Thank you for the replies, guys! Here's the first chapter - Which ends a bit abruptly, but it'll be picked up on in the second... Once again, all replies and criticisms are much appreciated!
Ship's-death was never a gentle thing.
Crouched in the shadow of Hive Eur, Artemis watched the vessel's trajectory with abject amusement. The ship - A frigate, Artemis estimated - Was cutting a fiery swathe across the night's sky; unfolding like a great, metallic flower. Hull was flaking away, tumbling through the air like huge, graceless comets.
The orbiting fleet was being picked apart by the Murder-class, positively identified as the Slaughterborn
by the Imperial's friend-or-foe tags, and Artemis knew it. In the past four hours, as many ships had made planet-fall, gutted by the monstrous vessel. It was, if intelligence was to believed, making impossibly accurate warp-jumps - Translating among the Imperial fleet, loosing a deadly salvo, and then jumping away. Barbaric, Artemis noted, but successful. The battleships Imperious
and Black Sun
were, on the other hand, completely ineffective in stopping the renegade warship.
'That Throne-damned ship is ruining our fleet,' Constantine, the Hawk Lord, said. He was crouched behind Artemis, helm turned skywards. The distaste in his voice - Not unexpected, considering Constantine's affinity with the Thunderhawk - Was unmistakable. 'We are running out of time.'
'I know,' Artemis grunted, standing. Corpse-ash fell from his pauldrons. He turned, eyeing his infiltration team. Four warriors, included himself, - Constantine looking uncomfortable, shifting from foot-to-foot, void-born, the Hawk Lord hated being planet-side. Leif the Space Wolf, canines bared, sniffing the choked air and, crouched in the rear, the Raven Guard, Sarkell.
'Then why aren't we moving?' Constantine demanded, fingering the hilt of his power-blade.
Artemis grinned. It wasn't pleasant.
'Because, Hawk Lord, I was watching the pretty
They were nearing their target. Packs of cultists - In pilfered flak-jackets and garish robes - Roamed, speaking that bastardised Gothic of theirs. The Deathwatch avoided them when possible; slinking into the shadows. This was not Artemis's way - But it was the only way. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of these scarred, unwashed bastards lurked within Hive Eur. The Kill-Team could not, and would not, risk an engagement. There were darker, viler things within these labyrinthine deaths, also. Multi-limbed, skinless creatures that stank of blood and sulfur - Daemon-kin. It irked Artemis not to engage, to slaughter these cutthroats and curs. He wanted to split their throats, crush their skulls, rend them limb-from-limb. Subconsciously, Artemis gripped the hilt of his Chainsword.
'Hold,' Leif grumbled, crouched up ahead. One of his gauntlets was placed on the floor, fingers splayed. His bald, tattooed head was tilted curiously. 'The Hive is collapsing,' The Space Wolf added, after a moment of consideration.
'How long?' Artemis asked, looking at the cavernous ceiling. Thick, snaking cables dangled.
'Minutes, at most.' Leif shot back, grimly.
'Then, surely,' Constantine called, from behind. 'Our mission here is over.'
Artemis sniffed, rubbing the hilt of his Chainsword. Practically, Constantine was right. The situation was untenable, untold billions of rock, metal and human bodies falling on their heads. It was, he admitted, suicidal to remain within the Hive - Or anywhere near it, for that matter. Theoretically, however, the objective could still be accomplished - And so long as there was the slimmest of chances that Artemis could achieve it - He was staying.
'No,' The Mortifactor replied, unnervingly calm. 'Our mission is not. Yours, Constantine, is. I need you with the Thunderhawk - Exfiltration is going to be hot.'
'If you are caught in the fall-' Constantine began.
, Hawk Lord.' Artemis sounded bored as he spoke. 'I am not here for logical
decisions. I am here because I succeed
. Let there be nothing more said on the subject. Go, now. Our time is numbered.'
Constantine's vox clicked and Artemis prepared for more protest. There was a pregnant silence, heavy and tense.
'Affirmative,' The Hawk Lord transmitted. Tinny as the vox was, it failed to hide the irritation in Constantine's voice. He turned, sprinted away, fading into the impenetrable blackness. His insubordination, his will to cast judgment on Artemis's every choice, was grating.
Leif barked a laugh. Sarkell's pale lips parted in a smile.
'Don't say a word.' Artemis warned. He jutted his helm along the hallway. 'Find the objective.'
The entire chamber - Once a shrine to the Emperor - Was desecrated; blood sloshing around the ankles of the three Space Marines as they entered. The sight was shocking. Hundreds of cultists lay in the blood, face-down, drowned in some heathen ritual. Others were suspended from the ceiling, skin pulled taut by razor-edged hooks. All were still and very, very dead. The floor was trembling; Hive Eur's superstructure folding in on itself. They didn't have long.
In happier times, a statue of the Emperor had stood at the fore of the shrine - Arms outstretched benevolently. Now it lay in three pieces, shattered beyond recognition by bolt-fire. All that remained was the Aquila, coated in human skin. It sickened Artemis to the stomach, but worse still, was the four figures that stood upon it.
Three were unmissable in baroque, rust-red power armour. Two knelt reverently, heads bowed in supplication, bolters clasped in taloned gauntlets. The third went unhelmed; sharp teeth glinting within a lipless mouth. Golden scripture snaked its way across the Space Marine's head, covered his plate.
'Kor Phaerus,' Artemis called, drawing his Chainsword. 'Traitor.'
Kor Phaerus, Dark Apostle of the Fifteenth Host, Burner of Egaros, turned. Slate-grey eyes, rheumy and ringed with kohl, narrowed.
'Space Marines?' He asked, bemused. A female, pale and naked, was held in one of the Word Bearer's massive paws. 'Blind fools,' He nodded, turned away. From a skin-pouch, Kor Phaerus produced a jagged athame
. He pressed it against the girl's throat. 'I offer your souls to the Pantheon.'
Kor Phaerus's companions wheeled then, shouldering their weapons. Bolts filled the air, exploding against pillars and pews. Bodies erupted as they were struck by shrapnel. The Deathwatch went to ground, Leif and Sarkell throwing themselves behind marble pillars. Artemis growled, tore his bolt-pistol free, and returned fire. The Word Bearers were chanting in some obscene language as they advanced; guttural and painful to hear. Blood welled on Artemis's lip, that metallic stench stinging his eyes.
Sarkell, too, was firing. One of his rounds struck the leftmost Marine in the head - Blowing a twisted horn free. The Word Bearer laughed and continued onward, inexorable.
'Your Emperor is dead,' The Traitor announced, ducking behind a pew. His voice was sickly-sweet, cajoling. It reminded Artemis of a father's, gentle but commanding. 'Lay down your arms, cousins! You need not die today! The Throne of Terra is far away and the light of the Astronomicon burns dimly, come! Come, let us illuminate
Artemis glanced sideways at Sarkell. The Raven Guard was reloading, deft fingers dancing over his bolter.
'You speak poison, Word Bearer! Lies and blasphemies, silvered words from a blackened tongue!' Artemis loosed a trio of rounds as he spoke, chipping away at the pew. Splinters of stone hammered against the Word Bearer's twisted armour.
'Relent, cousin! I have no desire to see you slain!'
'Your word is meaningless, traitor! You have broken your oaths, and now you will repent!'
The Word Bearer cursed, then. In one sweeping moment, he drew a razor-toothed Chainsword, revving it. The Marine stood, leaping over the pew. 'Then you will beg for mercy, beneath my feet!'
A black and silver blur bridged the gap between the traitor and Artemis.
Sarkell's falcata lanced up, parting armour, muscle and bone. The traitor gasped once, Chainsword falling from lifeless fingers, and died.
'He talked too much,' Sarkell remarked, slyly.
Before Artemis could reply, the second Word Bearer was upon them. A tremendous backhand, which made the sound of a church-bell, sent Sarkell reeling in the gore. The Raven's helm was broken, pale, red-flecked flesh showing beneath a twisted hole. This Astartes was huge; built like an armoured bear, down to the snout-like faceplate.
Artemis was backtracking instantly, ripping his Chainsword upwards. The Word Bearer parried; stepped closer, swung. Artemis was quick - He was a champion among the Mortifactors, a brutal, uncompromising warrior - But this Word Bearer, this beast, was quicker. Artemis was retreating, through the pews, fighting as he went.
Where is Leif?
That briefest moment of distraction - A millisecond of thought - Allowed the Chaos Marine his chance.
The Word Bearer's blade, each tooth inscribed with an eye-watering symbol, struck Artemis across the thigh. Armour screeched, twisted and then gave way - A squirt of blood rising from the wound.
'You bastard,' Artemis grunted, through gritted teeth. The Word Bearer laughed, an hollow and cruel sound, and twisted his blade. Artemis felt his flesh mulch and his bone shatter. 'You will pay for that.'
'I think not,' The Word Bearer snorted, his words accompanied by more of the death-laughter. 'You are done, dog. I will wear your skin as a clo-'
Artemis didn't allow the Marine to finish. He twisted on his heel and with both hands drove his Chainsword into the Word Bearer's helm. Artemis punched the Word Bearer away. He slumped over as the Marine's blade slipped from his thigh, gasping in agony. His leg was a mess; a gaping lacuna bored into his hardened hide. But it was healing - The blood clotting and the bone knitting. He would be forever scarred, but it wasn't a mortal blow.
'For Fenris, for the All-Father!'
Artemis's eyes snapped upwards.
Leif was there, swinging his axe, encroaching on Kor Phaerus. The Dark Apostle's hand pirouetted through the air, suddenly robbed of an arm. The girl, terrified, scrambled free - Bolting through the chambers.
Kor Phaerus's eyes glowed. He growled something, voice drowned out by the sound of falling Hive levels, and Leif was enveloped in green-blue flames. His armour shriveled and sloughed. Nothing, not even Leif's enhanced body, could deal with such an onslaught.
He died, screaming.
'Sarkell,' Artemis roared, stumbling to his feet. 'Get the girl, now!'
The Raven Guard complied, lifting the girl over one shoulder.
Artemis glanced one last time at Kor Phaerus, before departing. Leif's melted form, a blistering ember in the blood-soaked chambers, lay at his feet.
I will kill you.