Prelude: Hollow Victory
A dense fog filled the long corridor, born of the fire and fury of boltgun rounds. Even with enhanced eyes, standing at the head of a half dozen of the finest warriors the Imperium had to offer, he struggled to his enemy. Emergency lights flared down the hallway of the Strike Cruiser Prometheus, illuminating only the surface of the smoke, and barely tinting the floor itself of the ancient vessel. Tracing rounds shot through the air back towards them, explosive rounds crashing against his ceremite armour. Enhanced muscles pushed back against the force that would have knocked lesser creatures to the floor, despite their armoured proection. Bronze armour chipped away in the hail of fire however, and there were only moments for him to dive low intentionally, pointing a far more lethal weapon down the passageway.
The familiar glow of the plasma coils reflected in the low visibility conditions, light bouncing off the particles hanging in the air, dulling the light beyond its source. Ironically, he knew that it’s illumination may not be seen by the traitors. It was a shame, he wanted them to see their death coming. Listening to the sounds of deadened, heavy footsteps, Brother-Sergeant Arkadios Kallikrates felt his nerves tighten as his eyes narrowed behind his helm. Sensors within his Mark IV helm tried to help coordinate his shot, but there was more to warfare than sensors and readouts. They were all instilled within with the instinct necessary to destroy any enemy. And these traitors, creatures which once reflected his own men, had as far as he was concerned, lost that. His certainty climbed when another series of cracks blasted out through the hallway as both his men, and the Death Guard, continued to exchange fire. Wild shots were all they seemingly had.
“Brother-Sergeant! We are beginning to run low on ammunition, and we cannot account for how many of the enemy remain. We should withdraw and setup a new killzone, before they close further.”
Range was a big factor. These plague addled monstrosities did their work up close. Vile corrosive chemical spewing nozzles had hosed down dozens of their brothers on the seventh deck, the point of entry for these disgusting creatures. The entire fleet was in disarray, that much he was aware of. The assault had been vicious so far. Lord Moloc had given everyone the order to stand firm, and Captain Selecus Nikon had given them their orders to contain the contaminating force to decks below the seventh, and prevent them from getting anywhere near the engines. His squad, being tasked with keeping them below the seventh deck, could not move past this point. They’d already ceded ground, too much ground.
If he could see down the corridor clearly any longer, he would see the bodies of his brothers who’d given their lives to prevent this from spilling forward any further.
Timoteus had been the first to fall, almost torn apart by the infested creatures the Deathguard had unleashed upon them. They’d slaughtered hundreds before they’d pulled him into the mass of plague and disease. It’d only been when they’d dispatched the last of their fragmentation and krak grenades that they’d finally stemmed the tide. He took little solace in Timoteus’s death being ended by them, rather than the enemy. Certainly, his suffering had been mitigated, but in these last hours it had weighed on him.
“Brothers! Brothers, they have me! I can’t-“ the noises from the vox had been all they could get over the noise, before their devices were detonated.
Sophos, Ariston, and Drakon all met ends in this miserable, grinding firefight which now lasted longer than Kallikrates cared to admit. Seeing the puss filled creatures torn to pieces as Hector unleashed the power of their Heavy Bolter into the hall had been more than relieving. Hector now wielded a bolter, having long since expended his ammunition. It was Drakon’s bolter, the last one to fall so far. When the sickened bolter round finally penetrated his plating, his own armour had been marked red with the gore as his right side had exploded.
And now, the ballistics smoke was beginning to mix with a thick, choking, noxious cloud.
“Brother-Sergeant!” Linos repeated. “We cannot hold this position much longer with no ammunition! We need to be reinforced, or we need to redeploy!”
“We need to follow the Captain’s orders,” Kallikrates declared, his tone inflexible, before rising to his full height once more, the glowing plasma coils brightening as he overcharged the weapon, and fired.
As he saw the smoke and spores clear from his round, opening up the airways around them, his hand burned from the intensity of the heat from the shot. The truth was, he didn’t want to die here in his corridor, rotted away by the disgusting plagues and toxins of these monstrosities, or to be blasted to bits as his brother Drakon had been. But to withdraw was to fail, and it was to die by another means perhaps minutes later. The longer they held here, the longer the others had to plan their way out of this.
The glowing orb sizzled in the air before it parted enough of the clouds to reveal a green-clad, plague filled, obese creature holding its nozzle, preparing to fire. Instead, the plasma shot hit at the centre of mass. Blue flame immediately caught fire throughout every joint of the creature’s armour and began funneling upwards towards their ceiling. The plague vat on its back began to bubble for a split second, before yellow-green ooze began to pour out. The lenses on the creature exploded outwards as his insides burnt and boiled apart. Puss and blood blasted out in all directions as the heretic’s skeleton and armour caught fire, while its plague-spewer burst, releasing now flaming ichor into a puddle beneath the corpse while its rotten, burning armour slumped to the ground.
The shambling horde behind the creature however, even now illuminated by flames, with the smoke momentarily parted, peered back at them as dozens of the plague riddled marines began to open fire. The long, dragging flails several carried scraped along the bottom of the deck as Kallikrates knew his death would be coming, soon.
His brothers were already beginning to step back. Reluctantly, Kallikrates himself began to slide back himself, holstering his plasma pistol and pulling the bolter from his left hand, back into service. The next series of cracks echoed out from both sides within a split second as hell was unleashed. His left shoulder paldron, with the symbol of the MInotaurs, was sheered off as three bolter rounds tore into it. Blood oozed down his arm, seeping into his armour. Turning, he made his way to his men as they ducked into the last turn before the exit, the last turn before they failed. While rushing down the passage, Arkadios saw Leon’s Mark V power armour lying still, slumped against a wall with a hole in the side of his helm.
Breathing heavily, he looked to his brothers. All of them were pulling up their combat knives. They had ten metres left. Checking his own rifle, he felt his heart sink. Eight shots left. His now bloody left hand reached down, slipping his own combat knife up.
“If we fail, let it not be said we did not do our duty,” Kallikrates said.
Only in the briefest of moments after he spoke, three armoured figures emerged from the gateway they defended. At their head, he could see the familiar, battle adorned armour of the Captain of the 7th company. Captain Selecus Nikon strode forward, energy crackling from the sacred blade he held in his right hand. They parted way for the captain as he charged forward. The first of the enemy rounded the corner, only to be cut through, from the top of its head down the centre of its body, before the flourish at the end of the strike cut out to one side. Burning energy hissed in the air once the blade had made contact.
“Brothers!” Selecus shouted. “The fleet stands! The enemy recoils! Sweep this filth clean from our vessel! For the Emperor!”
Kallikrates felt revitalized, with bolter and combat knife in hand, he followed his Captain, and the veterans who accompanied him as they prepared to cleanse their ship. He did not know fully what would follow, only that this was their moment of triumph, to save the fleet, and themselves.
Glory, victory… and despair, lay in their future.