I know this is necromanting the thread, but I really think this is a good idea and want the story to continue. Chaplain Antonin here is from post 53, and we've heard about General Lions.
Targat Antonin stood at the base of the Column of Glory. It was a sacred tower that had been built in the days following the Horus Heresy, holding the bones of the Imperial Fists who had fallen in the first Battle of Terra, so long ago. He had not expected them to see battle once more.
And they will not. We will hold.
But even as he thought the words, he knew their falsehood. Terra was a maelstrom of battle, and the only thing that mattered was holding on long enough for the Emperor’s resurrection- the real
Emperor, not the forming Star-Child, the child-Emperor or the Neomnissiah that some of the Mechanicum insisted was the true Emperor of Mankind.
The other members of the Northeast Front’s Achkas Region war council surrounded the column. From the Sixth and Seventh Companies of the Imperial Fists, Captains Anro Benfasav and Korir Etas, as well as Librarian Nifidor Neogur, joined Antonin. The loyal Mechanicum was represented by Fabricator Locum Xito Omalan, Titan Princeps Dwarg Gudd and the high-ranking Skitarii Wafara Kaeronaph. The Rhinoceroses Chapter’s Sixth Company was represented by its Captain, Burgu Sakzint. The disparate Imperial Guard forces were represented by Generals Tas Lions, Lei Nu, and Reania Kastarre, as well as Commissar Karibus Cain. Finally, and most uncomfortably, the Crimson Fists’ Second Company was present. Despite the two Chapters having grown apart since the 42nd millennium, they were still close, and Antonin had no quarrel with Captain Takalen Rospikt; but flanking Rospikt was an oversized red-and-indigo Dreadnought, and the legendary Marine inside the Dreadnought just happened to be the reason the two Chapters had grown apart.
“Pedro Kantor,” Benfasav noted with some acidity. The Ancient didn’t respond, but Rospikt fixed the Imperial Fists Captain with a glance that could be weaponized.
“Seriously,” General Lions noted, “let’s not argue about past feuds here. We have more pressing issues.”
“Indeed.” Omalan took out a data slate. “This is the disposition of our forces. The Marines are holding well, but over here, in the southeast, we’ve had a major Necron breakthrough. Even further south, a ton of daemons are converging on the palace’s center, led- so reports state- by the Daemon-Primarch Lorgar himself.”
“But that’s not our district,” Etas clarified.
“No, it is not. But the Necron assault is.”
“They’ve broken down the walls,” Sakzint noted, “so siege warfare will be useless there. I’ll take my Company to combat them- a couple of Titans might help, too.”
“My Titans,” Gudd noted, “are otherwise occupied in the northwest against a sea of Orks and Tyranids, assisting Lions' and Rospikt's forces. Two Warlords is all I have, and that’s including my own Mausoleum Pax
“Two Warlords and a Company of Marines,” Sakzint concluded, “would be enough to conquer most planets. Still, I doubt it’ll be enough, even with Guard assistance.”
“Kastarre’s regiment will come with you,” Cain said, “but everyone else is really stretched way too thin as is.”
Rospikt nodded. “I think it’s time to admit it,” he said. “Something needs to change. We’re losing.”
A storm of protest erupted, but Antonin silenced it with a handwave. “You do not understand,” he declared to Rospikt. None of them understood, not really. “The Emperor will return. His rebirth is close at hand. We only need to hold out- time is on our side.”
“And what proof do you have?”
“Who searches for proof in faith?”
“Enough, Chaplain,” Benfasav said. “As our human friend so rightly said, we must. Not. Quarrel. ”
“Forgive me for asking,” General Lions noted, “but what’s going on with the Emperor anyways?”
“No one knows,” Nu answered.
“Enough,” Etas declared. The Imperial Fist was by now tracing lines on his armor, something he did only when very nervous. “We all have tasks. Is this war council adjourned?”
“NO.” growled Kantor.
That was the first word the Dreadnought had said since arrival; yet it had the resonance of a hundred.
“IT IS TRUE,” Kantor said, “THAT WE ARE LOSING. WE CANNOT WIN THIS WAR CONVENTIONALLY. BUT ANTONIN’S FAITH OPENS A NEW AVENUE FOR CONSIDERATION. WE ARE ON HOLY TERRA ITSELF! THERE ARE RELICS OF UNTOLD POWER HERE, AND NO PLACE IN THE GALAXY IS LIKELY TO BE AS PSYCHICALLY ACTIVE AS THE IMPERIAL PALACE. THIS IS MANKIND’S HOME, BROTHERS, WITH FIFTY THOUSAND YEARS OF TRAPS ON IT!” The Dreadnought pointed to the Column of Glory. “LIBRARIAN NEOGUR, I SUSPECTYOU CAN DO SOMETHING PSYCHIC WITH THE COLUMN.”
Neogur nodded, and Antonin felt him pump power into the column, through the sacred column….
A blinding, golden sun erupted hundreds of meters above the council. In the next instant, it shot withering beams of light at the monstrous legions outside. Wherever light met flesh, they collided, and there was death where there had been life.
At last Neogur’s power began to run out, and the Librarian sank to the ground on one knee. The sun instantly disappeared.
“Emperor…” Neogur said. “Primarch… Primarch…”. Then, he lost consciousness completely. Etas motioned General Lions, who was breathing heavily, and the two carried Neogur toward the infirmary.
“Death toll: 9874, of which only 73 Imperial.” Omalan looked up from the cogitator. “How come no one noticed that column’s psychic powers before?”
“NO ONE WAS REALLY SEARCHING FOR THEM.”
Antonin had conditioned himself to hate Pedro Kantor, but now that they had met… how could he hate that? Kantor was a ten-milennium-old legend, and unlike almost all other Dreadnoughts he had not spent nine-tenths of his third life asleep (though he rarely fought on the front lines). The only beings in the galaxy that had more memories were the Emperor and perhaps some Daemon-Princes, but Kantor… Kantor was human.
And yet, Antonin knew, in this he was wrong. Using relics and tricks was all well and good, but the council lacked faith.
“Immortal Emperor, forgive them,” Antonin whispered to himself as he walked towards the chapel. “I know you will return. I know you will return to us.”
And a voice answered, from somewhere outside Antonin, a cold voice that might or might not have been the Master of Mankind.
It said one word.
* * *
The Cadian Gate was aflame. Noavic Shasfa, Epistolary-rank Librarian of the Sons of Medusa, watched the spectacle with regret.
How many? How many human lives will be lost here?
Too many, he knew. At this crucial time, this moment when the final victory of Mankind was in sight at last, humanity’s weakness had fragmented it. Many had declined to heed the call of their messiah, even among the Space Marines. Most First Founding Chapters, among them the Ultramarines and the Imperial Fists, naively maintained the original incarnation of the Emperor was still alive. Others, such as the Blood Ravens and Red Scorpions, went off on their own mysterious quests. And, to Shasfa’s great shame, many Astartes had chosen to follow the pretender known as the Neomnissiah. Those included the Angels Sanguine, the Plutonium Dragons, the Aurora Chapter, the Iron Hands…
And two of the three clans of the Sons of Medusa. Lachesis and Atropos had put their support behind their Founding Chapter without thinking. Only Mageara had remained loyal to the true reborn Emperor. Only Mageara had been strong at the end, where it most mattered.
Shasfa wondered if any of the heretics had felt the psychic imprint of the reincarnated Emperor. Had they knowingly refused that warm power, that loyal certainty? It was hard to believe, but he had stood alongside those who were once his comrades when they first saw the Master of Mankind. To have walked away from that….
“Brother-Librarian Shasfa! Are you injured?”
Shasfa shook his head and hurled a mental hand out into the Coalition’s fleet. It was a massive projection of psychic energy, one he could never have managed before meeting the Emperor; but his master had unlocked a new potential within him. Still, crushing the enemy fighters was difficult for him even now.
Difficult- and painful. Shasfa’s head raged with resistance, images of the Warp threatening to spill out into him. No matter; he would crush the enemy, one by one. They were weak, and they denied the obvious truth, the only possible truth- the Emperor had returned.
Across the Imperial fleet, psykers and weapon batteries were doing the same. In the chaos of void war, strategy was at best the domain of a few admirals, and at worst nonexistent; for someone like Shasfa, destroying as much of the enemy as possible was all that mattered.
The Imperial fleet was significantly stronger in brute power, though it could have been stronger yet. A large portion had left with the Emperor into the Eye of Terror, on the unbelievable quest of redeeming the Daemon-Primarchs. Yet the Emperor could do the impossible, there was no doubt about that. And if the Coalition thought the Emperor’s absence would galvanize the Imperial fleet any less than his presence, they were gravely mistaken.
Vision darkening with utter exhaustion, Shasfa released his determination. The hand evaporated, and the Epistolary sat down to meditate.
Apothecary Thav Maudmic glanced at Shasfa. “Epistolary,” he noted, “do not over-exert yourself. We’re winning.”
“By how much?”
“They underestimated the strength of our fleet. Initially, we had approximately a 7:4 firepower advantage. They have taken 38% casualties since then; we’ve taken only 14%, mostly in Minobu’s vicinity, leaving us with about a 5:2…”
Sur-Admiral Tokugawa Minobu was the leader of the Void Stalkers, a Dark Angels descendant, and probably the greatest void-war mastermind in the galaxy. Awe and a bit of apprehension intermingled in Shasfa’s heart.
“Minobu’s here, but even he can’t do anything with the misinformation our spies fed the Coalition.”
“Since when have you been an expert on void tactics anyways?”
“I’ve been studying the subject for the past year, actually.”
Once again, Shasfa was stunned by how little he really knew about Maudmic, who he considered his closest friend within the Chapter.
And then there was no more time for abstract strategy or comradely discussion as the boarding sirens flashed. Shasfa calmed himself and began to recharge, pumping a bit of nutrient fluid into himself in the meantime. A few minutes later, he was ready for battle once more. Next to him, Maudmic and Squads Twalon and Aqa stood waiting. Twenty-one Space Marines, ready to do battle against what would be, quite likely, their equals.
“We will win,” Shasfa confidently declared, taking the role of Iron Father for this engagement. “The Coalition has proven themselves to be incapable and undeserving. But who would we be if we did not make a key contribution to this victory? I do not need to tell you to do your duty, brothers. Purge the weak!”
“Purge the weak!” Maudmic and the Tactical Squads echoed, albeit with somewhat less enthusiasm.
And seconds later, the wall burst and the Crimson Eagles burst in. A quick scan told Shasfa there were two Assault Squads and a Devastator Squads- more Marines (twenty-nine) than the Sons of Medusa had, but no Librarian.
Shasfa attempted to unleash a telekinetic storm on them, but in his tired state the power flowing in was too great. He desperately willed it to stop, willed his mind to block it, before-
And it did stop, but the feedback fed into Shasfa’s armor. A moment later, his breastplate shattered into a million ceramite shards, flying into the midst of the Eagles.
Three died instantly. Two more were incapacitated, falling onto their knees. There were no casualties among the Sons, their mechanical augmentations and oft-upgraded armor protecting them. Then the actual firestorm began- the telekinetic distortion had scattered the Devastators’ first volley, but that was over now.
Astartes, demigods of war, were dying. The Assault Squads, their jump packs mildly scrambled by the storm, nevertheless continued to charge into the Sons’ line, even as bolter fire picked them apart. The Devastators were hurting the Sons of Medusa too, though, and Maudmic was forced to issue emergency injections to keep them on their feet, even as he narrowly weaved his way out of the firefight himself. Shasfa crumpled two Assault Marines’ armor, dropping them; but a third reached him, his chainsword clipping the Librarian’s exposed chest before Sergeant Twalon’s shot exploded his head. Shasfa dropped to his knees and then his back; but he could still easily see the battle’s madness evolving.
And within minutes, it was over. No Crimson Eagles were still able to fight. The casualties were horrendous on both sides, the battle having taken place without cover; perhaps three or four Sons of Medusa were still standing, including Maudmic. He ran over to the bleeding Shasfa.
“Insignificant chance of fatality,” Maudmic muttered, “with prompt treatment. You’ll live, brother. Sleep for now.”
Shasfa’s last sight before falling unconscious was Maudmic leaning over him, a concentrated expression on his now-helmetless face, a complex instrument hovering over the Epistolary’s chest.
And behind him, outside the battle-barge, the Cadian Gate burning.
* * *
They had sent representatives before. The Legion of the Damned. The Phantoms of Macragge. The Null Chapter. All loyal Marines, all brought back from the dead to serve the Emperor one last time.
But they were different. They had been first. They had been truly killed, not merely lost in the endless Warp; and whereas the others could only gain one last life, even that only an echo of true vitality, they could be reborn forever, losing none of their mind, none of their form, none of their strength.
Not any more than they had lost- and gained- during the first rebirth. That, the Third Phoenix remembered well- a vortex of treachery and pain from which their brotherhood emerged, even in the gaze of death, and then the sensation of suddenly existing when one should not. By then, the world on which they were killed was a bad memory, the war their deaths had begun was a legend of corruption, and the Legions they had loyally served had become dark parodies of their former selves. Third, Twelfth, Fourteenth or Sixteenth- those words were linked with only madness; they were the Vermillion Phoenixes, forged in the planetary inferno of Isstvan III, forever fighting unseen for the Emperor they had all died for at least once.
But now, the Third Phoenix knew, everything was changing.
Now the Time of Ending had come, and they knew, as one and each separately, that they were needed in full.
Now the values on which they had lived, ideals of honor, of valor, of truth, were battling with their opposites on a scale unseen since eternity’s beginning.
So now they moved to destroy the greatest of the unseen threats they were certain existed.
Now the Vermillion Phoenixes flew, as one and each separately, into the Maelstrom.