Terra was alive with the apocalypse.
Its sky was aflame. The borders writhing with the glowing ambers of death as cathedral like ships were raked by salvo after salvo from vessels made up of ancient steel, rusting adamantium, wraithbone and necrodermis.
The planet’s atmosphere was agitated by the ferocity of the void battle and it stirred the millennia’s worth of industrial cinder and ash, giving birth to artificial thunder clouds. Wrecks and debris from the conflict plowed through this heavenly bulwark and ignited. Descending upon the hive world as fiery rain drops that will either burn up or obliterate hive clusters in cataclysmic explosions akin to the birth of stars.
The moans and screams of the dying caused by these falling objects was an incessant din and blended with the noise of the raging battle on the planet’s surface. It would rise and fall with each impact or cease all together when a carcass of a ship makes planetfall.
Flashes of unworldly lightning would then illuminate the battlefields on this edifice covered world, with colors that were painful to the eyes. Revealing husks of hive cities that were destroyed by orbital bombardment, a cluster or two engulfed in bloody sieges or converted to sprawling sacrificial pits that released columns of pitch black smoke into the air.
The roar of thunder soon followed and echoed with the calamitousness finality of this war.
Yet, from where he was standing and through his magnoculars, Astor could see that humanity was not backing down without a fight.
Thousands of imperial aircrafts, represented by tracing vapor trails, soared from one column of smoke to another, braving the choking air, the falling debris, the tendrils of lightning and the limited visibility of only a few meters, as they fought an enemy force that outnumbered them five to one.
He could see the distinguishing shapes of the thunderbolts as they fired las-cannon beams at the menacing reavers, lightning squadrons unleashing concentrated autocannon fire on dreaded doom scythes, and even fury interceptors strafing elusive hellblades from all directions.
But for every kill they made, dozens from amongst their already depleted ranks were also being shot down.
Below them, another battle was taking place. God-machines were walking amongst the ravaged hives of the planet. Some took the shape of the pyramids of Gyptus and sported viridian weapons that scythed down every living thing they could find. Others bore the markings of age and corruption and released daemonic screams every time their weapons fired their devastating payload. While there were those who lumbered like giant assemblages of hastily built track systems, rusting metal plates and scavenged weaponry. These fired indiscriminately at spectre like colossi who ghosted in and out of reality as they battled on Terra’s holy soil.
Astor adjusted the lenses on his magnoculars and zoomed in on humanity’s own god-machines. It was a titan maniple from Mars that stalked a formation of Necron Monotliths near the commercia districts.
Forged in the image of the Omnissiah, the imperial walkers were like mountains of steel, iron, or adamantium with arm and legs. They towered over at least fourteen meters and their carapaces were bristling with turrets and weapon systems that were equally massive and menacing.
A sea of red glimmered underneath their threads and Astor knew that up close, they were file after file and rank after rank of skitarii regiments. They were Mechanicum soldiers who never flinched from the quake inducing footfalls as they marched beside the gargantuan constructs.
Together, they approached the monolith phalanx from the southwest of the commercia and used the cover of hive clusters to mask their advance. Canine like Warhounds then broke off from the formation when the maniple was a few kilometers from its targets, and Astor followed them as they stalked through the battlefield and deftly avoided the skitarii underneath them.
Grouped into twos and threes, they were like pack of wolves as they darted from one spire to another. They were agile for their size and Astor surmised that their auspexes were picking out key targets from the enemy formation and relaying them back to the main force.
Fulfilling their prime directive after circling the entirety of the commercia, Astor saw them take up positions for a flanking maneuver, making sure to avoid the armies of the undying that were spewing forth from the pyramids.
Astor then panned his magnoculars from the warhounds and focused them on the maniple just as it splintered into several demi-maniples when they entered the commercia. The front-liners were composed of battle titans of the mighty reaver and warlord class, and their war horns were blaring for all to hear.
The phalanx slowly turned upon hearing the war horns and immediately targeted the titans with their gauss faux arcs and particle whips. The volley unleashed came in the form of eldritch lightning and the necron legion that supported the pyramids, added their fire to the attack. The titans’ void shields flared and crackled like plasma globes as it prevailed against the tremendous amounts of power. But it only lasted for a few minutes and eventually the barriers cracked and disintegrated, leaving some of the titans exposed with only their hulls protecting them. Some though were maimed and crippled from the backlash of their overloaded shield generators.
But the Necron’s barrage, though considerable, ebbed as well for their weapons reached their thresholds and needed time to recharge. The titans’ manifold, exploiting the lull, homed in on the target markers and unleashed their own volley.
Blinding light filled his lenses as lances and super-heated plasma from melta and hell-storm cannons hit their marks, reducing swathes of necrons warriors to dust and engulfing the monoliths in vaporizing fire. The barrage lasted two whole minutes and the noised coming from the weapons even echoed to where he was.
But when the dust cleared, the pyramids were still there, their necrodermis frames took the brunt of the attack and bore little to no damage. Their gauss weaponry, now fully charged, flared angrily and unleashed another wave of emerald energy as fresh new armies were marching from the gates built onto their structure.
Two or three titans were critically crippled by their second volley, but not before a swarm of missiles were launched by the demi-maniples and arched towards their targets. The tons of explosives on each of the warheads detonated on impact and rocked the foundations of the commecria while causing a wall of dust and ash to rise and block Astor’s view.
Lowering his magnoculars, Astor massaged and stretched his straining arms just as the titans released another note from their war horns. The smoke from their attack was starting to clear when he looked through the lenses again and the remaining demi-maniples started to walk around. Their foot falls shook the earth whilst avoiding the Skitarii who were taking up positions underneath them. They encircled the formation as their manifolds were searching for a target.
Without warning, a viridian beam lanced through the obscuring smoke. It didn’t hit any of the titans at first and instead hit the foundations of a nearby spire. But it suddenly swerved, and its intense heat decapitated the titans of an entire demi-maniple from the waist down.
Howls of tortured metal and explosions echoed as six warlords crashed to the ground in pieces. The screams of the skitarii was one blaring note as they cried and screamed in terror when the frames of the titans fell on top of them. The reactors went critical a short while later and blew, vaporizing a huge area of the commercia along with friends or foe.
The maniple blew their war horns in anger as the monoliths emerged through the fire and smoke. One of the larger variants in the center of the phalanx was glowing ominously – Its main crystal was the source of the necrotic light. Two dozens of pyramids were surrounding this variant and Astor surmised it was responsible for the latest kills.
It lumbered slowly across the commercia just like the others, its gauss faux arcs searching for targets to kill. But upon closer inspection, Astor saw that damage was now evident on it hulls as sparks of eldritch energy were flickering from the cracks. The same could be said for the other monoliths as scores of fissures were slow to fade. Their necrodermis frames were now punished beyond their programmed threshold.
Astor panned his lenses when he saw movement at the edge of his vision and saw the warhounds emerged from their positions.
Flanking the Necrons from all sides, they unleashed a hail of mega-bolter shells and plasma beams, straining the already damaged necrodermis hulls as the battle titans unleashed another volley. The surviving skitarii regiments on the other hand, coordinated their attack with the scout titans and laid down a swathe of sustained suppressive fire as more of the undying legions were marching forth from the gates of the monolith’s hulls.
The largest of the monoliths in the center of the phalanx responded to the attacks by erecting a shield matrix. It was a strange construct. It was a pyramid that was bifurcated while a platform of strange design connected the two halves. On the platform was a glowing and writhing figure but it was too far to see what it truly was, even with his magnoculars.
The imperium’s volleys, after the shield blanketed the phalanx, were nullified – no matter how destructive they were. The Necrons behind the shield on the other hand, were being nourished or strengthened by the matrix, as the wounds they sustained were knitting faster than before and their rate of fire doubled, felling entire companies like crops to a farmer’s blade. A pack of warhounds was even reduced to burning husks and a reaver was toppled, one of its legs was completely vaporized and caused it to collide with another titan. The two fell with an almighty crash and flattened scores of skitarii that were supporting them. Minutes later their reactors blew as well and took out another demi-maniple along with their auxiliary forces.
The intensity of the Necron’s attack soon doubled even more as their wounded were now whole and the monoliths were as good as new. A volley or two from the center pyramids saw the end of three more battle titans while their legions exacted a punishing toll to the skitarii.
Praetorian variants of the Mechanicum’s soldiers were being stripped off of flesh in seconds before they could unleash their fury in close clombat. Tribunes were being assassinated by well placed deathmarks, causing disarray through the ranks of the Mechanicum soldiers. The surviving scout and battle titans on the other hand were now being driven back, one step at a time as the monoliths were tearing at their hulls as if they were paper.
But just as the Mechanicum was at the brinks of routing and the Necrons advanced on them like a tide of green death, the entire center of the commercia was leveled by a salvo of quake and volcano cannons.
Astor’s quickly zoomed out from the battle field that was now filled with incendiary and chocking smoke. His was view then filled with the adamantium reinforced carapace of three of the largest titans from the maniple, and they were still unleashing batteries of quake and volcano shells at the monoliths and along with their forces caught in the barrage. Their hellstorm and plasma annihilator cannons soon added their volleys to the destruction and the intensity of the attack caused dust and smoke to obscure the battlefield entirely. It doubled when the rest of the legion took up vantage points and fired their weapons as well. Meanwhile remnants of the Skitarii regiments were on full retreat to avoid the searing fire power that was being unleashed.
“God-Emperor…” were the only words that left Astor’s mouth.
He slowly lowered his magnoculars while his hands were shaking and holding the lenses as if to break them. Cold sweat was trickling down his brow while he fought back the shiver that had nothing to do with the brisk air.
His thoughts were swirling and he can’t get over the fact that before their ship made that fateful jump, humanity reigned supreme. Battles and wars were raging across the galaxy then but the armies of the Imperium ensured that their enemies were kept in check. Now however in this bleak future, with even their god-machines achieving nothing more than phyrric victories against the full might of their foes, he was beginning to see that the Imperium’s dominion was nothing more than hubris.
An alarum suddenly blared somewhere up high and broke his reverie. It echoed across the eastern defensive line and changed the flow of activity in the battlements.
Sleepy guardsmen became alert and scrambled about their billets, checking the magazines on their lasguns and making last minute adjustments on their sights as their commanders shouted orders. Idle tanks and transports started revving up their engines, releasing black acrid smoke in their exhausts as main gun turrets and pintle-mounted stubbers or autoguns were checked and re-checked by their gun crews.
Tech-priests, clad in their scarlet robes, swung their thuribles and intoned religious passages in their arcane lingua technis as they walked amongst the vehicles. Their eyes of flesh and steel were scanning the hulls for breaches and integral damage, while their mechadendrites slithered from their spines and were plugging into cogitators and auspexes to check on the machine spirits.
Trans-systems went online and monorails pushed rail cars filled with fuel pods, ammunitions and stockpiles of ordnance to and from bastions built across the line.
Through it all, the klaxon that signaled the preparations slowly waned, and a deep rumble from the walls of the imperial palace, took its place.
Astor knew what was to come and looked up.
One of the defenses overlooking the eastern defensive line was a support column that sported five lances. These were huge laser batteries that were being moved and aimed by gun crews whose shouts and curses echoed over the battlements.
Though they were very faint, he could hear the determination and drive in their voices as they moved the ancient weapons. He felt a pang of shame slowly overcome him, as he realized that the men on the parapets were afforded with a bird’s eye view of the battlefield. That in their every waking moment, they could see the one sided battle that their armies were fighting, yet there they were, undaunted and resolute as they powered up the lances.
He turned his attention from the wall and saw the nearest of his men already manning the parapets of the trenches, guns aimed at no man’s land, their eyes set and unblinking.
He shook his head and quietly laughed at his own stupidity.
“What the frak? This isn’t the first time they’ve cornered us.” he thought as he closed his eyes to help him focus.
Meanwhile, the noise of the batteries slowly rose, and the keening sound of plasma reactors fueling the batteries soon joined the crescendo. He opened his eyes and readied himself.
“Cover your ears and close your eyes men!” he ordered as he stooped down on the trench’s firing step.
A thunderclap erupted from the column a second later and five bright lances of pure energy surged towards the north. It illuminated the battlements like the sun and gave off an overwhelming stench of ozone.
Another second later, an explosion was heard from afar and the daemonic screech that echoed thereafter told him that the volley hit one of the corrupted titans.
He rose from the rising step as the men around him cheered. He did not join in and instead, raised his magnoculars and stared at the horizon. He searched and searched and eventually found the remains of the corrupted titan. It trespassed into no man’s land, which prompted the palace’s defenses to open fire. Around its corpse were armies of heretics that pushed on, despite losing their massive armour support.
Like the Skitarii, they were like a sea, but unlike the orderly ranks of the men of the mechanicum, he knew that the heretics would be a disparate collection of rambling fanatics, traitorous space marines and…. daemons.
“Here they come” he said as he lowered his magnoculars and placed them inside one of the pockets of his webbings. He then slung his lasgun and descended the firing step.
He immediately started barking orders at those who have yet to man the parapets.
“No time to celebrate you fraks! Scale those ladders! To arms!”
The guardsmen obeyed and started manning the firing steps. He then went east, to where the bulk of his company was located and voxed his officers to sound off and gave them the same orders.
A squad was huddled not too far from him, while the others were scrambling towards the firing steps. They were clearly not obeying his orders.
“What the?” he thought as he let the rushing soldiers pass before approaching the squad.
When he was near enough, he noticed the insignia on their shoulders. It was a crude painting of a megaphone with a line diagonally bisecting it. Understanding their predicament, he tapped one of the guardsmen. When the guardsman faced him, Astor proceeded to do sign-cants, explaining to hurry up on what they were doing and prepare for an attack. He also added that an artillery barrage will soon begin.
The guardsman replied in kind and hastily commanded the others to end their prayers. Astor then saw them tucking away litany papers that they were reading in their webbings while one of them grabbed a golden idol in the center of the group and hid it in his pouch. They hurriedly slung their lasguns and followed the men who were already manning the parapets but not without saluting Astor who returned the gesture.
He then grabbed one of his officers nearby and berated him on the spot for failing to see the squad and relaying his command.
A few minutes later the klaxons for the artillery batteries came alive and slits along the walls slowly opened. There were about fifteen batteries all in all. Each one consisted of five basilisk artillery pieces.
It would take about an hour before the enemy would reach the middle of no-man’s land, by that time they would be in range of even the artillery from the rear. Astor made sure that that reality was fully understood by his officers when he voxed them again while he jogged. He also ordered them to look out for their audio-impaired comrades.
A few yards onwards, he encountered another squad. But they were already taking up positions. They merely showed him the sign of the Aquila when he passed but he stopped and inspected their equipment. He also checked on their morale and had to do everything by sign-cant.
It was a pain doing it, he admits, but it was necessary due to the lack of resources to replace the ruptured eardrums of all the guardsmen affected by shelling, and you had to make the right expressions with your face to get the message across.
But that wasn’t the only thing he had to learn, or relearn to be exact.
During their advance in the battle-strewn hives of Terra two months ago, he and Price were already used to the hit-and-run tactics they applied to overwhelm larger armies with their own meager force. In the eastern defensive line, it was different. It was trench-warfare all over again, purely static and bloody, bloody attrition.
He wasn’t happy with it at first and the fact that the army guarding the line could have been used to support their advance, didn’t help.
“You gathered them all in trenches and for what? We were losing men out there! And you didn’t even send us reinforcements!?” he remembered shouting at a general when he and the colonel arrived at headquarters for debriefing. He was quickly restrained by a couple of staff members for his behavior, but not before pummeling the general out cold. Price meanwhile was knocked out when he wouldn’t stop kicking the general’s ribs.
“Make sure those mortars are properly calibrated!” he shouted when he was now checking on one of the redoubts. He went on to order the men to also check on the pintle-mounted stubbers as he looked back and watched the guardsmen on the trench behind them. They were also milling around with the defenses whilst thousands more were doing the same across the line. He couldn’t see them but the noise they were making was staggering.
The entire defensive line was composed of man-made canals that were hastily dug up by land crawlers during the siege. It consisted of three main jagged lines that were bordered to the east by the defenses of the Annapurna Gate and to the west, originally by the defenses of the Lion’s Gate, but now a carcass of a gargant was blocking the way. To the south were the very foundations of the palace walls while to the north was no man’s land which was filled with rubbles from destroyed hives and carcasses of millions of vehicles that stretched on for thirty kilometers. It was then interconnected by a labyrinth of supply trenches.
The first line was twelve feet deep and five feet wide. This was where Astor was stationed along with about one hundred and eighty thousand men. The earthen walls were riveted by wooden panels and sand bags. Firing steps and scaling ladders adorned the parapets while the ground was covered with wooden frames to provide a drainage channel underneath.
Redoubts and pillboxes, made out of sandbags and scavenged adamantium hulls, were then built on strategic points along the line. Most of them, like the one that he was inspecting, were armed with mortars, autocannons and heavy stubbers.
The second line was fifteen meters behind them. It was located on a series of ridges that provided good elevation for supporting fire. It was also twelve feet deep but almost six feet wide and had the same lay-outs as the first but the difference was that some redoubts were guarded by functioning vehicles, mostly the exterminator and vanquisher variants of the leman russ while some were chimera transports that sported multi-lasers and heavy flamers.
Also, the squads assigned to guard the redoubts there were equipped more heavily than their brothers-in-arms in the first line. Heavy mortars were primed with melta and inferno ordnance in some of them, while heavy bolters and lascannons on others cast a steady gaze across the expanse of no man’s land.
The men stationed in the second line numbered over two hundred and ninety thousand and were manning the parapets en masse.
The third line on the other hand was the largest of the three and was situated forty five meters from the second line. But it was on the reverse slope of the ridge, providing a good defilading defense in case the 1st and 2nd lines were overrun. It was also about half a kilometer from the base of the palace walls.
It was fifteen feet deep and over twenty five feet wide because it housed a series of bomb proof bunkers that were made out of ferrocrete and were armoured by reinforced adamantium plating. The bunkers served as the headquarters for the entire eastern defensive line and as well as storage for ammunitions and rations.
Dug-in batteries composing of manticores, medusa, thunderer and self-propelled basilisk artillery pieces were stationed across the line with mountains of stockpiled ordnance. Redoubts and pillboxes here were here more numerous than the 1st and 2nd line to exploit the defilading front. Manning the firing steps or patrolling the entirety of the line, were four hundred and twenty five thousand men.
“A waste of resources, all of this.” he recalled telling Price for the umpteenth time after they were released from their cells. They were lying on a burnt out husk of a chimera, smoking lho-sticks.
The activity in the eastern defensive line was at it heights then even at dusk, as men, supplies and tanks were pouring in from the fronts and were being distributed along the line.
“They could at least order those red-coats to mine the wrecks in front of the first line”
None bothered to reprimand them for loitering, even the commissars. They were too busy with keeping the morale in check than to waste time on the officers, especially with the two of them.
“Frakking shitheads if you ask me” was Price’s only reply before taking a swig from his bottle.
His eloquent description of the command echelon was proven right the day after, when the commanders decided to assign Astor to Sector 2DF-V.
It was smack dab in the middle of the first line and strangely, Astor was the over-all commanding officer of the men there. Over two thousand strong and were composed mainly of battle-wearied and deafened soldiers armed with stub guns and barely functioning lasguns.
The look on Astor’s face was comical when he read the communiqué. He was even convinced that either the commanders were smoking obscura when they wrote the orders or were never told of his actions the day before.
“Well that’s what you get for kicking and screaming” the colonel jokingly said when he read the communiqué which officially promoted Astor to colonel despite him being of the Imperial Navy. Astor in reply, smacked the colonel across the head.
Price on the other hand, was strangely awarded as well. He was given the cash-grox, a retinue of storm troopers. The squad was composed of three Cadians, a grenadier from a Death Korp and two Terrax Guard. His own communiqué explained that he received the bodyguards due to his fame and brave actions during the withdrawal from the Word Bearer’s legion. He was also awarded with the command of two thousand men.
“We should beat up generals more often Astor” he happily proclaimed when his storm troopers reported for duty. That earned him another smack from Astor but Price replied in kind, much to the chagrin of his bodyguards.
After that scuffle, Astor last saw him emerging from the command bunker, with orders to send a message to the Annapurna’s defensive headquarters, which was located deep inside the palace walls. His retinue came out of the command bunker after him.
They weren’t able to talk because the orders were to be done immediately. Astor merely shouted the words “Kick and Scream Colonel” right after he boarded a chimera. Price heard him and waved his liquor bottle in reply before the chimera thundered away.
That was two days ago, and three days after the primarch attacked them.
“Lorgar” Astor recalled the name as he journeyed east. Just the mere mention of it sent a cold chill up his spine. He quickly pushed the sensation away just when he reached another redoubt.
The guardsmen there were a mix bunch, men and women, some deaf and some weren’t and most of them were very young. He decided to do a short speech there and told them one of Price’s jokes.
The redoubts was filled with laughter after that and Astor sign-canted the words “the Emperor protects” at the guardsmen before leaving. He did the same thing as he passed by several pillboxes and squads of men who needed a little bit of encouragement and push as he made his way.
But at the back of his mind, he felt compelled to recall the memories of that day. Because he still can’t imagine how they survived an encounter with that four-horned daemon.
Astor remembered its image, a blasphemous scion of the Emperor who was clad in warp-tainted armour of crimson red and ashen grey. Barely human and towered over the forces arrayed against his legion. His twisted smile, even from memory, could make Astor sweat, especially when he recalled how the primarch effortlessly swung his colossal mace and massacred his foes. But the most maddening of all the memories, was the moment Lorgar personally flayed Jocasta alive.
He remembered how she screamed as Price dragged him by the collar away from the conflict. The colonel, who always found something funny in almost any situation, was dead silent. Astor was wounded at the time. A cultist got lucky and blew a cauterized hole through his thigh. He was left with firing his lasgun while lying down as Price was trying to get him to safety.
The rest of the guardsmen were following Price’s action, but retreating to where, Astor did not know.
The Astartes however went in the opposite direction. Bearing the liveries of their proud chapters, they threw everything they had, even their lives, at Lorgar’s legion. Astor hasn’t seen such vitriol or anger in all his life as they shouted all manner of curses at the Word Bearers and at the First Heretic. They emptied their bolters at point blank range, grabbed combat knives or chainswords and hacked with abandon, and the most desperate amongst them, used their own bare hands to tear their foes limb from limb.
He remembered casting one last look at Jocasta’s ravaged corpse before Lorgar swung his massive mace and reduce it to pieces. A squad of Blood Angels then engaged him with Lucius at the lead.
After that Astor remembered nothing but blackness.
It was only after he woke in a med-bay that he was informed of the losses they sustained that day. He grimly accepted the news that barely a third of his and Price’s men were alive and that Lucius didn’t survive his encounter with Lorgar. He was also informed then, of a cycling message that was being broadcasted through the voxes. It was calling for the complete withdrawal of the imperial armies to the last established defensive lines, underneath the very walls of the Imperial Palace itself. There were also standing orders for any Astartes chapters, armoured regiments and titan legions to provide covering fire for the retreat.
“Hostiles at twenty three kilometers and closing.” his vox came to life, snapping him into reality, and he listened intently.
“Guardsmen at your stations. Artillery bombardment will…..” the transmission was interrupted with static. Astor stopped in his tracks to check on his comms to see if the cause was the atmospherics. But before he could even access the comms link, a deep and rumbling voice replaced the static and his blood ran cold.
”Is this how you welcome a son of the Emperor?” it was Lorgar.
“An army in front of me instead of a red velvet carpet, the noise of battlements instead of a choir singing my triumph, and the Annapurna and the Lion’s Gate, closed when they should be opened to welcome me.” he smiled as he felt the fear that exuded from their souls and drank it all in. Its taste was exquisite, making him shiver with bliss.
“How different it would be if Guilliman was in my place? How different it would be if it were the Lion or even the Khan, if he were to return from the Labyrinth?” he continued and laughed, relishing on the fate of his brothers.
“No matter” he said after a while “I will pardon this offense for I am not a conqueror nor am I a war-monger. I am a seeker of the truth and its ambassador.” he paused, for dramatic effect on his part and for the defenders to listen closely.
“Terra is under siege and we are not the only ones marching against its defenses.
Legions of the Undying are laying waste to your cities. The Upstarts are spreading their dogma through the barrel of their railguns. The much hated Eldar and their Dark Kin are manipulating the destiny of our people to suit their ends. While the swarm of the Tyranids and the hordes of the Orkz, care for nothing but carnage and slaughter.”
He paused again but this time, to let the stark reality overwhelm their pitiful minds.
“Unlike them we are different.” he raised his hands to his chest as if they could see him.
“Though yes we marched against you, but we do so for your salvation." he pleaded and laced every syllable with passion and conviction.
“The Gods want nothing more than that and they have sent me to deliver their message” he extended his hands as if to reach out to them.
“Lay down your weapons and join us. Welcome my vanguard, your brothers and sisters that are now marching towards you, help them open the gates, and help them smite down the False-Emperor.
Break your oaths to him who has forsaken you.
Do not throw your lives away so needlessly for a god who is willing to see you annihilated, so that he may live.
Do this and with his death you will be saved. With his death, the Primordial Truth will be realized and you will have earned its absolution.
The Gods reward the faithful and they, unlike him, can give you a life worth living.
You have my word.” he lace syllables again, this time with the essence of promised glory and untold riches and cut off the link with but a thought.
The screams of agony and the shouts of adulation from the millions of prisoners and converts filled his ears after his senses stabilized in real-space. The smell of brimstone, prometium and cooked human flesh followed and he relished in it as if it were perfume. His vision came back last and was afforded with the view of the Imperial Palace, just as he remembered it twenty centuries years ago. It still had the breaches made by Perturabo’s unyielding bombardments, gaping holes caused by Angron’s maddening assaults and siege-marks caused by his own anarchic attacks.
“I think it is foolish to entice them when they are this close to their carrion lord.” said a hulking figure beside him.
He was encased in crimson terminator armour, adorned with eye gouging decorations of his twisted faith and strips of human skin that flapped in the wind. He was Kor Phaeron, Black Cardinal of the Dark Council, and he was looking at the palace with contempt. His face was pallid like that of a corpse at the point of gangrene.
“I don’t agree First Captain” said another on his other side. Unlike the Black Cardinal, the speaker was encased in power armour but was also festooned with the markings of Chaos and the dark words of the Gods on human hides. He was Erebus, Dark Apostle and the Architect of the Horus Heresy. Also unlike Kor Phaeron, Erebus’s face had no skin and his musculature was exposed to the air as it constantly bled. His temple was adorned with a collection of bloody metal spikes.
A palpable tension immediately grew between them and Lorgar could taste its bitter tang.
“How many times do I have to tell you, to never call me by that title?” Kor Phaeron hissed and rounded at the Dark Apostle. Dark magic flared menacingly in his eyes as he made ready his halberd.
“Several times First Captain!” Erebus dared as he matched the threats of his peer while gripping a crozius that matched Lorgar’s personal weapon. Like Kor Phaeron, his eyes too were glowing hot with twenty centuries of harbored hatred.
“Father, let Erebus speak. He was merely teasing you” Lorgar laughed and broke the tension by placing a hand on each of their shoulders. By appearance, the primarch was like the father of the two as he gently restrained them.
They on the other hand, felt their power drained by a degree at his touch and felt his impatience underneath the laughter. Though each one was a Master of the Warp and has garnered several blessings from the pantheon, both knew that Lorgar was now blessed with the Gods’ unwavering favor just like his brother then.
To defy him or even anger him was to invite the wrath of the Gods.
So even when the two harbor jealousy and contempt for not being chosen to lead this last Black Crusade, they have to obey the pantheon’s will. They were faithful servants after all.
Kor Phaeron, realizing this, merely grumbled at Lorgar’s remark but Erebus hid his own gripe and bowed, saying: “We should do as you will lord. Your message may have converted a few, especially if salvation of any kind is offered in their darkest hour.”
“You think so my son?” the primarch mused at Erebus’ sycophantic words and played with his chin. The simple action caused his ancient battle plate to groan and whine as ancient servos and daemonic tendons mimicked his movement.
“Horus didn’t give them such a luxury before. That ended with a siege that lasted almost 2 months.”
“Give them an hour, and then we attack.” Kor Phaeron interjected. “And like you said my son, we are not the only ones who are after the carrion’s head.”
“The Gods are with us” countered Erebus and pointed at the hive cities around that they reduced to sacrificial spires where millions upon millions of civilians were being offered as gifts on altars of bone and obsidian to appease the pantheon.
“With these many sacrifices, I’m sure they will give us the armies that we need.”
“Then why are we just sending a vanguard? Why not our entire host?” the Black Cardinal heatedly argued.
“Patience father, let’s not make the same mistakes that Horus made” replied Lorgar.
Miles from where they were, the heretic army was marching on. It filled the entire width of the eastern defensive line and numbered to almost half a million. Mob after mob of cultists were dressed in makeshift uniforms with eye-gouging decorations as they cradled lasguns or stubbers while thumping their chests to the beat of the war drums. Chaos champions meanwhile towered over the cultists in their ancient power armour imbued with desecrated symbols of the Imperial Creed. They brandished their weapons as they marched and roared defiantly at the defenders arrayed against them. Their war cry was mirrored by the bellows of the metal constructs that were the biggest amongst their ranks. They were called daemon engines, amalgamations of tank chassis and warp beasts that came in all shapes and sizes. Some were six legged killing machines with upper humanoid bodies, insect-like appendages or canine like carapaces. Others were hulking bipedal monstrosities while there were those who flew like wyrms from the ancient mythos of man.
All of them possessed hearts that burned with eons of hatred and hungered for the slaughter to come
All the while, Astor made it to the center of sector 2DF-V. He was a little shaken by the primarch’s message but shook it off once he reached his men. He immediately gave out orders to them and linked up with his officers through his vox.
“Companies and platoons to the parapets!” he shouted. “Prepare yourselves men!”
Not all of them obeyed him at once. Some looked at him as if he were mad. Those that obeyed did so halfheartedly, dragging their boots across the wooden panels and taking their time when they climbed the scaling ladders.
Whatever fire or drive they had before the Lorgar broadcasted that message, it was gone.
Astor saw it on their faces.
“Price, where are the frak are you when I need you!” he needed to say something, anything to get them off their feet.
A guardsman stopped short of the firing step and knelt. He started weeping and Astor saw him. He immediately went to the guardsman and slowly held him up before his men. He dusted off the grit and dirt from the soldier’s uniform and wiped the snot off of his face with the sleeve of his own shirt.
When he was done, Astor grabbed the guardsman’s shoulders and looked him in the eye saying: “Come on, don’t tell me you believe him?”
He then sign-canted his words as he looked at all of them and smiled.
“Don’t tell me you believe the bastard?” He continued while thinking: “Just frak it like Price!”
He then cast them a look, his eyes boring into each and every one of them and threw his fear and caution to the wind.
“About absolution or whatever? They’re all grox-shit if you ask me.”
He turned and looked across no-man’s land.
“We are at death’s door men, there’s no denying it.” he gestured to the cities that were burning and sighed. “It’s all in front of us”
He then faced them and continued “But this is not our first time.”
“We’ve done this before, haven’t we? We’re not some fresh green-asses who can’t fire a frakking gun.” he placed a hand on a guardsman’s shoulder and gently shook him with a smile.
He sign-canted the guardsman the word “translate” and he nodded.
“So what if we are cornered?” he asked while turning to the rest of the men. “So what if the enemies we’re facing are the undead or the bio-killing machines from hell?”
“So what if he’s a primarch?“
He paused and allowed the guardsman to finish his sign-cant but also notice that some of the guardsmen were doing it as well for the hearing impaired.
“We’ve killed daemons several times before right?” he continued and they nodded “So I don’t see why a primarch would be a problem.”
He started walking amongst them and they began to hold on to his every word.
“No matter what this galaxy has thrown at us. We always ate it up and spat it out. We’ve been doing this since frak knows when and we’ve always won. Don’t believe me? Look at the walls!” he pointed at the curtain and they all looked.
“Look at the gashes and the breaches there! They’ve been here before. They came here with legions of heretics, cultists, daemons and space marines who have broken their oaths!”
He turned his back on the wall and started walking towards the firing step as they watched him continue.
“Granted there were also loyal space marines who fought on our side but nine primarchs were leading the attack. Nine! The defenders only had three. “ he said as he faced them again.
“But the guardsmen, the millions of guardsmen that supported our astartes fought on! Guardsmen like you and me!“ he hammered his fist to his chest and they nodded again.
“They didn’t care if the enemy had nine or nine thousand, they stood their ground! And when Horus fell, they chased the traitors all the way back to frakking hell!”
He paused again and only noticed now that the vox-link to his officers was still open. He set it to max volume, hoping they would order their vox-officers to tune in to his link, and continued.
“Now, they’re back, meaner and uglier than before, and brought the rest of the galaxy’s shit with them! But like last time, the Emperor’s guardsmen stand in their way!
We stand in their way men!” he roared and they nodded once more while some readied their lasguns.
“So are we going to just let those frakkers pass!?” the men vigorously shook their heads, others replied with a no but it was faint, some didn’t even reply.
“Oh come on, I think you can do better than that” he shouted in response as he ascended the firing step and walked along the line. The guardsman, who was sign-canting for him, did as well.
“Again! Are we going to just let those frakkers pass?!” he shouted once more and raised his lasgun
“NO!” they finally shouted in unison but he saw there were still a few that didn’t.
“That’s more like it!” he replied and focused his attention at those who were still uncertain and asked.
“Are we just going to give in to the whoreson’s promises?” they shook their head, while the rest of his men shouted with another resounding NO.
“Damn right!” he replied with satisfaction and shouted again “Are we really afraid of just one primarch? When our ancestors faced nine altogether?!””
“NO!” the men, all of them this time, roared defiantly.
“No we’re not!!” he then looked around again and walked to and fro on the firing step. He was looking at each of the faces of his men, the same faces that had a look of defeat moments before but whose eyes were now filled with fire
“Lorgar said that our brothers and sisters are coming.” he lowered his voice a little but was still audible for all to hear. “Should we welcome them with open arms?”
“NO!” they roared, some were raising their weapons like him while others were thumping their chests.
“You bet your asses we won’t!” he then raised his lasgun again and roared “Because we’re going to kill them and make sure that the last thing they see and hear is the wrath of the frakking Imperial Guard!”
Sector 2DF-V exploded with a war cry that echoed across the line.
Regiments near them quickly switch their channels to that of Astor’s men, and were surprised with the chatter of orders and battle-cants of formation. There was no degradation of morale or whispers of desertion. His men were ready to die for the Emperor.
Commanders from across the line and even the command echelon voxed-in on Astor and asked him what happened.
His only reply was: “I just told them to kick and scream”