The sounds of bolters, lascannons, and heavy artillery filled the air around Alaros as he felt his hearts beating within his head. His adrenaline had spiked as his eyes shifted back and forth across the smoking trench lines. He searched for his next prey studying the chaotic environment for even the slightest movement. This is what he lived for, this is what he had been made for! The Warmaster had chosen to give the Death Guard the honor of leading a massive, unstoppable onslaught against the primary gates of Choral City. He hadn't been privy to command decisions, or the reasoning behind them, but he could figure out the truth of it. Most of the Choral City's defenses were centered here since they had, for some odd reason, felt that the Imperial forces would attack through here and not from above. Their logic was flawed since this planet had already been brought to compliance.
Alaros' eyes looked over at the slumped form of one of his battle-brothers, Brother Argos, cradled in one arm by an Apothecary whose name was lost to him. In the distance he saw the broken, burnt remnants of several drop pods scattered throughout the quagmire of trenches and beyond. His blood still burned with the incompetence it reeked of. The Death Guard were a stern and unforgiving legion that pushed their mortal serfs to the very best that could be expected of them, always encouraging them to endure their hardships with a stoic heart. He had no doubt that the mortal serfs who had plotted the coordinates for the drop pods were the very best ... and yet this debacle didn't give any weight to that belief. Dozens of his brothers had been deposited right into the enemy trenches being cut apart as soon as their pod's doors opened. Others had been dropped into kill-zones, with almost eerie precision.
His drop had been precarious but not outright suicidal. The doors to his pod opened and only two of his brothers died in a hail of gunfire. Alaros grunted as he turned away from the testament to incompetence and began to track forward again his left and right flank guarded by Brothers Haban and Gahal respectively. They were armed with only bolters which complimented his plasma cannon perfectly. The three of them, originally eight when they left their drop pods, had broken through trench line after trench line. The rest of their squad, including Sergeant Balasu, had not been so lucky. The sergeant had died not long after they'd taken yet another trench an ambush turret coming up close by and shredding him with large caliber ammunition. Two of his brothers had died to the countless mines scattered almost haphazardly between trenches giving them no rhyme or reason to discern. One other had simply fallen over dead. Other legions would have likely collapsed under such pressure. No doubt Fulgrim's 'dancers' would have collapsed in the face of such adversity and he wagered even Angron's butchers' would have found their fill of blood. Not the Death Guard, not the sons of Mortarion, and certainly not him.
Brother Haban jumped to cover as another string of artillery fire racked their position. Alaros half-jumped, was half-knocked into a trench from the concussive force. His ears rang and his vision turned to static for a moment as he heard Haban shouting over the vox to Gahal. Alaros hauled himself onto his side and quickly picked himself up.
'Anyone dead,' he asked over the vox.
'Negative,' responded Gahal, 'Minor wound to my thigh, shrapnel punched through the armor.'
'You'll live,' said Alaros.
'This is madness,' said Haban, 'Where is the rest of the legion?'
Alaros took a moment to listen to the vox chatter and shook his head, 'Everywhere. We're pushing forward but its a mess. I think we may be ahead of everyone else. Muranu Squad is the closest to us and they are at least a kilometer behind us.'
The two brothers made jabs at that comment. No wonder they were getting so much attention. Alaros looked over the top of the trench to see Haban leaning against the burnt out husk Istvaanian equipment that had become improvised cover in the no-man's land. Gahal was up against the broken remnants of a wall and his hand was covering the wound to his thigh. Of coarse it wasn't nearly as minor as he let on. It would undoubtedly heal but would slow him down. Alaros looked back to where he'd seen the apothecary but he had vanished, only the broken form of Brother Argos with his chest plate ripped open and covered in blood remained.
'Brothers! Be warned,' screamed a voice over the vox. Alaros looked and saw it was a signal overriding most others, 'The Istvaanians have unleashed a bio weapon! Seek cover immediately! Armor will not save you!'
Alaros looked at both of his brothers and then behind him to where the towering form of the Dies Irae stood motionless. Its guns no longer fired and for the first time Alaros wondered just how long that booming had been absent? Alaros slung his plasma cannon over to his backpack where it mag-locked. He jumped over the trench and braved standing up. The Istvaanian guns still fired? Suicide, he thought.
'Move,' he roared to his brothers and pointed towards a string of bunkers and emplacements just further ahead, 'There!'
Gahal and Haban rushed forward not bothering to fire while Alaros came up behind them, trying his best to keep pace despite the hulking cannon on his back. The air was literally raining with enemy gunfire, the shrieks of their strange warp-witches screaming in the air above him. As they approached the next string of bunkers he realized that they appeared to already have battle damage? How far had they penetrated into the city? Battle damage covered the one directly in front of them but Alaros' keen eyes and decades of experience in slogging through trenches and blasting through fortifications twice this formidable showed him that despite the damage the bunker was clearly more stable than the ones around it. Gahal and Haban did not notice this and for the rest of Alaros' dour and pained existence he would always wonder how they failed to notice the numerous stress cracks over the other bunkers that gave clear signs to their structural degradation.
Above him Alaros heard a snap and crack and looked up for a moment to see the mist of death exploding above them and leaving vapor trails towards the ground. Other Legions may not notice the subtle coloration of the mist or the dreadful 'intent' that was evident in how it slowly waft towards the ground almost cocky in its purpose. His breath caught in his throat at what his eyes told him to be true but his mind reeled at with all its conditioning and notions of brotherhood. Perhaps had he not looked up that day he would have shouted a warning to Gahal and Haban but instead he set his head forward and pushed all the harder towards the bunker as the world began to die around him.
He hit the door and immediately slammed it shut and stumbled backwards against the wall his breath catching in his throat. He checked the door and found that it was self-sealing. Inside the bunker he found only blood smears and dead Istvaanians. Outside he could hear an entire world dying around him and his mind fumbled to give some justification for what he knew was going on! Minutes passed as the dying slowly quieted. Some will leave, he thought as his mood darkened further every second, they will think it is safe. He knew it would come, it was standard procedure. It came upon Istvaan III like the fiery breath of a war god. The lances from space would trigged the noxious gases, he remembered. For in his long years of service to the Imperium, that now ironically was trying to murder him, he had seen this same thing play out on a handful of damned worlds.
The roar of the fire consumed all of his hearing as the flames scorched everything and the temperature within the bunker rose to lethal levels -- if he hadn't had on his armor. For all the mocking of his reverence for the old 'scrap of iron' it saved his life that day.
Once the last of the roaring of flames died down he gave it a handful of more minutes before standing up and approaching the door. He opened it with a hiss and the heat wash came over him as he stepped out onto the blasted, broken remnants of the Choral City. He looked around hoping beyond hope to see Haban emerge from the bunkers. Gahal was dead and Alaros knew it he probably died before ever reaching his bunker. A quick glance revealed to him that all the bunkers in the area, bar one, were blasted away in the firestorm.
Alaros looked into the sky. It was a scene of hell as the ash from the billions dead rose up to cloud out a sun that would never shrine clearly upon this world for millennia. He was under no illusion as to what had happened here. The Life Eater Virus had been employed, a weapon that nobody in the galaxy had except Mankind. And even then there were only ever two people in the whole galaxy who could give the order to use it. The Emperor and the Warmaster.
With a great sadness weighing upon his heart, slowly being overcome by rage, he growled to a man that he knew couldn't hear him but he growled anyway, 'Why father?'