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.”
"Duros is reporting he is at half strength. Nikias is wounded with only three survivors. Ephialtes is eight strong. Taurus is alone and attached himself with three survivors from the First Line. Kitarn is reporting three wounded but all accounted for. Maraketh is at just over half strength – Delian is just under. Squads Hammerhand and Crossbow are unaccounted for.” The sergeant hesitated. “Presumed deceased."
Captain Tullaris mentally struck Hammerhand and Crossbow from his forces. He had expected that. They were on the west wall when it collapsed.
But the others-Gods' Blood! Such losses were unheard of in a century of warfare. Twenty-one days of holding a fortress against the Imperium and fresh faced Angels had killed half of his veteran Line. He felt the rage burning inside him and fought back the taste of bile in his mouth. The gall of the Lion’s sons. They would pay for this.
“Speak with Taurus. I want to know how the First faired.”
Pyrrhus nodded and followed through with the inquiry. A muted click.
“Captain I have failed you. My failure to collect the geneseed of-“
“I won’t hear it Tyr. We’ll discuss this later.” Was that too dismissive? He was being curt he knew.
A muted click as he switched the channel.
“Brother, did you fare as poorly as we did?” The rhino jumped and inside the warriors jostled in their seats as it landed hard into the ground. Behlen’s head tilted to the side as the vibrations shook his immobile form.
“Worse I think. You held the north-west well enough but when the wall came down it was my Line on the west wall. Half of my men were buried in that damn rubble. We're thirty-two now.” It was one of his fellow Captains. Each was the ultimate authority of their Line Company and each was an adviser to one another. More importantly though, they advised the Warsmith.
This Captain, the Captain of the Third Line Company, was Xenophon. Tullaris had known him the longest of any of his brethren. The pair had fought and killed and bled with one another in 2nd Line before they had earned their new honours in the Legion Wars, the dark days of war in the Eye of Terror. It had given vent to the grievances and despair of the Legions after Horus’ death – and very nearly destroyed them all. It was, and forever would be, a fresh memory.
“Did you see how it happened?” Tullaris asked. The question plagued him despite his ignoring it. Did you expect to run today?
“No. Not a damn thing. No artillery flash, no upkick of earth beneath us. Not even a hint of sorcery. There was nothing, and then it fell.” There was screaming in the background of Xenophon’s transmission.
“That’s impossible. Something brought that wall down.”
“There was nothing. It buckled underneath us Oden.”
“The Angels had nothing that could have gone undetected! You’re telling me that they brought down that wall- a wall we built?” There was a pause.
“Maybe the Angels didn’t bring it down.” Xenophon had to be wrong.
“You’re suggesting that-“ Screaming drowned out his words and he heard his audio system filter out the agony that plagued the Third Captain’s transport. Xenophon spoke first.
“We’ll talk later. The Warsmith will call us.” Click.
Tullaris sighed. He did not look forward to reporting his losses. He did not look forward to the moment they truly set in. Here it seemed surreal. Only Behlen was dead that he could see – somehow that made it seem difficult to accept he had lost so many others. He bowed his head as he tried to think of it. To think of the faces he would no longer see.
Looking back at him, his dark metal helm scowled with burning eyes that looked aflame. It cast a warm glow onto the black and yellow striped plume that marked him as a Captain of his legion. After the pattern it took they called the crest ‘a hazard stripe’. Bearing it took on a considerably higher risk on the part of the bearer. Though it was a mark of honour and station, many a legionnaire had lost their life being too conspicuous.
He lingered his gaze in the blood pooled at his feet.
“Captain?” Tyr repeated. Oden raised his head and looked back at the Apothecary.
The confirmed casualty figures that followed and the news from the other apothecaries worsened the Iron Warriors mood. Squad Crossbow was alive and had linked up with the survivors of the Sixth Line Company. That was some good news. The Sixth was almost wiped out however, with their Captain himself falling in the rear guard for his men. Oden smiled at that. Captain Darius had always been a stalwart companion. A good and loyal end for a man among traitors. Something would have to honour him. The smile faded as the report continued.
Forty-four Astartes of the Fourth Line Company were all that survived from their original deployment of ninety. Almost half of the survivors were injured with wounds ranging from critical to non-life threatening. It was a horrifying realization. There hadn’t been a battle after all. It was a massacre. Worse still was the survival of only three Apothecaries, including Tyr himself. Between the other two, they had recovered less than even Tyr’s. They had salvaged only nine progenoid glands. Nine geneseeds to continue the Fourth. Tyr was either exceptionally skilled, lucky, or fast. They would be punished. He would be rewarded.
In the other companies, other Captains were reviewing the figures as well. With the death of Captain Daro however, Tullaris ordered Tyr to find the status of the Sixth and to confirm it to him. The report, when it came, detailed the twelve survivors of the seventy-three who fell with their Captain on the south walls. Almost none of their geneseed was recovered. The numbers made that a moot point. Their company was already finished. What became of them was up to the Warsmith.
It was then, as Tyr finished relaying the information to his Captain that the Warsmith called and Agathocles spoke. The rhino fell silent in unison as the voice began. Each heard the voice in their ear, and the warlord spoke to each and every one of them.
“Brethren it is time we reform. Our flight from Grosskeipt has put us beyond the reach of the Angels. Rally to the Spirit Breaker.”
The voice was deep and spoke in a snarl. Almost more animal than man, it was the Olympian accent that marked it as familiar. That and the laboured volume with which it spoke in a dry, laborious manner- as if every word was a struggle to speak.
A faint tap alternated to a private transmission with the Captains of the inner circle.
“Preliminary reports, now.”
Krateros of the First Line Company spoke first. His speech was fast and his voice at a normal pitch for mortal man. Anywhere else it might not have been noticeable but among Astartes, his voice was high pitched. “First Company reporting in. Sixty-seven of one hundred accounted for, my Lord.”
Barrus of the Second Line Company was second. His speech was half spat as he tried to hide his contempt for his fellow Captains.
“Second Company reporting. Forty of sixty awaiting orders, Warsmith.”
“Third Company reporting. Thirty-one of eighty ready to serve, my Lord.” Xenophon said, the screaming in the background marring his call having silenced.
Captain Tullaris came next. “Fourth Company reporting. Forty-four of ninety stand ready, my Lord.”
“Fifth Company-“ the Captain’s voice burst into a howl as the whir of a chain blade revved into action and cut deep into flesh. It was a moment before he spoke again through heavy breaths. “Fifty-three of ninety-two reporting.” He ended his report with a curse.
“Captain Mirak are you injured?” the dry, booming voice of the Warsmith asked.
“I’ll live, my Lord.”
“Good. Your wounds will be honoured.” He paused for a moment. “Where is Captain Daro?”
Tullaris took the opportunity to answer him, not knowing what the other Captains knew. “Captain Daro is dead, my Lord. I have taken the tally of his warriors. Twelve of seventy-three heed their Warsmiths call.”
“Thank you, Captain. We rally soon. Report to me on your arrival.” A faint click as he transferred back to the Grand Company channel. “Iron Within.”
Together they answered, “Iron Without.”
The ride to the Spirit Breaker grew rougher as they drew near The outskirts of the Grosskeipt had been a labyrinth of trenches and fortifications once. Trench lines crossed and turned in a mass of confusing pathways that funneled the enemy into chokepoints and kill zones surrounded by, and lost in the maze. At first the Dark Angels and their auxiliaries had suffered greatly as they reached these lines, manned by thousands of cultists and renegade guardsmen.
Those forces had been well trained, well stocked and prepared to fight to the last. They knew the labyrinth and they knew how to force their enemy into vulnerable positions to pick them off. In any other circumstance Captain Tullaris still would have called them a weak challenge for the Angels. However the men were emboldened and coordinated by more than tactical data. The sorcerers of the Seventh Grand Company had coordinated the minds of whole regiments themselves. It must have been utterly alien to have connected so many lives at the same moment, running them as a single unified organism. How the witches had managed to do this was beyond knowledge Oden had ever gleamed. All he knew was that with witch control they shouldn’t have broken when they did. Not mere days into the siege while the labyrinth itself was untested.
Instead the Dark Angels had bludgeoned their way through the trenches in a direct path around the carefully planned killing spots of the IVth Legion. The third day dawned and the first rounds were fired from the main battlements, miles behind the front line dug into the earth. It was only after the fighting that all the sorcerers were found dead. Like so much else it seemed impossible to countenance. Too much had gone wrong too quickly.
“Tell me, if not the others.” Arean’s voice came to him. He was so lost in thought he didn’t hear the click of the channel opening.
Oden looked at him through lenses of fire. “Tell you what?”
“Did you expect to run today?”
The Captain thought for a moment. Not about his answer – that was clear as his own name – but about whether he should.
Arean grunted his disapproval. “Why should I care? We lost a fortress and the Legion loses a manufactorum. I still got to fight.”
“That factory was important.”
“Not to me. Now, have I earned your answer?”
“No, I did not expect to.” Oden admitted after a long pause. “We should have lasted longer than twenty one days.” Outside, the rattle of combi-bolter fire erupted from the Rhino convoy. "Something isn't right." He switched channels.
“On the guns Pyrrhus.”
“At once.” The sergeant nodded and got to his feet, pulling open the hatch with a quick slide. Back to Arean.
“You may have more fighting yet brother.”
Pyrrhus stepped up onto the firing post and turned his head across the flanks of the convoy. Oden watched as he sat against the hull and another burst of gunfire erupted from outside. The sergeant spun his head and the turret to the target.
“Contact, 200 meters! Left side!” He said.
“What are they?” Arean asked. Mortez glanced at Tullaris. That sound in his voice. Too eager. Oden hung his head low.
“Devastators. Engaging!” Pyrrhus roared over the torrent he unleashed. Bolts fell into the cabin of the transport and rattled off the ground in twisting arcs. Blood splattered from the pool across the floor as they dropped into it. The sergeant finished his first burst and Oden switched to listen to the 4th Line vox channel.
“Open up! Longer bursts!”
“Keep them pinned!” He recognized Pyrrhus’ voice as he opened up another volley. The roar of the bolters dragged on, ringing out over the convoy and within the rhinos themselves.
“I want alternating fire on them! Three Rhinos fire, three reload! Acknowledge!” Tullaris recognised the voice. It was stern but still almost paternal. An absolute rarity in the likes of the 4th Legion. Centurion Ves had long been charged with his Line’s mobile forces. That he directed the gunners now and in their flight from the Grosskeipt was a comfort. If anyone would get them to the Spirit Breaker unmolested it would be him.
Oden heard the roar of gushing plasma fired out of the hateful weapons of the Imperium. He could hear the boiling of the semiliquid as it hurtled towards the convoy and the hiss it made as it washed over the ground near them. The spray from the miss flew through the air and Oden heard one of the tanks complain about splash damage. Thankfully nothing their armour couldn’t handle.
The complaints were dropped when the sudden burst of a lascannon beam burned into the ground near a fleeing transport, and another seared past the head of Pyrrhus. Oden saw the Sergeant duck into the rhino. Had it been on target, he would have been too slow. Thank the Primarch it missed.
“Return fire!” one of his men yelled.
“Enemy down!” someone yelled.
“Kill confirmed.” Pyrrhus said, coming back out on the turret. He fired another burst. It dragged on longer than normal and Oden could tell from his swivel on the gun that he was raking the surrounding trenches with rounds. Hopefully it did the job.
“Enemy down!” Pyrrhus yelled over the gunfire. He laughed at the enemy as the combi-bolter expended its last rounds and he grabbed a drum of ammunition to slap into the weapon.
“No kill. Target is wounded.” Centurion Ves said. Pyrrhus’ slowed his reload and slammed a fist into the roof of the rhino. Cursing to himself, he loaded and pulled back on the cocking handle to chamber a round. “No contacts. Full ahead to the rally point.”
Oden would have to commend the Centurion for his work. He had got them through the Angel’s perimeter. Pyrrhus, in his frustration, stayed on the turret and scanned the surroundings. Tullaris could imagine the muddy trenches, barbed wire and rotting corpses scattered across them. He had seen it so many times, and always it was the same. It held no interest to him and he waited in silence as they arrived at the Spirit Breaker, the Land Raider heavy tank that bore the Warsmith.
Edited by GrimApostle, 05 July 2019 - 11:40 AM.