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post #21 of 44 (permalink) Old 02-13-15, 10:21 PM
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CHAPTER EIGHT

Argyre was secure, but Castrmen Orth was far from happy.

The order had come in shortly after he’d broken into Magos Prenitiev’s forge, the last point of resistance in the basin. For supposedly devoting all of their resources to unleashing their god, many of the Order of the Dragon’s individual members were clearly hedging their bets. Orth’s own battalion had thankfully suffered no more losses, but the infantry had been devastated.

His lost tanks were being rebuilt; the victory in Noachia had been a major triumph, but an exceedingly costly one, in men and especially in materiel. For him more than for Rochaar, as it happened, but it was Rochaar that was the anomaly among the Iron Hands as a whole, not him.

Noachia had been painful in the extreme; but such was war. Argyre had certainly been less so. But that was not the cause for Orth’s current confusion. Rather, it was the fact that, as Argyre was taken, Ferrus Manus himself arose from his seclusion and gave an order that went against the very idea of progress. Chaos, he said – Chaos, the official religion of the Imperium – was to be abandoned. The Iron Hands were to flee in fear from the horrors of the Warp, as in the days before the Emperor’s revelation. The Emperor could still be worshipped, but the power of the Warp was to be forgotten.

Orth did not dispute that his Primarch’s return was a good thing. His orders to the battlegroups had completely realigned the war map, setting up total strategic victory in, potentially, one month. If the tech-priest heretics could be defeated in the area of the Labyrinth they were so irrationally seeking, and in the south, the war would be as good as done. Orth wasn’t sure about how easy either of the two battles would be to win, as many of the Iron Hands were tied up in other sieges across Mars. But Ferrus had turned, for instance, Orth’s charge from an attempt to do maximal damage before inevitably retreating into a thrust to finish off the rebels’ heartland.

But Ferrus could not be right in blocking the Legion off from change. Some of his madness, at least, clearly remained. And so Castrmen Orth, standing on the tower that had topped Prenitiev’s forge, now largely a smoking ruin that was, nevertheless, still freestanding, looked down at the vista of gray and red and tilted his lips in thought, waiting for the return ping from Ulrach Branthan that would tell him their meeting place.

He did not have to wait much longer. The return ping flew in, and Orth felt vindication at its contents. Now, in the forge below. Branthan had proven clearly that the Warp was a powerful ally; that, or he was lying, and this was a trap. But Orth would spring that trap if he had to. He was an Iron Hand, after all.

So he walked down the spiraling metallic staircase, glancing around to commemorate the knowledge lost. This, much like his decision to join Branthan, was (he contemplated) driven more than anything by his philosophical beliefs, even though those beliefs were distant from his regular activity. He was a tank commander; a warrior, not a builder. But he respected the work of building, and perhaps he could be more than he currently was.

He descended further, following that same staircase below the nominal Martian surface, and entered the heart of the former forge. Already a couple of loyal tech-priests were scurrying around in the distance, trying to rebuild something from the ruins. Two adepts would not be enough for that, though. Not enough of the Mechanicum had remained loyal, and therefore the lack of skilled staff constantly plagued the Iron Hands; and the loyal tech-priests had no desire whatsoever to go into a recent conflict zone, or even to send any of their underlings there.

And then Castrmen Orth descended the last step, and came to the door. It was a tall, chromium-based double door. It led into the tunnels that connected together the forges of the Argyre basin; as such, it was locked with thousands of encryptions, ones that would take all the cogitators of Mars a thousand years to break via brute force. It also had a Space Marine-shaped hole in its center.

Orth stepped through that hole, and faced Ulrach Branthan, Captain of the Sixty-Fifth Company, also known as Clan Erigez.

“Brother-Captain Branthan,” Orth said, noting that two other Iron Hands stood by Branthan’s side. “Welcome to Argyre.”

“Thank you,” Branthan replied, “and I find the ‘accommodations’… satisfactory. This will make a solid place to begin a laboratory in the Martian south. Brother-Centurion Orth, these are my lieutenants – Xage Urannih and Cadmus Tyro. I do not believe you have met them.”

Orth exchanged the warrior grip with Urannih and Tyro. “If you were wondering,” he added, “the general area is quite secure, but we have not entirely completed our sweep of the tunnels. I doubt we will be interrupted, but it is not impossible.”

“It would be, if anything, good to get into an honest fight again,” Branthan said, cracking his knuckles under his gauntlets. “So, let us discuss the matter I am here for.”

“I assume you will not be ceasing the entirety of your experiments as per the Primarch’s edict?”

“Not all,” Branthan said. “We still aim to embrace the Warp. Though the Obliterator project is cancelled – the Gorgon awoke when we announced it, implying that Ferrus is severely angry about it. And it is unwise to invite the Primarch’s anger more than is necessary.”

“That sounds rational,” Orth noted, “especially since viruses are… difficult to contain.”

“We had to sacrifice much,” Branthan said, “but we obliterated the Obliterator, completely and utterly. Ferrus was right about it, actually. It, unlike our other projects, was notoriously difficult to control.”

“Indeed,” Orth said. “So what are those other projects?”

Urannih and Tyro grinned, in ways visible even under their armor if one knew where to look. Branthan, helmetless, showed a smirk.

“I could tell you,” Branthan said, “but – well, Tyro, why don’t you show him?”

The lieutenant, who Orth knew was also Branthan’s equerry, nodded and pointed to the circle drawn on the ceramite floor to their side. “That’s how we got here – protected Warp teleportation. No need for Gellar fields, only a sacrifice. Machines, if sufficiently complicated, do as well as humans; and there are plenty of machines here.”

“I see,” Orth said.

“No,” Tyro said. “Now you will see.”

The equerry took a canister from his armor and sprinkled dust into the circle, which Branthan now noticed was not drawn on, but incised into the ceramite. Then he took out a combat knife and, with Urannih’s help, drew a bewildering array of symbols on the floor, with surprising speed. As Urannih made the last line, the two Marines jumped back, and for good reason; the circle and its contents exploded into flame.

But from the fire, an entity emerged. It roared in frustration, caged within the ring. A yellow, snarling bat-like creature, it looked around the assembled Iron Hands uncomprehending of, seemingly, anything that was going on.

Then Branthan hefted his thunder hammer, and smashed the daemon on its head. Body fluids (Orth could hardly consider them blood, given the iridescent sheen and the light color) spurted forth, but all somehow fell within the circle. The corpse almost immediately began to dissolve into nothingness, but some wisps from it seemed to get stuck in the dust, creating multicolored swirls in the air.

“And that,” Tyro concluded, “is how one creates blackfate liquid. When solidified, it turns into blackfate crystals, which can be used for a variety of purposes. Blackfate liquid, however, has a simple utility – it’s an incredibly effective combat drug, albeit a somewhat addictive one if used too often.”

Branthan nodded. “Tyro is currently attempting to decrement his use,” he said. “I do believe, however, that you have a cooldown dose currently due?”

“Indeed,” Tyro said, and collected some of the liquid before injecting it into his armor. “From here, it – ah, that’s better. Now, Orth, spar with me.” That sounded like a bad idea, but Tyro calmed the centurion’s fears. “Blackfate has no negative psychological effect. Unlike any known Materium combat drug, my mind remains intact after injecting myself with it, discounting the effects of addiction.”

“Well,” Orth said, “if you can talk while on combat stims, that’s an incredible accomplishment in itself. First blood?”

“Or first grease,” Tyro added.

“Of course.”

They removed their armor and fell into their combat stances, and Branthan lowered his hand to indicate the bout’s beginning. Orth hung back, analyzing Tyro and his apparent capabilities. Tyro did likewise; Orth was quite impressed by that. It was almost as if Orth wasn’t using a combat drug at all.

And then Orth attacked, and it became evident that he was. The force of the responding punch threw Orth into the back wall. Tyro advanced, and the centurion replied with a perfectly placed kick that should have pushed the lieutenant back. It didn’t. Rather, Cadmus Tyro grunted, but otherwise didn’t even flinch.

Instead, he rammed the centurion, and blood flowed from Orth’s left arm. Tyro stepped back, satisfied.

“That was… demonstrative,” Orth said. It had also been quick, but he had no desire to repeat the experience. Thinking back, he recognized that even Tyro being an incredibly strong Space Marine would not have been enough to explain the fight. Simply put, Tyro’s eyes were filled with too much single-mindedness and causeless battle-fury to be from anything other than stims – or, apparently, blackfate. If there was anything Orth knew how to do, besides fighting mechanized wars, it was reading his brothers. Normal humans were much more difficult, but Iron Hands could be understood.

And right now he understood that there was something other than blood and blackfate in Tyro’s veins, and said so. “A non-combat drug of some sort,” Orth clarified.

“In a sense,” Branthan said. “I apologize for not being upfront with you about this – Tyro’s enhanced strength was blackfate, but there is also a small amount of aether in his blood vessels. We were hoping it would provide psychic abilities, and it did so in some of the test subjects, but usually – and in Tyro as well – it merely made the subject more difficult to read. Urannih, by contrast, had a larger dose injected.”

“Mine was not simple aether,” Urannih observed. “It was aethereal blood, the life of daemons. Others have used aether-flesh.”

“Such as myself,” Branthan stated. “My left arm is bionics, and my right is aether-flesh. There is even a chant.”

“Oh?” Orth was curious as to that.

“We have seen gods’ perfection, so surrender your metal; aether-flesh is the zenith, and we’ll prove it in battle!” Urannih recited.

“So,” Orth asked, “most of what you do is body modification?”

“Body and mind,” Branthan replied. “We are Iron Hands; we have always used abundant bionics. This is, to begin, merely the next step.”

Orth nodded. The power of Chaos was self-evident, and though blackfate’s addictive nature severely damaged it in his eyes, these were experiments that had been developed within a year. The progress that could be achieved within a few more would be vast indeed. Why was the Primarch denying them this?

It mattered not. Ferrus Manus had no right, for though he was the Iron Hands’ father in theory, he had abandoned them when they needed him. And he was not superior to the Emperor’s own decree that Chaos is an ally.

“But in truth,” Branthan said, turning Orth’s attention back to the captain, “it is more than that. You see, Orth, we seek more than merely improvement in battle. We are looking for the favor of the gods themselves. And through daemon-blood and aether-flesh, and a million other experiments, we shall ascend to beings beyond the limitations of what we are. We will be more than matter, Orth; indeed, we shall become like gods ourselves.”

It was a matter, then, of transcendence. And as Castrmen Orth looked around the room, he thought of the importance of victory. Victory over foes, and victory over nature. Will deserved to reign supreme over all.

“We will triumph over anyone,” Orth said. “For Chaos.”

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post #22 of 44 (permalink) Old 02-14-15, 12:47 AM
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ooooo a schism developing in the Iron Hands??? This is turning into an interesting development, i like that some of the Iron Hands want to be what they are in the normal 40K world, more machine than flesh and sod what the father has degreed, i am liking this. Well done my friend.
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post #23 of 44 (permalink) Old 02-27-15, 06:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gothik View Post
ooooo a schism developing in the Iron Hands??? This is turning into an interesting development, i like that some of the Iron Hands want to be what they are in the normal 40K world, more machine than flesh and sod what the father has degreed, i am liking this. Well done my friend.
Thanks! Yeah, Ferrus Manus' problems have not gone unnoticed by his Legion, and from the outside he appears... erratic. And some among the Legion have taken issue with that. Just how many, time will tell.

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post #24 of 44 (permalink) Old 02-27-15, 10:18 PM
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CHAPTER NINE

The war was going to be lost. Magos Srequi Lantrane knew that, rationally, the only chance to avoid Mars dropping into the Emperor’s hands was to free the Dragon of Mars, the being that still spoke to her in her dreams.

Only, from those dreams, she was increasingly feeling doubt that this hope was real, either.

For one, there was the betrayal of Kane. But the dash to Noctis Labyrinthus, while ill-advised and terribly planned, was the fault not of the Dragon, but of the Order’s leadership. It had led to the collapse of countless positions, and if they failed to free the Dragon, had lost the Order the war. And though they had overwhelming forces, there was no guarantee that anyone actually knew how to open the Dragon’s prison.

The rush was a disaster, and even the Order leadership was, Lantrane suspected, beginning to recognize that; but it was too late to retreat. Kane would die, she would die, all of Mars would die if the Dragon was not saved.

But the dreams were getting – frantic. She caught glimpses of the Dragon’s mind, in them, and devoted herself to trying to connect them. What she saw left no doubt in her mind that the dreams were sent by a powerful intelligence, but it was far from clear that this force would help the Martians in their struggle. It seemed hungry, and destructive, perhaps even insane. Its logic was many levels above Lantrane’s ability, but that did not stop the magos from feeling suspicious.

It was still worth the gamble, releasing it. But better gambles had been available, to be discarded by zealots.

She had refused to come along on the expedition. It had been out of frustration with the strategy, a momentary decision that was also informed by the fact that she would make no difference on the front. And her odds of survival were rather low either way, but in the unlikely case that the Dragon was released and friendly, being in Wrought Axis, safe in the Hellas basin, could be good enough.

Of course, the forge was nearly abandoned. Only skeletal forces had been left behind, as in most of Hellas, because it was Argyre that would be the critical battle in the struggle to last long enough to capture the Labyrinth. And now Argyre was lost, and Orth’s and Rochaar’s tanks were circling the Martian globe along a short southern latitude, and Noctis Labyrinthus was under siege, but the possibility was real that Srequi Lantrane would die before she saw the Dragon’s dawn. Though Hellas would still be a very winnable battle, and that would prolong things significantly.

And so she stood outside the pitted edifice of her forge, Wrought Axis, and stared out at the flats of Mars.

Hellas had always been the most temperate place on Mars. It was, the archives stated, a pleasant place to be in the edenic sense, a massive lake fringed by jungles. Now the lake had long since been drained, Mars’s water suffering the same fate as Terra’s. Real estate was too valuable to waste it on a barren expanse of fluids.

Such considerations did not apply to the giant planets, for some reason. The gods of the Golden Age of Technology had not drained Uranus and Neptune of their water, or Jupiter and Saturn of their hydrogen. Perhaps they could not. That was, in the end, a distinct possibility, even with those heroic times.

But Srequi Lantrane suspected it had been something else, a desire not to perturb the universe too much in ways whose consequences were unknown. The humans of the Golden Age had known and been capable of much more than the modern Mechanicum. Had they truly been any more active, though?

Well, that knowledge was lost, a tragedy within the greater tragedy of the fall. The first fall, as it seemed it was fated to be.

Lantrane looked at her forge, or the half of it that remained. It was a bluish-tinted building, originally approximately circular in shape. The Iron Hands’ attack had come in from the north and, effectively, taken a bite out of Wrought Axis, one that amounted to half its useful area. From here, a knob to the west side of the complex (though of course Lantrane was standing on metal that was also part of her forge, of a subsidiary area, below her – there was no empty space on Mars), the dome appeared to be nearly intact. Great columns around its perimeter processed ores and other chemicals, feeding into great conveyor belts that snaked around, both before and below her, ultimately being turned into food, weapons, and infrastructure. Each of Mars’s forges was nearly self-sufficient, which had been a massive benefit in this war.

And yet, to Lantrane’s gaze, the injuries Wrought Axis had sustained were evident. There was the dome, which had partially caved in, in a manner that from this point of view was difficult but possible to see. There were the impact craters that dotted the columns’ surface, not from meteorites but from low-powered ammunition. A few more minutes of shooting this inaccurate, and Wrought Axis would have been completely gone. But Lantrane didn’t care about hypotheticals.

The Iron Hands did want Mars intact, at least in theory. Losses such as these were regrettable for both sides. Materiel was, after all, still being sent out from Mars, at least the Astarte-controlled areas, to support the invasions of the Great Crusade. But Ferrus Manus cared about such things less and less as time went on, and at this rate, half of Mars would be a level plain by the end of the war.

And Lantrane clenched her fists, both her biological right hand’s and the mechatendrils that replaced her left. The Mechanicum’s lifetime was supposed to be geologic. It was supposed to be long enough that dunes would cover their towers, strange metallic trees would grow from sludge pools, and the great monuments of humanity would drown before the Quest for Knowledge, in its endless variety, ceased. It could not end like this.

And it would not. No matter how difficult the battle might be, and how many blunders the Order’s Inner Circle made, Mars would endure, and the gambit with the Dragon would work. Because the alternative was unthinkable, and irrelevant.

“Excuse me?” a voice asked behind her, in Gothic.

It was a grating voice, metallic and clearly made by a machine, but also completely otherworldly. It spoke, in its intonation, of things Srequi Lantrane had no correlation for. Most strikingly of all, this information was picked up by her noocables (if only Zeth had finished that noospheric project!) despite them not being plugged in, and despite them not being calibrated to pick up information. Confused, but intrigued, Magos Srequi Lantrane turned around, to come face-to-face with a silver skeleton.

It stood, its eyes giving no sign of what, if anything, it was thinking. Its metallic skin slightly shimmered; its lower part was covered by four strips of what seemed like copper. Blue globules of power shone at bright points in its body, and a mysterious symbol inside what looked like a coffin shone in the middle of its ribcage. Its head was topped with a golden ‘headdress’, and its eyes glowed a piercing blue. Its right hand held a halberd twice its height, whose blade looked like a force weapon, though its hilt was downright bizarre, unlike any melee weapon Lantrane had seen and likewise carved with unknown symbols.

“What are you?” Lantrane asked, as respectfully as she could, keeping in mind that she was unarmed. Was this some Iron Hand invention?

“I am Anrakyr,” he said, and Lantrane’s noocables picked up unfamiliarity with the language. “I am merely… a traveler.”

Lantrane paused. “You are not here to kill me, are you?”

“I do not know who you are,” Anrakyr stated. “I only want... assistance in a task of mine.”

It was then that Lantrane’s mind registered the reality of the situation. Anrakyr was not being controlled by a human, she could tell that much. She was facing –

“Are you an… artificial intelligence?” she asked.

“Not precisely,” he answered. “Not one constructed by your species, certainly.”

So this thing was not just an abominable intelligence, but a xeno abominable intelligence. It was, in every sense and fashion, opposed to every piece of the Mechanicum’s principles. “How did you get here?” she asked.

“My ship was shot down,” he explained. “That will make it more difficult, though not overly so, to… complete my mission. I have no interest in the battle for this world, but it was an unexpected distraction.”

“I see,” Lantrane said, trying to inconspicuously back away.

“You may leave if you desire,” Anrakyr said, “as you are obviously a human of some importance here; but I would ask that you send a servant to accompany me.”

Lantrane paused.

Anrakyr was in every sense opposed to her creed, and had just stated that he had no interest in aiding the war effort. He was nothing more than a random, and very dangerous, distraction. But at the same time, he probably possessed untold technological marvels; and beyond that, Lantrane was just curious. That was the whole point of the Martian Mechanicum, was it not? Curiosity, even when it went beyond what most humans would consider acceptable. And it wasn’t as if there was anything to truly be gained by staying behind.

“That will not be necessary,” Lantrane said. “I will accompany you.”

Anrakyr’s eyes twinkled, though Lantrane wasn’t sure what emotion that indicated. “You need not do so if you do not desire to; and I am giving you fair warning that it will be dangerous.”

“It is dangerous,” Lantrane reasoned, “but I presume it is also interesting, at least for me, and important. After all, I deduce you are no servitor yourself.”

“That I am not,” Anrakyr accepted. “I am, to be clear, the Overlord of the planet Pyrrhia; though I have always desired to wander, more than most. And this is a rather important task, though one whose details I cannot yet reveal to you.”

Lantrane nodded, sending a few last orders to automate Wrought Axis’s defenses until her possible return. “You ruled a world?”

“I still rule Pyrrhia, in absentia. Though it may be some time before I return.” Anrakyr swept his gaze across the industrial landscape. “This planet…. Someone moved its position in the galactic plane since I have been here last.”

“The humans of the Golden Age of Technology moved Terra to a more central position in the galaxy, as befits the homeworld of humanity.”

“Terra – is it the third world from your star?”

“Indeed.”

Anrakyr’s head vibrated. “Of course,” he said, and Lantrane supposed he was laughing. “Of course it all comes back here.” He looked around, taking in the landscape, and hurled his gaze at Terra itself, invisible in the gray sky – invisible to human eyes, that is. “Come with me, then. I assume you have the access codes to the tunnels under the surface.”

“I do,” Lantrane said, “but in some areas of Mars, the ongoing war may have destroyed them. Where are we going?” She was nearly running; her bionically enhanced limbs were barely able to keep up with Anrakyr’s pace.

Anrakyr gave her the coordinates.

“Noctis Labyrinthus,” she said, and suddenly her world expanded. The Dragon was real – there was no other reasonable explanation. And freeing it was critical, even for one such as Anrakyr. “Wait,” she said. “We are there to free the Dragon?”

Anrakyr froze and whipped his head around in an instant. “Free the Dragon? Do you know what the Dragon is –”

“Srequi Lantrane. No, I do not know what it is exactly, but I do know it is our god.”

There was a long pause, Lantrane walking up to Anrakyr as her companion seemed frozen in thought, or perhaps memory. “They were our gods too,” he said eventually, resuming his walk. “Until we learned better. The thing you call the Dragon, Srequi – it is merely a shard of a greater being, or more accurately a greater monster. It possesses significant intellect, albeit tainted by madness, but its goal is exclusively destruction. It thirsts for energy, and has no sense of morality or honor. It might try to trick those unaware of its true nature into releasing it, but afterwards, it will act as a demon of death, leaving nothing living on this planet save those temporarily useful to it. With sufficient weaponry, of course, it can be fought. With specific equipment, it can be captured. But this shard, which you call the Dragon, is particularly strong, and will be difficult to deal with, though not impossible.”

“Is this why you seek it out? To destroy it?”

“No,” Anrakyr said. “My need is informational.”

And then, suddenly, everything settled into Magos Srequi Lantrane’s mind; and Omnissiah, but it made sense, perfect sense!

Perfect, magnificent, and terrible sense. The Dragon was a god, but not a god worthy of worship. The Order was going to destroy Mars, just as much as the Iron Hands – more than the Iron Hands. She wanted to deny it, to complain at the utterly untrustworthy sources, but it fit together too well. The truth was horrid, but clear.

“I need to contact the Order,” Lantrane said, her synapses firing at extra speed from the chemicals automatically being injected into her brain. “They actually want to release the Dragon. And if they do….”

“And they will listen to you?”

“…No. But at least warning them would be worthwhile.”

“No,” Anrakyr said, “warning them that they have a new foe is not worthwhile. The Dragon will not be released, no matter the price that must be paid.”

Lantrane grudgingly nodded. She had betrayed the Imperium (well, more the converse), betrayed Zeth and Kane, and ultimately betrayed the Order of the Dragon. But each individual decision had been logical, and if she was to betray everything in the name of knowledge, then she supposed she ought to be willing to do anything for an ideal she was willing to die for.

They walked, and then Lantrane saw a foreign object, a black skimmer glowing with blue runes, in the shape of two intersecting crescents. There was a standing platform at their intersection. And Lantrane’s noocables screamed in joy at the vast quantities of untranslatable information that swirled everywhere around the barge. Separately, Anrakyr and Lantrane climbed onto the barge.

“You have placed a lot of trust for me in a short amount of time,” Anrakyr observed.

“Curiosity,” Lantrane answered, “more than trust.” And then the skimmer took off, flying toward a tunnel entrance. “Actually, could we converse in binary?”

“Our binary,” Anrakyr said, “is different from yours. And when you are a machine, you savor the imprecisions of biological language more than you hate them, like some paradoxical delicacy, or art in general.”

Lantrane nodded, though privately she wondered if Anrakyr was understanding what she meant by these gestures. “The closest entrance to the tunnel networks is below us.” She leaned out, dropping a mechatendril to the metallic ground and snapping it open.

Then, she was nearly thrown out of the skimmer by its sudden drop, as it rotated in gyroscopic fashion before it slammed through the tunnel. Barely holding on, Lantrane noted that they were no longer hovering, but rather outright flying.

“How does this even work?” she asked, having to adjust her voice to the barge’s total silence.

“Vault anti-gravity,” Anrakyr said, “engineered to perfection. Getting the eddies right nearly drove the crypteks that designed the Annihilation Barge insane. But the result is nearly perfect control of three-dimensional motion, and simultaneously extremely efficient energy management.” Anrakyr then swerved the barge millimeters under a particularly low bar, rather proving his point.

“It will still take us some time to reach the Labyrinth,” Lantrane observed. “But we should be there much faster than the Order’s army.”

“That is fast enough,” Anrakyr said, his headdress suddenly releasing streamers that billowed in the wind the skimmer was generating, and his head slightly vibrating. “What is the current disposition?”

He was quieter, and the skimmer slowed down somewhat, as Lantrane gave him the overall summary of the War for Mars. “The Emperor is now a psychic tyrant,” she said. “So we turned to the Dragon, but our hopes were, it seemed, unwise. I had my suspicions about this god long before I met you.”

“Of course,” Anrakyr said, “of course this is how it would begin. As the homeworld foretold. The Emperor has made deals with Warp entities, you say?”

“Yes,” Lantrane noted.

“But it appears that the galaxywide rebellion is only beginning. Well, not an exact mirror, and it never would have been. But that confirms my worst fears, Srequi, in accordance with the divinations.”

Lantrane looked at Anrakyr’s skeletal form. It seemed difficult to believe the living machine had any fears; he seemed more like fear incarnate. “What were they?”

“That my mission is necessary. That this, Srequi Lantrane, is the final crimson dawn of the End Times, and the potential of all things in this universe. And that fear is why I journeyed, to ensure that hope remained, driven – for once – by my people. To ensure that this is not, after all, the end. An iron dawn, to avoid final dusk.”

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post #25 of 44 (permalink) Old 03-06-15, 09:33 PM
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INTERLUDE: MESSENGER

Lorgar Aurelian, the Urizen, Primarch of the Word Bearers and conduit of the Chaos Gods, stood and faced the quicksilver mirror.

His golden face was etched with the vertical writings of his renewed faith, as was the rose-golden armor that encased the rest of his body. The Emperor’s final acceptance of both his own divinity and the other, primordial gods had uplifted Lorgar in position; but it had elevated him even more in confidence.

Blood had been spilled, and now he was walking, like the other Primarchs, towards his inevitable and wondrous destiny. And unlike his brothers, he did so without doubt and with head held high. He was the bridge, the bearer of divine illumination. More than the Word – the full Truth, barely comprehensible even to one such as him.

The mirror shimmered, and the scowl of Ulrach Branthan, Sixty-Fifth Captain of the Iron Hands, appeared to face the Urizen.

“My lord,” the kneeling Astarte said.

“Branthan,” Lorgar replied. “What news from Mars?”

“Ferrus has not reconsidered,” Branthan said. “He maintains his ban on use of the Warp and worship of the gods, my lord. He….” Lorgar noted that the Iron Hand’s fists had been clenched, in fury against his own Primarch.

That was not good – it went too far, by far. Branthan had been meant as a spy and a test, not to hate his father. Either Lorgar had been too successful, or too extreme. Even now, there was much he had to learn about oration.

“Then act as you see fit,” Lorgar calmly replied. “He must see the truth of the Gods in time.”

“He will not,” Branthan replied. “His madness has gone too far for that.”

“Act as you see fit,” Lorgar said, and with his frustration and Branthan’s barely concealed fury ripples began to spread across the mirror’s surface. To Branthan, in orbit around Mars, Lorgar would appear to stand in a corner of his room, so long as the Astarte did not approach too close to the hologram. “For the Emperor and for Chaos.”

“For Chaos and the Emperor,” Branthan replied in agreement as the connection slightly stabilized before abruptly failing with a sweep of Lorgar’s hand. The Primarch began to pace the room as Branthan vanished from sight, considering his agent’s place.

It seemed Branthan was ill-positioned in his own Legion by this point. He had, of course, indicated to Lorgar that a significant portion of the Iron Hands would follow him over Ferrus Manus, but Lorgar did not believe him. It took more than recovery to turn a Legion against its Primarch.

Lorgar could have helped, of course, but he would never do so. Ferrus was a friend – a loyal friend, such as Magnus no longer was. Angron would raze Prospero, a broken brother breaking another, and Magnus would scream from the Warp in vengeance. And, in the end, Magnus the Red would likely be ended at the Red Angel’s hands. But Ferrus was loyal, honest, and now strong once more. And if the path he tread was not quite Lorgar’s own, well, all of them had distinct destinies.

No, Ferrus Manus would be left well alone, to prosecute the Martian War as he saw fit. And Lorgar would have his brother back, and perhaps more.

And Branthan – well, Lorgar didn’t particularly care about him, anymore.

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and that is why i love Lorgar
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post #27 of 44 (permalink) Old 05-28-15, 12:43 AM
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gothik: Lorgar's far from my favorite Primarch, but I did my best to do him justice.

All: Sorry for the delay - lack of inspiration, lack of time. No guarantees on future updates, but I'll try to speed back up.

CHAPTER TEN

Durak Rask looked at the strategic map warily, still impressed by the sheer variety of Martian warfare. Despite his experience, the details of the three-dimensional fighting on the Red Planet was mind-bogglingly complex, and not only to him.

All of which was not to deny that the general shape was quite simple. The Magma City was besieged, and fighting to defend it was ongoing.

Adepts Zeth and Wernitian, the leaders of the Martian priesthood on Horus’s side, stood to Rask’s left, staring at the same map and its vast, but quite clear, variety of symbols. Lgalun, Rask’s chosen second-in-command, was to his right.

“The Mondus Occulum will be almost entirely destroyed by now,” Lgalun observed. “I am not sure how much we will be able to save, at this rate.”

“We will be able to save Kane,” Zeth stated. “Who is the rightful Fabricator-General.”

Wernitian nodded. “He is crucial, at the very least, to avoid conflict over leadership within the Mechanicum in the future.”

“It is decided,” Rask said, and the others fell silent. “We will attempt the rescue. Four Death Guard squads will go. I will lead personally, and Squads Riolasa, Sofev, and Saxeost will accompany me. Aeronautical insertion, plan A-2.”

“That will not be a large amount of knowledge,” Wernitian observed.

“Our objective is Kane,” Rask stated. “Not knowledge.” Wernitian severely frowned, as Rask could tell by the slight motion of his cheek-studs; his mask gave no other sign of emotion. Nevertheless, the adept did not object. He had reason, after all, to be happy that this rescue mission was even happening; Lgalun was correct in the risks, both for the strike force and for the Magma City. The Iron Hands were not yet aware that Rask was here, putting down the few enemy Astartes to defector Iron Hands; and that too would almost certainly change after this flight, inviting a larger attack force against the somewhat ignored stronghold, the evacuation of which was far from complete. “The council,” Rask said, “is adjourned.”

Risk, and sacrifice; but a Space Marine did not run from those. And this was why they were on Mars, anyhow.

Rask called his forces to him, heading towards the Antrekor, a particularly large gunship attached to the Magma City that would, according to the chosen plan, be Rask’s effective flagship for this flight. Rising on the staircase, he noted the increased din below; albeit it had come at a severe cost in evacuation rate, the Magma City had been bolstered by abundant personnel and materials from Wernitian’s forge, which had fallen three days earlier.

Kane’s Mondus Occulum seemed like it would soon follow, which had caused the council in the first place.

Rask emerged into the hangar and beheld the massive, dark gray gunship for no time at all before focusing on his brothers, which were – one by one – arriving in the large room. Fifty-four Space Marines, with two casualties in Squad Saxeost thanks to a Titan. Riolasa’s squad, many of whom had begun to integrate Martian relics into their armaments. And Sofev and Saxeost, good friends and particularly fierce fighters that nevertheless retained full rationality. They would listen to Rask’s orders, and never tended towards savagery.

Not that Mineceno’s current condition was savagery, per se. Rask didn’t even know how to describe it. And the failure to save his subordinate nagged at him greatly: Mineceno’s path led only to death. More importantly, he had ceased to be useful, even if he remained stoic enough externally.

“Death Guard!” Rask declared. “The centerpiece of our mission is here. We are saving the master of the Mechanicum, Fabricator General Kane, and what else we can from his forge.” He swept his gaze around the assembled Marines. “In the name of Barbarus. Let’s begin.”

They did, gradually, Durak Rask’s own squad following him into the Antrekor. The others were divided among nine smaller gunships, preparing to fight their way towards Kane’s lair, the only spot of hope in a sea of warring traitors. Soon enough, they took off. Riolasa’s Sanikra Ondatikra led the loose formation; the Antrekor brought up the rear.

They followed a winding path, skirting the eastern flanks of Pavonis Mons. From time to time, intact batteries fired at them from below; but so long as they were not bombing anything, many of the machine-spirits simply did not judge it worthwhile to attack the armada. Even they were tired, like so many in the Tharsis region seemed to be; but the Death Guard did not tire. Neither, truth be told, did the Iron Hands, given their recent offensives.

Besides, they had enough power to flatten anything that fired at them without too much difficulty. For now.

Pavonis Mons deviated from the flight path, and then its shallow cone began to recede in the distance. Titan wreckage littered the valley floor below. The factories of Mars kept on producing material, and it kept being spent in those ceaseless battles.

Rask shook off his awe at the tenacity on display. This war of attrition was not one the tech-priests would win. They should have strategized better, perhaps attempted to gain aid from Horus for a single and devastating strike on Terra. Instead, they had left humanity behind and chosen to seek salvation not from themselves, or from another, but from lies. Lies that now led to destruction.

Not that truth always led to creation – Rask recognized that much.

He guided the flotilla towards the approaching slopes of Ascraeus Mons, and was soon greeted by Titan fire. Three machines: a Reaver and two Scout Titans. The Antrekor responded with similar shots, one getting a lucky strike that pushed a Reaver off-balance; before it could recover, the Death Guard were gone, the Warhounds choosing not to follow. Both of Saxeost’s gunships were severely damaged, but the ten kept flying.

They went closer to the ground this time, for fear of orbital bombardment. It did not come. There were some shots from underpowered guns, and –

Rask winced as one of them hit a previous hole in Saxeost’s hull, and then the entire gunship exploded into fire, taking one of Riolasa’s two-seaters with it. Rask could barely watch as the flaming wrecks smashed into the ground. They fell straight onto the – guerilla skitarii, perhaps?

Eleven of his battle-brothers, lost in that one shot. Though significantly more than nine of the Dragon’s servants perished as well.

“They fell unbroken,” Rask said over the vox, “and avenged themselves.” The emplacements were already far behind. He ordered some changes in formation, coordinated with Riolasa, to help prevent this sort of vulnerability with the damaged ship that carried the remnants of Squad Saxeost. If it went from a lucky shot, it would at least not take anything else with it; and the chances of that would be minimized.

They flew along Ascraeus Mons, iron designs on the surfaces below, many mirroring the sky; the sun was nearing dusk. No more shots, only wrecks. They descended, too, from the near-cosmic heights of Tharsis; the Antrekor’s engine hummed much more delightfully at that.

And in the distance, Mondus Occulum was beginning to be clearly seen. It sat on the edge of the northern plains, where Tharsis met what had been Mars’s polar ocean – had been both billions of years ago, and in the time shortly after terraforming. Now, the only water left was saturated with metallic ions, and flowed for the most part underground.

It stood, a crumbling mountain of its own, and around it siege lines were drawn. Rask ordered another realignment, conversing with Riolasa to get the finer points of the spearhead.

This time, there were sure to be losses. But Rask accepted those; Kane, and the knowledge within his forge, were critical.

Indeed, given that the planned grand evacuation of knowledge had been impossible, Rask suspected that they were their best retrospective reason for coming here in the first place.

There was a shield of static around the forge; communication was unreliable, even at this distance. Riolasa sent several pings to Mondus Occulum, repeating their intent to help the Fabricator-General. No way existed of telling whether they had been received by Kane.

Then, the storm. Rask calmly ordered the gunships to fire back, laying down a streak of death. Saxeost’s squad fell an instant later, as Riolasa pinged Kane more and more furiously. If that void shield stayed up, blocking the Death Guard from entering the forge, they’d have to –

And then, before Rask could finish that thought, space rippled before them and the Sanikra Ondatikra led the way into Mondus Occulum. It was smoking in a couple of places, but overall completely intact. Sofev’s flagship, with ten Marines, followed.

Fire was concentrating on the Antrekor now, and Rulvon Atigrarin – the gunship’s current pilot, probably the quickest of Rask’s squad – reported that they’d lost a main gun. Riolasa’s and Sofev’s two-man fighters (all five of them) wove circles, both distracting the gunners below and sending precision strikes back. And then, one by one, the impacts stopped, as the siege lines focused on breaking open the main shields once again.

“Losses?” Riolasa asked through the vox, as the Antrekor descended towards a large landing strip in the side of Kane’s forge, where the Sanikra Ondatikra and Sofev’s Coboan were already resting.

Rask looked at his screens again. “All the fighters survived,” he reported. “Squad Saxeost gone in full. So passes the light of day; so passes the glory of worlds. So pass all things. May you find solace in absence and in memory, my brothers.”

“For you will not be forgotten,” Squads Rask, Riolasa, and Sofev echoed. But there was no time for true remembrance, not now.

They’d need some time for repairs in Kane’s forge; it still looked capable of that much, at least. Rask calmed, even as the Antrekor became the last gunship to settle into a stop on the landing pad.

And as Rask exited the ship, a man, surrounded by four heavily armed servitors, emerged from the interior.

He was red-cloaked, and his shadowed face was an intricate design of metal interwoven with flesh. His body below seemed fairly close to human, though the metallic tentacles emerging from various ports in his robe demonstrated that he was not completely such. His legs were invisible, but he appeared to have four – two of them entirely mechanical.

“Greetings,” Fabricator-General Kane of the Martian Mechanicum said. “Welcome to the Mondus Occulum. I hope you are here to rescue myself and the associated knowledge?”

“Indeed,” Rask said.

“On whose behalf? The Order would hardly employ Space Marines.”

“Horus Lupercal has risen in rebellion, nine of his Primarch brothers alongside him,” Rask said, and Kane’s face contorted into a crooked, but undoubtedly honest, grin.

“Then there is hope,” Kane said. “I have already sent the command for evacuation.”

Rask nodded. “We will need the gunships repaired –”

“There is no time for that,” Kane observed. “The shield will fall in a matter of minutes. I have uploaded all the knowledge I could manage to my own components; my remaining staff will board the gunships. If I jack into the Antrekor, I believe in my ability to get out. But the Mondus Occulum – you came in the nick of time, Durak Rask of the Death Guard. It will fall. There can be no more doubt about that.”

Rask was stunned, though he wisely did not stay silent for long. Screaming orders to his squad, as well as Sofev and Riolasa, he set up defenses around the gunships – though the slowest of the Legions, Death Guard still had reflexes far faster than any human. Meanwhile, servitors carried various objects in, and Adepts rushed on board the Antrekor, Sanikra Ondatikra, and Coboan.

“That’s enough,” Riolasa said five-point-seven minutes after the evacuation commenced. “We cannot afford to lose any more maneuverability from added weight.”

Kane spun around to face the sergeant. “We need to get my people, and my knowledge, out!”

“No,” Rask said. “We won’t get anything out if we get shot down, which remains a distinct possibility.”

“But-”

“No more time,” Sofev said, glancing at the Marines behind him. “Get on board the Antrekor, Fabricator-General. The shield is falling.”

“I thought we had two –”

But Kane’s protest at his calculations being wrong was cut off as the shield fell, in the space of a millisecond, and the firepower of the Tenth Legion’s artillery (along with that of some Martian Imperials) slammed into the forge complex proper.

Kane ran into the Antrekor, getting off a few shots in the besiegers’ general directions with his plasma pistol. The fighters lifted off. All was chaotic, the din of a battle’s closing stages.

And the Death Guard fired back as they slowly and calmly retreated.

If there had been more time, Rask would have had plans. Perhaps he would have gone up to the siege lines, started a close-quarters fight to distract the attackers in a position where their firepower advantage was not critical. But they had what they had, and not all was lost. The Sanikra Ondatikra, least damaged of the three gunships, took off first.

“We leave simultaneously,” Rask told Sofev, who was holding onto the Coboan’s side as he fired.

And then the signal, and plastered to the Antrekor’s side, Durak Rask was in the air. Sofev’s Coboan rose alongside it, and then they were speeding forward, shields and thrust at max capacity, nearly weaponless. The shield around Durak Rask crackled with pain; he risked sticking his bolter arm out, getting off three shots at Iron Hand commanders (sergeants, he guessed) before he felt the pain in his hand and two more before the bolter fell out of his grip. Rask retracted his numb arm into the shield’s range, watching the siege lines pass below.

Black and gray, in concentric circles, atop red rock and corroded metal.

It took them under ten seconds to pass through the worst of the firestorm; it felt like an eternity. But, still numb from the injury to his right hand, Durak Rask barely recognized being pulled inside the Antrekor. Or perhaps it was the Martian air, thin and cold at this height? Astartes could survive far, far worse, but harsh conditions made themselves felt, even to a Space Marine.

He regained full awareness quickly enough.

“No more losses?” he clarified.

“Only Mondus Occulum,” grumbled a tech-priest Rask did not know. “Only the best remaining store of knowledge on Mars. Nothing you find important.”

Then he convulsed, as if from electric shock, as Kane came out into the main compartment.

“Apologies for my colleague’s rudeness,” the Fabricator-General said, nodding to the bitter Adept. He nodded back, though rather less naturally and less comfortably. “Durak Rask of the Fourteenth Legion, I thank you abundantly for our evacuation. I would heap praise on you for your courage and skill in conducting it, but such compliments would be unnecessary, given how obvious your worth has been.” He turned slightly to the left, and Rask had the distinct feeling some form of social interaction he was missing was taking place here. “I deduce we are headed to the Magma City, and then off-planet somehow?”

“Precisely,” Rask said. “An archaeotech portal. Adepts Wernitian and Zeth are there as well.”

“And they are all that is left of the Martian Mechanicum?”

Rask did not give a clear reply, but that seemed to be enough for the Fabricator-General.

“Well,” Kane concluded, extending his hand with evident sadness, “the Mechanicum will side with Horus Lupercal.” Had Kane preferred the independence of the Order of the Dragon, but known he was incapable of preserving it?

It did not matter. Rask firmly extended his own, wounded hand, and clasped Kane in a somewhat off-balance warrior’s grip.

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Hellas Basin was a lost dream, having degenerated from a terrarium to a titanic complex of factories, and now increasingly to a hellish ruin.

Castrmen Orth could not truly bring himself to care, but he suspected, on some level, that he should. Progress was being damaged here, after all. Branthan had correctly observed that such blasted landscapes were useful grounds for experimentation, but there were other wastelands in the galaxy – lots of them. More and more with each war.

The Milky Way galaxy contained a trillion planets, of which only ten billion were easily accessible by the Warp. More than ninety percent of those worlds were dead and useless as anything except weapons ranges.

No, Castrmen Orth did not desire Mars to be left desolate, and in truth neither did Branthan, or even Ferrus Manus. Perhaps the traitor Death Guard did – it had shocked Orth deeply, but narrowly, when he had discovered that some of his cousins had joined in the rebellion – but no one with a claim to the Red Planet wanted anything but the best for it. But sometimes there was no better choice.

And so Orth, along with fellow centurion Uninen Rochaar, fought the penultimate battle of the Martian War, dancing with death and treachery across a craggy vista of oil and metal. They fought in parallel, and an outsider would think they were effortlessly winning every confrontation. That was far from true – though he and Rochaar were synchronized perfectly, and though the battle was indeed going quite well, his still-understrength spearhead was not achieving this easily. Not even close.

Nevertheless, that was part of what made this conflict worthwhile. It was perfection, in the Emperor’s Children sense of the term. Terrible, difficult, and made great by those very qualities.

The other part of why Castrmen Orth was enjoying the battle for Hellas, one quite unrelated to even the fact that they were winning, was that it gave him an excuse to avoid even thinking about Ulrach Branthan. The Captain of Clan Erigez had not lied to Orth; he truly believed that his approach to Chaos was correct. And it did give him and his allies, including Orth, great power.

Only Castrmen Orth did not believe in discarding inconvenient truths, and Ulrach Branthan apparently did; and Cadmus Tyro’s fate was extremely inconvenient.

“We have seen gods’ perfection, so surrender your metal,” the centurion muttered to himself as Rashemion prepared to engage another splinter of Mechanicum armor. “Aether-flesh is the zenith, and we’ll prove it in battle.”

It did not sound convincing. And as Orth closed his eyes to try and recall the glory Branthan’s approach offered, he instead saw the half-comatose, failing body of Cadmus Tyro, pathetically crying out for more blackfate. The lieutenant had gone on a rampage, shortly before the end. None of them had possessed the heart to kill their battle-brother in those seven minutes, and so his body had done the job itself.

And the issue was, they had followed the decremental regimen perfectly. No drug known to the Imperium had addictive properties as strange as blackfate in Tyro’s case. But Branthan could not afford to move slowly, and did not want to, either. And he had told Orth, before he’d left for Hellas, that his movement was going to go further.

No. No matter. There was no way back, and one would be undesirable anyhow. Ferrus’s position was untenable, and none of this mattered anyhow.

Battle was about to be joined.

Castrmen Orth filtered away his distractions, his doubts, and his regrets. The Martian War would not be won by the weak. No, in this place of abandoned forges, there was only will, certainty, and strength. There was only fire and iron.

There was only war. And, at the center of war, Castrmen Orth, youngest of the Young Squid, Spearhead-Centurion of the Iron Hands.

Rashemion’s flanking tanks revved up and rolled out of the depression they had been concealed in, propelled in part by a Branthan-designed Warp propellant. The enemy tank, a superheavy so conclusively modified it could have no meaningful model designation, tried to skid to a halt on the ragged ground. In response, the Malcadors to Orth’s sides punched into the enemy tank’s frontal shields. Failing to correct for that, the tank spun in the opposite direction as the driver had planned, and the volley of shots it put out flew harmlessly into the distance rather than hitting Orth’s group.

Mechanicum drivers were supposed to be better than that. No, Mechanicum drivers were better than that. The tank had to be in the grip of a servitor, or – more likely yet – a simple machine-spirit.

That fact in his mind, Orth ordered Rashemion to shoot the ground behind the opposing tank – Ultimarket, the Centurion now read – with a number of its minor weapons, even as the frontal Accelerator Cannon discharged a tunneling density-core shell into Ultimarket’s rear. The machine-spirit, confused, failed to react in time, allowing another opening for the Malcadors.

It only took seconds after that for the Ultimarket to be totally crippled. Destroying it would be a waste of ammunition – although with no crew, a tank really did have to be obliterated to prevent it from being a danger. But immobile and bereft of its three main weapons, Ultimarket would be a sitting duck for a sufficiently large bomb, which Orth ordered in as he drove to the west once more.

Rashemion trudged on, moving to intercept another – no, that was an artefact. The mop-up was nearly complete. The defenders of Hellas Basin, still with significant forces, had gathered themselves into a defensive ring around Cerulean Core, the last entirely intact forge in Hellas, and the neighboring, abandoned Wrought Axis.

Orth gave orders for his forces to arrange themselves in the lull. As far as the Mechanicum defenders were concerned, the battle was about to become a siege. The shields that covered their two forges, when they were fully active, would combine with the weapon emplacements to make an unstormable fortress. The Iron Hands had the capacity to bring it down, of course, but that would take months – long enough for the Noctis Labyrinthus battle to conclude.

That would not be an apocalyptic outcome. But neither Orth nor Rochaar wanted the glory of the Young Squid to be usurped, even by the Primarch. They would win in Hellas on their own merits, and not via the surrender that would inevitably come after the Order’s defeat in Tharsis.

And so Rashemion rode onto a platform that had taken on the appearance of a parapet, or perhaps merely a balcony overlooking a titanic pit – a pit to whose other side lay Cerulean Core. It was not impossible for the battalion to cross this hole, but it would take too long and be too risky to give any meaningful blow to the traitors. Similarly, going around would give the Order of the Dragon too much time to regroup. The siege was inevitable, and not in Castrmen Orth’s power to stop.

Fortunately, he was only here to watch.

From the sky above Cerulean Core, a rain of iron fell. Astartes usually descended from the heavens via drop-pods; but the circumstances were different here. From this distance, they looked like strange, obsidian-black cubical and polyhedral toys, descending on vast parachutes. They slowly penetrated the force fields protecting Cerulean Core and Wrought Axis from the bombs above, forcing the rogue tech-priests to calculate and recalculate all the inevitable configurations of their doom. They glided down on winds that would be far too weak to protect them anywhere on Mars – anywhere on Mars, besides the dense-aired center of the Hellas Basin. They released their parachutes, and one by one, smashed into the forge complexes. The weapon emplacements within Cerulean Core fell silent, one by one, taken apart from the back. Adepts ran around like so many rodents, tiny dots even to Orth’s enhanced sight, barely even noticed enough to be gunned down. And then, with fire and iron, the spearhead’s guns turned on the supports of Cerulean Core, and then the scene was an orderly column of black tanks riding out of a crumbling forge. From a distant tank, Rochaar noted his admiration, along with a pair of snide tactical remarks. Orth merely offered his congratulations on battle’s end.

Cadmus Qevpilum had returned to Mars.

The communications channel sprung open, and Orth saw the face of his brother Centurion. Qevpilum had eschewed a helmet for the moment, though with his cybernetic ears and jaw, that did not make him look any less impressive.

“It’s good to be back in known space,” he commented. “So what would you have done without my convenient presence?”

“Gotten someone else to parachute in,” Rochaar said. “Probably on drop-pods. Now that would be interesting to see.”

“The machine-spirits would be outraged,” Qevpilum noted, and then he laughed. Orth couldn’t help but smile at his friend’s return, himself. “You won’t believe how good it is to be among you again, against enemies I can shoot.”

“Right,” Rochaar said, “about that. If I may ask, what happened on Pyrrhia?”

Qevpilum looked pensive, at that, and hesitated before replying. “We failed. And not because we were weak, but because we were strong.”

Rochaar shrugged. “We all have had our defeats, whether true or relative. The important thing is that they are minute relative to our victories.”

“Yes,” Qevpilum said, “but this seemed like more.”

Rochaar repeated his previous gesture, this time in a more relaxed manner. “Deduce the necessary tactical lessons, but don’t imagine that this invalidates Legion doctrine. Besides, losses were not apocalyptic, I deduce?”

Orth mentally disconnected. Rochaar’s interrogation of Qevpilum was good-natured, but he suspected that it would not change Qevpilum’s opinion on anything. Because unlike Rochaar, Orth had read Qevpilum’s report on the Pyrrhian incident.

Cadmus Qevpilum had seen, there, the weaknesses of the machine. Orth knew that this posed a crucial opportunity to convert him to Branthan’s faction, and indeed that he needed to do just that, for the sake of the Legion. But he didn’t actually want to.

In large part, it was simply that he didn’t want to lose his friend, in the way Tyro had been lost. He wanted Cadmus Qevpilum to live, or failing that, to die in war in a fashion befitting a Space Marine. If Strigeus, or Ousautro, suffered Tyro’s face, Orth would feel regret. But if another of the Young Squid did….

And even failing that, there was the risk of falling in fraternal conflict, because Branthan’s path was dangerous in so many other ways. Sometimes Orth wondered just how much the Captain of Erigez knew about the undercurrents in the Legion, and to which extent he knew the danger he was in. Not that Orth could precisely quantify it himself, but he had tried to several times, and had concluded it was desirable to reduce it significantly.

And now, Branthan was prepared for the address that would finalize his potential suicide. Orth was a Space Marine, and felt no fear, but Branthan’s attitude went beyond that. Perhaps it was the aether-flesh?

As Orth refocused, Rochaar grunted in frustration. “Please, Cadmus. We are warriors, after all. Space Marines.”

“We are not merely Space Marines,” Qevpilum said. “We are Iron Hands. Friends to Mars, in every decade – except, apparently, this one. No, Rochaar, I do not deny this war is necessary, but –”

“But nothing,” Rochaar insisted. “Pyrrhia has shaken you, Cadmus. I recognize that. But you yet have time to redeem yourself, and put it behind you.”

“If we forget our defeats,” Orth noted, “we will only repeat them. Legion doctrine is ever-changing, Rochaar.”

Rochaar shrugged. “I am willing to change, but not to be changed, at least not by my enemies. But you were right to retreat, Qevpilum. That incident was unwinnable.”

“Warp powers might have won it,” Orth observed.

Qevpilum shrugged. “Some other Legions might have been able to penetrate the traps, with severe losses. Perhaps Bylomic and myself will try again, when we are more prepared. But the given engagement was, indeed, unwinnable – I have calculated as much, since. Don’t worry – I am not sinking into melancholy over that.”

A screen flickered.

“Branthan is addressing the Legion,” Rochaar observed. “Since when has he replaced Ferrus?”

And then the body of Captain Ulrach Branthan, flanked by two other captains, filled a side screen. Orth kept the main link open, keeping a close eye on Cadmus Qevpilum’s reaction.

“Brothers,” Branthan declared. “Our great Primarch, Ferrus Manus, has risen from his madness into the light – or so it seems.

“And yet the turmoil within his soul has not truly ended. That much was proven by his very first order upon awakening, when he nonsensically denounced Chaos, the heartstone of the new Imperial Truth! Yes, brothers, our Primarch is undeniably gone. We must continue the work of progress without him. I, and those who agree with me, will no longer hide in fear of a ghost’s wrath. The Legion, and Chaos, will endure!”

And then Branthan mercifully cut out. Orth winced for the third time at the speech. It was simply too aggressive, ruining too many friendships. The Legion was still too loyal, by and large, for something like this to stand.

Qevpilum’s reaction was a perfect demonstration of that: he was staring at Branthan’s vanished face with open mouth, cheek-gears grinding in incredulity. Rochaar, by contrast, seemed to seriously contemplate the statement before looking straight at Orth.

“The scariest thing,” he observed, “is that Branthan is not entirely wrong. The second-scariest thing is that this is the Astarte in charge of our blockade.”

Qevpilum disconnected. Orth was not sure precisely what was going on in his brother’s head, but it was not anything sympathetic to the cause of Chaos.

“I’d have thought Ferrus would reply,” Orth said.

“He will, soon enough,” Rochaar guessed. “Branthan presumably used Chaos to interfere with the voxnet. But I’ll say, Castrmen – if you’ve got a half-strength version of this, I’m in. Otherwise, I really don’t want to be with you when the Gorgon tears you into pieces for treason.”

And Rochaar disconnected as well. Orth cursed, then cursed again. Branthan had doomed all of them with his fanaticism, and not even in an interesting way. With a groan, the centurion climbed out of the cupola and sat himself next to a rusty spike, at the crater’s edge and a hundred meters away from Rashemion. His feet dangled off the rim, and his gaze was turned inward.

Castrmen Orth was still sitting, holding his head in his hands, when the vox from Ferrus Manus himself came in.

Frowning, the centurion accepted it. His allegiance with Branthan’s faction was only technically a secret, after all.

“Lord father,” he said.

“Castrmen,” Ferrus replied, with a note of kindness that Orth had not expected to hear at this point. “So, what did you think of that speech?”

“I truly believed that Branthan was doing the best for the Legion,” the centurion noted. “Until now, I – I did not realize how much it was weakening the Legion.”

“It is doing so indeed,” Ferrus said, with surprising calm. “More than you think – a fair portion of the Legion will side with Branthan, even now. Others will leave, in fear for their heads, but be at the ready to betray my trust a second time. But that’s not what you referred to when you said it was weakening the Legion, was it?”

And the pieces for how to get out, and for how to redeem himself in the Primarch’s eyes, fell into place in Orth’s head, even as he commented on Tyro’s sad fate.

“And he will not be the last,” Ferrus Manus confirmed. “So. Spearhead-Centurion Castrmen Orth. Would you keep an eye on Branthan on me, and ensure he doesn’t do anything even more stupid?”

Orth could not agree fast enough.

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post #29 of 44 (permalink) Old 08-04-15, 05:38 PM
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AH, ferrus manus, what a sissie.
Good stuff, man. Glory to chaos!

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The calls of Slaneesh stir so deeply within me, as if I was birthed from the very essence of it. For my ambition to infinitely ascend above all is never ending, like fire within it burns me to ever cindering ash. Lord of light and ascension is who I am, realities burn to ash at my very passing. My luminescence is unparalleled for I am luminosity itself, all light is but a shadow of my silhouette
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neferhet: Thanks!

INTERLUDE: KHAN

The cruiser Death by Butterfly glided through the second spacetime maze, concluding its arc towards the lost world of Pyrrhia. A coven of five Stormseers guided the ship through the impossible spacescape, signaling the best path for the ship to the command throne.

There, Jaghatai Khan, Primarch of the White Scars Legio Astartes, manually guided the cruiser, countless configurations of bent reality passing through his vast mind every second.

The cruiser flew effortlessly through the impossible convolution, an image of triumph; but the Primarch’s brow was furrowed in anger, for they were moving not inwards, but outwards. The Death by Butterfly had passed through the minefield without issue, had traversed the first impossible maze, had successfully dodged the set of asteroids and their obliterating fire, and had even succeeded in flying through the second maze in full manual mode, a feat unachievable without the combination of a Primarch’s mind and potent psychic powers; and after emerging from that impossible journey, they had come into a pocket of realspace.

An empty pocket.

“A decoy,” Sonsu Khan observed. The Khan of the Brotherhood of the Sand was discussing the mission with his counterpart, Noray Singh Khan, leader of the Brotherhood of the Ideal.

“It was not a decoy,” Jaghatai Khan said on reflex. “Too many defenses for that….”

And then, as he twirled his moustache, something clicked within his unconscious, and then his conscious as well.

There had been a gap, in the first maze. It had not let through, and was clearly not the main path. But if one wanted to hide a planet, that gap would have been his own choice – not obvious, but not unfindable. No, not a gap. A gate.

“Pyrrhia was in the first maze,” he stated when the Death by Butterfly had emerged from the labyrinth, freeing enough of his mental capacity to express thoughts coherently. “The third Gelmarian gap is the most likely location.”

“By Chogoris,” Singh muttered as he remembered the first maze. “That… I do not know why the third, but that does make perfect sense.”

Sonsu frowned; Jaghatai suspected he was not entirely sure what a Gelmarian gap was, just like the Stormseers. Fortunately, Jaghatai did, and understood it as well.

He guided the cruiser onwards, switching to assisted control when the anti-machine field was past. His brain seemed to sigh in relief – the sheer density of calculations needed to fly a spaceship without a cogitator’s aid was intense, even for one such as him. Still, he’d been sufficient, as any of his brothers would have been.

His brothers…. The thought led, inevitably, back to his father. He had truly thought the Emperor of Mankind was different from all others who had once claimed that title. But, it seemed, he had never actually known his father. That, at least, was the more comforting option.

If the Emperor had not been lying, and had truly trusted in honor and freedom before so desperately throwing it all away, then Jaghatai was even more worried for the galaxy. If one so heroic could turn to darkness so utterly, then what hope did even one such as Horus Lupercal promise?

So, now, he had gone to Pyrrhia with a select few of his Legion, to help the war effort without taking his mind off these questions. Others would have tried to put them away – even many among the other Primarchs were embracing rage over peace. Another thing he would have to fix, when he returned to the war from Chogoris.

Chogoris, where he would pass from Pyrrhia.

The lone cruiser skimmed unreality, dancing like a faerie between the automated asteroids. Those did not have particular intelligence guiding them – a trick, Jaghatai knew, to make intruders confident to complacency. The White Scars had not made that mistake; if they had, they would never have survived the second maze, so much more trick-filled than the first.

And then they were back within that first. They flew slowly, now, barely faster than the minimum to avoid getting trapped in the temporal eddies. But they were faster nonetheless, gradually settling into a path that would allow them to be stationary before the gap in question. Jaghatai knew, intuitively, that this would be the gate hiding the wonder of Pyrrhia. How terrible that wonder was, though, remained to be seen.

The Death by Butterfly turned, and then it was spinning, but remained otherwise motionless. Noray Singh was left guiding the rotation to ensure the ship did not fall into a compressive zone, to be crushed as by a singularity; Jaghatai looked at the codes on the gate.

It took him a full minute to understand.

The codes were constantly changing, evolving, in a manner that was impossible without an intelligence to guide them. Something was alive on Pyrrhia – something very intelligent, in fact, because even Jaghatai would have a hard time solving the code.

He could do it, of course. And if Pyrrhia was not a mere ruin, but an active world….

Then there was no need to poke the hornet nest. The Coalition of Horus had plenty of enemies already. They did not need to make more. And he would not risk begging for help from this unknown set, either, for that broke both honor and common sense.

“We move on,” Jaghatai Khan said. “There is nothing here for us. We fly for Chogoris, and for home.”

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(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...s-scarlet.html)
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...lesh-weak.html)
The Emperor has turned to Chaos. The dream of the Imperium has become a nightmare. But Horus and his Coalition stand against the dark, here at the end of time.

Lorgar's Betrayal
(https://www.heresy-online.net/forums/...te-heresy.html)
What was broken has been mended. And what was burned away can never be reforged.
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