Heresy Fiction Comp 2012: Burning Skies (40k)
The sky was burning. It was a nameless sky above a nameless planet, and it burned with the reds and oranges of promethium flames, the white blues of plasma, and the varied shades of purple that signified sorcery. No one sort of flame was enough to turn the world below into an inferno.
The cruiser sat in low orbit, a massive Grand Cruiser, flanked by a quad-formation of carriers and gunships. In its own right, the small battle group was enough to level an entire world. Unfortunately, the world was too important to simply level. It was a vital asset, so they had to let it burn from the ground up, instead of letting fire rain from the sky.
The one known as the Arcannyx watched from a lower observation deck. The large viewport dominated the front of the vessel, just below the mid deck of the ship. Vaguely angled upwards and out, there was nothing of the vast warship to get in the way of his view, and he was able to look down on the burning world with ease. Even as he watched, there was another blossom of purple flame, a small explosion that signified another flare of sorcerous warp energies. Normally seeing colors like that light up a world would immediately tell the Arcannyx that his troops were involved, and he would chastise them for such a massive display of power and destruction. Unfortunately, he also knew that today the battle on this burning world was nothing like normal.
Millennia ago, the one known as Arcannyx had another name. He was called Andrus, to friends, mentors, associates, students. One of the Thousand Sons of Magnus, he was one of the most powerful of their sorcerers. He was also one of Ahriman’s most trusted advisors, someone that they often called ‘Chosen’. One of the great workers of the Chief Librarian’s Rubric. One of his champions, and seekers of lore. On this unknown world, he was also the defender of Ahriman’s virtues.
Sadly, he was also a slayer of kin.
On the far side of the burning, unnamed world, was a similar battle group. Instead of five mid-sized cruisers, there were two great battleships. Ancient designs, similar to the ship that the Arcannyx stood upon but far more dangerous, each of those craft had been drifted the warp for millennia, exposed to storms and fire and war. Their once exquisite adamantine skins now looking as scarred as the planet they orbited, the planet that now burned. They belonged to his brothers. The Thousand Sons of Magnus. There was only one significant difference. Those Sons were the ones still favored by the Cyclopean. Those Sons that had embraced the boons of the warp. Those that had tasted the gifts of daemons.
When Ahriman’s Rubric completed its work, when the Legion was transformed, Magnus exiled Ahriman and those who followed him from the planet of sorcerers. It was supposed to be a great punishment, to be secluded from the Primarch, to be removed from all of their brethren. But Ahriman cared not about that, and Andrus, as one of his students, agreed. The fleshchange had ruined them, devastated their ranks. The Rubric was a necessary evil to save what was left. This was no punishment. This was freedom from the grip of daemons. Unfortunately, not every Thousand Son was of the same belief. Some of those were now on an unnamed planet as it burned.
The Arcannyx turned away from the viewport a moment before the doors opened. Once upon a time Andrus had taken the title of Arcannyx, a term meant to signify his mastery of the arcane, and a command of his cabal, which he had called the Shattered Suns, a tribute to the break the Legion, a play on the originals without showing the same dedication to Magnus. Over time, the title had become honorific, and eventually honorific had become name. He had become Arcannyx, and only a few remembered Andrus was attached to his name at all.
When the Rubric was cast, those Astartes who lacked in any psychic powers had been destroyed, converted into automatons, living suits of armor. Even then some of their own latent psychic energies had remained, manifesting in protective fields around each ‘Rubric’, as they were called, byproducts of the same-named spell. But others, with more psychic strength, had had their powers augmented. Many were like the Arcannyx, powerful sorcerers, who wielded the warp into spellforms. Their ranks also had battlemagi, those that had learned to simply manipulate those sorcerous energies into raw destruction, blasts of killing fire that could manifest as gouts of flame or beams that could pierce armor.
Others had learned to harness their own energies into making them more lethal warriors. The Archons were few in numbers, and aside from the Rubrics, had the least strength of sorcery. Instead they had honed their strengths into becoming a powerful force of arms. The Archons dressed in the most ornate of battle plate, always in the Terminator design, and wielded a pair of warblades with lethal accuracy. They had become the personal retinue of the Arcannyx, his bodyguard and inner circle. And one had just stepped inside. Even before the doors hissed open, the sorcerer knew one of his had arrived.
“Lord Arcannyx. You wanted to know the moment there was a lull in the conflicts.” Beneath the heavy, ornate helm, the Archon’s voice was heavily modulated, to the point that he could not identify the speaker, even knowing them all so intimately. Andrus offered a small laugh, glancing back out to the viewport. From up here, it looked like there was no lull at all, but the burning had changed. The fires were mundane, the blue of plasma and the red-yellow of flame, but there was no purple that had indicated warpflame. The sorcerous battle was at a lull for now, possibly because both the tides of the Warp had shifted, and the ebb of power was too far out of reach.
“Good. Assemble the Archons, we will descend immediately. The sooner this ends the better. I will oversee the rest of the operations myself.” The Arcannyx didn’t bother waiting for acknowledgement. The heavy boots of his armor clanged as he pushed past. Servos hissed as his armor propelled him forward. Like the Archons that acted as his guard, he too wore Terminator armor, though his design was older that the Ebonite pattern that the Archons wore.
Behind him, he heard orders going out through a helmet vox. They would meet him at the teleportation chambers. And they would wait hours, if he so demanded. He had no intention of doing so, but he did need to stop by his quarters briefly. The grand crested helm for his armor sat upon a table there, staring at him as he walked through the door. Sitting beside it was Paradox, the two-handed runeblade that the Cabal’s artificers had forged for him. The name was a joke offered to him by one of his lieutenants; the runeblade was a weapon used more to focus his sorcery more than cutting through flesh. It was a paradox in the hands of an Astartes, someone bred for war. Arcannyx had enjoyed the irony, and the name stuck for the weapon.
Fastening the scabbard to his armor, making sure the blade was fast, he started for the lower decks. By the time he had arrived in the teleportation chambers, his helmet was secured, encasing him in ebony and gold, blue robes wrapped around him. Though he wasn’t in battle yet, already his armor feeds were transmitting across his displays, information about his cruiser for now. Six Archons stood there waiting for him, as well as three acolytes in blue robes and high crested helms, ready to assist in the teleportation. “Are we ready, b brothers?”
Acknowledgements came from him each of the Archons. They arranged themselves around their lord, protective even before leaving the vessel. The three acolytes began their incantations, ran fingers across consoles as they processed information. The Arcannyx felt the rise of power surging around them, the Warp reaching through bulkheads through the transmission platforms and focusing arrays. He felt raw sorcery, more potent than anything short of when he wielded his magics in destructive force.
He felt alive.
The world shimmered in a purple haze, and then there was a surge, a flash of icy coldness. Through the haze of purple came a half instant of translation; it happened so fast that the human eye didn’t see it. Even an Astartes didn’t witness the translation event, but moments later their brain was able to identify and recognize it. The swirl of colors and radiation, of energies that simply could not be described except to be called Warp.
And moments later the storm abated around them. The instant was over, and they were feet-down on a burning world. Fires smoldered nearby, craters from weapon discharges. The moment Andrus appeared, the cabal was aware of their Arcannyx’s appearance, so in tune were they with their archmage. Frost hissed on the armor of the Archons and himself, melting in the heat of the scorched world.
It was a good landing point, chosen earlier when the Shattered Suns arrived on planet, kept open and available at any time for teleportation, up or down. Just before the open clearing were ranks of Rubrics, able to stay at attention for hours on end, the perfect sentries, only their Aspirant leaders changing for their watches. Portable towers had been set up allowing Astartes to keep a watch. Squads of battlemagi were near the front lines, holding back larger armored units. Zephyrs flew overhead on swirling whirlwinds of purple fire. There was even a massive Sphinx, a massive spider-legged walker with an Archon manning the controls inside their central unit. Missile launchers and cannons aimed upwards, firing off at distant targets.
Translation complete, Arcannyx began stepping forward through the ranks, Archons falling to either side of him. The Rubrics, partially sorcerous constructs, fell to either side, breaking ranks and letting their superiors walk through. The living Suns, Battlemagi, Zephyr, Acolytes and Aspirants all turned, feeling the essence of their lord moving towards them. Some came to a knee, others simply bowed their head. The Arcannyx did not care about the nature of their acceptance. Only the acknowledgement. Ranks closed behind him as he walked through, until the archmage stood at the front of his ranks. The Rubrics straightened, immediately coming to attention, the Archons closed ranks around him. Battlemagi took up their place to the flanks, where their powers were most destructive.
It was an impressive show of magical force. It was just as impressive a show of martial force as well. Less than a Chapter worth of his Suns. A dozen more such battle groups were scattered across the surface of this world. Battles had raged everywhere, creating the fires that had been seen from orbit. Legions of Spire guard and other mortal soldiers, auxiliaries to the Astartes force were deployed as well, using heavy armor and weaponry.
It broke Andrus’s heart that it would be used against his brothers. The Arcannyx knew that it had to be done, that these were those that had broken their ties with traditional lore and reason, and had begun to traffic with the darker forces of the Warp. With Daemons.
“My Lord. They’re reforming. I think they felt the surge of our arrival, and they know someone important is here.” The clean, clinical voice of one of the Archons came through his helmet Vox. The Arcannyx turned his head, looking out into the distance. The auspex in his helm lit up as it scanned the distance, seeing the growing build up of powered armor and weapons as Magnus’s Sons formed ranks.
“Of course they know. We have similar tactics, after all. And they’re here for the same thing we are. The vaults beneath this world are too good to pass up.” The words were true. The reason that brought them to this world was a rumor of an ancient tomb, of powerful magics and demigods buried beneath. There was no way to be certain until they controlled the planet, but almost the moment they arrived the opposing fleet had transitioned into orbit on the far side. Since then the world had burned.
A simple mental response switched his Vox to his squad here. Near the back, servitors would pick up the transmission and use relay voxes to transmit to other elements across the theater of war. “Shattered Suns of Nikea. You have been asked to do something terrible. To fight brother against brother. Even more terrible than the fighting of Astartes against other Astartes, you have been asked to fight other Sons, what they would call the true sons of Magnus. But they are wrong. Magnus and his followers fell from grace. They gave up. Gave in. They are no true sons. They are not believes in Magnus’s vision. In Ahriman’s vision. Throne, even the Emperor’s vision. They may have given up on us, but we have not given up on them, and when we prove our strength again, we will show them the might of our Sorcery, and that we resisted the darkness of the Warp. Today, my Suns, we slay daemons.”
The transmission clicked off. He wasn’t quite sure what he expected. There was no cheering, no fanfare for his speech. His Archons clicked acknowledgments over their voxes. The Battlemagi seemed to hum as they drew more warp energy in, preparing for war. The Rubrics just stood there. Suddenly Andrus felt foolish for even making the speech, but the habits of being an Astartes were hard to break. A leader needed to lead. By words, and by deeds. Well, the words had just been covered. Now it was time for the deeds.
In the distance, the large force of soldiers was getting closer. Their armor was cleaner, more blue and gold, less black like his own forces. It was as good as any method for telling the two forces apart. Tanks rolled forward, supported by a phalanx of Rubrics. There were large walking machines, dreadnoughts, which had been twisted and corrupted by the warp, crazed and blood thirsty. And worst of all were packs of flares in the warp, raw balls of violent energy. As the Arcannyx watched, he saw those raw warp flares coalesce, slowly forming into creatures straight out of the Empyrean. Daemons. Just seeing them made Andrus’s blood run cold, even as the Arcannyx thought in his head what formulae and spells would be needed for such summoning. And what would be needed to counter them. The answer was quick and pragmatic; while less violent and dangerous to his forces, raw violence would be far more effective, quicker and straightforward.
“Sphinxes. Soften them up. Exemplars, forward. Mow them down.” Again the vox relayed orders. N the back ranks, the massive six-legged walker engines lumbered forward. Huge pincer legs buried themselves sin the dirt. Older models of what were now called Defilers by many of the legions, they were not animated by daemons as some were, but instead manned by an Archon, using a psychic connection to the controls, as well as manual triggers. But no daemons, and that was what was important. The warriors brought up targeting systems, watching the massive battle cannons rising up for the right angle. Three such Sphinxes hunkered down, bracing to fire. In unison, all three cracked with the thunder of firing. The muzzles venting flame, firing massive shells that flew upwards, disappearing into a burning sky. Where the shells impacted, huge gouts of flames lit up, massive craters where they large forces of Rubrics stood. One of the shells crashed down on top of a Predator, the battle tank lost in a blossom of heat and flame.
After them came two massive engines, half again as tall as Dreadnoughts, also manned by an Archon instead of a demonic presence. The Exemplars were powerful battle engines, more durable than dreadnoughts, stronger, and better armed. Psychically shielded through their link to the Archon installed, the stepped forward, their shields and heavy armor plating protecting them from the few random bolter shells that found the range to score hits. As more blasts and explosions came closer to them, they leveled the two massive arms, each one ending in large, heavy caliber cannons. A roll of thunder as they opened fire, and their guns began reaping through ranks of Astartes and human infantry both, like a scythe through wheat.
“Advance.” He gave the order, and the Rubrics began moving forward, bolters at the ready. Unlike most Astartes, they could aim on the move, fire for range and accuracy. They were slow, but steady. Normally it was an advantage in combat, just as the energy fields that their sorcerous nature provided. Against more of their own kind, however, it just meant that the playing field was leveled. Not willing to waste even a single shot, they continued marching forward, not firing until they were at optimum range. A few more meters, and then as one their bolters opened up. Across the killing field, the blue and gold Rubrics knew the same ranges, and their guns began to bark as well. As soon as both sides were obviously engaged, the normally lifeless automatons suddenly moved tactically, settling behind rubble and cover, acting like more animated soldiers.
Bright blasts of plasma exploded past the Arcannyx’s eyes; he would have been blinded if not for the optic shields of his helm. Looking over his shoulder, he saw the Battlemagi wielding their magics, throwing warp energies in raw, destructive form. Beside him another warcaster hurled a lance of bright energy that tore through the armored body of a dreadnought.
Of course, the battle wasn’t one sided. All of this happened in short minutes. His own Rubrics fell to bolter fire as shells pierced armor and warp shields. Missile launchers fired, sending troops scattering in blossoms of explosions. For every Warmagi mystical fire, a warp-mutated Obliterator mimicked similar power with their own weapons, ever shifting mutating weaponry from their terminator armored skin.
In essence, they were two equally matched forces, with access to the same basic forces. The difference was fundamentals; daemons versus pure magic.
“Dragons.” The simple word, the command given, and it was met by the roar of more thunder. It started softly, a low hiss in the air, and it built up to a brutal sonic boom that Andrus felt even through the armor. High above, a great beast of indigo and azure steel and golden edging flew through the sky. Dragons were things out of legends, but all legends came from nuggets of truth. Powerful elemental constructs, creature of warp energy that couldn’t be completely bound in flesh, they had been given life by animated massive armored shells, forging them into the primal, legendary avatars of dragons of old. It swooped overhead with the speed of an assault bomber, roaring with rage and the joy of freedom. It flew, it soar, and it breathed flame from its steel-tipped maw. Where flames touched, ranks of Rubrics burned and withered.
A moment later a second dragon flew past the first. No less menacing, it opened its mouth and a hail of fiery heavy shells few from it, tearing through a rhino and sending troops scattering as the wreckage exploded in a ball of flame. The beast continued on, flying over a large, squat personnel carrier, and razor-sharp talons gripped the sides of the vehicle, tearing through it like it was paper.
Pleased with the surprise that the drakes offered, Arcannyx turned towards the center of the battle, just in time to hear the warning over his vox. Even that wasn’t all the warning he received, however; he was in tune with the entire battle, the living warp swirling around him. Including the surge of violence as a pack of Astartes crashed into their line. The Archons had their blades in hands, quickly bringing the runic fighting blades up to counter claws and fangs. The possessed were the culmination of everything the Thousand Sons had once stood against, the flesh change, and now it ran rampant in the ranks that Arcannyx’s cabal now fought against.
It made Andrus angry, and as he felt all of that anger surge through him, he raised one his hand. He felt almost detached as he felt the magic surge through him, using him as a vessel more than him using the power. A rush of raw energy bubbled up, and exploded out of his outspread fingers. A gout of flame as violent as anything the adamantine drakes could create washed through the mutated Astartes, melting flesh and armor. The smell of burning corpses ran thick around the battlefield. The few that remained screeched in pain, still clawing and hacking at the heavy armor the Archons wore, but it was utterly ineffective.
It was a foolish endeavor, and it quickly made the Arcannyx suspicious. Distraction! The voice in the back of his mind screamed. He whirled around, Paradox taking the head off another of the mutants, even as a massive shadow blocked out the light of the distant, harsh sun. With an impact that he felt in the soles of his boots, the demon prince landed. As tall as the Exemplars, with a wingspan nearly as wide, it was a living tear in the Warp, a constant maelstrom of turbulent energies that made its dark flesh glow with ever-changing runes. In one hand it carried a sword as tall as a dreadnought, made of black steel and rippling with dark powers. Its first swipe of the weapon tore through two of its own, the possessed creatures squealing in terror and pain, before the blade finally stopped its forward momentum by burying itself in one of his Archon retinue.
He heard the pain through his helmet vox, a scream of more than just pain. This was a dark, twisted thing, and he could feel the way it was mutating the warrior within, just by its nature, and the delicate balance that the Suns usually had. He could feel the way the twisted warp energies were doing just that, twisting the Archon in his armor. And then the screaming suddenly ended. Bio signs for his bodyguard went out on Arcannyx’s helm display, and as he looked over his shoulder he watched as another warrior gave him mercy, driving the hissing blade in his left hand through the armor’s gorget and ending the torture. A mercy, hiding from a dark, twisted death.
The daemon reared back, swinging that massive blade again. While he towered over the Arcannyx, the archmage raised his own sword, Paradox glowing with purple ripples, warpflame igniting through the runes on its length. It was like stopping a battleaxe with a butter knife, but this butter knife was a focus for the sorcerer’s considerable psychic might, and the towering prince was locked, blade to blade with Andrus. The Archons couldn’t assist, still dispatching the last feeble attempts from the possessed marines around them. The moment of one terminators turned, ready to strike with the matched blades, the daemon lashed out with his free hand, sending the warrior flying. Not a mortal wound, but it still was not pleasant.
He could feel the tension in the Archons, awaiting orders even as they dealt with the last of their opponents. Around them, the Thousand Sons seemed to be growing in strength, bolstered by the nearness of their daemonic champion. This battle needed to end, and soon. The Warp felt close, suffocatingly so. The only reason he could think of were those daemons he saw earlier. They had to be close, but the Arcannyx was too busy dealing with the threat to try and fight them off. Considering the bulk of the archaic terminator armor, the archmage moved with all the speed and grace of an Astartes. Paradox scored minor cuts along the daemon’s flesh, but without any significant damage, while the daemon’s blade managed to singe against his armor but also could find no purchase. The first Archon rushed forward, enemies dispatched, trying to slash at the daemon’s flanks, but a moment later the fiery denizens had charged their point, recognizing the strongest conflux of energies.
At that point it was a melee, and one to the death. The Archons spun outwards, forming a wall of glowing blades as they fought back the demons trying to breach their defenses. And within the wall was the greater daemon, lashing out wildly with its sword, trying with equal fervor to destroy the Arcannyx, and destroy his guard and let the daemons accomplish the same end. The Archons were his most elite warriors, training for centuries to be perfect warriors, swordsmen without peer, wielding magic to enhance them in battle. Many times the daemon’s grand blade got past Andrus’s defenses, only to be repelled by sorcerous fields that absorbed the blows. But it was not perfect, and another Archon had fallen, overwhelmed by the onslaught of greater and lesser daemons.
“We need to end this, now. If we can break this monster, the entire flank will break. Brace.” The private vox command came from Andrus, directly through to his Archons. A moment later another command was given on a separate channel. It caused argument, but he was the Arcannyx.
There are days where sorcery can win any war. But when sorcery is the weapon of the day, one has to change tactics. The words belonged to their leader, Ahriman, the chief librarian. It was the lesson of the day when the Wolves took Prospero. Fight like a marine. Don’t give voice to the heretical accusations. Well this time it was the same tactics. Just a different lesson.
He felt the tremor in the earth from afar, but that’s because he was waiting for it. His Archons, knowing what was coming, all dropped to a knee, blades up. It was a completely defensive posture, rarely used, but it held the daemons back while they waited. Arcannyx could not afford to do the same, so he was forced to wait while his blade continued to cross with the daemon lord’s. He felt fate coming, felt the air grow warm. Felt the ripping of what was coming as time seemed to slow. There was a high pitched whistle, and the daemon looked up, in time to see the fiery shell from one of the Sphinxes arcing towards the fray. It was the distraction that Andrus needed, and he lunged forward, channeling the psychic might of the warm through Paradox as he buried the blade through the daemon’s belly.
He knew the creature was dead the moment the warp charge burned through the blade and into the monster. But it was all the more satisfying when the world exploded around him as the blast erupted bare meters from them. When in doubt, kill the thing twice. Technology was just as deadly as magic.
He had no idea how long he was unconscious. He knew before opening his eyes that he was back on board the cruiser. The warp felt different, above the burning planet. His armor was not on. Obviously he had been hurt more than he expected by the blast. His eyes opened, and he found his four Archons standing there, watching vigil. Armored and helmed, unspeaking sentinels until they were aware he was well again. “My lord.”
“I take it, since we’re in orbit again, that we won?” His entire body ached, but already he could feel his genetically enhanced body taking stock. He was bruised and battered, but he’d live.
“Yes Arcannyx. Your ploy worked. Between your blade and the explosion, the Daemon was destroyed. The lesser beasts too, and the others nearby were destroyed as well. Seeing their champion destroyed did as you hoped. They were demoralized.” There was a cough from the terminator armor. “The rubrics at least fought well, but without their commanders they lacked finesse.”
Andrus couldn’t help but laugh, though the action hurt. “Good. Status of that rock below us?”
“Mopping up, my lord. Scanners have been working on the vault’s location as we speak.”
The Arcannyx gave a heavy sigh. Still more to deal with. He slowly stood up, catching himself so that no one would see his weak knees. After all, the Arcannyx was all powerful. Indestructible. He had just taken a battle cannon shell to the chest and shrugged it off, no? It was duty that he needed to endure.
“Contact the artificers. Ready my armor. We’ll translate as soon as I’m armored again.” As he spoke, he turned, looking down at the world. It smoldered now, but didn’t burn. It was a small improvement. But only just.