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Second Son: Prologue - Chapter 13

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simison

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Prologue

 

The aide hurried through the vast garden. He carried with him news, news that would change the fate of their world and their sister worlds. A fleet had been detected entering the system. A fleet composed of ships of vast power and size. A fleet heading steadily advancing toward their defense network. The aide climbed up a small hill, cursing the Prime Minister for his insistence on detaching himself from the world at such an inopportune time. During these times of meditation, the Prime Minister would turn off all of his portable communication devices, and could only be reached via physical messenger.  At the top of the hill, the aide paused as he scanned the garden for his task. A single glance was all it took. No one could mistake the Prime Minister for anyone else. After all, not one man or woman could hope to reach the Prime Minister’s height. 

 

The giant was tending to his portion of the garden, several bushes of flowers was his focus for this month. It was strange to see such a famous and powerful man on his knees in the dirt, idly humming as he worked with his gardening tools.  The aide sprinted down the hill and closed the distanced between them in a few seconds. Before he could open his mouth, the Prime Minister without turning to look at him lifted one finger. “Catch your breath, Gregory. I already know.”

 

Gregory resisted the urge to touch the holy symbol around his neck. He was one of many who believed the Prime Minister was blessed by the gods. The Prime Minister’s mysterious foresight, which had led him to becoming the de facto ruler of the entire system, was the largest piece of evidence of the blessing. Gregory took a few deep gulps of air before he opened his mouth to speak again.

 

The warning finger wagged. The Prime Minister glanced at him with a mischievous smile before he shook his head. He began to pack away his tools. “Relax Gregory. There’s no need to be alarmed. Change is coming, but ultimately, I think it’ll be for the best. Please inform Admiral Zhon to stand down and to welcome our guests.” With a sigh, Gottfri climbed to his feet and stared at the sky. “My father has come for me.”

 

~~~

 

Seated on his command throne, Irvin Ruel impassively listened as the reports filed in. One last ship had been claimed by the Warp during translation into the target system. Compared to the total fleet's size, it was a minute payment for entry. For the price of one ship, two legions had successfully entered the system. Not just any two either. Out of the corner of his eye, Irvin could see one of the crewman's display showing ships belonging to the Fifth and the First Legions. The entire Fifth Legion was here. While only representing half of their strength, the First Legion contained some of the most powerful and famous ships of the Great Crusade, including the Thunderchild. It was another hint for the reason they had been brought here. Of the twenty legions, only one so far had been reunited with their lost primarch. Somewhere on the Thunderchild was the Primarch Icarion. And, if the whispered rumors roaming the hallways were true, then a second had been found. By far, the biggest supporting evidence was the one ship dwarfing even the flagship of Icarion. The Bucephelus, the personal flagship of the Emperor. 

 

Thus, when the fleet had first been forged and brought together under the personal command of the Emperor, the rumors had started. The second primarch had been found and it was time to bring him back into the Imperium's fold. Irvin had done his best to contain the rumors. While it was certainly a possibility their father had been found, he saw no reason to raise the legion's hopes without some kind of proof. The Emperor himself had never claimed to have found their primarch and when asked, didn't confirm He had found him. If there was no primarch to be found, it could hurt morale after inflating false hope.

 

Yet, as scans revealed the local fleet's size and strength, Irvin couldn't keep the rumors out of his own head. The local fleet was a mere fraction of theirs, and their largest warship was half the size of the Thunderchild. Unless there was another purpose to this campaign, it was a waste to have so much of the Legiones Astartes concentrated here. "How quickly is the local fleet responding?"

 

Fleetmaster Themos answered as he studied the visual feeds, "In slow order. The fleet is dividing into three groups with escorts forming a screen. If I had to guess, my lord, I don't think they've ever prepared to combat a fleet of our size." The Fleetmaster had been recently promoted following his excellent performance in the Selecuid campaign. The man was void-born and marked by it by his unusual height. He was merely a head shorter than a space marine, but his thin frame made him appear almost two-dimensional when standing next to a marine. 

 

Irvin frowned as he judged his possible adversaries. "Is our fleet in position?" 

 

"Yes, my lord.The Lightning Bearers have already formed their spearhead and are beginning their advance." The Fleetmaster glanced at him with his iron-colored eyes. "I fear we may not play much of a role after the Bearers finish their first strike if they don't accept compliance soon."

 

Before Irvin could reply, communications officer Daylen announced, "My lords, we are receiving a general message from the local fleet commander."

 

"Let's hear it," Themos commanded. 

 

Throughout the bridge, a voice said, "This is High Admiral Zhon-Vrook Carde of the Delian Federation. We ask you to identify yourselves, and to halt any offensive maneuvers. We are prepared to stand down and are willing to negotiate as necessary."

 

One of the junior bridge officers snorted. "Negotiate? Someone can't count."

 

No one had a chance to say anything as the Emperor himself answered, his voice echoing throughout the entire Imperial fleet. "I am the Emperor, and have no desire to engage in hostilities. My only wish is to arrange for a meeting between myself and your head of state at the earliest convenience." 

 

~~~

 

Gregory waited impatiently as he relayed the avalanche of reports coming to him through his small communicator currently wrapped around his ear. The balding aide was under the distinct impression he was being ignored as the Prime Minister occasionally nodded, while he put the finishing touches on his uniform. Gregory glanced around the small ready room as his mouth instinctively spoke. Small was a relative word for this room and the rest of the mansion that was the personal home of Salim's Prime Minister. The ceiling, the walls, even the furniture were twice the size of their normal cousins on the rest of the planet. It had to be, for the Prime Minister was a giant, though he made sure there was plenty of normal-sized furniture to host the many leaders and guests he often entertained. Unfortunately, this room made no such accommodations for the rest of the humanity as this was Gottfri's personal ready room. A single large desk and chair were the only furniture, while most of the walls were decorated with weapons, pictures, and other keepsakes that supposedly enhanced the Prime Minister's creative desires on the days where he simply wanted to tinker.

 

Gregory took a moment to ignore his communicator as he asked his own question. "Sir, is it wise to choose your military uniform for this...event? You said there was nothing to fear."

 

"We don't," Gottfri reassured him as he finished pinning the last of his military awards, which covered both sides of his suit jacket with ribbons, seven-pointed stars, and medals. "But, until the unknown is cleared away, the people will fear this strange fleet coming towards us. They will want to know that they will be protected and what better way to show them then by physically reminding them that I am their Commander-in-Chief." The giant turned to the trusted aide. "Has the Senate convened?"

 

"Most of them, sir. Senators Myron and Senator Xiu haven't arrived, but their aides say they are only momentarily delayed."

 

"Good. Have my car waiting for me outside. I'll be leaving in a few minutes myself."

 

"Yes, Prime Minister," Gregory replied before hurrying out.

 

Alone and free of distractions, Gottfri turned his head toward the ceiling. With ease, his mind reached out, and he left his ready room behind as he awareness flew through the atmosphere. As ordered, Zhon's fleet had stand down and was holding orbit above the planet. The thousands of human minds in the fleet were colored with fear, anxiety, surprise, and hope. With a thought, Gottfri passed through the fleet to study the far more interesting arrivals. Before him another sea of humanity slowly moved towards them. No. Not just humans. While there was humanity numbering in the tens of thousands stretched out before him, some of them were not quite human anymore. Thousands of minds were subtly different in a way that took Gottfri a few seconds to miss out. No fear. No hint of it. Fascinating. 

 

And two minds stood out like stars in the enormous cloud of human thoughts and emotions. Well, a star and a supernova. Gottfri thought about investigating the smaller star, but he recognized the mind of his Father. After several decades of not knowing who his true parent was, he allowed curiosity to focus on the golden power, and he hurried to it. 

 

Not yet, my son. All in good time.

 

Gottfri blinked and was surprised to see he was on the floor. The words. So few, and yet more than enough to 'gently' push him back into his body. No one had ever shown such power to him. Not even the strange xeno he had caught a decade ago. He climbed onto his feet as he analyzed the words again. He felt hints of amusement, a strong dose of determination and affection. Yet, he could detect a smidgen of disappointment. Without meaning to, he felt his second sight reaching into the future to determine the cause for the disappointment. He frowned and stopped himself. For all he knew, his Father would sense that as well and take offense to that. Still, he doubted his brush with his Father's mind was the cause of the disappointment, but what was it then?

 

~~~

 

Salim, the capital of Delos, was originally a small town in the center of the western continent Maghādvīpa. Few events had occurred in this little spot of Delos throughout the ages of mankind, which is why Gottfri chose it upon uniting the world under one government. There was no old blood lingering beneath the foundation to spoil the peace he had crafted after a decade of hard work. In the span of a few years, the small town had transformed into the ideal metropolis, featuring the newest technological wonders the planet had to offer. And at the heart of this new city was the Senate. Utilizing a word from ancient Terra to satisfy Sindhuans, Hellasans, and the smaller represented cultures, it was here the representatives of the planet gathered to guide and vote upon the future of Delos. The building in which they met was a large dome a mile in diameter and divided into three rings. The outer ring featured in-door gardens, restaurants, rooms for solace, and other features that allowed Senators, aides, and governmental workers to relax and interact with the common man. The middle ring housed the numerous offices, libraries, and work stations where most of the daily work of running a government was done. In the center was a vast chamber shaped into an amphitheater with the stage replaced by a platform and a large desk fit only for a being the size of the Prime Minister. Each ring was separated by boundaries of increasing security the deeper one went into the Senatorial dome. Although a web of corridors, walkways, and paths spread throughout the dome, a single path existed that went straight from the southern entrance to the main chamber. 

 

Today, two ranks of security personnel stood on both sides keeping the ever-growing crowd of people as Delos waited for its newest visitors to make their way down the road to the Senate proper. Gottfri waited with the Senate in the main chamber, for once, silent as he allowed the senators whisper to one another. Normally, he kept a full awareness of each senator's thoughts and desires. With his powerful perception, no senator could ever hope of deceiving or conspiring against him. It saved the political process a great deal of time and effort that used to be wasted on such fools. No senator was ever elected without first understanding that they would be sacrificing their privacy for their term of service. To be a public agent of the people, this was a small sacrifice. At least, in Gottfri's opinion. 

 

With such an old habit, it was taking effort to not peer into the minds of the incoming visitors. His passive sense told him there were three parties coming in in a line. In front, the blazing power of his Father's mind led three others. From the tidbits he could sense, these three minds intrigued him. They reminded him of the strange, fearless minds he sensed among the fleet, yet were distinct from them. Behind his Father, he sensed another powerful mind, one equal to Gottfri's own power. Yet, though equal in power, this mind was much stranger. It was a mind used to casually wielding authority but possessed discipline sharp enough to cut through adamantium. Curious. Three lesser minds traveled in the wake of this great leader, mirroring the other's discipline to a degree. But the last party of three individuals intrigued Gottfri the most. No great mind there, but each of them were alighted with anticipation and joy to the point that Gottfri was eagerly awaiting to see the reason why. 

 

It wouldn't be long. With precision and ceremony, the Senate guards reached out and open the Senate doors to welcome the self-proclaimed Emperor of Mankind.

 

Gottfri had mentally prepared himself for being in close proximity to his father's powerful mind. He had not been prepared for his sheer physical presence. When the doors opened, the Emperor stood towering and radiant in golden armor of incredible complexity. It was like the power and brightness of a star had been condensed into a single being. After a momentary pause, the Emperor strode forward, attended by three warriors in golden armor carrying pole arms with rifles attached to the shafts. Taking a moment to distract himself from the walking sun, Gottfri peered into the minds of his senators. All worry, fear, and anger had evaporated and been replaced with awe. Simple, profound awe. If the Emperor had asked of them to resign their positions and come serve him, Gottfri had no doubt that he would be left with an empty chamber. As the Emperor came forward, Gottfri managed to glimpse the rest of the retinue entering the chamber.

 

The first half of the retinue was a giant poised man clad in sleek power armour, dotted with lightning bolts. A great crystal decorated the center of his chest that Gottfri suspected as being an amplifier of some sort. The man moved with a dancer's grace, every movement precise and measured. He wore a mask of serenity as he studied Gottfri. Four warriors formed a crescent moon behind him, each small reflections of their leader. 

 

Gottfri resisted his curiosity to learn the name of this other giant, for he sensed that he couldn't make such an under taking without discovery. For this man was a psyker, like himself. 

 

Icarion Anasem.

 

The name was 'said' aloud to a room where only a telepath could hear. The elegant giant barely nodded towards Gottfri before taking his place to the side of the Emperor. Gottfri quickly understood that it was a welcoming gift. Wishing not to be a rude host, Gottfri answered in kind.

 

Gottfri Alexandros Darshan VonSalim.

 

Gottfri finished his greeting with his own imperceptible nod before his attention to the last group entering the chamber. 

 

~~~

 

It was with no small annoyance that Irvin Ruel felt his discipline threatening to break. His instructions were clear, handed down from the Emperor himself. He and two other legionaries of his choice were to form a diplomatic party and join the Emperor in a first contact scenario. A simple mission. Simple were it not for the fact that the other members included the Emperor and Icarion. To be in the presence of the Emperor alone would be one of the highest honors a space marine could achieve. To be in the Emperor's presence and the only discovered primarch was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Add in the possibility that his own gene-father was waiting for him at the end of this road left Irvin nearly overwhelmed. Although they hid it well, he knew his companions were struggling as much as he was to maintain their discipline. 

 

To his left was Immanzeul Kant, the legion's most powerful psyker after Yeshie's demise. Unlike the former Master of the Legion who had a wide mastery of powers, Kant was more focused, limiting himself to three of the psychic arts to specialize in. One of them was telepathy, and Irvin could only imagine what the psyker was enduring as he walked behind the two most powerful beings in the galaxy, while the monstrous crowd closed around them. Yet, Kant marched with steady purpose with them. On his right was Jorg Cavso, the greatest of their champions. No other had survived the lethal whirlwind of close combat as much as he had. It was not without cost. Beneath his power armor was a web of scars hinting at how close to death he had often come, but with such experience none could match his skill with the maul. His infamous maul was missing today as their only armament allowed was a volkite serpenta and a combat knife. The way his fingers occasionally twitched, Irvin knew it was missed. 

 

Regardless, they maintained their place behind the Lightning Bearers as they marched into the large domed building. Every step heightened their anticipation as they neared the two large doors at the end of the road. When they opened, Irvin resisted the urge to lean over so he could see past the enormous form of Icarion. By the Emperor, may our search come to an end.

 

He knew it wasn't so, but it felt as though their pace slowed as the Emperor entered. It felt slower still as Icarion passed through the doors. As the last of the Bearers entered, the inner chamber came into view. Time switched moods as suddenly events sped forward. In a few short steps, Irvin and his companions entered the chamber. Before them in the center of the chamber stood a primarch. Their primarch. Even without Kant's mental investigation, Irvin knew that the Primarch of the Fifth Legion was found. Standing erect in an obsidian dress uniform, he wore a confident smile even as the Emperor stood before him. With bright red, short hair, their gene-father turned his attention toward them. His smile broadened as though he already knew they were his sons. Irvin had never before felt such elation. 

 

As they came to a halt behind the Lightning Bearers, the Emperor spoke. "Alexandros Darshan VonSalim, Prime Minister of the Delian Federation and Commander-in-Chief of her military power, I greet you as the Emperor of the Imperium and as your Father. It is my dearest wish that you and your world join me."

 

Gottfri inwardly twitched. It was a small issue, but he sensed something large behind it. Of course, he wouldn't have shown his disquiet outwardly. One of the first lessons of politics he'd learned from his mortal father was self-control and how to present oneself. A simple yet powerful lesson, especially here. Not only did his true Father stand before him with the entire Senate, above them was a flock of recorders, cameras, and news personnel as they observed and telegraphed the proceedings here to the entire world. All it required was a minute exertion of his will, but a thought whispered, Why didn't He use my first name?

 

As a child, Gottfri had been discovered at the base of a mountain on the eastern continent of Tyrin. It was Vitrion, a local magistrate, who found, named, and raised him. When Gottfri had accomplished world unity, he had discarded his last name, while giving himself three more. Darshan was to appease and connect with the Sindhuans of the West. Gottfri and VonSalim were two names he had discovered when he read about ancient Terra in Delos' oldest library. He had taken them because they're linguistic and cultural roots didn't exist on Delos. It was a sign that while he identified with all people of Delos, he was a neutral unifier who refused to play favorites, even among the people he had grown up with. Ever since that day, those two were the names he wore in public. Is my name offensive to him?

 

After his opening statement, the Emperor proceeded to give a speech. It lasted thirty minutes. As it ended, Gottfri knew one thing.

 

Delos belonged to the Imperium.

 

Not one man, woman, or child who had watched the broadcast could possibly refuse the Emperor's desire. What had taken Gottfri ten years of careful calculation and hard work was accomplished by the Emperor in half an hour. When the Emperor finished speaking, eight senators immediately stood to propose Delos' compliance. The proposal seconded by a second wave of senators. Before the Prime Minister could enact the official sanction of the vote, the rest of the senators rose and declared, "Yea!" Gottfri smiled and knew he need not fear a painful transition for Delos. It was exactly what he wanted when the first vision appeared to him three weeks ago.

 

~~~

 

The Senate's decision was quick and simple. The actual process of compliance was a much longer affair as thousands of Imperial ships made planetfall. In a matter of weeks, the technology of Delos would be advanced by decades, a deficiency that had plagued earlier efforts at fighting off xenos raiders. Lasguns would replace their stub guns, Warp technology would allow them to chase raiders outside of their system, and new medical technologies would allow them to combat the various poisons and chemicals the repulsive xenos often employed against them for their twisted motives. 

 

Although Gottfri had won a major victory against them four years ago, he knew he had defeated one faction among many. One of his political cards was to remind Delians that they had no guarantee they wouldn't return. Unity would lead to a much stronger defense against their foes. And now, they had the power to fend them off and destroy them if they desired. 

 

Yet, these weapons pale in comparison to these, he thought as he studied the men assembled before him. No, not men. Astartes. Legiones Astartes. The process of compliance was now on automatic, allowing Gottfri to invite his Father and his brother to his home.

 

After a brief tour of his home, they now stood on the back patio of the mansion. While they were inside, another group of Astartes had assembled here. As Gottfri stood above them, he took a moment to enjoy their excitement and pride as they waited for him to speak. These space marines would become familiar faces to him as they represented the upper echelons of the Vth Legion. His legion. His sons. I have a much larger family now, Gottfri thought to himself with a smile. But one issue had to be resolved before he greeted his sons. Without turning toward him, Gottfri 'spoke'. Father. My first name, must I not use it?

 

No, Alexandros. Gottfri is a name that is ill-suited to you now. Much like how you required the Delians to forsake their petty quarrels to be given a greater purpose, you too must cast away that name as you ascend to your true purpose. It is a small sacrifice, my son, and one you will not regret.

 

Alexandros briefly wondered why Gottfri was the only name he was losing, but after being separated from his true father for a decade, he was willing to trust him on this. The mental conversation concluded in half a second. Taking a step forward, Alexandros shouted, "My sons! I cannot express my joy on this day of happy reunions. While I knew the Emperor was approaching, what a happy surprise it was for me to learn that I have brothers and sons to share in my happiness. From this day forward, may we never be parted as we partake in our greatest mission: to rescue Terra's lost children and protect them against those who would harm us! We will form the line against evil. We will be the shield of the Imperium. We will be the wardens, watching over our charges as we ward away the darkness! My sons, are you with me?"

 

In one voice, his legionaries shouted, "FOR THE EMPEROR AND ALEXANDROS!" 

 

Before Alexandros could step forward, the Emperor mentally spoke with him. 

 

My son, your lord commander and nine others will accompany you to Terra. There I will teach and prepare you for being a true master of a legion. You may pick the other nine. I will take my leave of you now and will see you again on Terra. Your brother will remain here and in orbit for another day before returning to the Great Crusade. Good-bye, my son. I eagerly look forward to your training.

 

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, unintentionally displaying his warrior's bun. "It is an honour to make your acquaintance, Prime Minister VonSalim."

 

Alexandros hesitated before indulging in temptation. With a thought, 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 Alexcould 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. Alexandros 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. Alexandros 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, Alexandros 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, Icarion picked and ate one grape at a time. "Delectable." 

 

Alex 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, Alex 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," Alex 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." Alex 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 arts, but I focus my efforts in the arts of divination and... purity."

 

In the back of his mind, Alexnoted 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 wide array of arts, 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 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..." Alex 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," Alex 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 Alexandros, who did not notice either himself or his duplicate, dressed in casual sleepwear. The other Alexandros 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!" Alex declared before leading Icarion back to the mansion.


Edited by simison, 07 May 2019 - 08:20 PM.

Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#2
simison

simison

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Chapter 1: Home Away From Home

 

Alexandros stared at Delos. It hung innocently in front of the viewport. A small orb of green and blue surrounded by the darkness of the void.

 

"My lord?"

 

Ah, yes, I suppose I have to get used to hearing my new title, he thought to himself as he regarded Captain Thoren Bosowski. Technically, Alexandros' rank as High Lord of the V Legion superseded Thoren's rank, but Alexandros had reassured the man that as a newcomer to the Imperium he valued the Captain's knowledge and experience. "Yes, Captain?" He replied with a warm smile.

 

Standing at two meters even, Captain Bosowski cut a lean figure, a side effect to have living all of his life on starships. He shifted uneasily as Alexandros regarded him. "Are you prepared, my lord?"

 

After being in the presence of Icarion, Alexandros had momentarily forgotten that he exuded his own natural aura on people. Both he and Icarion  had radiated command and power, but it was different in subtle ways. It was especially interesting because Alexandros couldn't decipher the unique qualities of Icarion's aura. It was something so far yet always on the tip of his tongue. On the other hand, Alexandros had been told (and read minds) that he exuded an aura of tranquil benevolence. Despite whatever struggles hunted them in their daily lives, people would forget them when around him. Originally, Alexandros thought people naturally trusted him because of the nature of his breed. After meeting his brother, he now knew that his aura was his alone. 

 

From his physical manners, the primarch could tell that Theron wasn't wholly at ease with this effect. "I am, thank you for asking."

 

Before their conversation continued, a familiar face entered the bridge. Alexandros gave a bright smile to Pyrrhicles as the man marched over to where he, Theron, and Irvin stood. "Come to bid your farewell?" the Primarch inquired. 

 

The native had been Alexandros' third in command of the Delian Army. Matching his rank, Pyrrhicles was an older gentleman, easing into his forties. Short, greying hair held strong against balding, while experienced blue eyes surveyed the unfamiliar bridge. He was tall for a human and broad-shouldered, wearing simple off-duty robes. Pyrrhicles glanced at him and at the viewport. "Yes, my lord. It's a harder price than I originally thought it would be." 

 

"A small price for the honor you are being shown," Irvin countered from the other side of Alexandros. 

 

Upon his announcement that he would be leaving Delos and joining his Father on the Great Crusade, the people of Delos had reacted with a general mixture of pride and grief. They would be losing the giant who had united and protected them, but any glory won by him would be glory for Delos. All knew he would shine like a bright star in the Great Crusade. Still, others had voiced different opinions and thoughts. Many Delian soldiers wished to fight on with him and the Imperial Army was soon to receive a large influx of personnel.

 

Yet, Pyrrhicles hadn't been satisfied with becoming a member of the Imperial Army. No, he desired nothing less then to continue serving his Command-in-Chief by his side as a legionary. While his past records of military skill and experience was exceptional, simple old age proved it impossible for him to become a true Astartes. With zealotry that had marked him an asset on the battlefield, Pyrrhicles hadn't given up, personally appealing to Alexandros for some way for him to serve. Won over by his subordinate's passion, Alexandros asked Icarion if there was anything that could be done before his elder brother departed. Icarion offered a solution: a series of bionic implementations and gene-therapy would create a facsimile of legionhood. After thanking Icarion, Alexandros invited Pyrrhicles to join him. Pyrrhicles had accepted. 

 

"One of the highest honors," Pyrrhicles agreed. "And one that I'll be forever indebted to you, my lord. Yet, I still want one more look at my homeworld."

 

Alexandros nodded before turning his attention onto Theron. "Are we ready to be on our way, Captain?"

 

A curt nod was his answer. "On your command, my lord."

 

The primarch fixed his gaze on Delos. "Make it so."

 

The vibrant planet steadily shrank as the Iron Griffin, an Eclipse-class light cruiser, sped away. For once, Alexandros tuned out the scene around him and simply watched. So ends my life's first chapter. In 58 years, I've accomplished more than most men could hope to do in a lifetime. And I am immune to the touch of Time itself. What will the future bring now, I wonder? The temptation hovered next to him. To extend his vision forward and see for himself, but Alexandros had learned early on that the future was not set in stone, and the possibilities outnumbered the stars once he ventured past a few years. No man, Astartes, or Primarch truly knows his fate. 

 

Before him, Delos was a distant blue-and-green blip that he doubted others could still perceive.

 

"Beginning Warp translation."

 

With silence, the image ended as the feed was cut off. For where they were going, no good would come from physical navigation.

 

"My lord?" Alexandros turned his attention toward Pyrrhicles. "I must prepare for the first sessions, and it sounds like I'll be spending most of my time in the medical facilities for the voyage. So, I think I'll have to good-bye for the time being."

 

Alexandros nodded. "You'll be in some of the finest medical hands the Imperium has to offer. We will meet again," he finished as he offered his hand.

 

Pyrrhicles shook it, though his hand was the size of an infant's compared to the Primarch's. "Is that one of your predictions, my lord?"

 

A chuckle and a wink was his answer.

 

After Pyrrhicles had departed, Alexandros addressed Captain Bosowski. "I will be leaving the bridge as well. Please keep me informed of our progress as necessary."

 

"Yes, my lord."

 

The Primarch turned his attention on Irvin. "Lord Commander Ruel, if you would accompany me."

 

"Of course, my lord," Irvin answered with a nod. 

 

Although he had only been shown the ship's schematics once, Alexandros recalled every door and hallway with perfect clarity, effortlessly leading his praetor to his temporary quarters. When initial arrangements were being made, it had been expected for the primarch to make the visit home in one of the V legion battleships. Alexandros immediately protested, saying that such a warship would be needed more for his sons to prosecute the Great Crusade and desired a smaller and faster ship. The Iron Griffin not only fit his requirements, but was in need of an overhaul to begin with, which could be accomplished at the Martian shipyards. Captain Bosowski had been most surprised to learn of his valuable passenger and offered his personal cabin for the voyage's duration. That too Alexandros politely declined before he located an empty midshipman's quarters and took them as his cabin. 

 

As such, Alexandros had to nearly double over before he could step into the small cabin. Three bunks had been brought in and arranged to fit the primarch's size. The only other room's pieces of furniture were a couple of chairs and a small but organized mountain of dataslates. The moment the door was closed upon them, Alexandros pointed at the larger of the chairs. "Please, have a seat Irvin. My apologies, do you mind if I address you by your first name?" he asked as he sat down on the beds. 

 

"No, my lord," Ruel replied before he sat down in the chair. The chair was made with the dimensions of an space marine in mind, but even then, he was eye-level with his gene-sire. 

 

"Good, and, so long as we are in a private atmosphere, I insist that you call me Alex," Alex declared with a warm smile. 

 

Ruel, after decades of war, had been given a few strange orders. Yet, this last one, to call one of the sons of the Emperor himself, by such a casual name may have been the strangest and distinctly left him uncomfortable. "If you truly insist upon it, my lord."

 

An expectant smile was his answer.

 

"Er, I mean, Alex."

 

"Don't worry," Alex said as he leaned back against the bulkhead. "You'll get used to it in time. Now, I realize we have much to cover as far as the legion goes, but I want to focus on you for a moment. I'd like to know more about you."

Irvin straightened up in his seat. "Of course...Alex. My name is Irvin Ruel, Lord Commander of the Vth Legion. My military service began in 763.M30 when I was recruited from the former Jermani nation-state and accepted into the Legiones Astartes a few months later after entering into a trial program. My first assignment was a tactical squad in 6th company. My first battle was the Battle of Portsmith, which was the beginning of the Albyon campaign. I was promoted to sergeant three days before the end of the campaign for a combination of exemplary service and heroics during the Siege of Londinvinium." 

With patience and attentiveness, the Primarch listened as his son continued to briefly cover the rest of his military career, including every promotion, every award, and every major campaign participated in. When Irvin finally reached the end, Alexandros smiled. "You've had a long and full service, my son. I am proud to have such an able soldier at my side."

Whether it was his genetics or his father's natural aura, Irvin could feel a wave of pride washing over him, filling him. "Thank you...Alex."

"I should be thanking you, Irvin," Alex replied. "You have fought well and kept my sons away from military disasters. Very remarkable. But, I'd like to know more about you, Irvin."

Confusion mixed in with the pride. "Er, excuse me, sir?" 

 

"You are more than a service record, Irvin," Alex began. "I want to know more about you as a person. What are your dreams? How do you relax? What is your favorite color? Why as a Lord Commander, do you prefer to fight on the front lines? These are the things I'd like to know."

 

"I understand," Irvin replied slowly. "My only dream is to serve the Imperium and win glory for my legion. If I wish to clear my head, I'll enter the sparring arenas. I don't have a favorite color. I lead from the front because that is where I can control the flow of battle, at the edge of my claws. I am both the most senior commander and warrior on any battlefield I deploy on. It also happens to be the place where I can win the most glory, in close combat. If I did not lead from there, how can I ask any of my brothers to do the same?" After a pause, Irvin hesitantly said, "Alex, I'm not sure you understand what it means to be a legionary. We are not like mortal men and their common aspirations and traits. We are transhuman warriors."

 

"Transhuman?" Alex repeated slowly, tasting the word. "There is some truth to what you say, Irvin. You and my sons have become more than human. Your size, the equipment you use, and I've noticed that fear does not seem to have a presence within the legions. That much is true. Yet, even the word 'transhuman' still has 'human' in it. If my sons are transhuman, than how much farther away am I from humanity? Yet, even I still feel many of the same urges that the Delians felt. A desire to belong, a desire to be with my family. Emotions? With the exception of fear, I've felt the rest: happiness, worry, misery, serenity. We may be different variations of humanity, but we are still human nonetheless. I can honestly say yesterday was my favorite day of my life because I met my Father and my brother. My older brother then accepted me and respected me. I understand if you don't sympathize with that, but trust me. Most younger brothers would have loved to have been in my place during that moment." 

 

With a grin, Alex looked around the room. "If I chose to, I could learn how this ship works in an hour. I could learn all of the intricacies behind the technology that allows us to travel through the warp in a week. And yet," he said as he looked back at Irvin. "My people, the Delians, were still teaching me new things after being their leader for years. My son, if there's one lesson I want you to learn, is that never underestimate humanity."

 

A moment passed as Alex allowed his words time to find root. He watched as Irvin absorbed them and deliberated on them, his son's eyes looking and not-looking at him. Soon, his son nodded, "I will abide by your wisdom on this, Alex and meditate on this."

 

Alex smiled even as he privately acknowledged that Irvin would probably need more time and experience before he accepted this one truth. "Of course. I do apologize, Irvin. I did not invite you to a conversation to discomfort you, so I offer the next topic to be of your choosing." Alex spread out his hands with a casual distance of five feet between them and his torso. "Whatever you want to speak of, you need only say."

 

"Then, I would like to debrief on your legion, Alex," Irvin replied with no hesitation.

 

Alex nodded for him to begin. 

 

"Since you will not be taking direct control of the legion immediately, I believe that you don't desire legionaries numbers and disposition yet. However, I confess, Alex, we have a serious situation that is affecting the legion as a whole."

 

Alex quirked an eyebrow. "What situation?"

 

"Madness."

 

Alexchuckled. "Were it not for our conversation, I'd think you might have some talent as a storyteller. You, at least, know some of the basics of timing." He waved his hand onward. "Sorry, please continue. What madness?"

 

Hiding a frown, Irvin replied, "Since we've embarked on the Great Crusade, dozens of legionaries have been struck by various mental illnesses to different degrees. The worst ones have turned on our own men, killing them before being contained or eliminated. Some legionaries are coping and are still able to serve, however many of the cases have had to be retired from active duty. At the other extreme, we've had legionaries who've become completely catatonic. I've done what I can to minimize the publicity of incidents, but our reputation has still suffered. While no one knows how high the numbers actually are, the Imperium is aware that there are incidents, and we've been under special scrutiny."

 

The primarch's smile had shrunk, but not completely gone away. "The cause?"

 

"It is either the psykers or an error in our gene-seed. I am inclined to believe it is the psykers," Irvin explained. "They can be tied to every single case that has occurred."

 

"Have there been no issues with the gene-seeds?"

 

Irvin paused. "Not...officially, Alex. Other legions have shown unusual traits. The most extreme case has been the XIth legion's flesh-change. Because of the flesh-change, the entire legion no longer participates in the Great Crusade. However, it hasn't been conclusively proven that it is their gene-seed behind the flaw. A few of the other legions have undergone minor physical or behavioral changes, but nothing as debilitating as the flesh-change. This is why I am inclined to believe it has something to do with the psykers. No other legion is suffering from instabilities in their gene-seed, while the XIth legion, which has a vast psyker contingent, is the only one suffering from effects that are more crippling than our own."

 

With a slow nod, Alex replied, "Well, it looks like I have a bit more homework to do." He gestured to the stack of dataslates. "Is there a detailed report already compiled?"

 

"No, Alex. I can have one prepared for you within twenty-three hours," Irvin said.

 

Alex didn't need any telepathathic abilities to see the eagerness effusing from his son. "The sooner, the better. Would it also be possible to send some of my afflicted sons to me on Terra? I wish to examine them firsthand."

 

"You need only give the command, my lord, I mean Alex." Irvin stood. "I can have them sent to out in less than an hour. If you'll excuse me?"

 

"Of course." Alex held out his hand. "Irvin, I'm glad we were able to talk. I am pleased with your service."

 

With nurtured pride, Irvin energetically shook the massive hand. "I live to serve the Imperium, Alex." He strode to the door and hesitated. Glancing back, he asked, "Do you think you'll be able to heal them?"

 

With a smile, Alex shrugged. "I don't think I have to say I will give it my best attention, but I will say that even if it is a problem beyond my understanding, I don't think it will be beyond Father's power."


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#3
simison

simison

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Chapter 2: Growing Family

Adalbard took a moment to knock on the prefab facility's main entrance. Surprise awaited him when he heard no answer, even though his summons had proscribed the very minute had had arrived at. It was not like Alexandros to waste his time or to make a fool of others for his amusement. He hesitated before he stepped inside.

 

Designed to be a temporary housing unit for a primarch, it was a surreal experience for the Consul-Obsequiari, who towered over mortals, to walk into a building where the furniture towered over him. The walls were filled with dozens of sketches, both of technical plans and artistic ones. Tables lined beneath them, holding an academy's diversity of items and relics dedicated to all areas of learning. Over there, a dataslate on Ork physiology. Over here, a political treatise dated to the 23rd millennium. It was as though his gene-father was trying to absorb all the knowledge the Imperium could offer in the span of days. 

 

Upon entering the main room, he found Alexandros sitting across from anther one of his sons. Gaius had been a brilliant battle-psyker who had been struck with an intense form of catatonia. His hair had grown long and ragged in his absence from reality. Requiring daily injections to satisfy his nutrient intake, the marine sat at one end of a small table, sized for an Astartes. Alexandros sat in a chair for his size, his hands clasped together in a gesture that Adalbard found uncomfortably close to prayer with his eyes closed. Recognizing his primarch's preferred pose for his mental excursions, Adalbard waited and watched.

 

With deep, slow breaths, Alexandros maintained his posture for a few moments before opening his eyes. The giant smiled as Gaius followed. The battle-psyker gasped as his head snapped back and forth, absorbing his new reality. Jerky movements came to a halt as he focused on his gene-father. "You-you saved me."

 

Alexandros shrugged. "I merely showed you the way back home." He stood and took a step closer to the space marine before laying a hand on his shoulder. "Welcome back, my son."

 

The sandy-haired marine nodded as he muttered, "I am forever in your debt, my lord. What can I do to repay you?"

 

"For now, go and rest. You have been separated from us for several years. Take this day to catch up, then report back to me when you are finished. Is that fair?"

 

With a vigorous nod, Gaius rose from his seat. "More than fair, my lord. I will attend to this task now." The psyker hurried out, forgetting to pay proper respects to the Legatus of the Disciplinary Corps.

 

"That was the eighteenth one, my lord," Adalbard noted as he approached Alexandros. "Are you any closer to discovering the root cause?"

 

With hesitance, Alexandros nodded, his deep purple duty robes settling over him as he re-seated himself. "I have a...suspicion. If I am right, I will only need a little more time to confirm it. If I am wrong, then I truly will need to ask for my Father's insight." He reached for a large bottle of amasec, which alerted the Obsequiari to the two prepared glasses on the table. "I'm sorry I wasn't finished sooner, Adalbard. Gaius' illness was deeper than I expected."

 

"You need not apologize to me, lord," Adalbard replied as he took Gaius seat, careful not to sit too hard lest his black armor crush the oaken chair. "Every brother returned to us is a celebration and strengthens your reputation among the legion."

 

"I appreciate that, my son, and I long for the day to take my place at the head of the legion. If for nothing else," Alexandros added with a wry smile as his hand swept over his messy abode. "I'm running out of things to learn, and it takes far too long for my sons to come here straight from the war front." He took a sip as he paused. "What about yourself, Adalbard? Have you taken my advice to heart?"

 

After settling his helmet on the table, Adalbard nodded as he reached for his glass. "I have, though I admit it was... strange. I'm used to monitoring my brothers and wielding my maul in service to the Emperor. Not choosing a hobby."

 

"I suspect it may be more necessary than you might think," Alexandros said in a half-whisper before continuing at a normal volume, his smile broadening. "What did you choose?"

 

With a gulp, Adalbard downed the fine liquid. "I decided on something practical. I've been studying our various air support units with an emphasis on learning their controls. I don't expect I'll ever be a combat pilot, but if the need should ever arise, I'll have more than the hypnotic training to rely on." He paused as he looked up to his gene-father. "Does this satisfy you?"

 

"It does," Alexandros assured him. "Any particular reason for your choice other than the practicality?"

 

Adalbard frowned as he felt old, old memories shift within his mind. "I think it was a desire of mine. Before I became what I am. Flying through the air appeals to...something deep within me, my lord, though I can barely remember the time."

 

Alexandros's grin widened as he listened. "Excellent. Don't ever ignore that part of yourself. Though it may never serve you in battle, it is as important to who you are." He opened his mouth to continue when his head snapped toward a wall.

Surprised and subconsciously mirroring his gene-father, Adalbard asked, "What is it, my lord?"

"My Father is summoning me," Alex replied, his eyes unfocused. He blinked and turned his attention back to Adalbard. "Correction, He will summon me three hours from now."

The breadth of Alexandros' talents had been a point of discussion between Adalbard and the other chosen members of Alexandros' retinue. It did not take long before word had spread that in addition to his natural, extensive physical capabilities as a primarch that he was also a psyker. It had been a surprise to them. Both Alexandros and Icarion were psykers leading to some to wonder if all of the Emperor's sons had inherited his incredible gifts of power. While freely admitting his status as a psyker, Alexandros hadn't explained his capabilities in detail yet, and his sons were too respectful to press the issue for a time. 

"You can see the future, my lord?" Adalbard tentatively inquired, reasoning that as Alexandros had already demonstrated his telepathy and made that known, perhaps it was fair to ask of this new power.

"To a degree," Alexandros replied with a chuckle. "It's more frustrating than most understand. Because in one sense there is only one future. But, in another sense, there's a nigh-infinite amount of futures. I can see all of the possible futures, and most of the time, I see the future that will come to pass. It's not like what the common man believes that all I have to do is close my eyes and I'll be able to predict exactly what they'll be doing a year from now." 

 

"How far into the future can you see, my lord?" Adalbard paused as he remembered. "Did you not foresee yourself taking longer than necessary to aid Brother Gaius and should have informed me to come at a later time? I mean no disrespect, my lord, I'm just unsure."

 

Alexandros chuckled. "Just because I can see into the future does not mean I always do. I have gone days without peering forward. Sometimes, weeks. As for how far my sight extends, the technical answer to your question is centuries. Perhaps millennia. It would take a few hours of intense meditation, but I could do it. Of course, I never would chose to do so. The future I'd be seeing would rest on a foundation so weak that all it would take is a single whim to render it pointless. I prefer keeping my focus much more narrow and accurate. Father disagrees with me on this. He thinks I'd benefit more if I cast my nets further out."

 

It was strange to hear his gene-sire refer to the Emperor so casually for Adalbard. He wondered how formal their relationship was in person and doubted he'd ever get the chance to see it. "How far do you typically look ahead?"

 

"In peace, it varies. Sometimes, days. Sometimes, weeks. Rarely do I look full months ahead. In war, I go as far as I can to deduce when it is likely for a campaign to end and then focus on staying at least a fortnight ahead of my enemies. It was by far my most powerful tool against the fallen Aeldari that raided my planet."

 

Adalbard pondered Alexandros' words. "Are you divining the future right now, my lord?"

A shake of the head was his answer. "No, that would be rude of me, though I can see why you think I was. Particularly important or powerful events often reach out to me even when I am not actively scanning the temporal horizon. I realized my Father was coming for me four days before the event during a long-winded debate in the Senate. Thankfully, the Senate's attention was focused elsewhere for it was quite a shock to suddenly know that your missing Father, one if not the most powerful being in the galaxy is about to stop by to radically change your life. So far, it has been the most momentous occasion to ever alert me. Usually the passive warnings are far closer to the actual event," Alexandros finished as one finger subconsciously twirled a hair.

"Do you wish to prepare for your meeting?" Adalbard asked as he passed the dataslate that had brought him here.

"If you don't mind," Alex replied as he reached for the dataslate. He glanced over the details, which explained the next son he'd be healing. "Thank you for delivering this to me and for the chat. We'll be working closely together in the days after I assume command of the legion. I'll have some new duties that the Disciplinary Corps will be needed for."

Adalbard saluted. "We will be honored to serve you and the legion, my lord."

Alexandros chuckled. "You can call me Alex."

"I'm sorry, but it is too informal for it to be comfortable. Unless you wish to make it an order."

"No, that would spoil the purpose of calling me Alex in the first place. Farewell, Adalbard. I look forward to our next conversation."

 

After Adalbard's departure, Alexandros left as well. Outside of his new home, he walked on a path that cut between nineteen other pre-fab buildings, each one the proper size to house a primarch. Only one of them was currently active, though active may have been too strong of a word for the current residence of the Sixth Legion's primarch. Darshan smiled as he past it, no doubt that his brother was enjoying the vast forge available to him. Their initial meeting had been boisterous, filled with rejoicing and celebration. I'll need to visit him soon if I want to see him again before I leave Terra.

Alexandros blinked before he gingerly returned to the present. He had not told Adalbard, but his powers appeared to have another drawback. This was the fifth time he had accidentally moved his view into the future. This planet is rich in the Warp, especially the Astronomicon. Or is this another one of Father's subtle lessons? How far did I see this time? Two decades? He focused on the trees and compared their current stature and knew he guessed correctly before returning to his walk, slightly perturbed. Mastery was paramount when it came to his powers. He did not enjoy these accidents. If it were not for the fact that he would soon be leaving, he would address them. As is, they were more annoyance and soon would be behind him.

None of the other buildings had seen use. So many missing brothers to be found. Yet, Alexandros' discovery had renewed hope. After two decades had passed with only Icarion to accompany the Emperor, whispers had wondered if Icarion would be the sole primarch to ever be discovered. In reaction to Alexandros, the Emperor had decided it necessary to bring His sons to humanity's birthplace now that He could not expect to simply have His sons campaign with him for decades on end. I do wonder how long Father can avoid the Great Crusade if more of my brothers are discovered at the same time.

 

Leaving the area, he wandered through the Imperial palace greeting people as he meandered toward another, more restricted portion of the Imperial Palace. His last conversation was with an remembrancer's aide, who had complained how the Great Crusade was generating barely enough paperwork to make it nigh-impossible for them to continue chronicling it from Terra, especially since they had to rely on short and sometimes old reports that filtered back to the homeworld from the various expeditionary fleets. Alexandros had offered a sympathetic ear before swearing that his legion would be more attentive to the cause of history. His support had earned him a smile and a thank you from the young woman before he departed for his true destination.

 

Alexandros' path led him to a small garden. In front of the entrance stood a single golden guard who was speaking into his vox. With a grin, Alexandros said, "Good afternoon, Captain-General. You may cancel that last order since I've already arrived."

The Constantin Valdor glared up at him before giving the counter order. Then, he stepped to the side. "My lord," he replied with forced courtesy. "The Emperor awaits."

 

"Thank you," Alexandros said as he entered. The musky scent of the ancient Amazon greeted him as he walked through tropical plants, careful not to disturb anything. For all he knew, these might be the last specimens remaining on Terra. A glass door at the back of the conservatory took him out of the tiny rainforest and onto a small balcony.

The Emperor's gaze watched over the Annapurna Gate, the massive gate made small by distance. Next to him was a table holding a half-finished game of Regicide with all of the pieces hidden beneath hoods. Another chair large enough for a primarch waited for Alexandros.

"Are you remembering Babylon again, Father? Can you see the Hanging Gardens?"

The Emperor shook his head. "Paris, standing on the Eiffel Tower overlooking the Arc de Triomphe."

 

"I would've guessed the tower to be against your tastes."

A smile briefly flickered over the Emperor's face. "You would be correct. Such a vulgar building to be declared a national treasure. Napoleon had the right of it." His brown eyes turned on Alex.

Of course, His eyes weren't really brown. One of the few surprises that awaited Alex on Terra was his Father's talent for changing his form. When it was just father and son, the Emperor would relieve himself of his bright, golden persona for a plainer one, though with an unmistakable hint of great power. And always a head taller than Alexandros.

The Emperor gestured to the chair across from him. "Have a seat, my son. This will be my last lesson to you on Terra."

"I know," Alexandros replied as he studied the board in earnest.

 

Since the pieces were hooded, there was little to tell. The biggest item of note was the arrangement if pieces. Dividing the board in half left a small force on Alexandros' side and one that doubled it on the other.

"You may remove the hoods from the pieces on your side of the board, however from this point onward, you may only interact with your pieces through telekinesis."

That was a surprise. While Alexandros had foreseen the game taking place, the Emperor had quickly forbidden him from seeing any further. Darshan lifted his hand, and the hoods gently flew off their owners before drifting and landing next to the board in a folded pile.

"Without using physical gestures," the Emperor amended. "There will be a time and place for theatrics on the battlefield, but the surest sign of a psyker's self-discipline is by how much he can accomplish while remaining still."

Although he couldn't help but remember the earlier accident, a nod was Alexandros' reply, but his focus was on his 'army'. No pawns as his pieces formed a protective shield around his king. He glanced at his opponent.

"You'll discover it is a rare campaign where you will outnumber your enemy. Nor will you have access to reliable intelligence." A hooded piece advanced a single space toward Alexandros' army. "Your move."

 

Only a single move, but that was no guarantee that the piece was a pawn. For all Alexandros knew, he was against an army of queens that was merely toying with him. Unlikely, but he couldn't discount the possibility as he moved a knight away from the enemy, moving it to a safer spot on his left flank as he attempted to peer into the future. With a grunt, he hit a wall of psychic might that dwarfed his own. Father is going all-out, he thought to himself as the Emperor advanced a second piece, this time on his right flank.

 

"There are records of creatures that have no connection to the Warp," the Emperor explained as he waited. "Genetic manipulation was widely available during the Age of Technology. Who is to say that no man has created an army of nulls?"

 

"I imagine the processes to create such an army would have to forgo physical enhancements and would still be no match for a space marine," Alexandros countered as he positioned a rook in front of his king, while his mind began to 'scout' the wall before him. Even the Emperor wasn't perfect.

 

The first piece advanced again, placing itself directly before a bishop. Silent, the hood floated off, revealing a pawn. "Perhaps so, but a wise commander will never make an unnecessary assumption."

 

Alexandros avoided the temptation to simply kill the pawn as he finished forming his defenses. The Emperor steadily advanced his forces, more hoods falling away as pawns reached Alex's forces. First blood went to one of the primarch's bishops after one pawn strayed too far from the pack. Another pawn fell in a couple of more turns, but at the price of a knight when the Emperor revealed a rook of His own. "Your warship is built," the Emperor explained as He moved the dead knight off the board. "Have you chosen a name for it?"

 

"The Elpis," Alexandros replied as he countered with his king, which personally slew the rook next to it. Three enemy kills for one meant Alexandros would lose via attrition.

 

The Emperor quirked an eyebrow. "You would name a battleship 'Hope'?" Another hooded piece advanced, moving three spaces than one before revealing itself as an enemy knight. "Check."

 

"I think it fitting. For is that not what the Great Crusade is? We fight for the hope of a better tomorrow." Alexandros moved his king before quickly chasing away the enemy knight, while the Emperor moved a phalanx of pieces on his right flank. One pawn was getting dangerously close to his side of the board.

 

"There is truth in what you say," the Emperor agreed as His pawn met death via rook. Another moved through the new hole in Alexandros' lines and was only a single space away from the edge.

 

The dangerous pawn died to a knight before being avenged by a rook. Alexandros switched tactics to offensive to overcome the numbers gap. Five dead pieces later, the odds were coming back to his favor but was still vulnerable. Only five enemy pieces remained hooded, but three of them were in position to wreck his center if they weren't pawns or knights.

 

"I've noticed you are struggling with one of my lessons," the Emperor said as He waited.

 

"A few," Alexandros confessed. "Two in particular. I've noticed the Imperium's arsenal contains weapons fitted to destroy planets." He advanced a pawn toward one of the hooded pieces.

 

A different pawn of the Emperor moved, a distraction. "A necessity. There are enemies among the stars who will plague us unless we ensure their annihilation."

 

Alexandros' pawn continued forward, ready to strike. "I understand the need for powerful ordnance, but planet-killers? As slow as a planet life cycle is, they may as well be a finite resource. What enemy could we face that would require such destruction?"

The Emperor revealed His remaining rook before moving it to safety and catching Alexandros' queen between it and the earlier pawn. "I am not blind to the laws of the galaxy. These weapons will always be used in last resort. However, make no mistake Alex, you will face enemies who can't be swayed with words and will entrench themselves so deeply into their home world, that oblivion will become a need out of necessity. You must be ready for this possibility."

Alexandros' knight sacrificed itself to protect his exposed queen, defeating the rook only to fall prey to another pawn. "Very well, Father. I will be prepared."

"What is your other difficulty?"

 

With two hooded pieces remaining, the Emperor outnumbered Alexandros' forces, which had been reduced to his king, queen, two bishops, and a lone knight. "One of the aspects of the Imperial Truth. I don't know why you're insisting on the destruction of religion."

The Emperor paused, Darshan abruptly found the mental opening he needed. Gathering his strength, he punched through the weakened barrier and threw himself into the remaining number of alternate realities for this game. Defeat had already met him in countless other games and before he could find the one where he won, the Emperor's defenses reconstructed before tossing him back into the present. Alexandros' body twitched as his mind landed in it, but it had been worth it. The two hooded pieces were a knight and a pawn, which meant that the Emperor had played with three more pawns instead of bishops and queen.

"It is for the best, my son," the Emperor continued after removing the last two hoods. "Religion causes more destruction than it is worth."

"Yet, the Mechanicum continues with its theocracy," Alex countered, noting how effectively pinned his army was by the Emperor's remaining pawns. With a small grimace, he began the end-game, his bishop moving through the Emperor's flank. "I agree that some religions should be eradicated, but the Imperial Truth claims all religions deserving such treatment. Not only have you failed to follow through your own creed, but you eliminate any potentially beneficial beliefs along with the corrupted."

The Emperor ignored the bishop as he trapped Alexandros' queen. "A diplomatic necessity that will not survive the end of the Great Crusade. Religion divides humanity and weakens us. I know you value the power of unity. Is that not why you brought an end to the meaningless factions of Delos?"

Alexandros frowned as his queen slayed the first pawn only to die to the second. His knight rushed through the gap. "Check. I'm well aware that our capabilities as a species is magnified by pooling our efforts and am not denying the truth of it. I am denying you're claim that religion offers nothing to humanity. Why not mirror the ancient Roma Empire? Allow any religion that does not threaten the peace?"

"The Roman Empire included an imperial cult, and I refused to be deified," the Emperor countered as his last knight moved to protect his king.

"Which is your prerogative," Alexandros said as he weighed his tactics. Victory stood distant from him. "Though, you must admit, the sheer power you wield puts you above many of the ancient divinities. There will be people who will see you as a god, no matter your desire." He began his final charge.

"Our survival as a species requires we abandon superstition." A pawn made it to the edge of Alexandros' side and transformed into a queen.

Another retort was on the way when Alexandros noticed something. The game forgotten as he peered at the Emperor, his mind analyzing the nuances of His last statement, catching something hidden deeper. "...why? Why is that the only way?"

The game momentarily forgotten as the Emperor met His son's stare. "There are enemies out there that threaten us. Enemies of great power who would manipulate the weakest of us to ensure our own destruction."

A bishop idly ended the Emperor's last knight. "Yet, with my brothers and the legions, what enemy could pose a threat to us? You...you're not speaking generally. There is an enemy you're thinking of."

"Your gifts of perception are great, my son, however," the Emperor said as His new queen killed the flanking bishop. His eyes hardened. "Not all knowledge is good."

Alexandros buckled beneath the weight of the words as they were amplified by psychic power. The message clear. "Very well, Father. Check." King faced king with only a single space between them.

"Mate," the Emperor finished as a second pawn became a queen, finishing the snare Darshan had seen in two other games.

 

Alexandros scanned the field. He decided not to comment on the lack of bishops' on his Father's side and phrased his question differently. "You played with two more pawns?"

 

"It will be the rare enemy who will match you in strength of force," The Emperor replied. "Though they might wield a few powerful war machines, your common enemy will have no choice but to use large amounts of lesser infantry and attempt to drown you in bodies. A less sophisticated strategy, but even Astartes have their limits." The door opened as Valdor stepped out. Behind him, a servitor pushed a large metal chest onto the balcony. Alexandros quirked an eyebrow at the Emperor. "As I said, this was your last lesson. It is time for you to take your place in the Great Crusade. These are your parting gifts."

 

Valdor keyed a few runes before the seals unlocked. Slowly, the chest's hatch opened as Alexandros walked over. Within the container, he found expertly-wrought purple armor waiting for him. At the head of the armor was a helmet, made in the style of the ancient Korynthians, yet this one could seal against the vacuum of space. A crest of red 'hair' divided the helmet into left and right halves. Next to the armor was a power short sword and a round shield, large enough to cover most of a primarch. Alexandros carefully lifted the armor, and a bright red cape unfurled from the shoulders. He glanced back at the Emperor with a smile.

 

"A human general fulfills his duty best at a safe distance from the front lines. We are meant to lead humanity from the fore, and require enough protection of ourselves yet must be always be visible on the field of battle." The Emperor stood. "This armor will do more than shield you from physical attacks. Within both the helmet and pauldrons are focusing crystals from Aklantisiana that will allow you greater finesse in controlling your powers and eases your ability to defend others from warpcraft. You have mastered shielding your honor guard from enemy psykers. With this, you'll be able to shield far more of your soldiers."

 

"A kingly gift, Father," Alexandros affirmed as his fingers traveled over the pauldrons, sensing the crystals. "I mean no offense, Father, but I'm surprised how bare it is, compared to my brothers."

 

"It mirrors the legion you will lead. Each legion may have a preference for one area of war, but they were created from the same process that granted them their grey armor. As Icarion has molded their legions to their taste, so will you. Including what symbols your armor bears."

 

Alexandros studied the armor, imagining the possible symbols and crests he could engrave into it. After a moment, he replaced it in the chest before reaching for the sword and shield. They were heavier than he expected, but light enough to wield comfortably in battle. He twirled the sword between his fingers before banging it against the shield. Both vibrated as he tested their balance. 

 

"The power field within the sword will enable you to cut through any armor. The generator in the shield will protect you from most weapons, be it slugs or a salvo from a lascannon," the Emperor briefly explained. "Remember, these tools will reach their full potential when you wield them in conjunction with your psychic gifts. Channeling your psychic might through the sword will allow you to end most foes in a single blow. The shield may only face direction, but what will that matter if you always know which way the attack will come from?"

 

"Indeed, when will I have the chance to wield them?"

 

"Within the month. I mentioned that this was your final lesson. In twenty-four hours, we depart from Terra. Your command ship," the Emperor paused, "the Elpis, has entered into Terran orbit. I suggest you allow yourself at least twelve hours for ceremony and inspection. Finally, I recommend you chose a ranged weapon to carry into battle. While our level technology makes melee possible, there's little reason to hamper yourself by not having some form of ballistic weaponry. That choice, I leave entirely to your discretion."

 

A few ideas buzzed around Alexandros' mind as he considered his reserve weapon. "Who will I be warring against?"

 

"The XVIth legion has discovered the Webway entrance that the xeno pirate fleet uses to raid your home system. Your objective will be to eliminate the Webway portal and annihilate the xeno forces."

 

Old memories of Delian battles asserted themselves as Alexandros remembered the foes that had given him the necessary cause to unite the planet. With a bloodthirsty grin, he said, "I'm looking forward to this."

 

"I will be joining you," the Emperor replied. "Only as an adviser. You will be chief-in-command for this campaign. From overall strategy to battle tactics, it will be your vision, and your execution. Prove yourself to the Imperium and to your legion that you are ready for the Great Crusade."

 

What should have been a daunting task filled Alexandros with excitement as his mind jumped ahead to logistical issues. He paused as he forced himself back in the present. "I will not fail you, Father."

 

The Emperor smiled. "I know you won't, Alex." He gestured to the conservatory's door. "You have much work ahead of you, you have my leave to begin."

 

Alexandros bowed before the Emperor before he walked toward his destiny.


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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simison

simison

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Chapter 3: First Strike

Alexandros preferred to call it a meditation chair.

 

Yes, it was located in the center of the bridge, while the captain’s throne was seated closer to the fore. But that was because of how the bridge was arranged. When viewed from above, one could see that the bridge was shaped like a lotus flower with each petal corresponding to a different expertise. The central pedal held navigation and weapon systems and the captain’s throne. The left pedal was their communications hub, while the right hub handled engineering. At the point where the three pedals overlapped was Alexandros’ chair.

 

Yes, it looked more like a throne than it did a chair, especially since it was larger than the captain’s throne. But no decorations adorned beyond a single golden gem above where Alexandros’ head would be. Some said it looked like an apple, but its actual purpose was a focusing tool for Darshan’s powers. So long as he sat there, he could see and hear farther and further.

 

Yet, because it did look like a command throne, Alexandros avoided it, knowing he would only sit upon it when it was time to call upon his powers. Until then, he situated himself next to the captain’s throne. The man granted the honor of being the Elpis’ first captain had distinguished himself in the Campaign against the Sultanate.

 

Hierax had been serving aboard the Jutland Spear as a lieutenant. His captain died during an ambush early in the Sultanate campaign, during one of the first pushes into the asteroid field protecting the Sultanate. Despite the terrible first blow done to them, Hierax quickly assumed command of both his ship and the squadron, rallying them to counter-attack. Although his squadron lost a frigate, they were able to deal twice the damage done to the enemy and paved the way for the Vth legion to invade Asteroid M4-78. 

 

Since then, Hierax has had a long career of exemplary service, promoted into steadily larger warships. While the Elpis was under construction, he was serving as XO on a battle barge, the Hammer of Albyon. After reviewing his record, Alexandros believed him to be the perfect commander for his personal warship. 

 

The man could've been considered handsome by conventional standards were it not for the plasma burn covering his right cheek and the cybernetic arm that replaced his burned one. A leftover reminder from his fourth battle on the Albyon. Thanks to his injury, he wore no facial hair but allowed a brown fuzz to cover his head as his amber eyes flitted through reports. He glanced up at the window that formed a quarter dome over the bridge, allowing everyone to peer into space.

 

He addressed his primarch, "My lord, we've confirmed the intelligence reports. The portal is located on the fourth planet, IG-88, at the bottom of a large canyon in the southern hemisphere. We can have it secured in three hours."

 

Alexandros shook his head before scratching his red beard. "No. If we do that, then we'll never destroy the Kabal. Xenevo always sends a scouting party first before moving out in full force. Hide the fleet behind the moon. Our best chance at ending this threat is to lure them from the Webway before destroying the gate. Once that is accomplished, we can slay them at our leisure."

 

"You already have a plan, my lord?"

 

"I do," the primarch admitted. "I've already alerted logistics of my requirements. All I'm waiting on is the list of volunteers. We're going to have a small detachment of the Imperial Army act as though they are surveying the planet for the Imperium with a detachment of Riders hidden amongst them. Xenevo will discover them and won't be able to resist attacking. The moment the last xeno is clear of the Webway portal, you are are to destroy it from orbit. Once done, the rest of the Storm Riders will deploy from the fleet, protecting the remaining Imperial Army units, and finish off the Miasma." 

 

"My lord," a new voice said. Alexandros turned around and looked down as a lieutenant saluted him. "Sub-Commander Wilhelm reports his unit roster is completed. They will be ready to deploy in a few hours, at your convenience, my lord."

 

"Excellent," Alexandros replied. He glanced back at Hierax. "Captain, in twenty minutes, a full tactical plan will arrive to debrief you on both the ground engagement and how the fleet's role in the upcoming battle. If you notice any deviations, you have my permission to address them as you see fit. And please alert Captain Ricksher that I want him and his company staff to report to Briefing Room 16B in forty minutes."

 

"Aye, my lord," Hierax answered with a nod, as much as one as his implants would allow.

 

Alexandros gestured to the lieutenant, "Mr.Bowditch, if you would lead the way?"

 

Lieutenant Bowditch twitched in a uniform that had never seen battle, much like its owner. "My lord?"

 

"I wish to meet the men and women who will be accompanying me to battle. Please, lead on," the primarch explained with a small, mischievous smile.

 

"Of course, my lord!" Bowditch said before doing an about-face and marching to where his new unit was.

 

While armouries could provide the room for squads and other small elements to conduct unit maintenance and mission review, for anything larger, they simply lacked the appropriate space. During his studies and interviews, Alexandros had learned that space marines often held their assemblies in hangar bays, their strong vocal chords and enhanced hearing able to counter the typical bedlam. While Alexandros agreed it was possible, he preferred such meetings were held in areas with fewer distractions and had commanded the Elpis to host a number of mustering halls. It was in Hall 6C, he found Wilhelm and his volunteer unit.

 

Five hundred Solar Auxilia filled a fraction of the hall as they were engaged in a myriad of activities. Most were involved in equipment inspections, while several tercios were finishing up roll calls. Taking a deep breath, the sandy-haired Bowditch put an end to all of that as he shouted, "ATTENTION ON DECK!" With a speed and discipline that would've earned a grudging nod from an Astartes sergeant, the entire unit dropped what they were doing and all came to the position of attention.

 

"At ease!" Alexandros replied. "Carry on with what you were doing."

 

An order apparently hard to carry out as many of the infantrymen couldn't avoid stealing glances at the towering primarch. Alexandros mentally snickered as he noticed one female trooper who was absentmindedly putting her rifle barrel in backwards. Sub-Commander Wilhelm, a dark-skinned man who was as new to his rank as Bowditch was, and two troop masters promptly marched up, flashing salutes. "My lord, I wasn't aware you would be inspecting my unit. I apologize for its current state."

 

Alexandros waved it off. "No apology needed, sub-commander. I'm here to personally debrief you and your unit on our upcoming deployment."

 

Wilhelm offered a deep but confused nod. "As you will, my lord. When do you wish to carry out the debriefing?"

 

A pause lingered as Darshan briefly consulted with the future. "In twenty minutes. In fifteen, have your auxilia finish whatever current task they are on and have them in formation."

 

"It will be done, my lord."

 

"Until then, I will be taking a stroll through your unit. If you'll excuse me," Alexandros finished with a nod. Wilhelm affirmed before he returned to his duties. Holding his hands languidly behind his back, the primarch meandered around the room. Up to this point, the only interaction Alexandros had with the famed Solar Auxilia was a few meetings with high-ranking personnel. While he was aware of their purpose and their reputation, nothing could replicate the knowledge obtained from seeing them up close, and he figured this was a small but golden opportunity.

 

He stopped by a lasrifle section that had finished roll call. With their duties squared away, the void sergeant was shouting some basic advice to his troopers. "I don't care what part of Terra you bunch of idiots came from or how many kills you made in your last unit! As of now, you fight under my command! When I say 'breach', the melta charges will be primed and ready to be set! When I say 'fire', not one lasrifle will stay quiet! When I say 'hold', you will hold, even it's motherfrackin' Icarion comin' at you!"

 

At this point, one auxilia's discipline momentarily broke as he couldn't help but glance at Alexandros standing behind the sergeant.

 

"WHAT IN THE VOID ARE YOU LOOKING AT, TROOPER?!" The void sergeant frothed as he charged up to the trooper.

 

With an amused smile, Alexandros spared the poor auxiliary from his superior. "I believe I share some of the blame."

 

The void sergeant whirled around, mouth wide open to deliver another deluge. Then froze as he realized who he was about to rant at.

 

"It's a challenge to create a cohesive unit from so many different elements," Alexandros offered, preventing an awkward pause. "Especially given such short amount of time. However, it looks like you've made significant progress. Or am I mistaken, sergeant?" 

 

Given enough time to recover, the void sergeant puffed out his chest. "No, my lord! We are Solar Auxilia! Give the order and my section will assault the very madness of the Warp! Isn't that right troopers?" 

 

"YES, VOID SERGEANT!" They shouted, filling the entire hall with a din, earning looks from all around. 

 

Alexandros stepped past the sergeant up to the trooper who had acknowledged him. "What's your name, auxiliary?" 

 

The mortal craned his head upward to meet the primarch's eyes. "Ruland Holt, my lord."

 

It fascinated Alexandros to watch the unseen struggle within Holt. Half of him was very uncomfortable and surprised that one of the Emperor's own sons would speak with him, aware of the magnitude of Alexandros's material and immaterial power. The other half was filled with pride and a vague sense of relief, the latter being influenced by Alexandros' aura. "What unit do you hail from?"

 

"The 67th Solar Auxilia Cohort, my lord."

 

Alexandros paused as he accessed his eidectic memory. "It's only been a couple of months since the Karyon Campaign. Bloody work, it was. Yet, you've volunteered for another dangerous assignment. Why?"

 

Shifting uncomfortably, Ruland answered simply. "I want to serve the Emperor to the best of my ability, my lord."

 

No deceit, no flattery, just honest resolve. With a respectful nod, Alexandros declared, "And that's why I wanted volunteers instead of just handing out assignments. Make no mistake, this will be a hard battle, but a worthwhile one. I need auxiliaries I can trust, and you've demonstrated that, Trooper Holt." He addressed the section as a whole. "The Emperor is fortunate to have such dedicated soldiers serving his Imperium. You honor me by accompanying to this battle. I will do everything I can to be worthy of that honor."

 

There was some truth to the ancient sayings of colors corresponding to emotions. Green with envy. Red with rage. To be blue. Before Alexandros' eyes, a wave of gold spread from Holt through the section as pride swelled within them.

 

Alexandros glanced at their superior. "Carry on, void sergeant."

 

"Yes, my lord!"

 

Time had passed during his little pep rally. Although he wanted to speak to more of the auxilia, he made his way back to the front of the room. As he walked, he reached out with his mind. Gaius.

 

His son answered. Yes, my lord?

 

Please come to Hall 6C in 6.3 minutes with your brothers. I want to introduce you to the soldiers.

 

It will be done, my lord, Gaius replied.

 

With a nod, Alexandros broke the telepathic link. By the end of the brief conversation, he had reached the front of the room. The call to formation rang out through the hall. Auxilia scrambled as they assembled into neat ranks separated by tercios. Wilhelm and his strategos took their place near the Primarch at the front.

 

"Sub-Commander, as soon as you're ready, I will begin the briefing," Alexandros said.

 

Wilhelm affirmed as the new unit, which would be dubbed the 102nd Solar Auxilia Cohort, finished falling in. With a quick order, the Sub-Commander handed the floor over to the Emperor's son.

 

Alexandros scanned the unit before beginning. "102nd, your first assignment will be to eliminate a corrupted Eldar army known as the Miasma. On IG-88, there is a known Webway portal, which the Miasma operates for its raids. In nineteen hours, the Miasma will be sallying forth from the portal to commit another raid. Instead, they will find the 102nd on a recon mission and establishing a foothold several kilometers south of the portal. Only a single Imperial warship will be in plain sight, orbiting directly above the landing zone. It is imperative that the presence of the Storm Riders be hidden for the first stage of this battle. Only if the 102nd appears to be alone, will the enemy commander, an Archon called Xenevo, launch a full attack and be vulnerable to annihilation. Once the last of his hideous breed is far enough away from the portal, the Storm Riders will attack, both destroying the portal and reinforcing the Auxilia's position."

 

While a high-level professionalism was exhibited, both Alexandros' enhanced senses and sharp eyes caught disquiet amid the ranks. No one relished being the distraction. "While deception is key, you will not be alone. The landing zone will be located at the center of a valley that leads directly toward the Webway portal. On the heights around the valley, Captain Ricksher and his company of recon marines will be in position and armed with sniper rifles and other long-range ballistics to support you."

 

"Most importantly," Alexandros continued with a pause. "I will be with you." 

 

That caught his audience off-guard. A few auxiliaries actually dropped their jaws before re-asserting their discipline. "As commander, it is my duty to place myself at the most critical point to ensure success, and that is with the 102nd. For this operation to succeed, it will require a great deal of trust."

 

Now, my sons

 

Gaius and eleven grey-armored space marines marched into the hall to take their place behind their gene-sire. The presence of several staves and other force weapons revealed their psyker nature to the Solar Auxilia. Many in the room became guarded and wary, a legacy of the Storm Riders' 'curse'. Another enemy that Darshan sought to defeat. "I understand I am requiring much of all of you. However, give me this ounce of faith, and I will see it return ten-fold," he said, willing his innate aura to wash through them. The seed of doubt lingered in much of the cohort but was diminished. Ideally, it would have been eliminated entirely before Darshan's next step, but this was as close as he would get. 

 

In battle, this is how I will communicate to most of you. Many of you have heard rumors about the extent of my powers. I will confirm a few. I can peer into the future. I can hear the thoughts of men when I choose. Armed with both, I can stop ambushes before they begin, forewarn you of the round that would extinguish your life, and guide your aim to lethal accuracy. So, hear and know my other 'voice'. Do not be afraid. For I am a son of the Emperor, and will lead you to victory.

 

A mirror image of Darshan's first Delian battlefield command played out before him. The initial panic of hearing another's thoughts in one's mind. The slow transition from panic to suspicion. To the limit of progress he could earn in a single speech: reluctant trust. It would do, Alexandros knew. 

 

He spared them any more telepathy as he physically spoke. "Your individual assignments and other mission details will be passed down the chain of command." He glanced at Wilhelm. "Sub-Commander, attend to what duties you must, but be at Briefing Room 1B in ten minutes." The two saluted each other as Alexandros returned the unit back to Wilheln. 

"My sons," he prompted before the transhumans filed out of the hall. 

"Father, I'm surprised you didn't give a proper speech," Gaius said as they moved to the next meeting. 

"Speeches should be reserved for the battlefield or the politicians. To alight the heart at the right moment. Do it too often, and you'll only create embers instead of bonfires." 

 

While the assemblies were designed to house hundreds of soldiers at a time, briefing rooms were limited to a few dozen personnel. Captain Ricksher and his lieutenants all looked up as Alexandros and his impromptu retinue entered, while a servitor continued to input data into the holographic display. "My lord," Ricksher said as they saluted. "We were finishing up." The image of IG-88 lit the room as the hologram display came online. "We'll  have a detailed map of the operations area in a few more minutes."

 

"Excellent," Alexandros replied as he walked up to the display. A cursory glance reassured the primarch his visions were still accurate. "Are your marines properly equipped for the task ahead, Captain?"

 

"Two hundred marines, all with functioning cameleoline cloaks and sniper rifles," Ricksher answered as he glanced at a datapad. "I can set up troop positions, establish fire lanes and have my men completely prepared as soon as Fleet finishes their scans." 

 

The display answered him as it zoomed onto the planet's surface, focusing on five kilometer area. In another moment, a digital representation of the Webway gate appeared. "Is that portal large enough to allow their fleet to travel through?" one of the lieutenants asked.

 

Though the question was aimed at Ricksher, Alexandros answered, "It isn't. The kabal and their fleet are almost separate political entities and require two different portals. It's a system put in place due to the trust between Xenevo and their fleetmaster, or lack of trust. It gives their fleetmaster a sense of empowerment and a chance to do some raiding during their travel to this system. Xenevo uses the time to his own advantage as he purges his kabal of 'weaknesses' away from their home station. Their fleet's portal is in a nearby system."

 

Ricksher's blue eyes looked up from the datapad. "You're very familiar with the enemy commander, my lord. Have you fought him?"

 

With a shake of his head, Alexandros explained, "No, all my information on Xenevo was gleaned from reading the minds of his warriors. Otherwise, I would not have allowed him to escape alive from Delos. That's also why I know little about their fleetmaster. None of the minds I read cared to know his name, and my battles with the Miasma were limited to ground combats. Once we've annihilated the kabal and their allies, we can prepare for their fleet, though I have less hope of surprising them."

 

He paused as he reached out with his thoughts. Father, you've been quiet for a while. 

 

There has been little need for my voice. You've learned well, and your methods are thorough. Continue to do so.

 

Alexandros couldn't stop the burst of pride at the compliment, and didn't want to. He reveled in it for a moment before he returned to the task at hand. The door opened as Wilhelm, Bowditch, and several strategoi entered. "We can begin now." 

 

The primarch moved toward the hologram's emitter and began to input information. Next to the 3D display of the valley, images and archived tactical information of their enemy appeared. "Our enemy is a small army of six thousand warriors with each infantry unit having their own transport. For the first part of the battle, survival is the primary objective. We need only hold out long enough for the last xeno to be far enough away from the gate to destroy it. The moment that happens, the rest of the Storm Riders in system will deploy via all means to surround and eliminate the Miasma. The 102nd will take the initial brunt of the attack, but our deception doesn't require the auxiliaries to be deployed out in the open. Wilhelm, once the 102nd enters the operational area, your first objective is to establish a forward operating base. You will have fifteen hours to construct whatever defences you are able to. The scouting elements of the Miasma will exit the gate an hour before dawn. It will provide the perfect excuse to have the 102nd concentrated at the base. The moment we've identified the Miasma, bring 102nd to full battle readiness. The only lure the Miasma will need is to know how small the cohort is and that it is alone."

 

As he spoke, the holographic map of the valley added the 102nd, along with possible fortification layouts. 

 

"The enemy commander is Xenevo, an Archon. He is responsible for raiding my homeworld for the last thirty-four years," he continued, enlarging an image of said Eldar, taken from Delian battle recordings. Sickly green and blight-filled grey spiked armor distinguished the xeno male. The Archon glared contemptuously at them. Alexandros looked forward to breaking that pride. "Like his kind, he is a depraved individual, yet cunning. He has an alliance with a Haemonculous Coven, so expect to face against these creatures." With another prompt, Xenevo shrunk as grotesquely-shaped and mal-formed beings took center stage. "Thankfully, there will be few of them. Xenevo fields common warriors as the bulk of his forces since he is currently in a declining state with his race's politics and has been deprived of more elite forces because of it." 

 

With the overall concepts established, the briefing moved onto the gritty details. What was the optimal fortification set-up? Which tercios would have the honor (or ill fortune) to be stationed closest to the Dark Eldar initial attack? Weapon loud-outs, firing lanes, psyker support, and so on. With the change of focus, Alexandros moved from primary actor to adviser. Unlike some commanders, he refused to give in to micro-management, despite his powers of intellect and foresight. He listened as the space marine captain and the sub-commander offered tactical plans, speaking only to approve them or to suggest recommendations. 

 

They were completing the final details when an interruption occurred that Alexandros half-expected, even without his talents. The door opened as Irvin Ruel marched in. Alexandros nodded to his second-in-command. "Lord Commander. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

 

With a quick salute and a disapproving edge to his voice, Ruel answered, "My lord, I have been informed of the overall strategy for this upcoming battle and that you intend to place yourself in the most dangerous assignment."

 

"There's no intention at all," Alexandros said with a small smile that quickly faded. "It's an order. I will be fighting with the 102nd."

 

To the other officers, the slight inflection transformed the Primarch from a friendly father-figure to one of the undisputed lords of the Imperium. Irvin felt the full force of it and forced himself not to kneel. "My lord," he began again, the disapproval removed from his tone. "May I offer a suggestion?"

 

"You may," Alexandros allowed, "So long as you do not suggest that I be placed with a different unit."

 

After a pause, Irvin said, "With the current deployment, my lord will be placed in a great deal of danger. Is there not a way to mitigate the threat to your well-being?"

 

"I am open to suggestions, as I've said Lord Commander."

 

Irvin glanced at the holo-display, which featured the 102nd's, Ricksher's, and the most likely disposition of the Miasma forces. "My lord, while the Solar Auxilia will be fighting in entrenched positions, the Ricksher's 74th will be exposed once the fighting has begun. I recommend at least a second company of assault marines to prevent the 74th from being overwhelmed, should the Miasma swarm them. Although they have few dedicated assault units, if they concentrate their forces on half of the company at a time, they will be eliminated." 

 

"And leave themselves open to devastating volleys from the 102nd," Alexandros pointed out. "However, that is not not answering the crux of the issue. How will you hide another company of space marines? The energy used by power armor will make them visible to the Miasma sensors." 

 

The Lord Commander began an explanation on how to modify the power armor's energy signature, but Darshan already knew it was futile. While the energy footprint could be shrunk, it would not be enough to hide it from enemy sensors. Instead, he reached out his thoughts again. Father, it is time.

 

I have two archaeotech field generators that can render your Chapter Master's forces invisible for a span of three hours. After that point, their energy reserves will be exhausted. The fields will be large enough to hide two hundred marines, however they must remain immobile until the field deactivates

 

Thank you, Father. Irvin will be pleased

 

As you saw in your visions, a day ago.

 

Irvin needed a reminder that I am his commanding officer.

 

I know, my son, and I agree.

 

The smile wouldn't stay hidden as Alexandros interrupted Irvin's doomed theory. "It's not possible, Ruel, and you are wasting time suggesting it. The Emperor, however, has a solution for you."

 

Irvin froze. "The Emperor is aware of my plea?"

 

"He is," Alexandros said with a nod before he explained the two relics that Irvin would be trusted with. 

 

Turning back to the holo-emitter, Alexandros added the new units. Behind the halves of the recon company, two elements of a larger company generated. "I already know you will assemble the detachment out of assault marines and that will work seamlessly with our current battle plan, Ruel." With another button, data copied onto a spare datapad. He handed it to Ruel. "This contains the likely capabilities of our enemy. Review them then assemble your detachment. I leave personnel choices and weapon layouts to your decision. Your marines must be ready to deploy in twelve hours. Understood, Lord Commander?"

Irvin accepted the datapad before saluting. "They will be ready in ten hours, my lord." Moving with a new purpose, he left the briefing room. 

As Alexandros turned his attention back to the other officers. Bowditch hesitantly said, "My lord, will his unit be ready to deploy so soon? It took us almost two days to create the 102nd."

With a grin, Alex answered, "It will actually take him ten hours and seventeen minutes. But don't tell him I told you that. Now, we were nearing the end of the briefing before the interruption. Are there any more questions regarding the battle? Captain?"

Ricksher shook his head. "I'll have my company ready on the launch deck in an hour."

"Sub-Commander?"

"None at this time, my lord."

"Very good." Alexandros turned off the hologram. "Dismissed." 

 

As the officers filed out of the briefing room, the Emperor spoke. And what of my assignment?

 

Alexandros froze. When the fleet was a day away from the system, he had placed himself deep into meditation as he surveyed the tides of the future. He had learned many things, how to trap his enemy, who would fight beside him, and more. Yet, nothing in his visions had forewarned him of this conversation. The idea of the Emperor being under his command felt like a joke. How could anyone presume to command the Emperor? 

 

Alexandros, the Emperor prodded. The hint of amusement at the edge of the thought was unmistakable. 

 

Yes, Father. After an instantaneous review of the battle plan, he replied. I want you to lead the second wave after we've confirmed the Miasma has completely committed to the fight. If, for any reason, my trap fails, I want you to intervene as you deem fit...my lord.

 

Very well, Lord VonSalim. It will be done as you order. The arachaeotech fields are already enroute to the Elpis

 

Thank you, Father. Alexandros finished as he exited the room. 


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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simison

simison

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Chapter 4: Beams of Light against Tendrils of Dark

 

One of the fringe benefits of being a Primarch was how little sleep one needed. It was a genetic triumph how much sleep his sons needed, only a few hours a day. And, if they pushed themselves, the space marines could go weeks without sleep. Yet, that paled in comparison to Alexandros' own needs. Half an hour was more than enough to get him by on a daily basis. For the sake of experimenting, he once tried to sleep as much as he could. Since he was essentially immune to sleeping pills, he had to do it naturally. His longest record was one hour and twenty-two minutes. Experimenting in reverse, he was able to stay awake for over a year without any kind of repercussion. Even then, he only felt a light drowsiness that he could banish with his Warp-based skills. He suspected if he did master the art of biology, he could theoretically be able to be free of sleep indefinitely. An amusing thought, but one that did not hold his attention.
 
Still, he took advantage of his primarch physiology and continued his early morning stroll through the new base. With only an hour left before the Miasma's arrival, base construction had been wrapped up and now only the auxiliaries on guard duty for the hour were awake. He used his free time by visiting the various guards. Speaking long enough to hear who they were, how were they, and to reassure them that victory would be theirs, time passed quickly as Alexandros completed his circuit.
 
To his eyes, one of the most entertaining displays of auras belonged to an army at sleep. As they slumbered, their dreams and thoughts experienced freedom, leading to a low canopy of chaotic yet vibrant colors over the camp. Colors not even imagined by Man danced next to the primarch, speaking of unspoken thoughts and emotions. 

 

The base itself featured a simple design. Aegis defense walls formed a rectangle around them. Two gates at the center of the short sides were the main entrances. Six bastion towers watched over them; one at each corner and two in the center of the long sides. In between the towers were additional weapon batteries and ammo caches. Wilhelm had feared the base was too well defended, but Alexandros had stymied his fears. So long as they looked like they were alone, the Miasma would fall for the trap. That's why it was okay that the weapon platforms on the far side of the camp happened to feature weapons with greater ranges. 

 

Alexandros activated a private vox channel as he glanced at the hills on either side of the valley. "Irvin, what's your status?"

 

"We're finishing one last inspection before we take our position. I have every assurance that the invisible fields can be activated in a moment's notice, Alex."

 

"Excellent, keep me informed." Alexandros switched channels. "Ricksher, are your marines, ready?" 

 

"Father, all you have to do is give the word, and the Miasma's leadership will fall," Ricksher replied. 

 

"That's why I gave your company the entire list of xeno leaders. How large is the betting pool on who kills Xenevo?"

 

There was a sheepish pause before Ricksher answered. "It's roughly two hundred thrones, my lord." It was true that no marine every needed money, but that didn't stop some marines from gambling for entertainment amongst their brothers. Especially among the more independent-minded recon forces.

 

With a chuckle, Alexandros said as he finished his tour around the base, "Very well, I'll refrain from adding to the pool myself. Keep your men ready. The time is almost upon us."

 

"Father."

 

Alexandros turned as Gaius walked up to him. "Yes, son?" 

 

"My brothers and I are finishing with preparations. We need only a few minutes more."

 

"Excellent," Alexandros said. A pause stood for a moment as the primarch couldn't help but notice the dark ball of doubt at the center of Gaius' aura. "What troubles you, Gaius?"

 

"You already know what's wrong," Gaius pointed out.

 

Alexandros nodded. "True, but some would rather be given the chance to speak of it before I would. If you insist on otherwise, you are worried about the upcoming battle. Specifically, you are worried that you will be lost again."

 

"All eight of us were lost," Gaius explained. "None of us have been in combat since. What happens if we lose control again? Our honour is already spoiled, but what of yours? I don't doubt your ability to claim victory, even if we are afflicted with mania, but how could you save face in such a scenario?"

 

"Gaius," Alexandros began as he laid a hand on his son's shoulder, the palm covering the entire width of the shoulder. "I won't lie to you. There is a chance that madness will seek another hold upon you and your brothers. However, don't worry. I will protect all of you from that pit. I will prove to you and the Imperium that this malignant tumor will not haunt our legion name. I swear upon the Emperor it will be so."

 

The ball of doubt shrunk before vanishing entirely. Gaius nodded. "I believe you, Father." 

 

"After today, you will not need faith. It will be fact." Alexandros glanced down the valley. "They're five minutes away. It's time." 

 

As Gaius hurried to his post, Alexandros spread his consciousness. The auxiliaries on duty were wary as they had been warned of the appointed hour. In a moment, Gaius was at his spot along the aegis line, the last battle-psyker to take his place. Now, my sons. Manipulating the Warp and the eyes of men, Darshan and his eight sons vanished from sight. Over the vox, another announcement came.

 

"Activating stealth fields," Irvin said. "Fields activated. Captain Ricksher, confirm."

 

"Confirmed. No visual or energy imprint. You've gone dark."

 

"Beginning countdown. Remaining time: two hours, fifty-seven minutes, and forty-nine seconds."

 

They're here.

 

Alexandros focused his mind's eye at the portal entrance. Two minds as black as Old Night hovered near the gate.

 

They were quickly joined by another half dozen. Within their own minds echoed the sounds of wind and speed. Jetbikes. The scouting party waited for the last two members before the group took off at full speed. It was not long before Alexandros could physically see them. The fallen Eldar paused as they noted the new base in their valley. They split in two as the groups circle around the base on the valley walls. Their thoughts were amused with a sick hope for slaughter. 

 

Alarms sounded within the base as the 102nd became alert to the enemy. Auxiliaries rushed from their tents, throwing on gear as they reported to their designated zones. Instead of fearing the lost advantage of surprise, the reavers laughed, confident that this small force would be easy prey for the Miasma. They reached the farthest point in their encirclement. Behind them, Alexandros could see the auras of the recon marines as the reavers reached the closest point to them. 

 

Time paused as one Eldar gazed onto the plateau. 

 

Then he turned away as the jetbikes headed back to the portal, eager to bring news of their discovery back to Xenevo. 

 

"Did it work?" Wilhelm asked over the vox.

 

"For this party," Alexandros assured him. "Xenevo will send one more. Larger and with more dedicated sensors. That will be the true test."

 

Not long after the jetbikes return to the portal, a large hover-ship came out of the Webway. The raider traveled to the halfway point between the two camps as more Miasma forces spilled out of the portal. It sat there as it began its scans. Alexandros kept diligent watch over the minds within the raider as they reviewed the incoming information. He thought of the marines atop of the ridges around them. His mind snapped into focus as one of the Eldar noticed a discrepancy, which just happened to be where Captain Ricksher's position was located. Can't allow that

 

Darshan reached.

 

Before the Eldar could comment on it, Darshan was in its mind. A filthy place that he hated visiting, but work was to be done. He implanted a single thought. Better double-check. The fallen Eldar closed his mouth as he re-read the data. A simple illusion hid the anomaly. It read the paper a third time, confused. The illusion remained, saying that all was expected. Darshan tugged at its bloodlust. It wanted release, and why should it be denied because it read it wrong? Sated, the Eldar voiced the all-clear in its tongue, while putting away its findings. 

 

With a triumphant smile, Darshan returned his focus back to his body. He contacted Wilhelm. "They've taken the bait. Prepare for full-frontal assault."

 

For the next half an hour, the advance elements of the Miasma guarded the gate as the rest of their forces steadily exited. This left the 102nd in the unenviable position of waiting for the enemy as they gathered their strength. Reports were sent to Wilhelm and Alexandros every ten minutes from the ship in orbit as they scanned the enemy forces. So far, Alexandros estimates had held true, which offered some relief to the mortal commander. However, as the minutes dragged by, Alexandros wasn't blind to the rising tensions of the troopers. A fog of dark grey seeped into the unit's aura as they waited. But they were Solar Auxilia. Any complaints made were only whispered as discipline held them to their posts. 

 

Consulting his internal clock, Alexandros knew that they wouldn't have to wait longer for action. "Commander, five minutes before the first wave mobilizes." 

 

"Yes, my lord."

 

One of the nearby junior officers hesitantly glanced in Alexandros' direction. "My lord? Will they really waste a tenth of their forces in a futile attack?"

 

"Yes. Recently, Xenevo discovered one of his lieutenants conspiring against him and has given the 'honour' of striking first with his detachment. Xenevo is hoping they'll be wiped out while reducing our defenses."

 

Not a moment after the primarch had finish speaking, a portion of the Miasma organized themselves into an attack formation. Grav tanks bristling with warriors established a strong center, while jetbikes and hellions filled the flanks. 

 

Alexandros opened a vox channel. "Remember Captain Ricksher, you and your company are not to engage, until the last Miasma element is away from the portal."

 

A reluctant affirmative answered. 

 

The first wave resembled a large V-formation when they finally began to move across the valley. Although odds of survival were low, Xenevo's lieutenant was intent on maximizing his chances. Alexandros spotted his mind at the rear of the entire formation. Making a soft sound of disgust, he scoured the warrior's mind without disturbing it. He learned that his best warriors had been assigned to his right flank. "Sub-Commander Wilhelm. The strongest blow will fall on our left."

 

"Affirmative, my lord." Over the vox, Alexandros listened as Wilhelm deployed one of the reserve Nemean battle tanks to the proper flank. When designing battle plans, enough space existed between tercios to allow re-deployment of their small vehicle fleet, if necessary. A Nemean Exterminator rumbled forward between infantry as it bolstered their defenses. 

 

As the enemy force reached the halfway point between the camp and the webway gate, engines screamed as the entire force moved all out. One of the lieutenants on a tower reported, "Less than thirty seconds until enemy reaches weapon range."

 

Alexandros took a deep breath. His consciousness split into several hundred pieces as his mind expanded and enveloped the soldiers closest to him. Hundreds of futures played out in front of him. My sons. Following their father's example, the Storm Rider psykers opened their minds to the Warp as they sought to boost their allies. One shard of Darshan stood next to the auxilia operating one of the quad guns. In ten seconds, that grav tank is going to attempt to 'hop' over your first volley, he warned as he highlighted the Raider in the man's mind. Thanks to Alex's initial briefing, the trooper only twitched before nodding his head. Show it its folly of attacking Humanity and bring it down.

 

Yes, my lord. The trooper, Bru, answered. 

 

The seconds ticked.

 

"Enemy has reached weapons range!"

 

Thunder roared down the line as quad guns, autocannons, and other heavy weapons opened fire.

 

True to his vision, the pilot of the raider briefly boosted his grav's strength, and it went into the air. Into the waiting fire of Bru's shots. The heavy-caliber rounds tore through the tanks weak armor, and the vehicle exploded. Alexandros could see half of the warriors aboard be consumed by fire and shrapnel. The survivors stumbled away from the wreck. Alexandros smiled.

 

First blood.

 

The raider wasn't the only one to explode as other unlucky grav tanks were hit at critical locations. Nor did they occupy the 102nd's full attention. Hellions and Reavers were shredded by ballistics raining through them. The only vehicles to avoid the wrath of the Imperium were the Venoms as they weaved and ducked behind the larger raiders. 

 

Cowards, Alexandros thought to himself as he directed Gru to fire on one as it slipped out from a raider. It did not die in fire, but a hit against the engines brought it to a halt where it could safely be destroyed later. If there was one thing Alexandros was thankful for the Drukhari was their short-ranged weapons. Unfortunately, this one-sided fight couldn't last much longer. Even from here, his augmented sight could see disintegrator cannons and splinter weapons lock onto targets as they reached firing range. 

 

Ten seconds before the counter-fire arrived, Alexandros asked, "Wilhelm, estimated enemy casualties?"

 

The Auxilia commander was prompt. "Estimated 18-22%, my lord."

 

It'll do, Darshan thought to himself as the main shard of his mind returned to its body.

 

Five seconds passed.

 

The small army of Darshans shifted their attention from offense to defense. To a void sergeant seven meters off to his left, Darshan warned him that a crystal of a splinter rifle would embed itself in his cheek, if he didn't drop to his knees in two seconds. Along the wall, another Darshan urged one of the quad gunners to shove himself against the aegis wall, lest a distingerator ray destroy him and his gun. A dozen examples followed as Darshan did all he could to shield his charges from harm. 

 

The enemy entered into range.

 

A storm of poisoned crystals crashed into the Imperial defenses. Despite Darshan's efforts, auxiliaries screamed as crystals cut through their chests. More followed as men who were only nicked became overcome by the vile poisons coursing through their bodies. To Darshan, intense colors of red rage, dark agony exploded before the human lights faded out into death. 

 

Although invisible, a stray round could've pierced his enormous physical form. Hence, why the main shard of his mind returned to its home. Moving only when necessary, his shield intercepted all incoming fire. And perhaps a few shots directed at the men behind him. In the chaos of battle, Alexandros knew no corrupted Eldar was going to notice a few shots stopping mid-air. As the distance between the two armies closed, the cacophony reached new heights when the Auxilia added their lasguns to the fray. Unable to harm the grav tanks, the Hellions and Reavers felt the full force of the lasgun volleys. The squads too eager to hide behind the raiders were slaughtered to a xeno. As the last easy kill crashed to the ground, the battle intensified as targets reached maximum effective range of infantry weapons . More Solar Auxilia fell to the foul xeno weapons as field medics did all they could to save any, but the Eldar suffered worse as the first transports reached Imperial lines. 

Squads of warriors leaped off Raiders and Venoms, firing, as they sprinted towards the camp's perimeter. Darshan twitched as he felt one of his son's choler rising, along with his volkite. Not yet, Vitz. The Storm Rider answered with a chastened, I obey, Father. During the exchange, the 102nd proved its discipline. The few tercios being charged went fell auto, trading accuracy for weight of fire. The lasgun rounds reaped ranks of xeno warriors, dropping entire squads at a time.

 

One xeno's hand briefly touched the wall before he was cut down. His companions, the few left, broke and ran toward the wreck of their former transport. It did them no good as they would die in due time. As Alexandros' eyes scanned the field, he was happy to note that no other Eldar had come as close. In fact, this brief assault was already collapsing. The xenos simply lacked the numbers to soak the damage being done to them. Combined with the Storm Riders' divination, the 102nd's accurate salvos beat back the few charges made. 

 

Now, Eldar grav tanks attempted to do what damage they could, while dodging incoming fire as troops huddled around wrecks. Despite their prodigious speed, the Hellions and the Reapers had been cleansed from the sky. It would not be long before this first attack was over.

 

While the Miasma died, Alexandros opened a channel to Wilhelm. "How many casualties?" 

"My lord, despite the forces arrayed against, I'm pleased to report we only lost five percent of the unit. I was expecting at least fifteen percent and, at least, several instances of close combat with these hellish creatures. Yet, this has far exceeded my expectations. I've also noted that casualties near yourself and the other Storm Rider...specialists are unusually light. My only concern is that our performance may cause Xenevo to make a tactical withdrawal." 

"You needn't worry, Wil," Alex answered. "His pride won't let him leave this early." He switched channels. "Irvin, are the generators continuing to perform as expected?" 

"Yes, my lord. The only issue is time. We're nearing the second hour, and there's no sign of the main Miasma force mobilizing." 

"Don't worry, Irvin. It won't be long now." 

Darshan turned his attention toward his enemy. He knew what Xenevo was waiting on. The Archon had finished preparing his forces and was now watching his lieutenant and his men die beneath the 102nd's guns. To him, it was an amusing spectacle. While Darshan also relished the death of these foul beings, this was no time to dawdle. Most of the first wave had succumbed, leaving the lieutenant and a few of his guards, hiding behind a wreck while pressing themselves against the ground. A pointless effort that would buy, at most, a few more minutes. 

Darshan decided to help them meet their end sooner. The four warriors only had a moment to recoil from his mind invading their own. In seconds, he subjugated their wills, eager to be done with this small task. Now in control, he forced them to stand to their feet before making them leap over their only cover. They covered three meters before each of them was burned to death by a dozen beams burning through them. 

Xenevo mentally 'tsked' in his mind as one shard of Darshan listened in on his thoughts. His entertainment taken from him, he gave the order everyone was waiting for: attack.

 

As large as that first attack was, it paled as the entire Kabal launched from their assembly area. The air filled with grav engines screaming into the air as the Miasma took off at breakneck speeds toward the base. Fear and discipline warred within each human's mind as thousands of xeno warriors came straight at them. There would be no easy victory for the Auxilia here. Although he sympathized with his charges, Alexandros was eager to reveal himself. While a tactical necessity, being invisible had an air of cowardice about it. Human engines rumbled as Wilhelm deployed two more Nemean main battle tank squadrons to the front line. The extra firepower would be sorely needed. 

Again, Darshan's consciousness split into dozens of shards, all connected to the main shard within his physical body. Thousands of futures played before their eyes as they navigated the path to victory. Captain Ricksher's voice came over the vox. "Last enemy unit is one hundred meters away from Webway entrance. No xenos unit is making any attempt to protect their path of retreat." 

Ricksher's marines knew they couldn't engage until the xenos were one two kilometers away from the entrance. A glance revealed that the forward elements of the Miasma would be within max weapons range in less than a minute. There was no doubt that the 102nd would have to endure the enemy attack for precious seconds before the Storm Riders could counter-attack. 

"Last enemy unit three hundred meters away from Webway entrance."

 

Again, Imperial artillery started a cacophony as they sought to wound the approaching xeno beast. Darshan and the Storm Rider psykers guided their shots to maximum effect as grav tanks were brought low. But this dark flood would not be denied. Coordinating a dozen distingerator rays, Xenevo had them target the center bastion. The Imperial tower's armor weathered a few of the rays before it was overwhelmed. The entire tower exploded, ripping a hole in the defence lines as troopers were thrown and shredded. Alexandros jerked his shield to his side to ward off a wave of shrapnel, while his body absorbed the concussion without ill effect. 

"Fill that gap!" Alexandros commanded as he inched towards the new crater. Over the vox, Wilhelm ordered reserve lasrifle sections into the breach and to create any kind of emplacement they could. Auxiliaries rushed forward, dodging Eldar rounds as they shoved debris into a makeshift line. By this point, the Miasma had closed the remaining weapons distance. The entire line was now engaged as lasrifles pumped volleys into the approaching xenos. Reaver jetbike squadrons cut through the nearest corners, slicing off limbs and heads as they aimed their blades at the unfortunate troopers. The last of the Nemeans opened fire as it attempted to stem the tide. 

"Last xeno unit one kilometer away," Ricksher announced. 

Six Raiders halted near the breach. As splinter shards washed over the nearby human elements, the first of hundreds of xeno warriors jumped out of the skiffs. The growing mob charged at the pinned troopers. 

Finally

At the head of this wave was an eager Sybarite wielding a spiked whip. He lashed out and two troopers fell shrieking. He leaped over the ad hoc wall as he readied his whip another blow. The warriors behind him halted when the Sybarite's head slipped off his neck. 

Casting off the invisibility, Alexandros towered above them all with a grin as blood dripped off of his blade, Xiphos. "Defenders of the Imperium, we will stand!"

 

For all of the vulgarities of their race, these fallen Eldar obeyed one universal rule of war: never fire into close combat. crushing prisoners during battle, torturing enemy combatants on whim, betraying superior officers. All this was acceptable yet not firing into assaults. While peculiar, Alexandros intended to take full advantage of it. His mere presence terrified the warriors standing before him, but he needed enough of them to prevent the rest of the Miasma from shooting him. Not even he could hope to deflect that many shots. He invaded the minds of a dozen warriors and forced them onward even as the rest of the warriors fled. 

Xiphos sang through the air the Primarch sliced his way through the first six of them. Limbs and heads toppled onto the ground before the xenos made their reply. Seeing three steps ahead of them, Alexandros parried blades and blocked blows with complete accuracy. He bashed against one warrior with his shield and the Eldar remained consciousness long enough to feel several thousand bones break before collapsing. Their pitiable armor opened before Xiphos' edge. The lone survivor turned to run, saved as three more squads charged in. Alexandros memorized the runner's face. He would not reach Commorragh this day. 

 

Although facing against more than twenty warriors, Alexandros never lost sight of the battle around him. The entire 102nd was engaged. The forward Miasma infantry units had taken heavy casualties but had ended the Imperials' range advantage as they had charged over the wall. The jetbikes and Hellions had flown around the base, unleashing salvos and attacked both flanks and the rear sections of the base. Skimmers had spread out as they continued blasting away, taking down two Nemeans and another tower. 

Alexandros was aware of all of this even as the human lines were beaten back. Auxiliaries swung rifles as clubs against their nimble foes, but were dying as corrupted Eldar wielded more lethal arms against them. In the minutes since Darshan had cast off his cloak of invisibility, he was slowly being surrounded by a sea of spikes. The auxiliaries closest to him fought hard as his telepathic voice forewarned them out of death's hand. Other shards of Darshan stood next to other auxiliaries, telling them when to duck, block, or dodge out of the way of danger. All the while, he kept his own vision split between his enemies and the future. 

Another squad of Eldar warriors broke beneath his prowess, over half their slain dead. Yet, they were now the exception instead of the rule. While Alexandros stood untouched, the numbers were dramatically shifting against him. More warriors were running towards him, eager to be the first to draw his blood. Drawing as much danger as he could away from the auxiliaries, Alexandros shouted challenges as Xiphos drowned in their cruor. He swung his shield and four more warriors dropped, their bodies broken. 

Wilhelm was shouting across the vox. "Pull back the Nemeans!" 

From within his mind's eye, Darshan could see what was happening. On their right flank, one daring group of jetbikes had flown right over one of the towers, slicing through the men on top of the battlements. Their appetite only whetted, they had continued deeper into the base and were now trying to find a weak spot on two Nemeans who had been lobbing shells forward. Engaged, the tank drivers threw their engines into reverse while the gunners futilely fired at the speeding demons. Several nearby lasrifle sections double-timed toward the fight. Yet, for every second the jetbikes were harassing the tanks was another second of denying their needed firepower to the Imperials. 

"By Terra, what are those?" Bru cried. 

Alexandros already knew of what he spoke of. Advancing toward them, a rabble of giants unleashed muffled roars beneath metal helmets. Bulging muscles and surgery scars were the least of their horrid afflictions as they hungered for battle. Their titles echoing through the Eldars' minds: grotesques.

 

The Son of the Emperor stepped forward, slicing through three xeno chests. "Watch my back," he ordered the few troopers with him. 

"Yes, my lord!" They answered him. It was an unspoken mercy. No auxiliary appreciated being told to get behind someone else, but these monsters were beyond them. 

Swinging butcher cleavers the size of men and hideous mechanical gauntlets, the grotesques charged. 

Darshan roared, voice charged with the power of the Warp. The Eldar were forced back, giving him the few precious seconds he needed to imbue that same power into his sword. Now, armed with an ethereal edge, Alexandros met them head on. He dodged the clumsy first blow and nicked the monster on the arm. It squealed as its inhuman life was sucked out of it. In one future, a cleaver embedded itself in his side because he took one extra step to the left. Avoiding that future, he moved right, deflecting the cleaver with his shield before plunging his sword into this grotesque's chest. Like the other, the Warp made a mockery of it's unholy resilience. 

Now, he was surrounded by the monsters.

 

Around them, explosions and shrapnel cleared the area. Alexandros could hear Wilhelm yell orders, rerouting precious Nemean support fire to keep any more Eldar from overwhelming the primarch. The ten giants would be challenge enough, Alexandros reluctantly agreed. With brute single-mindedness, the grotesques attacked. Alexandros parried, blocked, and dodged. But even with his prescient vision, he was overwhelmed. A cleaver caught him in the side, his armor reducing it to a small gash. A metallic claw tore at his shoulder, piercing adamantium to wreck muscle. 

Alexandros made them pay dearly for drawing his blood. Sword still glowing purple from the Warp, he struck at their weak souls, snuffing them out in a single blow. He cut, stabbed, and thrusted. Four of the monsters succumbed, leaving six more to hunger for his life. Behind him, he could hear the auxiliaries shouting as several sections abandoned their dictated positions to come to his aid. The troopers who had stood with him had been driven back by the tide of Eldar warriors. He stood alone. If another stood in his place, Alexandros wouldn't have blamed him from fearing he had underestimated his enemy. 

He knew better. 

"Last xeno unit two kilometers away from the Webway!" Ricksher declared. 

Three events occurred simultaneously. 

Far behind the Miasma, an explosion of light occurred before replaced by a golden light. The Emperor had entered the field of battlefield. A hundred Eldar heads exploded as Ricksher's snipers announced their support. Above all of this, humans and xenos were briefly deafened as jump packs screamed all around them. Flying through the air, Irvin and his assault marines reached the apex of their flight, dimming the valley with hundreds of shadows. Darshan could taste the delicious surprise echoing from the Eldar minds. 

The trap had sprung.

 

While the Miasma's destruction was guaranteed, Alexandros still faced against six grotesques alone. He gritted his teeth as one tackled into him. Although covered in bulging muscles, the grotesque was weaker. He nicked it. As the Warp ate its twisted life, he shoved its body with enough force to propel it into a few feet into the air and into two of its brothers. Briefly, the numbers were more equal with three against one. Adding in Alexandros' skill and power rendered it far more lopsided. He ducked beneath a cleaver, cutting through the grotesque's side as he came back up. Harnessing his momentum, he charged into another, breaking a kneecap with a powerful kick before he decapitated the beast. He deflected a claw from the third before he swung the side of his shield into its exposed neck. With a hideous crack, the grotesque toppled to the ground, dead. 

Alexandros faced the two remaining grotesques. 

As primitive as their minds were, they understood fear. The two ran away, howling through their enclosed helmets. They reached six paces before a brief torrent of las-fire cut them down. Alex glanced over his shoulder. A full rout was infecting the Miasma. Right behind the retreating xenos was the 102nd and Irvin's detachment. Lieutenant Bowditch waved a sword forward as he led several tercios after their enemies. "Forward for the Imperium!" He shouted, the auxilia pausing only to shoot at their fleeing foes. 

"My lord," Wilhelm explained over the vox. "Victory is ours." 

Alexandros grinned before he sprinted after his prey. "Almost."

 

A race broke out as human and transhuman raced to secure more kills than the other. Lasguns threw volley of volley into the retreating Eldar, overwhelming armor with sheer volume. The Storm Riders fought with unequaled skill as they snuffed out enemy lives with measured blows. Alexandros ignored the easy prey as he aimed for the last true center of Eldar resistance. Xenevo's retreat had been arrested when his raider lost its engine to a lucky lascannon shot. Now, he gathered his Trueborn fighters to make a stand. Several marine squads had died by their hands, along with a couple of lasrifle sections. 

Alexandros was determined to end their stand. 

 

The nine xeno warriors and their leader were using the wreck of a venom as cover as they poured splinter and darklight fire at any that neared their position. Keeping one eye three seconds into the future, Alexandros raised his shield and charged. Given his physical stature, it did not take them long to notice the rushing giant coming straight at them. His shield jerked in every direction as he blocked every shot that threatened him. The blast from their dark lance slowed him down a for a second before he shrugged it off. Then, he was upon them. 

"Xenevo!" Alexandros challenged as he readied his blade. "Face me, I will have your head for the misery you've inflicted on Delos!" 

The Archon, wearing gleaming armor of midnight, hooked and barbed, took a step back even as he sneered. "I remember when you were nothing more than an unblooded whelp, I won't taint my hands with your weak blood!" He pointed at the Primarch with a smoking blade. "Kill him!" His command given, he sprinted away. Alexandros could sense the Trueborns' resentment as they knew they were being tossed away. He shared their resentment as his target slipped away. So, he decided to give his resentment to the Trueborn through the tip of his sword. Four of them were dead before they could land a blow. The other five moved with sinful grace and murderous intent as they sought to pierce Alexandros' armor. All failed. 

Before Alexandros could strike again, thunder filled the air before Irvin and several marines crashed into the Trueborn warriors on jets of flame. 

 

Wielding his infamous Reaper Claws, the Lord Commander swung with efficient, short bursts that cut through the Trueborn. One Trueborn jabbed at the veteran warrior. Irvin caught the blade between his right claw. With a jerk, the powered strands of adamantium shredded the xeno weapon. The Reaper of Terra countered, his left claw disembowling his would-be killer. 

 

The remaining Trueborn fell quickly beneath Alexandros' sons. Alexandros scanned the field and spotted Xenevo running toward his closest allies. A floating monstrosity of metal and flesh was consuming an entire space marine as it stripped away armor and harvested the misfortunate warrior piece by piece as it fired other weapons against approaching Imperials. Standing in its shadow was a tall figure covered in twisted scars with a wave of fresh ones being added, one beam of red energy melting a hand into a bloody mess. Despite this, the figure watched the battle with quiet amusement even as it casually shot at auxilia with a splinter pistol.

 

On Delos, this ugly pair existed as some of the terrifying monsters in Delian folklore. The hovering beast had been dubbed a pivschaza, a man-eating demon that had eaten thousands with its insatiable appetite. The other was its master, the rakakata, a demon of deep evil who sought only to feast upon the misery of innocents. Alexandros glanced at Irvin and his squad. "I'll race you to them."

 

Irvin's helmet hid his expression, but Darshan could see his aura shift from disciplined anger to bewilderment. "As you will, my lord." 

 

The primarch exploded into powerful, long strides as he moved full speed toward his target. Behind him, he heard the roar of jump packs as Irvin and his assault marines struggled to match his speed. In three seconds, the xenos noticed the rapidly approaching threats. The rakakata languidly pointed his beast toward Alexandros. The floating beast turned to face him before it was engulfed in a miniature star. Alexandros' shield was already raised between him and the overwhelming light even as he sent a telepathic message praising the Nemean's gunner for an excellent shot. 

 

Xenevo picked himself off the ground, melting armor sloughing off burnt flesh. Although he merely grunted, Darshan could read the immeasurable amount of pain the Archon was in. With a satisfied grin, Alexandros stopped right in front of him, enjoying the sight. Xenevo glared with pure hatred as one arm tried to raise his weapon. "You," he gasped. 

 

"Delos is avenged," Alexandros declared quietly, his grin widening, before he swung his sword down. The Archon gargled before his bifurcated halves collapsed into the ground. 

 

Alexandros glanced at Irvin as the latter trudged up next to him. "During the last few campaigns, I led the Delian army to victory time and time again against the Miasma's land forces. But our fleet never matched theirs. Every time I saved another village or city from his rapacious scum, Xenevo would take to the vox and taunt the world from above orbit, beyond my reach." The Primarch released a happy sigh. "To end him before he could give another speech? Very satisfying." 

Irvin nodded before he pointed one of his claws at the burnt eldar before them. "What of this...thing, my lord?" 

The rakakata released a mangle chuckle as it pushed itself into a seated position, half of it covered in plasma burns, one arm melted off. Yet, it gave no sign it was in pain. Around it, auxilia and marines gathered. Alexandros glanced around and saw that the battle was over, only this corrupted creature was all that remained of the Miasma. The scene brightened as the Emperor and his golden Custodians marched through the ring, mortals and transhumans clearing a path for him with heads bowed. 

It was only when the Emperor approached did the rakakata become unnerved. The Emperor regarded it for a brief moment before addressing his son. "It appears you have a prisoner of war, Alexandros. What do you wish of it?" 

Muttering loudly, Irvin said, "It is a xeno, death is the only answer." 

The rakakata was amused by this. "I've died a thousand deaths," it cackled as it looked up at the Primarch. "Each more interesting than the last. No death you could give me would cause me to fear." 

"You're right," Alexandros admitted as he stepped towards it. "You are a particularly debaunched member of your kind. You live off of pain and death." Then Alexandros grinned as he reached out with one hand. His massive hand cupped the eldar's head, leaving a slit between his fingers so he could stare into its eyes. He lifted it up to his full height, letting the rakakata's legs dangle a few feet off the ground. "But could you answer this question? How can you enjoy your sick perversions if you have no memories to draw upon?" 

It gave him a quizzical look. 

Darshan's grin widened before he reached within its tainted mind. Panic shook through the monster as Darshan grabbed ahold of its memories. With righteous anger, Darshan proceeded to shred its mind, memory by memory. A mind eons old was emptied in a few minutes. 

It screamed the entire time. 

 

When the last memory was gone, Alexandros released his grip. The Eldar toppled to the ground like a rag doll, its eyes vacant. Irvin walked up next to his gene-sire. "Shall I finish it, my lord?"

 

Alex shook his head. "No need. Let it waste away out here."

 

"Behold, such is the price to be an enemy of the Imperium," the Emperor declared, his voice magnified. "The day is yours, my son. The Miasma lay annihilated, their remains to be burned into oblivion."

 

A proud smile erupted on Alexandros' face. "Thank you, my Emperor."

 

The Emperor stepped forward before reaching out to grasp Alexandros' wrist. He lifted high into the air as he proclaimed, "Hail, Alexandros, the Xeno Bane!"

 

Marines and auxilia alike released a cacophony of cheer as they recognized the Imperium's latest victory.


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#6
simison

simison

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Chapter 5: The Worst Kind of Mold, Part 1

 

Many of his soldiers had been intimidated by the black armor, the spikes, and the skulls that were hallmarks of the corrupted Eldar. Alexandros had been nonplussed by the gaudy attempts at fear. What he did remember was the smell. Although he knew Eldar senses were more sensitive than humans, a subtle stench coated every tool of war. It comprised one part of old blood, one part decayed flesh, mixed in with rotted bodily fluids from an uncountable number of bodies and species. Worse, the stench extended into the Warp around them, so it offended both Alexandros' physical senses and Darshan's psychic senses.

 

Yet, it did not compare to the hideous odor that assaulted his senses.

 

Curse this ork-infested space hulk.

 

At least Darshan didn't mentally wince every time he touched one of their minds. No, their minds were a stranger beast compared to the Drukhari. Like the Eldar, every mind was connected to the Warp with varying degrees of strength. Unlike the Eldar, who were always aware of their connection, most Orks were oblivious to their innate Warp power. It was why they never ran out of ammo, unless they thought they were out of ammo. It was amusing and frightening at the same time.

Of course, they had their own Warpcraft experts, Darshan reminded himself as he exerted his power. 

The Ork psyker in front of the wall of shields was a bright, purple star to Darshan's eyes. The undisciplined xeno had allowed himself to be filled by the chaotic energy, until it threatened to rupture its body. In its mind's eye, Darshan had seen its plan to unleash its power in a single shot that would try to explode Alexandros' mind. Seeing as he didn't particularly wanted to experience the novel sensation of head explosions, Darshan had countered. 

Against an Eldar, Darshan would usually use his power to interrupt the psyker's connection to the Warp and deny them the power for their spell. Against this weirdboy, as he was known to his kind, Darshan chose a different route. He created a bubble of Warp energy and wrapped it around the weirdboy's head. The beast yelled in fear when it realized he couldn't cast the 'eadbanger. The energy continued to build up in its head as it was denied a chance for release. Until, it was too late. 

The nearby Orks grunted in surprise when they were showered by blood and brain matter. 

 

Alexandros smiled as he brought up his shield to ward off vengeful gunfire. The wall-to-wall rank of breachers protected only the lower half of Alexandros, thanks to his large size. "Advance!" He ordered. 

 

As 3rd squad lifted the shield wall a few centimeters before marching forward through the large corridor, Alexandros studied the information filtering through his helmet. His right eye monitored his legion's progress as they steadily fought their way deeper into this mangled hunk of rock and machine. The Scourge of Treachery had warped into the Saxonia system a day ago, the Orks ready to raid the nearby systems for loot and a good fight. Instead, they found Alexandros' 35th Expeditionary Fleet waiting for them, weapons ready. The first ten hours of operational combat had been a struggle as the Orks attempted to first breakthrough the Imperium lines with ships of all kinds. Taking direct command of the fleet, Alexandros had blunted their offensive before countering. 

 

Alexandros fired his pistol at one nob who was about to lead a charge. With the Ork ancillary ships burning in the void, Alexandros had organized his legion before he launched the legion's most massive boarding campaign to date. The mission was simple: eliminate all Orks, search for any relics and destroy the space hulk.

 

Of the three objectives, it was the Orks providing the most resistance. A mob of Ork boyz rained countless rounds upon the solid wall of Warden breachers, vainly hoping to find a weak spot in the mobile wall. Any round that might have threatened one of his sons was predicted by Darshan's future-sight, and a warning sent to the endangered marine. 

 

The same did not hold true in reverse.

 

While the boyz attempted to press themselves against the hallway's walls for some cover, Darshan directed the fire of his sons. One boyz near the hallway's exit believed himself to be safe so far behind his kin. Darshan would prove him wrong. The primarch shifted through future moments, until he found an image of the exact moment when the boy would be most vulnerable. Darshan reached into the mind of one of his marines and showed them what would occur in the next 2.47 seconds. 

 

As you will, my lord, the Rider answered, taking careful aim with his volkite. In less than two seconds, the Ork jumped from his place. Half a second later, a red beam burned through its skull. The instant fireball caught the Ork next to the dying one by surprised as the flames caught onto its clothes.

 

As one corpse fell to the ground and the other Ork shrieked, Darshan 'said', Excellent shot, my son.

 

And so it went, the living wall of Warden shields deflecting danger as the breachers advanced down the hallway, whittling away at the mob with precise shots. They were less than thirty metres from the hallway's exit when the last Ork succumbed to its wounds. Not a moment passed before a new danger arrived. Ten Orks filled the mouth of the hallway in a well-rehearsed drill. Every one of them had rocket pack strapped to their back. The nob commanding them bellowed, "Take aim!" 

 

All of them bowed forward, the rocket packs aimed at Alexandros' line. 

 

Next to Alexandros, scarred Jorg muttered. "Are they serious?"

 

Alex answered, "Without a doubt."

 

"FIRE!"

 

As one, the Stormboyz ignited their rockit packs. With only seconds before impact, Darshan identified two Stormboyz who'd end up crashing into the walls and killing themselves removing any threat they might have posed. To the three breachers in front of him, Darshan sent a single telepathic command. Cease fire.

 

Alexandros leaped over their heads.

 

With four seconds to impact and mid-air, he squeezed the trigger on his plasma blaster twice. The two plasma missiles melted two Stormboyz as one of them crashed into a wall. Alexandros landed in front of his sons before bracing himself behind his shield. Volkite fire shot down another Stormboyz. 

 

Then impact.

 

Blood exploded and bone shattered as several of the brutes crashed into hapless breachers, killing marines and Orks both. Alexandros' arm shook as one then a second Stormboy dashed themselves against his shield, forcing him back a couple of centimetres. To the surprise of many, the Nob slammed into the primarch and remained there. It's rockit pack still firing, it pushed against Alexandros' strength. It peered over the shield's edge and screamed "WAAAAAGH!" into Alexandros' face.

 

Alexandros grimaced.

 

"If I ever fail to exterminate your species, I will introduce the concept of dental hygiene to you lot," he promised before shoving the muzzle of his plasma blaster against the Nob's forehead. With the squeeze of a trigger, the Nob's head became a miniature star. 

 

The hallway clear, Alexandros surveyed the breacher squad. Two marines were dead, another suffering from broken bones, and a few more light injuries passed around. The remaining Orks were dead, either by the force of their own impacts or put down by his sons. Jorg approached him. "Apothecary will need a few minutes to stabilize Urald. We could leave him here with a guard detail. What are your orders?"

 

"Set up a perimeter," Alexandros said without hesitation. "A bulk of the horde is in that chamber ahead of us. If we attack now, a few of them will slip by us and kill Urald, Hus, and their guards. Besides, I want to use the opportunity to contact the other detachments."

 

With thinly-veiled impatience, Jorg nodded. "As you will, my lord." His eagerness for battle colored his aura in blazing scarlet. Alexandros brushed that aside as he read through the unending flow of information coming through his helmet. The roughly 20,000 Storm Riders had been divided into five detachments, boarding the space hulk from the bow, port, starboard, top and the keel sides, battling their way from the exterior to the interior. Digital readouts reminded Alexandros that his bow detachment had made the most progress and was nearing the center of the hulk where this Waaagh's Warboss resided along with his final reserves. 

 

He switched to his vox's private channels, starting with the Port detachment. "Chapter Master Lothar, report."

 

"My lord! We've secured 47% of our target area and discovered nine archaeotech relics. Artifacts are being transported to the hangars and should be safe aboard our vessels within the hour. Our advance should rendezvous with your forward units in one hour, forty minutes ahead of our initial predictions." 

 

With a smile in his voice, Alexandros answered, "Excellent work, Chapter Master. Carry on."

"By the Emperor!" Lothar replied before the channel was ended. 

Moving to the starboard detachment, Alexandros called, "Lord Commander Ruel, progress report." Over the vox, Alexandros heard a grunt tied to the sound of powered metal slicing through hard flesh with a hurricane of sound in the background 

 

Although Chapter Master Lothar was an exemplary commander, there were other factors for why the port detachment, dubbed Strike Force Tsunami for this battle, had reached as far as it had. Irvin's detachment, Strike Force Inferno, had seized an early lead, a given with Irvin leading the charge. The Orks had responded by throwing some of their most battle-hardened mobs at the Legion Master. According to the data readouts flashing by Alexandros' eyes, they had slowed but not stopped Irvin's relentless push. It did offer Strike Force Tsunami a valuable opportunity to puncture drained defenses, which Lothar had masterfully accomplished.

 

"My lord, the greenskins are offering moderate resistance to our advance. Unit casualties have not exceeded 15% and are being managed by the Apothecarion, and rotating forward companies with reserve companies. 7th, 10th," Irvin began, all the while combat providing background noise, one instance involving an Ork screaming as though it were being eviscerated. Which Alexandros knew Irvin was wont to do.

 

"Lord Commander," Alex patiently interrupted, "Just the basics. How much ground have you covered, how many relics, and are you on schedule?"

 

There was a pause as Irvin evaluated his incoming answer. In the background, Alexandros could hear an Ork roar, "Imma gonna roast you gits reals good, see!" It was immediately followed by the sound of living flame. No doubt that Ork was about to learn how futile of a weapon flamethrowers were to space marines. "41% of target territory is secured. Four relics have been discovered and secured. Estimated time to rendezvous is two hours and fifteen minutes."

 

"Thank you, Lord Commander." 

 

Strike Force Earthquake advanced from the 'bottom', or the keel side, of the space hulk and was making the least amount of progress, according to combat data. Alexandros opened a private vox channel to Chapter Master Qapibain. "Chapter Master, progress report, I'd like to know the source of this delay." 

 

"I have no excuses, my lord!" Qapibain declared over the sound of thunder of explosions. Alexandros recognized a wave of missile launchers firing before accompanied by the thuds of detonations. "The Orks have blockaded several passageways, including the main cavern, with several battalions of tanks. We have units trying to clear them, but the tanks are swarming with infantry and several tanks are being protected by forcefields. Many of the smaller hallways are packed with greenskins as well. We are engaging them on all fronts, while Companies 9 & 17 are cutting through alternate routes. They will be able to outflank the Orks, but it'll take another hour, my lord."

 

Darshan looked down through the floor for a moment before he sent a shard of his consciousness toward the battlezone. The spirit shard flew down through countless floors as the metallic hallways of the former ship gave way to the rock of gathered planetoid debris, now held in place against the old vessel by forces both natural and unnatural. He soon came upon the first of the many skirmishes between the strike force and the Ork horde. Over the centuries, the stone had gradually formed several large corridors and caves with hundreds of smaller capillaries. The Orks had transformed the areas into a series of vehicle bays, hence the numerous heavy tanks holding back the Storm Riders. 

 

This would not do. 

 

Darshan cycled through several hundred thousand futures as he prepared to select his first target. Every future agreed that striking down any Ork tanks in the main chamber, where the heaviest fighting was occurring, would only lengthened the battle. In those futures, the Storm Riders did begin to push back the Ork lines, but then were thrown back as Ork reserves and the nearby mobs in the other chambers reinforced the main force. This would allow eventual victory as the Storm Riders pushed through in the smaller caverns and side passages, but it ended with the Orks being wiped out in the main chamber. No doubt some of his sons would prefer such a glorious fight, but it would also galvanize the Orks to fight harder, thus higher casualties.

 

Alexandros preferred his sons alive, glorified or not.

 

With that decision made, he eliminated 200,000 potential futures as he directed his focus on the smaller skirmishes. After a second, Darshan established a general trend. A breakthrough on the flanks did lead to a quicker and less costly victory, but there were limits. If Alexandros intervened on the far flanks, it made little difference as Storm Riders would have to spread out to continue securing all areas of the Space Hulk before either working their way back into the flanks or reaching other Ork elements, causing more combat as legion lines were extended. Too close to the main chamber, and it simply ended the same way before with the Orks bloody last stand. No, it was somewhere in the center of the flanks were the best path lay. When the Storm Riders successfully penetrated in those zones, Orks would leave the main chamber to block the advances, bleeding out the horde in the chamber, while allowing the Storm Riders to disrupt their flanks.

 

With only a few hundred futures to peer through, Darshan promptly found the key to cause an Ork collapse.  

 

Roughly a kilometre east of the main chamber was a much smaller cave. Long and narrow, it had two entrances, much like a standard hallway but was wide enough to fit three land raiders side by side. That is, were it not for the lack of a floor for half the chamber. The center of the chamber had formed into a thin walkway over a chasm due to some recent seismic activity. The pit was ninety-six metres deep, well past the point of lethality without some kind of grav device or jump pack, and Darshan could already see corpses littering the bottom, most of them in Storm Rider grey. Only two spots in the room had cover in the form of stalagmites, one group near the marines' entrance, while a second bunch sat next to the walkway on the Ork side. Behind that cover, the Orks had deployed three tanks, all converted Nemean Main Battle Tanks, Darshan noted. From their position of cover, they rained fire on any Storm Rider assault and, with a couple of plasma cannons, rendered even breacher marines a risky prospect. The tanks were supported by several heavy weapon, or loota, squads and more storm boyz itching for a fight. 

 

9th Company was represented by four breacher squads, a recon squad, two missile launcher support squads, and three assault squads. None of them were at full strength, and most of them were holding behind their cover or waiting in the hallway connected to the entrance. Through the west wall, Darshan sensed two more squads who were cutting through the rock, while their brothers held the Orks' attention. They would succeed, but only after a lengthy period of time. Darshan reached out to his sons and quickly located the current commanding officer: Lieutenant Skarzeni. 

 

The shard of Darshan hovered next to Skarzeni, who was briefing his sergeants. "Mag!" Skarzeni barked. "Why is that yellow Nob still alive? I've had Zer's and Echeyer's squads give you cover twice now." 

 

Magnold shook his head as he reloaded his sniper rifle. "Just pure chance, Skar. One of my men had a bead on it when it punched one of the smaller ones directly into the line of fire. A half-second before, that greenskin would be breathing through a new hole in its skull."

 

"Well, it isn't, and it's still directing that loota squad," Skar groused. "You know those beasts are brutes in close combat, I want it dead long before Narcariel's squad breaks through."

 

Skarzeni.

 

With a tight discipline borne of hours of fruitful training, every Storm Rider aimed every weapon at the empty space that the shard occupied. "Identify!" Skarzeni shouted out. Although it required extra effort, Darshan could see their unsettled auras. With a moment's concentration, the shard manifested itself a ghostly copy of his physical body.

 

Stand down, lieutenant.

 

The Storm Riders bowed. Auras shifted from distrust to a mixture of bewilderment and awe, while Skarzeni's changed to a bright, embarrassed orange. "My apologies, my lord."

 

You have nothing to apologize for, Skarzeni. Your discipline is commendable. I come bearing a message: take your unit and prepare to assault in three minutes and nineteen seconds.

 

There was an uncomfortable pause as Skarzeni pictured his men dying in a futile assault as he hoped his gene-sire had a plan. Although he wanted to protest, he instead said, "As you command, my lord."  

 

Be prepared, you will have a signal at the appropriate time

 

Darshan's 'ghost' shimmered out of sight before the shard flew back over to the Ork lines. He hovered above the center tank for a moment before the shard split into three. The three spirits took their positions above each Ork tank. Each of them quickly saw the sham, patchwork repairs to get the vehicles operational. One Nemean's fuel line was severed in three places. Another's motor ran dangerously hot as flames haphazardly shot out the rear exhaust pipes. In each case, the sole reason that any of the tanks were running was because the Orks believed they were, their collective faith protecting the tanks from the consequences of their own internal damage. 

 

That principle worked in reverse.

 

Each of the shards stealthily invaded the thoughts of the Ork crews. As the seconds passed by, Darshan introduced new thoughts. Wariness at the lack of a fight. Suspicion at the absence of the space marines. Concern at the unnatural rumbling of the vehicles. Little by little, Darshan chipped at their confidence and their faith. Thirty seconds before Skarzeni was to attack, Darshan judged their minds ripe for his last step. It was simple.

 

He showed each Ork an image of their tank exploding.

 

It lasted a second. It was all the time he needed. The ruptured fuel line caught fire which quickly spread throughout the new steel coffin. An engine exploded before secondary explosions obliterated the center tank. The last tank's turret ruptured when the loaded shell jammed on a piece of metal in the barrel. Burning Orks hopped out of the fiery Nemean as they screamed in agony. 

 

Darshan grinned. 

 

With the anchors of the Ork lines annihilated, panic spread through the ranks. Nobz roared out questions as their underlings swiveled in every direction, searching for what destroyed their heavy support. The three shards merged back into one before it floated over to the nearest loota squad. It had been too close to one of the tanks and had lost a few Orks to shrapnel. Out of the all remaining Orks, this mob burned the brightest hue of panicky orange. To them, Darshan whispered a single word into their fearful minds. Ghost.

 

"THIS PLACE IZ HAUNTED!" One of the Orks bellowed before lumbering away in fear. 

 

The nearby Nob shouted, "Gitz backs here! There's no such t'ing as ghosts!"

 

"We can't fightz no ghosts with just dakka," another Ork whispered fearfully. 

 

"OI!" The Nob roared as he whirled onto the offending Ork. "Wha' did I just say? Dere's. No. Such. T'ing. As. GHOSTS!" 

 

Darshan couldn't resist indulging himself. His spirit took a spot behind the Nob. Slowly, he appeared as a shining orb of energy, hovering above the ground. As he manifested, one by one, the lootas noticed him and cowered, their ammo rattling as they shuddered with terror. 

 

Ignorant of the glowing light behind him, the Nob swung his eyes over them. "What'cha all lookin' at?"

 

The nearest Ork pointed a shaking finger. 

 

The Nob turned around.

 

He froze.

 

Mentally guffawing, Darshan enjoyed a dramatic pause before he said...

 

"Boo."

 

The Nob stampeded over his own boyz as he screamed, the lootas right behind him as they fled the cave.

 

Darshan laughed as the roar of jump packs declared Skarzeni's assault. He discarded the illusion as he watched his sons successfully charge over the narrow walk way. Deprived of their tanks, only two loota squads poured fire against the incoming space marines. Their rounds ricocheted off breacher shields as Skarzeni's detachment secured a beachhead on the Ork's side of the cave. Storm boyz leapt into action, determined to throw the legionaries back.

 

But it was not to be. 

 

The lead Storm boy's head exploded as a sniper round tore through it before a wave of frag missiles tore through the first mob's ranks. Orks often relied on their thick hide over superior armour to protect them from death. The frag missiles made a mockery of their inferior wargear. One loota squad was overwhelmed as all three assault squads charged into it. The skirmish was over. The Storm Riders would prevail. 

 

Having accomplished his task, Darshan returned to his physical form and contacted the next Strike Force. 

 

The rest of the legion was on task as they scoured the space hulk. Between Qapibain's three and a half hours and Lothar's hour and forty, the other strike forces fell between. Alexandros estimated the Scourge of Treachery would be cleansed before the sixth hour of this engagement. Now, for my next move. "Jorg, is the rest of my strike force on line?" He asked with a knowing smile. 

 

"I'm afraid not, my lord," Jorg began. "We're still waitin-." He paused as he listened to a vox channel. He looked back at Alexandros, who could see the wry resignation written through his body language. "We are ready, my lord."

 

"Good," Alexandros said as he turned toward the hallway's exit. "It is time we cut off the head of this horde." 

 

Safe from ambush, Alexandros led his ten sons out of the hallway into the heart of the vessel. Before them lay a great open space, easily two kilometres in diameter that was criss-crossed by walkways, platforms, chains, and the like, some safe and some hazardous to travel across. Hundreds of decks and walls had been dismantled and cleared away to feed the ego of one Ork who wanted to the center of it all, an artificial dome that would allow every member of the horde to stand while their boss shouted to them through the ship's speakers. 

 

Utilizing his helmet's advanced optics, Alexandros quickly spotted the brute's hulking hide: Warboss Burklak Natsha. Burklak stood on the largest and most stable platform as he directed his horde to fight off the Storm Riders. Between Alexandros and Burklak was four thousand Orks infesting the way, all hollering for Waaagh! The primarch quickly identified several hundred defensive emplacements among the web of steel and sent a single order to his strike force. "Advance."

 

A thousand explosions resonated through the artificial cavern as meltabomb, demo charge, and rocket ripped open barriers all along the wall. From these new entrances, hundreds of marines in grey poured through onto the giant spiderweb of catwalks. At the center of the web, Burklak raised a monstrous power klaw of twisted metal and bellowed, "WAAAAAAAAGGGHHH!" The war cry echoed through the chamber as it was amplified by the horde raising their voices in support.

 

Raising his shield, Alexandros striked with his sword. As the rare metals crafted within his tools connected, a piercing tone cut through the bestial howls. "My sons," Alexandros said over the vox, "I have rung the bell of death. Not one Ork is to survive."  As a mob of Ork boyz rushed towards his position, Alexandros lifted his sword high, gathering his psychic power. "For the Imperium!" He roared, the psychic shriek slamming and breaking the bodies of the charging greenskins. The Storm Riders picked up the call and shouted it as one. 

 

The two war cries crashed into each other as they reverberated off the chamber walls. As the cacophony dwindled, it was renewed and then strengthened as volkite and shoota opened fire on one another. The Storm Riders' helmets quickly reduced the volume to safer levels for their transhuman wearers, while the Orks simply ignored the deafening tumult as grey and green charged at their opponents. 

 

"Jorg," Alexandros said as he pointed Xiphos at the platform directly ahead of them. "If we can neutralize that emplacement within the next four minutes and seventeen seconds, we will save the lives of thirty-two Storm Riders and open a hole in the Orks' outer defences. Can you keep up with me?"

 

The Champion of Kurn replied by lifting his power maul and charging down the walkway, roaring his intent. 

 

Sergeant Schmidt, shields high and advance carefully was the telepathic message Darshan left behind before he began his own charge, his giant strides quickly closing the gap between himself and Jorg. 

 

Between them and their target was three hundred meters filled with greenskins, who had not failed to notice the charging purple giant coming right at them. Although the dozens of Ork boyz had slim chances against the Primarch, their superiors, the Nobz, urged them on as they opened fire with their weapons. A torrent of slug rounds poured onto gene-enhanced warriors. Alexandros simply raised his shields to ward off any threat to his person, all the while sending telepathic warnings to Jorg. Right.

 

Jorg hopped to his right, the slug round that would've pierced his between his armour plates now bounding harmlessly off his left shoulder pad. 

 

Roll.

 

Throwing himself forward, Jorg rolled forward, his visor safe from a lucky shot, coming back onto his feet in one smooth motion. Then he was upon the Orks. The closest one swung wildly at the Storm Rider. Jorg ducked beneath the swing, allowing his momentum to carry himself forward as he swung back. The power maul smashed into the Ork's chest, the sound of a rib cage cracking apart filled the air as the force of the blow threw the Ork into its companions behind him.

 

A second later, Alexandros barreled into the Ork lines, sending several of them screaming over the edge of the walkway.

 

"Smash the gitz!" A Nob roared as he pointed a power klaw at the pair. 

 

Alexandros lunged forward, gutting another Ork before lifting the xeno into the air as it squealed, impaled on Xiphos' blade. "Come forth, then! The day is young and this hulk has enough room to be a tomb for your entire race! For I am the Bane of Xenos!" Eyes fierce with inner fire, Alexandros flung the dying Ork with enough force to send its bleeding body onto the closest walkway, bowling over greenskins into the abyss. 

 

The nearest Orks cowered.

 

They made easy prey for Jorg's maul as he smashed his way through the mob. 

 

Blood and brain matter spilled into the air as Jorg slew four Orks in rapid succession, breaking bodies and skulls. The Nob was the first to recover due in part to being safely a few ranks away from the Emperor's son. He opened his maw, prepared to bellow orders.

 

Shnk.

 

The big Ork gargled as blood filled his throat around the adamantium blade. Alexandros pulled his outstretched hand into a fist before he joined Jorg in bashing the beasts, his gene-forged strength more than able to crush their tough hides. The Nob clawed at the thrown weapon, its bestial mind giving away to fear and agony as it staggered. 

 

Jorg scored his sixth kill when the mob broke. 

 

"Run fer it!" One Ork howled as they fled before the two Imperials. Alexandros hurried, eager to reclaim his sword from the dying greenskin. Then one Ork pushed the Nob out of its way, sending the Nob off the walkway right as Alexandros was a mere three steps away. 

 

"My lord, your sword!" Jorg cried out in alarm. 

 

Darshan moved to the spot and reached out with his power towards the falling corpse. In a second, an invisible hand grasped at Xiphos' hilt and pulled it free from the dead Nob. With a gesture, Darshan held out his hand as Xiphos soared back up to the walkway, until the Primarch snatched it from the middle of the air. "Well, that would have been frustrating." He turned back to Jorg. "Onward!"

 

As they reached the first hundred metre mark, Alex opened a vox channel to his strike force. "I need every volkite culverin deployed two hundred metres behind the forward units and prepared to repulse enemy aerial assault from above in fourty-six seconds! Move out!"

 

Jorg glanced at the ceiling far above them and didn't see anything. "My lord?"

 

"Jorg! The flanks!" Alex warned as he switched out Xiphos for Ultimatum, the plasma weapon brightening with power.

 

His head snapping around them, Jorg quickly spotted the approaching danger. On four separate walkways running parallel to theirs, squads of Orks stared at them as they primed crude jump packs. "WAAAAGH!" They shouted as the four separate mobs ignited their packs. Jorg had no idea how they could all believe they'd made the landing safely, but even if half of them died in the jump, there was no doubt he and the Primarch were going to be surrounded. 

 

Alexandros fired Ultimatum, the plasma shots expertly aimed and melted several of the Orks, leaving greenskin sludge to fall away. With his bolt pistol, Jorg struggled to match his gene-sire's accomplishment. Before he could squeeze off the first round, he felt the Primarch's mind 'hovering' next to his own. Instead of telepathic words, images appeared in Jorg's mental sight, showing him where to fire. As uncomfortable as the sensation was, Jorg complied and quickly racked up a few kills of his own. Then the Orks were upon them.  

 

When surrounded by the enemy, every warrior knows the greatest danger lies directly behind them, out of sight and ready to take advantage of the massive blind spot. Jorg instinctively turned around to put his back against Alexandros' and quickly realized the size differences between them would present a problem. While Jorg enjoyed the benefit of more 'cover', it meant Alexandros was more exposed to the enemies Jorg faced. Swearing not to let his lord down, Jorg counted his opponents.

 

Five hungry faces stared back at him. Most of the Orks had successfully landed on the walkway, only one had failed to calculate the jump properly and was now flying beneath the walkway somewhere. Four more Orks were struggling to their feet, a couple of them had flown over the walkway and collided with each other. Unfortunately, the thick green hides had survived the collision sans a couple of new broken bones. Although they'd be less dangerous, that meant Jorg stood against nine opponents.

 

Jorg resisted the urge to charge forward. He was a Storm Rider. Unlike the First, who had long ago devoted themselves to spreading themselves thin among war's disciplines, the Storm Riders had established themselves the masters of close-quarters combat. One of the key lessons of hand-to-hand was momentum was a powerful ally. The Storm Riders tactics focused on building momentum, to 'ride' a storm of aggression until they swept their enemies aside. Yet, as hot-blooded Jorg's blood was, if he attacked first, he would leave both himself and his Primarch dangerously exposed. That was unacceptable.   

 

As the tense seconds stretched on, Jorg prepared himself for the inevitable rush. He slid his feet apart, widening his stance and bent his knees, strengthening his position. Bringing his maul low, he allowed gravity to pull the weapon a few inches away so that his hand held the lower part of the hilt before bringing it back up to a mid-guard. The revised grip was more suited for using the weapon one-handed, trading a little control for a lot more power on the swings. A better trade for dealing with stupid beasts like the Orks and their tough hides. They closed in, taking small steps toward him. Jorg spun his volkite serpenta, now holding onto the barrel while the pistol's grip pointed toward his opponents. Jorg had specifically requested a reinforced grip to use as a weapon in close combat. The extra weight made it harder to aim with but, used correctly, it could bash out brains or parry a simple weapon, something that was invaluable to Jorg's combat style. 

 

The nearest Ork finally shouted, "Waaagh!" before rushing at the Storm Rider.

 

Jorg reacted as lightning. In one smooth motion, he pulled his maul back as he swung his pistol, parrying the jagged axe. The moment the Ork was opened, Jorg slammed the maul down on its head, pulverizing it into a bloody ruin. He kicked the corpse into a pair of greenskins as he engaged his second opponent. The second Ork was already swinging at him. Jorg leaned into the attack, his pauldron catching then deflecting the now-harmless attack. The force of the blow shook the space marine, but his counter swing broke a knee through the pitiful armour the Ork wore. It stumbled back, howling in pain. Coincidentally, it was now acting as a barrier for the Orks behind it. Two Orks charged through the space between their screaming comrade and dead one, yelling, "Wez gotz ya now, ya git!"

 

"Beasts," Jorg contemptuously muttered. He blocked both of their attacks, his pistol nearly ripped from his hand. He stomped down on a foot, the tough leather no match for his adamantium boot. The Ork grunted in pain as he hobbled backwards. 

 

Now only fighting against one opponent, Jorg shoved it off. An Ork may have been as tough as a space marine but never as strong. He swung. The Ork blocked with its crude weapon. The weak metals shattered as Jorg's powered maul connected, sending electrified pieces flying into the Ork before his swing broke the Ork's arm. It released a pitiable shriek as tried to force bone back beneath skin. For a single moment, Jorg stood triumphant. Then the other five Orks charged. As fast and skilled as Jorg was, he only had two weapons to defend himself. He blocked the first strike but a second ragged sword struck at his helm. Jorg avoided disorientation but his left lens cracked, a frustrating distraction. He stepped back, trying to add some space but another Ork jabbed at his chest. His armour held, and Jorg rewarded the foe with a quick blow from his pistol. One Ork swung with a large pipe, smashing it into Jorg's knee. 

 

Jorg forced himself to remain standing even as gravity pulled at his leg. It hurt, but Jorg knew from experience that it wasn't broken. Then the last Ork punched his head, further cracking the left lens before attacking with an ax. The ax bit beneath his armour's waist ring. Jorg felt blood spilling out of him and locked his eyes on the Ork that dared to wound him. 

 

An image appeared in Jorg's mind sent by the giant behind him. 

 

With all of his might, the Champion of Kurn slammed his maul... into the walkway on which they stood. Untold time within the Immaterium had corroded the adamantium. A small piece fell as cracks spread outward. The beasts lumbered away from the cracks with alarm and provided the opportunity Jorg needed to survive. He stepped toward the Ork who wounded him and promptly sent him flying off the walkway. The remaining Orks tried to overwhelm him again, but Jorg hit the walkway again sending more adamantium flying below as its structural integrity suffered. 

 

Images rapidly sent to him showed himself at various points at battle. More importantly, they showed where he could stand without fear of falling. Thank you, Lord Alexandros

 

Fueled with confidence, Jorg eliminated another Ork in one move, bringing the total to two dead Orks, two crippled, one barely wounded, and four in complete health. Speed would be the only thing to keep him alive. He stepped back as the mob tried to avenge their latest loss. One Ork immediately chased him and yelped when its foot stepped in the wrong spot. It fell as its weight punched through the walkway, all the way up to its thigh. With a flip, Jorg didn't bother as he fired twice at point-blank range, adding a third kill. 

 

He hopped to the side, following the images perfectly as he stepped onto another safe spot. It put him into melee range of the Ork with the shattered knee. It had discarded its close combat weapon and had been trying to get a bead on Jorg with its rifle. Three rounds bounced off his Mark II plate before he killed it. 

 

"Dis one is moar trouble than its worth!" Cried out one of the beasts before it scrambled away. That left Jorg outnumbered 5-to-1, but he could see the same fear spreading through the rest of them. One or two more kills, and he would break them.

 

Unfortunately, these Orks were using more than blind instinct. While Jorg had finished off his last kill, the rest of them had spread out and carefully approached him as one, even the one with the broken arm joined the fight. Jorg could perhaps shoot one more before they were upon him. His wound was no longer bleeding, but it hampered his left slightly. The last image Alexandros had shown him was a safe foothold to his right. Between the two factors, Jorg finalized his plan of attack though something bothered him at the back of his mind. With perfect, guided aim, he shot an Ork to his left through the eye before he lunged to the other side. The mob swarmed him, but it seemed halfhearted. He took advantage of their delay and smashed another Ork off the walkway. 

 

"Where ya goin'!?" An Ork screamed. 

 

I've broken them, Jorg thought triumphantly as he turned to his next target. Then he saw that the Ork who had yelled wasn't yelling at the three Orks running off. It was looking away from them and Jorg. Realization struck Jorg. His head snapped toward the primarch. Xiphos embedded itself in the last Ork in front of Alexandros, the rest of the mob a pile of corpses and detached limbs. 

 

The Ork with the broken arm was charging the purple giant. That was what had seemed off to Jorg. The last image Alexandros had beamed into his mind had purposefully taken Jorg away, leaving himself exposed. Jorg's mind was racing as he reacted. The Sons of the Emperor wore the finest armours throughout the Imperium. Surely, no crude blade could penetrate it. Then he saw where the Ork was aiming. No armour was invincible. The plates used by the space marines may have been forged from hardened adamantium, but, as Jorg's own wound proved, it couldn't cover everything without rendering the wearer immobile. 

 

As Jorg watched, the broken-armed Ork lunged and buried his weapon deep into Alexandros' side. 

 

Alexandros grunted with pain as the Ork cheered its own success. Then Alexandros twisted with enough speed and strength to throw the broken-armed Ork off-balanced, almost using its own grip to throw it over the edge. It staggered back from the giant and never noticed Jorg, until the Storm Rider crushed its head. That was enough death to send the last Ork running away, but Jorg cared nothing for it as he addressed his Primarch. "My lord! I beg your forgiveness! I followed your instructions and would never have left you defenceless..." The words faded away as Jorg became deep in thought. The answer came to him. "You purposefully exposed yourself," Jorg said, half accusation, half questioning.

 

"I did," Alexandros answered as he pulled out the Ork's crude sword out of his flesh before tossing it away. "If I hadn't, the one who wounded me would have broken your leg."

 

Jorg protested, "A paltry injury, my lord! It is my duty to serve and protect you!"

 

"I need you for the rest of this battle. Thus, since I can withstand more punishment and heal faster, it was a simple choice," Alexandros said as he gestured to his wound. Despite how deep the blade had cut, the blood flow had already stopped. 

 

For once, Jorg was irritated by his sire's foresight, under the impression that any complaint or criticism he gave would be disarmed by the Lord of the Fifth in quick fashion. That was when he noticed the unceasing thunder of volkite culverin fire. 

 

Jorg looked up and recalled his sire's earlier order to position as many volkite culverins within the cavern. From within the rocky ceiling a kilometre above them, dozens of gyrocopters had swarmed down, the ramshackle vehicles unleashing missile and round as their Ork pilots attempted to check the Storm Riders' advance. Waiting for them was a growing network of firepower as heavy support squads countered the Orks' latest tactic. 

 

One copter swung towards them. Before it could fire, it was washed in red beams. A lucky shot hit the propeller stem, sending the blades and the rest of the copter falling in two different directions. Jorg glanced toward the rear and saw the responsible marine behind Sergeant Schmidt's squad, who were slowly catching up to Jorg and Alexandros. Yet, the defenses were not perfect. Six hundred metres to Jorg's right, several copters unleashed attack runs on another walkway. Jorg saw two assault marines die as a wave of missiles struck them and ripped apart the walkway. A second later, another pair of Ork flyers repeated the missile barrage on the same walkway but one hundred metres behind the initial attack, severing an entire section of the walkway from any connection. 

 

As Jorg watched, an entire squad of Storm Riders failed to sprint to safety and fell to their deaths. 

 

The creaking of adamantium drew Jorg's attention to his side. Alexandros watched as his sons fell, his grip around his sword tightening. "Quickly, we only have a minute and fourty-three seconds to reach our objective." 

 

Jorg nodded before he faced their target, the Ork firing point. Now, only a hundred metres away, Jorg studied his foe with greater accuracy. A mob of eight Orks and a number of Ork dwarfs had constructed a circular barrier on the platform's center. From within the chaotic nest, the Orks, who's outfits were bizarre parodies of ancient rogue mariners, opened fire on any Storm Rider unit attempting to advance within their sphere of control. Unlike the rest of the horde, the weapons wielded by this bunch were considerably more sophisticated, despite appearing to be assembled by a crazed infant. Most of the weapons fired blasts of plasma which could threaten any space marine. 

 

Yet, none of them paid any mind to him or Alexandros. The reason why was clear as it stomped around the Ork position and stepped onto the path. Where Ork infantry had failed, now a walker would attempt. Garish yellow covered the hull as four claws snapped and waved threateningly at the pair of Imperials. The Ork within activated its speakers. "WAAAAAAGGGHHH!"

 

"This will be a problem," Alexandros muttered, unfazed. 

 

Jorg could only agree. His maul enjoyed an enhanced engine that allowed him to strike with extra force against his foes. However, it would not be strong enough to simply break the enemy machine apart. Likewise, his krak grenades would only be of use if it were placed in a weak spot. He glanced at his gene-sire. While none doubted that the endowed strength of the Primarchs outstripped their sons, it wasn't overwhelmingly so. Furthermore, while Alexandros' blade was one of the finest in all of the Imperium, it's 'short' length was to emphasize Alexandros' speed and not his power. Glancing at his own, Jorg considered handing it to Alexandros but discarded the idea. The weapon would be too small to provide any benefit to his lord. 

 

"Take extra care Jorg," Alexandros said before he cautiously advanced against this new opponent.

 

The clanking walker eagerly marched towards them.

 

"My lord, can you spot a weakness? Surely, this pathetic excuse for a weapon will not fell you?"

 

"No, it won't," Alexandros replied as he raised his shield high. "In truth, you are right in that I already know how this will fight end. For us to accomplish our objective, we need to lure it farther away from the Ork firing point."

 

Jorg took heart in his Primarch's confidence. "Should be easy enough."

 

Then the walker lunged forward, two of it's claws reaching for them. 

 

Alexandros hopped back out of one claw's reach as the blocked the second one. Jorg, ignored, swung at the claw. His weapon harmlessly bounced off its ragged metal despite the strength he had poured into the blow. Using his own strength, Alexandros forced the claw back before he parried a third one. Worried about the Primarch getting close to its main body, the walker stepped back.

 

Guiding Jorg, the pair mirrored it's movement, opening a gap between the three combatants. "I'mma gonna skewer y'all!" The dreadnought charged again. This time, Alexandros allowed the assault to push him back as they steadily led the machine away from the other Orks. Despite having the initative, no matter how many times the Ork swungs its claws, Alexandros negated the attack, his entire focus on his defense. Jorg felt his frustration grew as he could only stand behind his Primarch, waiting for the next step in his lord's plan.

 

As the furious assault continued, Alexandros saw his opening. One claw overreached and pushed too far. The primarch sidestepped it's clumsy attack and snapped forward. The point of Xiphos struck the left 'eye' of the machine. More importantly, one of the security locks keeping the access plate between the mangled Ork and the Emperor's son was destroyed. Within the metal, the pilot panicked and back off, yelling profanities at Alexandros. 

 

From behind, Jorg's mind instantly filled with Alexandros' next step. The space marine snorted at the plan but said, "Ready!" 

 

The pair took three rapid steps back, at least for the Primarch's size. Before the hostile machine could react, Alexandros crouched low and held his shield horizontally, its face staring at the ceiling. Without any further prompting, Jorg jumped on the shield, activating his boot's mag-locks. 

 

Here we go, Alexandros' 'voice' whispered to Jorg's mind.

 

Grunting with exertion as he hauled the several hundred kilograms of weight, Alexandros spun in place. Jorg winced as his body bore the brunt of several g-forces in between seconds. The mental image given to him by his lord prepped the space marine for the exact moment to complete this ridiculous plan. As Alexandros completed the spin, Jorg released the mag-locks.

 

Jorg catapulted.

 

The Ork walker couldn't react before Jorg flew over its body. The space marine reached the apex of his arc before he began his meteoric descent...straight into the Ork emplacement. The plasma-wielding Orks merely had a moment to realize the danger hurtling towards them. Jorg pulled his body in a tight ball before he crashed into the mob. Two Orks were killed instantaneously by the impact alone, while a third one wailed when Jorg crushed its legs. The armour's mini-cogitator warned that Jorg's forearms were laced with micro-fractures, but he ignored it as he whirled to his feet.

 

For all of the meticulous attention these Orks had spent on their weapons and their outfits, the actual practicality of wearing real armour seemed to have escaped them. As such, when Jorg began swinging through their ranks, the Orks died quickly as they fumbled for anything that would do as a melee weapon. One desperate Ork actually grabbed one of their runts and slammed the creature against Jorg's face. It squealed as half of its body was broken in the blow.

 

Jorg was not amused.

 

He quickly threw the unwanted pest away before he smashed his maul into the Ork's face. It fared far worse than what Jorg endured. 

 

The final Ork aimed its plasma weapon at the exposed Storm Rider. "Let's fix tha purty mug of yurs!" It crowed as it squeezed the trigger. The plasma containment unit failed spectacularly as raw plasma exploded over the Ork. Hide and bone quickly melted beneath the heat as the beast squealed in its death throes. 

 

It was then Jorg became aware of the sound of crunching adamantium. He looked back toward the walkway. In the seconds between Jorg's thunderous arrival and now, the Ork walker had pushed forward. One claw was pressing down on Alexandros' shield, another wrestled with Xiphos, and the third hung uselessly. But the fourth one was locked crushing the Primarch's shoulder, the purple armour cracking and blood spilling out of new wounds. Alexandros grunted with pain as he struggled against his foe. 

 

A schematic of the walker appeared in Jorg's mind.

 

Completely focused on killing the giant before it, the crippled Ork never noticed Jorg until his maul crashed into its rear. The metal and wires connecting the fourth claw shattered entirely. The metallic limb dropped unceremoniously before Alexandros lost his own arm. The Ork bellowed with alarm as it tried to shift its vulnerable back away from Jorg.

 

Then, it stopped.

 

It didn't move when Jorg destroyed its leg closest to the edge.

 

It didn't move as it slid over the edge.

 

It did nothing as it fell.  

 

Jorg looked at Alexandros, who's eyes stared past him, unfocused yet intense. After another second, Alexandros blinked and returned Jorg's gaze. "To trap a foe in a dream, especially a foe with so little discipline, requires much concentration."

 

"My lord, your arm," Jorg said bluntly.

 

Alexandros waved him off. "It looks worse than it actually is. More importantly, you completed the objective," he finished as he spared a glance around him.

 

Following the Primarch's gaze, Jorg identified six different Storm Rider squads in weapon's range making progress along their respective routes. Dozens of space marines would have died had the Ork emplacement lasted another mere minute. 

 

Correct, Darshan interrupted. Aloud, Alexandros said, "The entire assault in this area would have been brought to a stalemate, and it would have been too dangerous for me to advance unsupported. But now, there will be a permanent gap in the warboss' defenses. A gap I now intend to exploit."

 

While Jorg couldn't deny the obvious tactical advantages of his lord's actions, he was still uncomfortable with Alexandros' willingness to risk his health for the sake of easing victory for his sons. The adamantium armour around his bicep was distorted, a few pieces had fallen off as the metal gave way. This allowed the observant a few small holes to see the mangled flesh beneath the armour. While the arm moved as it should, Jorg thought he noticed a momentary delay as though each movement pained his lord. Still, he could not deny the Emperor's work which was already closing the wound. Jorg only hoped that it wasn't any worse than what he could see. 

 

Alexandros' ignored Jorg's probing stare as he focused on the battle's next step. The initial assessment concluded that his strike force mirrored his personal state: bloodied yet highly functional. Burklak's air assault had inflicted some casualties but, as the last of the copters had fled back up into the porous ceiling, it had been a tactical loss. It had forced the Ork Warboss to commit his walkers earlier than he had intended. Alexandros couldn't deny their tactical effectiveness as the overwhelming majority of the Storm Riders were forced to either fall back due to ineffective weapons. Where the paths were clear of the mechanical obstructions, any advance would comprise of only a few squads. Those squad sergeants had wisely seen that this was purposely done to encourage them to move forward only to be wiped out piecemeal, draining the overall assault. Yet, while there were no foolish charges, that meant they were immobilized until enough neighboring elements could march with them. 

 

Which was why Alexandros' position was now invaluable. Destroying the Ork walker had opened a small hole in Burklak's defences. More importantly, by eliminating the Orks fortified here, Jorg had ensured that enough Storm Riders survived to make the upcoming breakthrough possible. Sending a few quick orders to his detachment, the primarch activated a series of orders that would counter the wall of walkers the Storm Riders faces. At the same time, lone marines on wings of flame surged down the metal paths at Alexandros' command. 

 

Darshan stretched out as he established mental connections to the infantry fist forming around him. Sergeant Schmidt's breachers reached himself and Jorg right as the summoned marines arrived at their respective squads. With no prompting, Darshan felt waves of revulsion and wariness as the squads realized who were joining them: battle-psykers.

 

The Imperial Auxilia had only heard the rumors of the black mark against the Fifth's psykers. The Storm Riders themselves were all too aware of the danger their psyker brothers were to themselves and to others. Prepare to advance, Darshan ordered, his 'tone' brooking no dissension. His sons dutifully clamped down on their emotional misgivings as they prepared for the next phase of the battle. No battle-psyker joined Schmidt's squad as Alexandros would fulfill that role. Darshan did not mistake the small ball of relief the marines standing next to him felt, easily trusting their gene-sire over their more fallible kin. It was an attitude Alexandros intended to fix, which required the battle-psykers to prove themselves. The Battle of IG-88 was to prove to themselves that they could serve again. This battle was to prove to the legion that their erstwhile brothers had a rightful place among them. 

 

Pointing at the center of the Ork horde, Alexandros said, "Forward." As he and the nearby squads moved, he opened a vox channel. While a majority of the strike force was engaged, Alexandros had left a significant force of reserves for this moment. With a few deployment commands, additional squads would follow on these routes, reinforcing the breakthrough against the Orkish defences. It would be extremely necessary for the few walkways that would lead away from Alexandros' position.

 

My sons, Darshan began as he addressed his fellow psykers, focus your efforts on protecting your brothers through peering at the future. If we are to claim the warboss' head in the next hour, we will need to keep casualties to an absolute minimum. Understood?

 

Yes, Father/Alexandros/my lord, the various mental replies returned. Some were confident, some were wary. All desired obedience and success. Alexandros hoped he'd be able to fulfill those desires before the day was over. 

 

While Burklak could not counter with more walkers, the warboss had plenty of warriors at his disposal. Seconds had passed since Alexandros ordered the breach before a horde of greenskins rambled towards them. Firefights broke out as squads and mobs traded fire. One of the great dangers regarding Orks was there ability to overwhelm foes with sheer numbers, whether in bodies or bullets. Here, on these narrow, metallic paths, their numbers were limited as they did everything they could to throw back the space marines. Bereft of one of their key tactical advantages, the Orks died in droves. From behind walls of breacher shields, the Storm Riders enjoyed dual layers of protection as they continued onward, slowed yet not stopped. Between these two advantages, it would be a hard fight to prevail against the Emperor's Angels of Death. 

 

However, under the careful eye of Darshan, the legion battle-psykers added a third advantage. Harnessing the future as a weapon, Orks who were on the verge of kill-shots died before they could squeeze triggers. Whenever the rare Ork armed with a weapon that could penetrate adamantium moved into range, they were riddled with fire before they could choose a target. For a time, there was no battle, merely slaughter as Storm Riders marched and greenskins died. 

 

Gradually, strands of the attack veered off as the pathways took them away from Alexandros' path. Any danger of losing the momentum was eliminated as continual reserves double-timed and reinforced the more exposed squads. On his helmet's readout, Alexandros watched their progress as Imperial red pushed through Ork green, all the while periodically checking on his other strike forces.

 

More good news filtered in when more Ork dreadnoughts were brought down along the battle lines. Soon, other Storm Rider 'reds' penetrated through the cloud of green as Ork defences failed to contain the legion. When Alexandros could hear the buzzing return of the Ork copters, he knew Burklak was growing desperate. He spared a glance at the warboss, who remained at the center platform even as Alexandros closed the distance between them. The giant Ork bellowed order after insult after order as he waved his power claw madly towards Alexandros' position. Soon.

 

Coordinating his last ditch aerial assault, Burklak committed his elite reserves. Large nobs in the best armour the Orks can field trudged forth in metallic racket to counter Alexandros' advance. The primarch counted fourty such targets and winced. Although they were spread out over half dozen walkways, each squad only had one or two weapons that could easily counter the 'mega armour'. My sons, Darshan communicated to his fellow psykers, keep your brothers alive. Even in a battle of attrition, victory is ours, regardless of time consumed

 

Alexandros held his shield above his head as one copter sprayed a hail of rounds at him. Patience will be our weapon now. With a quick squeeze, Alexandros downed the flying Ork as plasma burned through the mast connecting the rotor blades to the main body. The Ork screamed as it and the roto fell in two different directions.

 

Darshan sent out shards of himself to watch over as many of his sons as he could, while Alexandros oriented himself toward the advancing heavy infantry. The lead "Nob" shouted, "WAAAAGGHH!" It was a signal for his compatriots who promptly fired every single rocket in their arsenal. Alexandros stepped ahead of his sons and intercepted three such missiles, his shield burning bright with blue energy as its shield rendered the rockets harmless. 

 

His sons did not enjoy the same amount of physical protection. Yet, the amount of immaterial protection proved nearly as effective. Half-second, telepath warnings allowed Riders to sidestep projectiles with centimetres between them and the weapons. Images from the future gave others the chance to aim their shields just right to neutralize the rockets and their blasts. Gaius proved his skill when he shot one rocket out of the air with a volkite beam. Alas, the protection was not total. One or two rockets found their mark, piercing adamantium plate and showering the resulting gore on fellow brothers. A few more failed to pierce the shields but struck with enough force to send a couple of Space Marines tumbling over the edge of the walkways. Shrapnel found holes and embedded metal where it could, crippling three more Storm Riders. But, at the end of the storm of missiles, it quickly became obvious how ineffective it was as the number of Storm Riders standing far outnumbered the fallen.

 

Unfortunately, the reverse held true. Throughout the barrage, the Storm Riders returned fire. The heavier Ork armour may have looked hastily welded together, but it resisted the red beams as though they were lasguns. The battle-psykers did what they could to strengthen the counter-attack. No Nob was completely encased in metal. Some forsook helmets. Others left a thin line of green between the suits' 'jaws' and their helmet. With guided precision, a few beams found these small openings and flooded fire in the advancing Ork forces. As the distance shrunk between the opposing sides, the Nobs added fire to the fusillade. 

 

Darshan and his psyker kin guided the Storm Riders through the conflagration as space marines took precautions to avoid being roasted alive within their armour. The flames held little fear to Alexandros, and he made his position on their danger to him quite clear to his enemies when he lunged forward. For all of the extra metal the Nobs wore, Alexandros' blade mocked them as it sliced them as though parchment. Three Nobs died before they ponderously switched from their 'skorchas' to their power weapons. Alexandros contemptously batted aside several attacks as he continued to shred and skewer the xenos. The Riders behind him were not idle as they charged into the breach with him, letting him show where and when to strike for maximum effect. Jorg slid beneath one attack and crushed a leg in a backwards swipe, while Schmidt fired his one melta shot that burned a hole through one Nob's chest. 

 

Then he felt it. 

 

His gaze snapped to a squad of Storm Riders on a walkway thirty metres above and eighty metres to his left. Karl was one of the legion's most recent additions to the battle-psyker contingent, fresh from Jermani. He was providing aid to an assault squad led by a young legionary named Apollyon, who had stepped into the position after Sergeant Bulau had died during an earlier Ork ambush. The Darshan shard next to the squad returned to Alexandros' body before his main 'spirit' flew to the squad. 

 

As he approached in his ethereal form, Darshan could see the connections Karl had established in order to serve his brothers. The talented battle-psyker split his focus between three tasks. In the first, he reached for moments of the future, which he then communicated to his fellow Storm Riders to overcome the Orks' heavier armour. At the same time, Karl fought on offense as he attempted to slow the Orks' attacks and counters with a battery of telepathic assaults. Finally, he took care to keep his own body out of harm's way as he parried and dodged out of the way of power claws. Darshan could see strands of blue between Karl and his brothers, while pulsing red fibers connected Karl to his Ork opponents. Karl's own mind Darshan saw as a shimmering star of energy, flickering between bloodthirsty red and grey apprehension. 

 

A healthy mind looked like an actual star, a sphere of pure energy. Karl's mind more resembled a triangle as it struggled and stretched itself to accommodate the three major tasks he had given himself. All psykers, telepaths especially, required training to maintain one's own sense of sense and one's mental defenses, lest they suffer severe consequences. As Darshan watched in order to confirm his hypothesis, the red strands connecting Karl to the Orks grew brighter as the Ork's bestial energy and thoughts began to taint one corner of Karl's mind. Karl's mental defenses had been stretched by the battle, but Darshan saw a glaringly weak 'foundation' on which the defenses 'stood'. Probing, Darshan grimaced as he saw the root cause of the problem. In the meantime, more of Karl's mind grew redder as the Ork's bestial side continued its infection as Karl's mental fortitude collapsed beneath the onslaught of xeno thought and instinct. On the material plane, the battle-pskyer became more aggressive, no longer seeking to turn aside blows as he hacked away at the Orks' armour. 

 

The corruption didn't end there.

 

The blue strands connecting Karl and his brothers tinged purple as Karl became an unwitting vector for the xenos' nature. Since none of the other Riders had the same defense training, it was only seconds before the whole squad began to substitute bare rage for technique. Apollyon battered down one Ork with his fist and chainsword, but another Rider left himself open as he swung wide before being impaled by a metallic claw. 

 

Darshan took one last thorough 'scan' of the scene. His task finished, he discarded his observation as he reached into Karl's mind. My son!

 

Darshan formed his connection to Karl's mind. Once established, the Son of the Emperor released a concentrated blast of his will, purging the xeno taint from his sons. To ensure a measure of safety for the Storm Riders to repair the damaged done, Darshan turned his attention to the remaining Orks threatening the squad. Forging his anger and grief into flaming spears, Darshan sent them flying to his targets. Although invisible to the naked eye, as each spear struck, the Orks howled as their minds were burned to nothing. The animals collapsed to the ground as their automatic nervous systems shut down without signals from their brains.

 

The immediate threat ended, Darshan shifted his attention back to Karl. Working gingerly, he coaxed the stretched mind back into its preferred shape of a star, using his own power to bind the mental trauma with luminescent 'strings'. The task was made easier now that Karl's mind wasn't spread thin between his abilities. As Darshan finished his work, Karl's mind glowed brightly with shame. Father, I have failed you...

 

Nonsense, my son, Darshan said. You have given me the means I need to put an end to this madness. Now, continue the mission and fear not. You will not fall again.

 

Although his gaze never left the battlefield, Karl physically nodded, whispering, "Father."

 

Darshan returned to his body, once against trading places with the lesser shard currently inhabiting it. Although 'lesser' perhaps wasn't the most accurate term. Each 'shard' created was a complete ethereal clone of who he was. If, for whatever bizarre reason, a shard of him was lost and disconnected from his soul, the only thing it would lack is the memories created by his 'main' soul since the time of disconnection. 

 

The process of reintegrating with his body was flawless to the point none of his companions noticed the change. Since the incident with Karl, the battle had continued to progress in favor of the Storm Riders. New advances and openings were threatening to completely collapse the Ork defense network. The last ditch attempt to throw back Alexandros' personal advance had merely delayed him and cost Burklak his entire reserve of elite infantry. While Darshan had observed and healed Karl, Alexandros had wiped out the Orks attacking him before directing fire to the nearby platforms, Ultimatum's plasma rounds burning holes in mega armour and the Ork counter-assault. The few remaining Ork helicopters were now in a panic. For a squadron of Land's Speeders had been brought through the tunnel network. They were now chasing the last of the Ork copters in a very one-sided dogfight. 

 

Alexandros studied the battlefield as something caught his eye. A window of opportunity was about to open in seven seconds that he had not foreseen earlier. If he took it, the remaining length of the battle may have been reduced in half. He glanced down at his bloodied shoulder. His wound had almost finished healing, but the armour was still in disarray, a potential weak spot. In three seconds, he conducted a survey of potential futures to determine how lethal this opportunity was. By the end of his survey, he was confident he could avoid the 6.6% futures where he died aboard this hulk. That would be quite an embarrassment if any of those futures came to pass. 

 

His course set, he glanced down at the champion at his side. "Jorg, continue the assault in my stead. Be prudent, if you catch up to me, it must not be at reckless cost." Before Jorg could reply, Alexandros ran.

 

It has been a general truth in nature that the bigger an organism was, the slower and more restrained its movements were. Alexandros personally experienced a shade of this truth every time he interacted with a new group of people. At least one person reacted with surprise when Alexandros moved a hair faster than expected. It was a general truth that the Emperor had somehow neatly avoided when creating his sons.

 

Alexandros was a blur. A mob of Orks were gathering down the walkway, a last ditch attempt to stop the Storm Rider advance on this path. The lead Ork shouted something in half-panic before Alexandros crashed through them. Alexandros could feel bones break upon his armour, but it barely slowed him as he left the mob behind in two seconds. Gathering his strength, the Primarch shot off the walkway in a powerful jump. He easily crested over twenty metres before landing on a higher walkway. 

 

He locked eyes on his quarry at the far end of this walkway. Standing in the centre of the largest platform was the Warboss Burklak. Although surrounded by his own personal guard, the big Ork yelled at the three small walkers on the platform to attack. After a moment's hesitation, the black-and-yellow-striped 'killa kans' marched forward, excreting noxious exhaust from their pipes. 

 

Alexandros waited for them to step off the platform onto the walkway, casually dodging their fusillades of round and rocket. He waited until there was twenty-five metres between them and the safety of the platform before he sprinted. At his lightning approach, the walkers, which were smaller than he was, froze with panic. Two quick shots from Ultimatum breached armour before igniting fuel reserves. After two brilliant explosions provided additional light to the cave, the last walker turned to flee, it's midget pilot squealing in terror. Before it had even finished its turn, Alexandros reached it. Regarding the enemy with nothing but irritation, The Lord of the Fifth spun his leg in a wide circle before kicking the smaller war machine off the walkway and into the abyss. 

 

Alexandros stepped onto the platform as the cacophony of war dropped a level. With a cocky grin, the Son of the Emperor pointed his sword at the Warboss and declared, "Burklak! I have come for your head! I challenge you to a duel, or are you afraid of some overgrown 'umie?" 

 

Veins thickened over the massive Ork. Standing a foot taller than even his guards, the Warboss shook with fury at his wounded pride, his thick, black armour rattling. Yet, as Darshan had foreseen in over half of his visions, Burklak was more cunning than other Orks. "KILL THE ZOGGIN' 'UMIE!" Burklak howled before he and his guards swarmed towards the Primarch. 


Edited by simison, 07 April 2018 - 08:58 PM.

Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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simison

simison

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Chapter 5: The Worst Kind of Mold, Part 2

 

Although every one of the eleven large beasts wore the most intricate and decorated amour of any Ork on this entire hulk, it was of no protection against Alexandros' plasma fire. Two Orks dropped in screaming agony as their armour melted beneath the powerful salvos. Than the plasma blaster in the Primarch's hands began to scream as it flashed warning runes. With a 'tsk', Alexandros squeezed the trigger before throwing the weapon straight into the charging mob. The weapon's cooling system failed right as it passed between the two front Orks. The detonation killed one 'Nob' outright, while another two were wounded. One was temporarily blinded by the light and would gain its sight back in a minute, while the other cradled the stump that was its left arm. 

 

While six-on-one were better odds than nine-on-one, the destruction of his personal firearm was not a good portent. It had been one of the key moments which heralded the few futures where he was slain on this platform. Those odds had grown from 6.6% to 9.5%. Not to mention the loss of the rare weapon of which only seven had existed in the Storm Riders' armouries. He had even given it a name! He doubted Icarion had ever experienced this particular embarrassment. 

 

As Alexandros quickly unsheathed his sword, Burklak reached him and swung his massive claw with all of its might. The unsubtle blow was easily intercepted, but Alexandros found himself pushed back half a metre by its sheer strength. The other Orks attempted to rush him as they charged into the new opening. Alexandros rewarded the first Ork with disembowelment before shoving the dying Ork into two of its companions to the right as he blocked a couple of blows from his left. 

 

He nearly buckled from the strength of the attacks as jagged saws cut at his shield. The last group of heavy infantry had never touched him, which made this experience all the more unpleasant as each of the Ork weapons increased their strength twofold. Well, almost all of them. 

 

"THIS'LL TEACH YA TO RUN OFF YUR ZOGGIN' MOUTH, 'UMIE!" Burklak roared as he swung, not his powered claw, but a massive axe that was stained with three different colours of blood. Alexandros raised his shield and caught the blow before it could do harm and found that this was the weakest weapon of the bunch aimed at him. Shoving the weapon away from him, Alexandros swung, hoping for a quick decapitation in  the one future out of thirteen he saw. Alas, Burklak had already foreseen the attack and shoved one of his guards in front of him. The Nob's head and body were separated, its eyes looking all around as though it didn't understand what just happened.

 

Before the head had finished its falling arc, four Orks rushed in on both of Alexandros' flanks. Recognizing the growing danger of being overwhelmed, the Primarch called upon his prodigious speed and counter-charged the two foes on his left. Caught off-guard by the blur coming straight at them, the two Orks swung wildly, hoping for a lucky hit. Luck proved to be an unreliable ally as Darshan used his future-sight to know the exact trajectory of the spinning saws. He casually blocked the closer Ork's swings before he reached the second bodyguard. He nimbly slid around the attack, spinning around the greenskin before delivering a back kick into it. 

 

The enhanced strength adding to the Ork's own momentum sent it stumbling forward. Tripping on its own feet, the Nob fell forward into another of its companions who began to wail as both buzz saws eviscerated it. Green blood sprayed out as the saws cut through the beast's innards before erupting on the other side of its body, all the while cutting downward. Burklak released a cry of exasperation and disbelief. "Ya idiots! Kill the 'umie! Not each other!"

 

Alexandros wanted to turn and stab the other Ork in the back, but the future had already warned of another threat racing to his side. The earlier Nob whose arm had been melted off by plasma had managed to collect its wits from the searing agony and was now joining the battle. It hurtled forwards, it's one remaining arm and saw pointed straight forwards, briefly reminding the primarch of an ancient rider and lance. Shifting to this new opponent, Alexandros batted aside the weapon before slicing off the offending appendage. The armless Ork barely had time to register the pain before the Emperor's son thrusted his sword through the beast's heart. The flying limb which still held the activated 'killsaw' never touched the floor. Darshan reached out and telepathically caught the weapon before 'throwing' it at the warboss about to reach him. Burklak already in a loping run, could only shift a bit before the saw its chest. Although Burklak growled in pain, the attack had missed the monstrous Ork's vitals. 

 

Pulling his sword from the newest corpse, Darshan's vision raced through the numerous futures as Burklak and two of his guards attacked. Only Burklak and three of his Nobs (excluding the blind Ork furiously rubbing its eyes) still lived. Yet, Darshan soon realized that there was no clean escape from this next round of melee. The Primarch managed to block one power claw and deflect another. It was the third claw that Alexandros couldn't stop. The opportunistic xeno dug its weapon into Alexandros' torso, red blood quickly seeping out of the new wound.

 

With a cry of pained rage, the primarch rewarded the Nob as he sliced through its armour, opening its chest for all to see. Even that retaliatory measure nearly cost Alexandros as the remaining greenskins pressed the attack. He sidestepped one attack by a mere centimeter as he blocked one more blow. Burklak had incorrectly seen an opening and reached out with his claw to snip Alexandros' head off. "YUR MINE, 'UMIE!" 

 

"I disagree," Alexandros replied as he caught the lethal attack with his sword, batting the claw aside. Hitting some of the of mechanism on the side, the power claw swung wide open as the bottom 'jaw' disconnected and hung limply. It was a more symbolic victory that was narrowly overturned when one bodyguard swung at his legs. Alexandros managed to turn his leg enough that the garish weapon bounced off his purple armour, but the sheer force of the blow was enough to throw his leg out from beneath him. Finding himself on one knee, Darshan furiously searched through the futures to find a way out of this predicament. He winced as he realized what was to come next.

 

The future arrived as Alexandros parried one eager saw before gutting its owner. Although he scrambled to his feet, he could not stop the next moment. Burklak swung his broken claw down. Alexandros tried to shift right. The xeno's weapon missed his head but carved through his broken right pauldron. Before the warboss could cut off his arm, Alexandros saved the last few centimetres as he brought up his shield to catch the claw. There was a clang as his right arm dropped his sword.

 

Immense pain blazed throughout him, but Darshan quickly cordoned it off from debilitating himself. Then he focused it and released a primal roar amplified by his psychic power. The giant greenskin was hurled back as parts of his armour flew off or crushed into his skin. Yet, in spite of the wave of wounds, Burklak remained standing, alive and grumbling about his bleeding ears. 

 

Cursing that he had misfired his attack, Alexandros took stock of his situation. Only a flap of skin and armour was keeping his arm attached. He had loss control of his limb, hence his weapon laying on the ground. Blood spewed forth from the large injury, but the Emperor's gene-engineering quickly proved its superiority as it went to work. Given his medical lessons from his Father, Alexandros knew the wound wasn't fatal. The nerve damage wasn't permanent, but it would take a month to heal at best. 

 

Which meant he would have to slay the remaining Orks single-handedly. 

 

Correction, almost single-handedly. 

 

With a telekinetic bump, his sword lifted off the ground by a few centimetres. Alexandros kicked the blade up into the air about about waist-level. Calculating the trajectory just right, as Xiphos hovered in the air between rising and falling, Alexandros kicked the pommel. Propelled by enhanced strength, the blade shot forth. It pierced one Nob's neck. The xeno clutched at his throat as it withered to the ground, gasping for air.

 

Alexandros turned toward the only Ork standing between him and the warboss. For all of its fury and aggression, it was no space marine. Darshan spotted the seed of fear that held it back. Laying ahold of it, Darshan amplified it as he exploited the beast's fight-or-flight response. In seconds, the Ork went from uneasily holding its ground to shivering with abject terror. Staring with cold eyes, Alexandros said but a word.

 

"Run."

 

It did. It didn't care what direction it ran. All it knew was that it had to get away. It fled across the platform to the nearest walkway. As its foot stepped through the 'walkway', its terror doubled. Screaming, it fell through the walkway, which vanished as a mirage to reveal the open maw of the void waiting for it. 

 

Darshan ended the illusion, it's purpose served, as he blocked another blow from Burklak. "NO ONE MOCKS ME, 'UMIE! I'LL TEAR YOU APART, LIMB BY LIMB!" The bloodflow had ceased after creating a red trail down Alexandros' side, but his arm still hung uselessly. Burklak allowed his fury to fuel his assault as he struck again and again. With each strike, Alexandros conceded another step as he waited for the right opportunity.

 

With one small detour first. Alexandros allowed himself to be driven back, but curved his retreat back to the center of the platform. There was one last threat besides Burklak that had to be ended before it could do him harm.

 

The last Nob stopped rubbing his eyes. It blinked a couple of times before breaking out into a huge, toothy grin. Throwing its arms in the arm, it shouted, "I CAN SEE AGAIN!"

 

"Spoke too soon," Alexandros warned. Then he slammed the edge of his shield into the Nob's eyes. 

 

The sound of bones cracking hid the squish of eyeballs bursting. The Ork screamed as he cried, "NO! MY EYES! WHY IS IT ALWAYS MY EYES!" It staggered backwards as it cradled its broken face. 

 

Alexandros ignored the screaming as he stepped away, preparing for the next blow. 

 

Burklak didn't disappoint. With a wide swing of his broken claw, the Warboss shouted, "COME 'ERE!" 

 

Throwing his head back, the primarch winced as the powered metal cut through his helmet, right above his left eye. Alexandros backpedaled toward the edge of the platform, adding some distance between himself and the giant Ork. As he retreated, Darshan quickly undid the latches as blood poured down his covered face. Sensitive technology protested the blood's presence as his left lens fizzled out. In three seconds, the last latch was undone before Darshan popped his helmet off.

 

Burklak, who had been chasing Alexandros, paused as he saw the helmet come off by itself. The surprise gave way to a toothy grin as he pointed a thick finger. "HA! Ain't so pretty now, you weird 'umie!"  

 

Already, the superficial wound had closed. "Said the xeno with tusks."

 

Burklak bristled. "Oi! My tusks are proof of my superity, my supperioria...my super-ness!" 

 

"Vocabulary could use a bit of work. Regardless," Alexandros continues as he looked around the platform. "You're alone, and I intend to collect your head as promised."

 

"BWA HA HA HA HA! Yur barely 'live, weird 'umie and wit no sword. How's ya gonna pull off me 'ead?"

 

Alexandros glanced at his nearly-detached right arm. "You relied on your guards to deal this wound to me." He turned back to the warboss and grinned. "Fair's fair that I return in kind. Jorg, three degrees right, four degrees down." He finished as his voice reached out through the material and immaterial. 

 

"Oi! Who's Jo-AHHHH!" 

 

The searing fire of a beam destroyed Burklak's right kneecap. The giant Ork fell to his knees as he screamed, "MY KNEE! I'LL KILL YA!" As Burklak looked up from the ruined limb, he saw Alexandros charging straight at him, shield held forward. 

 

A cacophony of metal exploded as one giant crashed into another. Burklak was thrown onto his back. Before he could react, a boot slammed against his forehead, forcing him to expose his entire neck. He saw Alexandros standing above him with the edge of his shield pointing straight at him. In the blink of an eye, Alexandros slammed the shield into Burklak's neck. A crushed windpipe, a broken spine, and a damaged nervous system barely registered to the Ork's mind as Alexandros continued to hammer the shield down, each force growing in strength and speed. Blood splattered as skin gave way beneath the savage barrage. Until finally the beast gave one last shudder as Burklak's head rolled off of it. 

 

For a moment, silence reigned. 

 

It was promptly broken by the last, blind Ork left on the platform. "Boss? Whaz goin' on? I don't hear no fightin'."

 

Alexandros spared a glance at the Nob before he turned to Jorg and the assault marines marching onto the platform. Nodding to the greenskin, Alexandros commanded, "Put it out of its misery." 

 

With a trigger, a 'choom' echoed over the place before dying away. As he approached, Jorg looked over his Primarch with a stern expression. "My lord, how badly injured are you? We can have an apothecary here in four minutes."

 

Wiping away some of the dried blood on his left eye, Alexandros replied, "On a scale of 1 to 6, one being on Death's door and six being full health, I'm a solid four." 

 

Jorg pressed. "And your arm?"

 

"Will heal in due time. For now, we have other matters. Jorg, grab my sword. Gunter, my shield. Sergeant Volk, status of my strike force," Alexandros ordered as he swept his vision across the massive cave. 

 

The space marines snapped to as the sergeant began his report, gesturing to fleeing greenskins at the other side of the cave. "My lord, as you can see, with the Ork warlord dead, Ork resistance here is crumbling. Our forces are advancing swiftly with few casualties. Additionally, brief skirmishes among the xenos as leadership conflicts occur between the larger Orks for control. These are spreading and will probably reach the rest of the horde on this space hulk within the hour."

 

"Indeed," Darshan affirmed as he cast his gaze toward the future. "It won't lead to a total collapse, but this battle will not last much longer. In one hour and seventeen minutes, we'll begin the final phase as we shift to search-and-destroy protocols."

 

Alexandros turned away from the fight as he handed his shield to Gunter. The Storm Rider had to holster his pistol and mag-lock his chainsword to hold onto the shield which was as large as he was. Jorg waited next to him, holding the primarch's blade.

 

With his good arm freed, Alexandros reached down and grasped Burklak's severed head before lifting it as high as he could hold it. "As you heard before, ring the bell of death, my sons." 

 

Jorg took care to hold the sword horizontal to the shield before he striked. Again, a piercing tone cut through the dimming orchestra of war. 

 

"My sons!" Alexandros declared as he amplified his own voice. "Rejoice! For I have claimed the head of their warboss! With it, I declare victory is ours! No longer will this be a battle, but a slaughter. Hunt the greenskin down. Leave none alive. For the Emperor wills it!"

 

The Legion answered, "FOR THE EMPEROR!" 


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The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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#8
simison

simison

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Chapter 6: A Different Kind of War

 

"Gunner," Alexandros called out. "Add six degrees to the left." An affirmative returned the Primarch as he dispassionately watched the battle before him. Once the command was completed, Alexandros ordered, "Fire."

 

The Elpis' nova cannon answered its master's will and released a powerful shot that shook the ship. Mere seconds later, a small star appeared in the midst of the enemy warships. The detonation outright destroyed one white capital ship while four more were crippled. With that last attack, the last organized resistance was no more. From this point on, the enemy fleet was reduced to a scramble for survival as the 35th Expeditionary Fleet pressed the offense against the survivors, specifically targeting the nacelle-engines. After all, it was Alexandros' explicit wish to spare as many of the human crew members as he could. 

 

His orders given, Alexandros turned and began his trek to his ship's strategium. Placing the bridge of a warship on the outer edge of the hull to allow one to physically see the void and beyond was an implied dare to its enemies. A sign of confidence that no matter what the enemy may do, the bridge would be protected by the full strength of the warship. It was fairly standard across the Imperial Navy. Although he had indulged it, Alexandros refused to allow his strategium to be as exposed. Instead, the strateigum was located closer to the center of the warship, protected deep within the hull. 

 

As he walked, Alexandros rubbed his throbbing shoulder. The pain of his nerves reconnecting the damaged tissue could be quite excruciating if he moved his arm too much. That was the purpose the sling now served after his body had successfully reconnected the exterior flesh. He estimated that his wound would have fully healed after another week. Until then, his right arm was kept close to his body. 

 

Almost equal in size to the bridge, the strategium was equipped with similar stations for ship controls, allowing it to function as an emergency command deck if the bridge was ever breached. But like most strategiums, it's primary purpose manifested in the form of the giant, circular holographic table in the room's center. Hologram technology had been a new and rudimentary field on Delos, which made the Imperium's technology all the more impressive. In fact, Alexandros had received word that the new technology had not only improved communications across the system, but led a revolution in recreational and gaming fields. At the moment, the most popular game was a simulacra of the Great Crusade, where players assumed the roles of either Imperial forces or xenos and did battle with one another.  Alexandros idly wondered how popular the game would be once the Great Crusade completed its task to secure the galaxy. 

 

Moving to be in front of his seat, Alexandros enjoyed the temporary solitude as he activated the table, keying the in-built cogitator to compile information about Balov Prime. It was more traditional for everyone to stand while in the strategium, but Alexandros thought that unfair to the mortals who did not benefit from transhuman endurance or mechanical implants. So, he had installed a number of collapsible chairs that could be summoned from the floor. As an additional benefit, the chairs could be resized to fit a human, a space marine, or a primarch as necessary. The only permanent chair was Alexandros' own throne, though he had taken care that it was clean of ornamentation and was no larger than any of the Primarch seats. 

 

The cogitator whirred as it completed its task. Soon, the table came to life as information filtered in, bathing the room in a green glow. All that was left to do was to wait. 

 

It was to little surprise that the first officer to appear was Commander Ludendof, Chief of the Legion Support Corps. Although the Emperor had created the Astartes with inhuman levels of endurance, the ancient adage still held true that 'an army marches on its stomach'. More importantly, the Legion Support Corps was in charge of munitions, ensuring that no unit went to war without weapons ready for war from energy cells to promethium. Unfortunately, as necessary as the Legion Support Corps was to the Legion's operation, there was little chance for the Storm Riders here to earn personal glory. 

 

Ludendof's armour may have been meticulously well-kept, but it was plainly obvious how bare it was compared to other similarly ranked officers. No earned honours adorned the Commander's plate. The only distinguishing mark he possessed was on his right pauldron. There a sword and key crossed, wrapped in a laurel to designate the Space Marine's specialty and his rank. Alexandros did not require his telepathy to see that Ludendof carried an edge of frustration with him. The Commander snapped to attention and saluted perfectly. "My lord! I have come as summoned."

 

Alexandros flashed his son with a sincere smile. "It's good to see you, Erick. Please, take a seat." 

 

"As you will, my lord."

 

With a press of a few buttons, thirty Astartes-sized seats rose from the floor. Instead of taking the seat next to his Primarch, the Support officer sat four spaces away, already making way for the higher officers.

 

"Oh come now, Erick," Alexandros protested. "Sit next to me. I want to talk about the kibotos."

 

The item in question was one of the artifacts recovered during the last campaign against the Ork space hulk. It was a treatise on equipment storage, inventory, and deployment from the Dark Age of technology. Unfortunately, portions of the treatise had suffered data degradation over the millennia. Including the schematics for the kibotos itself. From the quick glance that the Storm Riders techmarines had taken, it seemed to be a potential ammunition auto-loader for several kinds of heavy weapons. Unfortuantely, due to the Treaty of Mars, the schematic itself was immediately claimed by the Mechanicum. Although Alexandros had possessed the authority to deny their claim or delay it, he had no desire to antagonize one of the pillars of the Imperium for so small of gain. They had to make do with what information they had gleaned.

 

"As you wish, my lord." The Storm Rider commander hesitated before moving from his seat, moving with almost inhuman precision. As he sat down, Alexandros could see his aura affecting the marine, and Ludendof was subconsciously fighting it. "What information do you require?"

 

"Have you had any trouble implementing it? Any noticeable improvement?" 

 

Ludendof began a detailed report, which did include improved efficiency rates, storage capacity, etc. Although Alexandros heard and would not forget a single word, he was far more curious about the state of Ludnedof's heart. Without even actively reaching for his more supernatural tools, Alexandros felt the frustration exuding from Erick. From his passive senses alone, he attempted to feel more. The frustration was merely the noticeable consequences of something else. Something was provoking it from beneath.

 

The longer Ludendof spoke, the harsher the frustration became. As it became stronger, Darshan tasted something acidic.

 

Bitterness.

 

Still attempting to discern the root without calling more on his Warp power, Darshan gradually became aware that the bitterness was divided in half between inward and outward. Once he could detect that subtle clue, knowledge came swifty to Darshan. Given his close proximity, the outward bitterness targeted the Primarch. The inward half was reserved for Ludendof himself. But the why eluded the empath. 

 

Alexandros did not get a chance to delve deeper. As Lundendof ended his report, his heart began to quicken. It was said that space marines knew no fear, but they did not possess an immunity to other darker human emotions, including anxiety. There was hesitation once Ludendof finished, "My lord, I know it is outside the the chain of command, but I have a request."

 

With his senses so highly attuned, Darshan inwardly recoiled as the bitterness and frustration came screaming to the surface. Outwardly, Alexandros maintained his smile and answered, "By all means, Erick."

 

"My lord, I request a transfer to a combat unit."

 

Before Alexandros could answer, the strategium's doors opened as Irvin Ruel and another member of the Praetorate walked in. "Commander, I will consider your request and have an answer for you after this operation."

 

"Yes, my lord," Ludendof replied in a neutral tone before he moved back to his prior seat. The bitterness and frustration remained, but now wrestled with a third emotion, hope. Alexandros wasn't sure if it was warranted. 

 

Too professional to comment or ask about the interaction, Irvin instead marched to his Primarch and saluted. "Lord Commander Ruel, reporting as ordered."

Beside Irvin came the previous second-in-command before Alexandros' arrival. "Chapter Master Crassus, reporting as ordered," the blue-eyed transhuman declared as he saluted. Unspoken was Crassus' other title, Praefectus Alae, Commander of the Cavalry. Unlike Irvin, who's armour bore only the medals and awards he had earned, Crassus had felt free to embellish his suit with gold-trimmed pauldrons and a rich, red cape. From what Alexandros had heard, Crassus' cape had originally been a deep purple but had changed colours when Alexandros had taken his position as Master of the Storm Riders. 

Alexandros returned the salute, "At ease, and take your seats. I imagine the rest of the Praetorate will not be far behind."

 

"Yes, my lord," both answered before taking the seats on the left and right of Alexandros' throne. After he seated, Crassus added, "My lord, I hope this campaign will finally involve battle on open terrain. I and the rest of the Prefects are eager to display our skill before you, my lord."

 

Alexandros offered a diplomatic smile. "I've heard that the Prefects are one of the Imperium's finest armoured corps."

 

"The finest, if I may be so bold, my lord," Crassus corrected. "We are the true Riders of the Storm in this Legion."

 

With a chuckle, Alexandros was spared the rest of the conversation as the doors opened again to admit the rest of the Praetorate. 

 

The last to take his seat was Praetor Niemann. Formerly of the Destroyer Corps, the Storm Rider had a burn scar across half of his face from a previous battle when an incendiary charge had misfired. It had also necessitated a cybernetic eye. Niemann merely offered a deep nod to his liege lord, caring not for his abrasive demeanour. 

 

With the Praetorate fully assembled, Alexandros began the briefing with a quick overview of Balov Prime. A civilized war by Imperial standards, it was ruled by the Troika, or at least it was in theory. Although rule was supposed to be divided into three persons, data caches above the Balovian warships revealed that the third post was empty, the duties of that position had been divided between the two remaining members. 

 

Given the unusual circumstances of the third member's death, Alexandros had begun an explanation of how this affected the government structure of Balov, intending to point out potential weaknesses to exploit by the end of it. But, he was interrupted.

 

"My lord," Praetor Niemann said, brazenly ignoring protocol, "Does this matter?" 

 

A tense atmosphere settled over the table, Ruel bristling with anger as he clenched his fists and on the verge of disciplining his subordinate. Other members of the Praetorate looked warily between their Primarch and Niemann; Chapter Master Lothar shooting his comrade a poisonous look. Alexandros chose to address the matter himself, careful to keep his expression neutral. "Do you have a concern, Praetor Niemann?"

 

"I fail to see how this information is pertinent to our role in compliance. We should leave this work to the iterators and whoever becomes planetary governor after we've concluded our operations," Niemann declared before lazily adding, "my lord." 

 

Alexandros glanced around the table. While many members of the Praetorate scowled, few of them had qualms with Niemann's actual statement, merely his disrespect. This did not satisfy Alexandros. Turning to Irvin, he asked, "Lord Commander Ruel, do you agree with Nemann's assessment?"

 

"I do not, my lord," Irvin growled, continuing to glower at Niemann. 

 

"What are the advantages of the information I'm presenting?" 

 

Never taking his eyes of Niemann, Irvin began, "Knowledge of the enemy's political and leadership structure offers several tactical advantages. Their location could reveal command centers. By eliminating these priority targets, we can potentially disrupt enemy deployments and responses, confuse enemy forces by leaving them leaderless, or capture them for intelligence or weaponize them against their own forces."

 

Alexandros nodded. "Fine answers that could be found in the Principia Belicosa. Now, what else?" 

 

Only now did Irvin turn from Niemann to look at his Primarch, his face uncertain. Despite wanting to answer, Irvin's pause grew uncomfortable as the chapter master struggled for the answer. 

 

When it became clear that no answer was forthcoming, Alexandros' attention turned to the rest of his officers. "Anyone else?" None would meet his gaze with the right answer from Lothar to Adalbard. 

 

Alexandros frowned.

 

"When I first joined the Imperium and spoke with one of my sons, I was impressed by the knowledge and power all of you possess. However, I became aware of a weakness, an arrogance. It manifested as a soft disdain for the humanity we are called to serve. It is this weakness I see here, Niemann only the most obnoxious example."

 

The aforementioned Storm Rider opened his mouth, "My lord-"

 

"Did I give you leave to speak, Praetor?" Darshan answered allowing a shade of his anger to lace his words with raw power. No longer did he present the visage of a concerned teacher but that of a king of iron. 

 

Beneath the psychic-charged retort, Niemann's spirit faltered as he recoiled into his seat. "No, my lord," Niemann murmured. 

 

Alexandros remained still for a moment, his eyes boring into errant son. When he was satisfied, he addressed the entire Praetorate. "A lesson is in order. Instead of simply telling you the answer I seek, I will show it, to the entire legion. Praetors return to your ships. Assume a standard blockade around Balov Prime and await further guidance."


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#9
simison

simison

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Ch. 7 An Unexpected Foe

 

To say that Lieutenant Commander Paul Watters was having a bad day would be the understatement of the year. To start with, he had been denied a transfer to the U.B.S. Venture. It didn't matter if the price would have been three reductions in grade. Ever since the end of the Unity Wars a century ago, the Navy was seen as the highest form of military service. That was why only Admirals composed the upper echelons of military commands, the post of generals having been done away with. Instead the highest rank for any poor fool with a ground assignment was a mere Captain, a full five ranks removed from the top rank a Balovian could achieve. For two years now, Paul had been attempting to get his career kickstarted by attaining a coveted officer position somewhere, anywhere on the fleet. And he had been just received another denial letter this morning. 

 

Then the aliens had invaded. 

 

Calling themselves the Imperium of Mankind, the system's outer satellites had provided only a quick warning before the alien fleet rapidly sailed toward the core worlds. The Troika had ordered the entire Navy to assemble and to prevent the aliens from making any further gains. Contact was initiated by the invaders, the Troika explaining that the invaders had immediately demanded that all of the United Balovian Alliance surrender to their empire. The Troika had refused and ordered the invaders be destroyed.

 

The Alliance's Navy, pride of the entire system, was annihilated. 

 

Despite outnumbering the enemy five-to-one, the invaders' technology had proven to be far more advanced than even the Alliance's best ship, the Venture. The Venture now lay in enemy hands, along with maybe as much of a third of the Navy, the rest of it destroyed with the exception of a few squadrons in hiding. 

 

Which was why Paul was standing in a briefing room with the Troika themselves. 

 

Of course, it wasn't just Paul and the Troika. No, he was only a lieutenant commander after all and had barely qualified for this briefing. Standing with him in the round room was every lieutenant commander, commander, and captain assigned to the defense of Ovlast, capital city of Balov. As Captain Dumas, the officer who oversaw Ovlast's defense, gave his report, Paul glanced around the room. 

 

It was hard to tell that they were in the middle of the most secure bunker on the planet two hundred metres beneath the surface. The room more seemed more at home in one of the city's prestigious hotels with thick carpeting, antique sofas, and walls dominated with elaborate paintings of Balov's past. Only the lack of windows hinted at the true nature of the place, while the Troika sat behind bullet-proof glass at one end of the room, a convenient exit just behind their table. The other end of the room held the other officers standing in two ranks, commanders forward and their lieutenants behind them. 

 

No one wanted to be here.

 

Their ground forces had already taken their designated positions when the fleet had engaged the enemy and did not have the firewpower to challenge the aliens' fleet in orbit. The most basic lesson pounded in every Balovian academy was that the war was lost the moment space supremacy was lost. So, with no new orders and no hope, this briefing was completely pointless. And few things were as reviled throughout the military.

 

Actually, Paul revised, it was worse than useless. Glancing out of the corner of his brown eyes, the briefing was having a more insidious impact on the officer corps. He saw officers trying not to fidget in their uniforms. Officers known for their casual confidence stood in rigid attention. One Commander, Kirk who was in charge of the city's western defences, had started to sweat. 

 

Dumas put the papers in his hand back onto the table, a clear signal that the briefing was almost over. Paul could almost taste the relief and freedom that was surely only a few minutes away. 

 

Then an aide burst into the room. From the other side of the glass, next to the Troika. 

 

A new sense of anxiety blasted through Paul. This was supposed to be a close-doors briefing, no one outside of the individuals already inside were to have access unless it was an emergency. The young woman bent down to whisper with Director Chukhay, a heavy-set man with balding grey hair. It was a meaningless gesture since the only way to hear from that side was through the telecom system. Chukhay nodded before leaning forward and hitting the speaker button. "Captain, have your officers line up against the side walls," his deep voice muttered. 

 

Even before Dumas turned around to make it so, the officers marched to their closest wall. As Paul pushed himself against his wall, a screen lowered on the wall opposite to the Directors. Once it was done, it powered on as the lights dimmed. 

 

Immediately, everyone realized things were amiss. BGC was the government's news channel and featured the Balovian flag whenever there was a technical issue. 

 

On the screen was not the blue and red stars of Balov but a great, golden two-headed eagle stood with wings unfurled above a red background. Paul glanced towards the Directors and saw them arguing with the aide. What kind of power did the Imperium have that they could hack into the government's own satellite system? 

 

No more than three seconds passed before the strange eagle left the screen. What replaced it was a strange red-haired man wearing antique purple armour staring at the camera. Sitting on a black throne of sorts that blinked with LED displays on the armrests, the man spoke with a confident smile, "Greetings people of Balov, I am Alexandros Darshan VonSalim, and I come representing the Imperium of Man."

 

"I come not as a conqueror but as a liberator. For I am here to reunite Balov with the rest of humanity that you were long ago cut off from. For the Imperium's home is the same as humanity's. I hail from ancient Terra, the birthplace of our species that your history textbooks erroneously consider a myth."

 

Paul was shocked. As this bearded man had so bluntly stated, it was the official position of the United Balovian Alliance that Terra was nothing more than a metaphor for a lost paradise. Anyone who said or offered evidence to the contrary was swiftly buried beneath scorn and mockery until discredited. Paul had cared little for the debate since it was unlikely no ship would ever reach the closest star in his lifetime. But now Paul regretted his ignorance.

 

"I seek not war but peace. What your government has not told you is that when my fleet arrived at the edge of your system, I attempted to reach out with a hand of friendship. Yet, the Troika called me a liar and attacked me with your entire fleet. A fleet, I regrettably had to neutralize. However, I took every opportunity I could to spare every life sent against me."

 

The image shifted. The best Paul could tell, there were looking inside a hangar of sorts. Strange spaceships occupied the background, but it was the foreground that everyone would pay attention to. A gaggle of Balovian naval personnel sat on the floor. Most of them were eating from ration packets that Paul could only guess were standard of the Imperium. Several Imperium medical experts were at the edge of the gathering, attending to the more injured Balovians. Only a single guard could be seen, wearing the same strange antique armour VonSalim wore.

 

Paul did a double take. 

 

No, his eyes weren't playing tricks on him. The guard was a giant, easily over eight feet tall. Paul hoped some of that height was simply the armour, but what kind of ancient armour added an entire two feet to a man's height?

 

Then, he noticed that one of the armoured man's arms wasn't real. The man's left arm was completely cybernetic as could be seen from exposed cables and pistons. Cybernetic limbs were just beyond the reach of the Alliance's best scientists. The fact that this Imperium had combat-grade cybernetics only increased the tech gulf between them. 

 

How can we possibly win against this?

 

The camera shifted back to VonSalim. The man stood as he continued. "I plead with every man, woman, and child that we avoid war, avoid anymore needless casualties, and to not be deceived by your leaders. I know it is a strong accusation and that some of you will reject it, but I believe I need only remind the people of the strange circumstances surrounding the death of Director Tarkovsky. And how only two Directors have occupied a council that was meant for three."

 

Paul desperately wanted to glance back at the Directors but knew better. Even a year after the event, the death of Director Tarkovsky was a... sensitive matter.

As VonSalim continued, another one of the armoured giants marched up to him. And Paul was struck again by surprise when he realized that VonSalim towered over the warrior, yet much leaner than his companion. As if to drive home the comparison, a female officer strode up to VonSalim's other side. Standing at normal human height, she looked like a child next to the enemy commander. 

 

"I believe that the people of Balov will see reason. Therefore, in three days, I, alone, will come down to the surface of your world to accept a peaceful surrender and to welcome Balov to the largest human domain across the galaxy. I look forward to the close day where Balovians can enjoy the advanced technology of the Imperium and be reconnected with the rest of humanity. Farewell."

 

The connection ended. 

 

Warily, Paul turned his attention back toward the Directors as the officers reformed their ranks. Before they could do so, the telecom activated and Director Kravchuk's nasal voice sliced through the silence. "Captains, to your posts immediately! We have reports of rioting breaking out in several sectors of Ovlast. Your orders are to restore order and maintain full readiness." The thin, owlish Director added, "Any officer who does not fulfill his duties satisfactorily is to be removed from duty."

 

No officer had time to dwell on the threat before Captain Dumas shouted, "Dismissed! To your posts!"

 

Eager to be away from this place, Paul stepped out of formation and hurried to the door.

 

"Lieutenant Commander Watters!"

 

Paul went through every swear word he knew as he did an about face and came to a position of attention. 

 

Towering above Paul at six and half feet, Commander Naro had always cut an impressive figure. It was rumoured that the only way the Commander knew how to relax was to spend hours at the gym. Yet, for all of his physical aptitude, Naro had never managed to be promoted into the fleet. Although he had never expressed his frustration to his superiors, it had become an open secret that Naro expended his rage in a different direction.

 

"Watters, I have a report that several of your own subordinates are planning to desert!" The man shouted.

 

Paul seethed within. With morale so low, Paul wouldn't be surprised that every unit was looking at a few desertions. After all, the Army was where the military dumped its mistakes, its incompetents and its embarrassments. The sole reason the Ovlast garrison was a quality higher than the rest of the ground forces was because the directors lived here. 

 

"Sir, I'll verify the reports as soon as I have returned to my post," Paul replied as he stared straight ahead, acutely aware that the other officers were filing out.

 

"I want those reports ASAP! And, if there are any riots in your section, I expect you to personally lead counter efforts to maintain the peace!" 

 

Paul couldn't help but notice the Directors were still here. "Yes, sir!"

 

"And furthermore -!"

 

"Commander Naro," a third voice interrupted.

 

The big man whirled around as he came to the position of attention. Before the commander stood the elderly Captain Dumas. With greying hair, the captain said, "I would suggest that we not waste any more of the Directors' time. This is a conversation better suited elsewhere."

 

Paul could imagine Naro's veins bulging, but the commander merely snapped a crisp salute. "Yes, sir!"

 

Yet, as Naro turned his attention to issue another order, Paul saw Dumas glance at him. "In fact, I would like to begin my review starting with your assignment, commander. If you would accompany me. Dismissed, lieutenant commander." Without allowing Naro to get in another word, Dumas led his subordinate away from Paul to one of the two exits.

 

Pledging eternal gratitude to the captain, Paul darted toward the other exit.

 

~~~

 

As the door closed behind the last officer, Director Chukhay sighed and sunk into his seat. He could already imagine the content of the reports which would soon be streaming in. Riots would be the least of their problems. The Night Service had been keeping an eye on several different rebel and separatist factions that existed, even here on Balov. Most of them were nothing more than a few dozen individuals who powerlessly spit in the eyes of the Alliance behind closed doors. Only one or two had weapons of any kind, mostly small arms. Against his compatriot's desires, Chukhay had instructed the Night Service to observe and only ensure that these groups did not grow too large. Better to know where the enemy was instead of smashing them and driving them deeper into the shadows. 

 

What had seem wisdom in peace was now foolishness in war. Just as this alien commander had broken the back of the Alliance's fleet, he had broken the Director's control over Balov itself. Chukhay would not be surprised if the largest rebel group, a band that obnoxiously called themselves the Path to Prosperity, would be able to seize the city of Mosoch before the end of the day. How fragile our power looks now

 

Kravchuk slammed his fist onto the table as he swore. "How does this alien know about Afanisy!?"

 

Chukhay glanced at the empty third seat. "Perhaps they plucked it from our minds," he mused.

 

"This is not the time, Varlam! There's a leak in our intelligence, and it must be purged!" 

 

Throwing a look of annoyance at his comrade, Chukhay countered, "With what proof? The aliens have only been in our system for less than twenty-four hours. If you want a serious conjecture, may I remind you of their advanced technology? Would any of our digital defences be able to keep them out?"

 

"There must be some trace then! Unless our intelligence is secured, we have no hope of holding Balov against this invaders," Kravchuk said. "We did not come this far only for everything to be taken away from us!"

 

Chukhay couldn't help but share his compatriot's frustration on that note. Decades of work to secure his position and legacy, all erased in the span of a day. But he was no fool. The war was already lost. He wasn't sure why this alien was offering a three-day respite, but the outcome was not in doubt. It was a truth that seemed to elude Kravchuk. "Fine, then. Do a sweep with and through the Night Service. I'll be retiring to my home for the day." 

 

A look of disgust flashed through Kravchuk's owlish features. "How can you think of rest at a time like this?"

 

With a shrug, Chukhay lifted his bulk out of the chair. "We have three days, do we not? It is important that we remain well-rested, lest we make a mistake."

 

Kravchuk grimaced. "I don't understand this ultimatum, but we should take full advantage of it. We can use the time to fortify Ovlast and our bases, accelerate the draft, and push the factories to full production. In three days, we'll have tripled our strength, which should be enough to make this alien reconsider invasion."

 

Although he debated giving a blunter answer, Chukhay said as he buttoned his coat, "Do what you will. I will be here in the morning." He took a step toward the door.

 

"Varlam."

 

Chukhay paused as he regarded the other thinner Director. 

 

Wearing suspicion as a mask, Kravchuk whispered, "We're in this together, just as it was with Afanisy. Don't forget that."

 

"I won't."

 

The door led to a short, plain hallway that ended at an elevator door. It was an elevator strictly reserved for the Directors and those they deemed trustworthy, being the sole elevator that had access to every secret floor beneath the Directorate. For now, Chukhay hit the only non-basement button as he returned to the ground floor. 

 

Kravchuk's threat lingered in his mind. Although Kravchuk had the appearance of a scholar, it hid the nature of a serpent. To Chukhay's immense frustration, he would have to increase his protection. Perhaps secretly eliminate the Night Service members who had more loyalty to Kravchuk than the state. Worst of all, it would mean he would have to hire a taste-tester again. A small expense considering his pay as a Director, but there was something particularly offensive when Chukhay couldn't simply enjoy the taste of a dinner without fears of assassination. 

 

With a ding, the elevator opened into a secret hallway that connected the three Director offices. Taking a short left, he inputted a code into the wall before it slid open to reveal his office's bathroom. 

 

He opened the bathroom door and almost crashed into a mop bucket. 

 

The cleaning lady behind the bucket paled and immediately scurried away with her tools as she muttered, "I'm so sorry, Director. I-I was just-"

 

"Carry on," Chukhay curtly replied. He moved past the janitor at a brisk pace as his thoughts returned to more important matters.

 

~~~

 

The cleaning lady held her breath, until the Director closed the door behind him. It was only then that she breathed a sigh of relief. Anasya lifted a wrinkled hand to her heart. She was getting too old for surprises. Once her aged heart had calmed down, she pushed a grey strand of hair behind her ear before resuming her path to the Director's bathroom.

 

As soon as she mopped the bathroom, she would be done for the day. The usual relief before the end of a shift was not with her today. Ever since the alien invasion, an undercurrent of panic and desperation had seized the Directorate. Aides were running around trying to do six different tasks, while supervisors snapped at people for the slightest mistakes. Anasya was sorely tempted to quit, but she had worked hard to gain this job for herself and her family. The sooner she was gone, the sooner she could relax. 

 

With all of that weighing on her, she attacked the bathroom with a frenzy. Given how little use it saw, it didn't take long to clean the bathroom. The moment it was finished, she lumbered toward the janitorial center on the first floor. The few other janitors still here nodded to her. She frowned as she felt the air of melancholy that had silenced even her chatty coworkers but nodded back. She emptied out the mop bucket before returning the tools back to their places. It was only when she headed toward the supervising station did she remember that today was payday.

 

The janitorial supervisor, Sam, was at the station.

 

But not alone.

 

Though she wore no badge or insignia, it only made the woman next to Sam stand out all the more. After cleaning the Directorate for over two decades, Anasya knew she saw a member of the Night Service speaking to her boss. Suddenly, Anasya had no desire to check out as she looked for something to distract her. She locked onto the state art pieces lining the wall, giving them more attention now than she had in ten years' of work. She was happy that she couldn't hear the conversation, but Sam looked pale and his fingers fidgeted with a pen. 

 

An eternity seemed to pass as Anasya awkwardly studied the paintings before the Night Service woman finally left. Eager to not attract the attention of less savory individuals, Anasya hurried over to the station. 

 

Sam nodded to her as she reached the desk but said nothing, instead busying himself with some forms. Anasya keyed in her worker's code that clocked her out before turning her attention back to her supervisor. Whatever the Night Service woman had said had rattled Sam because four long minutes passed before he realized Anasya was still here.

 

"Do you need something?"

 

"...my paycheck?" Anasya timidly replied.

 

"OH!" Colour rapidly filled the supervisor's cheeks as he scampered toward a locker within the supervisor's station. "It is payday, isn't it?" His fingers slipped as he pulled out his keys. "Whoops," he muttered as he recovered. "It doesn't feel real, does it? There's this entire alien invasion, but it's still payday. Still have to pay the bills, right? I mean it's not like any of us had anything to do with the aliens coming, right? Why would any of us have anything to do with aliens we've never heard about until today? It's crazy, right?"

 

The more Sam rambled, the more uncomfortable Anasya felt. She was under the impression that Sam was reaching out to her.

 

But she wanted no part of this. All she wanted was to go home and rest. When Sam held out her paycheck, she took it. "Thank you," she said before turning away and heading straight for the exit. In the back of her mind, she hoped the colourful leaves would at least provide some relief on her walk.

 

Relief did not greet her as she stepped outside the building. 

 

The Directorate was not only the home to the Directors, but to the Balovian Council. As such, it was home to the entire Balovian government. So, it wasn't unusual to see soldiers here. Yet, in the past there had only been a few dozen. Now, Anasya thought their numbers reached into the hundreds as the outer edges of the Directorate were fully manned, others building emplacements, and dozens patrolling the streets beyond the Directorate's fences. All of them moved with a nervous energy that unsettled Anasya. 

 

She wanted nothing more than to break out into a run to the gate but feared that she would be shot. Doing everything she could not to attract any attention, she forced herself to calmly walk to the checkpoint that she had been walked through a thousand times before. 

 

Just yesterday, she had seen Luka and Kjetil manning the security checkpoint. The two soldiers had been stuck on gate duty for months and approached their jobs with a bored amicability. While important citizens and officers were given the full professional treatment, to everyone else, there had been a casual ease as they let them come and go, often with a joke.

 

The genial pair were nowhere to be found today.

 

Instead of two soldiers in standard uniforms, the main gate was now occupied by ten soldiers, all of them in full combat apparel. No more smiles as the new soldiers exuded an air of quiet hostility. As Anasya neared the gate, she fumbled for a moment before pulling her ID out of a pocket. The nearest soldier turned and stared at her as she walked the last few steps. She forced her hand not to shake, afraid that her fear would be mistaken for something worse. The soldier took her ID and studied it for a long moment. For a terrifying second, she thought the soldier would begin questioning her.

 

Instead, he 'harrumphed' and ordered, "Move along, janitor." 

 

Anasya was so relieved that she couldn't care less about the implied insult. She shuffled through the checkpoint and breathed a sigh of relief when she reached the other side of the Directorate's main bridge. She took a left and began her path home.

 

As her heart calmed down, her knees reminded her of her physical ailments. While she did work at the Directorate, her salary was modest to the point where the only apartment she could afford was six miles away. On some days, she would splurge and get a cab for the journey, but ever since her granddaughter became ill, all of her spare money went to medicine. Still, she soldiered on as she walked down her familiar route.

 

Unfortunately, it was the only thing that was familiar. This late in the evening, the city would normally come to life as lights turned on. Today, everywhere she looked, she saw fear and anxiety. Families were tense as children asked what was wrong with their parents, who made excuses. Chattering teenagers were subdued, constantly glancing at the sky. Above all, police and soldiers seemed to be everywhere, rushing this way and that. More barricades were going up, businesses were forced to close as the Balovian Army claimed the buildings for their own purposes. 

 

Anasya wanted nothing more than to be home. 

 

Half a mile from her apartment, she paused after turning a corner. Across the street was her favorite grocery store. It was being 'defended' by a ring of soldiers. Two lines of people outside the military line extended around city block as one soldier shouted into a megaphone. "Attention citizens! Food rations are now in effect in order to ensure a successful defense against the alien invaders. Every citizen will be allowed to make select purchases according to their need. To ensure a fair distribution, every citizen will be monitored while inside and at the counters. We thank you for your cooperation."

 

Anasya had been planning on a small stop to buy some needed milk. She had little doubt that she would be refused such a simple purchase, but she was uneasy. Even with so many soldiers armed with guns, there was grumbling muttered all throughout the line. When she looked around, Anasya saw resentful faces staring from windows. A noise drew her attention, and she saw some of the homeless teens scowling at the soldiers from one of the alleyways. 

 

There was a foul feeling in the air. It acutely reminded Anasya how old she was and how unprepared for violence she was at that age. She forgot the milk as she hurried down the street before something snapped. As she passed by the alleyway, she couldn't stop herself from looking at the nearest teenager. Although his outfit was filled with holes and rips, the young, tanned man seemed unaffected by the chill winds of autumn. He returned her gaze with fierce eyes as brown as his skin, and she squeaked before looking away. 

 

~~~

 

Mat snorted and wished he could intimidate the soldiers as well as he intimidated the old woman. As she scurried away, his stomach groaned reminding him yet again of how long he had gone without a real meal. And those damned soldiers stood between and his usual dinner. The grocery owner might be a tyrant, but his daughter could easily be persuaded to give expired stuff for Mat's performances. But the odds of that happening now that the whole army claimed the food?

 

Zero.

 

"This sucks," Liz said next to him. She was the only one in the gang who was as tall as Mat was, ever since he had gone through that early growth spurt despite being twelve. It made the hunger hurt twice as much. 

 

"Can't we just start something?" Sal chimed in. The nine year-old stared at the soldiers with open venom. "Those people look ready to start a fight." 

 

"With what?" Liz countered. "Ordinary folks aren't allowed guns. Only the army is. They'd kill half the folks, and the other half would book it."

 

Sal turned longingly to Mat. "What if we added some fire? We already outnumber the soldiers over a 1,000-to-1."

 

Mat growled back, "Shut. Up." 

 

"But Mat, how else we gonna eat?"

 

Mat didn't know. Truth be told, the pain was already bad enough that Mat was liking the idea of a riot. But how to trigger one where he and his buddies didn't get mowed down? 

 

He looked at the soldiers before scanning the city block. He glanced behind him, wishing he had a tank when he noticed the dumpsters. It was the day before garbage day, so both of them were overfilling with noxious trash. 

 

An idea burst in his mind. "Sal! You know the back door where 'Bay hands us food?"

 

"Yeah?"

 

"Go check it. I want to know if there any soldiers there. And don't be obvious."

 

Although he hesitated, Sal nodded and nonchalantly began walking away from the alleyway. A couple of soldiers focused on him and then the homeless bunch. Striking an angry pose, Mat yelled at them, "Chod! Come on, let's go!" 

 

Hoping he hadn't confused Sal, Mat turned to the rest and pointed to the back of the alley. They trudged away, until Mat directed them to take a second left. Entering into another alley, Mat saw a couple of more dumpsters, just like he wanted. 

 

They waited for a few minutes before Sal rushed in. "There's just one soldier back there!" 

 

"Good. This is the plan: I set the dumpster on fire, and we're going to run out of the alley screaming the aliens are attacking. Go straight for that back door. If it works, all of the soldiers will head for the alley."

 

A wave of unease passed through the kids. Liz, with one hand nervously playing with her hair, asked the unspoken question. "What if the soldiers don't leave?"

"Then, just run past the door to a different alley."

 

"What if all the soldiers except the one in the back goes to check the fire?"

 

"We take him out."

 

Silence at that answer. Sal shuffled his feet. "But, Mat, we're just kids. ...are you going to burn him?"

 

In response, Mat's became hard as rock. "Do you want to eat or not?" Nobody protested. "Good."

 

Mat turned to the dumpster in front of him. He could hear the others behind him take a step away. He hated it when they did that; it made him feel less than human. Ignoring his friends, he focused on the dumpster. The smell alone was nauseating as rotting food and crap permeated through the cheap, paper trash bags. He grimaced before he cupped his hands in front of him as he began to concentrate. His hunger pain helped as he focused on it, using it to create anger. He pictured the merciless soldiers in front of the grocery store, standing between him and his food, between him and life. The anger grew hotter, until it burned with hatred. 

 

With a grunt, fire erupted between his palms. A collective gasp sounded behind him, even though a couple of them had seen him do this before. The fire was the size of a marble, needing to be much larger for Mat's plan. He poured his hatred into it, growing it larger and larger. Although he didn't show it, he could feel anxiety lurking at the edges of his rage. Only once before had he tried to make a fire this big without a physical source to fuel it. It had ended poorly.

He pushed the memory away before he could relive it. Instead, he concentrated on the twin tasks of keeping the fire stable yet growing. Finally, after a long minute, it was as large as an apple. It would have to do. While no one else had noticed, if one person walked into the alley now, it'd be a disaster. He faced the dumpster.

 

The dumpster exploded in flame, actually releasing a small 'boom'. Mat took a deep breath, his body fighting against a wave of exhaustion. Never before had he had tried something that intense. Despite his body's protest, Mat spun around and shouted, "RUN!" 

 

His friends ran. Together, they all sprinted back to the grocery store. As they reach the mouth of it, Mat could see two soldiers cautiously crossing the street with the entire line of people watching them 

 

"ALIENS!" Liz shrieked as the homeless bunch sped past the first two soldiers. 

 

"THEY'RE ATTACKING!" Sal yelled, his fear sounding all too real. 

 

As the group rounded the grocery store's corner, Mat's plan took an unexpected turn. He had hoped the soldiers would overreact. He hadn't expected the crowd to panic. 

 

Screaming erupted from the crowd and order collapsed. People ran everywhere, away, to cars, to the soldiers and to the grocery store. Mat wasn't sure, but he thought he heard the soldiers trying to yell over the din, trying to calm people. Their efforts were wasted. 

 

Ahead of them was the lone soldier Sal had mentioned. He was running straight at them, his black machine gun held low yet ready to fire. For one terrifying second, Mat thought the soldier was about to shoot him and his friends. But then the soldier ran past them, toward the growing chaos. 

 

This meant the back door was not only open but completely unguarded. It was a dirty, rusting white door sticking out in a wall of graffitied brick. It had never looked so beautiful in Mat's entire life. Given the confusion going on, Mat and his friends were able to storm right in without being noticed. 

 

They were now in storage. All around them were boxes of food on metallic shelves extending throughout the back half of the store. At the other end from their entrance were the freezer and fridge units. Mat panicked as he completely forgotten about the staff, but no one was in sight. He couldn't remember, but he thought the owner had about six employees for the modest grocery. 

 

None of his friends cared as they salivated over the boxes. "So much food," Sal whispered. 

 

"Focus!" Mat barked. "Grab chips, bread, and anything else that's light and doesn't need a fridge. We've got maybe two minutes 'til we're caught, and we still need to haul this stuff far away from here!"

 

The kids scrambled as they searched through the shelves. Mat himself turned to the nearest shelf and scanned the names. Most of them were labeled, but the labels were small and hidden in the corners. Even then, it was written in packaging code, which took too long to understand. Of greater help were the brand names emblazoned in the center. The only problem with that was when one brand sold more than one kind of food, as Liz found out when she grabbed a box that she thought were chips only to find it loaded down with canned food. 

 

Mat was having trouble keeping track of the time as he ripped open boxes. He hated the noise they were making but hoped it was being drowned out by what was going on outside. To his frustration, he caught Sal eyeing the freezer as he half-heartedly checked a box. "Sal! We don't have time!" He whispered.

 

"But, Mat, there'll be ice cream in there," Sal whined. 

 

Although he nearly swore at Sal, Mat froze when a new sound broke through the cacophony: gunfire.

 

"Grab what you can and run!" Mat screamed. His friends needed no second warning as they scrambled towards the door. In the back of his mind, Mat couldn't help but wonder where were the grocery workers. Unbidden, he imagined them ridden with bullet holes. He shivered before shoving the thought away. He grabbed the nearest box, which was thankfully just loaves of bread, before sprinting to the door after his friends. "Go right!"

 

Outside, the gunfire was twice as loud. A second wave of people were running away from around the grocery's corner, where the main entrance was. Mat made the mistake of taking a second look. 

 

He saw blood. 

 

An old man was shuffling away, his brown shirt turning a dark red while his arms cradled his stomach. In front of Mat's eyes, the old man teetered over and lay still. 

 

Doing everything he could not to think about what he just saw, Mat ran the other way. 

 

Although they carried several boxes, the kids moved quickly as they scampered into the nearest alleyway. Some of them started to slow down, but Mat wouldn't let them as he shouted, "Keep going! We need to get far away from here!"

 

So they did. 

 

After a half dozen alleyways, Mat gave up count as he tried to listen for sounds of soldiers running after them or guns going off. People shouted and screamed. He saw other soldiers in different streets. But everybody seemed too scared or distracted to notice him and his friends.

 

It was Sal who dropped as they reached an alleyway intersection. "Mat," he breathed. "I can't run anymore."

 

Mat grimaced but checked behind them. They waited for a minute, but no one came charging in after them. Mat finally released the tension out in a deep breath. "It's okay, Sal, I think we can stop.

 

As the tension eased from his body, Mat's legs nearly gave out. Between the fire, the panic, and the running, his body had been pushed to the brink. He managed to stagger over to the nearest wall and sink down to the ground. He was not alone as several of his friends panted and sat on the concrete. Liz looked over at him as she wiped sweat off her brow. "You look bad, Mat."

 

Mat grunted. "Food."

 

Now that they weren't trying to dodge bullets, he could see what they had pulled off. They had managed to grab five boxes between them. One kid, Anton, was already opening the first box. From within, he pulled out a dozen bags of chips. Mat held out his hand, and Anton dropped a bag into it. "I'm going to eat, until I burst!" 

 

Shaking his head, Mat said, "No, eat enough to make the pain go away. We need to save as much food as we can." 

 

There were grumblings in protest, but no one outright challenged Mat. And he was relieved by it. As he started eating and the pain began to fade, he struggled to stay awake. With every chip he munched, he took another step toward dreamland. Although his body rejoiced as the pain ebbed, something tugged at the edge of his mind. Some kind of warning. Something bad. 

 

He couldn't remember. 

 

He couldn't stay awake. 

 

He heard whispers.

 

He slept.


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#10
simison

simison

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Ch. 8: The Border between the Material and Immaterial

 

The whispers didn't go away. 

 

All around Mat was fire. But he felt none of his usual comfort. For in the fire, shapes twisted this way and that. Hideous, grinning faces would appear and then disappear. He was surrounded by malice and hunger. 

 

This was why he avoided the full extent of what he could do. A sense of danger permeated his entire being, an instinctual knowledge that his very soul was exposed to things better not thought of. The worst part was the utter helplessness. He wanted nothing more to do than to strike at the shadowy figures. Yet, he knew if he tried, it would be a battle of rapid escalation. 

 

A battle he would lose.

 

So, Mat stood still, trying to ignore the uncomfortable heat and the neverending barrage of whispers. He couldn't even understand the words they used, and whenever he tried, it felt wrong. 

 

The whispers stopped.

 

It was so sudden that Mat wasn't sure if his hearing, if it was hearing, was playing tricks on him. He cast his gaze at the inferno around him and couldn't comprehend the silence. Each flame shimmered and flickered. While understanding eluded him, Mat was under the distinct impression that the fires were afraid. 

 

"Leave him be." 

 

Mat spun around toward the new voice. Although he was surrounded by fire, darkness surrounded the outer edges of the conflagration, and no smoke produced it. Mat squinted, but now the fires burned higher, creating a wall between Mat and the voice. 

 

From beyond the flames, Mat heard the voice again, "Foolishness."

 

The...ground? Floor? Mat shook as something approached. Something big. Something strong. No matter how hard Mat tried to see what was coming, the fire wouldn't let him. 

 

Then, from the darkness, a massive wave of water slammed into the outer edge of the inferno. Instead of steam, the air filled with screams. The water submerged the tongues of fire where they thrashed and withered. 

 

As the wave charged forward, Mat turned to run, but the fires grew brighter as though they were waiting to catch the boy. With nowhere to go, Mat crouched and covered his head. Yet, the wave never struck him. Only half a metre away from, the water split into two. To Mat's amazement, the water flowed around him as it struck at the fires. Individual licks of flame at the other edge flew away. Those that remained were consumed by the waters. 

 

Silence.

 

Alone, Mat stared at the strange water. It looked cleaner than the city rivers. Curious, he reached out with a finger. Before he could touch it, the water vanished. 

 

"Are you alright?" 

 

Mat looked up into shining blue eyes. A man with bright red hair looked down at him with concern. Mat didn't know how he got here, but the stranger felt oddly real and not real at the same. The weirdest part was the purple pajamas the stranger wore.

 

The stranger chuckled. "Not quite. They're robes, and they're quite comfortable. But I digress, let me help you up," he offered with an open hand. 

 

Staring suspiciously at the hand, Mat instead asked, "Who are you?"

 

If the stranger was annoyed by Mat's hesitation, he didn't show it. The stranger grinned as he said, "My name is Alexandros, though you can call me Alex." 

 

"That's a weird name," Mat replied. Yet, he reached out and accepted the strangers, Alex's help. Pulled up, Mat stood eye-to-eye with the man. 

 

Alex shrugged. "It is what it is."

 

Mat paused and glanced around, eyes flitting about for the fire that was here not a moment ago. "What were they?"

 

"Predators of a different kind," Alex said as he cast a hard look toward the missing expanse. "They can be extremely dangerous." 

 

Turning back to Alex, Mat remembered the giant wave which had sent the 'predators' away. "But not to you?"

 

"Hmmm," Alex said as he scratched at his red beard. "Well, theoretically, they could, but that would require me to forget all of my discipline for that to happen." His azure gaze shifted to the young man. "With training, you as well could resist them instead of simply waiting for you to return to the waking world."

 

The possibility alone of banishing his nightmares at his whim tempted Mat. But he fought the urge. There was too much he didn't know about this man. "How come you're only now here? Where do you live? Are you from one of the other Alliance planets?"

 

Alex chuckled. "I'm from a place much farther away. In fact, let me show you." With blue eyes glimmering with amusement, Alex held up a hand and snapped his fingers. 

 

Mat stood on a wooden floor. Around him were a couple of sofas and chairs, cushioned with faded patterns. The light of a sun welcomed him through a large window. On the ceiling, a fan lazily spun around. At one end of the room was a thick table with five more chairs. Cheap paintings hung on the walls, one with a broken frame. Mat's eyes drank in everything. There was a peace and warmth surrounding him that he had never felt. 

 

Reclining in one of the chairs, Alex watched Mat with a soft smile. 

 

Finally, Mat asked, "Where are we?" 

 

Alex waved over the room. "This is my boyhood home. I grew up here." He pointed out the window. Mat walked up to it and saw a village sitting next to a sea. Houses of white stone huddled next to each other as people went about their business on old pavement. "That is Rhodes. It's a small town, but the people are friendly and know the best ways to cook fish. I've saved a few recipes."

 

Mat didn't know when, but an aroma wafted into the room. It reminded him of the fancier restaurants of Ovlast where the food always costed twice as much as it was worth. He had sneered at the rich fools who wasted money to prove their 'worth', but now he wouldn't mind a bite. 

 

"But, to actually answer your question, this is the planet Delos."

 

Mat paused, racking his head of the planets of Balov. He had never really cared about the other planets, and it had been years since he had been in school. That didn't stop the sinking feeling that Delos was not one of them. He became stiff as he stared at Alex. "...you're one of those aliens that invaded, aren't you?"

 

Alex snorted. "I can't tell you how ironic it is to be labeled an alien, considering what I've seen. You are, however, technically accurate. I am not of Balov, though I did not 'invade' this system. I came here to liberate and protect Balov from actual aliens."

 

"And what counts as a 'real alien'?" Mat said spitefully. 

 

Again, Alex raised a hand and snapped his fingers. 

 

Mat stood on a metal platform, overseeing war. Men in grey, metal armor fought with green men on thin walkways. Before Mat could focus, a roar behind him made him spin around. In front of him, a giant in purple armour stood facing a dozen green men. Mat blinked as he could see the green "men" better. Their ears were too pointed. None of them seem to have hair. Most different of all, their teeth were fangs with two tusks in their mouths. "They're not human."

 

From beside him, Alex said, "Correct. Though there are many similarities, make no mistake, those are actual aliens. Remorseless and in love with killing for the sake of killing. They are the Orks."

 

Mat threw a glance at Alex before his attention locked on the fight erupting before him. The giant fired with a strange pistol that seemed to shoot white lava. Several of the... Orks melted but the rest charged the giant. The pistol seemed to scream in agony, and the giant threw it. 

 

"Cover your eyes," Alex warned.

 

Mat's vision went dark. To his own surprise, his hands had obeyed without thought. Before he could question what just happened, a star blasted him. Even though his eyes were closed and covered, Mat thought he might've gone blind for a moment. He backed away as he pulled his hands down. He breathed a sigh of relief despite how many spots he was seeing. 

 

Then he noticed he was standing on air.

 

Alex had an amused smile as Mat screamed. "Easy, easy. This is nothing more than a memory. You're perfectly safe from gravity." The dark-skinned boy shut his mouth and tried to fight his fear. "Walk back to me. One step forward."

 

Although his instincts howled in dismay, Mat bit his lip before he forced himself to take a step. The air, against all evidence, held his weight. 

 

"Good, now take another."

 

Still not quite believing his eyes, Mat took another step. Then another. He kept walking until he was back on the platform. He released an intense sigh of relief before he threw a sharp glare at Alex, who continued wearing his smile.

 

Although the fight continued before them, Mat tried to ignore it for now. "How are you doing all of this?"

 

"I'm like you, Mat. A man possessing extraordinary power. Except where you have an affinity for fire, I have an affinity for the mind, among others. More importantly," Alex said, "I can teach you how to master your gift."

 

Mat paused as he glanced around the memory. Even knowing it wasn't real, Mat knew he couldn't tell the difference. There was great power involved here. Yet, he frowned. "Nothing's free. You're not here 'out of the kindness of your heart'," Mat accused. 

 

"True," Alex conceded. "I'm not here to give out charity, but instead I'm offering you a trade."

 

Although circumspect, Mat asked, "What kind of trade?"

 

Alex smiled. "Simple. I teach you how to protect yourself from those predators, and you protect me for a single day in the real world." 

 

Mat balked, his brown eyes wide with shock. "Me. Protect you? I'm just some homeless kid."

 

Alex grinned...

 

~~~

 

...and said, "You are more capable than you think."

 

Anasya could not disagree more with the alien. Aloud, she answered, "I'm just a cleaning lady. I am not some master spy or some movie secret agent."

 

Mr. VonSalim's grin never wavered. "That's what precisely makes you powerful. Most people would never give you a second glance, would never expect you to be anything other than harmless." 

 

"I am harmless," Anasya replied wearily as she rubbed her back. "I can't fight. I can barely make the walk from home to work."

 

"Not all battles are fought with fists," Mr. VonSalim said, exuding nothing but patience. "And I would never ask you to do anything so physical. My request simply involves pressing a few buttons. Nothing more, nothing less."

 

Anasya fixed the alien with a deadpan stare with her tired eyes. "I am no fool."

 

"I'll show you," Mr. VonSalim offered as he waved a hand. The floral-patterned wallpower dissolved as familiar, rich walls of the Directorate stood behind them. In seconds, the pair were standing in one of the Directors' office. Actually, Anasya realized, it was the same office where she had finished her duties this day. Or was it yesterday?

 

Mr. VonSalim pointed at the bathroom. "This way." Although Anasya had no doubt the alien had never been on Balov, he confidently strode forward. He opened the door and entered the procelain room with Anasya trailing behind, unsure of what the red-haired man was up to.

 

Once within, Mr. VonSalim immediately headed to the side wall before holding his hand out to one section.

 

Although he never touched the wall, one of the porcelain tiles slid away, revealing a finger scanner. Mr. VonSalim never pressed it, simply pointed at it. The device chipped and an entire portion of the wall opened. "This way, please."

 

No matter how solid the environment appeared to be, Anasya could not overcome how surreal everything felt as she follow the alien into a small, secret hallway. They turned right and faced an elevator. Seemingly without a care in the world, Mr. VonSalim summoned the elevator and stepped inside when the doors opened. He waited expectantly. 

 

Anasya reluctantly shuffled inside. As the doors closed, she finally couldn't contain her confusion anymore. "Is this a dream? Are we here? Is this a memory?"

 

"We're not here," Mr. VonSalim explained as he pressed the small button labeled '12'. "This is a combination of memory and farsight. I can see the interior of the building, but I'm using information from various memories to show you how to go to the security center."

 

"Security center?"

 

The elevators opened. Inside was a large room, dominated by dozens of security monitors which oversaw every square centimetre of the Directorate. Beneath the screens was an enormous electronic console that extended from one side of the room to the other. Nine members of the Nightwatch attended to the console, reading out reports, verifying security matters, and manipulating the console. 

 

Anasya froze. Mr. VonSalim chuckled, "You're in no danger. We'll start over here." He walked over to the center-left of the room, while Anasya tiptoed behind him, her eyes never leaving the Nightwatch. 

 

"Relax. See, watch." Before Anasya could stop him, Mr. VonSalim slapped the sitting Nightwatchman next to him. ...or would have if his hand hadn't simply flowed through the man's head. "We can't interact with them, they can't interact with us. You're perfectly safe."

 

Although Anasya slowly relaxed, she threw a confused glance at the ceiling. "But, the bathroom entrance?"

 

"That was for your benefit, I haven't actually done anything. Now, over here," he explained as he gestured to several readouts and buttons, "this section controls the automated turrets built into the Directorate's walls." He slid over to the center of the console, "Here, this button controls the forcefield around the Directorate. Finally," he finished as he moved to the right side of the room, "this is the communications network. I need you to deactivate this for me."

 

He turned back toward her, his green eyes settling on her. "Do this for me, and I'll cure your granddaughter's illness and ensure that you and your family lives comfortably for the rest of their lives. And, at no point, will you be in danger. I will ensure your complete protection."

 

Anasya wasn't sure what to think of Mr. VonSalim's offer. A part of her wasn't sure she should believe it was possible. Another, weaker part warned her that this may all be an elaborate trick. A third part of her feared betraying her world. And on and on it went as so many feelings and thoughts jumbled within her. She opened her mouth to speak and...

 

~~~

 

...and Director Chukhay stared warily at his bed. 

 

"Is there something wrong?" His wife asked, glancing over her book as she laid comfortably beneath the covers.

 

It was a stupid question. So many things were going wrong, even without the alien fleet above their heads. Ovlast may be under the firm control of the Directorate, but the rest of the planet was slipping away from their grasp. As the situation worsened, Kravchuk was becoming increasingly erratic. Ten Night Watch members were dead, along with several dozen civil servants and 'suspected' civilians. It had forced Chukhay to divide his attention between stabilizing Balov and covering up his fool of a peer. And this didn't even touch on the dream he had yesterday...

 

"It's fine," the wide man said as he laid down.

 

For once, the smoothy silk of the covers offered no relief as as Chukhay couldn't help but wonder if his dreams would be invaded again. Maybe it wouldn't happen. Maybe he would finally enjoy a true night of rest. Or maybe he should avoid his dreams as much as he could. Given the enormous stress he was under, it wouldn't be surprising that he would skip a night's sleep. There were so many conflicts to resolve. Maybe he wouldn't sleep after...

 

Chukhay opened his eyes to find himself in an elaborate parlor. He sat on a blue antique sofa next to a living fireplace. The scent of vodka wafted in the air from an opened bottle on a coffee table. Two glasses sat next to it. Chukhay barely noticed all of this as his eyes narrowed on the being sitting across from him.

 

Unlike the previous dream, the alien warlord did not hide his true size. The giant took up the whole couch he sat upon. "Hello, Director," he said off-handedly, his focus on a map next to the vodka. Glancing down, Chukhay saw it was map of Balov. Flags sat on each of the major cities. Most of the flags were the familiar blue-and-red stars of the United Balovian Alliance. However, most of the cities featured one other flag, sometimes several. They came in myriad colours and images. Only one city had one flag: the capital itself, Ovlast, proudly flying the Alliance flag.

 

That changed when the warlord pointed at the city Mosoch. The Alliance flag fell over, leaving another flag, a white one featuring a road and a star, standing alone. "It appears, Director, that the Path of Prosperity have complete control over Mosoch, and Pitirsverg is not far behind."

 

"Quite so," Chukhay muttered bitterly. "The progress of these various rebel elements could be seen as quite miraculous."

 

The Warlord grinned and shrugged, "Lady Luck appears to be enarmored with them."

 

"Or manipulated. Perhaps the rebels are lucky, but it is not luck that is responsible for the death of hundreds of Night Watchmen across the entire planet," Chukhay accused. "Does this not reveal that your prior offer is a sham?"

 

"Explain something to me, Director," the Warlord said as his grin faded away. "What possible use could you have of a network of spies and killers who are fanatically loyal to an old regime and not to the future?"

 

Chukhay stared stonily back. "They are working for the interests of Balov, nothing more."

 

"Most of them are not working for the interests of humanity," the Warlord smoothly countered as he leaned back in the couch. "The few who have managed to keep their consciences intact have already agreed to defect or to remain neutral in this tumultuous transition, including one of your favorites, Agent Tasha."

 

Stunned silence reigned. Finally, Chukhay whispered, "How many dreams are you in?"

 

With a shrug, the Warlord said, "I'm not keeping count."

 

Chukhay forced the fear and awe away from him. He could not show weakness at this moment. "Still, you are asking much of me without giving me much optimism that you will uphold our bargain."

 

The grin returned as a giant hand swept around the room. "Is this not enough?"

 

Although puzzled, the overweight Director did look around the room. To his surprise, he noted a painting over the fireplace. It displayed a man in golden armour and wearing golden leaves around long, black hair. In his hands, the man held a flaming sword as he stared imperiously at Chukhay. Yet, the true surprise was across from this first painting. On the opposite wall hung a portrait of Chukhay himself. His painted self wore a uniform he did not recognize and sat in a plain chair, erect and somber. "What is this place?"

 

"This is your mansion, six months from now. This room is your public parlor to entertain visiting lords and dignitaries. Tonight, though, it will serve a different purpose. In thirty minutes, you and your second grandson will be returning from the starport. He is in the midst of a break from his studies on Terra. The two of you aren't particularly close, but you are hopeful that he'll give you greater insight into the heart of the Imperium. Hence, the vodka."

 

Chukhay didn't know what to say. One of the secrets of Kravchuk that Chukhay had learned after great effort was that the man actually employed a seer. According to the law, mystics, foretellers, and others possessing unnatural gifts were forbidden from their... eccentricities. But, as in with so many legal matters, the Director had ignored it. Upon first hearing it, Chukhay had nearly panicked and moved against his comrade, until he had learned just how unreliable the woman was. The woman was constantly voicing out confusing metaphors and mysterious riddles, and only on two occasions was her advice clear and straightforward. 

 

What the Warlord...VonSalim had just done could not compare. It felt as though the giant was simply reciting a moment from a movie than casting his gaze into the future. 

 

"And you can guarantee this?"

 

VonSalim wore a small smile. "Few things are set when it concerns the future. Take the sofa you're sitting on. It was made in a style favoured in ancient Roma and is your wife's favorite colour. You chose that one because it was what your wife preferred, and you wanted additional legitimacy to your authority by emulating the empire that has clearly left its mark on the Imperium. But you could easily have made a different decision."

 

Although Chukhay felt nothing, the blue sofa transformed into a white one with black designs covering yet with a complete back to it. 

 

"This one is more akin to something found in venerable Italia, during the distant 1500s. More ostentatious and the colours are something that pleases your eye. Both valid decisions and both equally likely. So, no, I can't predict the future with complete accuracy." VonSalim paused before he continued. "Though one trader will try to offer you a yellow couch, claiming it's from Jermani. Don't believe him and report him if you would, he's a con man who's managed to evade the Arbites for four years."

 

After a momentary pause before VonSalim focused on the Director. "One thing is certain, though. All of this," he said as his hand swept over the room, "will never come to be if you reject my offer. Do you understand?"

 

Chukhay sighed and...

 

~~~

 

...Paul stared at the giant standing in the middle of the street. 

 

Commander Naro's last order rang in his ears. Paul glanced down at his vehicle. It was one of the few tanks that guarded Ovlast, and its main cannon was aimed directly at the red-haired alien. Standing in the round turret, all Paul had to do was shout out the order. The tanks would fire. The alien would die. 

So would the the children standing behind and beneath the giant. That, of course, hadn't mattered to Naro when he had given the order. It did matter to Paul, but was it enough to disobey a direct order? To betray his home? 

 

The alien, the Lord Primarch according to his dreams, silently waited and watched him. He had made an offer, but had based it on a nebulous future with only his word as collateral. 

 

The seconds dragged on for an eternity as the crescent moon of Balovian soldiers stood at the ready, waiting for the shot that would end the war. 

 

Paul grimaced. 

 

The Lord Primarch frowned.

 

"Fire."

 

The Lord Primarch held out his hand.

Paul's tank fired.

 

There was no explosion. To the stunned horror of the Balovians, the tank round hovered, twirling mid-air before the giant's outstretched hand. That moment of hesitation would be the last. The air crackled with power. Light exploded. 

 

Twenty lesser giants in metallic armour formed a perimeter in front of their red-headed master. One stood in front of them all and wielded a set of threatening claws attached to his armour gauntlets. "Protect the Primarch!" This being shouted. With this order, Paul's platoon died. Where the armoured men fired, fire  ripped through kevlar and flesh. 

 

Paul had no time to consider the utter foolishness of his choice before the Lord Primarch appeared before his tank. Interlocking his fingers into a single fist, the Lord Primarch raised and then slammed down. With raw strength alone, the blow broke through the cannon's barrel before crashing into the tank's front plates. 

 

Not only did the tank's front crumble beneath the ungodly might, but it catapulted Paul out of the turret. He spun forward through the air. Then, he landed on his back. In the roar of war, only he could hear himself wheeze as the landing knocked the air out of him. Before he could recover, the Lord Primarch stood above him. "You could prevent all of this."

 

Could? Paul thought as he stared up in terror. He waited for the robed titan to finish him off. But the Lord Primarch merely stared down at him. After a moment, he realized there was no sound. He looked around and saw that nothing moved. The grey-armoured giants had finished slaughtering his platoon and were advancing. The clawed leader's claws were in the middle of slicing through Naro's head. Paul couldn't help but feel a little morbid satisfaction at that.

 

He slowly stood up, but everything remained frozen. Paul turned and said, "This is a dream."

 

"No. This is a possibility." The Lord Primarch offered an index finger. Awkwardly, Paul grabbed onto it before the Lord Primarch lifted him off the ground. "This is the most likely future if you choose to reject my offer." 

 

Paul grunted. "I liked the last dream." 

 

"It is a pleasant future. But it will not simply happen." The giant gestured to the scene around them. "This is what happens when you simply try to flow with events. Reward comes to those who act and not simply react. And there is precious little time for you to dawdle now. My arrival can now be measured in hours, not days." 

 

Paul didn't want to be reminded. These last three days had passed at a blur and in slow-motion. No matter how hard the government tried to suppress it, the rumour mill stated that the rest of the planet had already fallen to rebels. Ironically, it was the government's attempts to hide the truth that made the truth that much more obvious. Control was slipping, which meant the Balovian soldiers were put under twice as much scrutiny. It seemed everyday that the Nightwatchmen made a visit or a soldier would be told to report to HQ and not reappear the next day. His men were tired and standing far too close to the breaking point. 

 

He didn't know if he felt relieved or even more stressed to know that events would soon come to a head, one way or another. "This decision would be easier if you could give me some guarantee besides your visions. I have no way of knowing they're not just tricks."

 

"I have nothing else to offer you," the Lord Primarch said. "Any physical interaction with the surface will trigger enormous consequences. I could have someone leave you a message in the waking world, but you could just as easily dismiss that as more subterfuge. I'm sorry to say, but you must take a leap of faith on this matter."

 

"You're asking me to betray my home," Paul quietly countered. "If you betray me, I'll lose everything."

 

"If you do not fulfill your side of the bargain, you will have written your death in stone," The giant said, waving his hand over the frozen massacre. "And deprive your wife of her husband, and your children of their father. I cannot force you to believe the truth. That is a choice you must make." As he spoke, the scene around them seemed to dissolve. The colours faded as shapes became more indistinct. Darkness settled into the absence as the scene disappeared. 

 

"And decide soon."


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#11
simison

simison

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Ch. 9: A New Coat of Paint

 

First Lieutenant Murfy was bored out of her mind. She pushed back a strand of golden hair as she received the latest fleet reports. Precious little had changed in the last three days. The first day was mildly interesting as various ships reported progress on repairs after the fleet engagement with the natives. But those patches were soon made and the reports all became a bland mix of readiness. It could be worse, she supposed. She didn't know why, but some captains had this peculiar idea that as the communication officer of the Elpis, she could magically answer all of their questions. Several officers and captains had asked, and a rare couple had demanded, to know what was the next step in operations. 

 

As of this moment, the 35th Expeditionary Fleet was in orbit above the planet's capital city with neither void shields or weapons powered. The Elpis formed the center of a sphere of warships as they languidly traveled through space, keeping pace with the planet's rotation. The reason for this state of being sat behind her. Her purple eyes snuck a peak.

 

Lord Alexandros Darshan VonSalim sat in his command throne, eyes closed. For three entire days, the primarch had sat there, never moving after giving out his last orders. A running bet had emerged on day two among the armsmen when the Emperor's Son would finally move and actually conquer the system. 

Before she could turn back to her station, VonSalim's eyes snapped open. Then, to her mortification, his eyes swiveled to her. "First lieutenant, I have orders to give."

 

It was only through trained reflex that Murfy answered, "Yes, my lord?"

 

Alexandros reached up to the sling holding his right arm, and, with a few precise movements, undid it. Leaving it on his throne, Alexandros stood as he stretched the limb, never wincing to the pain that flared through him. Thankfully, it was a shadow of what he felt days ago. His eyes never left Murfy as he spoke. "Would you be so kind to summon Lord Ruel? He is to come to the command deck at once."

 

~~~

 

Irvin Ruel rested within his quarters. As the second-highest ranking officer of the Storm Riders, he enjoyed a cabin worthy of his rank. Unlike some mortal commanders, it was not a sign of indulgence as the room was filled with tools of war. Ruel's personal armoury alone occupied half of the cabin, while his cot was only large enough to hold his considerable bulk. 

 

The sound of a beeping electronic immediately roused the Space Marine. Ruel got off the cot as he reached over to the vox-unit embedded in the wall. As he activated the unit, he said, "Ruel."

 

"My lord, Lord VonSalim has ordered you to come to the command deck immediately."

 

"Acknowledged, Ruel out." Turning to his armour, Ruel muttered under his breath, "finally."

 

In a few minutes, Irvin Ruel marched onto the command deck, his focus singular. He strode toward his Primarch's command throne, but soon felt an absence. "My lord?" He asked as he rounded to the throne's side. The throne sat empty, save for a medical sling. His attention twisted toward the nearest mortal: Captain Hierax standing next to his smaller throne a ways forward. "Where is the Primarch?"

 

Before the captain could answer, the comms officer announced, "Drop pod launch."

 

Irvin Ruel whirled toward the young woman. "Who gave the order? The primarch's command that all forces hold until new orders were issued."

 

To her credit, the first lieutenant didn't flinch from his biting tone. Instead, she simply said, "My lord, the primarch is in that drop pod."

 

Ruel froze. 

 

What?

 

~~~

Chukhay's head snapped up as Captain Dumas hurried into the room. Saluting, the stately officer stated, "Unknown object approaching from the enemy fleet, Directors."

 

Director Kravchuk hissed as he jumped to his feet. "Is it a weapon?"

 

~~~

 

Anasya fought the urge to sprint to the doors after the guards had finally let her into the Directorate. She knew that would probably give her away, but she so desperately wanted to escape their probing eyes. She was half-convinced that they were already onto her. They were probably radioing the Nightwatch right now. She should just leave right now. 

 

Except that would also look very suspicious. So, she forced herself to keep to a steady walk as she neared the main building. Once inside, she headed to her supervisor's station to sign in for the day, doing everything she could to not look like a traitor. After all, she had heard the rumors of what happened to traitors. Nothing good and everything bad. They were rumors that the Nightwatch did everything they could to ensure traitors died screaming and screaming and screaming...

 

"Anasya?"

 

She flinched and realized she was at the station. Sam was staring at her, concerned and wary. "Oh, sorry, yes?"

 

"A little distracted, are we?" Sam said and then laughed that nervous laugh of his, which only made Anasya feel worse. So, she just nodded before signing in. Once she was done, Sam handed her the keys to the janitorial closests throughout the complex. "Well, lot to think about, right? Still living under an alien invasion and now we're not hearing anything from the nearby cities. Talk about stressful," he said, speaking faster the longer he spoke.

 

Anasya meekly nodded before she shuffled away. She took two steps away and then froze. A Nightwatchman was nearly sprinting towards her, flanked by two guards. Terror spiked through her. Before she could scream, they were upon her. 

 

Then, they pushed past her. As her heart raced, she remembered to breath. 

 

Easy, easy, a gentle, familiar voice soothed. They're not onto you and will not come for you. I now have their attention.

 

~~~

 

Paul stood in his tank's cupola at the rear of the formation, trying to ignore an itch on his scalp. In front of him were five APCs with Commander Naro's tank at the front of the line. Naro had chosen Paul's platoon to patrol through the city, reminding the citizens that chaos and riots would not be tolerated. While, thankfully, no citizen had given them reason to, the weapons were loaded and prepared to fire. Paul scanned the people as they passed them by. Most of them looked afraid. Others sneaked angry glares. Some did their best to ignore the military convoy. 

 

Paul wasn't sure how he felt. His emotions were a mixture of confusion. The reason was obvious. Soon, everything would change. And he would be at the center of that change. He imagined if he were some idealistic hero, he'd stare at destiny and grab ahold of it with both hands, confident and sure. 

 

All he wanted to do right now was run home and hold his family. 

 

His train of thought broke as his radio came alive. "PLATOON!" Naro's voice came in. "We have an unidentified flying object entering the atmosphere. Command estimates the UFO will land near our location, and we are being ordered to investigate and to potentially contain the threat. Move out!"

 

Paul's heart quailed as he glanced toward the heavens.

 

Apparently, destiny was done waiting.

 

~~~

 

Mat felt a presence and looked skyward. He wasn't sure if he saw it or imagined it, but it seemed to him that a red dot was approaching the city. "Guys, we need to get moving."

 

Sal followed his gaze, frowned, and looked back at Mat. "What's going on?"

 

There was a brief moment of internal debate. Mat had never explained to his friends what was going on in his dreams. He wasn't sure if he believed what was happening himself. After the moment, he said, "I think I might have a job that pays. C'mon, let's go check it out."

 

"A job?"

 

Mat ignored the question as he took off at a brisk walk, his friends following a moment later.

 

It was a struggle not to just stare at the sky as Mat kept walking. Within, a rising sense of anxiety and hope churned as he walked. Something big was about to happen. And he was going to be right at the center of it. 

 

He didn't know how he knew, but standing at a four-way intersection, he stopped. His friends stopped behind him. "What's going on?" He heard one of them ask. Mat simply looked up. 

 

There was definitely an object there now. His friends started murmuring questions that he didn't hear. It looked like a comet, streaking straight down. It wasn't long before other people started noticing. At the edge of his awareness, Mat saw people freeze, others point. Gradually, the buzz of the city died down as the object screamed closer. 

 

Moments before it landed, flame erupted from beneath the object, slowing its meteoric descent. Seconds passed. The intersection cleared. The object landed dead center of the intersection, the heat melting the pavement beneath it. Its journey completed, the flames died, and silence reigned. 

 

The object looked like an enormous metal tent to Mat, except with more sides. With a hiss of atmosphere and a mechanical whine, three of the tent's walls broke away as they opened the inside for all to see. It was mostly hollow with only a single person sitting calmly in the center: Alex. 

 

Compared to the dreams, Alex looked exactly the same with only one difference. He was huge! Even sitting cross-legged, Mat still had to look up to meet Alex's eyes. Hushed whispers slithered through the crowds as they saw the red-headed, purple-robed giant. Alex simply smiled as his eyes laid upon Mat. Standing up, Alex took two paces before he stood before Mat and his band of friends.

 

As he approached, Mat realized something else was different from the dreams. In the dreams, Alex had demonstrated great power but nothing more. Here in the flesh, Mat could feel Alex's power as an almost living thing. Just being in front of Alex was to feel its subtle currents as it emitted from the powerful being. It reminded Mat of fire. Not the blazing inferno that Mat sometimes wrestled with. It was more like a fireplace fire. Warm, comforting, inviting. Mat felt like he could finally relax and be free of his cares if he would simply surrender.

 

Mat fought against the urge. He didn't know if Alex would live up to his promises yet. 

 

As if hearing his thoughts, Alex chuckled as he kneeled before Mat. "It's good to finally you face-to-face, Mat." Alex undid a strap, and it was only now did Mat realize that he had a kind of backpack on. "And here's the first payment." Setting the metallic backpack next to him, Alex pressed a button before pulling two doors opened. 

 

Mat's stomach quivered as the tastiest smells washed over him. Inside the backpack were various dishes, prepared and ready to be eaten. It didn't matter that he couldn't recognize half of them. It did matter that he could feel the heat roiling off them which only increased his hunger. 

 

"My friends," Alex said as his arm swept over the food. "Please, help yourselves. Our transport won't be here for another few minutes."

 

~~~

 

Even with advanced warning, it still took Paul's mechanised platoon twenty minutes to reach the objective. Traffic couldn't clear fast enough to allow the convoy maximum speed. The time in transit was spent in demanding status reports from each squad, double-checking weapons, and verbally rehearsing disembarkation protocols. 

 

"Watters!" Naro's voice barked over the comms. "We have hovercraft on site and have confirmed the alien's location at a four-way intersection. We'll surround it. My tank and yours will deploy on this road, I want the tanks standing between the enemy and the Directorate. The rest of the APCs will form up on the other streets, two APCs per entrance. Understood?"

 

"Affirmative," Paul answered as the convoy approached the objective.

 

~~~

 

"Directors," Captain Dumas began from the other side of the glass. "We have confirmed the enemy presence. It is the enemy commander as identified by the broadcast three days ago."

 

Kravchuk ground his teeth before asking, "What weapons is he carrying? Why is he alone?"

 

"No weapons have been identified, though we can't be confident he is not carrying any weapons. We are also unable to confirm why he is devoid of any bodyguards or a military presence."

 

Director Chukhay stepped in, "What of the enemy fleet?"

 

"Remains unchanged from current positions."

 

Kravchuk tapped the table with a single finger. "He comes alone, apparently weaponless, and with his forces doing nothing? What trick is this?"

 

With a shrug, Captain Dumas said, "I'm afraid it's unknown at this time. We are neither noting any movement from the rebels. If anything, the most unusual report is that all rebel and secessionist groups appear to have temporarily halted all operations at the same time."

 

Such coordination, Chukhay thought to himself.

 

Meanwhile, Kravchuk's frown deepened. "Approach the enemy with extreme caution, but if he can be captured, I want him brought to the Directorate in chains!"

 

~~~

 

"I have visual confirmation!" Naro's voice shouted over the comms. 

 

Paul's heart raced as his platoon surrounded the enemy warlord. At the end of the formation, Paul would wait the longest as the convoy slowed while the forward vehicles began circling the intersection. There was an additional delay as a crowd was gathering to see the being who commanded the warships above them. 

 

Finally, his tank pulled up besides Naro's, and Paul took a long, hard look at the situation.

 

An open pod stood in the absolute center of the intersection but was devoid of weapons and was no threat to his soldiers. The being that had visited his dreams for the last three days was a few feet away, closer to Paul's portion of the intersection. Alexandros stood between the two tanks aiming at him and a small group of local teenagers. As he absorbed more details, Paul noticed that most of them were eating before he recognised a food containment unit next to them. 

 

Paul was incredulous. He begins a planetary invasion with feeding the homeless?

 

To the shock of everyone, Alexandros threw back his head and released a peal of laughter. 

 

Well, I suppose when you put it that way. Although Paul could hear the thought in his head, Alexandros directed his attention to Naro. "Greetings."

Naro's response was quick and fierce. "If you want to live through the next six seconds, you will drop to your knees and put your hands on your head!"

 

"I'm afraid I will not comply," Alexandros replied with cheerful casualness as he gestured to the kids around him. "I require transport to the Directorate for myself and my escort. I have an appointment with the Directors and have no desire to be late. So, if you would be so kind as to give us a lift, we will be on our way."

 

Paul had never seen his superior officer turned to such a deep shade of red. "The invader has refused to surrender peacefully." Naro's head whipped toward Paul. "Lieutenant Commander, I order you to open fire, for the defense of Balov!"

 

Paul hated Naro for thrusting the decision onto him instead of pulling the damn trigger himself. He faced his target. Alexandros matched his gaze, a confident smile upon his face. The homeless bunch had shuffled a few steps away, except for one who remained next to the red-haired giant. For a moment, only the sounds of the city filled the intersection. 

 

"I gave you an order, Watters!" Naro roared.

 

Gritting his teeth, Paul recalled the second dream he had. "You can promise me that Liz won't hate me?" 

 

"WATTERS!"

 

"The changes that are coming will frighten, frustrate, and worry her," Alexandros admitted, "but she will be happy to have her husband come home alive."

 

Paul sighed.

 

Then, activating his headset, he said, "Platoon, stand down."

 

"TREASON!" Naro shouted as his eyes blazed.

 

"Commander Naro," Alexandros cheerfully interrupted. "I couldn't help but notice that you haven't been getting enough sleep these past few days. Let me help with that." Raising a hand, Alexandros snapped his fingers. "Sleep."

 

Paul watched his tall superior shudder, his eyes going wide. Then Naro slunk in his tank's turret as his eyes shut.

 

Paul didn't know whether to be encouraged that he would not be forced to execute Naro, frustrated by the missed opportunity to finally get vengeance, or disturbed by Alexandros' power. The giant himself paid little mind to Naro after he had fallen asleep as he asked his young companion, "Mat, have you ever wanted to ride a tank?" 

 

~~~

 

Anasya. The old janitor froze as the voice made itself known in her mind. For a moment, she wondered if she needed to say anything, and then she wondered how insane it would look if she started talking to the air. It's time.

 

After a moment, and checking to see if anyone was around, she awkwardly nodded to the space. The voice didn't say anything else. So, she quickly finished sweeping this part of the hallway before she headed back to the custodians' station to get a mop and a bucket.

 

~~~

 

Chukhay watched the display, unsure if it was suspicious that he didn't appear surprised. On the video feed, they watched as the enemy commander stood on a tank, a Balovian tank. Behind the tank were several APCs, all following the lead tank down the main highway that led to the Directorate. 

There were no signs of chains.

 

Next to him, Kravchuk fumed. "Are there no loyal sons of Balov!?" 

 

"Traffic is clearing for them," Dumas reported, his face looking more lined than usual. "They will reach the Directorate in twenty minutes at present speed."

 

"Do we have no other units defending the capital!?"

 

Dumas appeared to be more tired than usual to Chukhay's eyes. "We have sent mobilisation orders to deploy at the Directorate. Although all units assigned to Ovlast have been kept in a state of readiness, none of them will reach the Directorate before the enemy commander does other than the Directorate Guard. We were simply unprepared for the enemy to make this swift of an advance."

 

"He'll never set foot here!" Kravchuk declared! "The defence network alone will prevent this, this alien from entering!"

 

~~~

 

Anasya shuffled into the elegant bathroom, pushing the mop bucket in with her. She paused as she gathered her willpower for her next action. Hand shaking, she slowly closed the door behind her. Then locked it. 

 

She turned around and stared at the false wall at the other end of the bathroom. She paused. Technically, she had yet to do anything that was truly treasonous. She could unlock the door and go back to work, no one the wiser at what she had planned to do. No Nightwatch pursuing her.

 

Unbidden, she thought of her granddaughter. Poor, little Sasha had been sick for three weeks now. Unable to afford good medicine, Anasya's daughter and son-in-law were forced to rely solely on loving care and hope. Would Anasya throw away her best chance at helping Sasha?

 

Then she wondered if that thought was really hers. Was it the alien's thought masked like hers? Could she tell the difference? 

 

Although very confused, Anasya gathered her resolve before walking over to the tiled wall. She recalled the dream and opened one of the white tiles. A black keypad awaited input.

 

She frowned as she tried to recall the code. Before a moment passed, the voice came to her. 9-3-7-4-2-6-1. Carefully following the directions, she inputted the code, fearful that one wrong digit would activate an alarm. Instead, the wall next to the keypad silently slid open. Taking a deep breath, she took a hesitant step into the secret hallway.

 

~~~

 

Mat still had trouble believing that all this was really happening. 

 

He was sitting on a pair of feet that were larger than his chest. Towering above him was Alex, who seemed to be enjoying himself from what Mat could tell. The pair of them were riding on top of a tank speeding down the highway, heading straight for the heart of Ovlast. In front of him was the tank's top where the soldier sat in. Every now and then, the soldier would glance back and up at Alex, a look of vague confusion and awe on his face. 

 

Mat didn't blame him. Putting Alex on top of the tank only made him seem bigger. The soldier had suggested that Alex sit behind him, but the giant was simply too big. And it wasn't just the size of him that made things weird. Despite keeping his feet close together, the bumps and bounces never disturbed Alex's balance. 

 

Mat and the soldier weren't the only ones who couldn't resist gawking either. The opposite going traffic had become a complete standstill. The first few drivers had come to a stop, freezing all movement on that side. Horns honked ahead, until people saw what had caused the traffic jam. It was different on their side of the highway. The cars on this side simply parted before the tank, never once slowing down their speed. Again, Mat guessed it was Alex's doing.

 

The soldier in front of Mat shifted as he looked through a pair of binoculars. After a moment, he put them down and turned around. Cupping one hand around his mouth, he shouted, "I have visual on the Directorate!"

 

When Alex spoke, it sounded like he was right next to Mat, his voice simply cutting through the wind. "Excellent, continue at full speed."

 

Mat saw the soldier pause, glancing at Mat with barely-concealed worry. "The Directorate will be heavily defended!"

 

"Don't worry. I have an agent on the inside," Alex answered with a grin.

 

~~~

 

The elevator silently opened into the control room. 

 

Anasya peered into the room. Three members of the Nightwatch occupied the room. Two of them slumped in their seats, while a third lay sprawled across the floor. She immediately assumed the worst as her heart beat faster. 

 

It's okay, Anasya. They are not dead, though I would avoid their drinks. They've been laced with strong sleeping pills.

 

"Oh," she mumbled as she took a few timid steps, careful to step over the man sleeping on the floor. Sleeping pills or not, she would not take any chances with Balov's secret police.  

 

Do you remember what you need to do?

 

"I think so," Anasya said as she wandered over to the room-sized console. 

 

Good, before you do anything I want you to press this button.

 

Anasya wasn't sure how it was happening, but one of the buttons in front of one of the sleeping agents began to glow. Gingerly, she pressed it. Behind her, there was a mechanical whir as a thick, metal wall closed over the door. "Am I trapped?" she whispered, eyes wide.

 

You are safe, the voice corrected. Now, no one will be able to attack you, until everything is over. Neither will these Nightwatchmen wake before the danger has passed. 

 

"Oh." Movement in the cameras caught her eyes. She saw soldiers and vehicles gathering at the Directorate's bridge. "Something's happening."

 

I've almost arrived. Could you please shut down the defence systems?

 

Anasya flushed as she remembered why she was here. "Yes, yes, of course."

 

~~~

 

"I'm going."

 

Kravchuk fixed a suspicious stare at Chukhay. "What did you say?"

 

Hefting his weight from his chair, Chukhay repeated himself. "I'm going to the Hall and remain there."

 

"Why are you leaving the safety of this bunker?"

 

Even Captain Dumas looked unsure, though the old officer made no effort to speak.

 

Chukhay was acutely aware of how vulnerable he was. A lifetime of political intrigue and danger had given him more than enough experience to master his emotions. But his compatriot was an inherently paranoid individual, making this next step twice as difficult. Already, Chukhay could see the thoughts churning in those owlish eyes, murder lurking within that brilliant yet poisoned mind. "The alien comes alone. If he, by some miracle, pierces the defenses of the Directorate, I will face him behind my desk with the Directorate Guard. I will not surrender to Ovlast or Balov to this unarmed stranger." He paused before adding in a weary voice, "I have sacrificed too much to lose it now."

 

The drop of self-interest was enough to sell the lie to Kravchuk. At least, enough to prevent the other Director from ordering his death. Instead, Kravchuk turned to Dumas through the bulletproof glass. "I want the Hall filled with the best of the Directorate Guard and the Nightwatch. No trick of this alien can protect him if he dares to come in."

 

~~~

 

Paul's heart was hammering in his chest. They were about to enter the weapon ranges of the Directorate itself.

 

One of the few benefits of being stationed in Ovlast was learning about the secret defense network of the Directorate itself. At the start of Kravchuk's term, he had made it clear he had found its defences inadequate, despite being the primary objective of the Directorate Guard. In addition to the single bridge and the moat providing a natural barrier, an automated defence system had been installed, complete with heavy cannons that could destroy a tank with a single hit.

A tank much like the one Paul was currently in.

 

Paul stared at the Directorate as they entered the effective range of the cannons. Seconds passed by as the political landmark grew closer. After a minute, Paul could see no hint of the defense system deploying. Paul instead focused on the walls. Even without his binoculars, he could see that the entire Directorate Guard was ready to receive them. Soldiers occupied the top of the walls, and tanks sat waiting on both sides of the bridge. Needless to say, the gate's barriers were activated. Paul had no idea how they were to cross the bridge without initiating combat. 

 

From within the tank, his gunner, Emil, shouted, "Order, sir?"

 

Paul was on the verge of speaking when, to his shock, the main gate's barriers deactivated before his eyes. He threw a glance at the giant behind him. Alexandros looked down, met his gaze, and winked. 

 

~~~

 

The Hall wasn't really a hall anymore. It had been once in the distant past when a castle stood where the Directorate now sat. In the present, it was a large office where the Directors would receive important dignitaries as one. Blue, rich carpeting welcome guests as they walked in into the pure-white walls.  Actual decoration was sparse, furniture limited to a few expensive sofas and chairs that could be adjusted depending on the size of the delegation. 

 

Most importantly, an elongated desk of pristine mahogany stood in front of storey-sized window. The long desk integrated three positions behind it, one for each Director while presenting a seamless whole to visitors. That apparent unity made the absence of a third Director all the more awkward as Kravchuk sat in the center with Chukhay seated to his left. 

 

Chukhay could not help but wonder what would become of the desk after today. 

 

"Then use explosives!" Kravchuk roared.

 

Captain Dumas no longer had the bulletproof glass to protect him from the Director's spittle. He stood before the desk no longer the lone soldier in the room as the finest soldiers of the Directorate Guard lined the walls. Chukhay knew for a fact that a few of them were members of the Nightwatch in disguise. 

 

"Even if we began now, it would still be an estimated two hours before we breached into the command center," Dumas stated as he maintained his poise.

It had been another one of Kravchuk's insistences in addition to the new automated defence system. The control room enjoyed one of the thickest concrete shells to ensure it would be one of the last areas to fall to an enemy force. The irony of this situational reversal was not lost on Chukhay.

 

"How does the Directorate Guard lose access to the most critical components of our defence with a facility on the highest alert!?" Kravchuk raged. 

 

Dumas was spared from answering when the radio on his belt squawked to life. 

 

"The alien is over the bridge, over," the voice announced through the radio. 

 

~~~

 

Mat wasn't sure, but he thought he could every soldier shift as they trained a million guns on the three of them. He tried to act as confident as Alex was, who didn't seem to have a care in the world as the tank came to a stop. Mat was pretty sure his sweaty palms were a dead giveaway that it wasn't working. 

Alex's voice echoed in Mat's mind. It's almost time to complete your side of the deal.

 

Shooting a scowl at the red-haired giant, Mat thought as loudly as he could, I KNOW!

 

A low rumble of a chuckle echoed through Alex's chest, yet his eyes never left the army surrounding them. After Mat hopped off, Alex stepped off the tank. The soldier still had to look up to talk to Alex as he asked, "Should we come with you?" 

 

"You can," Alex answered, "But stay on my left side as we go in. I insist."

 

Mat's heart thudded louder. He knew he was supposed to be on Alex's right side for one reason alone. 

 

The soldier nodded before he shouted down into his tank, "Dismount!"

 

Mat didn't know if he wanted the soldiers to hurry up or slow down. All he could think about was the job he was about to do in a few minutes. He knew exactly how it was supposed to happen. Alex had made him go through it a dozen times in their shared dreams. But did what happen in dreams work in real life?

He suddenly realized he was sweating. Not just his hands, but his entire body. Despite being a chilled autumn morning, Mat's body was hot to the touch, a sign that his powers were reacting to his fear. As Alex had taught him, Mat forced his breathing to slow. He preferred to manifest a flame in his hands, it was easy for him to pour his emotions and fire into a single point than to calm down through breathing exercises. However, Alex had warned him in the dreams that if Mat made a fire at this moment, bullets would start flying.

 

As the last soldier took his spot on Alex's left, the giant gestured for everyone to walk forward. Even when he actively slowed and shortened his pace, Alex nearly left the others behind as they had to strike an uncomfortable pace somewhere between a fast walk and an outright run. In seven such strides, they arrived at the front doors of the Directorate's core building.

 

The doors were big and pricey-looking. On any other day, the doors would've only ticked off Mat with their obnoxious wealth. Today, Mat thought it was a good thing they were so big to let them all enter at the same time. Even then, Alex had to duck a little to get in. The inside was just as expensive-looking as the outside with thick carpets and some kind of fancy stone making the room. Mat didn't care about any of that. His eyes were locked on the door to his right, behind the squad of soldiers pointing rifles at them. It was getting really hard to maintain his breathing as he recognized the door. 

 

"Shall we?" Alex prompted. Mat looked up and saw Alex looking down at him. Alex was waiting, unhurried. 

 

Mat took a deep breath and nodded.

 

Two steps. Mat counted them out. With each step, he concentrated, focusing his inner fire to gather in his arms. On the third step, the door on the right was thrown open. A young woman rushed out, a handgun held high as she screamed something. Despite going through this moment a dozen times, Mat had never figured out what she had said. 

 

As she broke through the line of soldiers, who were caught off-guard by the outburst behind them, Mat threw his hands up. She pulled the trigger, weapon aimed at Alex. A curtain of blue fire erupted from Mat's hands, standing between Alex and the killer. The bullet entered the curtain and melted in the extreme heat before it could harm Alex. 

 

The girl was also shocked by this and instinctively kept firing. Mat gritted his teeth. Conjuring flame was easy. The difficulty was maintaining the hotter fire. Until now, his fires had never been blue. Seconds passed, and exhaustion beat at Mat as he struggled to maintain the curtain. Until, finally, the gun was empty and merely clicked as the stunned woman kept pulling the trigger. With a tired wheeze, Mat released the fire, which vanished into thin air. He fell back a shaky step before an enormous hand studied his back.

 

Well done!

 

~~~

 

The gunshots pierced the quiet of the Directorate office, even if they were muffled by distance and closed doors. Both Directors threw a suspicious glance at each other. After a moment, Chukhay realized that his counterpart was as confused as he was. He addressed Captain Dumas. "Situation report."

 

As the officer activated his radio, Kravchuk murmured to himself. "Did the alien open fire? If so, why is there no return fire? Has the entire Directorate Guard been compromised?"

 

Chukhay did his best to ignore Kravchuk as he tried to listen in on Dumas' communication. There were two voices on the other end. One was the distinct cadence of a professional soldier, the other was a loud wailing of some sort. The wail made it difficult to hear the soldier, leaving Chukhay to hear bits and pieces of the conversation.

 

Just as Chukhay was piecing the information together, the double-doors into the office opened. One of Balov's officers stepped through, a tank commander as denoted by his uniform. A flash of confusion struck Chukhay before he remembered how the VonSalim had arrived at the Directorate. He peered behind the officer. And wasn't sure what he was seeing. For a moment, he thought someone was holding an enormous, purple curtain next to the doors. Then the fabric shifted, and a giant bowed in half as he slid through the doors. 

 

Only once he had entered the room did the giant, VonSalim, stand tall, his head not too far from the high ceiling. 

 

Even in their shared dreams, never did VonSalim evoke such inherent charisma. It was almost a physical thing, a mantle VonSalim wore with almost indifference. Chukhay couldn't help but wonder if this yet another subtle manipulation. 

 

VonSalim glanced at the clock and smiled. "It appears that I'm exactly on time." His eyes shifted back to to the Directors. "I am ready to conclude the blockade and negotiations at this time." 

 

Kravchuk, who had been reeling from the giant's unnatural aura, regained a portion of his composure, finding refuge in rage. "What negotiations," he blustered. 

 

"Oh, it's very simple. I have made an offer for a mostly peaceful resolution to our current conflict," VonSalim elaborated before turning his attention solely upon Chukhay. "Has my offer been accepted?"

 

"Chukhay!"

 

Chukhay ignored his fellow Director as he attempted to meet VonSalim's eyes. He had stared down rulers and killers, but never had Chukhay wanted to break eye contact so quickly. It was more than facing off against a being much greater than he was. The longer he stared, the more Chukhay wanted to surrender. Not out of fear or despair, but out of camaraderie. Slowly, he felt himself wishing that he wouldn't disappoint the alien who was asking for his world. He wanted to befriend his powerful giant. 

 

The feeling was antithetical to everything about power and politics that Chukhay knew. There were no friends among men of such stature. Only allies and enemies. "I wish to renegotiate the condition."

 

VonSalim smiled and said, "No."

 

Chukhay took a deep breath as he prepared himself for his next action. Death was a possibility, but the odds were in his favor. The portly leader reached for a drawer and opened it as calmly as possible. Removing the false bottom, Chukhay pulled out a Tokev-pattern plasma pistol. Plasma were highly experimental weapons within the Alliance and, as far as he knew, only the Directors had access to the sole stable plasma pistols in the entire system. 

 

Kravchuk's shouting grew louder, but Chukhay ignored him as he pointed the weapon at the giant in front of him.

 

VonSalim didn't sneer, tense up, or so much as twitch. He stood there, waiting with that ever-present smile. Anger boiled within Chukhay. Not even in this moment could you at least grant me the decency of showing a little fear. The room's tension swelled as the seconds became centuries. 

 

Chukhay swung the pistol toward Kravchuk. His fellow Director had an instant to react in horror and surprise before Chukhay squeezed the trigger. A green sun engulfed his former comrade. The blinding light faded in a moment, leaving the lower half of a melted body and chair. Chukhay forced himself to not gag at the sight or the smell. He may have been beaten, but he would not violate the dignity of his station in its last minutes.

 

All of the soldiers in the room remained pointing their weapons at VonSalim. Chukhay could not tell if it was because of their loyalty to his command or if this was a subtle show of power by VonSalim. 

 

Chukhay walked around his desk. Although he was now committed to his course, his pace was slow as he marched towards VonSalim. He held his pistol at an angle, neither pointing at the floor or at VonSalim.

 

The giant waited. 

 

Chukhay stopped before him. A moment passed as Chukhay rehearsed the bitter words. He turned the pistol in his hand, offering the handle first. "I, Varlam Chukhay, sole remaining Director of the United Balovian Alliance, hereby surrender."

 

Reaching out with his index finger and thumb, VonSalim pinched the weapon's handle as best as he could with his massive digits. "I, Alexandros Darshan VonSalim, Primarch of the Imperium of Mankind, accept."

 

~~~

 

Alexandros typed commands into his personal dataslate as he sat in the strategium. With the press of a button, Alexandros officiated Chukhay as Balov's first Imperial Governor. With that particular bit of legal work completed, he opened the a new form that would shift the Imperium's future. 

 

Before he could start, the door hissed open. Alexandros looked up and enjoyed the small surprise of seeing Theodor Villrof, Chief Apothecary, step in. After a full week of scrying and navigating the currents of the future, he welcomed a brief relief from his powers and a chance to anchor himself in the present. "Excellent, I was actually hoping you'd be the first to arrive. How are you, my son?"

 

Theodor snapped off a moving salute as he approached. "Enjoying a chance to indulge in a research project, sir. How can I be of service?"

 

After pressing a few buttons, Alexandros offered his dataslate to Theodor. "I have a young woman who needs this treatment. Her name is Larisa Ivanov. I want an apothecary sent to her address immediately as I have promised her grandmother. Send an escort as well, but in recon armour. We need to start exposing the population to Legionaries, and now is as good as time as any."

 

The Chief Apothecary scanned the screen several times before he returned the item. "I'll send the order at once, sir." He gestured to the hololithic table. "If I may?"

 

"By all means."

 

As Theodor began to make the necessary arrangements, the door made way for Ludendof. As before, the officer was the picture of military discipline. It was only because of Darshan's passive abilities as an empath did he sense Ludendof's internal flash of frustration, aimed at Theodor. This would be the first time Ludendof was not the first officer to arrive for a meeting. 

 

Regardless of his emotional state, Ludendof marched to Alexandros and saluted. "My lord! I have come as ordered." 

 

With a quick salute, Alexandros ordered, "At ease."

 

While Ludendof transitioned into a parade rest, he shot a quick glance at the Chief Apothecary. After a moment's hesitation, Ludendof, "My lord, if I may, you said you had an answer for me once Compliance was enacted."

 

Alexandros was not remotely surprised that this was the first thing he'd have to address with his logistics officer. "I did and I do. However, I'm going to have to ask you to wait, until the meeting. Just a little longer now."

 

"Yes, my lord," Ludendof said, a little too quickly.

 

"In the meantime," Alexandros added as he handed his dataslate to him. "I have a priority task for you to accomplish. The speed of which will determine how long our fleet will remain in-system."

 

Although still acting with complete professionalism, Alexandros could detect a pang of curiosity within Ludendof. He received the dataslate and pored over the information. "I must admit, my lord. I was wondering if you were going to keep the Legion in grey, or if you were going to mirror the Lightning Bearers." He paused, glancing at the Primarch's purple robes. "I can understand the purple, but why red?"

 

Alexandros grinned. "All while be explained in the proper time."


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

Brotherhood of the Lost has arrived on Patreon

 

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#12
simison

simison

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Chapter 10: Lessons Learned

 

The moment the last member of the Praetorate was seated, Alexandros asked, "Who can tell me what the projected casualty totals were calculated if we had executed a traditional planetary campaign?"

 

After the brusque end to their previous meeting, an air of hesitation hung over the officers, sons afraid of disappointing their father. Ludendof broke the silence. "With complete void control and the technological inferiority of the planet's inhabitants, a conservative estimate would place losses around 5-10%, perhaps as high as 15%."

 

"That's a potential loss of 3,000 of my sons," Alexandros stated, emphasizing the final word. "Now, what about the Balovians?"

 

"From information procured from their warships, we know that they had a standing army of, at least, 100 million," Irvin said. "Unusually small in comparison to their system's population, however it seems they had not experienced war in some time."

 

"What of civilian casualties?"

 

Another pause as the Storm Riders glanced at each other. "It's always difficult to evaluate civilian casualties, my lord," Adalbard offered.

 

"Yet, it is for them that we make war," Alexandros observed. "Let's throw out a simple estimate of 500 million. Many of the Balovian bases were located within population centers, making even precise orbital bombardments capable of wiping out millions in seconds. Furthermore, quite of a few civilians would have been pressed into service as conscripts as we annihilated army divisions. That would have been 600 million people denied to the Imperium. Now, how many casualties happened during my execution of planetary compliance?"

 

"One, my lord," Irvin said. 

 

"One," Alexandros repeated as he held up a finger. "For the price of one life, we now have a system sworn to the Imperium. The Imperium now has an entire system with its industrial capacity intact. Most importantly, at the cost of one life, there are millions of fathers, mothers, and children who get to go home, not to ruins but to their loved ones."

 

Alexandros stood and circled the table as he continued to speak. "This is the arrogance I spoke of days ago. Whether consciously or subconsciously, each one of you believes that your undisputed mastery of the physical battlefield allows you to neglect the other aspects of war. In its purest form, war is not some mundane thing fought with volkite and blade, but it is one idea or ideal in conflict with another. Wars are not heralded by the squeeze of a trigger but by the silence of a thought."

 

"This must come to an end," Alexandros continued as he returned to his throne. "Henceforth, I want the Legion to become as adept to the war of ideas as much as it is to the physical battlefield."

 

A moment of silence prevailed as Alexandros allowed his words to sink in. Adalbard would be the first to speak, "My lord, although laudable, this will be a difficult endeavour. I know well that you teach that we are all men first, but there are barriers standing between us and our mortal kin."

 

"And I do acknowledge these difficulties," Alexandros said. "The standard training regimens the Legiones Astartes employs, by their nature, implicitly reinforces the divide in order to acquaint trainees with their new abilities. A necessary aspect, but it is imperative that we modify the training program to both realize a marine's capabilities while retaining a connection to his core humanity. Not only will this enable the Fifth to win compliances as I have, it will be necessary to put an end to the plague that afflicts us."

 

Irvin quirked an eyebrow. "The plague, my lord?"

 

"The stream of insanity that crippled dozens of legionaries. I have not been ignoring since we've been campaigning, merely finalizing my studies," Alexandros explained. "Do you remember what your original hypothesis was?"

 

Irvin nodded. "I believed the psykers were the cause of it, even though we have cases not involving them."

 

"You were half-right. On the surface, the psykers do appear to be the cause due to being responsible for 70% of the cases, even though they form 11% of the Legion. As you rightfully observed, they were involved in each case in some degree. However, they are they not the cause, though they do accelerate the appearance of symptoms. No, this weakness is found within each of us. Every single legionary is in danger of their minds breaking."

 

"Impossible!" 

 

The Praetorate swung their heads toward Crassus. Only Alexandros saw the hidden wince. Apparently, the Prefect's outburst had been subconscious. Despite whatever internal reservations, Crassus pressed forward. "My lord, we are not like the mortal auxiliaries. The psycho-indoctrination training alone should prevent this." 

 

"Yet," Alexandros countered without acrimony. "It is failing. All of you are standing from various degrees from the touch of Battle Fatigue. Crassus, if I had to put an estimate, I suspect you are nineteen battles from suffering it. Irvin, perhaps as much as one hundred. Ludendof, your position as chief of logistics has protected you, and you might have as many as two hundred battles."

 

"Then the answer is to rotate battalions for combat duty," Irvin declared. 

 

Crassus scoffed. "I could not think of a faster way to advertise our weakness to our brother Legions. Not only will our reputation suffer, but we will quickly fall behind in compliances as we are questioned for holding back so many of our brothers."

 

"While I am less concerned for our reputation, Crassus is right that we do have a duty to execute the objectives of the Great Crusades," Adalbard said. "I recommend fewer rotations out of combat duty combined with a complete ban on battle-psykers."

 

"But this doesn't solve the problem," Theodor countered. "All that will do is reduce the number of cases."

 

"We have a duty to the Emperor," Adalbard repeated. 

 

Ludendof became increasingly aware that the Primarch was silently watching the proceedings. Clearing his throat, the brown-eyed Astartes focused on Alexandros. "My lord, I believe you mentioned something about our humanity that would enable us to address this?"

 

Alexandros smiled at him. "Indeed, I did, didn't I?"

 

"How can our humanity cure Battle Fatigue?" Crassus asked, in a tone on the thin border between respectful and wary. 

 

"Simple, it is war that causes this plague, thus, we must counter war's influence with the influence of peace. On Delos, there is an ancient tradition among both the Sindhuans and the Tyrins, known as Dharma and Arête, respectively. Although these words have meant different things throughout the ages, for the purpose of the Fifth Legion, I define these words as 'pursuits of excellent'. I want every man to find a path, an interest, a trade, anything that he can devote himself to that is not explicitly tied to warfare. It is imperative that whatever the pursuit is, it provides some relief to him and his duties as a warrior. This is a spiritual pain that harms us. To cure it, we must address our spiritual health."

 

A wave of uncomfortable silence followed because of the primarch's language, the Emperor's ban on religion coming close to violation.

 

Alexandros pressed onward. "Additionally, if a man is unable to pursue his dharma then, at the very least, he should have a chance to relieve his burden through entertainment."

 

"Entertainment?" Irvin repeated with a quirked eyebrow

.

"Yes, entertainment, amusement, merriment, recreation, what have you. This too will provide some protection against Battle Fatigue. Whether it be cards, music, or gaming, I want my sons to be able to enjoy themselves at some point. Though our trade is war, we need not be a gathering of brooding warriors who can think of nothing else beyond their profession. I want every ship within the Fifth Legion to be outfitted with an appropriately-sized sanctam. Within this sanctam are to be a variety of tools for either pursuing one's dharma, for relaxation, or even the simple pleasure of a well-made meal. This is an official order."

 

With reluctance, Irvin said, "It will be done, my lord. It may be difficult on the smaller warships, but at least this will allow us to keep it contained."

 

"No," Alexandros countered. "Every sanctam is to be open to all, whether they be Astartes, soldier, or civilian. Furthermore, there will be no rank within these places. Everyone is to be treated with equal respect and dignity. It is through this I hope my sons will retain and strengthen their connection to humanity and to their own humanity."

 

Alexandros could see Crassus struggling with the concept, while Theodor was intrigued, representing both ends of the spectrum. Speaking again, Irvin asked, "My lord, are we to display our weakness for all to see?"

 

"Did I say we would? If I am correct, then the plague will come to an end or be reduced to so few cases as to be imperceptible. I see no reason to dwell on what happened before so long as we can move forward."

 

That mollified Irvin and several of the other officers. Adalbard spoke next, "My lord, is this why you insisted I select craft on Terra?"

 

"Indeed," Alexandros said with a nod. "I do not simply intend to make an edict and then not perform any follow-up. It is to your corps that will execute my will and prevent further incidents. You and your subordinates will watch for signs of Battle Fatigue and counter it. It is to you that I charge to guide the legion toward stability and health, whether it be in my presence or in my absence. To be effective guides requires all members of the corps, present and future, to have their own dharma. To this end, I am renaming the Opsequarii to the Chaplaincy, and your position will be High Chaplain."

 

Adalbard grimaced. "My lord, I must protest. The name is tainted with ignorant mysticism and is an affront to the Imperial Truth."

 

"The Imperial Truth acknowledges the existence of souls, of which I charge you to minister to. Whether it's known as the Opsequarii or the Disciplinary Corps, it does not suffice to reflect this new reality. Therefore, I insist on Chaplaincy which better represents your new purpose. If you are so concerned with how the past has used the term, than I challenge you to 'cleanse' it of its prior connotations and make it more suitable to the Imperium."

 

Although he did not look please with his new duty, Adalbard held his tongue. Alexandros continued as he focused on Ludendof, "While I understand the vagaries of war will make it difficult, assessments of a man's spiritual health will play an important factor in duties assigned, especially combat duty."

 

Ludendof nodded, subtle gratitude playing over his face. "My lord, how soon do you intend to implement all of this?"

 

"Tomorrow. My final order for today is that the entire legion will assemble on the western outskirts of the planetary capital at 0550, parade formation. I intend for Balov to both witness the transformation of the Legion and to serve as a training ground for my theories, especially in the political arts. It is here that I want my sons to understand the importance of these systems and how to wield them in service of the Emperor. As such, I am invoking my authority as Primarch to claim the Balov System as an official protectorate of the Fifth Legion."

 

There was a pause. "My lord," Irvin began. "Do you mean to emulate the Madrigal Sphere?"

 

"No, I do not. Balov will remain under the authority of an Imperial Governor, much as is the rest of the Imperium. The difference is that the Legion will maintain a permanent garrison, alongside the recruitment rights. In addition to protecting the system, they will form a body of advisers to Imperial political agents. They will have no official ability to countermand the governor or the local political body, barring an emergency, but can wield influence to guide the process. An important tool in any politician's arsenal is a mastery of persuasion and 'soft' power. While the Fifth Legion is adapting to my vision, they will have the time and opportunity to learn what I have learned and apply it as Balov is brought into the Imperium's fold." 

 

"It will be difficult," Crassus warned. "We have no training in this." 

 

Alexandros smiled. "Think of it as another field of war to master. A political victory, as I have just demonstrated, can be much more potent that a military one. As the ancient axiom states, 'the pen is mightier than the sword'. If there are no further questions, you are dismissed. We have much work ahead of us."

 

~~~

 

"Thank you again for coming at this early hour," Alexandros said as he stepped onto the raised platform.

 

Next to him, Mat stifled a yawn as he took the stairs. He stole another glance at the gathering in front of the platform. Over 20,000 legionaries stood at attention in their finest armour, every medal and commendation earned from decades of war displayed on grey. Towards the city, a stream of civilians came despite the darkness. Darshan could see fear and caution playing out over them, but most of all curiousity. At the forefront of the crowd was the new Imperial Governor, Chukhay, watching and assessing. 

 

"I'm still not sure if I'll be much help," Mat muttered, uncomfortable that it was just him and Alexandros alone on the platform for all to see. 

 

Alexandros chuckled as he stopped in the platform's center. "Nonsense, you'll be of great help to me."

 

Taking his place next to the giant, Mat stared out over the legionaries before him. "Could I become one of them?"

 

Alexandros swiveled his gaze on the young man, a temptation to peer into the future bubbling within. Darshan resisted the effort. An answer would require casting his gaze years into the future, and he distrusted any answer that was more than a few months ahead of him. "I don't know. I would be lying if I didn't say it is a perilous process to become a legionary. But you are not like others, Mat. You possess a strength of will that can be forged into steel with continued discipline. If you are serious, I can make the arrangements to have you begin the process. Though I will insist that you use your actual name."

 

'Mat' twitched. "...I don't remember it. I was just a tiny kid when I lost my family."

 

With a pause, Alexandros said, "Mahtva. Your name is Mahtva." 

 

"You sure?" Mahtva asked, distrust and hope mixing his tone.

 

Alexandros tapped his forehead. "There are precious few things that the human mind actually forgets. Most memories are simply buried to allow us to deal with the present, some more deeply than others."

 

The young man chewed on the thought for a moment before he nodded, "Thanks."

 

Alexandros smiled before turning his attention to the legion before him. A morning wind caught his red cape. No longer was he dressed in a simple robe, but this morning he wore his full armour. "My sons," the Primarch said, his empowered voice echoing across the land. "I stand before you this dawn as a disappointed father."

 

While their discipline would never allow them to display it, Darshan could see the collective aura of the legion violently react to the chastisement. The fact a crowd of mortals stood as witnesses only twisted the shame deeper. Good

 

"When my Father explained to me the purpose of the Great Crusade, I could not tell you the joy I felt to know that my kin were involved in such a noble undertaking. Never more would mother Terra be separated from her lost children. Thousands of years of isolation and predation would be ended as the lost would be found and the oppressed be liberated. It is with pride that I accepted my birthright and ascended as Primarch to take my place within the Great Crusade and to lead you, my sons. Alas, I came to sense a subtle poison among you. This poison can be summed in a name."  

 

Alexandros raised an open palm before clenching it into a tight fist. "Storm Rider. All of you have steadily drifted from the ideals of the Great Crusade as the years have come and gone. Instead, you have confused visionary majesty with raw physical might, an unspoken belief that you are more than men. That you are a force of nature, demigods of war. To this, I say," his hand chopped down. "No."

 

"This is the poison that quietly infects the soul of the legion. By believing you are greater than Man, you are divorcing yourself from the very quality that separates us from the monsters that feast on humanity. Though you may stand taller than any single man, this does not mean you are his superior in value. When I secured this world in the name of the Emperor, it was not the mightiest of the legion who stood by my side."  

 

With a mental cue, Mahtva stood tall and straight as he could next to the giant. Alexandros swung a hand towards him. "It was this youth! Although he had been deprived of home and kin, he possessed strength and will worthy of Astartes. This young man would have been forsaken by arrogant fools, who would have deemed him nothing more than the refuse of our race. Yet, he was the one to protect me from the assassin’s bullet! It is in him that all can see the purpose of the legions. We do not travel the stars as a horde seeking to slake our bloodlust. We are more than that. Our purpose is not to slay the enemies of the Imperium, but to be the protectors of humanity. To watch over them, to allow Mankind to unlock potential the potential within!" 

 

Now.

 

Throwing his hands into the air, a great gout of fire erupted from Mahtva's hands, mixing with the light of the rising dawn. A few cries sounded from the crowd, but Darshan was not concerned with them as he reached out, ministering to his sons. It was time to plant hope.

 

"My sons, I invite you on a journey with me. Not to simply make war for its own sake, for the victory of the Great Crusade is preordained. No, but to look past the Great Crusade and onward into eternity." Darshan saw the earlier shame give way anticipation and excitement. Working subtle power, Darshan stoked the growing fervour.

 

"We will stand between humanity and her foes as we return to the glories of the Dark Age of Technology. No, not to merely reclaim past glories, but to exceed them! To stand as the wardens against the threatening darkness! To usher in a new halcyon age of peace and prosperity! To bear the burdens of our race upon our own shoulders! MY SONS!" Alexandros roared as he threw his arms toward the heavens. "WILL YOU SHARE THIS BURDEN WITH ME?"

 

The legion's answer shook the earth.


Edited by simison, 03 April 2018 - 04:23 PM.

Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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simison

simison

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Chapter 11: The Two Seers

 

Darshan sat in the center of his quarters on bare floor. Hands pressed together with his feet resting on opposing thighs, he wore nothing as he assumed his own replication of the ancient padmasana pose. Although his eyes were closed, he saw far more than the human eye was capable of. Twenty shards of his soul surrounded him in a large circle, a ray of light connecting each shard to him. In a ritual invented on his days of Delos, he inspected each beam for damage. Metaphysical cracks were identified and healed with persistent concentration. 

 

He could not recall the first time he became aware of the spiritual damage he had incurred. Recognition of the corruption had eluded him even as he had gained a gradual awareness that his soul was not quite what it should be. Nor was he sure exactly what would occur if one of the spiritual tethers broke. Would the shard simply fade away? Would it assume a life of its own? Or would it be devoured by a Warp predator? 

 

It was one of the few times Darshan had been tempted to break his own self-imposed divination limitation. The damage was gradual, and it would take decades, scores of years before the event in question could occur. As curious as he was, Darshan decided against looking so far into the future nor would he allow the damage to accrue. It was too irresponsible. 

 

However, he suspected a clue lay in the onslaught of Battle Fatigue that had afflicted his sons. Indeed, he was afraid that it was a fault within him that had manifested among his legion. A small pang of guilt rang out as it always did when he thought of it. Even if it was a weakness that Alexandros had no part in its creation, dozens, perhaps hundreds, of his sons had paid with their lives for it. Still, the symptoms had been diverse, which made it difficult to speculate how his soul would break, or if he would break in the same way. A primarch, despite similarity in appearance, was not the same as a space marine.

 

With a final effort of will, Darshan exorcised the last of the spiritual blemishes. Before he concluded the ritual, he prayed. It had been a new addition, shortly after leaving Terra. He prayed for the protection of his sons in war, and that his remaining lost brothers be found. There was a reason he always split himself into twenty fragments. He did not pray to any deity and cared naught if his prayer was answered by nothing. It was the action itself he found solace in.

 

Alexandros opened his eyes and took a deep breath. He had not taught his psyker-sons this technique because it required utter discipline and an intense mastery of telepathy to use. None of his sons had yet to demonstrate the necessary strength or aptitude to perform it. Dharma and rest would have to suffice instead. 

 

Speaking of which...

 

Clothing himself with his robe, Alexandros exited his private quarters into a large hallway. Three unique lumens were installed in the ceiling at regular intervals. That had been the last modification to the Elpis, completed only a week ago at Hena-jagathi. Alexandros was eager to put them to use as he exited the hallway into another room. This room, while reserved for his use, served as an ambassadorial suite. Unlike the eclectic collections decorating his quarters, the suite was more focused, featuring the luxuries expected by the elites of Terra, such as a table of mahogany from the On-turas system. 

 

Alexandros swiftly crossed the room and opened the door to the hallway. Standing on the other side was a Halcyon Warden, on the verge of opening the door himself. The legionary recovered and saluted, "My lord, requisition for you." Behind the Warden was another escorting a stasis crate. On the other side of the crate was Irvin Ruel. 

 

"Lord Commander Ruel, what an unexpected surprise," Alexandros said as he returned the salute. "Legionaries, if you would deliver the requisition to the inner hallway."

 

As the legionaries moved, Alexandros waited for a moment before falling in step behind them. Irvin took his place next to his gene-sire. Although he had offered a respectful nod upon Alexandros' greeting, his following silence was more than enough to reveal his displeasure to the Primarch. Alexandros didn't press. What Irvin wished to discuss would require complete privacy.

 

The four of them entered the hallway between the rooms where Alexandros directed them to the center. Once there, Alexandros keyed in the code to deactivate and unlock the crate. The legionaries, unaware of what was inside peered around the giant as he opened the crate. Inside the adamantium shell was a young sapling resting within a large pot of fresh earth. Alexandros smiled as he withdrew the plant, "At last." He delicately placed it next to the wall before reaching for a set of controls built into the wall. After inputting a few commands, the central lumen shined with the brightness and youth of Sol itself. "Thank you, my sons. Please return the crate to logistics. Lord Commander, if you would be so kind as to remain." 

 

Irvin held his silence long enough for the entrance to close behind the legionaries. "You ordered a tree?"

 

"Not just any tree. This is an authentic green apple tree as could be found on ancient Terra. A descendant species survived in the Alpha Centauri system."

 

Irvin spared the sapling a few more seconds before he turned his attention to the three ceiling lumens. "Why three? Wouldn't one suffice?"

 

Alexandros pointed at a space on the wall. "There are two forcefield emitters built into the wall. I intend to have three separate biomes here. The center will be temperate, the section closest to the suite will feature a recreation of a jungle. The final section I'm not sure what I'll use it for. Perhaps desert plantlife as we saw on Hena-jagathi." The Primarch shifted the pot a little bit more before he deemed his work finished. He stood and gave his full attention to Irvin. "Now, what is distressing you enough to come to me, Irvin?"

 

As far as Alexandros knew, Irvin had never worn off-duty robes. A black, body sleeve was the closest he would ever reach to casual wear. Today, he wore his full armour, meaning he wished to discuss official matters. Irvin came to a position of attention, which, as always, mildly exasperated the Primarch whenever it happened in his private ship-domain. "My lord, I wish to formally protest the new legion organisation."

 

Alexandros could not be less surprised, even without calling upon his arts. "Not pleased with your new title, Brigadier?" 

 

Irvin's patrician features twitched. "I am able to serve under any title as necessary, whether it be chapter master, brigadier, or sentinel. However, I do not see the benefit of modifying the organisation of the entire legion. Especially four years after Balov."

 

"The new structure is more forward-looking, Irvin," Alexandros countered. "If we remained with the original organisation, the legion would have well over 31 chapters. Nor do we intend to cap the legion's size at 31,000 marines. At some point, we were going to need an additional layer of unit size to accommodate our growing size." 

 

"I understand that, but why was it necessary to institute so many changes instead of simply adding an additional unit size, such as the brigade? What benefit is there from renaming a company to a century, using company to replace chapter and outright eliminating battalion? Especially now that it has been four years after Balov."

 

"It suited my purposes," Alexandros said. "The new organisation better reflects the synthesis of the traditional Roma legions and the more modern designations. I agree that it would have been an easier transition if I had implemented the new system during the transfiguration at Balov, but it was not necessary to address it at that time. If anything, this will serve as an abstract lesson that the legion's evolution is not yet concluded. You are well aware that my divination is limited, and that there might be additional reforms necessary as the Great Crusade progresses."

 

Only partially mollified, Irvin continued. "Very well, my lord, but what of the new rank system? Allowing every officer to choose an alternative title will cause unnecessary chaos and confusion when the chain of command, by its very nature, requires absolute clarity."

 

"There are limits in place to keep titles rank-specific," Alexandros reminded him. "This will prevent the worst of the damage you fear, while allowing the benefit of building esprit de corps throughout the legion. By choosing his own title invests a marine in his ranks and gives him a measure of expression. At the same time, it teaches the Wardens to respect different systems of power outside the legion through language." Seeing the resistance in Irvin's blue eyes, Alexandros declared, "This is my will, Irvin."

 

The Terran stared for a moment before nodding. "As you will, my lord." 

 

Alexandros allowed Irvin his irritation as he asked, "Are there any other matters that require my attention?"

 

"We've reached the rendezvous point."

 

~~~

 

For better or for worse, first impressions carried an inordinate weight when judging a person's worth and character. Thus, while he might enjoy quite the advantage when meeting with recruits from worlds he had liberated, Alexandros always wore his parade armour when he met with the newest additions to the Fifth Legion. He stood in the largest landing bay aboard the Elpis, a line of ten legionaries standing behind him, volkite chargers held at attention. No longer was Alexandros a flash of purple in a sea of grey as those early days with his legion, but now they mirrored the colours he proudly bore. 

 

The same could not be said of the stormbird that landed before him. The Deliverer of Strength had fallen into an odd niche. It had not been present with the legion at Balov when they had spent two entire years adjusting to Alexandros' reforms and being repainted in purple and red. Yet, it had been produced before its manufactorum had received Alexandros' instructions of colour scheme, leaving it in its factory-grey. It was one of a few dozen vehicles that were on the cusp of meeting the legion standard. 

 

Regardless of its external appearance, the stormbird performed its duty with precision, landing smoothly in front of the Primarch. Alexandros held his helmet in the crook of his arm, while his left hand rested on the pommel of his sword. With a hiss, the ramp opened, and one hundred Halcyon Wardens marched out. Alexandros watched with a smile as he passively judged their performance. It would not be long before he would have to restrict this personal practice. Quite simply, too many recruits were being added to the legion, especially with the new protectorate systems sending regular cohorts of recruits. 

 

The recruits formed four ranks before their gene-sire and stood at attention. "At ease and helmets off!" Alexandros commanded, his voice carrying above the din of the landing bay. With movements not as smooth as their drill, the recruits managed the task. As Alexandros scanned the faces before his eyes focused on one familiar face. Although his eyes moved away, Alexandros' smile widened. 

 

Hello, Mahtva.

 

Gone was the thin youth always on the verge of starvation. In his place stood a man in his prime. Wearing a solemn face, accentuated by a thick moustache, Mahtva gave no physical sign he had heard Darshan's psychic message. But Darshan could see the fierce pride blazing in the man's aura and felt a particular joy welling in his own soul. 

 

"Welcome to the Fifth Legion, the Halcyon Wardens," Alexandros began, his words drenched in enthusiasm. "You are here today not because of chance biology nor of indefatigable will. You are here because every one of you made a choice. You were willing to make a sacrifice for the benefit of humanity."

 

As Alexandros continued his speech, he couldn't help but analyze the lineage of the recruits before him. For the first three years of his command, Terra maintained an uncontested monopoly as the recruits from Jermani continued to pour in. It was only in the fourth year did Delos begin to send her sons to join the Fifth Legion. Fair-skin mixed with tan and dark. Where once the clipped, guttural tones of Low Gothic dominated, now was joined by flowing and elongated tongues. Not long after their arrival, the Delians represented the majority of the recruits. This was not due to favouritism on Alexandros' part, but simple demographics. A planet could produce a great many more recruits than a former nation-state.

 

And now Balov would be represented among the legion, the first of the protectorate systems to have the honour. "Let my words guide and strengthen you as we embark on this noble mission to lift humanity high into glory!" 

 

The recruits cheered after the fire in their souls had been carefully fed by Alexandros' speech. He allowed them to bask in the moment. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Mahtva cheering with a knowing look. Alexandros winked. 

 

Alexandros gestured to a sergeant now joining them. Darshan took a moment to read the Warden's chosen rank. "Lochias Hoffman will give you your assignments. Until the day we meet again, I bid you good fortune and may you honour the Fifth Legion."

 

With a quick salute, Alexandros took his leave as the recruits saluted a moment before Hoffman began bellowing at them.  Alexandros headed for the exit as he made plans to meet with Mahtva later. Undoubtedly, it would have to take place in the Elpis' sanctam. The ten legionaries followed behind him, striking a balance of giving him a bit of space with being close enough to intervene if necessary. Alexandros glanced at the nearest one. "Deshpande, time?"

 

The bodyguard promptly answered, "1050, my lord."

 

"Good, I'll have a few minutes to spare for Kharkis."

 

~~~

 

As usual, the officer of the XVIth Legion stood at attention next to Alexandros' throne. 

 

Ayatollah Kharkis may have appeared as the undisputed commander of the 8-13th Scout Fleet. The Sixteenth Legion was one of a few legions that had not the numbers to warrant their own Expeditionary Fleet when the Imperium crossed the borders of the Sol System. The campaign against the Dirigiscrae of Neptune had reaped a fearsome tally on the young XVIth. Alexandros wasn't sure if it had been at Lord Commander Hennasohn's command or if it had been a decision among the entire Praetorate, but the Sixteenth chose to separate itself into twenty sub-fleets and attached themselves to other Expeditionary Fleets. Each sub-fleet was then commanded not by a single officer but a democratic council of 'Monarchs', which meant that Ayatollah Kharkis did not truly command the 8-13th but merely served as a representative of the Monarchs. 

 

And the entire Monarch council held a grudge against Alexandros.

 

When he had assumed command of his legion, Alexandros had desired to fight with his sons and his sons alone. It made no difference that he had personally arranged for the Cthonian Headhunters to join the 8-13th, which had allowed the legionaries to campaign independently. After Balov and his reforms, Alexandros had contacted them to renew their previous arrangement, only to deal with cold resentment. Although it might had been easier to simply allow ties to be cut, Alexandros had been championing the power of diplomacy at Balov and felt that this too provided a learning opportunity to the Halcyon Wardens.

 

In the end, it had taken two new Cardinal-class heavy cruisers to appease the XVIth's bruised pride. 

 

Kharkis' salute was brusque but professional and quickly returned by Alexandros.

 

"Report," Alexandros said. 

 

"We've finished establishing a perimeter around the fleet, my lord. No hostiles or unusual signs to note." 

 

"Well done." As usual, the compliment was ignored by Kharkis, who stood at attention. Alexandros could order 'at ease' but had quickly learned the Ayatollah preferred to be at a position of attention. "Are you prepared for the briefing? Will any of the other Monarchs be joining?"

 

"Yes, my lord, and no." 

 

In theory, there was no need for the other Monarchs to attend, but Alexandros couldn't help but wonder if this was motivated equally by practicality and spite. Regardless, Alexandros nodded and answered, "Very good. How does this day find you, Kharkis?"

 

Kharkis' sea-green eyes hardened. The Terran warrior gave Irvin a good running in professionalism, but Alexandros suspected that Kharkis was more frustrated by the subtle influence of Alexandros' power. He wasn't quite sure how to describe itself without resorting to words better suited to unenlightened mysticism, but the Primarch possessed an aura of sorts. He had never been aware of it, until he had met the Emperor. The Emperor emitted something similar and different. Majesty was the word that came to mind. Being in the Emperor's presence was to stand before the power and brilliance of a star in the shape of a man. Yet, Alexandros did not exude such raw might. Instead, he had learned that men and women were predispositioned towards him in friendship and trust. 

 

It was against this power that Kharkis resisted. Even without his telepathy, Alexandros could easily imagine Kharkis fighting to hold onto his grudge through sheer willpower. 

 

Kharkis grunted. "Well enough, my lord."

 

The Ayatollah was spared from further conversation when a shout came from navigation, "Detecting Warp signatures, my lord."

 

"Ah," Alexandros said with a smile. "They're here."

 

~~~

 

Reality screamed in the void as it tore open. Escaping the hellish currents of the Immaterium, a fleet smaller yet mightier than both the 35th and 8-13th combined took its place next to them. Bearing the black and white of Clan Anasem, the ships assumed formation as reality healed behind them. The 2nd Expeditionary Fleet had arrived. 

 

While half of the fleet featured the familiar shapes and blocky construction typical of Martian shipyards, the other half were sleeker and embellished with the touch that bespoke of the Akiran shipyards. Before the Imperium had discovered Madrigal, Icarion had successfully unified the planet and expanded his rule to the rest of the system. Among these other planets was Akira, who's shipyards boasted a tradition dating all the way back to the Dark Age of Technology. Although it could not match the sheer fame and power of Mars, Akira distinguished itself with an emphasis of quality that was sought by many admirals. 

 

Thus, though the Halcyon Wardens outnumbered their cousins in ships, Alexandros doubted their numerical advantage could guarantee their victory. At the very least, the 2nd Expeditionary Fleet possessed a potent advantage in its capital ship: the Thunderchild.

 

Although both the Elpis and the Thunderchild shared the designation of Gloriana, it would be impossible to confuse the two such are the differences between them. Elpis was based off an old and unused design of warship Alexandros had found in the Terran archives. Featuring a hammerhead design, a long neck contained cannon batteries as it connected the ship's 'head' with a short and thick main body. Two eagle wings unfurled from the main body, which happened to contain lance batteries. 

 

In contrast, the Thunderchild emulated one of the two standard battleship designs with a large body and a thicker neck joined to a pointed prow. Yet, this was all that it shared with its smaller cousins as the Thunderchild enjoyed a symmetry and grace that rendered it pleasing to the eye. In lieu of the Elpis' wings, the Thunderchild boasted an enormous crest on its prow, a tsunami wave captured at its greatest height. This beautiful crest conveniently hid the Thunderchild's greatest weapon: the volkite sahi. 

 

Nor were the differences limited to appearances but were extensions of different martial philosophies. With long-ranged lances, several launch bays, additional layers of armour, and strengthened void shielding, the Elpis was a master of attrition and fleet support. Wherever it placed itself among the fleet, the Elpis anchored the entire line. This would not suit the Thunderchild as it boasted improved engines and more varied weapons systems, allowing it to serve its master as an even more effective ship-killer than the Elpis. Several void battles had been recorded where Icarion had actually used the Thunderchild's prow as a ram. A sight that Alexandros hoped he could see once in his life. 

 

"Communications," Alexandros commanded, "Contact the Praetorate and inform them that they are to assemble in hangar bay one." He turned to Kharkis. "I extend an invitation to you to fly on my stormbird, if you are so inclined."

 

Kharkis shook his head. "I'll take my own transport."

 

With a nod, Alexandros said, "Very well, I'll see you on the other side shortly." 

 

~~~ 

 

With war yet to make its reappearance, the hanger bay was more quiet than usual. This is not to say it was silent as various squads and centuries did embarkment drills, tech-priests completed maintenance checks, and pilots practiced their craft. Alexandros greeted or acknowledged each group between him and his destination. As expected, most of the Praetorate had already arrived since Alexandros had the longest trip from the Elpis' bridge all the way to its head. There were other launch bays closer to the ship's center, but hanger one was the largest and most notable since it opened directly to the ship's front. 

 

Since this would be Alexandros' first official meeting with the First Legion, a level of decorum and theatre was necessary. 

 

To that end, Alexandros' personal stormbird would serve. As a Nepheros-class stormbird, it possessed the distinction of being one of the largest stormbirds of the entire Great Crusade. Gold edging served to distinguish the Byangoma from the rest of its kind. "My sons," Alexandros said after he returned their salutes. His eyes scanned the group of officers. "Where is Weyland?" 

 

Qapibain answered, "He should have received the order."

 

Before anyone could explain, the sound of heavy footsteps broke through the bedlam. While most of the legion officers predominantly bore the purple, the figure who approached favoured Martian red. Even for a simple meeting with another legion, the High Lord of the Forge could not part with his servo-arm. Alexandros appreciated the fact that Weyland did not carry his ax. 

 

"Weyland," Alexandros greeted. "I'm surprised you're running late."

 

A burst of binaric chant replied. A second later, Weyland repeated in Gothic, "Apologies, my lord. Was performing maintenance on malfunctioning plasma cannon. Delicate operation, could not leave until operation completed."

 

"Acknowledged. Gentlemen, shall we?" 

 

~~~

 

As the Byangoma shot into the void, Alexandros stood in the center of the landing bay, surrounded by the Praetorate and his bodyguards. "Who has served with the First?"

 

"After Icarion reformed it," Alexandros added. Several raising hands fell back down, leaving half of the Praetorate remaining. "Good, then this will serve as an introduction and a refresher course. Madrigalan culture places a large emphasis on honour and social cohesion. In that regard, they tend to favour social rituals that show proper respect and deference. Right before we disembark, we will assume formation. Ruel, you'll stand on my right, Praun, my left."

 

The Lord Commander and the Commander of the Signal Corps nodded. 

 

Continuing, Alexandros gestured to Crassus, Lothar, and Qapibain, the Brigadiers. "You three will form the first rank behind me. Adalbard, Villrof, and Scholl the next rank, while Vonsmith, Ludendof, and Niemann will form the last rank."

 

"Desh, you and your men will form two columns of five on our flanks as an honour guard. The Lightning Bearers will have their own party waiting for us. After we have disembarked, they will greet us with a bow. All of you are expected to bow as low as they do with myself excepted. They'll lead us to my brother's strategium. From what I've been told, when we reach the location, we will be declared before Icarion and bow again. Throughout the meeting, use titles at all times. Only by Icarion's command can this stricture be relaxed. I expect all of you to properly represent the Fifth Legion. Any questions?"

 

There was a pause before grey-eyed Qapibain asked, "While I have no intention of embarrassing ourselves, how severe are the repercussions if we fail to observe all of the social necessities?"

 

"Officially, none. The Lightning Bearers pride themselves on their professionalism. However, you will learn that campaigns will become much more difficult as First Legion units ignore requests for support. You will discover that you will be unable to enter their camps, along with a reluctance to share intelligence. Not to mention that the First is favoured by the Emperor above all of the legions." 

 

"Sounds petty," Niemann said. 

 

Alexandros glanced at the former destroyer. "It's no different than how the titan legios or the knight houses operate. Pay proper respect, and in turn be respected. This will be the first time I've campaigned with my brother, and I want this to go as smoothly as possible. Understood?" 

 

"Yes, my lord."

 

~~~

 

By the time the Byangoma's ramp opened, Alexandros and his legionaries were in formation. The moment the ramp rested on the floor, they marched out. Awaiting them was a party of three Lightning Bearers. The forward one bore a helmet with the signature datemato crest, marking him out as one of the First Legion's highest officers. His sapphire irises bespoke of the First Legion's geneseed, but his darker skin and bright hair marked him as a Terran instead of a Madrigalan. 

 

"Greetings, Lord VonSalim. I am Valorion Manst, Commander of the Second Brotherhood," the officer declared with a low bow, going well past his waist. 

 

Merely deeply nodding his head as custom dictated, Alexandros replied, "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Commander Manst."

 

Behind Alexandros, the Halcyon Wardens matched Manst's motion, though a couple of them struggled with unfamiliarity. Once all were upright, Manst said, "If you would follow me, my lord." With an about face, the Lightning Bearers marched forward. 

 

Maintaining an exact distance of seven (human) paces, the Halcyon Wardens followed. Given its colossal size, the Thunderchild was less a ship and more of a flying city. It took five minutes alone to simply cross the hangar to the proper exit. Although much of the hangar mirrored a similar scene on the Elpis, one element stood out.

 

In addition to the transhumans performing drills and maintenance throughout the deck, they were paralleled by mortal warriors bearing crimson armour. No simple armsmen, these were the Rakurai that Alexandros had read in his reports. Not every man was capable of becoming a legionary. Yet, that did not bar him from war if he so chose. Failed aspirants and men of the Sphere who wished to fight beside their lord were recruited into the Rakurai. While they would never enjoy the protection of power armour or wield the strength of a volkite, the Rakurai were outfitted as well as the famed Solar Auxilia. 

 

Alexandros could not help but recall similar issues that were happening on Delos and and the protectorate systems. To become a legionary required a powerful combination of a pristine genetic system with an indomitable will to survive the process. If either one was lacking, failure and death were never too far behind. For now, failed aspirants and those eliminated through the screening programs were directed to the Imperial Army...

 

The train of thought faded as they left the hangar and made their way through the ship to the distant strategium. What struck Alexandros as they journeyed through the ship was the sense of openness. Outside of structural keypoints, the Lightning Bearers eagerly used armacrys glass for walls, including entire rooms. Although Alexandros' eidetic memory knew room and corridor widths and sizes were equal to the Elpis', the Thunderchild felt more open and larger for its transparency. 

 

It was a feeling Alexandros enjoyed and wished he had thought of it when drafting the plans for the Elpis. The Thunderchild had one last surprise for him as they finally arrived outside the strategium. Surrounding the double doors was a wooden arch. Painted in vermillion, two posts stood straight before being joined by two horizontal beams connected by a center support strut. The only curve to be found was a crowning black lintel that curved upward at the edges.

 

Standing before the vertical beams were two Lightning Bearers. One was unhelmed and blind, while the other bore a curved sword and a bulky pack on his back. Both parties came to a halt before Valorian bowed to them.

 

The two guards bowed in turn before turning to the door, each opening one side. 

 

As they were led into the strategium, Alexandros and his sons were struck by how different it was. Instead of a circular hololith in the room's center, it was rectangular and long, built into the floor instead of rising above it. No seats surrounded it as the cadre of the First Legion's Praetorate sat on the floor itself, legs tucked beneath them. No Lightning Bearer occupied the short ends of the hololith table. A few metres away from the head of the table occupied the lone throne of the entire room. A silk tent draped the throne in darkness, but there was no hiding the giant who sat in its throne. Two more blind warriors stood watch over the throne.

Manst silently took his place at the table, his companions assuming their position along the wall with the others. Alexandros brought his party to a halt at a respectable distance. Alexandros was on the verge of bowing when Icarion's voice rang through the room. "A great day this is to welcome my brother to my dojo!"

"Welcome, Lord VonSalim!" The Lightning Bearers proclaimed as they bowed. Alexandros couldn't but notice the Terrans moved with equal precision and grace to their Madrigalan brothers. After twenty years of Madrigalan influence, it appeared to have been adopted wholesale by both halves of the legion. Alexandros looked forward to the day when he could say he had achieve the same unity.

 

Not a moment after, Icarion emerged from his throne as he stepped toward the table. As before on Delos, Alexandros' eyes were drawn to the great, horned mask on Icarion's right pauldron and to the aqua jewel embedded into his forehead. "Though it is tradition to offer fealty here in my domain, I hereby recognize you, Lord VonSalim, as my equal. For a brother to expect submission from another would be a poor joke, don't you think? I may be a lord to your warriors as you are to mine, but I would rather we remain brothers to one another."

 

Offering a small smile, Alexandros answered, "I thank you for your kindness, brother." He gestured behind him before introducing each of his officers to the Lord of the First Legion. After each introduction, the officer bowed as deeply as Manst had bowed to Alexandros, with some mental prompting by Darshan. Weyland was the most awkward one as he had to bow with his servo-arm clinging to his back. 

 

Once Alexandros had finished, Icarion swept an arm over his own officers. "These are my Commander: Sahaal, Manst, Tasetar, Horace, Kionen..." While Icarion continued, Alexandros reviewed what he had read about the Lightning Bearers. 

 

Without a doubt, the most famous of them was the First Commander, Korvost Sahaal. The first hero of the Legiones Astartes was also the first Legion Master of them all. It was said that the Emperor had personally chosen Sahaal to lead the first of His legions. Sahaal had proven their worth with the infamous Silencing of the Eternal Dirge, freeing an entire continent from a demented religion of blood and song. Alexandros was eager to speak with him and learn more about Otovan Biz'sark, the first Legion Master of the Storm Riders. 

 

He also wondered what kind of relationship Sahaal had with Icarion. Although Sahaal's reign over the First Legion had been a scant five years before Icarion's discovery, it had been a storied one filled with honour and glory. Had Sahaal stepped aside willingly, eagerly to his Primarch? Did he wish he had remain in command longer? So many questions, and Darshan dare not call upon his powers for a shortcut to his answers. Such an effort would be obvious to many of the psykers in this room.

 

Peering over the rest of the Commanders, Alexandros saw a fascinating picture of transition. Third Commander Tasetar was one of the original chapter masters fighting at the side of Sahaal, but Manst had replaced Ise, the third famed commander of the Silencing. Horace was not of Terra, but of the Sphere, while Kionen's blood was pure Madrigalan. The remaining, and younger, officers were dominated by Madrigalans. In the centuries to come, it was more than possible that the last of the Terrans would eventually fade.

 

It was a fate Alexandros did not desire for his own legion. 

 

As the last of the introductions finished, Icarion gestured to the hololith table. "Now, to war."

 

Signaled, the Commanders shifted as they left their spots around the table. Behind Alexandros, the doors opened to admit the other necessary representatives in the coming campaign. Stepping to the side, the Fifth Legion contingent waited as various greetings and rituals were observed. It was only due to Alexandros' status as the only other known Primarch of the Imperium was he allowed such a private introduction of his new legion. In reality, it would be both unwise and rude to conduct a briefing without the other important members of the Expeditionary Fleets. 

 

Three Rakurai Lord Marshals was not enough to represent the Imperial Army as several Lord Commanders entered, entourages in tow. Commanding the Lightning Bearers' allied Titan force was Princeps Senioris Demarcus. Although a sliver of a man, Darshan could sense the man's powerful aura that alluded to Legio Telesto's nature as psy-titans. Yet, for all of the power Telesto contained, it was a controversial force. The technology used to construct them was among the greatest of Martian secrets, and to gain them cost much while accruing Martian ire. What had happened to make Telesto possible was a well-kept secret, even to Alexandros' own probes. 

 

In comparison, Princeps Majoris Eston dal Pirana wielded authority over a demi-Legio of Ignatum in support of the Halcyon Wardens. Legio Ignatum was the opposite of Telesto. Ignatum was one of the oldest Titan Legios and commanded a great deal of respect. However, their assignment with the Fifth Legion was temporary. It was yet another task for Alexandros to be mindful, establishing a true alliance with a Titan Legio as opposed to the ad hoc basis currently in place. 

 

Ayatollah Kharkis was the last to enter. While the other officers had taken care to pay proper respect to the Emperor's Firstborn, Kharkis teetered on the edge of disrespect as he threw a half-bow to the Primarch before taking his place at the table. A moment passed as all eyes shifted to Icarion. Yet, he nodded, accepting the poor showing before the hololith table revealed the galaxy...

 

...with an unspoken order, the fierce abomination faded as the hologram deactivated. "Again, I expect all forces to be briefed and prepared for combat in thirty-six hours," Icarion announced. Darshan's senses twitched for the fifth time. Alexandros could not describe how confused he was. Perhaps the the sheer number of connections to the Warp concentrated in the room was playing with his supernatural senses. Yet, he almost felt there was something subtle at play. As he scanned the faces, he could not grasp at whatever it was that vexed him. Yet, all he noted physically were the variety of expressions commonly found at a briefing, ranging from determination to hidden boredom to satisfaction. Alexandros' eyes lingered on Kharkis for a second longer. 

 

"At once, my lord," Demarcus stated as his thin frame bowed low before taking his leave from the gathering. 

 

As the attendees began to leave, Alexandros dropped the mystery. For now, at least. He turned to Ruel. "Lord Commander, return to the Elpis with the Praetorate and prepare the legion. I require a personal meeting with Lord Anasem."

 

"As you will, my lord," Ruel answered without a hint of surprise.

 

While the Halcyon Wardens filed out of the strategium, Alexandros turned and found Icarion approaching him. Before Alexandros could say a word, Icarion gestured to the exit. "If you would follow me, brother."

 

After a short walk, Alexandros' building curiosity was sated when the doors to Icarion's quarters opened. The first thing he noticed was the wooden floor. Not a hint of the adamantium beneath it was allowed as polished brown reflected light, except for a square area around the entrance. Unlike Alexandros' three rooms, Icarion's quarters consisted of a single room partitioned into several smaller areas by paper walls. Yet, tradition did not hold sway over the entire room. To Alexandros' right was a living hologram cycling through landmarks from Madrigal. Beneath the hologram was a stasis generator holding an antique watercolor painting depicting a restless sea. To the left, hanging on the wall, was a strange spear with a ballistics weapon attached, reminding Alexandros of the Custodians' own weapons yet far less advanced. Sitting below the spear was a ruined helmet, split into upper and lower halves. It too was a pale shadow of an Astartes own helm, but what remained was highly decorated with a crest and symbols he did not recognize. 

 

"Brother, if you would, I ask that you remove your boots before stepping onto the wood."

 

As Alexandros obliged, undoing the seals to his armour, he gestured to the warrior's display. "A former enemy?" 

 

"Your instincts serve you well," Icarion said, his eyes lingering on the split helmet. "They belonged to a man known as Hirato Tokawa. I once counted him among my friends, a clan head who had shown great promise and fought by my side to maintain peace on Madrigal." The Lord of the First paused as a shadow covered his face. "He, among all men, has come the closest to killing me."

 

"Ah, this is the arms and armour of the infamous Tokawa. I am surprised," Alexandros admitted. "From what I read, Tokawa had become a monster in both spirit and body when you slew him."

 

"He had," Icarion said with a nod as he stepped onto the wooden floor, only the thin material of his bodysuit between his feet and the floor. "When we met again in battle, he was scarcely how I remembered him. He was more machine than man, standing at my height on metal legs, his heart replaced with something more insidious. Yet, proud he was, and he only used subtle modifications for his head so that he could continue wearing that helm he could never part with." Icarion turned his attention away from the display. "You, however, have no such tale to speak of. Were the records accurate in that you never made war on your planet's people?" 

 

"It is true, but it was a close thing at times," Alexandros said. "Several assassination attempts were made upon me. Only once did I command an army for battle. At the time, the planet was divided between two overarching coalitions on the eastern and western continents, divided between the Sindhuans and the Hellasans. I landed on one of the eastern isles and began my unification effort there. It took a few years, but I had rallied a third of the eastern coalition to my banner, but hadn't been able to make any inroads among the Sindhuans. They were extremely suspicious of me, you understand. At the current rate, the effort to persuade them would have taken decades. However, fortune provided me an opportunity. I assume you've read the mission report of my first battle after Father found me?"

 

Icarion nodded before gesturing for them to move deeper into the quarters. "I did."

 

Alexandros continued as they walked. "Roughly five months before the event, I saw a vision of those tainted xenos raiding Delos. If I proceeded with care, I had an opportunity to strike a blow against the devils who plagued my world and to break the resistance against my dreams of unification. Only my family and my closest confidants knew the truth when I abruptly changed tactics. Where once I called for peace, I called for war. The traditional elements of the Hellas Confederacy could not decide if I had finally 'seen reason' or if it was yet another ploy, but could not resist a chance to destroy their historic enemies."

 

In a dozen or so paces, they had passed the side areas and stood before a wooden door that opened into Icarion's inner chamber. Stepping inside, Alexandros was surprised to see how sparse it is. A mat and a blanket sufficed for a bed with a low table in the room's center. All this, Alexandros observed in a fraction of a second. He continued, "Given the tension, it was not difficult to manipulate both sides into an open conflict. What was the most difficult aspect was to prevent any battles outside the one I planned. I needed both armies to deploy in their greatest strength at a single location."

 

Without interrupting, Icarion gestured to the table before sitting down.

 

Alexandros nodded before mirroring Icarion a second later, both of them sitting cross-legged across the table. "There was an island between the two continents; it was once a volcano until it nearly destroyed itself in a terrific explosion. I was able to have both armies land there. At the appointed hour, the xenos attacked right as we were about to kill each other. Our massed forced was a lure since they believed the Delians would only put a meagre resistance, leaving them to raid the rest of the planet at their leisure. After all, they had launched successful raids against Delos repeatedly over the centuries. Why would this be any different?"

 

He grinned. "Oh, I suppose one thing had changed since the last raid. A certain giant who was eager to enlighten these alien drek about his existence."

 

"And so you took two warring clans and created an alliance of necessity and blood," Icarion said. 

 

Alexandros nodded, his grin subsiding as a frown took its place. "Much blood was spilt. It was only with overwhelming numbers and my powers that we were able to surprise and then drive back the xenos. Casualties were high among both armies."

 

"Which only highlighted your calls for unification I'm sure. Furthermore, if any leaders of the traditional elements died in combat, it would only make your cause easier to accept for their successors."

 

"The moment they struck from the skies, I sent a general call, offering my protection to any who wished it." Alexandros shrugged. "It is no fault of mine that certain commanders could not see past their pointless grudges."

 

Icarion nodded. "How long did it take to unify the planet after the battle was won?"

 

"If you mean by treaty, an alliance was created within the week. In theory, all of Delos now stood shoulder-to-shoulder against the threat of the alien. Yet, I consider that merely the first step of unification. I wanted the people to be united in, not just martially, but in government and in heart. The former would take several more years. The latter is still on-going though the Imperium is keeping such developments on track without my presence."

 

Alexandros chuckled. "All this to answer your question, yes, I have never made war on my people."

 

"Yet, not quite as bloodless as the Iterators now proclaim," Icarion said. 

 

"No. Only rarely is history as clean as the citizen understands it."

 

"Agreed," Icarion said. "Which brings me to the present. New as the Imperium is, word has swiftly reached me about your victories and newfound glories. Your deeds in regards to Balov in particular stand out. Yet, behind these honours, how are you handling your duties to the Great Crusade?"

 

For a moment, Alexandros considered weighing his words before shrugging. "With great difficulty."

 

Icarion raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

 

"Commanding a legion is not the same as commanding an army," Alexandros confessed as he stood and paced the room. "Every year since I assumed my position has been a struggle to find the delicate balance between what the Imperium requires and to mold my sons to my ideals. When the Imperium measures them, all they can see is combat ability. A battering ram to smash aside humanity's worst foes. Any changes that might threaten their battle performance is viewed with suspicion." Alexandros stopped before sweeping a hand down. "I cannot accept such a truncated existence for my sons. Yet, so many have internalised such views that I struggle to root it out from within as much as I attempt to ward it from without."  

 

"What do you want?" 

 

"I want them to thrive in peace as much as war. This war will not last forever. One day, the Pax Imperialis will be instituted from one end of the galaxy to the other. Of course there will be rebellions, resurgences of hostile activity, but nothing will require the full strength of the Imperium ever again. On that day, I do not want my sons to fear what will become of them, but already well-suited to transition." Less animated, Alexandros sat down. "Which is why I request your aid, brother."

 

Icarion nodded. "It'd be my honor."

 

Alexandros smiled. "Thank you, brother. The balance I am seeking I believe lies in your own Madrigal College. I want to institute a series of societies within my own legion to better spread my ideals. I want you to tell me every aspect of the Madrigal College and any recommendations for harnessing it in different forms and for other purposes, other than psyker mastery."

 

"As you wish. Let me begin with the Blue Volta..."


Edited by simison, 12 April 2019 - 12:01 AM.

Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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simison

simison

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Chapter 12: Masters of the Third Dimension

 

Ayatollah Kharkis considered the enemy fleet before the Imperium. The Scara ships were ugly things to look at. A mixture of rock and shell, the vessels looked less like ships and more akin to floating mountains. They reminded Kharkis of space hulks yet smaller. Easily countable as well since the Scaras did not believe in support vessels. Seventy-three of their warships opposed the Imperium at the outer edge of the system. Looking at his foes, Kharkis wished the conflict could have been resolved with a series of cyclonic torpedoes and be done with it.

 

Orders, unfortunately, insisted otherwise. The Scara worlds had been scanned by foolhardy Rogue Traders. Those scans had revealed the planets to be replete with deposits of adamantium, gold, copper, and a dozen other elements vital to the Great Crusade. Thus, the worlds were to be taken intact, and their xenos occupiers exterminated. The Magos Biologis were hard at work attempting to find a biological weapon that would destroy the hostile species without poisoning the worlds, but the Imperium had few samples for them to experiment with. Until that situation had changed, the Legiones Astartes would use the old-fashion way. 

 

Which placed Kharkis in his current dilemma. Victory was beyond a doubt. This was the only system the Scara had populated, and they lacked enough warships to turn back the firepower of the Imperial fleet before them. No, if there was going to be a defeat here, it would most likely strategic. The Imperium was still new, flexing its power within a small fraction of the galaxy. Who knew what enemies lurk out there? Hence the need for the Legiones Astartes to bear the weight of these first critical decades. Therefore, whatever tactic ensured a victory with the fewest casualties would bring the greatest honour in this battle. 

 

Kharkis considered his options as the fleets steadily closed the distance. He had been given orders. Lord Anasem had been established as the overall commander for the campaign and had ordered the XVIth Legion ships to divide and harass the enemy flanks. The Ayatollah chafed at this given role, as did half of the Monarchs. He could not deny the fact that the Fifth and First Legions possessed the heavier ships and numbers necessary to destroy the Scara fleet, but to be reduced to such an inglorious duty...

 

He glanced at the display, showing his ships maintaining their forward position ahead of the rest of the Imperial fleet. He could order his fleet to ignore Lord Anasem's orders. After all, he was not their Primarch, and it would not be the first time an officer had earned renown for taking the initiative. Already, he identified three Scara warships the XVIth could focus their firepower upon and disrupt the enemy's formation. Then again, the casualties in return would be... significant. And one did not flout the Emperor's First Son so easily.

 

"Your orders, Ayatollah?"

 

Kharkis' sea-green eyes swiveled to his lieutenant, Captain Gharis. The man's light chocolate skin clashed with his bright blue eyes as he patiently waited for his commanders' vote. For not the first time, the Monarchs were too divided between whether to obey or to chart their own course, which meant Kharkis possessed the final vote which would break the stalemate.  For occupying a more symbolic role, Kharkis had been operating with a lot more influence than his position suggested. One day, we will have our own Primarch to command and give us glory. "I vote to execute the Tselo flanking manuever."

 

Gharis nodded before he shouted the order again, word quickly spreading threw the 8-13th. No doubt several Monarchs were frustrated with Kharkis' delay, but he was conflicted as the council was. Regardless, the vote was cast. On the monitors, the scout fleet began to splinter as they sought to attack their foe from all angles. 

 

~~~

 

"Hm," Irvin rumbled as his blue eyes peered at the tactical displays of the Imperial ships. "I wasn't sure they would follow orders."

 

Alexandros sat on his command throne, eyes closed as visions of the future danced in his mind's eye. "It was close," he murmured, his voice quiet enough to reach the ears of the Lord Commander. 

 

Irvin grimaced as he regarded the XVIth Legion ships. "Democracy has no place in a Legion. War requires decisive action."

 

"And calm deliberation," Alexandros added. "Until the day they compromise the Great Crusade, they are welcome to their eccentricities." 

 

Irvin grunted his disapproval but did not press the matter. "The fleet is in position."

 

"My brother has graciously offered us the first blow," Alexandros declared, his voice raising so it reached every ear on the bridge. "Let us show the First Legion our firepower. Fire the nova cannon!"

 

 ~~~

 

Mounted underneath the Elpis' bow, a complex machine boasting sacred Mars as its birthplace came to life. The ordnance, already loaded, waited for the trigger that would fulfill its purpose. Before it a series of gravimetric impellers first hummed and then shrieked as gravity struggled and then bent to its new masters. The gunnery officer watched this new struggle begin and end in a few seconds as nothing more than a readout on his cogitator. With the Primarch's order, the officer gently pressed the button.

 

In the second after as his finger followed the button back up, the nova shell was halfway through the main cannon, well past the sound barrier. By the time the officer's finger separated from the glowing electronic, the nova shell had achieved maximum velocity as it shot out of the cannon with a low roar powerful enough to rumble throughout every kilometer of the warship. The sheer force of the shot reduced the Elpis' speed by a quarter before its massive engines compensated. 

 

Nearing the speed of light, the ordnance armed itself a mere second after its own firing. It took only another five seconds to cross the vast distance between the two fleets. The Scara ship in the path of the shell had no hope of evading the shot and had to trust in its metallic shell to endure. The nova shell, upon contact, made a mockery of that trust as the city-sized explosive detonated. In a brilliant flash of light visible to observers on the Imperial ships, the Scara capital ship was reduced to rubble, the largest of said piece no more than a rock the size of a man. 

 

Upon his command throne, Alexandros smiled. "One down, seventy-two to go."

 

As the fleets neared each other, Darshan reached out to touch the minds of the Scara xenos, searching. The Scaras were divided into three castes: workers, warriors, and leaders. The first mind Darshan reached was undoubtedly a worker. It focused on its current task, strengthening a section of the ship wall with four of its limbs, with a singular devotion. Darshan could manipulate the creature, but it would be a wasteful effort. It's one-track mind would allow only the most brutal methods of mind manipulation to have any impact on its actions. It simply wouldn't be worth the energy invested to gain control of a drone, let alone the million others that could replace a single crippled one.

 

Darshan left it alone and soon found a group of warriors. The Scara possessed no kinds of interception craft, which meant the warriors were there strictly to defend their ship. While the workers possessed almost no will or emotion on their own, the warriors were rife with tightly shackled aggression. The warriors may have had a rudimentary intelligence to allow some independence, but the sheer emotional hostility provided an unintentional defence against Darshan's powers. They might not be as hard to crack as the workers, but it would be tricky work. 

 

Which left the true weakpoint of the Scara exposed. Within the center of the warriors was one of the leader caste, granted the lowest of its caste. To Darshan's amusement, the creature looked more humanoid than the rest of its species as it balanced itself on two legs. The leader caste required more sapience to be able to control and direct their simpler kind's members. Yet, it was that degree of intelligence that could allow Darshan to infiltrate. 

 

Darshan pursued the leader's mind. It was the lowest tier of its caste, barely able to command more than a dozen individuals at a time. Such authority was of little use to the Primarch, but the information of the Scara's 'chain of command' was. He perused the information before his spirit followed it to the master of the warship. He found two beings responsible for the ship's control. The first was a higher tier of the leader caste. The humanoid laid in an artificial cocoon of flesh and slime. It was connected to the other being which commanded the ship. The creature was an odd thing. Its mind was as simple as a worker's, yet far more powerful. As Darshan studied the creature, he realized it was, in a sense, the core of the ship's intelligence system. The creature was connected throughout the ship by a network of biological nerves which transmitted information from the various parts of the ship back to the command node. 

 

Upon closer inspection, Darshan corrected himself. It was subtle, but the nerve network emitted clear use of psychic power in its construction. The 'pilot' too displayed an almost instinctual use of Warpcraft to meld with the nervous system, allowing it to send commands to the different areas of the ship. What an unwelcome development, Darshan thought to himself. The Rogue Traders had not scouted close enough to learn what other powers the Scara may possess that burden now falling upon the Legions to endure. 

 

Darshan sent a separate shard to warn Icarion as the main shard fulfilled its original mission. He reached into the leader's mind. With its minimal Warp talent, it had the smallest forewarning that something was happening. Untrained in any form of mental defense, the humanoid had no choice as Darshan slid inside and locked the Scara's consciousness away before Darshan sent new orders throughout the warship. 

 

~~~

 

Without any redundices, the ship could not resist its master's commands. Engines mirroring volcanoes fired and shoved the warship away from its compatriots. As it moved, it spun on its internal axis, until the fewest cannons aimed toward the nearby ships. 

 

Kharkis watched the other enemy ships to see if this was an enemy tactic. None of the other ships moved from their current trajectory and commenced firing on the main fleets. He could not understand why it was happening, but he would not allow this advantage to slip away. "Have the Neptune's Fury and us concentrate fire on the ventral cannon, while the Dhow and the Tufan flank and strike their engines.

 

Captain Gharis slid up to him and whispered, "Is this VonSalim's doing?"

 

Kharkis grunted. Since the XVIth had yet to fight with the Lord of the Fifth until this day, none of them had a true measure of VonSalim's power. That had not stopped a tide of rumors that declared everything from Alexandros being nothing more than a talented deceiver to telepathically controlling every action and thought of the Halcyon Wardens. Kharkis despised such wasted talk and suspected VonSalim stoked these rumors as part of some on-going ploy. 

 

"A distraction," Kharkis stated. "The battle is our sole concern."

 

~~~

Crassus felt a small shudder run through his ship. His armored hands clenched as he visualized the alien torpedo striking against the void shields. With a visible jerk, Crassus focused on the holographic projection before him. Tanks of light raced across a battlefield, leading a flock of rhinos toward a line of emplacements. A modicum of Crassus' anger relented as a ghost of a smile crossed his face. He had always considered the Battle of Three Flags as the birthplace of the Prefects, the elite tank masters of the Fifth Legion. Finally, their legion had something it could boast over the First.

His blue eyes locked onto one tank as it broke through the defensive line. A faded swell of pride and exhilaration flowed through the Prefectus Alae. He had been a driver during the battle, but he had been the first to break through. His fist slammed on the table's edge. And now, he thought bitterly. By the Primarch's own command, Crassus had been forced to wait while not one, not two, but three entire campaigns had been completed without his service, cheated of the glory that was rightfully his, and denied his true nature. He had been embarrassed to accompany his Primarch onto the Thunderchild, given his absence from the field.

It did not matter how kindly his Primarch had spoken to him, nor how often he had promised Crassus he would see battle again. Always, the meeting ended with the Primarch exhorting Crassus to seek the Sanctum and to choose an Arete. He threw a contemptuous glare at the Sanctum around him.

 

One of the Primarch's edicts after Balov required every Fifth Legion warship to maintain a room or space for a Legionary to pursue his Arete. Crassus had obeyed the order to the barest minimum. The Glory of Jermani may have been a proper battleship, but its Sanctum was no larger than his own personal quarters, large enough to room a dozen individuals. It featured a holographic table and a shelving unit filled with dataslates about every campaign from the last archived Great Crusade battle to the first Unification Wars skirmish. 

 

The Glory rumbled again and Crassus seethed at the Sanctum. He saw nothing more than a prison. He desperately wished the aliens would board and finally give him a chance to draw his blade.

 

~~~

 

Muniza watched with satisfaction as the battle swung in Humanity's favor. The Scaran warships, for all of their size, were ponderous beasts. Their xeno weapons were marginally faster than their ships. Muniza did not understand the mechanics, but the Scarans fired chunks of molten rock as their sole weapon. The torpedoes were all too easily avoided and threatened only the largest of Imperial warships. He watched as destroyers danced through barrages with ease. While the ships of the line engaged the Scaran fleet, the lighter warships plunged through the center.

 

There was little reason for Muniza to remain on the bridge. Yet, as the First Legion's newest Commander, he was eager to establish his presence and validate his Lord's recommendation and his captains' in him. Therefore, he stood in the bridge's center, poised and hands clasped behind his back. With void victory assured, Muniza's mind move to the next battle. The Scarans possessed colonies throughout the system; however, Lord Anasem had predicted that it was imperative to strike at the Scaran homeworld to prevent the campaign from lasting a toil-filled decade. 

 

Muniza looked past the waning battle and pictured the planet. The next battlefield would be the asteroid belt around it. Long-range auspex scans had detected artificial heat signatures and Scaran xenoforms. These asteroids would have to be secured before planetary operations could begin.

 

"Thunderchild advancing out of formation."

 

Muniza broke from his thoughts and turned towards the screens. 

 

~~~

 

Over three-quarters of the Scaran fleet drifted through the void, weaponless. A remnant retained engine power and impotently tried to resist. Only a lone Scaran warship possessed the ability to launch volleys at the Imperial fleet. Said fleet counted not a single warship destroyed or disabled as over one hundred ships of Man bore down on the alien ships. 

 

For this final foe, the Thunderchild, pride of the First Legion, sallied forward. Well over twenty kilometres in length, its powerful void shields deflected the Scaran fire with contemptous ease as the mighty ship gained speed. Too late did its prey realize the danger. The xeno warship may have been a mountain. The Thunderchild cared not. A last volley from the volkite sahi blinded any foolish to look upon the livid light. The bladed tsunami of a prow pierced stone and metal. Flames spewed around the Scarans' gaping wound. Thousands of xenos were crushed by their own ship's rubble. Though the Thunderchild slowed, it did not yield as its engines burned brighter. Until, at last, the Thunderchild cleaved the mountain in twain. 

 

The void belonged to the Imperium.


Project Leader of the Brotherhood of the Lost

 
The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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#15
simison

simison

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Chapter 13: Battlefield of Thought

 

"And to think," Alexandros began with a smile, "they told me that you were famous for your contemplative restraint."

 

Icarion allowed a small smile to show on his features. "I was merely giving you an educational demonstration in void warfare."

 

Alexandros chuckled. "Consider me enlightened." 

 

Icarion paused as he glanced in the direction of the fleet advance. The two Primarchs stood in the Thunderchild's strategium. They were alone save for each other. "The real struggle will begin soon. I spent my time in meditation, but I was not able to reveal everything before we translated in the system. What of your own efforts?" 

 

"Not much," Alexandros confessed with a hint of frustration. "The void battle was clear to me. Past it, a fog obscures all. I remember a few images. A giant in shadow. Fire in caves. You know, the usual, unhelpful vague visions."

 

Icarion quirked an eyebrow. "Often is the case of our art. Do you struggle with the limitations?"

 

"These glances and crumbs of the future are usually worthless, until the event in question comes to pass. I typically avoid such uncertainties by concentrating my efforts on the near future. The more focused I keep my gaze, the more I learn, the more I can change. Past a certain point, a year perhaps, there are simply too many factors to weigh to guarantee much in the terms of accuracy." 

 

Icarion paused, hands folded above his stomach. "There is truth in what you say, but I would suggest that you needlessly limit yourself. Even if the information is of questionable veracity, it can provide an important clue to be acted upon at a later time."

 

"Maybe," Alexandros said with a shrug. "While I'd be willing to have a deeper philosophical conversation on future-sight, this doesn't prepare us for the next step of the campaign."

 

"You're right. And the news of this psychic power among the xenos could explain my own struggles. I'm under the impression that if we do not choose our battles with care, we risk being caught in a bloody mire. Since each of us alone couldn't discern much, together, perhaps we can break through the layer of ignorance."

 

Alexandros grinned. "I'd be more than happy to offer my services."

 

The two psykers knelt in the empty strategium. Icarion folded his legs beneath him as he rested his hands on his thighs. Alexandros crossed his legs before pressing his palms together. Both bowed their heads and closed their eyes. Darshan saw the physical world muted as another reality opened itself to him. The room of war hosted echoes of restained bloodlust and hidden uncertainty.

 

Dominating the room was Icarion's spirit. Had a mortal looked upon the Primarch with mortal eyes, blindness would have followed. The Lord of the First blazed with lightning. Upon closer inspection, Darshan saw that it wasn't a single bolt of lightning contained in the figure of a man, but thousands of bolts winding over Icarion's 'skin'. Darshan idly wondered how he appeared to Icarion. 

 

Although they were safe deep within the Thunderchild, Darshan detected the barrier surrounding and protecting Icarion. It was a subtle thing, given away by the 'smell' of heavy ozone, and quite dangerous to anyone who would violate the Stormborn's defenses. Darshan focused for a fraction of a second and crafted a small link-thought in the form of a small bird. The luminous creation flitted from Darshan's hands and stopped just outside Icarion's defenses. 

 

The barrier relaxed, allowing the link-thought to enter. It flew to the lightning and immersed itself. Icarion's soul-lightning took on a blue tint as Darshan could only now perceive his brother's mood on the spectral plane. As the link settled, a wave of orange amusement rolled over the lightning-being before their thoughts were joined. 

 

A bird, Alex? 

 

With the equivalent of a mental shrug, Darshan answered, why not? It's not often I enjoy company on the astral plane.

 

What of your sons?

 

I have far less time than I'd like to spend with them. It's only now that the changes wrought on Balov have slowly settled. What time I have had, the focus has been on mastering the self. 

 

A pause. 

 

For your sons who have mastered that lesson, you may want to emphasize protection from immaterial threats. Deeps as we are in Thunderchild, your own defenses could be strengthened.

 

Darshan couldn't help but think of that last bit as perhaps a bit much. Then again, who knew the threats that Icarion had faced and learned hard lessons from? Very well, brother, I will take your words to heart. Now, onto the matter at hand?

 

Without waiting, Darshan turned his attention toward the future. Darshan stood on a mountain. Before him was a shallow ocean, dotted with islands. With each passing millisecond, islands grew larger or collapsed beneath the waves as potential events grew closer into certainty or faded away into oblivion. Despite time's onward march, Darshan never moved as the cliff edge consumed the ocean, always standing at the moment the future became the present. Simultaneously, he 'saw' how Icarion perceived the future. The heavens lay displayed to infinity with stars standing where Darshan saw islands. In his visions, the far future faded into the horizon. Here, the far future went on and on and on. The sheer amount of information disoriented the Primarch. He spent a full second anchoring himself before signaling, I'm ready.

 

Good. I spent much of the voyage here in meditation. I saw enough to know that if we target the colonies as our first priority, we risk defeat. Victory requires a decisive strike against the xenos homeworld, but I do not know where.

 

Even as the thought finished, Darshan saw several islands sink beneath the waves, battles that were removed from existence by choice alone. Darshan surveyed several island chains representing potential campaigns on the main planet. But details eluded Darshan as the islands emitted a thick fog. Darshan could only extract a few images from the worst islands. The shadow giant now loomed over him. A familiar officer wielding a sword in gleeful rage. Hundreds of mutilated mortals. 

 

My own visions are similarly bare, Icarion echoed.

 

We need more information, Darshan declared. He left the ocean and islands behind as he turned his attention to the Scaran homeworld. Although distance meant less to his power, Darshan had not extended himself this much in some time. Nor was the planet inviting. A vast network of green light criss-crossed over the continents. It was the exact same structure as the xeno warships. Darshan focused on the largest continent and followed the strands of Warp energy to the brightest point. 

 

Careful, Alex.

 

Darshan's consciousness emerged in a vast subterranean chamber. The sound of a thousand wings filled the area as warrior forms flew about. At first, it felt random. One warrior flew up five meters, grabbed onto the wall, dropped four meters, and then traveled across the chamber. Darshan waited as he scanned the hundreds of scurrying xenos. Gradually, Darshan could sense a pattern to all of the movement. 

 

An entire web of surveillance coalesced before Darshan's 'sight'. The warriors forms' attention was ultimately anchored to a single point at the center of the chamber. The same point also happened to host the nexus point for the planetary Warp network. His spirit-shard approached the point. The vast roots of energy did not outshine the center of it all. Darshan saw an earthy star, hidden beneath layers of dirt and wax. Focusing his power, Darshan perceived the star for what it was: a creature, vast and powerful, used to uncompromising authority. 

 

The creature was also an opportunity. 

 

Darshan took a moment to prepare his defenses. As potent as his mind was, he understood that the task he would attempt was quite dangerous. And he would have to it bereft of his vaunted foresight. The moment came and finished. He connected his mind to the creature's.

 

An inhuman screech cascaded through his being.

 

In the same instant, Darshan could see everything.

 

Caught between the flood of information and a world's rage at his trespass, Darshan felt something slip out of his reach. Water, liquid imagination, surrounded his being and pressed at his unmoored protection. Visions, thoughts of the entirety of existence threatened to drown him, each more incoherent than the last. 

 

Before the last thread could snap, a voice roared out for him. ALEX!

 

Alexandros blinked. 

 

Exhaustion as such he had never felt before made even the act of scanning his surroundings difficult. He was back aboard the Thunderchild. Judging by his direct view of the ceiling, he seemed to be on his back. That was both unexpected and unwelcomed. Icarion knelt above him, open concern on his face. A second passed before Alexandros realized the telepathic link was still in force. 

 

"You are safe", Icarion said, in both the verbal and the mental. The unusual combination made it sound like two voices overlapping with each other. What really surprised Alexandros was how different the tones were. The verbal words bore concern, familial affection, and a spark of kindness. All of these elements reassured and lifted him, emotionally. Yet, the telepathic tone was much more measured. Darshan could sense concern and relief but also frustration and even a hint of anxiety. Instantly, he recalled the nagging sensation from when Icarion addressed the war council. A dozen different reactions from the attendees, but all, in some way, shape, or form, favorable whenever Icarion had spoken. Alexandros had interacted with only one other being that possessed a similar power.

 

"You have father's voice," Alexandros and Darshan said. 

 

No sooner had thought and word been uttered that confusion crossed Icarion's features. A moment passed as Darshan felt his soul probed by Icarion. Alexandros could not but find that curious. Icarion had never demonstrated any mastery of telepathy, yet the power washing over him was definitely exploratory in some sense. It was also not telepathy, which bewildered Alexandros. What art would parallel telepathy?

 

After a moment, the probe ended. "You are not tainted, but you are not quite whole?" Icarion said. 

 

"Wholeness is a matter of perspective at times," Darshan and Alexandros answered as his strength returned to him. "But I am in no danger."

 

Icarion mused on the response. "I suppose we both have our share of secrets. Can you stand?

 

"In a few more seconds, I will. However, I believe my energy could be better spent elsewhere." Darshan delved into his memory. The most recent memories began smooth, until Darshan reached the disaster. His memoryscape became a jagged mess of half-formed thoughts, glimpses of past and future, and memories that did not belong to him. Darshan regarded the area with distaste as he sifted through it to find his own thread. 

 

He swept away the leftover fear of a dangerous pregnancy. A child's memory of a fight with a former friend had to be tossed to the side. The visions were the most stubborn of them all. One shattered mirror showed him slowly burning atop a golden artifice. Another replayed a scene of two men playing a game of Regicide over and over on a world Alexandros did not recognize. The last one was the most preposterous: a young woman who had inherited his features, standing next to a tech-priestess attached to a spider-like engine. Truly, the Warp was a wellspring of insanity. 

 

Finally, Darshan located his own memories. Most of them were little more than a series of impressions, colored by an emotional upheaval of confusion, surprise, and dismay. He analyzed every second in aching details; his current emotions grew more volatile. Darshan paused as he grabbed a more familiar memory. He was a child, hand held by his adopted father as they walked to the town center.

 

Perdiccas, as was his custom, wore his best formal attire as he had done since being elected the town dēmarchoi. Diligent care had kept the suit whole, but not enough to prevent the years and the relentless sun from fading away its sharp colors. Although Perdiccas was the highest municipal official, that did not change the fact that Makadon was a small village, barely noticed by the larger Hellasan nation. Perdiccas had been unable to afford to replace his suit given how measley his salary was. 

 

"Papa," his younger self had begun. His red hair blazed among the crowd of burnettes and raven-hairs. A fact that caused not a few of the villagers to look at the young Primarch with frowns. "Why do you wear that old suit every day? Attalus is the judge and all he wears is his sleep-wear."

 

"His robe is not sleep-wear, Alex," Perdiccas reminded the boy in between greeting villagers.

 

"I'm not talking about the robe," Alex answered stubbornly. "I'm talking about what he wears underneath his robe. I saw it when he was stepping off his judge chair. And all he thinks about is going back to sleep at the end of the day."

 

"Good morning, Pausanias!" Dropping his voice to a gentle whisper that only Alexandros could hear. "We've talked about listening to people's secret voices." 

 

"I didn't mean to," Alex mumbled before redirecting the conversation. "If he wears sleep clothes, why do you dress so nice?"

 

Darshan smiled at the memory as he listened to Perdiccas' words before resuming his search; his emotions now anchored on the happy past.

 

"Because I want the people of Makadon to know that I will always do my best for them, including dressing as best as I can," Perdiccas instructed, waving at an older couple. "Whatever job you do, Alex, you do the best you can. To do any less is to cheat yourself."

 

The boy Alex became pensive as he mulled the words. Finally, he answered, "Yes, papa."

 

Perdiccas grinned as he picked up Alex and carried him on his shoulders to the child's delighted laughter. "That's my boy. You remember that lesson, and you'll do great things."

 

The memory came to an end as Darshan located what he sought. He left the memoryscape behind to return to reality. Icarion awaited him with a small smile. "Your father seemed a decent man."

 

"He is," Alexandros and Darshan lightly corrected. "I should pay him a visit when I return to Delos."

 

Icarion became quiet for a moment. "Treasure that gift, while you can."

 

Their connection was the sole reason Darshan could hear the regret and nostalgia in his voice. He wanted to ask, but the next battlefield awaited them. "Here." The memory Darshan materialized in both of their minds. In the moment before Darshan was crushed beneath the Scaran Gestalt consciousness and the Warp's sheer belligerence, he had indeed seen 'everything'. In their minds, the Primarchs could see the entirety of the Scaran presence on their homeworld. A snapshot of every worker, soldier, and leader was now theirs to analyze in addition to a complete picture of the Scaran communication network. 

 

It was a strategist's dream of military intelligence.

 

"Let us begin."


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The Second Son: Narrative of the BOTL Vth Legion Primarch

 

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