(40K/Heresy crossover) Judas Gospel (WIP)
NOTE: THIS STORY IS NOT COMPLETE AND MAY BE FRAGMENTARY IN PLACES.
"For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."
- Fragment of an ancient religious text
Things had changed since Davin.
Karlington Lex huffed with dignified outrage. The digital weapons he wore as rings clinked together. Each ring, if sold on the black market, would fetch enough money to buy two Stormbirds for these wretched Astartes. He could outfit their Crusade if he so wished.
Yet they showed him no respect. No respect at all.
Back on Terra, he commanded legions of servants who toiled and sweated. They would avert their eyes in his presence.
Lex wasn't a cruel master. He had never put anyone's eyes out. True, he had dispossessed families of the poor when they failed to meet his quotas. Maybe they had died in the ash wastes, maybe they were still there, scratching a living amid dust and stone. Other servants had died of starvation or disease. So far, Lex had avoided Imperial sanction for the squalor and mistreatment of his underlings. Thus, believing he had the Emperor's backing, Karlington Lex continued to run his workforce into their graves.
He was used to respect. These Sons of Horus, damn their eyes, had none to give.
Lex strode over to the nearest porthole and gazed into space.
The Vengeful Spirit and its attendant battlefleet were moving into the Pariah Cluster. Passing nebulas cast their green luminescence into Lex's dimly-lit quarters.
In his reflection, Lex saw a regal bearing, his handsome features deeply in thought. He saw a man who would help to shape the galaxy's future.
Sergeant Politz of the Sons of Horus 14th Company saw a fat, pompous fool, whose tantrums and claims of wealth were an irrelevence and a distraction from the Crusade's sacred purpose. The clicking of his rings and other pointless adornments were teeth-grating. Where the Sons of Horus wore trophies of past battles, or Imperial iconography, Lex simply covered himself with gaudy displays of wealth. He was worse than the Emperor's Children, for they at least had a record of martial victory behind them.
Worse – this… this debutante appeared to hold himself above Horus' chosen.
Politz waited for a further minute, choler rising, before clearing his throat. The sound was a metallic growl through the Astartes' visor.
Lex turned slowly, maintaining an air of stoic indifference. Politz could smell the man's sweat from beneath his robes. The scent was mixed with some expensive perfume from Terra. Combined, they were like poison. There was also a vague tang of fear. Karlington Lex was afraid of him.
Politz's lips curled in a grim smile. That was good. That was right.
No more did the little people of the Imperium – the pointless scribes and dignitaries, whose whining complaints were a constant, demoralising backdrop to this Crusade – feel they had the upper hand over the Astartes.
Except, perhaps, Karlington Lex.
"Ah. Sergeant Politz. How good of you to come." Lex managed a smile which came across as false and condescending, which it was. "I have been waiting a mere three months for the Warmaster to pay me heed."
Politz growled a warning and allowed the lightning claws built into his gauntlets to slide out slightly. Lex visibly started, then controlled himself.
"The Warmaster is nobody's lapdog, Terran. He undertakes a Crusade to conquer the galaxy in someone else's name."
"Te-Terran?" Lex inquired. "That almost sounds seditious, Sergeant."
"A figure of speech. You would have me demean myself by using your name?"
Lex tried to scrape himself together.
"Sergeant, I am a respected noble of the Imperial Court. My manufactories supply the Crusade with vital materiel."
"Aye, and at significant profit.
I would have more respect."
"And so would I. Our Legion is heavily engaged in the search for your supposed artefact, Karlington Lex, and as yet we have found nothing."
The dignitary straigtened somewhat; now they were on his ground.
"Sergeant, I relayed all the information my noble Terran House sent to me. If you would but allow my menials to assist…"
Politz's claws slid back into his gauntlets. Lex visibly relaxed. Politz strode over to join him by the porthole and they both gazed out into space.
"We have a million or more Legion serfs to do that. The Warmaster himself asked me to thank you for the contribution you have already made."
"Did he?" Lex exclaimed.
"No," Politz admitted, "but I am sure that when we find the artefact you speak so highly of, he will."
They stood together in silence. The two men were not friends and never would be; a man like Lex did not make friends easily, believing he would never need them and could simply buy them if he did, while Politz held mortals in something very close to contempt.
"There has been a change in your Legion's… what do you call it? Choler. There has been a change in your Legion's choler of late."
Politz looked at him. "The demands upon our Warmaster weigh heavily on us all."
"No. No. That is too easy. You are Astartes, bred for war. The Imperium demands of you, certainly, but I am not a man unused to responsibility, Sergeant Politz. A change has stolen across your character. Not just yours, I mean, or the Warmaster's. I mean all of you."
Politz snorted. "Spare me the insight, Terran… Karlington Lex. What could a mortal know of our character? Have you faced xenos breeds that embody human nightmares? Have you lain in the infirmary while your limbs were reattached? Were you present on Murder when the Megarachnid had us surrounded? Did you fight across the swamps of Davin's moon?"
There was a silence. Politz could tell from the human's elevated hormone levels that he had said too much.
"Ah, yes," came the inevitable response. "Davin. How interesting you should mention that episode."
"I know what you are going to say, Lex. Do not say it."
Lex faced the Astartes. "All right then, I won't. But you know what I mean."
Politz remained silent.
Things had changed since Davin.
Abaddon marched into the briefing room, his stride assured and bold. Of the Mournival, he alone was determined to face down the Primarch's wrath.
There was little light. Shadows fell across a chamber that had once been the centre stage for galactic domination. A brief pang of regret took the Commander by surprise. His resolve hardened and the moment was over.
It took a few moments for Abaddon to realise that there were stummers fitted into the room. Sound-deadeners. Darkness enhancers. The Sons of Horus knew them as shadow-draws. Why would the Primarch need such technology? When had it been installed?
More moments passed before Abaddon's eyesight resolved the figure on the throne.
Horus sat in the darkness, chin resting on the clawed gauntlet of his right hand. His expression was a brooding immensity, a storm that seemed a long way from breaking yet threatened with its power.
"My Lord," said the First Captain. "I would speak with you."
Horus did not appear to move. Then his voice boomed out; the stummers could not dim its depth of emotion, feelings that Abaddon had no way to understand.
"Have things fallen so far that my subordinates deign to address me so?"
"I do not understand, my Lord."
"No. No, you wouldn't, Ezekyle. It is a question of respect."
"My Lord, I am… not sure what you mean. You know I have full respect for you."
"And yet you creep around in the dark, demanding my time. What is it that you demand I do, my son?"
For perhaps the first time in his life, Abaddon found himself hesitating.
"My Lord, I demand nothing. I creep around for no man. I came here to find you to ask for your guidance, that is all."
Horus said nothing.
"And if I might add, I am not the one who surrounds himself with shadow-draws and sits brooding in silence while my Legion searches for secrets on my behalf."
Horus didn't speak. He stared at his First Captain as an insect collector might regard a pinned butterfly. Then the Warmaster was on his feet, looming over Abaddon, forcing the First Captain to take several steps back.
"Then what, my son? You wish me to draw upon psychic powers which my father insists do not exist and find the location of Lex's blasted artefact? You believe I have some way of cloning myself and sharing the burden of Imperial command with a twin?"
"My Lord!" Abaddon cried. "You have been this way since Davin! It has to end, my Lord. You are still alive and you still have a responsibility to the Emperor and to mankind! You have a responsibility to your Legion. So lead us, Horus! Lead your sons to victory once more. Lead us, Father, and no more of this darkness."
For one incredible second, Horus loomed over his son as though to strike him. Astartes blood would be spilt. A heartbeat passed.
"You are right, of course, my son. Come, let us find the others. I miss my children."
Horus led Abaddon from the room, a clawed gauntlet on Abaddon's shoulder.
Erebus stepped from the shadows and watched them go, expression hidden behind the grey snarl of his Mark III faceplate.
* * *
Silence fell over the gathering. Only the distant rushing of engines could be heard, with an occasional chirruping of cogitator systems.
"So, there really was a time before Horus was corrupted," said Stern. In contrast to his name and rugged appearance, the Captain's voice was quiet and low, yet carried a quality of strength that hinted of depths so far unexplored.
"With respect," Emmenstein replied, "all I see in these logs is the onset of megalomania. Paranoia. Rage. Horus belongs to the Ruinous Powers. He always did."
"That is what the logs indicate, Inquisitor," said Stern; "yet the reactions of his subordinates reflect their fear and confusion at the actions of their master. It seems clear to me that Horus' corruption had taken root at a point immediately preceding this mission."
"Either that, or something had merely proven a catalyst to the evil that was already within."
"What surprises me," Brother Forrist added, "is that the wretch Abaddon actually had a first name."
Several of the Grey Knights nodded at their brother's humour.
"They were all men, once," Stern said softly.
"There seems to be some interactivity between the Legions," Emmenstein remarked. "This Erebus character appears in a number of Lun Wolf and Sons of Horus reports. We have positively identified him as a Chaplain of the accursed Word Bearers. Long dead now, of course, yet from everything I have learned about that strange Legion, the Word Bearers were instrumental in mankind's fall."
"Yes," agreed Stern. "The Legions co-operated more readily than today's Chapters, though partly this is due to sanctions placed upon the Astartes following the Heresy."
The Grey Knight spoke reasonably, though the Inquisitor felt a treacherous moment of doubt: how did the Astartes of today actualy feel about such sanctions, particularly those of the most devout Legions which had bled and died in defence of Terra?
Was it truly possible for mortal men to bind or shackle the strength of the Astartes, and would a time come again when this would be tested?
"Then who is this Karlington Lex?" asked Brother Donnis.
"A notable of the Imperial Court," Emmenstein replied, glad to be back on familiar territory. He sat forward and interlocked his fingers, power servos whirring as his red-painted armour copied the Inquisitor's movements. "He was considered a major force for industrial engineering before civil war broke out. In those days, his corporation was secretly researching alien technology and incorporating it into Imperial sensor systems. That's how they detected the artefact all the way from Earth."
"Blasphemers," Forrist said through his teeth.
"I know," the Inquisitor said. "Lex's holdings were among those areas most devastated by the Emperor's Children during the Siege of Terra. Whole sectors of families brutally raped, tortured and murdered, to the last individual. Life in the service of Karlington Lex was thankless and ended in horror, all to line one man's pockets."
* * *
Loken was in the training cage again when Abaddon came to fetch him. The First Captain stood watching as Loken fought with blurring speed. When the combat was over and another servitor was destroyed, Abaddon smirked to see his brother wounded.
"Another nick in the practice cage," he chuckled, then shook his head and tutted. "Best not to let Horus know about this."
Loken's expression was dark as he towelled sweat from rippling muscles.
"I find myself distracted more and more these days, Ezekyle."
"You allow petty, mortal distractions to cloud you with doubts. We are warriors born and bred, Loken. You would do well to remember this. I hear the green skin make tougher opponents than practice drones, so I hope you are planning on making some improvements to your technique."
"Brother, I am in no mood for sarcasm. Are you here with news about our search?"
"Of a kind. Karlington Lex, the fat, snivelling wretch from the manufactories of Terra, believes his technology can help us find what we're looking for. The Warmaster has agreed to it."
Loken suppressed a shudder.
"I don't trust Lex," Abaddon said, "and I can tell you don't either. Is Captain Loken losing his famed empathy for the mortals among us?"
Loken threw his towel into a waiting basket and stepped from the cage, closing it behind him with a clang. He walked past the First Captain without making eye contact.
"If we lose that," Loken said as he left the room, "we lose everything."
Once he had gone, Abaddon muttered, "Not everyone sees it that way."
Horus strode onto the bridge just as Captain Udante was sending a vox request for his presence.
"I'm already here, Captain."
The fat, jowelly man turned as far as physical confinement in the command throne would allow.
"Ah. Lord Horus. A pleasure as always."
"Udante, you space-dog, it has been too long." Horus smiled, a rare sight these days, and stepped across the bustling bridgeto lay a gauntlet on the Captain's shoulder.
"Now now, my Lord, not in front of the fish." Udante indicated his nervous-looking crew as they slaved over cogitator banks. "I'll have to organise more lashings to restore their discipline."
Horus' smile vanished, though not because of Udante's casual threat of brutality.
"Would that this were a simple visit between friends, Captain. Have you finished installing Lex's upgrades?"
Udante stopped smiling as well.
"We have, Lord." The Captain's tone was reluctant.
"Don't worry, Torus; the use of alien technology pains me as much as it does you."
"With respect, I somehow doubt that, my lord. I can feel the Vengeful Spirit recoiling. She is displeased."
Horus was within his rights to reprimand the Captain's fanciful choice of words, but he allowed the mortal to indulge his imagination.
"Captain, prepare to bring the enhanced sensors online."
Udante relayed the order to his crew. They obeyed, but they didn't look pleased about it. There really had been floggings to ensure such orders would be carried out. Privately, Udante knew the crew had a point. Why launch this Crusade to crush the xenos and restore Mankind to its rightful place of rulers of the galaxy, only to fall back on alien technology when the going got tough? What did that say about the Great Crusade and those who prosecuted it?
Horus and Udante met eyes in a silent, unhappy contest. A mortal could surely not have held a Primarch's gaze for so long without the strength and reassurance of the Vengeful Spirit, a wrathful giant slumbering at the back of Udante's mind.
"It's time," Horus said.
"Do it," ordered Udante.
"Bringing enhanced sensors online," the science officer said. "Sensors are operational. Receiving increased telemetry on all stations. Systems are stable and operating within expected tolerance."
"So," said Udante, "they work."
"Begin intensive scans of the solar system," Horus said. "We need to find the artefact quickly."
Hours passed. During that time, the Vengeful Spirit's sensors accumulated nearly fifty per cent more data than they could have processed without their recent upgrades.
"It is no wonder Lex's Terran holdings became so powerful," Udante said quietly to Horus. "His sensor systems are so sensitive, he could probably have heard whispered conversations within the Imperial Palace."
"I was thinking the same thing," Horus said, his expression dark.
A cogitator chirped.
"Contact!" the helmsman called. "Three vessels. Definitely xenos. Course: interception. Maximantium construction, weapon banks charged."
"Damn," Horus said. "I thought for a moment we'd located the artefact."
"Identify the alien vessels," Udante snapped.
"From their construction, I'd say they were orks, Captain. They aren't broadcasting ident codes."
"Time to intercept?"
"Estimate three hours, Captain."
"Three vessels," Horus sneered, "against the 63rd Expedition."
"I didn't know there were orks in this region," the tactical officer reported. "However, I'm detecting sizeable quantities of itrium throughout the planetary crusts in this system, so they would have a practically unlimited supply. I'm surprised they're only sending three ships against us."
"The orks can wait," ordered Horus. "We cannot afford to lose time in a pointless skirmish. Even now, Perturabo and his Legion are surrounded by the cursed Hrud. We need that artefact."
"Begin powering weapons and shields," Udante said. "Hail the Orks and tell them to leave this system immediately."
"Captain, the lead Ork vessel is trying to make contact," the comms officer said.
"Interesting. Let's see them."
The viewscreen switched from an image of the closest planet with three distant specs off to its right, to the gargantuan shape of an Ork. The creature was marked as a leader by its hugely muscular proprotions, tusks that could probably penetrate power armour and the mangy furs it wore like some kind of cloak. It stood before a backdrop of rattling, clanking machinery and banks of steam issuing from overheating cogitators.
"Ork vessel," Udante said, "this is the Vengeful Spirit, flagship of the Imperial 63rd Expedition fleet. You are ordered to turn your ships around and leave Imperial space. Comply immediately or we will destroy you."
"Ooman vessel," the Ork replied in garbled Gothic, "dis is Waaghlord Ammerfist, and I don't stands down fer no-one. Way I sees it, yer in my space, and what wiv you being humies, that means yer lookin' for a fight."
"Warlord Ammerfist," Horus said, stepping forward, "I am Horus, Primarch of the Sons of Horus XVI Legiones Astartes."
"Yeah," the Ork said, eyes narrowed in a feral smile. "We knows who you are."
"Then you must know that three Ork vessels stand no chance at all in a fleet action. My Astartes outnumber you, my ships outgun you, and my determination to see your hide nailed to the hull of my ship will overcome you."
"Heh. I likes the way you fink, humie," Ammerfist replied. "Surrender now and we'l put yer lads to work makin' new ships and guns and stuff. We ain't torturers or nuffink, we don't wants yer dead."
Horus laughed. It was not a pleasant sound.
"I cannot say the same. Your death warrant is signed, green skin."
"I'll see yer in a few hours."
The viewscreen flicked back to a shot of the planet.
"Keep looking," Horus told the Captain. "We can search and blow the Orks out of space at the same time."
* * *
"It's hard to imagine the Orks were ever so bold as to challenge the wrath of a Primarch."
Forrist's words received no answer. There was nothing to say to them.
"It was… a different galaxy then," Stern managed after a minute.
Emmenstein had his elbows on the table and his head in his hands. The visual logs, the recordings… actual voca-log recordings of Horus' voice… it was a lot to take in.
"Inquisitor?" Stern asked gently. "Are you all right?"
"I'm loving it," the Inquisitor said without looking up.
"Your sarcasm is misplaced here," Brother Ashfohrd said. "We all feel as you do, Inquisitor Emmenstein."
"Forgive me," the Inquisitor said, meeting the eyes of each Marine in turn. "I don't mean to be insulting."
"You don't need to apologise to us, friend," said Stern. "So, who can tell me what artefact the traitors were looking for?"
"There is nothing in any of the transcripts we have studied so far," Brother Donnis said.
"It's obviously going to be weapon of some sort," Emmenstein said. "Maybe some kind of daemon artefact?"
"I almost feel tainted for accessing this information," said Forrist.
The men were surrounded by data-slates, hololith viewers, paper records which had been helf within stasis fields for the better part of ten millennia… all of the information was ancient and none of it made light reading.
There were poems, works of prose, truths, lies, misunderstandings and outright works of fiction, along with actual battle reports written by Sons of Horus who had still been loyal at the time of writing.
"There are several references to Mortarion in Hours' personal logs," Stern said. He was the only man considered devout enough to listen to such records without risk of contamination – that was how seriously the Grey Knights took this cache of information.
Everyone present shuddered at the name of the daemon Mortarion. That murdering bastard was still alive today. Current reports placed him at large within the Omniax Cluster, an area of space beyond the Imperium's boundaries. A large force of Grey Knights was already en route.
"Apparently," Stern continued, "Horus had charged his brother with the investigation of a civilisation discovered by the Terran Empire in the 21st Millennium. This civilisation was highly advanced and possessed technology that would have aided Horus' gambit against Earth. It is likely that Mortarion was already corrupted by this point and his Death Guard were secret supporters of Hours' planned coup."
"Excuse me, sir," Donnis said. "The Terran Empire?"
"That is what the people of Earth called themselves during the time period we know as the Golden Age of Technology," Emmenstein clarified. "I have read every scrap of information which remains about that age. They… well, let's just say they did not hold to the same values we do."
"Doubtless resulting in the Age of Strife," Forrist said. "Without our faith in the Emperor we are doomed to fail. Our species is nothing without the strength of belief."
"Can you imagine a time when the Emperor actually walked among men?" Donnis asked. He took his helmet off so his brothers could see the joy shining in his eyes. "To stand by his side… to bask in his smile while we stand together and watch traitors burn… even to do something ordinary, such as turn a corner and bump into him coming the other way?"
"You don't just walk into a god," Forrist said, half amused, half offended.
Emmenstein knew what was coming next, and had no desire to sit through yet another debate about whether or not the Emperor truly was a god. In the Inquisitor's experience, ordinary Astartes – if such existed – tended not to think so, while the Grey Knights were very much divided on the matter.
"Listen," said the Inquisitor, "we have been studying this data for several days and all we have learned so far is that something unpleasant happened on Davin's moon, wherever that is, and there is unease settling upon the Sons of Horus because of it. Let's keep watching and reading."
* * *
"They're firing! Brace for impact!"
The Vengeful Spirit rocked under the weight of numerous explosions as the lead Ork ship opened up. Torpedoes and unguided shells burrowed their way silently through the freezing void. Such a wide barrage of firepower found a number of targets among the Imperial fleet. Several smaller vessels, unprepared for the ferocity of the Ork attack, began to list, trailing oxygen and plasma.
However, the Vengeful Spirit was a Despoiler-class battleship, and it was made of much sterner stuff.
"Shields holding!" the tactical officer cried. "By Terra, they're hitting us with everything!"
"Return fire!" Udante snapped.
The bridge was a scene of chaos. The entire ship shook with kinetic force as hits were received and turret weapons blasted back at the Orks.
"The lead Ork ship has suffered several major hits," reported the tactical officer. "They're falling out of formation. The other two vessels are coming into firing range."
The vox was alive with chatter: tactical updates, damage reports, cries for assistance.
"Casualties?" Horus asked Udante, who consulted a screen which raised itself from the arm of his command throne.
"Still coming in from our own crew," Udante said. "Three fleet escorts and one Army transport were disabled in the opening volley and a promethium tanker went nova. Throne, that was only their first volley!"
"No wonder they were arrogant enough to think they could match us," Abaddon said as he strode onto the bridge. Depite the chaos, neither Astartes seemed perturbed or wrong-footed, even as the ship rocked and lurched.
"Order all ships to target the next Ork vessel and maintain fire until it's a burning wreck," said Horus.
The Ork ships were gigantic constructions, each one the equal in firepower to the mightiest Imperial battleship. No two vessels were exactly alike. In construction they were the shape of broken arrows. Their hulls incorporated structural power fields which, while not installed with any great skill or tactical thinking, were sufficient to shrug off much of the incoming firepower.
Half a hundred Imperial ships criss-crossed the alien shields with lasers, plasma and high explosive shells. So many vessels were firing on one target that some of their shots struck one another. The Orks were moving fast and the distance between fleets was still huge; barely a third of the Imperial firepower struck home.
It was enough.
Mass drivers, railcannon, sixty-foot-long torpedoes, bursts of plasma, super-powered lascannon… they gouged massive chunks from the leading Ork ship, which returned fire even as internal explosions wracked its whole length.
Shells, rockets and exotic force weapons pummelled the Imperial fleet. What the Ork targeting sensors lacked in sophistication was more than made up for in sheer brute force. The aliens expended enough ammunition to keep an Astartes Chapter supplied for an entire campaign. The void was filled with lead and shrapnel. Explosions bloomed and died.
The Imperials had not launched Stormbirds or fighters yet. This was a blessing. Smaller vessels such as these would have been shredded instantly. As it was, all the Vengeful Spirit's starboard flight decks had to close up urgently, and despite the slow grinding closure of blast screens, four of the decks were savaged beyond immediate recovery. Fifty Astartes died without seeing their enemy.
Loken and his force, boarding their Stormbirds in preparation for a boarding strike, were forced to hang on and listen in grim silence as a thousand menials were trapped in a neighbouring flight bay, screaming in tortured frenzy as they burned to death or were sucked out into the void. The muffling effect of thick walls dimmed none of their dying urgency.
The Janizars accompanying the Sons of Horus fared badly. Two more of their transport ships, lumbering whales in comparison to the smaller Astartes cruisers, were hit dozens of times. Men were burned, blasted and exploded, but those were the lucky ones. Hundreds of servitors, menials and veteran soldiers alike were dragged through hull breaches by atmospheric force, where they died terrible, lonely deaths, each one locked into a silent, agonised dance as he formed his own little island in the void.
Another promethium tanker detonated as the third Ork ship opened fire. By this time the Imperial fleet had started to spread out, but the massive detonation took an entire Astartes destroyer with it, killing a company of Horus' finest. The Astartes died with the names of Horus and the Emperor on their lips, spared from the hatred and treachery that would twist their Legion into creatures of darkness.
Once again the Vengeful Spirit was pummelled. This time, their primary hull was punctured along its starboard flank, ripping through corridors, habitat quarters and weapon manufactories. Handfuls of Astartes and dozens of mortals died in each explosion.
"Return fire!" Horus roared. "This is intolerable! Close with the aliens and return fire, damn you, or I will have every man on this bridge killed and replaced with my own Astartes!"
"My Lord!" Udante gasped, even through the pain of feedback injuries. "You cannot mean -"
Horus launched himself forward and grabbed the Captain by the scruff of his uniform, lifting the fat man from his throne. Cables trailed, the link between man and machine almost severed by the unexpected motion.
"By the warp, man, you will do your duty or you will die."
Horus threw Udante back into his throne. Their friendship was destroyed for all time, but Horus had already lost more than that: nearly a thousand of his Sons were floating in space, frozen and dead.
"All ships," the Captain gasped, clutching his injured chest, "converge on the final Ork vessel. Hit it with everything we've got left!"
Acknowledgements warred with statements like "Are you insane?" and "The Warmaster will hear of your madness!" over the vox. Udante ignored them all as he watched Horus prowl the bridge like a carnid wishing to be loosed.
"Attention, Sons of Horus," the Warmaster said. His voice carried across the Legion vox to Loken, Abaddon and all the other warriors waiting to launch. "These wretched alien scum have injured us grievously. Now is the time to repay our losses. We will teach them to fear the XVI Legion – and I will personally bring their so-called Warlord to account for his actions."
In the launch bays, Loken finally had something to cheer. He glanced across to where Abaddon was waiting to embark upon his own Stormbird. The two Captains, brothers of the Mournival, exchanged unreadable looks. Whatever had happened within their Legion, no matter how graciously they may interact, Loken knew that their bond of brotherhood was broken, maybe forever.
The journey was tense and, for a mortal, would have been terrifing.
Hundreds of Stormbirds screamed from their parent ships, the rage of their passing lost in the silence of space. Thousands of Astartes converged upon the squadron of hammered Ork vessels; though none of the alien ships had been destroyed outright by the Imperials' firepower, one vessel seethed from stem to stern.
Abaddon, Horus and Loken had their courses chosen by the Orks. Anti-fighter batteries kicked up sudden storms of lead, forcing the Sons craft to divide into two swarms.
Horus and his Captains headed for the first alien ship, the one which had opened fire first and was no doubt home to Warlord Ammerfist. Fully half the remaining Sons blasted, hacked and burned their way into the third ship.
Loken's squad disembarked from their Stormbird after shooting their way into an auxhiliary storage bay tall and wide enough to house a Warhound, then blasted their way into a corridor using melta bombs. Twisted metal braces struggled to keep the corridor from collapsing upon itself. Broken cogitator banks and energy servers ran the length of the corridor. There was a musty, sick smell, like mouldy leather. Orks.
Horus exploded through the wall nearby, smashing through maximantium plating through sheer brutality, roaring as he saw the first green skin defenders emerging at the end of the corridor.
Those aliens died in moments, a blizzard of bolter fire stripping their bodies from their skeletons.
Howls from surrounding corridors answered their fire.
"They know we're here!" Loked roared, hefting his power sword. "Let's greet our hosts!"
"For the Warmaster!" Abaddon shouted from somewhere off to Loken's left.
"For our Imperium!" the Warmaster bellowed. Everyone cheered, relieved to finally be in a battle they could influence, and secretly relieved that their Primarch seemed to have come back to life after months of brooding; Loken, however, felt cold hands upon his heart. He had heard the inflection Horus placed upon the word our. What could it have meant?
They pressed deep into the heart of the Ork ship. It was a disorienting mess of walkways, corridors and widened courses that appeared to have been enlarged for truck racing. This was evidenced by the burned-out hulks of tank-like vehicles.
Nero Vipus was caught caught out by the audacity of it, even as he and his squad blasted at Orks shooting from behind the vehicles.
"They could have penetrated the hull if their brakes failed, the idiots!" Vipus chuckled.
"If only," said Loken, as he shot an Ork straight between the eyes.
"Good shot," Vipus commented. He looked around as Horus roared, marvelling as the Warmaster emerged from beneath a pile of punching and stabbing Orks. The Primarch tore Ork warriors limb from limb without apparent effort. His claws extended and sang the cold, metallic song of extinction. Twenty Orks died, thirty. Alien bodies began to pile up, blocking the corridor.
"Leave some for us, my Lord!" Vipus joked as he waded in beside the Warmaster. Almost reluctantly – and shocked at himself for feeling so – Loken led his men to their aid. Bolters crashed, Horus was roaring like an animal, Vipus was laughing as muzzle flares blazed against his armour. It woiuld almost have been like the good old days, a time when Loken would have been overawed to fight in the Warmaster's presence – let alone right by his side! – but now Loken saw things differently.
He saw the cruelty with which Horus and his Sons killed the foe. He saw Abaddon slashing with a chainsword, a look of utter, daemonic hate on his face. He heard and all but animal tone in his Primarch's war cries. In that moment, Loken realised how far his Legion had changed from those they were sworn to protect.
"This Loken sounds like a good man," Emmenstien ventured. Forrist snorted.
"Perhaps," Stern said, glancing at Forrist, "but he was clearly misguided. His loyalty should have been to the Emperor first and foremost."
"They thought of the traitor Horus as their father," Emmenstein said. "A good son obeys his parents."
"With respect, Inquisitor," Forrist said, "I believe Brother-Captain Stern has said all that needs to be said."
"Words come easily," the Inquisitor replied mildly, then his tone became heavy, "but to a son, betrayal of his father in unthinkable."
"Let us not become side-tracked by father issues," Stern said, looking at Emmenstein to rob the statement of unintended venom. "We've got a galaxy to save."
"Continuing playback," x said.
Horus was wrestling with a Dreadnought.
The Ork machine seemed to have the upper hand at first as its power claws closed towards the Warmaster's throat. Horus held the machine's arms at bay with all of his enhanced strength. In the meanwhile, the Dreadnought's weapon arms – a pair of bolters – pounded against the armour protecting Horus' stomach and groin.
It didn't even seem to jolt him. Meanwhile, the alien construction vomited smoke from its engines as they overheated.
Horus wrenched the Dreadnought's arms back with a supreme effort, spraying sparks across the corridor as the machine's arms snapped. The machine reeled, and Horus gave it no quarter, his power claws giving off echoing clangs as they swept through the Dreadnought's hull.
More Orks blasted at the Primarch even as his opponent fell backwards. Loken and his men screamed invective at the aliens; Loken's confusion was utterly overwritten by outrage that such barbarous xenos would even think to raise their weapons to a man so perfect as the Warmaster.
"For Horus!" Vipus shouted as he blazed away. He was clearly, utterly enraptured to be in Horus' presence. A hundred men echoed the cry.
The corridors were crammed with struggling figures. Human fought Ork with bolter and blade, echoing conflicts that had occurred since the first humans ventured into the depths of space. No war, no contest, could have been so passionate or furiously fought.
No war, except that between brothers… and that was unthinkable.
There was no kinship between men and Orks, Loken thought as he clubbed the broken face of an Ork warrior with his bolter. Yet there was something primal about this contest. There always was. He knew the Orks delighted in battle against humans. Maybe humans were the only species in the galaxy that could match them for numbers and brutality.