|Topic Review (Newest First)|
|04-30-17 04:08 PM|
|VulkansNodosaurus||And an approximate map of Terra:|
|04-30-17 04:04 PM|
Omaekra Ysc, Archon of the Kabal of the Warped Kraken, stood at the prow of her gunship and watched Terra burn.
This segment of the mon-keigh homeworld had once been called Batagonya, to the south of the great cities of Hy Brasil. Batagonya’s landscape was likewise urban, to be sure, but it was flatter, designed nearer a rectangular grid with more open spaces, which had the corollary effect of making the terrain windier. The reason was that it was close to being on the opposite side of the world from the mon-keigh Imperial Palace, and thus real estate prices were below planetary average by a factor of ten – though still out of reach for all but the most affluent Imperial citizens. Now, that very distance played in the area’s favor: the area surrounding the Imperial Palace had been razed nearly to bedrock, while here civilians still lived in the great lattice of the Hives. A detail that, not coincidentally, Ysc found convenient as well.
Many of Ysc’s race looked with disdain on learning even such basic cultural details from their opponents, seeing all races other than the eldar – and particularly the true eldar, the people of Comorragh – as beneath them. It was a perspective whose evolution she did not entirely understand. After all, while understanding one’s foes was useful in defeating them, understanding one’s victims was absolutely essential in tormenting them efficiently.
Yet they acted as if the world outside Comorragh was only a Lda’-like banquet, fit to sample from but not worth more study than the time it took to chew its food. And far too many did not even stop to think whether the banquet had been poisoned.
And so Omaekra Ysc was stuck in the Khaine-damned maelstrom that was Terra with the remnants of her Kabal, twelve millennia out of time.
Lady Aurelia Malys of the Kabal of the Poisoned Tongue held Comorragh now – what was left of it. The Dark City was splintered, and frankly starving, not of souls so much as of raw power. Dysjunctions had destroyed most of its stolen suns, and among those who had left to seek independence in their own, separate petty realms, half had likely found themselves unable to get out. Perhaps Ysc could have altered that destiny, perhaps not; but after Kadrel’s betrayal, she and the core of her Kabal had been stranded here, in a time that seemed resolved to not leave any successors.
And, worst of all, she had been forced to kill Kadrel quickly. Her Hierarch’s coup had never stood a chance of success – she’d really thought better of her second-in-command than to launch a silly attempt of that nature – but under the circumstances properly punishing him had been impossible. It had only taken two hours for Kadrel to die – a genuinely massive shame.
A screech of pain from behind brought Ysc back to reality, and she turned and walked towards the gunship’s back, looking for Ureile’s newest victim. The mon-keigh in question was in the process of being slightly modified by the homunculus – it seemed the denizens of this area saw insectoid wings as demonic, which had inspired Ureile magnificently.
“The wings are nonfunctional, I take it?” Ysc asked her ally.
“No, functional, actually,” Ureile said, turning to face the archon. The captured human whimpered, with no idea of what the eldar were speaking of but the certainty it would not benefit her. Ironically, in this case she was wrong. “She is the infection vector. The results… ah, but it would not do for me to spoil them. Suffice it to say Ahrub will be pleased.”
Ysc nodded, though she was far from certain how a viral modification to mon-keigh could please the notoriously cantankerous dracon. Nonetheless, she did not doubt Ureile in the least. Her skills had been well worth the political capital spent in acquiring her services, even including the ire of the Fallen Moon.
(Ysc toyed again with the idea that the Fallen Moon had set Kadrel up somehow, and again she dismissed it. She had almost stayed in power, and even as it was, her counterstroke would make – had made? – the whole plot a net loss for the Fallen Moon. And that was with reputation taken into account.)
“So,” Ureile asked, “where to next, Archon?”
“To a stable position,” Ysc answered. “Attack and retreat… it is our way, but it requires somewhere to retreat to. And one of the mon-keigh I recently… conversed with… happened to mention some tunnels. Tunnels that match legends – and legends that have a basis in fact. And at the foundation of it all, a Webway gate. One broken off from the rest of the realm.”
Ureile’s eyes went wide. “And we are here to wait for reinforcements, because broken off does not mean safe. Did the Golden Trace finally agree to the alliance?”
“Not exactly,” Ysc said, an instant before a circle of blue-and-yellow metal rose out of a side tunnel.
The wind, already tangible, suddenly erupted with gusts of stormy fury. Several of the warriors surrounding Ysc lifted their weapons before she could wave for them to stand down. They were awake – that was good. The weapons might yet be needed.
Still, Ysc waved them to stand down, as the Seer, surrounded by an honor guard of three, jumped off the ramp – when had the door opened? – and nodded to the Archon.
“Please don’t tell me that’s all the forces he has,” Ureile quietly commented.
“No more than you’re confined to one gunship,” the Seer answered. “Farseer Adheyme apologizes for her absence, but certain matters came to a head recently.”
The Seer was clad in the livery of Craftworld Idharae, a minor craftworld known for sage advice more than military strength which had apparently been destroyed at some point in the past twelve millennia. While he was not lost on his present path – his eyes blazed with power, but not the power of a farseer – he clearly bore a high rank (a trait evident in both armor and poise), and given that the Adheyme’s warhost was unlikely to be particularly large, he was quite possibly her second-in-command.
Not an insult, then, despite first appearances. Good. Ysc would hardly be able to control herself if the craftworlders had given her such an opening. (Of course, they knew some of that… how much?)
“Certain matters,” Ysc noted, weighing the strategic situation. “May I speculate if this might be connected to the horde of Blood Axes to our north?”
“It concerns the fact that this horde is gone,” the Seer noted, and Ysc barely controlled her shock. “The servants of decay have secured a stronghold in the center of Hy-Brasil, and they seemed content to defend. Yet something has happened, and they have begun to act as berserkers. The orks have been broken, and if the corrupted choose to move south….”
“My brain has not rotted, I must note,” Ysc snipped in frustration. “Thank you for your most selfless assistance; now, shall we act to ensure we have a defensible position when the fallen mon-keigh do make their move?”
The Seer’s blank helmet remained impassive. Infuriating. But there was nothing Ysc could do about it, and she knew how to control her emotions, rather than repressing them until they exploded in delightful but ruinous madness.
Though they were all in the same place now, were they not? Four paths that the children of Isha had taken after the Fall. And twenty short millennia later, all four had led to fragmentation and the edge of oblivion… yet none had brought those that walked it to their doomsday. Some cultures took strength simply from that fact of survival – some of the eldar, even. Others, and Ysc suspected many of her kabal were among them, took reassurance from the beauty of the pyres that this time brought. And the greatest saw Rhana Dandra’s fiery dawn, and embraced the fact that they stood at the juncture of eternity. They may have had power – but power was nothing if not applied in the right place.
“Homucnulus Ureile has the biochip with the coordinates,” Ysc said to end the tense silence. “Rendezvous at seven-two-seven?”
“Seven-two-eleven,” the Seer stated. “There will be a modicum of interference.” And with a conciliatory gesture but without further explanation, he climbed back into the Falcon.
Ysc waited until the craftworlders were out of view to whirl around and swing the tip of her lash into one of Ureile’s sleeping test subjects, over and over again.
“Archon?” That was Ralax, the dracon that had been below-decks for… some purpose Ysc didn’t bother contemplating. His own anger was almost palpable. “Believe me, the craftworlders will regret their insults.”
Ysc could only respond by shifting her whip and sending an agonic pulse through Ralax’s body, sending the dracon instantaneously to the deck and breathing in his torment. He would be fully recovered soon enough, but hopefully would not forget this.
“They will not,” Ysc said as Ralax writhed below her touch. “We need them no less than they need us – more, in fact. And the most infuriating aspect is that those were not insults. This conversation was below their normal level of insufferability.”
Ysc looked to Ralax for a reply before remembering to wrap the whip back. Gradually, Ralax stopped convulsing and climbed onto all fours. Ureile stood to the side, expressionless. Knowing her, Ysc would not be shocked if she really did want only to return to her experiments.
Around them, gusts screamed. A storm was coming. Or, rather, the storm – with its clouds of smog and its acid rain – was already here, just not yet fully coalesced. The Hive top was not a hospitable place in that time, at least to those who did not make a habit of hiding their every surface from the world below armor and helmets.
Not that Ysc lacked for understanding of why craftworlders and so many alien races made a habit of isolation. Not everyone could enjoy the world as it was. The darkness and pain were what was real; but in enclosed spaces, the semblance of light could be created. Those who searched for and built such phosphorescence had much to say in defense of this path.
Ysc didn’t consider it to be wrong, exactly. But to the brave, the outer abyss could be enjoyable too.
“Issue a signal for all military elements to converge at the mouth of the Silverstreak Gullet,” she said to Ureile when it became clear Ralax would take some time to be functional again.
“All of them?”
“Yes, all.” Ureile looked cautious, likely inferring Ysc’s mood from her treatment of Ralax. An incorrect inference, but an understandable one. “The craftworlders will take all of theirs as well, except those few tied up in the farseer’s mission. If we do not make a show of strength… there is much of our lives the craftworlders do not understand, but the language of betrayal is one they speak.”
Ureile nodded in understanding, as Ysc stepped over Ralax’s prone body. “How long will you be?”
“Until seven-two-six, or until I am needed. And do inform Ralax I intend to give him two mon-keigh as recompense. His incompetence was not quite so severe as to deserve this.” Two slaves would probably outweigh Ralax’s pain, though Ysc was not sure how the dracon himself would weigh such considerations. Regardless, it would send a message – though she did not think anyone of any importance would be foolish enough to risk her wrath on purpose, she preferred her subordinates not to fear doing so accidentally. And if sometimes they did act in infuriating fashion… well, she did not mind reminding them of their place.
Ureile signaled understanding, as Ysc descended below the decks into her quarters. Even with the customized massive gunship that served as her mobile command center, it was hardly a spacious locale. Nonetheless, it was large enough for her purposes.
Pushing aside the skin of Gareth, a mon-keigh who had unfortunately suffered brain death before she was done with him (although his capillaries still beat), she called to Karrie. The slave in question scuttled to her side with the appropriate amount of fear and deference, assisting with changing from ceremonial armor into that fit for war.
Ysc had no reports of hostiles in their target area, but she was hard-pressed to trust that absence of proof.
Until then, though, and with awareness that her play would be cut short, she began her feast. Not that a feast was a valid metaphor, for all that the Thirst did feel like an alimentary need. Sapients’ torment was far more complex than even the subtlest of delicacies (and Ysc had tasted plenty of those).
An eldar could devote her entire life to inflicting physical torment alone; there was enough complexity, and the Thirst cared little for the style of suffering involved. Ysc maintained, however, a preference for subtler ways of torment where possible. So now she merely talked, quietly and pleasantly, listening to Karrie’s anxious replies (in both human and eldar – for though Ysc made a habit of teaching her slaves the supreme language, some concepts were better expressed in their native ones) and enjoyed the waking nightmares her words inspired.
She interrupted the conversation twice, for purposes Karrie knew nothing of – uncertainty had a way of encouraging pain, after all. (Fear was the cruelest emotion of all, except for hope.) In truth it was a matter of adjusting two recent captives who had been uncooperative in more boring ways than her current servant. One, Insele, she had been unable to bend, and had been forced to all but break. The other – Obker – had begun to bend in a fashion enabled by his faith in the human corpse-Emperor. It seemed that even among the mega-oligarchs that called the upper levels of Terra their home, the human religion of weakness could be genuine. Of course, for Obker to see himself as in some ways an echo of his nonsensical god was probably a sign of madness… but his own awareness of that fact made it a less disappointing one.
Karrie was more complex. Her defiance had been subverted by wonder, of all things; the eldar fascinated her, and the awareness of that, along with the knowledge that she was betraying her own race by providing intelligence on them, had created a beautiful confusion. She was entirely pliant now, though no less potent a source of torment.
Ysc kept her around for two reasons. For one, she needed a servant she could trust. But for another, Karrie was a firm reminder that pain and pleasure were not mutually exclusive. It was the great lie whose nature the Great Serpent had exposed that suffering and joy were opposites.
And it was the great truth that the surviving eldar had hung onto that the combination of both ultimately led only to the Enemy’s abyss. If Ysc had possessed Karrie’s current psyche at any point in her life, her soul would long since have been devoured.
The third interruption to their conversation came from above, as a recovered Ralax cautiously reminded her of their impending arrival. “Nothing has gone wrong, Archon,” he added. “We are still on track to arrive at seven-two-seven.”
“If the Seers were indeed wrong,” Ysc responded as she walked onto the deck, “I can hardly say that reassures me.”
Around her, daggers of blood and void carved narrow paths through the lattice of Batagonya’s three-dimensional sprawl. The formation she was now at the head of was composed of five gunships – three of which were recognizable as only slightly modified Ravagers, the other two being hard to ascribe to any single chassis. A few times she caught a glimpse of one of her more distant ships through a gap in the plascrete walls, keeping a parallel course downwards.
And then, a green flash.
It took a split moment for her to recognize it as teleportation from orbit. It took longer for her to recognize who it was. The morphing biology of the newcomers was not one she immediately recognized, for their forms – deathly pale, with veins of orange-tinted blood – changed even as they landed on her ship.
But as they rose into battleform, Ysc realized they were thexians. An amorphous race capable of changing their own shape, characterized by cunning and a preference for trade over fighting, they were nonetheless known as horrifying if enigmatic warriors. Notably, they refused to serve as mercenaries for Comorragh.
There was perhaps an instant where they could have stood down, where negotiation was possible. But the thexians did not take this opportunity, and so Ysc lashed her whip at the frontmost of them, driving the weapon into combat mode, and then the deck was filled with fire.
The thexian Ysc had targeted charged at her, seemingly unaffected by her stroke – but Ysc saw it was refusing to morph any further, indicating that it was indeed in pain. They merely retained basic battleform, the shape of a typical quadraped with six arms holding weapons extending out of the center of their face. Peripherally, Ysc saw the other four thexians on her ship charging her crew, saw similar fighting on the other gunships – but most of the thexians had apparently teleported between the ships, and those were making no effort to aid their comrades, instead running in a direction perpendicular to that towards the Webway gate.
Ysc twisted the whip even as she leapt aside from her charging foe, flicking it downwards to tangle their feet. For a moment the thexian was free of pain, a moment long enough to reverse direction towards Ysc by changing the relative lengths of their legs but not long enough to consciously consider the implications of that modification given the fight’s context.
And then their legs were fusing together, the inability to concentrate due to the whip turning their morph uncontrollable. Their face became an image of determination, and even as Ysc danced to their side she was worried they would push through the pain in time – but their legs were only beginning to grow back into equilibrium as Ysc slammed the inhibitor to their side, prompting an immediate collapse into restform.
The archon whirled around, looking for the next fight – but there was no next fight. The thexians were running away, vehicles and all, save for the few that Ysc’s subordinates had managed to capture.
“An impressive capture, Archon,” Ureile said, walking up to her commander. “Mine slipped away, unfortunately.”
“Buy one from some sybarite; Vileth knows we’ve captured enough,” Ysc answered in exasperation to Ureile’s unstated query. “This one will remain mine.”
The thexian under discussion stirred, now forced into a humanoid shape resembling an albino mon-keigh with a slightly uglier, proboscis-dominated face.
“We’ll have to deal with the rest of them eventually,” Ysc said after a brief pause, “but for now the Webway gate and associated objectives take priority.”
“All wrong…” the thexian lying at her feet muttered.
“What was that, slave?”
“Listen,” they said, convulsing as the inhibitor forced unconsciousness upon them. “Just listen once, before you inflict your sadism on me… before I forget…. This is all wrong. Chaos should have been tilted towards war, as the galaxy ends. But Nurgle has been robbed, robbed by the only soul to stand against Chaos, robbed by the only soul more monstrous than Chaos. It was inevitable, but Annihilation did not know. And because of that the end that was written is no more. Because – you must tell the general of ash this – the end is not in the fifty-first… of the human millennia. No, the end… is now.”
The thexian’s words trailed off, as it faded into sleep once more. Were thexians capable of psychic talent? Ysc was frustrated, greatly, by not knowing the answer, though the implication from what was before her was clear enough.
“An attempt to distract its future tormentor, surely,” Ureile offered.
“No,” Ysc said, with utter certainty. “We know better than to ignore prophecy and destiny.” She paused, taking in the vista – gunship daggers scattered among gray and black tunnels below burning artificial mountains, far above which there raged a storm and something far beyond storms.
“Especially,” Ysc added, “in this millennium… no, in time broken.”
The Emperor’s Inquisitorial fleet flew, impossibly, through the unfathomable energies of the Eye of Terror, on a course for the accursed fortress world of Medrengard. And at its center flew the golden flagship of not only that fleet, but of the entire Imperium – the Emperor’s Saber.
Inquisitor Forson Graves was honored beyond description to even be onboard this ship, no matter that the Vindicatus Maximus had to be left in his subordinates’ hands. Under other circumstances he would have spent his free time on his god’s battlecruiser admiring the elaborate sculptures and meditating on purity.
But these were not normal circumstances, and so the Inquisitor opened the door, mentally promised penance for the sacrilege he was from a certain point of view committing, and greeted the prodigal son of divinity.
“Lord Mortarion,” he said.
“Inquisitor Graves,” the Primarch replied.
The Emperor’s traitorous son was dressed in a robe, his armor not immediately visible. His scythe – Graves could not claim to know whether it was the legendary Silence – was, by contrast, clearly visible, leaning against one of the cell’s walls.
Of course, calling it a cell was hardly accurate. Mortarion was not truly confined to his apartments. Graves did not doubt the Emperor’s wisdom –
But he could not bring himself to transfer that trust to Mortarion.
Yet in this moment, faced with the grim face of the Fourteenth Primarch, Graves found himself lost for words. The Primarch’s majesty was, after all, not in doubt. It was an aura of quiet efficiency, dark memories, and unflagging will.
“I….” Graves could not focus quite quickly enough to not make a fool out of himself, and as such he was rather glad there were no direct witnesses to this. But he could focus quickly enough to say what he had to say. “I suppose I only have one question. Why should I trust you?”
“Do you not trust the one who heads this vessel?” Mortarion motioned Graves to sit opposite him, sipping a cup of something that vaguely resembled tea. “I would offer you a cup, but it would burn you alive.”
“I would hardly drink it anyway,” Graves frankly answered. “And after twenty millennia of war against everything the Emperor has built… trusting Him hardly implies trusting you.”
“No,” Mortarion admitted. “But you do not claim mere trust, do you? You claim faith. You claim that your god cannot err… and thus cannot have erred in bringing me here.”
“Yet He has not forgiven you. And neither have I.”
There seemed a long pause, as Mortarion took several short sips of whatever concoction he was drinking.
“I have not forgiven him either,” he eventually said. “For the lies he built the Imperium on – the first of which was that victory need not bring damnation. But what would my forgiveness be worth?”
That was such a stunning non sequitir that Graves could find no reply before the Primarch continued after a small, somehow dignified hiccup.
“And my gratitude… which is far greater than my hate… that is perhaps worth little as well. But what matters is that I shall fight by his side, and he will fight alongside me. If it is betrayal you fear, nothing I could say is capable of reassuring you. But if it explanation that you seek, that is simple enough. The Emperor has given me purpose. Nurgle, like all Chaos, opposes purpose of any sort. It represents endings – not always endings through death, but always endings without return. The Child-Emperor has lit a path out – and even if it is not a real path, at least I will be walking in the right direction. For dreams, if not for any specific dream: he who destroys merely for the now is only a butcher.”
“The Child-Emperor? You do not acknowledge him as the Emperor?”
“I am not certain as to whether to consider a reincarnation the same person. And I do not have proof that he is the reincarnation of my father.” Another stilted sip. “Though you do not speak of proof, do you? You speak of faith. You came here not because of me, but because of yourself. Because you do not believe that bringing me was wise, but your faith will not allow you to admit the possibility that it was a mistake.”
“My faith is strong.”
Mortarion shrugged, as if Graves was as far beneath him as an insect. The Inquisitor was not so arrogant as to deny that might have been true. He stubbornly refused to consider the possibility of a chink in his faith, however, in the fear that this would make the heresy true – not that it did not seep into his subconscious anyhow. “I will not contest your denial. Yet we are allies now, for better or worse. Impossible… impossible a million times over. There will be a counterstroke, for what he has done in even beginning to save me. Not a counterstroke against him, nor necessarily a counterstroke by Chaos… but the Warp is disturbed, and realspace through it. For me.”
Not because of me, but because of yourself.
And Graves knew, suddenly, that his fear of Mortarion had been misplaced. That the Primarch, though far above him, was in no way a threat to the Emperor. Because the Emperor would never have done this – would never have, in such a confrontation, talked of himself rather than of fate.
Mortarion had needed to talk of his own insecurities, his own doubts. He was in much the same place as Graves himself, doubting – though he would no more admit as much as Graves himself – that his rescue had been worthwhile.
And, remarking to himself on the bizarre nature of it all, the Inquisitor lay a hand on the hand (it would’ve been the shoulder if he could’ve reached it) of the Emperor’s prodigal son.
“Have faith,” he said to the Primarch. “You are capable of it once more, after all. We face a myriad of impossible tasks now, yes, and your redemption is one of them. But such is ever the fate of heroes.”
|04-30-17 03:54 PM|
It was a time of war, and that saddened Arragen Sarovus; and the fact that the war was a necessary one did not make him feel any better about approving it. He had started the Cult of Eternity precisely to avoid death, after all; and war was better than anything else at bringing death.
But there was no other way, not anymore. He should have known that Governor Vishisp would choose death before life, and that his doom would inspire others to fight. And even Sarovus’ and his allies’ powers were insufficient to win the conflict quickly. Not that ‘quickly’ mattered, but ‘painlessly’ was not an option either.
“The battle in Lenia is the crucial one,” Lusso stated with all the certainty she could muster, for what had to be at least the tenth time.
“But we literally can’t gain any ground there!” Vort near-screamed. “Upper Lenia is a fortress we’ll never breach!”
It was a time of war, and part of what saddened Sarovus about it was that it had made the Heptad degenerate into a group of squabbling children. The Qusson twins were away on the western front, where they had put the Cult of Eternity on the brink of winning the war. Unfortunately, the five of them (or four, rather, since Rtani made no claim to being a military strategist) that had remained here were apparently incapable of coming to a decision.
“We need the Khorneates or Slaaneshis,” Shlugde repeated. “Without them, either Lenia or Parolia will fall, and possibly both if we keep dithering.”
“And that I cannot condone,” Sarovus finished, “because the Khorneates are the opposite of everything we’re fighting for. I’d rather deal with the Tzeentchis. And the Slaaneshis, I will remind you, were crushed a decade ago, and still haven’t recovered to a coherent cult, and any Slaaneshi conspiracy has left no sign whatsoever for us, their best potential allies, to find. No, we’re on our own for the foreseeable future, friends.”
“How about we stop arguing,” Vort said with a sigh, “and glare at the map some more? Maybe pray to the Grandfather a little for strategic advice?”
They did that. Not that it would help much, but they did that.
Sarovus stared at the map. In truth, neither Lenia nor Parolia were critical. His mind wandered. Pray for a little strategic advice…. But Nurgle wasn’t a strategist, primarily. That would be Tzeentch. Nurgle was purely defensive, as Khorne was purely offensive, as Slaanesh defied intelligence entirely.
Defensive. Of course.
They’d been thinking about the utility of breakthroughs, which was about the same in both cities. But the flip side was the impact of a total loss. Even if every cultist and every infectious agent in Parolia died, the PDF and Guard wouldn’t actually be able to advance much further without running into the Est Morass. But if Lenia ended in disaster….
He hadn’t seen it, before, because it was such a low-probability event; precisely the right sequence of streets for the Planetary Defense Forces to take, precisely the wrong direction of retreat for Maragon’s forces, and precisely perfect luck for the PDF in the battle around Coled Highway. Except the second had already happened, and the PDF commanders were clearly aware of the first, and succeeding in that too.
And if that happened, then not only would Lenia be crushed, but the Imperials would have an open road to cancelling the Spell of Nightmares, which they would assuredly do; if not the PDF, then their Guard reinforcements. And after that, suddenly the Cult wouldn’t be the favorites to win the war anymore; and in any case it would drag on for years more.
Assuming, of course, that the galaxy didn’t end by then. But that was a worry for other days.
“Lenia,” Sarovus said. “We’re far too close to catastrophe there, and Parolia doesn’t matter.”
“What?” Vort asked, shocked.
Sarovus explained. “If the Imperium goes south and then west, then blows up Coled and spills us westward, they’ll have gotten to the portal, and if they destroy the portal – and they can certainly get a psyker strong enough to do that, we aren’t that high-level – then Nightmares is lost.”
“Maragon’s an idiot,” Vort commented as the reality began to sink through, “isn’t he?”
Even Lusso chose not to elaborate on her triumph – she hadn’t seen this either, not fully. Shlugde seemed unaffected. “Total disaster can happen anywhere,” she calmly stated.
“Disaster can,” Lusso replied. “Lose-the-war levels of catastrophe? If the Guard can get to the portal before us, they not only get this command center – as they do anyhow if Lenia falls – but also Nightmares, and then the ability – Garden, the ability to untangle the other spells.”
Shlugde groaned, but in resignation more than frustration. “I still doubt that’s likely. But… you’re right that we need to avoid the risk. We agree Lenia must be reinforced?”
There were quiet nods in response.
“Then,” Shlugde continued, “I insist a member of the Heptad lead the operation.”
“Sensible,” Vort accepted.
“It must be me, then,” Sarovus said before he realized it. He continued speaking nevertheless. “I know the most about the portal’s power of us all, except for Rtani; and she will not fight.” He, by contrast, already had, though he had not been in field command since Anle.
“Losing you would – ” Lusso began, then stopped. “No, you’re completely right. We cannot afford to act as if you are a symbol to be protected.” The pustules that spilled like tears below her eyes emitted a brief bioluminescent flash at that; Lusso could not cry after the changes eternity’s touch had wrought on her. She had done so far too much before, as the scared girl Sarovus still remembered.
They had been at the same schola – one for those who were gifted, but not so intelligent to actually spend effort on teaching them. Lusso (she’d never had a first – or was that last? – name) had been two grades below him, having been a bullying victim earlier in life. She knew the school’s corners well, and climbing between floors had – with Olla Psallei, her best friend – had accidentally found Sarovus and Rtani at one of their first rituals.
They’d almost run in terror. But curiosity had beaten back disgust, and after that it was the four of them learning Nurgle’s first principles together, leading to occasional harem jokes from Sarovus’s male friends – those who did not know. Some of which still did not believe. They had grown further apart since the Cult had begun, heading separate chapters, but Sarovus still remembered Lusso’s face as she held Psallei’s body, mangled by the Governor’s guards, her tears glowing hot enough to induce rad-sickness in those soldiers.
Lusso had been there at the start; and Arragen Sarovus would do anything possible to make sure that, unlike Olla, she would be there forever. For Rtani Kabrenavs’s survival, of course, he would do considerably more than anything.
And for Nurgle’s eternal blessing to greet all of their world before the vague doom that none of them quite understood the nature of but that all of them could see was disturbingly close… for that, Sarovus was ready even to kill.
The quartet bid each other farewell, and Sarovus walked from the conference room upward through the bunker. The walls, once simple basalt, writhed with vines and microbial mats in ever-accelerating evolution.
That was part of what Nurgle represented, but at once a simplification and a refinement. Not a correct refinement, of course. Many cultists that Sarovus had in his rise folded into the Cult of Eternity held their own, private interpretations of the Grandfather. So long as those interpretations remained private, Sarovus allowed them; they had come to Nurgle for personal reasons, and if they did not see the bigger picture, they at least struggled to perpetuate it.
Sarovus had, of course, also found the truth from a personal basis. From the basis of the woman (then still a girl) that he loved, whose immune system had been weak since birth from the Grandfather’s distant touch, who was always said to be a month away from death.
Death would never find Rtani Kabrenavs, not anymore; and as Arragen Sarovus said the appropriate chants as he entered her room, he was struck again by the absolute nature of Nurgle’s blessing.
Rtani’s body was woven into a throne of fungal threads, a complex tapestry that made it difficult to tell where human ended and fungus began. In truth, there was no fundamental distinction. Rtani’s mind would survive even if her human body was entirely destroyed, now.
That body seemed overgrown with sores to the point that one could not see even a millimeter of unblemished skin exposed, with patched-together clothes soaked in blood and pus; disgusting, in some. Sarovus looked better to a pure human eye, he knew; his marks were arranged in somewhat artistic patterns. But his role was demagogue, where Rtani’s was oracle.
Besides, it had never been her body he had fallen in love with, but her mind; and that was sharper than ever.
“Rtani?” he asked. “You heard our discussion?”
“Of course,” she said, in that voice of creeping darkness that she now owned, as well as a painful-to-hear cough. “You know full well how much I hear… even if Shlugde does not believe it.”
That surprised Sarovus. “Is she becoming disloyal?!”
“No, merely skeptical to a fault, as ever.”
Sarovus nodded. Shlugde had been a historian, who had never truly believed in the Emperor and in time became hunted for that. Desperate, she had prayed to a god she did not then believe existed. Sarovus still doubted she entirely did.
But then… when he had turned to the occult in the desire to save Rtani and as many others as he could, it had not been out of faith in the way the Imperium defined with. If the Cult of Eternity served Nurgle, they served him in two ways – as a panentheistic principle of life, and as a lord who gave his vassals boons. They did not believe in him as the Imperials did, as a god for whose person to lay down their lives without expecting a reward. None of the Gods of Chaos required such devotion.
They did require other sacrifices; but Sarovus had no misconception that the galaxy, or even the planet, could be cured (or rather infected, with an end to disorder) without suffering. And every one of their sacrifices was still alive, even if some foolishly wished not to be.
“So….” Sarovus had never been good with goodbyes. In time, Rtani had assured him, he would not need to say them; she would spread her threads through the entire world, and Sarovus would be with her wherever he went. But these goodbyes were not final, at least.
“Good luck at Lenia, Arry,” Rtani said with what Sarovus thought was a smile, though it was difficult to tell. “You will return, no matter what we have to do to your soul… but please, do ensure you return in body as well.”
“Of course I’ll return,” Sarovus said. “And you should remember safety as well… we are nowhere fully secure.”
“Believe me, I know,” Rtani said, as some of her fungal threads dislodged themselves from the wall and circled Sarovus. To an unaltered human, they would given time be fatal. To the leader of the Cult of Eternity, they were merely something to embrace.
“I love you,” Sarovus whispered as the threads curled around him in a vague imitation of a cocoon.
“And I you,” Rtani said. “Forever.”
They stood there for several slow heartbeats, as the darkness of the room around them seemed to deepen, as the smell of fortunate decay swirled in eddies of vindicated faith. As spores, twinkling in the light filtering in from beyond the chamber’s door, floated in the expectation of human bodies to seed.
They had stepped onto the path of Chaos, a lifetime ago, because it was proscribed and Sarovus had already known Imperial medicine would not save Rtani. They had named Nurgle as their god, when they had dragged his name out of the most forbidden of books, not only out of practicality and symbolism, but also to ascend towards – not death, not change which was as good as death by another name. And not mindless pleasure, of course.
To ascend towards… not this, not exactly. But this was a step on the trail of truth.
“Arry,” Rtani said, “I do have intelligence related to the war. Not urgent, but significant. Firstly… Nurgle seems unhappy, his substorms seemingly retreating – not in power, but in mood.” Sarovus had no idea what that meant, and said so. “Though it’s certainly concerning.”
“Less concerning than the other matter. Do you remember the ancient history of our world?”
“As if the schola instructors could ever let me forget it,” Sarovus answered. “Or Shlugde, for that matter, even if really those instructors continue their respective drones in my mind…. Something to fix, before our immortality becomes immutability. Either the memory or the distaste of it.” He flexed his arms as he recognized the tangent he’d embarked on. “Yes, I remember. Everyone here remembers. Even if no one off-world does.”
“They didn’t,” Rtani said. “They had almost forgotten, and recently they have had an especially large amount of other things to worry about, as a million gamblers find they have only a few more hands to play. But it seems that news of our… ahem… ‘defilement of the Emperor-given natural order’ has found someone who remembers, and she is rallying a relief force. Even if they do not know what they’re getting into.”
“As I said, we have time; but I’m afraid it’s true, though it does not imply a necessary defeat. The Sisters of Battle are returning to Dimmamar, in the name of the memory of the dust of Sebastian Thor.”
Tokugawa Minobu watched the Emperor’s ships dance before the Cadian Gate with practiced eyes. It was a battle for the soul of the Imperium, a battle of faith’s eternal shield against the naïve followers of a charismatic liar.
And it was a battle the loyalists were losing. The White Scars’ assault had been blunted by the Dark Angels, assisted by far too many of their descendants. Then the Raven Guard had struck the Coalition’s fleet from behind. Tokugawa was not sure how they hadn’t noticed Kegavpir’s fleet, but then the Raven Guard had a way of going unnoticed.
The Raven Guard’s decision had been a heavy blow; that left only six Chapters of the First Founding as servants of the true Emperor, after the Iron Hands had declared for… whatever the Neomnissiah was.
But even with the Raven Guard, the Child-Emperor couldn’t have many more forces than he had brought here. He had abandoned the Imperium, not only Terra itself, to the mercy of daemons and xenos, all for this. And his fleet was surely out of tricks.
“Battlegroup Subedai,” he ordered to the White Scars and those ships that had joined them in the charge, “skim the battlefront. Probing attacks. Buy the fleet time to regroup, and try to keep as much of your fleet together as possible.” Reogranization was simply necessary by now.
That said, though they were severely outgunned, the Coalition’s fleet had two advantages over their opponents. One was that they had unity of command, whereas with the Child-Emperor gone, the false Imperium’s fleet would have a dubious command structure. The overall commander was Kegavpir, the Raven Guard’s Chapter Master – Tokugawa saw his hand in the maneuvers against them. Bolesath, to preserve unity of command, was likely in the Eye. So if Kegavpir could be taken out, his fleet would be in disarray.
The other advantage Tokugawa had was that while the Inquisition-led fleet had more firepower, his had more Astartes.
The dotted lines that formed the Coalition’s fleet criss-crossed Tokugawa’s vid-screens in an intricate web. Slowly, over the course of hours, the pieces of his fleet that had been scattered by the Raven Guard attack came back together, forming a defensive formation. The White Scars peeled back from their duty as screen and distraction, and Tokugawa was ashamed to see how many White Scars had fallen already. Subedai was not laughing on his comms, now – indeed he wasn’t answering his comms at all, a subordinate taking over after an explosion on his flagship’s bridge had wounded the khan.
But the White Scars had not kept the Inquisition fleet (not that there were many Inquisition ships left in that fleet) busy for nothing. In a single, grand sweeping motion, thousands of trajectories changed, and fell onto the Raven Guard fleet from all sides, suddenly cutting their lines into shreds. Boarding torpedoes, many of them colored Blood Angel scarlet, slammed into the Shadow of the Inner Gates, even as the walls of starships began to part once again, before the Raven Guard could fully react. An earlier retreat than was strictly necessary, but Tokugawa was at the moment more concerned with quantifying the damage to his fleet.
That damage was far more extensive than Tokugawa had expected. Nearly half the ships were carrying significant damage… of course, the traitor fleet was nursing severe wounds of its own.
“Chapter Master!” came the voice of Admiral Minamoto Heida, moments before Tokugawa’s second-in-command entered Tokugawa’s throne room in body.
“Brother-Admiral Minamoto,” Tokugawa said. “Any particular reason for the distraction?” The words were said without malice – for one, Minamoto would not have interrupted him without one.
“It’s the Eye,” Minamoto said without preamble. “My lord… it’s not visible on the sensors, but….”
“I’ll go to the bridge,” Tokugawa accepted. He always found that a large action such as this was easier to manage from the strategium’s solitude, but adaptability in all its forms was essential to war.
The walk was short, but Tokugawa could well feel the Kami Saiban slightly shaking with several impacts as he made it. He felt the pain of the barrage against his beloved flagship, but he gave no outward sign of his fury. It was not as if it was much stronger now than for all that the enemy had done before – for Terra aflame, the Imperium in disorder, and the Emperor betrayed.
But there was still an additional pang of melancholy fury for one additional betrayal, one that Tokugawa had been forced to make himself.
The hell of the Dark Gods would be too kind for Bolesath. No matter how dire the Void Stalkers’ relationship with their progenitor chapter had always been, for leading the First Legion out of the Emperor’s light, no fate would be horrible enough. And while now he took no joy in destroying those who should have been his allies, he would be only too happy to meet the Chapter Master of the Dark Angels in battle.
And then Tokugawa emerged onto the bridge, and any thoughts of enjoying battle were pushed far from his mind.
Before him, a series of narrow viewports showed dancing lights. Multicolored, of course, and many of them fading into the darkness of the void – but identifiable as human ships nevertheless. Between them, ordnance flew, though that much Tokugawa could infer by dim muzzle flashes only because of a lifetime spent leading fleet warfare. In between, pinpricks of nuclear fire.
And to – in the current orientation of the Kami Saiban – the lower right of it all, a tortured miasma painful to look at, the signature of the enemy of all mankind. The Eye of Terror.
And the Eye was weeping.
Great globs of nightmare gathered on its edge, where the cut of the Cadian Gate speared the blight, and one by one – over a timescale of minutes, Tokugawa guessed – came loose from the great Warp Storm, and flew into the center of the battle, directed by… well, who knew? Perhaps it was the will of Chaos, perhaps merely coincidence.
But that the Eye was weeping at all… that, certainly, was no coincidence. There was no such thing, where the Archenemy was concerned.
“What happened if one of those hits a ship?” Tokugawa asked without particularly wanting to hear the answer.
“No one has dared to risk finding out,” Minamoto said. “Frankly, I’d rather die.”
“The correct decision,” Tokugawa mused, contemplating the scene. “Of course, if we win this battle, the Inquisition will claim it proves that Chaos supported us.”
Minamoto scowled as he recognized that fact. “But what should that imply for our actions, my lord?”
Tokugawa did not reply, instead staring – not deeper, exactly, for that was a fool’s course of action when so near the Eye, but rather broader, widening his peripheral vision – at the battlescape. The rain – the Eye’s tears – was accelerating. Slowly, of course, but one by one, more and more miniature Warp Storms were separating from the great blight’s bulk.
It really did look like tears. But to the ships of both clashing fleets, it was more of a hailstorm… perhaps a hailstorm of solid hydrogen, so cold it could trouble even Astartes and sharp enough to do more than trouble.
Only even solid hydrogen was innocuous, compared to what these fragments represented. Whoever won this battle would, ironically, lose the respect of the Imperial elite (what remained of it) as a result. But they would also have a dominant military position. And with as many casualties as Tokugawa’s fleet had already experienced, he could not afford to risk feigning a defeat – a course he might perhaps have considered, otherwise.
“We will only lose ourselves in seeking to play on the Archenemy’s board,” he eventually said, to himself, before turning to face the bridge crew of the Kami Saiban and opening communications to the whole fleet. The faces of Astarte captains and even Chapter Masters came online, many weary, some wounded. All determined. They had all come here, trusted him, followed him to the maw of hell. And if they did not venture into it… well, the tip of the Archenemy’s nose was still far from a safe place to sit. Any Cadian could and would say as much.
They had trusted him to take them this far, had suffered severe losses in achieving this position, all to end the threat of the false Emperor (if not the pretender’s own life), because Astartes feared failure more than death.
And it was failure he now had to inform them of.
“We cannot fight in this environment,” Tokugawa said, gesturing to the Warp phenomena behind him. “I am issuing a controlled retreat.”
A chorus of shocked, but vague, denial rose up from most of the Astartes. Althevis of the Blood Angels was the first to give a coherent reply. “High Admiral, the boarding crews are successful. The Shadow of the Inner Gates is crippled, as planned!”
“We can still win this battle,” Aturai Khan, Subedai’s second-in-command, added.
“We can,” Tokugawa admitted. “And this victory may be worth our lives. But it is not worth our souls, and if we fight here now it is the Archenemy that will emerge triumphant. Retrieve the boarders, and let the child-Emperor’s forces have Cadia… the war will continue.”
It took minutes for the last of the Astarte lords (Uvavald Firebeard of the Space Wolves, unsurprisingly) to respond in the affirmative, but the assent came nevertheless. The Astartes of the Coalition understood the value of caution – at least those who had lived long enough to take command did.
They switched comms off, one by one, as Tokugawa ordered vectors of retreat. The Inquisition’s allies remained disorganized, and the few ships that attempted pursuits were rapidly blasted into shrapnel.
It was nine and a half hours after he had ordered the retreat, with that plan having solidly progressed, that Tokugawa Minobu saw a grinning Uvavald Firebeard reconnect to the bridge of his flagship.
“Tokugawa, you – ” and the Space Wolf gave out a massive guffaw. “You brilliant bastard.”
“You’re welcome,” Tokugawa said, allowing a tiny smile of his own. “And we can speak openly now. Even if they hear us now, it’s too late for them.”
“Guessed as much,” Uvavald grunted. “So am I the last to realize we’re setting up a blockade?”
“The first, actually.”
“Huh.” After a moment, Uvavald gave a nod. “Well, let’s make sure they don’t get off Cadia, then. Not that it would be easy even without any of us here. For the Allfather!”
“For the Emperor,” Tokugawa replied before turning the link off and taking a deep breath.
And trying to put the image out of his mind – for he knew, deep in his esophagus, that it was no metaphor, that the Eye of Terror really was weeping.
But for whom?
|04-30-17 03:47 PM|
A/N: So I wrote the first half of this addition about two and a half years ago; recently decided to finish it, because why not. Hopefully this thread returns to life… hopefully this site does. Until then, post 1/3:
The battle of Terra raged on, in desperate fury, into its seventh month. An engagement this long was impossible by all laws of war. Oh, to be sure, campaigns on a single world could last decades; wars between worlds could stretch for millennia. But a battle, with enemy bodies lying on top of each other across the surface of the planet, without any real respite for the exhausted troops, simply could not last that long. Everyone would be dead within a fortnight.
But this was no ordinary battle. This was the final battle for the central planet in the galaxy. And it was a battle to whom, against their will, more and more ships traveling in the Warp across galactic history found themselves drawn like an apple to ground.
Space Marines, Imperial Guard, Inquisition and Mechanicum forces, various human alliances from outside the Imperium, the Astartes, cultists, and daemons of Chaos, Craftworld Eldar, Harlequins, Dark Eldar, Orks, Tyranids, the various species of the Tau empires, the Necron dynasties, Rak’Gol, Barghesi, K’nib, Dracolith, Noisome Reek, Draxians, Q’orl, Thexians, Loxatl, even species long extinct such as the Slaugth, Zoats, and Jorgall – all found themselves drawn to this fated conflict. The Hrud alone seemed to be immune, but their absence was little-noted, for there was no time to contemplate such things in the slaughter.
The battle raged on, both fulcrum and distraction, between future and past, on the crust of all destinies’ plane. And outside it, a galaxy rang with countless echoes.
The light had gone out long ago; and now, all things fought to ensure they would survive to see it ignite again.
If not all, then most would fail.
Such, Mortarion supposed, was ever the fate of tyrants.
He sat on a throne of mutated bone, looking down on the Plague Planet in disgust, alone – always alone – in this age of dusk. The world was as Barbarus had been before the coming of the Emperor; but where once Mortarion had been the liberator, now he was the oppressor.
Magnus had told him that the Emperor had returned, reincarnated into a new mortal shell. But Magnus was a servant of the greatest liar in the universe, or had been, at least.
Magnus – once Mortarion’s greatest foe among his brothers, now the last whom he could call a friend. In the service of Chaos, after all, sorcery was somewhat unavoidable. The Crimson King’s soul was still bound to Tzeentch, but that was insufficient to allow the Changer of Ways to control it. It wasn’t enough to control any of the Daemon-Primarchs, not really. That was why they weren’t the ones to lead the dark crusades: they were too weak to be triumphant, but too powerful to be trustworthy. Lorgar Aurelian alone was truly devoted to Chaos; he had never pledged himself to a single god, and thus saw things differently.
But Mortarion was only capable of hate and pity, both for himself and for the universe around him (and for his patron, hate alone, distilled ever since that bastard Typhon broke his Legion). Because despite eternity, weakness and failure had become the only constants. Because….
“Because everything ends,” Mortarion said aloud, aware of a new presence in his mountaintop gazebo. One too strong for even his home to devour.
“And yet something endures,” replied the Emperor of Mankind.
He was in a child’s body, and his aura was not quite right; but he was, at the very least, not of Chaos. Mortarion suspected Magnus knew exactly who this being was, but not being a psyker, he could only hope. And Daemon Princes of Nurgle tended not to hope.
“What have you come here for, then, if you have not despaired?” Mortarion asked.
“To bring you back,” the Child-Emperor said, as his golden aura burned brighter. “I offer you the chance to fight for justice once again.”
Hope, hope which his daemonic body was physically incapable of; so Mortarion could only come to the conclusion that the Emperor was lying. Mortarion was by this point no asset, having failed even at controlling his own Legion.
“I know,” the Child-Emperor said, “that some of your own sons have betrayed you. So tell me – would you stop at anything to bring them back?”
And hope, once more, brighter, as the Emperor’s solar flame flared, as truth settled in. He was burning away, Mortarion felt, diseases and ethereal flesh alike vanishing, and he knew that this was a fine way for all of it to end. With hope before hate, and love before fear, for once. His ‘father’ on Barbarus had not felt any sort of peace at his own doom, but Mortarion, for all his imitation, had never been quite the same. Not even as darkness’ soul.
Except that this was not the end. Because, as so much of Mortarion had died, replaced by mere entropy, now through that same Warp he was reforged.
No daemon, not anymore; his Primarch’s body re-emerged from the flames, the corruption blown away. He stood once more, holding a pure Manreaper, the daemon-gazebo around him crumbling into dust.
“Your soul is still Nurgle’s,” the Emperor said.
“Of course,” Mortarion answered. Saving that was simply impossible. Still, if he could fight by his father’s side one last time before eternal doom, it would be worth it.
“It is trapped in Nurgle’s Garden,” the Child-Emperor continued, as the gazebo’s ruins faded around them in the teleporter’s glare. “We will retrieve it in time; but for now, Nurgle is one of the stronger Ruinous Powers, second only to Khorne.”
Perhaps the Child-Emperor was exaggerating the ease with which his soul could be saved, perhaps this was even an outright lie, but the very possibility…. Only his soul did not deserve to be saved.
“I have still done abominations,” Mortarion felt the need to point out. “It’s not as if I can simply be forgiven.”
“We have all done terrible things,” the Emperor replied, as a starship’s bridge snapped into reality. “It is the nature of the universe. The crucial thing, my son, is not to lose compassion. To understand, and thus love, those you destroy. And empathy, Mortarion – yours may have been weak at the start, but through those long millennia, empathy was perhaps the only part of you that survived.”
Zhaggricha, Warboss of the Orange Train Waaagh, was moderately confused. His boyz had been rampaging around in the southern part of the galaxy, in the thirty-sixth millennium by the human calendar (he found the human calendar fascinating, and indeed had tried to create his own, Orky calendar in his Waaagh, which had almost caught on before this mess happened), and then when they came out, the place was all wrong. The other Orks said that this was Terra, the human homeworld, and that it was the fifty-first millennium by the human calendar, which would make it the seventy-third wak by his calendar. Weird stuff happened sometimes with the Warp, of course – Zhaggricha had heard the legend about the Warboss who went back in time and krumped himself – but Zhaggricha’s was far from the only Waaagh to land here.
The main problem in this place was that there was almost no soil left anywhere on the planet, so very few new Orks were appearing, except from orbit. For the most part, however, it was just a really big scrap between everyone, especially the humies. The humies’ big palace was to the northwest of Zhaggricha, and they had drawn a really big ring around it that they were defending. Attacking that ring was not much fun, because the humies had a lot of long-range guns; but there were plenty of fighting to be had outside.
Revving his giant warbike, whose noise somewhat drowned out even the warcry, Zhaggricha sped forward, his troops riding behind. In the distance, across a bunch of ruined buildings, there was a really tall black tower with a gigantic humie ear hanging off the top. A ring of tentacles surrounded the ear, and below the tower had no windows and had writing that Zhaggricha didn’t understand all over it. The tower’s cannons fired at the Orks, but after two volleys they stopped for some reason.
“Evil Sunz!” Zhaggricha shouted to his boyz as they got close to the tower. “An’, well, I guess everyone else as well. Fire at the tower! They’ve got an ear, they’ve got tentacles, they’ve probably got teef as well!”
“WAAAAAAAAAAAGH!” came the reply.
The warbikes and other vehicles began to arc fire towards the tower, which immediately responded with a new volley of its own. Up close, Zhaggricha saw that the tower was also shooting the other way, meaning either that someone else was trying to take the teef in the tower or that the people inside didn’t see where the Orks were because the tower had no windows.
Then, suddenly, the tower shook, and then started to fall as more rockets blew up against it – right onto Zhaggricha’s boyz!
“Swerve left!” the warboss shouted, as the tower leaned further and further. “Or right!”
Most of the warbikes did, in fact, swing to avoid the obvious danger. Zhaggricha saw that Nukskk, one of his Nobz, didn’t do so, and instead swerved both right and left, thereby riding straight into the base of the tower. Zhaggricha, himself, had ridden left, thereby getting out of the tower’s shadow.
Then the tower fell down, and the ground shook with the impact, revealing who had knocked it off. It was a giant fat monster, dripping wet, with two horns on its head and four legs. It looked like some sort of humie farm animal, except it was five times as tall as Zhaggricha (and he, being a Warboss, was quite big himself).
“Blood for the Blood God!” bellowed the humie sitting on top of the animal.
Zhaggricha turned to his bikerz, which had stopped. “Well?” he asked. “Chaos humies, eh? Let’s stomp ‘em too!”
Pulling up before the Warboss, Zhaggricha’s second-in-command Eablatz pointed at the person riding the beast. “That’s no humie!” he explained.
And squinting, Zhaggricha realized Eablatz was correct. Sure, he looked a lot like a Chaos humie, and he wasn’t wearing his species’ normal stuff, but the figure on top of the beast –
Was an Ork.
That was totally bizarre, really. Chaos Orks were extremely rare; they’d have to revolt against Gork and Mork, and why would anyone want to do that? But it was hardly the most confusing thing in this whole mess, so Zhaggricha turned to his boyz.
“Well,” he said, “who cares if it’s an Ork? We’ve fought other Orks often enough, and smashed them good! And this one –” he paused as more Chaos Orks began to emerge from the water – “these ones aren’t even properly Orky, since they’ve betrayed brutal cunning and cunning brutality. For Mork!”
“For Mork!” echoed the Waaagh, excluding those who shouted “For Gork” instead.
“For Gork!” Zhaggricha continued.
“For Gork!” came the echo, with a few “For Mork”s sprinkled in for flavor.
The enemy Orks were silent except for an incoherent grunt-roar. It was a loud one, but nowhere near enough to drown the noise of the Orange Train’s warbikes when those turned on. In the din, hundreds of vehicles streaked towards the ocean, the Chaos Orks running against them from the shore. Zhaggricha aimed his warbike at the presumed enemy leader, the one sitting on top of the beast. He responded by driving his steed forwards, trampling several overeager bikers and a few of his own boyz.
“Blood for the Blood God!” he screamed. “Skulls for the Skull Throne! I am Greenbreaka, lord of the True Blood!”
“Gork an’ Mork are da only true blood!” Zhaggricha replied, driving his bike straight at the beast’s dropping leg. It wasn’t really like he cared all that much about Gork and Mork, or even knew exactly what they were. But Chaos Orks were just wrong and utterly un-orky. “I am Zhaggricha, and the Orange Train’s gonna run yah ovah!”
As the beast’s leg impacted the wet soil, Zhaggricha drove his warbike vertically up it. Arnef had said that this was physically impossible, but Zhaggricha’d done it plenty of times, so he’d ignored the human. Arnef hadn’t been all that useful, anyhow – Zhaggricha had captured the Mechanicum adept out of curiosity, but when Arnef realized that, he refused to tell him everything interesting. Eventually, Zhaggricha had been forced to let the human go, after taking most of his valuable stuff. Still, he wondered sometimes about how much number stuff he could’ve learned from a cooperative human mekboy. The Ork ones worked less by thinking about math and more by trial and error.
Then the leg ended, and Zhaggricha was on top of the beast. Greenbreaka turned around, a massive bazooka in his left hand, and hurled the gun at Zhaggricha’s bike while sticking the trigger stuck. Zhaggricha swerved left, but he couldn’t go all that far because the animal was too skinny. So he twisted the bike, shielding himself from the massive blast. Still, the vehicle flipped over, dropping him onto the animal’s wet back. Doing a somersault, he leapt up as his warbike was tossed onto the ground in the distance.
“WAAAAAGH!” he screamed, charging at Greenbreaka, who drew two choppas. Zhaggricha already had his sixteen-headed flail in his hands. It was a large and unwieldy contraption, but he’d used it enough to be intricately familiar with it.
The first of the flail’s balls swung at Greenbreaka’s head; the Chaos Ork dodged, then ran straight at Zhaggricha, head held low. Zhaggricha answered by tilting his flail, the individual heads jutting up and down. Greenbreaka was hit once, then twice, his head increasingly bloody, but still he continued forwards; then he jumped, choppas glistening, as the flails’ chains caught him. On the flail now, he got into a comfortable sitting position, choppas ready to plunge into the tiring Zhaggricha.
Zhaggricha dropped his weapon, grasping a knife from – no, his bike was gone! In its absence, he snapped on his knuckles as Greenbreaka ran towards him. The Khornate cultist jumped, and then Zhaggricha, even though he was of the same size as the enemy Ork, was on the beast’s still-moving back, pinned beneath Greenbreaka’s fists.
“You’re the number Ork,” Greenbreaka said, “aren’t you?”
Zhaggricha nodded. He was, indeed, fascinated by mathematics. Wasn’t very good at it, by any standards but Orky, but that’d been enough to make a nickname for himself.
“Then listen,” Greenbreaka said. “All those numbers, all those Gork an’ Morks – they are nothing in the eye of Chaos. We don’t follow any rules. We aren’t scared of anything. Join us, Zhaggricha, and we can get back to fighting enemies of Khorne instead of each other.”
No. The fight wasn’t over – indeed, Greenbreaka would have killed him already if it was – and the Chaos Ork was most likely lying anyhow. Zhaggricha chose his response.
Greenbreaka jumped back, surprised, as Zhaggricha snatched his left choppa, which Greenbreaka had dropped in shock. Then they ran at each other, blades crashing against each other again and again, bone flaking off them.
“The age of brutality,” Zhaggricha said, “an’ cunning, and of orkiness – no matter which year it is, it is not yet past, Greenbreaka. Our true green is eternal!”
Zhaggricha kicked Greenbreaka in the feet, pushing the enemy Ork back, and then Greenbreaka missed a strike, and a punch later the Chaos Ork was hanging off the side of the beast, which was by this point scuttling sideways.
“Your heresy ends here,” Zhaggricha said, raising the enemy choppa for a final strike, “Warboss Greenbreaka.”
Greenbreaka grinned. “I’m not da Warboss,” he said, even as his head was separated from his body in a shower of green blood. Then his arms released, and the body fell into the gray dust below, Zhaggricha raising his arms in triumph.
As the Chaos Orks saw their leader die and broke off into a disorganized retreat, Zhaggricha and the Orange Train shouted in victory once again, preparing for the next enemy.
Karon Jonas of the Righteous Hatred ran.
Kharn the Betrayer, most feared of the horrific World Eaters, zigzagged down the hallway behind him, the Navigator knew without looking. He was bouncing off the walls, crushing good men and women of the Imperial Guard under his mass and axe, and he was faster than Jonas could ever hope to be. There was no time to consider how to fight back, no time for any intelligible last words. Only terror, and vastly insufficient qualities of adrenaline, as Kharn swung his chainaxe, taken from Primarch Angron himself, and connected with Jonas’ neck, an execution of rage-
Karon Jonas, once navigator of the Righteous Hatred, awoke in a cold sweat.
The nightmares had come again, he noted, fingering the scar on his neck. Not from Gorechild, of course – that blade left no survivors. It had simply been a grazing shrapnel fragment from the blast, the last one before he had dragged himself into the escape pod and Admiral Clarris had launched them towards a friendly vessel at last.
Kharn the Betrayer was, as far as Jonas knew, dead in the wreckage high in orbit above Terra. Of course the accursed traitor was still alive, just like he had survived a thousand other shipwrecks through the millennia; he’d been fully capable of reaching an escape pod, and his gifts from Chaos were probably sufficient to ensure he could survive full atmospheric re-entry.
More comforting, still, to think the final moments of the Righteous Hatred had ended the being – for Kharn wasn’t really human anymore – that had killed his ship. That they had done at least some good, at bloody nightfall, rather than absolutely zero.
Of course, the ship hadn’t been his, or even Clarris’s. Jonas didn’t even know whether Captain Astor, in the hellish trenches below, was even aware of Hatred’s loss. Or, really, whether he would care if he was, a position once unthinkable.
Washing his face, Jonas thought back to the day they had first arrived on Terra. Two years before most of the Ultramarines Chapter was cataclysmically lost in the Warp (brought to Terra, of course, to the end of days). Five years before Abaddon the Despoiler engineered, at long last, the First Fall of Cadia. Twenty years before the Chaos Warmaster vanished, and the Imperium began to struggle back from the very brink.
Ten thousand years after all of those events, for the outside galaxy. A time when it was effectively impossible to leave the planet so many would once have given everything to reach, because the orbital battle, though far from the apocalyptic scale of the ground one, was sufficient to effectively blockade escape.
A time when humanity’s (and Jonas’s) homeworld, its ecosystem destroyed decamillennia ago and its population crushed into dust over the months of fighting, played host to one last game of mega-regicide.
Jonas shook his head, droplets of water flying off. He had become obsessed with the past, perhaps, unable to focus on the fragile boredom of the present.
The ship he was now on (along with the Admiral and about five other escapees) was called the Triple Meridian, manned by a skeleton crew. Unlike the Righteous Hatred in its last days, the Triple Meridian was well-equipped with weaponry of all sizes, but had dropped every single human being on board that was not vital to the ship’s survival. Knowing what sort of boarding parties wandered in this orbit, Jonas suspected this had been the correct decision.
He walked out of his chambers (there was no shortage of living space here, at least) and towards the galley. Rations were tiny, grabbed as tariffs from the myriad cargo ships that also found their way into the apocalypse; it was basically piracy, but the Imperial government below (such as it was) had sanctioned it to avoid everyone starving to death.
Besides, the cargo ships didn’t have anywhere to go except the Imperial Palace anyways.
Of course, not all ships that came here were from the time rifts; Imperial loyalists who wanted to defend their god, Chaos hordes under the command of Lorgar Aurelian, and xenos working for mysterious causes all converged on the galaxy’s center. Honestly, Jonas suspected most of these were idiotic fanatics for their various masters. Why else would anyone voluntarily come here?
Not that here, in the specific sense, was at the moment all that uncomfortable; but here in the general sense would’ve killed Jonas twenty times over if all the orbital starships weren’t so utterly lazy.
“Good morning,” Navigator Terit Tarit of the Meridian commented.
“‘Good’ morning,” Jonas mumbled, thoughtfully chewing.
“Oh,” Tarit said, “come on. It’s Winter Day today!”
“And I’m sure everyone just agreed to a truce for that reason?”
Tarit chuckled. “Not on the ground, that’s for sure. In orbit, oddly enough, well… the stalemate is holding, at least.”
Jonas nodded. Truces with Chaos and xenos were unthinkable, officially, and on the ground as well. How they’d reached something (very) vaguely resembling that point in orbit, without any official inter-faction diplomacy, was completely incomprehensible. Not that either Navigator was complaining.
“Any news from the surface?” Jonas asked. “Is Astor still kicking?”
“Far as we know,” Tarit said. “The lines seem to be holding. Lorgar sent out a message, called on everyone to surrender.”
Jonas chuckled. “The Emperor himself wouldn’t be able to stop this mess with words. What about the celestial anomalies?” There had been several of them, ovals and triangles and Mobius strips made of light and lightning across the lower exosphere. Ships had been caught in them and rent apart, but for the most part they didn’t seem to be doing much of anything.
“There’s a new one over the South Pole,” Tarit answered. “Shaped like half a torus. They’re getting more elaborate, Jonas. Some say they’re sentient.”
“Just what this war was missing – lightning creatures.”
“They were present in the Age of the Outsider, in M47,” Tarit continued. “No one knew what they were then, either. After the Europan Catastrophe, they stopped. No sign of them during any of the other cataclysms, but of course none of those were anywhere near Sol.”
Jonas nodded. It had been a true relief, really, when he had learned that – for all of the ground that humanity had lost over those ten millennia – the Solar System had only been threatened once between M41 and M51.
Of course, now it was rather worse than a threat. And the Outsider, well, even hearing about its desolation had been terrifying. The madness of realspace incarnate, the monstrosity, reunified from its shards by an unfortunate series of errors by Eldar, Necrons, and humans, turned star system after star system into something utterly abnormal. Yet this wasn’t Chaos, either, because everything the Outsider created was physically possible (though improbable) and psychically inert. Indeed, any psykers in its swath were affected worst of all by the distortions.
In the end, it had come to Europa, the satellite of Jupiter; and there a united battlefleet, led by the Blood Angels, of humans and Necrons utterly destroyed the Outsider, at the cost of the planetary system, untold lives and unlives, the loyalty of the three-quarters of the Imperium that assumed Terra was corrupted, and the fragile interspecies alliance. At least, that was the official story; many considered it more likely that the Outsider had simply broken into shards a second time. It was a victory, technically, yet it was also without doubt a catastrophe for everyone involved.
The past; a past unlived, skipped through on fast forward, ignored by so many merely because of its distance. But wasn’t the Imperium built around the past of M31? This was about fate, and as such it had always been about all time.
Not that anyone on the surface had time for such philosophy.
“It’s bizarre,” Tarit said. “So much we don’t understand about this mess, yet we go in, guns blazing, simply because we know our foes are evil. And yet I can’t escape the feeling we’re doing exactly what they want.”
“There is no ‘they’,” Jonas said, “is there? There are a bunch of sides, any two hating each other for their own reasons, any one with several secret plots, maybe. Even us. Whoever the real Emperor is, if he’s active, he’s helping humanity in the shadows.”
“True enough,” Tarit said, “we can be confident that there are those fighting for good. Both below and around.”
“Yes,” said Admiral Clarris, hobbling in, “but we’re not joining the fight just yet, eh? To avoid, through doubtful means, getting shot more than we have to.”
“Perhaps,” Tarit noted, “but we’re just trying not to do anything stupid consciously. We’ve done enough without knowing.”
Clarris nodded, and Tarit left the galley, leaving Jonas alone with the Admiral. Clarris cut an imposing figure despite his cane; he wasn’t fully recovered, but his hair, at least, had grown back, both scalp and eyebrows.
“Stability,” Clarris said. “Crucial, Jonas, absolutely crucial in war to have some sort of crutch that doesn’t change. We may not be in battle, but we’re still in the war; so it’s good that we’re still meeting at breakfast.”
“Yes,” Jonas said, formality having been dropped by Admiral’s order, “it is.”
“You had a dream about the Hatred again,” Clarris said, “didn’t you?”
“Yes,” Jonas mumbled.
“I have them every night,” Clarris said. “The worst day of my career, and my career has seen many days. Good thing Astor wasn’t on board; somehow down there was safer for him.”
“I’m not even sure if it’s shock or prophecy,” Jonas said. “Navigators are psykers, after all, and I’ve had dream visions a couple times in my career.”
Clarris shrugged demonstratively. “All I can say, Navigator,” he noted, “is that it’s always good to have a contingency plan.”
“In case the Triple Meridian falls as well, Admiral?”
“Or in case something worse happens,” Clarris said. “I still wonder, you know, about why Kharn attacked the Righteous Hatred of all ships. It’s impossible to know a madman’s cause, of course, but still. I’ve been gazing at the other places the World Eaters have attacked.”
“No idea,” Clarris said. “No symbols inscribed in Terra’s orbit in dead ships, no key materials being gathered. At best, we can say that he chose well-populated ships with large quantities of victims – but again, not in an organized fashion.”
Jonas grunted in understanding.
“Our crew was simply unlucky,” the Admiral concluded.
Clarris left unspoken the fact that the two of them had been lucky; but that was indisputable. Few escaped wrecks the Twelfth Legion was involved in. Jonas was far from the best man on that ship, and his own escape felt particularly undeserved. What use was his promise as a Navigator now, when the Warp was itself deciding where ships went?
They exchanged a few more words, but soon enough Clarris walked off, leaving Karon Jonas to his musings. In several minutes his shift would begin, but until then, Jonas stood once again by an illuminator and stared at Terra.
It was a planet covered in smoke, and when the surface could be seen it was gray anyway. But even from orbit, the signs of war were evident, frequently in the form of explosions. And there was more, an unsubtle psychic pressure that Jonas knew not to investigate closely. The forces of the Imperium weren’t the only ones to have psykers down there.
It was a planet in the grip of desolation. Terra itself, his eternal home. He still couldn’t quite accept it.
It had been easier before, in a time unbroken.
Or had it? Jonas’ task had been more straightforward, for sure, because military hierarchy was intact, and he had chosen to mostly follow it. They traveled the galaxy, defending Imperial planets and attacking non-Imperial ones, as the Administratum decreed. In sum, the past Jonas had simply followed orders, without any contemplation to where all of that might lead.
But he’d known, of course, he’d known like everyone else how hopeless the Administratum really was at managing anything. And nevertheless they’d all done their duty, like everyone else in that millennium. Battles were won and lost. Wars were won, at least the ones Jonas had seen. The wars the Imperium lost left few survivors. Time moved on, greater and greater threats emerging and being cut down. And now, in this shattered epoch, the strain accumulated over ten thousand years had finally exceeded the Imperium’s cohesion, and Terra burned as the rest of the galaxy engaged itself in a three-way civil war.
It was tragic, twenty millennia of defiance culminating in this. It was also inevitable. Inevitable, perhaps, since Heresy’s coda eleven millennia before Jonas’ home-time.
He wondered, sometimes, but much less often as time went on, what became of those he knew that had not been on the fleet. His family, above all – Navigator House Jonas. He should have been missing them more, he knew. Especially since the last time he’d seen any of them was a year and a half before the jump. And with the Houses’ records destroyed, he didn’t even know what had happened to the family as a whole.
Except it wasn’t them that Karon Jonas missed, not really. He hadn’t expected to return to Terra for several more years, after all. No, what he missed were not people, but places. Growing up in the Navigators’ Quarter, he had memorized maps of the region, and in time of the whole planet. Maps which he had correlated with the ship’s radar readings, and despaired at just how little remained.
Had it been easier before, in time unbroken?
Yes. Yes, because he had done his duty and no more, just like nine-tenths of the Imperium; and that had led them here, to the last sacrosanct place in the galaxy turned into the last battleground.
He had been following the path set out for him, and now that the path had been obliterated, he was stuck in a holding pattern, in the skies around the end of ages. A holding pattern that led, unquestionably, to doom.
He would not die in a holding pattern.
“Jonas?” Tarit asked, having come in as the younger Navigator’s eyes zeroed in on a gap in the smoke, at the location of the former Palace of the Navigators.
“Tarit,” Jonas said. “Why are we still here?”
“We’re not doing anything in Terran orbit,” Jonas clarified. “Just watching a planet burn.”
“Eventually the war will start up again.”
“And we’ll die. But why are we staying here? We have no explicit orders – Throne, even if we did, they’d be coming from three different factions. The Astronomicon’s gone, but we know each other – together, we stand a real chance of getting out alive, even accounting for the damage we might get from trying to run the blockade. And I don’t think we’ll be shot at, anyhow, given the current stalemate. Everyone will be too confused for that.”
Tarit stood still, gears evidently turning in his head. “You’re right,” he said, “and I’ll talk to the Captain. But it’s still a nigh-suicidal risk, one we shouldn’t take for no reason. There’s nothing for us on Terra, stuck out of time as we are. But what is there for us anywhere else?”
“Simple,” Jonas said. “Answers.”
|08-19-16 05:29 PM|
Near a mound of tank wrecks, reality suddenly shifted. Its surface rolling and twisting into impossible folds, and stretching like an old man's skin. The wind wheezed in tandem, creating echoes akin to the breathing of abused lungs that eventually gave way to the whispers of enuncia and unsound.
A second later, a whoomph of displaced air was heard, followed by the sound of shearing skin as reality gave birth to a warp rift.
Sergeant Argon Fahmer spotted it through his magnocs.
"Lt. Albren this is Sgt. Argon! Requesting suppressive fire on area bearing zero-one-zero, fifty meters!” he shouted through his vox, his voice barely audible over of the noise of whipping las-shots and the thunder of the line's artillery.
"Request granted my boy!" came the energetic reply of the lieutenant and redoubt R1-25 to their right, re-tasked one of its gunners to engage.
But before the gunner could even rack the heavy weapon, a horde of cultists spilled out of the rift like an endless tide of pus. They shouted and wailed like rabid dogs, advancing towards the line with reckless abandon and flaring lasguns.
The engagement was mirrored all across the Eastern Defensive Line. Regiments engaged warp rifts that appeared in ones or in clusters several meters from the 1st line. They belched out platoon sized elements of cultists or covens of the unborn to ravage the line's several sectors. Some warp rifts were even large enough to vomit out tanks and daemon engines by the dozens.
This was the only means of attack for the enemy since the wall and 3rd line batteries opened up. Their shells literally blanketed the entire width of no man's land and bifurcaed Lorgar's vanguard, leaving the 1st and 2nd line to slaughter the half caught between the barrage and their guns in the opening salvo.
Since then, the fallen Primarch has sent the remnants of his vanguard and the rest of his army via the rifts.
A loud bang made Argon turn and he saw Trooper Sol falling backwards to the trench floor. His nearest squadmate scrambled after him to staunch his fatal neck wound.
"Corpmen!" he heard the guardsman shout.
A field medic hurriedly ran towards them, ducking low and opening up his pouch to grab some gauze.
"Lieutenant!" Argon voxed while raking the cultist who shot Sol. "We need that rift plugged!"
"Patience is a virtue Fahmer" the lieutenant voxed back, his voice hoarse amidst the sound of stubber fire and a woman screaming. "Trooper Nia lost an arm!"
Argon then heard the lieutenant racking the heavy stubber himself and firing it.
The loud rythmic staccato of suppressive fire went wide at first, but the lieutenant soon compensated for the cumbersome recoil and dragged its cone of fire into the heart of the milling cultists.
Six, nine and eleven of the heretics were instantly riddled with bullets holes, their bodies rupturing like wet sacks before they can run for cover. One twisted where he stood and fell, his right shoulder reduced to splinters. Another dived behind a pair of battle tanks but not before his skull was obliterated by a stray slug. Blood and brain matter sprayed the ground while the rest of the warband scurried like rats for fox holes and anything that could protect them from the heavy weapons fire.
It wasn't long before they began firing back at the line but mainly focusing their attack on redoubt R1-25.
"Sergeant, I think we should ask the colonel to reconsider air support!" shouted trooper Elias to Argon's immediate left while reloading. His pale face and dark matte hair were covered in grime while his eyes were sheltering behind a pair of goggles.
"Don't be such a frak Elli" trooper Mekha interjected across Argon while shooting the fuel line of a flamer's promethium tank. It erupted a second later, vaporizing the cultist wielding it and overturning the chimera he was using for cover.
"We can handle these lunatics" she heartily added as the fireball highlighted her short crimson hair while she continued firing at the enemy.
Here they go again, Argon thought.
"I'm not saying we can't!" Elias replied with effort as he lobbed a grenade over the parapet. They heard it explode five seconds later and were soon showered by smoking gravel and what seems to be fragments of intestines and viscera. "I'm just saying it will make our jobs a lot easier, and stop calling me Elli!"
"Is this really a good time?" complained Argon as he saw trooper Jena beside Elias shoot a cultist armed with a rocket launcher through the neck.
The launcher suddenly misfired under the cultist's death grip and sent the krak missile spinning into the ashen metallic hide of a maulerfiend.
The gigantic daemon engine whinned in pain before crumpling to the ground.
"But Ely started it sergeant" whinned Mekha with a pout while still sighting down her lasgun. She slowly squeezed the trigger and a cultist was knocked back while peeking behind a salamander scout tank. The target was about a third of a klom away.
Why she never asked for a long las, Argon will never know.
"E-L-I-A-S!" Elias spelled back, punctuating each letter with a las-shot before crouching below the firing lip when the enemy retaliated with a volley of their own. "Honestly, what's with you and nicknames Mekha?"
The trooper just smiled at her fellow guardsman when she crouch beside him and said "To better annoy you sweetie."
"Stop teasing him Mekha" Argon scolded and faced Elias.
"And to your request guardsmen - Denied."
As if on cue, a series of bright columns of energy lanced above them and struck a defiler and a brass scorpion assaulting redoubt R1-23. They simultaneously blew in spectacular explosions that showered their nearby allies with a withering rain of shrapnel.
"Air support is sorely needed at the palace gates where the fighting is thickest, you know that. We basically got the short hand of the stick trooper but we have the redoubts of the 2nd line to keep us company."
"But we also have a primarch attacking us so yeah" countered Elias as he peeked over the firing lip.
He took notice of a party of cultists advancing on them with thick scavenged tank platings. Las fire from the line pinged off harmlessly from the make shift shields while the heretics' own flared repeatedly from conveniently welded out firing slits. A company size group of cultists was then sheltering behind the testudo as it advanced.
"And his army of fanatics" indicated Elias incredulously while slamming a fresh mag into his las-gun and seeing a guardsmen from the 2nd line having a quarter of his head blown off.
"So what?" replied Mekha with relish while rising and steadying her aim.
She always loved a challenge, Argon realized, and the tiny openings on the shields were too enticing for her to pass up.
A controlled burst erupted from her las-gun. Two or three las-shots flashed and hit the rim of one of the firing slits.
One or two cultist saw her las flash and quickly responded in kind with a fierce volley from their fox holes that forced her down.
"Shyt!" she gasped and crouched hard, almost spraining her ankles.
"'So what'? really?" Elias asked agaped, ignoring the fact that she nearly lost her head. "Are you daft?"
Mekha just nodded laughing "Come on Elias, did you forget what the colonel said? Nine or nine thousand we'll jus-"
"Kick and scream" said Argon with a singsong voice and the two looked at him
He was priming a pair of krak grenades.
In sector 2DF-V's section 17, Sgt. Dezric was also encountering the testudo elements of the enemy. Three were advancing on his section with a band cultists behind each one.
He cursed under his breath at seeing their shots pinging harmlessly off the shiels and so opened up his vox, linking up with his section battery.
"Sergeant Dezric to Sergeant Basch, come in." his voice was low but clear.
"You hailed Sergeant?" came Basch's sing song voice. Dezric could hear the steady report of mortar fire in the background.
"Testudos bearing zero-one-two, twenty five meters" Dezric indicated.
"What are those bastards doing?" asked the sergeant incredulously.
"Being bloody frak apparently" replied Dezric.
“So do you want me to flatten them or open them up?”
“Just open them up, leave some for us Basky”
"You know, you’re like your sister with those nicknames of yours." the sergeant teased.
"Oh frak you!" Dezric replied with a grimace and closed the link but not before hearing the sergeant’s hearty laugh. He really was getting annoyed at anyone mentioning Mekha's antics.
"Now now, mind your language" said trooper Aly beside him who flashed him her most winning smile.
"Shut up." said Dezric but rather bashfully that made the trooper giggle despite the battle raging around them.
Nearby, redoubt R1-19 was surrounded by a coven of daemonettes but were being bracketed by stubber and mortar fire. The latter was slowly redirected and when the shells shrieked over the sergeant and his men moments later, the testudos burst from the inside in a fiery fashion. Viscera and bone fragments went through the shields like missiles in every directon. Dezric wasn't even sure if the heretics had time to scream in the deluge.
"I told him to leave some for us"
"You should've been more specific Dez" trooper Nev chipped in beside Aly. He was steadily adjusting the sights of his long las.
"Yeah, since when was Basch a groxhole keen on sharing his kills?" countered trooper Krix on his other side who cradled a plasma gun.
"That's a very good question” Dezric smirked as the mortar fire finally waned and ceased.
Smoke and dust covered the area where the testudos were last seen. Of the cultists inside, only a smear of crimson on the ground amidst dented shields remained.
Moaning and dying groans reminded them of the other group of cultists that followed the testudos. They were not spared and Dezric saw the first of the bodies when the smog cleared.
They were a tangle of carcasses and mewling wretches on the verge of dying. Survivors were struggling with the simple effort to stand or hold a gun. At this point only about three dozen or so were limping towards them.
The slightest nod from their commander unleashed a deluge of tracer fire that raked the heretics.
Five of of the survivors lost their throats to Dezric and Aly. One in particular was still alive when a las-bolt went through his jugular but instead of killing him outright, the searing shot fused his wind pipe to his esophagus and he slowly died of strangulation.
A couple had their heads punctured by Nev's precise shots, one between the eyes and the other through the ears. Four were soundly thrown backwards by Krix and his mate, Beta, with center mass shots.
Again and again, wounded cultists fell and died in droves, often times shouting undiscernable words at the guardsmen in frustration.
"Report in!" voxed Major Mkfen right at the moment when the last of cultists was dead and the main enemy force was on the backpedal.
Field medics were rushing left and right behind Dezric on the trench floor, ferrying wounded guardsmen towards the medi-habs while troops fresh from the supply lines were flowing in the opposite direction.
"Testudo elements encountered sir." Dezric replied while reloading. "Got wounded but no fatalities."
"Roger that Sergeant, have your section ready for withdrawal to section 2DF-V-SL40 at 15:00." was the major's reply and Dezric thought he misheard.
"Withdrawal Major?" asked Dezric as he checked the map he was given in his early dossier. He didn't see any such order before the start of the engagement and the new coordinates was right below the parapet of the 2nd line.
"What about the men streaming in sir?" he asked.
"They will support the redoubt teams in dismantling the strong points and acts as your rear guard." the major replied through the vox. The news stunned Dezric.
"Permission to speak candidly Major. " he said.
"Go on and be quick about it." the Major replied while las fires shrieked in the comm's background
"There were no such orders before the fighting sir and there are no reports of breaches. We've pushed them back countless times. Why the sudden order for retreat?"
"Withdrawal and retreat are not the same sergeant but I don't have time to lecture you on so a tedious subject. Now do as you are ordered and follow the chain of command." the major replied and cut off the link.
Dezric could only blinked in surprised at that and it was not missed by his men.
"What did the major say? " asked Nev and Aly was also asking the same question with the confused look in her eyes.
"We are to withdraw to section 2DF-V-SL40. "
"Withdraw?!" asked Nev
"But that's all the way back there! "
"Don't you think I asked those same questions?" Dezric replied. "Now shut your mouths, gather your guns and kit and prepare to withdraw!
"Major Mkfen reports the loss of fifteen fire teams and testudo elements were spotted colonel. He also reports that his companies will withdraw to their designated positions at 15:00." said Lt. Randon while adjusting the settings of his vox. "Major Kasteen reports the same for her companies but reports that Captain Ivann's company is down to half its strength."
The lieutenant was Colonel Astor's vox officer while Maj. Mkfen was over all commander of the companies to the left of Astor's quadrant and Kasteen was in charge of the right.
"We on the other hand, lost ten fire teams Colonel and are awaiting your orders." replied Corporal Meera who was wiping the iron sights of her lasgun with a ragged cloth from her webbing. She was Astor's adjutant.
Astor was taking all the news in while standing behind the firing lip and looking through his magnoculars.
He panned them west to east, seeing black acrid smoke from the bombardment dominating his field of vision. It slowly crawled on the battlefield like a ghostly avalanche while the smell of cordite and cooked human flesh came with it.
It's been getting thicker and thicker since the start of the engagement, making it harder to spot the larger rifts from afar but also masking the entire Eastern Defensive Line completely from the enemy's sight.
On the other hand, the incessant heat wash from the battery gusted behind him like a tempest, making him sweat.
He was about to wipe his brow when his vox chimed.
"Sir enemy formation bearing zero-zero-two." came Sergeant Danvil's hurried report from his section battery.
Astor quickly scanned the battlefield and found them.
"How did these bastards get all those tank platings?" he remarked as twelve platoon sized shield formations were approaching his sector. Predator tanks and packs of forgefiends were advancing between them.
"Say the word colonel" voxed the sergeant.
"Hold fire" said Astor as he assessed the size of the enemy force.
The two dozen mortars of his section battery can't handle the advancing group, particularly the armour elements. They needed more firepower.
"Link up with Sergeant Kry of S5" he ordered. "Coordinate with his battery to bracket them long enough for the 2nd line to target the armour."
"Roger that." said the sergeant.
Astor then look through the magnoculars once more and surveyed the entire battlefield as Danvil's and Kry's batteries opened up.
"Randon, get me a link to high command. I need to send the general a report."
"Only 30 minutes before 15:00 colonel." reminded Meera.
"I know how to read a chronometer love and get me the link lieutenant. " Astor retorted and returned the magnoculars to his webbing. He then turned and looked at the palace walls, at the lascannon that took out the corrupted titan and never fired again.
"So they have mustered their army here, precisely because of the sole Praetorian?" said General Yanti Gohnus, commander of the infantry elements of the imperial guard in the line. He was the general that promoted Astor and the recipient of the colonel’s articulated comments regarding the trenches. The bruises from that earlier scuffle were thickly covered by mascara that did nothing to hide it.
He was seating with the rest of the general staff around a hololith-table. Their retinues, sub-commanders, scribes and vox officers, were all standing and sifting through the incoming reports from the field, inloading them to the table whenever they were of great import.
Almost if not all, were from different regiments judging by their uniforms, the generals were not exempted, and are now by necessity, amalgamated to form a functioning army for the EDL.
"That is correct my lord." said Ephraim Sterm, his Master of Vox and Logistics, as he consulted a data-slate. He bore the hallmarks of belonging to one of the regiments of the Vostroyan Firstborns while his superior was clearly of Cadian descent.
“So we established that, can we now unleash my tanks?" said General Tholem Sother, barely hiding his venomous tone. He was the commander of the armoured elements of the line and was very visibly brooding behind his rebreather mask. He was strongly against the continuous bombardment that was steadily depleting their already limited stockpile, and was also strongly againts the formation of the EDL, despite being a commander of a Krieg regiment.
In the holo-map in front of them, they can see a thick scarlet line that ran across it. It represented the impact zones of the artillery and to its north were markers for the warp-rifts while on the south was the vast legion of the fallen primarch.
"Not yet general, the artillery bulwark must be maintained until all of our units are in position" replied Magos Xelyu Qux nonchalantly, earning the general’s bitter grunt when the words left his vox-throat.
The tech-magos was commander of the mechanicum skitarii reserves and their attached cybernetican cohorts. He was also in command of all the techpriests managing and maintaining the armour elements. His face was sheltering behind a scarlet cowl and his two dozen eyes took in his surroundings like those of a fruit-fly.
"We've gone through this before Tholem." said General Kasander Kraig sternly. He was in command of the artillery elements of the line, the basilisk pieces on the wall and of the people directly garrisoning the praetorian. He was ironically unaffected by their current stratagem despite having a bird's eye view of the theater. "The bombardment is necessary and by my aides estimation, we have enough stockpile to last for another eight hours."
“We could have just engaged them like a spear tip Kassander" Tholem shot back, ignoring his friend's words. "My armour, a century of baneblades supported by leman russes, the infantry at the flanks and your artillery clearing our advance. We could drive a wedge at the center of that cess pit they call an army and rout them upon the Crimson Fields, I promise you.” said General Tholem sardonically to his Mordian counterpart.
The Crimson Fields was the colloquial term the Guard took to naming no-man’s land due in part to the blood that drenched its surface.
“And what of Lorgar Tholem?” asked General Yanti while lighting a lho-stick.
“Yes, what would you do to the fallen primarch if we met him on the battlefield?”
“The praetorian, what else?” Tholem didn’t miss a beat. “If Lorgar would take to the field after suffering heavy losses I'll pin him down with my tanks and have his brother’s creation kill him.”
“Such a tactic is conventional and it won’t work against beings such as Lorgar, you know that.” countered General Yanti.
“It's better than this!” said Tholem through gritted teeth and pointing at the hololith.
“Patience is a virtue Tholem, but so is respect” said a cool voice and they all turned towards the head of the table where another commander was sitting. Unlike them however, he bore the rank that gave him over-all command of this theater and the sole responsibility of defending Zarathustra Wall against one of the Emperor’s fallen sons.
He had cold striking eyes that seemed to bore through one’s soul and his golden hair seemed starkly white underneath the lumenglobes.
"My lord with all due respect, virtues and the like are a luxury I cannot afford at the moment especially now at our darkest hour." Tholem replied with barely a control in his voice.
"I expect you to adhere to them precisely because it is our darkest hour." the lord general shot back, his voice rising "What if a primarch would walk in now and see us, the proud Astra Militarum, descendents of the revered Imperial Army, reduced to squabbling savages simply because of one traitor when the Army faced nine and didn't break?"
General Tholem blanched a little at the words and seem to force himself to come into grips of his earlier candor.
"My apologies to you all then. The present situation and the visions, all this waiting seem to have affected me in a negative light. I should have known better."
The lord general nodded at his apology with practiced grace and turned towards the tech-magos saying "Magos Xeylu, your estimation on the time of arrival of the legio?"
The tech-magos responded by blurting out clicks and white wash noise to the tech-priests behind him. They in turn released a burst of binaric codes akin to nails scratching on the walls.
"Legio Vengarum will reach the staging point Hy-12-R3, in x-minus fifty seven minutes, thirty nine seconds and sixty seven micronds. Their earlier skirmish with a Necron phalanx have greatly reduced their fighting capacity by 25%" the tech-magos reported.
At that moment, the lord general sat silently while clasping his hands together in thought. His eyes focused intently on the hololith, on the strategem he devised.
It involved the repositioning of the entire 1st line, with its center almost intercepting with that of the 2nd line while its sides moved ten yards from their original positions. The ground left in the wake of the partial withdrawal was turned into the killing box.
Markers blinking behind the 2nd line, just below the top of the ridge, represented the staging point of Tholem's reserve armour elements. They assumed a phalanx formation of five leman russes at the front and three to four baneblades at the rear and were near enough to attack the armies flanks.
The entire thing reeks of conventional warfare, one that even a berzerker or even an ork can see through and it made him uneasy.
"Has the 1st line forces started repositioning themselves?" he asked General Yanti.
"Yes my Lord and they will be in position by the time the titan legion will begin its assault" at that response, thr sigil of Legio Vengarum appeared on right flank of Lorgar's army in the hololith. Two dozen engines composed the legio, most were of the war hound class and only about six or seven were of the reaver and war lord class. The Imperator classes were left behind to secure the merchant's quarter.
"They will spot those titans from a mile away." he said to himself and addressed Kassander "General, you may execute the order at the Ides of the 16th hour."
"Yes my lord and maybe it will be a piece or two but I'll make sure they see it." the general replied.
"Make sure it's near the praetorian" added the lord general and Kassander nodded.
"Lord General, what of the other flank?" asked General Tholem as he indicated the wide expanse of desert on the left flank of Lorgar's army and just five kilometers from a Tau Hunting Cadre engaging an Ork Waaagh!
"Sir general, I have that covered" said a voice from the hololith. A blank insignia suddenly appeared on the left flank but it was moving at an incredible speed, almost like a flock of birds speeding towards the daemonic army.
"Colonel Price, I take it you are reporting that you found the sisters?" the lord general smiled as he recognized the voice of the colonel through the vox built on the table.
"Yes your lordship" repied the colonel "They weren't easy to find mind you, with them being silent as the grave and all." they then heard him drinking and most knew what it was but it only made the lord general chuckle and the generals grit their teeth.
"Don't get drunk on me now colonel, we need your set of skills for this attack." he jokingly said.
"If you're referring to my set of skills that involve screaming and kicking, then your lordship, I think I can deliver it best with a bottle in hand." the colonel replied and the lord general chuckled as he raised a hand to stop a furious Tholem from interrupting.
"Then by all means colonel, do what you do best" he then cut off the link and looked at the updated hololith with renewed resolve at the latest developments however it still made him uneasy but for another reason entirely.
He was about to lure a primarch into making a mistake and that was inconceivable even to one such as him, but he sought to make it so regardless. To give up now was to invite defeat and he will not have it.
And so, Lord General Hadrian Alexander stood up and looked at each of his generals, his eyes gleaming.
"Let us make history my lords and to your armies, for tonight a primarch dies."
A large explosion ripped through the battlements on the wall. Basilisks pieces were torn and reduced to scrap metal. Bodies, burning or otherwise were blanketed by shrapnel and painted the parapets with a sheen of crimson.
Screams of mayhem emanating from the wall made all the guardsmen in the trenches turn and gazed in horror as the praetorian, the sentinel of Zarathustra, was engulfed in flames.
Not only that but because of the sudden explosion, the artillery pieces directly below the gigantic las cannon stopped firing as their crew sought shelter from the falling debris. The resultant chaos in the third line created a gap through the carpet bombardment.
It was almost three kilometers across.
Lorgar looked up from his ministrations of a ritual when he heard the explosions and screams that stood apart from the battle. He then cocked his head in puzzlement. His eyes surveyed the gap and the battle line beyond. He noticed the far center and the varying distance of the guardsmen as it terminated on both ends.
"A most bewildering development." he said.
"My son! Now is our chance!" said Kor Phaeron with an almost maniacal glee as he approached from the land raider.
"I would agree with the Black Cardinal my lord, the imperials made a mistake" said Erebus and Lorgar noted the strange instance that his lieutenants were with one voice... and were oh so blinded by their impatience.
"It's a ruse" he told them as he got up.
"Who cares if it's a ruse, we must take this chance for our own!" his foster father demanded. "The gods favor you, and they have already proclaimed your victory!"
"They did the same for Horus" replied Lorgar and faced his father's slowly glowering face "Destinies are fickle old man and mind your place."
"What he merely wishes my lord was for us to take the initiative. This may be a ruse but our armies outnumber them." Erebus intervened. "What manner of tricks or ambush can they do with your brother's trinket now in ruin?"
At that, Lorgar watched the burning frame of the praetorian cannon. One amongst many that Dorn laboured to install on the walls. It was a potent weapon, able to slay beings such as him and titans with one blow. Now it was nothing but a burning metal husk.
Horus wouldn't have hesitated on seizing an opportunity nor would any of his other brothers, those who were illuminated anyway.
"So be it" he said at last as a mighty crozius materialized out of thin air in his mighty hands.
"I will recreate this circle at the walls foundation" he indicated the warp craft on the sands "It will become much more potent with the blood of these blind fools"
"Very wise my lord" Erebus replied and Kor Phaeron nodded in agreement.
"But they are arrogant to think me a simpleton to not notice their flanking forces." he said as the foot falls of the titans to the right were now accompanied by the braying of war horns and the ever encroaching nothingness on the left made his head tingle in anticipation.
"Kor Phaeron, smite those whores on the left, bring the berzerkers with you. And you Erebus, you bring those mechanicum curs to heel with the blight mages on the right" his lieutenants saluted and proceeded to gather their forces while he marched to the front and eyed the wall with anarchic lust "As for me, I will bring this wall to-"
An icy howl pierced the air and it brought with it an otherworldly coldness that froze him in his place. It was a wolf's howl to be precise but Lorgar knew it was more than just an ordinary call. It was a sound from days so ancient, Lorgar hadn't expected to hear it again. It reminded him of those two brothers, the forgotten pair, it reminded him of another, a great cyclops and lastly, it reminded him of the executioner's ax.
Even Erebus froze when he heard it but only the Black Cardinal broke the silence "By the gods, what is it?"
"Impossible" uttered Erebus as he suddenly turned and saw a gathering sand storm behind the army.
"As I said my son, destinies are ever so fickle" Lorgar hissed and turned, grasping Illuminarum with both hands and walked away from the wall.
"Where are you going?!" his foster father called after him.
"Where else but to greet my brother?" said Lorgar as he used his powers to see past through his army and saw a legion of creatures not so different from those that now shout adulations to the Blood God. An army of dogs and curs, of wulfens that are now bearing down on his army from behind.
Amongst them was a warrior who towered over them, he was clad in the freezing colors of his homeworld and his free flowing blonde hair was awash with the blood of Lorgar's sons as he scythe through them with a mighty sword like a blizzard would across a mountain.
"How long has it been Leman?" said Lorgar as another piercing howl signalled the Wolftime.
|11-22-14 04:07 PM|
A thousand apologies for my tardiness and I will ask for your patience on my piece...++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ +++++++++++++
One hour later
|08-22-14 01:52 AM|
Originally Posted by CommissarHorn View Post
|08-20-14 04:25 AM|
|CommissarHorn||You're a hero Waltz, nothing short of a bloody hero.|
|08-17-14 06:49 PM|
|waltzmelancholy_07||This is just the first half... There's a continuation... Sorry for the super delay... Can't let you guys wait forever... XD....|
|08-17-14 06:47 PM|
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”
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