An ancient scribe once said that the only things that are certain in life are death and tithes.
Admiral Cyprian Keir was also certain of one other thing… victory.
As he stood on the command podium of his flagship Mors Principium Est
and studied the position of his fleet, he was satisfied that everything was in place.
They would conquer here today.
He never heard them join him on the flag deck, let alone enter the bridge. With stealth unmatched they were suddenly standing at his shoulder.
“We are ready Admiral. I trust your gun decks are cleared for action?”
The last question seemed trivial in the grand scheme of things, thought Keir. Of course his ships were ready, all of them were. He had twenty-two capital ships and hundreds of other smaller combat vessels under his command, not to mention the Space Marine battle barge Tears of the Emperor
and its own escort ships The Harbinger of Death, The Serrated Blade
and The Winter Star
Each and every one of them capable of raining death and destruction upon any enemy fleet.
He turned slowly, maintaining his bearing and authority despite the perceived slight. He was after all in charge of the largest fleet in this sector. He was a man to be respected, to be honoured.
These space marines cared for no one but themselves and their fanatical devotion to the Emperor.
A Space marine in burnished gunmetal armour stood behind him. Two gigantic terminators in dull red remained to his rear, silent and utterly intimidating.
“Captain Etana…”. He began. The Space Marine held up his gauntleted hand and stopped him mid-sentence.
“Your dispositions are sound Admiral. I commend your devotion to Imperial doctrine, however, the plan is flawed.”
The large holo-screen in front of them began to flicker and flash, finally settling on a large hulk silhouetted by a distant sun. The craft was a behemoth, the likes of which many had rarely seen.
A vast swarm of smaller ships clustered around it like army ants protecting their queen.
How do they do that?
His command station was vermillion encrypted, yet this Marine broke through its protocols as if it was a child’s puzzle.
“You are concentrating your attack on the hulk.” It was a statement and not a question. It did not require an answer.
“But the hulk is not where we will attack.”
“But Captain, my plan is concentrated on destroying their command element. We cut off the head, and the body will die.”
There was a series of clicks between the marines which Keir took as internal communications. One of the terminators rocked slightly.
They mock me.
“The hulk...” Etana continued. “Is merely a bludgeon to smash through your lines. We have fought these beasts many times and they are not as stupid as some might think.”
He focussed on the hulk, bringing it in so it filled the entire screen.
“Limited armaments. Lack of gun ports. Very few launch bays.”
The marine removed his Mark VI Corvus helmet to reveal a surprising gentle-looking face with piercing blue eyes.
“The hulk is not… shooty enough.” He smiled an infectious smile. He then highlighted a second, smaller vessel that was tucked in behind the hulk and surrounded by a herd of brute-looking battleships. Emblazoned on hits hull was a large Ork skull icon.
“That is the command ship. That is where we will find their leader and kill it.”
The Admiral studied the new vessel with renewed interest.
“You are certain of this Captain; I am taking a big risk in changing my battle plan?”
Etana nodded and then indicated towards the terminators behind him.
“My brothers and I have fought the Orks for over two hundred years. We know our enemy...” he paused and his expression changed from open and amenable to serious, his face suddenly aging and tightening to a brittle edge.
“I have one hundred brothers with me. We will attack that ship and exterminate them all. Your job is to give the illusion of an all-out assault on the hulk and then you will join our attack.”
“It will be done.”
“It will be bloody, but the result will be certain victory. I have foreseen it.”
* * *
As the orange light of the nearby sun shone through the vaulted windows of the bridge of the Mors Principium Est
, Admiral Keir watched three lines of six Imperial battleships rake the Ork hulk from end to end, smashing its thick skin of armour and opening up glowing scars within. At the same time, he lead his own attack on the cluster of escorts to its rear, slicing through them like a raptor amongst a herd of Grox.
The Space Marine destroyers, line abreast, fired lance after lance into the enemy flagship, vaporising its fluctuating shields and knocking out its own forward armaments. Macro cannons and torpedoes punched jagged holes along its length.
The Grand Cruiser Götterdämmerung
disappeared in a fireball as its magazines ignited incinerating three Ork Kill Kroozers and knocking two more into an uncontrollable spin into the plasma and heat of the sun.
The Tears of the Emperor
slid in close and released her boarding torpedoes upon the unsuspecting Orks who stared on with blank eyes as their fleet burned around them.
Hidden from everyone and unforeseen even by Kier, Captain Etana and twenty of his Terminators teleported onto the bridge of the Ork flagship and caught Warboss Fandargh alone and virtually unprotected. The slaughter of his bodyguard was a story of legend.
Assault marines fanned out through the labyrinth of tunnels and warrens, placing charges and mines at strategic points and immobilising or destroying vital machinery or plant.
The Orks fought with their customary zeal, fighting to the death wherever they were found. Marines died in clinging embraces in dark voids and on burning decks, or blown to pieces by suicidal Gretchins.
When the marines left, thirty-five of their battle brothers had paid the ultimate price.
It was the price of victory.
Kier watched the Ork vessel twist and then crumple as her back was broken. Internal explosions rocked her hull from the bow to the stern. The damage was catastrophic. Debris and clouds of spinning bodies fanned out from her like a stone on water.
He allowed himself a smile.
By the Emperor, those men do war honour.