gothik: (belatedly) Thanks!
The Pride of the Emperor
had changed, Marius Vairosean noted.
He was walking the Triumphal Way with the Brother-Captain of the Second Company, Solomon Demeter. Vairosean himself headed the Third Company of the Emperor’s Children, the Third Company of the Third Legion; there was an honor in that he wasn’t sure he deserved.
Months ago, on the bloody world of Laeran, Vairosean had been bogged down in heavy fighting and failed to meet his objective in the final, decisive battle of the campaign. It was his shame, shared among the Emperor’s Children only, perhaps, by Ancient Rylanor. But while the Dreadnought had little control over the malfunctioning of Initiates’ experimental implants, strategy was Vairosean’s life.
“Are you stuck in your head again, Marius?” Demeter asked him.
The Second Captain was a good friend, but sometimes he was simply exasperating.
“Solomon,” Vairosean said, “I failed. The Phoenician does not tolerate that.”
“It’s true- Fulgrim doesn’t tolerate failure.” It really was- recently, Lord Commander Verona of the Third Legion’s intelligence arm had been executed for a disastrous operation on the world of Racas. It was deserved, and Vairosean didn’t think his failure was as deep; but the element of fear was there.
“So why,” Captain Demeter asked, “has the Primarch not even censured you? Why are you still in his inner circle? I didn’t reach the temple on Laeran either, if you remember.”
“You couldn’t- your transport crashed!”
“And you encountered impossible resistance. Would you have sacrificed half your Company to get to the temple, brother?”
“I didn’t have to. I’ve ran simulations-”
“With information you didn’t have at the time.”
Vairosean loudly sighed. Demeter didn’t understand, but how could he explain? Ever since the failure on Laeran, he had been in need of redemption.
He refused the implants of Fabius Bile, alone among the Legion’s Captains- he needed to regain his honor himself, without the aid of Fabius’ modifications. Bile was a Lord Commander now, and Fulgrim seemed to spend most of his time with the Apothecary; but Vairosean had received special dispensation not to receive implants until he had proven his worth.
As for Demeter, the Second Captain had received a couple implants to make his feet faster, but had refused Bile’s more radical surgeries outright. He looked as he always did- short hair, tan skin, wide features that seemed to suggest profound emotion even when Demeter wasn’t feeling any.
“You notice the changes,” Demeter noted with a bitter mirth, “don’t you?”
Vairosean did, in fact, see the changes. The Triumphal Way was still decorated with statues of Legion heroes and remembrancers’ paintings, but the black columns were now multicolored and the honor guard was halved. The departed Astartes were replaced by spears with mangled skulls of fallen enemies on them.
“It almost feels like a Space Wolf ship,” Vairosean observed.
“Or a World Eater one. Though neither of those Legions have much appreciation for art.”
Vairosean nodded, still largely lost in thought. The Legion was changing; the Imperium was changing. That was normal, and the command hierarchy of the Emperor’s Children, at least, was still unbroken; but the Captain heard other Legions had been forced to conduct purges. Yet others- among them, tragically, Horus’ Luna Wolves and Sanguinius’ Blood Angels- had refused to accept the changes and rebelled completely.
The Ultramarines had, too. The Legion that Vairosean considered the greatest (besides, of course, his own) had turned its back on the Emperor, beloved by all, and joined the Warmaster’s rebellion. It was almost impossible to believe, but the Third Captain knew it to be true.
“But I don’t think,” Demeter stated as the Captains came up to the Phoenix Gate, “that Verona should’ve been killed.”
“It was the Primarch’s decision,” Vairosean said.
Then, almost suddenly, the Captains arrived at the Phoenix Gate.
“Captain Solomon Demeter.”
“Captain Marius Vairosean.”
“Both admitted,” said the Phoenix Guard at the doors, and slowly they swung open.
Fulgrim had, apparently, decided to bring his senior Captains closer together, as the Brotherhood of the Phoenix was meeting more and more often. Lucius of the 13th and Saul Tarvitz of the 10th were the newest to be admitted into the warrior-lodge. Others sat closer to the Primarch; the nearest were Lord Commanders Eidolon, Vespasian, and Fabius. The chairs behind them were reserved for First Captain Julius Kaesoron, Demeter, and Vairosean himself. There were other seats, too- Daimon of the Eighth, Krysander of the Ninth, Damas Axalian of the 29th, Korander of the 37th, and others, seated in rings around the throne at the center of the Heliopolis. That throne was as yet unoccupied- Fulgrim always showed up precisely at the time of the gathering, but none of the officers wanted to face the Primarch’s wrath for arriving late.
Demeter and Vairosean silently took their seats. A few minutes later, Julius Kaesoron rushed in and hurriedly sat down himself. The Brotherhood of the Phoenix was now almost gathered- the only remaining member missing was the Primarch himself.
And then, slowly, majestically, the Phoenician entered the room.
He was clad in full violet battle-plate. An ivory cloak billowed in the artificial wind. His perfect face was uncovered, and he held no weapons; yet none who looked at him could possibly conclude he was anything but a god of war.
Fulgrim took his throne.
It was Eidolon that broke the brief silence. “Well,” he said, “where are we going next, lord?”
“The Great Crusade must continue,” Fulgrim simply declared. “We are currently in Warp transit to the rebellious Unbroken Stars, from where we will continue to the equally traitorous Ultramar.”
“It will be tragic to destroy a realm so close to perfection,” Vairosean said, with a softness he could not control. “If Guilliman had not betrayed the Emperor, beloved by all…”
“Then our job would be a lot easier,” Vespasian concluded. “But the Ultramarines are traitors, and that proves their flaw.”
“Their arrogance is astounding,” Daimon observed. “With five hundred planets under their control, they think they can defeat an Imperium that owns hundreds of thousands of worlds?”
“Karas etnom le garikul; karas arokafratz in bul,” Julius Kaesoron quoted. “Names are feared; but a foe one has not considered terrorizes no one. The Imperium of Man is not what they need to fear- the Imperial Army and our Legions are.”
“We all know,” Tarvitz said with an intangible air of regret, “that each of us would follow our Primarch to the end of the universe; of course we will go to Ultramar. And of course we will triumph, given that Guilliman’s Legion is still crusading.”
“Yes,” Demeter noted, “but there’s an unrelated question I wanted to ask. Who put up the skulls in the Triumphal Way and why?”
“Eidolon did,” Fulgrim said.
The Lord Commander gave a small smile. “Are skulls not as much a symbol of our victories as paintings? And are they not, also, art, given my modifications?”
“What about the reduction of the guard?” Demeter pressed, likely emboldened by the lack of open hostility to his previous question.
Fulgrim shrugged, though like everything else he did the movement was epic. “Fewer volunteers. It is a rather boring duty, after all, and anyone who attempts to board this ship will be sorely disappointed anyhow.”
That was a proud statement, but try as he might Vairosean couldn’t think of anyone who could board an Astarte Legion flagship and win. The exception was, as always, other Astartes; but the Pride
was among the most powerful vessels in the Imperium, even when compared to its brothers.
Captain Demeter nodded, suddenly almost sorry. “I apologize if I offended you, father; I was merely curious.”
The Second Captain’s disapproval was evident, but his honesty was equally clear. Vairosean imagined all men must be so transparent to one such as Rylanor; but Demeter’s openness was unique in that it was painfully obvious, and painfully charismatic, to all who saw it.
Vairosean, in all honesty, shared Demeter’s distaste; but the decorations of the Pride of the Emperor
were beautiful, and would probably be beautiful even if they were painted in pus and built of feathers. What concerned him more was the guard. It was a tradition, and order required tradition.
“There was a time when guarding the Triumphal Way was seen as an honor,” he carefully noted.
“Honor, aye,” Dasara of the 25th said, “but things are changing.”
Fulgrim nodded. “It is possible to reach perfection in standing and beautifully holding a weapon; yet it is much more worthwhile to reach perfection in using it. Times are changing indeed, Vairosean, and I would like you to be among those at my side as they do.”
“I always will be,” Vairosean stated.
“Then why,” Eidolon attacked, “have you still not received Commander Fabius’ augmentations?”
Fabius opened his mouth to protest, perhaps to say he had enough willing volunteers as it was- he had used that argument no less than thrice before- but Vairosean waved him to silence. “I will accept the implants after my next victory,” he declared.
It was as if a weight had been lifted off his feet. It was something he had to do, sooner or later. And he would put the past behind him yet. He had, after all, done it before.
The Phoenician’s face filled with radiant content. “So be it,” he said. “The Third and Twenty-Fifth will fight on Slodi in the first battle of the Unbroken Stars campaign, both with individual strategic control. And I do expect victory, Marius. Victory and perfection.”
“I can allow myself to give nothing less,” Marius said.
There were some quick words after that, several congratulations, but the campaign was a few days off yet and the Legion would not yet feast in honor of the victory to come. The gathering ended on the highest note Vairosean had felt in some time. It was only as he exited that he felt the cold eyes of Commander Fabius glued to him and a slight chill- a tiny sliver of the fear Astartes were not supposed to feel- ran down his back.
He did not greet any other Captains on the way out, instead turning from the Triumphal Way to find his Company. They had felt the same shame as their Captain after Laeran; they had spent the same number of months practicing swordplay and strategy. They would be as uplifted by news of the Slodi deployment as Vairosean. The Third Company had not sat idle since the failure on the atoll world, but they had never been deployed in full and never independently.
“Gather in the Triple Hall,” he voxed his sergeants and staff. “I bring good tidings.”
For his own part, he stopped in his quarters before the Triple Hall. They were clean and organized, though richly decorated; most of the paintings on the walls were realistic depictions of Terra. All the paintings, save a couple made by artists recently assigned to the fleet, predated Laeran; besides being Vairosean’s own shame, that planet changed those humans that had depicted it. Many of the Astartes, and all of the Remembrancers, who had seen the central temple had been affected by gases within. The Phoenician had explained to the Lord Commanders and the first three Captains that the effect was of the god Slaanesh and that there was nothing bad about it; but Vairosean could not look at or listen to the works of artists who had seen Laeran without being reminded of a flaming wreck.
Admittedly, the effect had been worse on first exposure, and now Vairosean could at least bear post-Laeran works. Still, as he put on his armor, his eyes took in Voyage of the Kartella
- a legendary painting of the first human ship to arrive in the Chemos sector. It was the oldest work in the Third Captain’s collection, dating back two millennia.
Once ready, Vairosean marched into the hexagonal Triple Hall. Three massive marble columns supported a richly decorated ceiling, painted entirely in varying shades of violet. In the center a huge statue of the Emperor, recently completed by Fleet remembrancer Ostian Delafour (who had, due to unclear circumstances, not visited Laeran and thus still produced great work), stood behind Vairosean’s throne.
Most of the Company was already gathered; 100.34 seconds after the Captain entered, the last member of Squad Terogil hurried in, and Vairosean began his brief speech.
“Third Company! Today the Phoenician himself, Lord Fulgrim, has deigned to grant us an opportunity to redeem ourselves after Laeran. Today he has assigned to us the honor of fighting on the planet of Slodi, alongside- but independently of- our brothers in the Twenty-Fifth.”
A great cheer went up as Marines slowly, individually understood what had been promised, knocking its way across the Company.
“We will fight well, of that I have no doubt. But the Phoenician expects nothing less than perfection. We must give it to him! I will upload the operation specifics to the Company database. Train well; mankind needs you. Children of the Emperor!”
“Death to his foes!” the Company echoed, this time as one.
They began to file out immediately; Vairosean was among the first. Sergeant Terogil tried to get up to the Captain to apologize, but Vairosean waved it away; he was not the Primarch, and he did not get offended at minor lateness. It would be hypocritical, to say the least.
He returned not to his quarters but to the simulator room and began to replay, for the hundredth time, the operation on Laeran, though this time he fought with a concrete determination he had previously lacked, in the light of the coming victory. When he succeeded- against resistance twice as difficult as he’d actually faced- he picked up his best blade and headed toward the dueling cages.
For hours on hours, Captain Marius Vairosean fought ceaselessly.
And around him, the galaxy changed.