gothik: Lorgar's far from my favorite Primarch, but I did my best to do him justice.
All: Sorry for the delay - lack of inspiration, lack of time. No guarantees on future updates, but I'll try to speed back up.
Durak Rask looked at the strategic map warily, still impressed by the sheer variety of Martian warfare. Despite his experience, the details of the three-dimensional fighting on the Red Planet was mind-bogglingly complex, and not only to him.
All of which was not to deny that the general shape was quite simple. The Magma City was besieged, and fighting to defend it was ongoing.
Adepts Zeth and Wernitian, the leaders of the Martian priesthood on Horus’s side, stood to Rask’s left, staring at the same map and its vast, but quite clear, variety of symbols. Lgalun, Rask’s chosen second-in-command, was to his right.
“The Mondus Occulum will be almost entirely destroyed by now,” Lgalun observed. “I am not sure how much we will be able to save, at this rate.”
“We will be able to save Kane,” Zeth stated. “Who is the rightful Fabricator-General.”
Wernitian nodded. “He is crucial, at the very least, to avoid conflict over leadership within the Mechanicum in the future.”
“It is decided,” Rask said, and the others fell silent. “We will attempt the rescue. Four Death Guard squads will go. I will lead personally, and Squads Riolasa, Sofev, and Saxeost will accompany me. Aeronautical insertion, plan A-2.”
“That will not be a large amount of knowledge,” Wernitian observed.
“Our objective is Kane,” Rask stated. “Not knowledge.” Wernitian severely frowned, as Rask could tell by the slight motion of his cheek-studs; his mask gave no other sign of emotion. Nevertheless, the adept did not object. He had reason, after all, to be happy that this rescue mission was even happening; Lgalun was correct in the risks, both for the strike force and for the Magma City. The Iron Hands were not yet aware that Rask was here, putting down the few enemy Astartes to defector Iron Hands; and that too would almost certainly change after this flight, inviting a larger attack force against the somewhat ignored stronghold, the evacuation of which was far from complete. “The council,” Rask said, “is adjourned.”
Risk, and sacrifice; but a Space Marine did not run from those. And this was why they were on Mars, anyhow.
Rask called his forces to him, heading towards the Antrekor
, a particularly large gunship attached to the Magma City that would, according to the chosen plan, be Rask’s effective flagship for this flight. Rising on the staircase, he noted the increased din below; albeit it had come at a severe cost in evacuation rate, the Magma City had been bolstered by abundant personnel and materials from Wernitian’s forge, which had fallen three days earlier.
Kane’s Mondus Occulum seemed like it would soon follow, which had caused the council in the first place.
Rask emerged into the hangar and beheld the massive, dark gray gunship for no time at all before focusing on his brothers, which were – one by one – arriving in the large room. Fifty-four Space Marines, with two casualties in Squad Saxeost thanks to a Titan. Riolasa’s squad, many of whom had begun to integrate Martian relics into their armaments. And Sofev and Saxeost, good friends and particularly fierce fighters that nevertheless retained full rationality. They would listen to Rask’s orders, and never tended towards savagery.
Not that Mineceno’s current condition was savagery, per se. Rask didn’t even know how to describe it. And the failure to save his subordinate nagged at him greatly: Mineceno’s path led only to death. More importantly, he had ceased to be useful, even if he remained stoic enough externally.
“Death Guard!” Rask declared. “The centerpiece of our mission is here. We are saving the master of the Mechanicum, Fabricator General Kane, and what else we can from his forge.” He swept his gaze around the assembled Marines. “In the name of Barbarus. Let’s begin.”
They did, gradually, Durak Rask’s own squad following him into the Antrekor
. The others were divided among nine smaller gunships, preparing to fight their way towards Kane’s lair, the only spot of hope in a sea of warring traitors. Soon enough, they took off. Riolasa’s Sanikra Ondatikra
led the loose formation; the Antrekor
brought up the rear.
They followed a winding path, skirting the eastern flanks of Pavonis Mons. From time to time, intact batteries fired at them from below; but so long as they were not bombing anything, many of the machine-spirits simply did not judge it worthwhile to attack the armada. Even they were tired, like so many in the Tharsis region seemed to be; but the Death Guard did not tire. Neither, truth be told, did the Iron Hands, given their recent offensives.
Besides, they had enough power to flatten anything that fired at them without too much difficulty. For now.
Pavonis Mons deviated from the flight path, and then its shallow cone began to recede in the distance. Titan wreckage littered the valley floor below. The factories of Mars kept on producing material, and it kept being spent in those ceaseless battles.
Rask shook off his awe at the tenacity on display. This war of attrition was not one the tech-priests would win. They should have strategized better, perhaps attempted to gain aid from Horus for a single and devastating strike on Terra. Instead, they had left humanity behind and chosen to seek salvation not from themselves, or from another, but from lies. Lies that now led to destruction.
Not that truth always led to creation – Rask recognized that much.
He guided the flotilla towards the approaching slopes of Ascraeus Mons, and was soon greeted by Titan fire. Three machines: a Reaver and two Scout Titans. The Antrekor responded with similar shots, one getting a lucky strike that pushed a Reaver off-balance; before it could recover, the Death Guard were gone, the Warhounds choosing not to follow. Both of Saxeost’s gunships were severely damaged, but the ten kept flying.
They went closer to the ground this time, for fear of orbital bombardment. It did not come. There were some shots from underpowered guns, and –
Rask winced as one of them hit a previous hole in Saxeost’s hull, and then the entire gunship exploded into fire, taking one of Riolasa’s two-seaters with it. Rask could barely watch as the flaming wrecks smashed into the ground. They fell straight onto the – guerilla skitarii, perhaps?
Eleven of his battle-brothers, lost in that one shot. Though significantly more than nine of the Dragon’s servants perished as well.
“They fell unbroken,” Rask said over the vox, “and avenged themselves.” The emplacements were already far behind. He ordered some changes in formation, coordinated with Riolasa, to help prevent this sort of vulnerability with the damaged ship that carried the remnants of Squad Saxeost. If it went from a lucky shot, it would at least not take anything else with it; and the chances of that would be minimized.
They flew along Ascraeus Mons, iron designs on the surfaces below, many mirroring the sky; the sun was nearing dusk. No more shots, only wrecks. They descended, too, from the near-cosmic heights of Tharsis; the Antrekor
’s engine hummed much more delightfully at that.
And in the distance, Mondus Occulum was beginning to be clearly seen. It sat on the edge of the northern plains, where Tharsis met what had been Mars’s polar ocean – had been both billions of years ago, and in the time shortly after terraforming. Now, the only water left was saturated with metallic ions, and flowed for the most part underground.
It stood, a crumbling mountain of its own, and around it siege lines were drawn. Rask ordered another realignment, conversing with Riolasa to get the finer points of the spearhead.
This time, there were sure to be losses. But Rask accepted those; Kane, and the knowledge within his forge, were critical.
Indeed, given that the planned grand evacuation of knowledge had been impossible, Rask suspected that they were their best retrospective reason for coming here in the first place.
There was a shield of static around the forge; communication was unreliable, even at this distance. Riolasa sent several pings to Mondus Occulum, repeating their intent to help the Fabricator-General. No way existed of telling whether they had been received by Kane.
Then, the storm. Rask calmly ordered the gunships to fire back, laying down a streak of death. Saxeost’s squad fell an instant later, as Riolasa pinged Kane more and more furiously. If that void shield stayed up, blocking the Death Guard from entering the forge, they’d have to –
And then, before Rask could finish that thought, space rippled before them and the Sanikra Ondatikra
led the way into Mondus Occulum. It was smoking in a couple of places, but overall completely intact. Sofev’s flagship, with ten Marines, followed.
Fire was concentrating on the Antrekor
now, and Rulvon Atigrarin – the gunship’s current pilot, probably the quickest of Rask’s squad – reported that they’d lost a main gun. Riolasa’s and Sofev’s two-man fighters (all five of them) wove circles, both distracting the gunners below and sending precision strikes back. And then, one by one, the impacts stopped, as the siege lines focused on breaking open the main shields once again.
“Losses?” Riolasa asked through the vox, as the Antrekor
descended towards a large landing strip in the side of Kane’s forge, where the Sanikra Ondatikra
and Sofev’s Coboan
were already resting.
Rask looked at his screens again. “All the fighters survived,” he reported. “Squad Saxeost gone in full. So passes the light of day; so passes the glory of worlds. So pass all things. May you find solace in absence and in memory, my brothers.”
“For you will not be forgotten,” Squads Rask, Riolasa, and Sofev echoed. But there was no time for true remembrance, not now.
They’d need some time for repairs in Kane’s forge; it still looked capable of that much, at least. Rask calmed, even as the Antrekor
became the last gunship to settle into a stop on the landing pad.
And as Rask exited the ship, a man, surrounded by four heavily armed servitors, emerged from the interior.
He was red-cloaked, and his shadowed face was an intricate design of metal interwoven with flesh. His body below seemed fairly close to human, though the metallic tentacles emerging from various ports in his robe demonstrated that he was not completely such. His legs were invisible, but he appeared to have four – two of them entirely mechanical.
“Greetings,” Fabricator-General Kane of the Martian Mechanicum said. “Welcome to the Mondus Occulum. I hope you are here to rescue myself and the associated knowledge?”
“Indeed,” Rask said.
“On whose behalf? The Order would hardly employ Space Marines.”
“Horus Lupercal has risen in rebellion, nine of his Primarch brothers alongside him,” Rask said, and Kane’s face contorted into a crooked, but undoubtedly honest, grin.
“Then there is hope,” Kane said. “I have already sent the command for evacuation.”
Rask nodded. “We will need the gunships repaired –”
“There is no time for that,” Kane observed. “The shield will fall in a matter of minutes. I have uploaded all the knowledge I could manage to my own components; my remaining staff will board the gunships. If I jack into the Antrekor
, I believe in my ability to get out. But the Mondus Occulum – you came in the nick of time, Durak Rask of the Death Guard. It will fall. There can be no more doubt about that.”
Rask was stunned, though he wisely did not stay silent for long. Screaming orders to his squad, as well as Sofev and Riolasa, he set up defenses around the gunships – though the slowest of the Legions, Death Guard still had reflexes far faster than any human. Meanwhile, servitors carried various objects in, and Adepts rushed on board the Antrekor
, Sanikra Ondatikra
, and Coboan
“That’s enough,” Riolasa said five-point-seven minutes after the evacuation commenced. “We cannot afford to lose any more maneuverability from added weight.”
Kane spun around to face the sergeant. “We need to get my people, and my knowledge, out!”
“No,” Rask said. “We won’t get anything out if we get shot down, which remains a distinct possibility.”
“No more time,” Sofev said, glancing at the Marines behind him. “Get on board the Antrekor
, Fabricator-General. The shield is falling.”
“I thought we had two –”
But Kane’s protest at his calculations being wrong was cut off as the shield fell, in the space of a millisecond, and the firepower of the Tenth Legion’s artillery (along with that of some Martian Imperials) slammed into the forge complex proper.
Kane ran into the Antrekor
, getting off a few shots in the besiegers’ general directions with his plasma pistol. The fighters lifted off. All was chaotic, the din of a battle’s closing stages.
And the Death Guard fired back as they slowly and calmly retreated.
If there had been more time, Rask would have had plans. Perhaps he would have gone up to the siege lines, started a close-quarters fight to distract the attackers in a position where their firepower advantage was not critical. But they had what they had, and not all was lost. The Sanikra Ondatikra
, least damaged of the three gunships, took off first.
“We leave simultaneously,” Rask told Sofev, who was holding onto the Coboan
’s side as he fired.
And then the signal, and plastered to the Antrekor
’s side, Durak Rask was in the air. Sofev’s Coboan
rose alongside it, and then they were speeding forward, shields and thrust at max capacity, nearly weaponless. The shield around Durak Rask crackled with pain; he risked sticking his bolter arm out, getting off three shots at Iron Hand commanders (sergeants, he guessed) before he felt the pain in his hand and two more before the bolter fell out of his grip. Rask retracted his numb arm into the shield’s range, watching the siege lines pass below.
Black and gray, in concentric circles, atop red rock and corroded metal.
It took them under ten seconds to pass through the worst of the firestorm; it felt like an eternity. But, still numb from the injury to his right hand, Durak Rask barely recognized being pulled inside the Antrekor
. Or perhaps it was the Martian air, thin and cold at this height? Astartes could survive far, far worse, but harsh conditions made themselves felt, even to a Space Marine.
He regained full awareness quickly enough.
“No more losses?” he clarified.
“Only Mondus Occulum,” grumbled a tech-priest Rask did not know. “Only the best remaining store of knowledge on Mars. Nothing you
Then he convulsed, as if from electric shock, as Kane came out into the main compartment.
“Apologies for my colleague’s rudeness,” the Fabricator-General said, nodding to the bitter Adept. He nodded back, though rather less naturally and less comfortably. “Durak Rask of the Fourteenth Legion, I thank you abundantly for our evacuation. I would heap praise on you for your courage and skill in conducting it, but such compliments would be unnecessary, given how obvious your worth has been.” He turned slightly to the left, and Rask had the distinct feeling some form of social interaction he was missing was taking place here. “I deduce we are headed to the Magma City, and then off-planet somehow?”
“Precisely,” Rask said. “An archaeotech portal. Adepts Wernitian and Zeth are there as well.”
“And they are all that is left of the Martian Mechanicum?”
Rask did not give a clear reply, but that seemed to be enough for the Fabricator-General.
“Well,” Kane concluded, extending his hand with evident sadness, “the Mechanicum will side with Horus Lupercal.” Had Kane preferred the independence of the Order of the Dragon, but known he was incapable of preserving it?
It did not matter. Rask firmly extended his own, wounded hand, and clasped Kane in a somewhat off-balance warrior’s grip.