Aside: I am going to work on timing my posts to actually keep with a consistent schedule. Life has been a bit turbulent the last few months and is settling down again (hopefully).
Whispers. Mad, mad damned whispers filled his head and his skull echoed with the writhing crawls of ethereal daemons trapped in his mind. He saw them slowly coalesce and take shapes before his sight that were too familiar and too painful for his waking mind.
His brothers were spread thin, firing on the enemy. Firing on themselves, even as the confusion of the moment set their truest of brothers against them. Bolter fire raked their right flank and Meridorus took a shot to his side, falling to his knees at Oden’s feet before collapsing in an expanding pool of blood and organs. Straining his eyes he saw the fire of his comrades, their Iron Skull far in the distance, streaking towards his men. His left flank burst into flame as he lost himself in the moment, green armoured and black skinned daemons clawing through his men with flame and chainsword. His training, his oaths and his very spirit had taught him to stand against all odds and against all enemies, but he was conquered. Not by the treachery of his brothers, nor by the ignorance of his cousins but by something far more terrible.
The whispers grew again as the shapes began to take a new and terrible form. A giant in green and flame, wrapped in a scaled cloak walking slowly towards him.
He let out a heavy breathe, sounding as though a gust of wind had rushed through a pipe, and his eyes slowly refocused from his thoughts to the world around him.
"Did you expect to run today?" came a muffled voice somewhere beside him. The sounds of heavy breathing filled the air. It was too organic to be his own.
Running. He remembered that. Bolter fire jarring his world and eruptions of fire knocking him senseless. Caverns dripping blood and a floor covered in shrapnel and scraps of armour. He crawled forward on his hands and knees, cursing his brothers who had refused to submit. Cursing his mentor for betraying the Legion like this. ‘Damn you’ he whispered to himself, slamming his sword into the ground and pushing himself to his feet. He stumbled to the wall and felt his way along the hall, towards the-
"Captain?" asked another. That voice was familiar.
It was Pyrrhus sitting across from him. The battered warrior clung to his combi-flamer in both hands across his chest like it gave him comfort. As far as the Captain knew it did. The Rhino jumped as it barreled over a trench, and inside the warriors shook with the turbulence. There were eight of them. Across from Captain Tullaris, Pyrrhus was the first he recognized as his vision cleared. The tan-leather skin on his face was worn and cracked with wrinkles that could have been mistaken for scarring, save for around his mouth where the white stubble of a trimmed goatee masked his age lines. His eyes were brown and bloodshot. His helm was clasped at his side and two horns starting to protrude from its brow were marked by cracks and splinters of the ceramite.
Tullaris wished he’d wear the damn helm. Without it the expression on Pyrrhus’ face gave voice to the weariness they all felt.
“I’m fine.” Tullaris answered, ignoring the question.
“That’s more than Behlen can say.” Aralan grunted, his teeth almost clicking the words out like mandibles. Tullaris could see he eyed the corpse strapped into the seat closest to the driver’s compartment door.
Looking at bloodied Aralan now the Captain realized he would have a new scar running from his right ear, across his cheek and the corner of his lips. It didn’t look like any scars he had seen before. It almost looked self-inflicted. He would have to watch him more closely. Worse still, he had let the legion mark on his left shoulder fade and rust. Punishment would be necessary.
“Why did we drag him here?” came a voice down the line.
“He was a member of the command staff. He is our responsibility.” Tullaris answered.
“But here? We could have dropped him in another transport.”
It was Arean. The man was the newest to the Captain’s inner circle. He tended to think himself important for it. The man was new, relatively speaking, recruited in the last decades before Horus' revolt, but he'd proven himself. Few others could boast the strength that he did and he knew how to use it unlike many of them. A warhammer was clasped to his back while he clutched a bolter in his hand. Simple, brutal, effective. It was the way of the IVth.
“Such a duty is below us.” He growled from metal teeth, all filed to a point. With his bald scalp and large dark eyes he fit the profile of a shark. He lacked the cunning of such a creature.
“You will have the honour of bearing the body with Apothecary Tyr when we disembark. Behlen’s geneseed must be returned to the Legion.” Tullaris answered with a scowl.
Arean cursed under his breath as he leaned his head back before slamming it into the hull.
“Tyr, how many did you recover?” He asked, turning to his left.
The Apothecary was almost unrecognizable to his position. His lower legs and up to his forearms were stained red from the blood of incessant fighting and combat surgery. The removal of a geneseed was grisly work yes, but the splatter on his breastplate was of lesser crimson. Much more blood had covered him in the slog through dozens of worlds and in his desperate efforts to keep the Seventh Grand Company at fighting strength. Somehow his efforts had pulled off a miracle. In no small part by the work of Tyr and his brethren, almost half the casualties of the 4th Line Company were returned to fight – and it was all that had sustained them.
“Tyr, how many?” Tullaris asked again. He disliked repeating himself.
The Apothecary sat with his head lowered to the floor as they rode away from defeat. “Not enough.”
“Give me a number.” The whole transport was silent now. Even Arean had ceased his complaining.
“Thirty?” the Captain asked. Tyr turned to look at Tullaris. In the dark his soulless red lenses still managed to reflect the despair in his voice. It cracked as he spoke.
For a moment there was no noise. The world felt numb to each of them. Until Meeran spoke.
A raspy, worn voice spoke from the dark across from Behlen. To a mortal it would have sounded ancient – far older than should ever be heard in a battle, let alone in the midst of the heaviest fighting.
“From iron cometh strength, from strength cometh will, from will cometh faith, from faith cometh honour, from honour cometh iron. That is the unbreakable litany. May it forever be so.”
As one, the squad repeated. “May it forever be so.”
It took Tullaris a moment to realize Tyr had not spoken with the rest. Meeran beat him to raising the issue.
“Despair not for the dead Tyr. They have gone to Olympia.”
“Olympia is a barren rock.” Tyr spat, quickly turning his gaze at the Apostle. In the new hierarchy of the Legion, Meeran was what passed for a chaplain of a new religion. In truth it wasn’t very different from his old, albeit secular, role. “We made it so.”
“No.” The Apostle began with awe in his voice. “Olympia has been reborn under the Primarch and there they walk forever more in the Eye of the Four Gods. Our Lord Perturabo will commune with Behlen and all the fallen. He will see them to their homeland made again.” Tyr grumbled his agreement. It was a half hearted thing.
Meeran leaned forward into the glow of the overhanging floodlight. Tullaris had seen him without such rudimentary help through his genehanced sight but even so it sharpened his features. The preacher had sky blue eyes that were deceptively endearing. His hair was blonde and had fallen from its top knot into a shaggy mane that met with his beard. His unkempt features were offensive to Oden Tullaris but an exemption had been granted by the Warsmith of the Seventh Grand Company. Why was beyond his imagination. Less offensive was the patch of raw flesh on his cheeks. Meeran scraped it raw daily as a sign of his new devotions. Tullaris was reminded when he spoke that his voice was far older than his face.
“His being walks with the Primarch in the realm of Gods, Tyr. That is something we should all envy. His death was in the thickest of fighting against the Dark Angels. To die bathed in the blood of the Emperor’s servants is something to envy too.”
“Something to envy more.” Arean interrupted. Meeran ignored him.
“His death was good Tyr. His life was lived among brothers waging war across the stars. Pray that we are all equally blessed by the Gods.” Tyr was silent. Maybe it was contemplation. Perhaps it was contempt.
The Captain took the opportunity to vox him privately. A muted click signaled an open channel and he spoke. “Speak with the rest of the company. Find out if the other apothecaries faired any better with their recoveries.”
“Acknowledged.” The answer was routine. Half registered and half spoken.
Tullaris looked back up the line to each of his men as his gaze neared Behlen. They were ragged and their armour still slick in blood and ashen mud. His head turned and he sighed through the device clasped around his jaw. It was dark, but as with Meeran’s features he could make out the details of his brothers. Their armour was like his. The colour of worn iron with a trim of gold decorated with hazard stripes. Each bore a skull emblazoned and garish on their shoulders in bright silver on black or the stripes.
The skull didn’t quite grin like it used to. Now it grinned like it mocked them.
His eyes fell on Behlen. The body was limp and strapped tight into its seat. Behlen’s left arm hung by his side – the right arm was severed at the elbow in a sheared stump that dripped crimson blood onto the floor of the transport. Two bolter holes had punched through the armour in his chest. One bore into his primary heart and the other had blown out his gullet. Organs hung loosely in the gaping holes in his body. His helmet seemed undamaged. It would at least make looking at him easier when the time came to remove his armour.
A muted click cut him off from the squad as the so far silent Mortez spoke with him.
“He died well. Even after he lost his arm to an Angel, he kept killing.”
“He was one of the few.” Tullaris answered.
“We’ll avenge them.” Mortez responded without hesitation.
“Will we? We don’t have any idea how they found us. How would we find them?”
“It doesn’t matter. We know where Caliban is.” Oden laughed and despite the privacy of the vox link, he knew his squad could tell.
“You are brave Mortez but we do not all move as quietly as you do. Arean would never get within a hundred light years of that planet without screaming his challenges to the Lion himself.”
Mortez sniggered in agreement. Oden could practically see the sneer on his face as Mortez glanced at the champion. Without taking his gaze away he continued. “Can we trust him? He’s already disgraced himself.”
“Over Behlen? The dead won’t weep.” Oden answered. “But he is rash. And stupid.” He did have to concede the truth to that.
“Behlen was at least reliable in a fight. You ask us to stand shoulder to shoulder with the young blood though, and none of us can tell anymore if he’s about to break into a charge for glory.” More doubts.
“He will do as he is told. Trust in me.” Mortez turned to face Oden from his seat between Pyrrhus and Behlen.
“Always, Captain.” He inclined his head in respect and the shape of the Corvus–pattern helmet seemed to exaggerate the movement. The rhino shook again, careening off rubble in the flight from their burning fortress. The chainmail dangling from Mortez’ waist and shoulder pad clinked in response. The knife and combat pouches strapped over his right pauldron did not. They were solidly clasped to his armour.
A simple auditory click severed the vox link. He returned to the conversation of his squad to find Aralan and Arean arguing about who was the better killer. Was it Aralan, who danced with his short blades slicing and stabbing in neat, graceful strokes at the weakest spots of the enemy – or Arean, who swung wide, fast and strong with a hammer that crushed the guard and armour of any foe? Tullaris kept his opinions on the matter to himself. Who was better between didn’t matter. Neither was the best.
Oden saw Pyrrhus clench his teeth to trigger a vox network without his helmet. He expected a report was due. “Captain, I’m getting a role call from the company.”
Edited by GrimApostle, Today, 01:55 PM.