The Death of Innocence
Ibn Coruhn watched as the dreaded devils he had dreamt about milled around him. They were covered from head to toe in solid plates of polished hard-stone, the colour of worn silver. Two massive shoulder-plates, the size of Ibn’s flimsy bronze shield, protected the demons’ neck. His chest plate rose and fell in heavy breaths, like the brooding of a malevolent spirit. They were huge. Impossibly huge, Ibn thought. They could not have been born of the womb like Ibn’s tribesmen and him. They have been crafted, he thought, by the Archfiend himself, Diobolhus
. They moved in the likeness of men. No they didn’t, Ibn corrected himself. They moved like giants, slow lumbering footsteps, efficient and delicately, albeit thunderous and frightening.
The hard-stone around their legs was as thick as the trunk of a whaka
tree, with veins of solid black material snaking between shin and thigh, hissing like snakes. The joints whined like the death cries of one the flightless birds from the plains. Their metal-masks were the very vision of terror. Great iron-grills covered the space where their mouths should have been, and steaming air poured from them like a frozen stream breaks ice during spring. Their eyes were like the stars in the sky, only they shone with an inner light that seemed to be from Ether-realm
itself. A deep blue, almost purple shimmered and left hazy trails in the lowlight when the demons moved, and glowed against hard-stone, wrapping the black helm in a ethereal light.
They carried heavy-looking boxes with handles and buttons. They looked menacing. Ibn shifted his war-staff and gulped. His tribesmen had gathered in a small hill, led by their king the Great Doyen Ibn Narsarch-Cal who stood atop the highest point. Flags and banners fluttered in the coarse wind as hundreds upon hundreds of Valley-Dwellers stood to hear the words of the Demons-from-the-stars. They numbered only around ten, and they eyed Ibn’s fellow tribesmen warily, as if waiting for a loose arrow-tip, or a cry to attack. Narsarch-Cal was dressed in larach
-skins, the head of the slain beast dropped over his brow, and two large fangs came to rest at his jaw. His face was covered in the war-paint, blood-red and in a swirling spiral pattern. His beard was long and thick, white as the twin moons and braided with pearls and rubies.
More men were coming, from across the other valleys and plains and coasts and woods. For now Ibn was content to studies these strange giant-men. Their leader stood away from his men, and was only distinct in that he wore an open-winged two-headed eagle across his breast, shining like freshly moulded gold. His shoulder-plate was trimmed in the same shade as his twin-headed eagle, and he wore a cloak of deep black, nothing like the rags that Narsarch-Cal wore. Ibn chewed on his kaffa
grass as he looked down to his own garments. Barely covering his thinly built frame, his rags were soaked in oils and perfumed with grasses and herbs from his around his small hut but two days from this gathering place. He smiled as he thought of Klara and his boys, helping out in the land and playing with their wooden figures. They were growing up quickly, and Ibn feared the day they would be called into the service of the Great Doyen, just like he had.
The air had a gust of importance about it; the atmosphere was tense, like the eve of battle. The chants and roars of more tribes came with the wind, rising like the wailing of children in the night. Ibn looked to the demons, but they never flinched as they were faced with hundreds, if not thousands of possible angry warriors. Ibn couldn’t figure out if that scared him or not.
Arte looked out over the savages and increased his grip on his bolter ever so slightly. They dressed in rags and wielded wooden staffs, but there was over a thousand out there, possibly more and Commander Sethre had yet to say a word. What was he waiting for? Arte scoffed in his helm and wandered over to where Teucer was standing, his fellow Astartes similarly disgruntled. The Great Crusade was still being fought and here they were, trying to communicate with a tribe of fucking illiterate subhumans. Let Lorgar and his sycophants deal with them, or better yet, Angron and his butchers.
‘What are we doing in this shithole, sir?’ Teucer asked; his frustration evident. For fifty years they had been following these Terrans around. Arte’s Primarch was the greatest being he had ever seen, but the decisions to let the Homeworlder’s lead the rest had rankled Arte and his fellow Tyrrhenioi. They had bled with their father on the cold ice flows of Numencia and they had given their lives to free their world from the depredations of the hated xenos.
‘I don’t know Teucer; it’s the Primarch’s orders. Terra knows what he wants from these people.’ He looked out across the crowd of shaggy-looking tribesmen. ‘We should be battling Greenskin and tearing them from their fucking pits’. Arte was sick of hearing of Horus’ war victories, or Russ’ Wolves trampling across resistant worlds and bringing more and more planets under the Emperor’s new Imperium. The Second Legion would fall behind if this farce continued, and they deserved so much more. But they were but a shadow in the eyes of the rest of the Crusaders. They didn’t even merit a name. Whatever their gene-father had said to the Emperor as he came to Numencia had cursed them in his eyes, forever tarnishing the Legion. The Primarch’s brothers shunned him, or so it was said, for Arte had never even seen an Astartes from a fellow Legion. Never had they fought and bled with their brothers in the distant parts of the galaxy.
Alas, they were shepherding savages in this reeking backwater.
Arte slid his ceramite-encased fingers over his boltgun, checking that it was ready to fire if necessary. He wiped away at blemishes on the dull silver coating, unadorned and bare. His hair flapped in wind, his tight braids clicking against the cold metal of his armour. His helmet was attached to his belt, the cold blue lenses of its eye-slits staring back eerily. His face was hard and lined, even for an Astartes. His thick jaw was cut from stone, solid and sharp, while his nose was a mesh of scar tissue and misshapen bone. The skin on his face was pale, paler than, they were told, the Blood Angels and the Night Lords, whose faces were renowned for their cold unlight. His deep golden-tinged eyes flickered as he gave the large crowd of tribesmen another quick glance. He was almost itching for a fight, to shed blood and split skulls. Aargh, why couldn’t they just kill these vermin, he thought darkly.
Such fine Imperial citizens they would make.
The tribal leader descended from his natural dais, walking slowly and purposefully, as if he were performing on a Numencan Stage. He was surrounded by huge men; even for unenhanced wild men they were large. They carried large wooden staves, pitted with sharp spikes of bronze, and topped with heavy balls of metal, large enough to split a man’s head. Arte watched as the old, but strong, warrior-leader took his time. Arte scoffed, disrespectful louts.
Their commander, Commander Idris, began to approach the aging warrior with his arms wide and hands spread, his weapons left at the dropsite near Arte as a sign of respect and goodwill. His flowing golden locks were the opposite of Arte’s oil black mane of hair. The natives surrounded the commander in a semi circle. Arte was uneasy; even an Astartes of Idris’ calibre would be hard pressed in a mass of angry, muscled wildlings. He spoke on the vox to his warriors, telling them to prepare for any eventuality. The Second Legion would not be caught unawares by some uncouth tribesmen.
The commander conversed with the old man for what seemed like an age, and Arte’s frustration grew with every passing moment. The Primarch wasn’t party to this madness surely. Either these men would submit to Imperial rule or they wouldn’t. Even Teucer began to pace, much to the obvious discomfort of the warriors watching the irritated Astartes. Arte smiled, he hadn’t noticed their worried looks.
He stopped in the midst of his pacing at the sound of raised voices. The old man was shouting at Commander Idris. What was more unbelievable was the sudden shifting of the cloud of people surrounding the commander. The huge warrior-guardians wielding the heavy spike-staffs ran towards the commander, screaming. Their heavy wooden staffs swung down at him, hoping to crush his unprotected skull; the commander broke them upon his wrist-guard, punching the first through his animal-mask, a mist of blood exploding where his head once was. He kicked another in his skin, the ear-splitting crack of bone unmistakable. Commander Idris roared to Arte before he was lost in a mass of legs and fists and clubs and staves.
‘Lock and load Tyrrhenioi, we have world to burn.’ Arte shouted gleefully, his grin almost audible through his vox-piece. He fired his boltgun first, the round exploding into chest of the old tribal leader. The first ranks of the savages covered the heath in thick red blood as they screamed and fell into each other, their bodies collapsing in a haze of visceral ruin. The boltguns of the Second Legion barked and howled as they cut into the ribs, thighs, heads, chests and stomachs of unprotected natives. He heard Teucer shriek in laughter, the sound unnatural, guttural and not his own.
Arte stopped to reload his bolter, turning as he felt a presence behind him. He looked up to the shadow that covered him, his heart thudding as it always did when he seen him. His grin reached up to almost his eyes as he stood before the avatar of death that he loved with all his heart. He found himself, as always, peering into the eyes of a god in all but name. The being that stood before him was the very aspect of death in all its forms. He was over a chest and a further head taller than Arte, and was said to be the tallest of all his brothers. He was wrapped in a lionata
-skin, a thick cover of fur that was fastened to his shoulders. His armour was blacker than the cosmos itself, an unnatural black that absorbed all light. It was pitted with the scars of a thousand battles, and bare ceramite was uncovered in places, making him all the more frightening. His chest-plate was covered in the pattern of Numencia, a blazing green star falling into a spiral of stars, which was interrupted by further scars and dents. His arms were thicker than a mortal’s chest, his shoulders thick and strapped with black ceramite. No armour adorned his forearms, it was left bare, the muscles pulsing and throbbing. His fists were painted a faint silver-bronze, and they held tightly onto two weapons. One was a great blade, its length curving inwards slightly with a point that was molecularly sharpened, able to cut through almost any material. The other instrument of war was a short barrelled pistol, of archaic and ancient design, with fighting lions spiralling around the hilt and body of the gun. The being face was a mask of terror, unlike anything that had ever walked. His eyes were mismatched, blue and green, one colour for each of Numencia’s moons. His mouth was full of fangs, not like Russ’ wolf fangs, for they were shaped like a canine. No, this being teeth were sharp and thin, like that of a creature that hunts swiftly and darkly, between shadows and light. He smiled at his son.
‘Greetings Arte, I see Idris has his hands full’, boomed the Primarch, his voice like thunder, cutting through everything else. ‘Shame, I suppose it will be sad to see another brother’s
end.’ He tapped the skulls clinging under his cloak, gigantic and Astartes-built.
Arte recognised them all, even without their skins. Terran skulls, Terran Astartes’ skulls. He smiled back at his father. ‘It is an honour my Primarch, shall we continue?’
‘Indeed.’ The Primarch laughed darkly. Behind him, the hazy forms of one hundred, terminator armour-garbed Astartes shimmered into life. They all displayed the colours and sigils of the Second Legion. Their advance shook the ground, and Arte turned back to the squealing tribesmen, and began to laugh. This would be fun, he thought.
The Primarch of the II Legion, Lucaferus, raised his sword hand, and as one his terminators unleashed their fire upon the horde of men falling back like a frightened herd.
I just wrote this a day or so. Just a wee backstory to the thought inside my head regarding the fate of the second legion.