He left the youths alongside his brothers Raziel and Raxan but again there was no exchanging of words -- the trio walked quietly down the hallways of The Heart. Without warning he made a sudden turn and left them. His mind was more focused on the youths he'd been giving lessons too and hoping that they would take at least something away from what he'd told them. Despite the Scythes of the Emperor's policy that the Emperor was not in fact a god but the first among Humanity they had never censored him in all his long years of service. Of coarse there was the tension at times especially during his prayers before and after missions. His chanting over the vox-network during combat or his prolific use of righteous battlecrys during close combat. His brothers had done him the modest honor of respectfully ignoring him in the worst cases and in the best they would join alongside him but rarely go so far as to speak in acceptance of his adopted creed. He couldn't help but ponder why he'd been allowed to act the way he does without reprimand. Would they have said something if Sotha was alive beneath them instead of a dead rock? If the Chapter was still whole and intact that they were not having to so heavily weight the pros and cons of sending out a single sqaud -- would they tolerate his esoteric beliefs?
With a harsh shake of his head he banished the thoughts. How long would he wonder these things? How long would he doubt his own inner beliefs in the divinity of the God-Emperor? Had he not seen things beyond human or post-human comprehension? He had and he knew he should not doubt himself. He noticed his personal quarters were ahead and there was something of a longing to go within them sit quietly and reflect again upon the doubts he battled against everyday but this day he walked right past it and down the hall. He considered where he was going and found that he didn't really have an answer for himself. The bridge was one possibility but he didn't wish for the company of his brothers or The Heart's captain. He walked past the only hanger in operation several minutes later as he continued his seemingly aimless walk down the corridors of the vessel. He would not be stopped by any mortal. The chances of actually seeing a battle-brother on his walk was slim to none. That fact, he found, startled him more than his own clouded mindset.
He saw the first symbol for the Reclusiam and the approximate distance down the corridor until he'd have to make a left turn and go another four hundred and sixty-seven feet down the next hallway until he reached the door. He'd spent so many sleepless day and nights within its confines that he considered the chapel a second home. Rarely did his brothers visit it these days and that was a sad fact. After Sotha fell he'd seen visits increase to it but at that time was still a believer in the Chapter's views on the Emperor and chose to avoid the place. After Astelan's actions ... the chapel saw a small up-tic in activity but it quickly bled away except for himself. He'd been within it day and night battling to the demons within his own soul as he fought over why his brother had betrayed them all. With his chest tightening as passed right back the Reclusiam -- it would not give the silence he felt he needed.
He advanced to the deepest bowels of the ship to places that had likely not seen a Astartes in decades, if not centuries. He passed the occassional servitor who gave him the standard greetings of 'Lord Vermaas' or didn't acknowledge him at all. The path to the inner portions of the ship was pitch black. He knew any mortal would be completely lost without night-sight enhancement gear; but an Astartes relied upon gene-forged eyes to guide them. He eventually found himself coming up to a column of dim light, a shaft of dull radiance with crossed his path horizontally nearly at the end of the corridor. Once he reached it he realized it was a porthole and his mind siezed up as to why it'd even been placed here. A servitor scuttled by and it momentarily drew his attention, if only by combat instinct, and he drew the most logical conclusion. Servitors required maintenance during set frequencies and they would need mortals to perform said upkeep. Likely the porthole was placed here to help the morale of those trapped this deep within the ship. How lucky he was to have access to the observation dome where he could stare out into the limitless abyss of the universe. His eyes peered out of the small hole in the ship, the only thing protecting him from the stark cold of the void a couple of inches of armaplastek. There were only a handful of stars he could see compared to the billions and billions visible in the dome several decks above him. Though to a mortal trapped within the depths of this ship this likely was a moving experiance.
Experiance. The word seemed to draw at something in the back of his mind like a trigger was being tugged at. Unable to remember he took a step back and looked at the porthole once again only now registering the protection plate placed up against the wall likely by the last mortal to peer out the armaplastek -- God-Emperor only knew how long ago that could have been. He touched it and for a moment as he closed it slightly he could imagine how clostrophobic it must have seemed like to a crew-member standing here slowing closing his only link to the outside world. During normal space-travel there was little to no risk invovled in leaving the protection plate open but during warp travel, no mortal had any business peering out into the unfiltered madness of the warp. Still his grasped the plate and slowly moved it back and forth in mock close and opening procedure. It made a slow creeking sound that tattled on the maintenance personnel on this deck. He could hardly blame them given the absolute disrepair the Chapter was in itself. How could the maintenance crew be expected to pay attention to one minor detail like the protection plate for a sub-deck's porthole that none of them probably knew was even here?
His thoughts slowly changed from the crew of The Heart to the almost peaceful monotone sound of the plate's creeking back and forth as he moved it. At the back of his mind something pulled at his thoughts. The plate's sound was a cousin to a sound he'd heard many, many years ago. Vermaas' mind shifted from the casual mindset he was in to immediately recollection of a campaign that'd occured only a decade after he'd been initiated as a full-fledged battle-brother of the Scythes. He could remember still feeling slightly alien to the queer smell of chem-laced sweat that permeated from his body during moments of exertion or excitment. He could remember the latter being the culprit in this case as his seargant continued to detail to them the opening tasks they'd have to perform in the campaign.
He remember peering out a porthole very similar to this one aboard the strike cruiser Winter of Sotha as the Fourth Battle Company approached the purple and black world of Killia. Even from space the smell seemed to reek of both death and defilment the byproduct of the poor choices of his inhabitants. Killia was a proud world who'd supplied the Imperial Guard with several dozen regiments of tough, strong warriors. Or at leas thats what its file read. As a simple battle-brother his need-to-know basis was relatively low and only in broad terms to pervent him from becoming distracted with needless details. It was a policy implemented and rigidly enforced by Nov, his sergeant. A broad, squat marine who'd refused promotion at least twice by Captain Droloon he'd never believed in simulated combat or wasteful training exercises but instead gave his men as close to real combat was possbile. Several times he remembered training with actual combat knives and seeing more than only brother loss a finger or thumb.
Most of all he knew how he felt during those opening weeks of the campaign on Killia as his sqaud was given the task of rapidly striking several key enemy installations. These facilities were delaying the advance of Imperial Guard regiments and hindering air-patrols over their lines giving the enemy the chances it needed to cause serious setbacks for the thousands of mortals who huddled in ther trenches thousands of feet below them. These operations had gone very successful with Vermaas and his squad landing close to or directly ontop of these facilities via drop-pod or thunderhawk and unleashing hell upon the defenders inside. Their uniforms were tarnished things that once might have been respectible but since their decent into madness they'd covered them in blasphemous runes which damned them before the eyes of the Imperium and the Emperor. The excitment he'd felt as he rushed through enemy ranks, breaking them barricades hastily errected, gunning down fleeing cultists and driving his chainsword into the brave (or stupid) few who remained.
The Killian Campaign was nearly in its final stages. All major cities had fallen and the purple miasma which had clung to most of the planet had begun to receed with each victory and the slaying of each convent. The final assault on the captial city of Killia Prime was expected to be a formality; something that should have been done by the Guard while the Scythes moved onto the next threatre of war. Captain Brevane had refused to leave until the culprit Arch-Heretic Blacksworn was killed or captured for the handful of deaths the Scythe's had endured.
Vermaas' squad was working its way threw the promethium refineries in the southeastern districts of the city clearing them out of cultist infestation. They were surronded by massive cylinoid tanks many of them several hundred feet in diameter which held millions of gallons of Vulkan-III grade prometium. No doubt some of it would find its way into the hands of fellow Astartes -- perhaps entire segmentums away. Sergeant Nov was a man of few words and even fewer kind ones. His squad's original orders were to clear out a few initial promethium-tank farms in this distrct before handing the area over to advancing Guard units and puhsing north by northwest to attack an enemy strongpoint which was delaying the advancement of a column of Leman Russ tanks. Vermaas remembered the vox-communication which came in, it held not privacy restrictions or rank-only disignations so they'd all listened in as Captain Brevane informed them that Arch-Heretic Blacksworn was in the same facility as them as his elite Foresworn guards rushed him away to another safe point. Their orders were clear to them long before Brevane gave them -- take him alive or dead.
Force reconnisance by Vermaas, who was still green by Nov's standards, and Brother Ragulf had located a column of armored vehicles moving across the facility towards the far-eastern gate. The pieces instantly fell together in Vermaas' mind. Reports had streamed in since the onset of the assault that certain eastern districts were almost impossible to break and had required a heavy-handed response by the Scythes to even begin the process of clearing them out. He believed they were holding so fast because the eastern flank of the Governor's Palace, which had become Blacksworn's fortress, was the easiest to traverse and could give the Guard and Astartes ideal artilery positions. He should have noticed that was not the intention when the enemy failed to react to their western flanks folding in and two squads, Sergeant Antin and Weslyy were able to gain access into the Governor's Palace.
Nov had pushed them hard across the tank and berm infested mazes of the facilities as they tried to quickly set up a roadblock and ambush for the column. He'd been given the duty of throwing krak grenades into the first vehicle in the column to disable it. He remembered the tension he felt as he smashed the activation rune on the krak grenade after lining up the arc he was going to use. The grenade sailed through the air and hit the lead vehicle, a boxy thing with spikes along the edges, and explode. The vehicle erupted into flames and anything inside was surely dead. His battle brothers came from all sides and opened fire with bolter, pistol, lascannons, and even more. Within fifteen seconds the entire column had been reduced to slag or smoking husks.
Vermaas moved closer to the wreckage in unison with his squad as they inspected their handy work. Surely nothing could have survived. Each of them failed to notice that a miasma began to roll in slowly behind them from the berms enclosing other tanks. Vermaas noticed it after it was too late as it swirled around his legs.
'Miasma!' he remebered screaming. The gaseous mist had been responsible for thousands of deaths amongst the Guard and even a few of their own number.
The squad immediately rechecked their suits integrity and thank the Emperor none of them werre compromised. The mist began to swirl towards the wreckage and he could hear Nov screaming orders. He continued to watch the unusual patterns within the mist as faces formed, screamed, and disappeared. He noticed his hearts were racing, he was breaking out in a cold sweat, and his body felt like it didn't want to respond. He knew his seals were pure -- so what was it? Was this the distant cousin of the emotion mere mortals called fear? The thought that he could actually feel fear only sparked hatred within his chest.
'Damn you! Listen to me!' he suddenly heard. He snapped out of the self-doubting he'd indulged in and looked around to notice others doing the same thing. Who had said that he pondered? A scream a few seconds later pulled his attention to sergeant Nov who stood screaming as his armor was engulfed in blue, twilight-like flames his bolter firing sporadically and randomly.
'Daemons!' he heard another voice in the thickening mist scream. His hearts skipped at beat at the notion. He had never faced a daemon before. Of coarse he'd slain countless cultists, even saw a few daemons at a distance but for whatever reason or random chance of fate he'd never fought one. He spun around looking for who had called out the word but could only hear the racket of bolter fire and screams of the wounded and dying. His brothers were dying around him. By the Throne, what was he looking for? Vermaas raced through the mist calling out to his brothers trying to find someone. He started in the direction of sergeant Nov since he'd seen him on fire. To his horror he found only the molten remnants of Astartes armor cooling in the mist when he reached his location. He could feel panic beginning to fill his veins. He was blind and somehow the enemy, whoever the hell that was, wasn't effected.
He saw his enemy a few moments later. It emerged from the mist stumbling around obviously wounded by a bolter, gear chunks of its pallid blue flesh was gone. Twilight flames licked out from the numerous mouths which covered its body and while he could make out no eyes in the mist he knew that if they existed they'd be looking at him in hatred. Were he mortal he would have died then his body siezing up on him and his mind lost in madness at the impossibility before him. Instead his psycho-indoctrination took over where his concious mind was too slow and he raised his bolter and opened fire. Somehow he knew to aim for the mouths themselves instead of the flesh.
The creature spit fire at him from the other mouths searing his armor and catching his right paulderon on fire. He screamed righteous fury as his bolts found them mark and detonated within the daemon's mouth exploding and eventually causing the twilight flames within its body to erupted. It screamed and hissed at him and he could swear some of it was actual words, part of some archaic, maddening language long forgotten and forbidden. It died moments later flames continueing to sporadically shoot out of its mouths but quickly fizziling.
He fell to his knees moments after it stopped twitching. His right shoulder was practically burned to the bone as the twilight flames continued to spread. He tried to put them out but they chewed away at the flesh beneath. He fell on his back as the fire seemed to burn his strength away.
'I got you bastard,' he said bitterly to the miasma swirling about.
The memory faded just as his vision had that day. He no longer saw the purple and black miasma around him, nor could he smell the burning copper smell of the warp. He did not see the liquidified remains of sergeant Nov or the burning remains of the daemon he would later learn were called Flamers. He did not die that day but he had come close. It was only the timely arrival of Inquisitor Yanis, the Inquisitiorial representative to what became the Balancing of Killia. He had responded immediately upon word that an Astartes squad was intercepting Blacksworn. The arrival of him and Captain Brevane to the location had saved them as several psykers, along with Librarian Yanitara had removed the miasma.
He remembered the look on Captain Brevane's face when he saw him -- pride. Inquisitor Yanis had commended him on the successful capture of Blacksworn. He had paled when he heard that praise.
'How did he survive?' he protested in disbelief.
'Misinformation Astartes,' he said matter-of-factly, 'Blacksworn was not with this convoy afterall. He was a genius at breaking our communication lines, even you Astartes with the help of dark magic. Your attack here was on a decoy, it made him change coarse into the actual trap laid by another squad. Do not doubt your efforts Astartes, what you did here virtually led him to us.'
Captain Brevane's eyes had told him everything he needed to know. Not that he needed to be told, had they been told it was a decoy they were hitting than Blacksworn may have chosen an alternative path instead of going around the promethium tank yards and they'd have lost him in the confusion. Somehow it didn't comfort him as he saw that three of his brothers were dead consuming by the same flames as sergeant Nov. Many others were wounded like himself, only one was unharmed.
The words of Inquisitor Yanis gave him no more comfort centuries later than it did the day he said them. Captain Brevane's apologetic stare the closest that stoic marine ever came to actual sympathy.
Vermaas look at the porthole cover again seeing its dull metal as if for the first time before peering back at the stars. It was truly strange how the universe works that after such an event he should be alive while all the others died. Sergeant Nov and his battle brothers deaths were of coarse obvious but the others came much later. He later learned that Inquisitor Yanis was declared a traitor by his own order two decades after Killia and eventually hunted down and killed. Captain Brevane was slain in an incident of friendly fire in the heat of battle -- wrong place at the wrong time. A most unworthy end to such a worthy warrior. Librarian Yanitara died only a century and a half ago in a fight with a Chaos sorcerer.
Surely the God-Emperor had a plan for him when so many others, so much more worthy than him of life died. Surely? Vermaas left the porthold uncovered as he walked back into the darkness of the depth of The Heart.
The chaos gods abandoned Horus most likely because they saw the can of whoop ass coming their way and wanted out of the way so as not to get fucked up!