Part Thirteen - The New Gods And The True Hope
The Blood Angels' campaign to exterminate the Blood Cults had taken them to near the planet of Krieg, and in the lands of the Holy Clergy and Bile Trade Empire. Their cold war was none of the Blood Angels' concern, as usual, but the Chapter was not unacquainted with either. The Blood Angels had often clashed with the Bile Trade Empire, ending corrupt nobles who sought to profit off the suffering of the common man, which was unwanted for the Blood Angels as they had tried to expand their trade routes to the Blood Angels' recruiting worlds. Though many chapters fractured and fell from grace, the Angels of Remembered Baal were pure and united, and remembered the Long War well enough to know where the righteous fallen Imperium stood on Fabius Bile.
Likewise, the Clergy were too...traditional for the Angels' taste. The Sons of Sangiunius were no stranger to traditions, of course -- they were still a Chapter of Space Marines after all, but the remnants of the Ecclesiarchy were scarcely better than the traitors condemned. It was no surprise that men and women chose Fabius Bile, Huron Blackheart and many more to lead them over the pieces of the Imperium left over if this was the salvation offered. Below was a mess of churches built from wreckage and stolen goods, with ancient spires of religious iconography granting haven from the squalor of below to those with power and clout.
When the Baal's Fury first arrived over the Shrine-World of Autumnspring V, once nearly damned to the Warp but saved by heroes forgotten to time, Chapter-Master Antonello Hashmata and his Space Marines were offered guest rooms in the great towering spires, but the Astartes politely refused and stayed in their ship. Hashmata and a small group of Astartes including Foltor Ambrogio even departed to the world's inner grimy depths, finding an inn dug into the side of an abandoned temple. They gave food and water to all those staying in its rooms, and told them hearty stories of the wars they had fought in, but took care to not mention the Noble House they hunted.
Yet despite this, a few of the people staying at the inn took note of Foltor's family name and brought up the Planetary-Governor, who shared it. A feeling of horror washed over the Astartes before a team of twenty mercenaries marked with the sigil of the Blood Cult burst into the room. Easily dispatching such meager assassins, the Chapter-Master and his retinue returned to the ship, drawing a plan of attack. Hashmata would contact the local contingent of Black Templars, telling them of their plights and transferring information about the Blood Cults.
With a zealous fury rarely seen since the sacrifice of the Emperor, the Templars were engulfed in hatred and immediately moved to more than arrest Planetary-Governor Ambrogio. But the ten Astartes were met only by laughter and a number of Sororitas guards three times their number. The battle was swift but brutal, leaving no Templar standing and only a few Sisters, but the Governor was untouched. For a century he had sat in power of this world, waiting for the Blood Angels to find him. Using his connections and power he, by the order of the man who's legacy he wished to replace with the Elder Lord's, he declared the Blood Angels corrupted by the hardships of the Age After and traitors to the Emperor for hunting and burning his loyal across the galaxy.
Using the myraid of disowned and cut off portions of the Angels of Remembered Baal's terrible actions as proof against the primary chapter, the sector's holy rulers and powerful officers agreed. It was a flimsy excuse, easy to see through with any true scrutiny, but the Blood Cultist's money was plentiful and good enough. They all sought to twist the war for their own profit regardless, and the psyker powers of the Planetary-Governor weaving their thoughts didn't hurt his chances either. Indeed, the warding ways of the old guard, one of the few benefits of the Imperial Creed, was lost to time and thus their minds were his to manipulate.
The Blood Angels were ambushed by a new breed of traitors, and the terror of the ramifications froze the Astartes' blood. Their battle-barge and escort fleet held back the tide of traitors long enough to flee, to begin a new plan. Yet one had already sprung for them, one that would help them in their war against rising Chaos...
Despite the Blood Cult's preparation and power gained through a century of work and millennia of preparation, most of the Holy Clergy remained faithful to the Emperor Ascended. Namely, the High Marshall of the Black Templars, Roganz Amardeas and Sepherais Kane, Canoness of the Order of the Blooming Rose. During the time of strife the Bishop-Lords of the Holy Clergy quickly dispatched their forces to deal with the threat of subverted faith before it grew out of their control. The Holy Clergy had control of multiple sectors of space, but the one judged fallen was the Amerikon Sector, within Segmentum Tempestus.
This was the final act of the Bishop-Lords, for days after Roganz and Sepherais were sent off they turned on each with inquisitive intent and soon old grudges and bickering turned into internal strife until there was one Bishop-Lord left. His name was Kanusten von Ripoll. He had begun his life as a simple man of the church, a menial in its grand halls some eight hundred years prior. And for all that time, he never felt as close to his lord as the day he was gifted an ornament and rather draconic sword from a distant priest. Though it would've no substitution for tithe, something about the relic screamed a layer of holiness, and Kanusten accepted the gift as the truest tithe to pay, a connection to his lord.
The sword had sat on his hip as he gave the order to have the second-to-last Bishop-Lord executed for treason against the Holy Clergy, and as he had fulfilled his task he felt a breeze of pleasant air rush over him, like the briefest touch from his lord. It made the blood run.
"Our thoughts light the Darkness that others may cross space.
We are one with the Emperor, our souls are joined in his will.
Praise the Emperor whose sacrifice is life as ours is death.
Hail his name the Master of Humanity."
The Black Templars and the Order of the Blooming Rose were death itself. Though the Holy Clergy was in a war with itself, with all the losses and terror involved, neither the Templars nor the Order were to be stopped. World after world were aflame to the handle of their sword, their lance batteries and the gaze of their God-Emperor. Those judged faithful sent a portion of their men to rally with the militant force and thus the Amerikon Crusade truly began. A thousand Templars, five thousand Sisters, and some twenty million men aboard dozens of powerful warships sailed the stars, reclaiming each world for the God-Emperor. It was like a glimpse into the olden days, with the hatred of the Old Imperium led by its most zealous against the traitors and heretics.
The first sign of greater danger came on the world of Desterro II. It was a world entrenched in heresy, its peoples entirely converted to the old faiths of Chaos. With Bile Trade Empire assets in-system as well as those of the Phoenix Imperialis, the old bands of blasphemers had come together it seemed. It was here that the Amerikon Crusade stalled, with traitor forces being too heavy to stomp over like the majority of worlds. But the centralization of enemy forces pointed to one point in particular, a defiled Imperial palace used by the local planetary-governor, who had been overthrown and executed a week before the Templars' assault. Roganz Amardeas himself was deployed to the surface of the world, clad in ancient Cataprachii, thought to be the last of its kind. In his other hand was a Thunder Hammer dubbed the Judgement of the Damned. He was beyond even the Long War veterans' capability to kill, moving with the swiftness of thunder and the strength of mountains.
Yet he was halted when he saw the imposing, famed figure of Lucius, Captain of the Emperor's Children. He seemed cold, non-present and he did little to toy with his opponent. The promised bravado of Lucius was lacking and his leadership was compromised, basic. Yet the torch-bearer of Sigmisund's legacy was focused, angry and like a spirit of vengeance. "I will bring your head back to the Bishop-Lords of the Clergy, and the Emperor Ascended shall grant me a pathway to His sanctum for slaying an arch-traitor like you!" Roganz growled through gritted teeth as he brought his relic hammer down, but Lucius was faster than the Terminator-clad High Marshall. The weapon broke the ground before him, shattering chiseled stone with enough force to crack a tank of the Adeptus Astartes.
Yet the High Marshall kept pushing forward, his footsteps leaving the sign of the Aquila smashed into the ground. He kept swinging, and swinging, and Lucius' sword bounced meagerly off the plate, Lucius' uninterested and lackluster performance confusing even Roganz. Finally a blow from Judgement fractured Lucius' pristine and perfect Mark IV plate from the right, sending bone and ceramite out the left. Lucius crumpled to the ground, coughing and wheezing like an ancient man who's years were long spent. Roganz raised his hammer to strike again, to finish the blow, but he spoke first. "Ahh...well, the Bishop-Lords will make due with a torso, I think!" he laughed in triumph, before a burst of Warp energy came from the center of the palace.
Like an eruption of forgotten evils and ancient power, a portal to the defunct Realm of Chaos opened. Out of it came squad after squad of Word Bearers, a thought-destroyed Traitor Legion, and another, far larger beast. It was the Daemon Lord, the Eldest of House Ambrogio. "These cretins, foolish mongrels who hold onto dead gods in the vain hope of salvation..." it spoke with an eldritch, inhuman tone. "What I offer is true! It is power, distilled into malleable form. I have warred against the dead Imperium's remnants, and in my expulsion I have forged new warriors to reinforce and empower our campaigns for the Primordial Truth. They are my Crimson Champions, and they shall know no defeat..." the thing chuckled madly to itself as further portals ripped open. Great and large beings with terrible daemon swords, they resembled the Adeptus Astartes to a vague degree yet were utterly opposite, crude and disturbed daemon flesh. Incomplete.
Roganz turned and held his hammer menacingly, in defiance of the beast. He looked it directly in the eye and grimaced. "There is no truth but the truth of the God-Emperor's word, filth. And if you will not accept it on your own accord, then I shall enforce it in his name!"
There was a secondary goal of the Amerikon Crusade, one Sepherais Kane had been sent off to accomplish while Roganz waged war groundside. During the first hours of the conflict, the first victims of the traitors were the Blood Angels. They were an ancient Space Marine Chapter, well respected and well equipped, and their loyalties were nothing if not concrete. Yet travel to the center of heresy where the Angels of Remembered Baal would be next to waging another war, for the heretics' pre-planning was on full display. Planetary Defense Stations with macrobatteries and lance batteries attached made going near the world like devastation already, to say nothing of traitor warships.
The return to form for this section of the galaxy was startling, and it was the knowledge that failure meant further cataclysm that drove Kane and her forces arguably more than her faith. Like a hero of yore, the Canoness sailed through the Warp with her fleet into the space between stars near Autumnspring, where the Angels were presumed to be. After two days of searching, the Blood Angels were found. Though nearly a quarter of their fleet was damaged beyond combat-readiness, a large portion of their fleet including the Baal's Fury was prepared to strike back at the traitors.
With reinforcements acquired and with the mission accomplished, Sepherais Kane's forces departed back to Desterro II. Upon their arrival, the Blood Angels and the Order of the Blooming Rose were more than enough to turn the tides of battle for void supremacy. Though the Crusade's forces there were weary and thin, so were the traitors, and such an influx of Clergy forces sealed the traitors' fate in space. Yet when the Templars on the ground reported the dire situation to Sepherais, the Canoness and Antonello Hashmata deployed to the surface with their most trusted of warriors as escort and nearly all the rest of their ground forces in tow.
Roganz was losing, that much was true. He was swatted away by the Eldest Lord in a streak of Warpflame, sprawling him upon the ritualistic marble floor. The ancient Cataprachii plate kept him intact, but the foe in front of him was like a dark demi-god, reminiscent of the lords of evil from the Age of the Imperium and the Heresy. Yet Roganz still drew breath and he rose to his feet, Judgement in one hand and a Storm Bolter in the other. One of its vile mockeries of the Astartes charged him, and with a burst of boltfire it fell to the ground, melting away back into the immaterium. He charged the Eldest Lord again, screaming oaths of piety to the God-Emperor as he swung, the hammerhead striking the jaw of the terrible Greater Daemon. It stumbled back, and it shimmered, blinking in and out of the materium. Roganz tried again, but his hammer was deflected by the Eldest Lord's daemonic claw.
The High Marshall was tossed back, before the Eldest Charge dashed forth, harshly finishing its own foe. The protective power of the ancient Terminator Armor was holding against the forbidden powers of the Eldest, but it would not hold forever. Taking the opportunity presented, he slammed Judgement into its core, pushing the beast off him, and he spared a thought to wonder if the warp-beasts of yore were harder or easier to kill. More Crimson Champions and Word Bearers came from the tear into the Warp, and they were more than rested, while the High Marshall's breath was labored and his eyes drooped.
He retrieved the Storm Bolter at his side and gunned down another of the lesser daemons, before a chainsword struck his helm. Its teeth could not hope to cut through Cataprachii plate, but the force of the blow caught the High Marshall off-guard. Another Word Bearer unloaded its boltgun, forged during the distant days of the Great Crusade, into his head and right shoulder, doing nothing but scarring his armor a dusty black. Yet it was the Eldest that did the most damage, letting forth a plume of warpflame onto the Templar, nearly throwing him out of the palace. Roganz struggled to stand and for once failed. How could this be? Has the Immaterium recovered from the Emperor Ascendant? Have the Ruinous Powers regrouped and reformed to wage war on us once more? We are not the Imperium, we are not a unified people, we could not survive such an attack...
His dreadful thoughts were quenched by his allies finally arriving, the Canoness Kane and the Master of the Blood Angels entering the room to do what he could not. The Eldest snarled at the Chapter-Master, remembering their last meeting. "There shall be no battle-brother entrenched in ancient curses to save you now, Blood Angel...I shall indulge greatly drinking the spirit-ichor from your bleeding soul!" The Eldest howled, wings of bone and inky shadow bursting from its back as the blood spilt across the world fueled his nearing ascension.
The Canoness struck first, letting loose the power of an Inferno Pistol as she closed the distance. The purifying ray of flame stung the Eldest Lord, moving its deflecting claw back as she cut his infernal hide with her thrice-blessed relic blade, spilling deep crimson ichor as her swipe's arc concluded. Before the Eldest could return a strike, Antonello of the Blood Angels leapt forth with his own sword, the blade which helped to banish the beast once before. Though it was master-crafted and wielded by a master of the blade, the effect of the weapon was unexpected. Where it struck, flame spewed and the Eldest recoiled in pain, and it seemed as if the weapon and the daemon had forever been tied as bane and victim by the pain it had inflicted in the daemon's formation.
With the intervention of a Blood Angels Techmarine, the High Marshall's damaged armor was returned to functionality and Roganz stood again. Yet Crimson Champions were rushing to aide their infernal master, and the Black Templar would not allow such minions to save their dark ruler from the damnation he so rightfully deserved. With faith and fury the lesser daemons were reduced to immaterial ichor and irreparably mangled hell flesh. The clouds above thundered and spewed lightning as the fighting outside only intensified, and victory only seemed to grow more vital to both sides as the battle went on.
After nearly a dozen minutes of combat, Antonello was exhausted and heavily wounded, and Kane was no better. Roganz could barely stem the tide of traitors from breaching into the palace to save the Eldest, and it seemed the battle was to be lost. Yet through all the carnage, one Space Marine had cleaved a path through the hate and doom of the forces of Chaos rising, an Angel of Remembered Baal with a powerful lascannon on his back. Covered by Baal Predators and Exorcist Battle Tanks and flanked by his valiant Tactical Squad, the Astartes made it to the palace. With the rest of the squad dispatched to help Roganz secure the entrance, the Space Marine approached the Greater Daemon.
"Ah...my youngest descendant. You have grown gluttonous off the power foolishly given to you by the Sons of dead Sangunius. Shall you join in me in ascension, as my champion of my forces and son of the new God of Blood and War?" the Eldest Lord asked, magic and strength echoing through his voice.
"I am Foltor Ambrogio, Blood Angel of Remembered Baal and Son of Sangunius. If I am to die today, I am to die in service of the Emperor's will," the Astartes told the Eldest Lord as he let rip his lascannon. A red beam of death struck the Eldest Lord with enough force to shatter Imperial tanks and melt Power Armor, and with another six seconds, he was struck again with the same force. Upon the third shot, the Eldest Lord screamed in pain as the immaterium grabbed hold of his crumbling body and dragged it back into the Realm of Chaos.
After a slow week of campaigning, the world of Desterro II had been officially cleansed, the surface burnt to ash and its inhabitants slaughtered down to nothing. The Blood Angels decided to stay with the Crusade, opting to continue to fight those who wished to see the return of Chaos. It was obvious that whatever dark powers still remained in the once grand Realm of Chaos still brewed and stirred, searching for a new leader. The fact it had not been dried up by the burning presence of the Emperor Ascendant was a heavy weight on the mind of Roganz, but such thoughts were kept to himself.
It would be another month of crusading until a standstill was met. The Holy Clergy's manpower was spent, and the forceful removal of the last Bishop-Lord only drove more discord and strife into the populace. Dark winter befell the capital world of Lectern III, as if an omen of times to come. The Holy Clergy as an organization was all but dead, but the worlds where they operated were far from it. The evils of the Sanguine Imperium, the culmination of the Blood Cult's work around Autumnspring, had nearly shattered the alliance and faith of many of those worlds, but they held fast in the face of the Great Enemy's return.
Through a quick and decisive operation, an elite force from the Sanguine Imperium had retrieved the sword from Kanusten's grave. The Permalum Talon, a powerful relic of Khorne co-opted for a new Warp Entity, it was given to Planetary-Governor Ambrogio and he felt a connection to his grandfather, so sweet and powerful...it made the blood run.