Alexandros glanced at eight legionaries who stood apart from their brethren. The panoply of the Librarius would not manifest for decades, but the crystal hoods and force weapons told him clearly enough what he was looking at. “The psyker gene is truly no aberration,” he said at length. “We walk the same path as the Eldar.”

+It would be easier see it simply the same path. But in truth, to adapt your analogy, we seek to traverse a causeway above an abyss. The Eldar’s mistakes have ravaged that path, and added fresh horrors to the pit, born of their excesses and anguish. Humanity will evolve into a far more psychically powerful race.+ The Emperor bowed his head, and the voice Alexandros heard was softer. +I hardly need tell you of the terrors that Warp corruption can inflict.+

For the first time, Alexandros truly felt the cold. “Then you seek to inoculate, or perhaps quarantine the species.” He was about to ask how the Imperium could afford to do such a thing. Then he remembered the illustrations on an Eldar Craftworld, thirteen decades ago. The size of the tunnels it depicted, the gates, suddenly gained a new significance.

The Emperor nodded, reading his expression or the thoughts behind it. +The means exists to separate the structure of the Imperium from the Warp, allowing Mankind to grow into its destined form while the predators in the aether wither and starve. Once that is done, even I cannot see the full scope of possibilities. It will be within our gift to defy the fate of the Galaxy itself. We shall slip the embrace of heat death, spread across the cosmos themselves until the time when we were limited to a single Galaxy will seem as archaic as that of Old Earth.+

Alexandros followed his gaze skyward to where the broad band of the Galaxy hung above them, faint in the light of the midnight sun. “Then we aren't so much traversing a path as climbing a mountain. Every step that brings us closer to salvation makes the prospect of failure catastrophic.” He sighed, watching his breath fog. “And there's more, isn't there?”

-----

The Emperor's answer was a sudden stilling of the wind. The scenery did not blur or fade, but cut, like a pict-vid. Alexandros took a step forward and his foresight told him that the terrain was no longer flat. His foot found purchase on a raised girder; the posture disconcerting, the same pose he had seen himself and his brothers strike in a hundred statues and pictures.

He shifted his weight again, feeling oddly uncomfortable, and looked to his Father. The Emperor was walking towards him, up a flight of steps that had survived the battle.

For it was indeed a battle that had done this to the city. There was no mistaking this kind of beaten-down skyline, nor the pyramids that now burned from within. Alexandros had set foot here himself - or rather he would, in two days’ time. He knew the Legion here better than any, save for his own sons. The Lightning Bearers stood mutely by, eyes fixed on the grav-stretchers that followed the Emperor, save for the Apothecaries still hurrying past the Master of Mankind. All were splattered with gore.

The Lightning Bearers tried and failed to hide their staring, save for the blinded Volta. Even the First Legion, who had fought beside the Emperor on so many worlds, was brought up short by the sight of mortally wounded Custodians. Mortals were not permitted to see it.

A host of tubes snaked into blood-rimmed holes in armour. Thick vitae pipes filled the largest, where a hand had parted aurumite, flesh and genhanced bone, closed around Vendatha’s secondary heart and wrenched it out. For now the medicae devices held his death at bay, long enough for him to be placed in an esoteric Dreadnought shell.

The other warrior was gone below the waist, and his left arm ended at the elbow. Alexandros felt a twinge of grief, remembering how the warrior had lain in repose with one hand gripping his longsword. One of only a few Custodians he had ever been truly fond of, Aquillon had fallen all too soon.

Icarion followed. His kabuto helm was in place and its sparsely adorned visor was as expressionless as ever, but his slow gait, robbed of its usual fluidity, told all. Blood had only just dried on his warplate, trailing from deep gouges in his side. Those wounds had been inflicted by a creature powerful and swift enough that even Icarion's foresight had not been enough to stop it from wounding him.

Alexandros did not doubt it. After all, they had come to call that creature “brother". It didn't make it any easier to watch.

“Mexicatii Prime,” he murmured, knowing the words would carry here, no matter how softly he spoke nor the recurring chatter of bolters somewhere in the broken temples.

Custodian Terminators and two gilded Dreadnoughts emerged, a closed casket floating between them. It was far larger than the the two for the wounded Custodians, and the distinct thrum of a stasis field emanated from it.

The Emperor placed a hand on Aquillon’s head, watching the Prefect’s eyes dim and close. In the true past He had thanked His servant for a lifetime of exemplary service. This time, He addressed Alexandros, and his tone was quizzical, as if withholding some kind of judgement. “My son, you studied this world and its religion at the outset of your task here. Did you note similarities to any faiths from Strife-torn Terra?”

Valdor stepped forward at an unheard command, leading the Custodians and their charges aboard a waiting Stormbird. The Emperor remained as the thrusters roared into life. Alexandros stepped across to join him, moving around Icarion as he did so.

“There were some similarities, but not enough that I saw real significance in it. After all, Father, we have discovered religions mimicking Iron Age customs, mega-cities whose priests trooped around stone circles at the equinox. Back then, I was charged with the eradication of an inhumane cult and I carried out my task.” Back then, he had not known what he now understood about a few of those faiths. “Now, I know differently. But how, then, had Alexos not done more? There was no Warp taint, else Mexicatii would have been “found void of all life” and declared a Dead World, with I Legion fatalities going scrupulously unremarked.”

The Emperor's face remained inscrutable, but Alexandros heard an undercurrent in his voice. Whether it was suspicion or admiration, he could not tell. “You learned this from the records?”

“I wanted to familiarise myself with each Legion to the best of my abilities. I'd always known there were things Icarion kept from me, and times when large parts of the First were unreachable. The pattern emerged readily when I had access to more data.” His eyes followed the rising Stormbird. “My question still stands. Alexos had - and has - a mind far beyond any priest of Terra. How did he not, misguided as he was, enact atrocities surpassing what we found? Unless,” he murmured, “no man before has properly comprehended Chaos, and had sufficient power to carry out its precepts.”

Was that surprise on the Emperor's face? If it was, it only flickered there for an instant. +This would be the Interex, then+ He pronounced. +Malcador informed me of first contact, and the details of the preliminary negotiations. You kept the rest of this close to your chest.+

“Just as you did the process by which you siphoned the poison from Travier's mind.” Alexandros frowned, and he cocked his head slightly. “Do you take issue with the course I have set? They remain at arm's length, by their design as much as ours.”

+I trust you to do what the Imperium requires of you. I did not bestow the laurel upon you to simply add another rank to our hierarchy.+ The Emperor remained still. +Chaos.+ His tone suggested someone turning an object over in their hands, contemplating it. +Do you understand what it means?+

“The hidden forces that animate the Warp's corrupting influence. Four creeds that come together to form a greater whole, each element in eternal conflict and yet indivisible. What some men name gods, and the hordes of entities that serve them.” Without thinking about it, his hand had risen to his chin, stroking his beard. “Though I would not call them as gods. I remember their weakness.”

His first memory, one he had dismissed for so long as a dream born of his Warp flight to Delos. The potency of the presences that clawed at his cage and leered at or beseeched him was tangible even to his infant self, and yet they were held at bay outside his cradle, scratching feebly at it. Behind the covetousness, they had feared him.

+Your summation is correct. Your brother and the priesthood to which he belonged never understood what the denizens of the Warp desire most.+ The Emperor touched the tip of His sword to a stone icon, and the golden fire rendered it molten and formless. +Worship they welcome, but what they need is emotion, the Immaterium’s equivalent to matter. The one who makes their existence about the urge to violence, intrigue, entropy or sensual excess will enjoy a real measure of their putative blessings.+

“So the leaders of the Interex say, too. We face a gradual process to integrate them, Father, but at least I can tell them with certainty that we arrive aligned on the most important issue.” He looked out again over the world he had remade. “A myriad of worlds like this still need enlightenment. I must take my leave, Father.”

The Emperor nodded. +The Galaxy does indeed demand the Warmaster's attention. Awaken, Alexandros.+


Edited by bluntblade, 26 March 2019 - 08:19 AM.

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Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project


#100
bluntblade

bluntblade

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Flesh and Steel
Author: bluntblade
Legion: the Steel Legion
Time: late in the Great Crusade

+++++

Adept Maas-Voyek found some things to admire about the Steel Legion, but in other respects they amply displayed the inconstant ways that were rooted in flesh. The same inconsistency that was to be dispelled by the cold rationality of the Cult Mechanicus.

They were mercifully free of the sentimentality so many Legions showed when it came to the weapons borne by their veteran and elite personnel. Often their cousins fetishised the sentimental work of their own artificers, scorning the creations of the priesthood. Maas-Voyek had witnessed a certain amount of that during his seventy-two Terran years and twenty days with various Army fleets, before the XVII’s reunion with its master. The subsequent expansion had drawn in hundreds of experienced personnel from the Priesthood, and ever since then Maas-Voyek had made his home on the Lunar-class cruiser Straylight. His quarters were high in one of the ship’s spires, in keeping with his station, with a large viewport taking up one wall. It was sentimental - a flaw that would hopefully discarded as he moved towards true cybernetic communion - but he delighted in the view it granted him of the vessel’s crenellated back and the fleet around it.

The Steel Legion fleet was, to a Mechanicum Adept, the finest to sail the stars, except perhaps for the Void Eagles’. They did not allow the creations of the impious to share space with Martian and Jovian vessels, as did the I, VI and VII. All the vessels here, festooned with the circuit filigree of the XVII, had as the foundation of their design, the guiding genius of the Omnissiah. Some part of him, however, could not help noting the divergences in design, the ways in which the Legion had subtly twisted their ships away from the ordained geometry of their Standard Template Constructs towards their own preferences. Maas-Voyek knew that for a fact; by scaffold and void-skimmer, he had near enough traversed the entirety of the vessel’s surface during maintenance and repair operations.

Recently added plasma cannons swung experimentally two and a half kilometres away. Their addition had been driven by Lord Nomus, the usual lascannon arrays deemed superfluous in light of the Steel Legion’s prowess with interceptors and fighters. It sat uncomfortably with Maas-Voyek, complicity in what felt like desecration even when one of the Omnissiah’s generals commanded it; even if the weapons themselves conformed entirely to their ancient STC designs.

That was the inconsistency laid bare; the Steel Legion paid respect to the Mechanicus while still cleaving to their organic nature. Another facet of this was their peculiar stance on augmetics. The Steel Legion viewed them with a thinly veiled distaste that bordered on the outright offensive to the Adept. They seemed to deliberately overlook the elevated status of their Dreadnought-bound brethren. Maas-Voyek, analysing the data at hand, took it for a lack of reverence, even more baffling given the Legion’s evident closeness to their honoured fallen.

And then there were the spaces kept sealed behind blast doors and a plethora of locks, ranging from biometric readers to what seemed to be archaic key-locks. Nothing was said, much less recorded, about went on behind those portals. Requests for information met with denials, accompanied by the Primarch’s seal. No servant of the Omnissiah would be so… well, some might be arrogant enough to question the writ of His most singular creations, but none would be foolish enough to voice their doubts.

So Maas-Voyek and his fellows simply had assure themselves that the loyalty of the Primarchs would not permit them to violate their master’s commands. The logic seemed insurmountable - beings wrought so firmly in the creator’s image that they were spoken of by more sentimental beings as His sons - but then precedents existed, hinting otherwise…

-----

Mechadendrites flexed and whirred, Narthecia whined. The only sounds here were mechanical, aside from the barely audible breathing of servitors. Dozens carried trays of instruments, vials of fluid and armoured plates. The sounds of the living souls here were contained behind muted vox-grilles. Had any living mortal trespassed here, they would have joined the ranks of the grey-skinned cyborgs here, followed by intense scrutiny of what breach had let them in. The breath of the prone bodies was the languid exhalation of the comatose.

Three of the Space Marines’ adjacent hierarchies were present in bulk. Techmarines and Apothecaries might have been hard for an outsider to differentiate, as they mingled around the benches and slabs. Considering the delicacy of their work, their movements had a synchronicity to them that verged on the impossible. An observer, unaware of the Steel Legion’s use of implants, might presume private vox channels were being used. None were, all vox channels damped and psychic barriers erected around the chamber by Librarians.

The third order stood apart. Their faceplates grimaced, metallic skulls silhouetted by pale blue light. Crozius maces hung in fists or rested, hilts-down, on the floor, hands gently gripping the wings of stylised eagles. The imagery stood out in a Legion whose aesthetic was often deemed sterile by remembrancers, all the more so in their current surroundings. Many an artist or documentarist would have given everything for a chance to record the truth, had they known of it. The Steel Legion, thought soulless by so many, cared very much about the souls of their warriors.

Idao Haken ran a fingertip over the grooves of his crozius’ wing. He wasn't fond of the weapon, and usually left it at his belt in favour of his plasma pistol and power sword, but Chaplains understood better than most the importance of symbolism. They themselves were here for exactly that reason, standing sentinel over the work that was done here. Over something that, like the internment of a mortally wounded champion in a dreadnought, was half operation and half ceremony. Unlike an internment, however, there was no awe at the subject’s death-defying resolve and fury, no gladness at seeing a comrade survive to fight again in some form.

A corpse lay on each slab in front of him. Breathing, with hearts beating slowly, but a corpse all the same, surrounded by dozens more. Their faces were all youthful in a way rarely seen among the Astartes. A Space Marine’s face almost always hid the truth of his many years, but a certain maturity tended to manifest after a few years. The warriors here had not lived long enough for that, had not survived to raise bolters as full Astartes. This was the cost of the Steel Legion’s most idiosyncratic weapon; a secret shame, and a process which would, after the work here was done, make the dead fearsome weapons in their own right.

The Symbios, it was called. A cobweb of wires, snaking into the brain of each Legionary through a socket at the base of the skull, creating something akin to a hive mind. It transferred knowledge, enabled the unnaturally seamless coordination of the Techmarines and Apothecaries here, granted the sons of Nomus cohesion quite unmatched by their cousins in battle, and it had killed these neophytes. The neural burden of the interface simply overwhelmed some minds, rendering the unfortunates either dangerously unstable or husks. Few succumbed, with minds strong enough to endure Ascension and enhanced by the process, but a small minority of the Legion did with every intake of neophytes. So the Legion mourned the loss of promise, even as they worked to salvage something from the waste.

Redundant biological components were cut away before the Legionaries were encased in modified suits of armour, faces sealed away behind glowering visors and bodies augmented with fearsome weapons. Henceforth they would be the Fractus, commanded like automata by a select few of their living brothers and used to wreak devastation on the foulest battlefields, far from the scrutiny of outsiders. It was a lamentable end for those who had proved themselves more than worthy of being Astartes, only to fall to biological vulnerability. Miserable too, to waste genhanced flesh and bone - the only thing worse would be to discard it all.

After further hours of vigil, Haken watched as the initial tests were run, noting the world of difference between how his brothers moved and the motions of the Fractus. Fingers did not flex, and there was none of the fidgeting and shift of weight that every warrior succumbed to at some stage. Here and there were those Haken had monitored through their trials, and it grieved him to see their vitality, their spirit, wrenched from them. But the Primarch will that they use their devices, for the might the Symbios granted them. They had let Haken feel his Lord’s reasoning, at a distance, brushing across his consciousness, and he knew no argument could stand against the judgment of such an intellect. So he would keep this duty as long as he lived and served, counting the cost and standing witness.

Humble scrivener - alternate Episode IX attempt now complete!

 

Caretaker of the Lightning Bearers and member of the Broken Throne alt-Heresy project






Also tagged with one or more of these keywords: Brotherhood of the Lost, Lost and Forgotten, Alternate Heresy

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