When the ceremony was over, Vash and his squad were dismissed from the hall and sent back to their barracks. Before he could leave the room, Castus was pulled aside by Reaper. The commander of the tenth clapped his hand on Castus’s shoulder, and spoke in a soft voice.
“Hey Eugo, you did a good job with these ones. They have some real potential.”
Castus chuckled and turned to face his old friend. “Thanks Drej. Coming from you, that means a lot. What’s the word from up top?”
“Well, the legion master is as tight-lipped as ever. He won’t even tell the first captain what he’s got planned battle wise, but I know it’s something big.”
“How do you know that?”
“Klebold and I are good friends, so I get to hear some things that ordinary people don’t.” Reaper smiled.
Xander Klebold was the Techmarine in charge of caring for the legion’s vast contingent of servitors.
“So, you have drinks with Klebold. What does that matter?”
“Admit it, when there’s a servitor in the room, you carry on like there’s no one there, am I right?”
Castus nodded slowly.
“And so they take in everything, and then Klebold gleans the interesting bits.”
“Ah, so you use them as your own personal spy network?”
“Yeah, pretty much. By the way, you may want to stop using the sparring cages after hours. Klebold kind of frowns on that.” Reaper grinned.
Castus laughed. “Damn servies, they’re everywhere aren’t they?”
“Yeah. Listen, I don’t want to keep you, but as the company commander, I need to give you your next assignment.”
“You’re are being assigned to train 9 neophytes this time.”
“Oh bloody hell…” Castus muttered.
“Yeah, I know, the large squads can be a problem, but I think you can handle it. You’re pretty experienced. Anyway, you’ll find them on C deck, barracks number 42.”
“All right, thanks Drej. Time to go be a hardass.”
“Hey, good luck to you.” Drej said. “Seriously.”
“You as well brother.” Castus saluted his old friend casually, causing Reaper to break into peals of laughter. They slammed their right fists together in the traditional Onyx handshake, and departed.
Vash walked down the hall, riding a wave of emotions that made him feel all giddy. It almost felt like the time he and his squad had bummed a box of Lho sticks off of an Imperial Guard squad, during some field exercises. He practically ran down the hall, wanting to see his new suit of power armor and plasma cannon. He swerved between servitors and other scouts, finally skidding to a halt in front of his barracks. Gone were their sniper rifles and carapace armor; in the place of the lesser weapons was the wargear that Vash and his fellow marines would be using for the rest of their lives. Nolan walked over to his bunk, where a chainblade and bolt pistol were laying neatly arranged on the smooth cotton sheets. A disassembled suit of Mark VII lay nearby on a weapons desk. Eurebus found nothing on his bunk but a rust red cloak and a bolt pistol. He nodded, and quickly exchanged his green and black fatigues for the looser, more ornately woven cloak. Vash walked over to his bunk, in the corner of the barracks room, and was pleasantly surprised at what he saw. A suit of Mark VI armor was in pieces on the floor, but it wasn’t the ancient armor Vash had been blessed with that caught his attention.
A large backpack was leaning against his bunk. A fat, silver cable ran from the backpack, snaking across the floor, and eventually connecting with the weapon he’d dreamed about for years, a plasma cannon. His plasma cannon was lying on his bunk, along with a box of plasma charges and a bandolier to carry them in. If he remembered correctly from basic training, each charge had about six to eight shots in it, depending upon many factors, such as how stressed the machine spirit of the gun was, the temperature of the gun, the surrounding environment’s temperature, and whether the gun had been rapid fired recently. When he could finally tear his eyes away from his new weapon, he saw a small note sitting on his endtable. He slit it open with his combat knife, and read it.
Battle Brother Vash:
You are to report for advanced training with the plasma cannon when your battle barge reaches the legion fortress.
10th Company Commander
Vash crumpled the note and threw it into the incinerator on the wall. This was to be expected. Up until now, he was a sniper, and now that he was being reassigned as a plasma cannon operator, he was pretty much obligated to train and become the best he could in his assigned weapon. He gingerly moved his new weapons, setting them on his spartan desk, and walked over to his former squadmates.
“Hey, are we ready for the feast now?” Vash asked.
Eurebus looked up. He was proudly sporting the rusty red robe of a Mechanicus adept, and he nodded. “Yeah, I think so. Talk to Nolan though, he’s still messing around with his chainblade.”
Upon hearing that, Nolan looked up. “Hey, I’m hungry!” he said, setting the deadly weapon down.
Vash nodded. “Okay, then lets call Sergeant Castus.”
The feast was a tradition amongst the Onyx Warriors. All newly anointed scouts held a dinner were they could talk and share memories. It was also the first time an Onyx Warrior was allowed to drink alcohol, and there was plenty of heavy drink at these parties. They were usually small affairs, with just the scout squad and their sergeant. Very rarely, if the legion had a particularly large graduating class, or if several scout squads happened to finish their training at the same time, then a grand feast would be organized, with as many as twenty scout squads all together in the main dining hall of their respective battle barges.
The three scouts arrived at the dining hall dressed in their new gear. For Eurebus this meant his rusty red Mechanicus robes. Vash and Nolan each sported their suits of power armor, Marks VI and VII respectively, helmets carried under the crooks of their right arms. Castus was waiting for them, dressed in his green and black carapace armor, and carrying a small, varnished cherry wood box under his arm. He nodded to each of them, and they took their seats. Castus was seated at the head of the table, with Eurebus and Nolan seated to his left, and Vash seated to his far right right. The seat on Castus’s immediate right, the position of highest honor, was empty, representing the fallen member of their squad, Brother Scout Brock. Castus cleared his throat and spoke,
“Brothers, your time is here. You are scouts no longer. We will begin the festivities in a moment, but first, let us remember our fallen comrade, Brother Scout Brock.” Castus bowed his head in silence and crossed his palms across his chest in the sign of the Aquila. The other marines followed suit. Many minutes passed before Castus raised his head and nodded.
“Very good men. Now, on with the celebration.” He gingerly lifted the lid of the box and removed a dusty bottle of amber liquid from a purple velvet sheath. Pulling five small tumblers from the box, he gave one to each marine. He placed the fifth in front of Brock’s empty seat. Deftly, he removed the cork from the bottle and poured a few fingers of the strong alcohol for each man. Raising his glass, he smiled to the newly minted marines and chorused,
“For the Emperor!”
“For the Emperor!” the Marines repeated, and downed their glasses in a single gulp. Vash, Nolan and Eurebus immediately keeled over, hacking up a storm as the amber liquor washed down their throats, burning the naïve organs. Castus smiled knowingly, having merely taken a small sip of his, and said,
“Yeah, I kind of expected you to do that. That’s 300 year old Terran whiskey. It’ll melt your tonsils off if you drink it too fast.” He said laughing.
“Throne, but that stuff’s awful!” Eurebus wheezed.
“Ah, you get used to it. Nolan, you’ll be wanting another glass. In the assault corp, they’re pretty heavy drinkers, and it’s good to build up a tolerance now.”
“Joy.” Nolan said, sarcasm dripping from his voice as he the sergeant refilled his glass.
“Vash, the devastators don’t drink that much; it messes up their accuracy, so your next glass is optional.” He said.
“I think I’ll pass.” Vash muttered, eyeing Nolan as he choked down another glass of whiskey, his face red like an overheating plasmagun.
“Suit yourself.” Castus said, taking another small sip of his glass. “I’m rather a fan of it actually.”
The drinking part over with, Castus snapped his fingers, summoning several servitors laden with platters of food from all over the universe. There were delicacies from each of the scouts' home planets; for Nolan, wild Terranosaurus from the jungles of Catachan. Eurebus received a plate laden with small grub-like things. The others stared at him, their faces pale as he smacked his lips in delight and tucked a napkin into his shirt.
“What? Don’t tell me you’ve never had Xaip grubs? Oh, they’re delicious! A veritable delicacy on my home planet! Here, try some!” he said, holding the platter high for the others to spoon some onto their plates if they so desired.
“We’ll pass, thanks.” Vash said, holding his hand up. The look of disgust quickly left his face as an ashen faced servitor set a platter full of grox meat down in front of him.
“Mmm… nothing better then a fresh grox steak. Uh, my good man?” he said, tapping the servitor on the shoulder as it turned to leave. “How about some barbecue sauce?”
“Of course sir.” It said in the monotone voice that characterized all servitors.
Castus, meanwhile, was digging into a bowl of fresh salad, made up of greens from his home planet.
“Hey sarge,” Vash said between mouthfuls of steak. “What planet are you from?”
“Cadia my friend. We’re encouraged to eat lots of salad there, so that we’ll be fit once we enter the Imperial Guard. Even though I was recruited by the Space Marines, the habit never really left me. And it tastes a might better than that ration gunk they serve you normally!” he grinned as he downed another mouthful of leafy greens.
Vash nodded, digging into his steak greedily, and reached for the water glass near him to wash it down. He sighed, and leaned back in his chair, contented. Castus finished his salad and watched as the other marines slowly stopped eating their food as well. Snapping his fingers, he summoned a squad of servitors who came and removed the soiled dishes from the table, and replaced the empty water glasses with fresh ones. Castus began to talk about how proud he was of the squad, and shared a few of his favorite memories of their exploits. Pretty soon, everyone was chatting and sharing tales of exploits both on the battlefield and off it. They stayed up talking until the early morning.
Captain Verunas of the Imperial Navy stepped onto the deck of his command ship, the Xenosbane, and straightened his cap before walking to his command chair. Returning the salute of his executive officer, Lieutenant Smith, he took a seat and accepted a data slate filled with the latest stats about the fleet from a hovering servo-skull. The slate contained information about the fleet's current position, estimated time of arrival, astropathic communications, and various voxes that had been flagged for his attention. His eyes lingered on the fleet's coordinates, making sure that they were on the correct course, and then pressed the erase button, wiping the slate clean of files. Tossing the slate aside, he stood up and addressed the bridge crew.
“Men, I’m told that we’re now in orbit over Onyx Prime. Order the fleet to begin troop debarkment, and have the Medicae ships enter into a stable orbit above the planet. I want these ships unloaded in four hours.”
The crew immediately began buzzing around the bridge, attending to their various concerns, and Verunas sat, watching the fleet arrange itself in an anchorage pattern through the forward viewing screens.
Vash lay on his cot, relaxing for the first time in days, when the overhead lamps switched from a cool white to an amber colour, and every man in the room dropped what they were doing. This was the signal to disembark, and sure enough, a rough, mechanical voice came over the vox a moment later, blaring out orders with machine-like efficiency. Vash was suited in his armor in a matter of seconds, and strapped the backpack generator for his plasma cannon to the rear of his armor. He hooked the plasma cannon to his back, and clamped his helmet down around his head, mating it with the neck seal. There was a slight hiss as the suit pressurized itself, and as soon as the runes in his helmet turned green, Vash ran out of the room and down the corridor. He was being ordered to debark with the devastator crews in Bay 11, and had to find his way there in the five minutes before the ship left. He passed countless ship personel, clad in grey jumpsuits and carrying a various assortment of handheld items. All paused and stood against the wall as he ran by, out of respect to the Astartes. He arrived, out of breath, in Bay 11, three minutes later after running from the bow of the ship to the stern-most launch bay on the port side. If he ever met the moron that had assigned him this launch shuttle, he’d throttle the bastard. Drawing himself up to his full height, he took a moment to compose himself before he strode across the landing bay to greet his new sergeant.
“Borther Sergeant Kenth, I’m Battle Brother Vash, your new plasmagunner.” He said, making the sign of the aquila across his breastplate. Kenth stood next to the thunderhawk, holding a data-slate manifest with his left hand and drumming the bionic fingers of his right on a bolt pistol holster. He looked up, and eyed Vash, sizing him up with a glowing red mechanical eye before nodding.
“Vash, right. I’ve been expecting you. Haul ass and grab a seat on the ‘hawk, I’ll brief you inside. Stow your gear in the cargo bay underneath.” Sensing his hesitation at being unarmed, he added,
“There’s a bolter rack inside if anything happens, now get to it trooper!”
“Yes sir!” Vash said, banging his fist on his breastplate in a quick salute. He reached behind him and released the mag-clamps holding the plasma generator to his back. Deftly, he caught the backpack before it hit the ground, and carried it to the open cargo bay beneath the waiting transport. Vash slid the weapon underneath, and slammed the hatch shut. He ran around to the other side and jumped into the thunderhawk, landing with a muted clang as his boots hit the deckwork.
The other members of his squad eyed him as he entered the ship, and he nodded to them as he took sat down. Taking a seat, he grabbed a bolter from the rack and cocked it. His squadmates eyed him uneasily, and the man sitting next to him said,
“Hey newbie, this isn’t a combat drop.”
Vash nodded. “I know, but I always get a little antsy without a weapon in my hands.”
The other marine nodded understandingly, and leaned back against the seat, waiting for the ship to launch. Sergeant Kenth jumped inside the ‘hawk, and eyed them all with his bionic eye.
“Men, we’re to report for a rotation of duty at the Citadel, and for further training with the Mk. VI plasma cannons. We also have a new member, Battle Brother Vash. Fresh out of Sergeant Castus’ squad.” He grabbed Vash’s plate sheathed arm for the squad to see, and raised it high. The men murmured approval. “So, a short flight and we’ll be on the deck at the Citadel. Report for training tomorrow bright and early.”
The squad groaned, but Kenth cut them off with a terse glare and a raised brow.
“Are you space marines or not? I expect better from the best warriors in the universe! So, let’s try again. Report for training tomorrow bright and early.”
This time, the squad all nodded brightly and made pleasant affirmatives to each other.
“Excellent!” Kenth banged his fist on the ‘hawk’s roof and yelled something at the cockpit.
“Pilot! Get us out of here!”
The gravelly voice of the servitor in the cockpit scratched over the vox as it responded an affirmative.
“Yes sergeant. We’re beginning our pre-flight checks now, and expect to be underway in a few minutes.”
Kenth nodded to no one and sat down on the troop bench, fiddling with his bolt pistol as he waiting impatiently for the craft to take off. A few minutes later, Vash felt the rumbling of the main engines beginning to warm up, and his teeth rattled as they began burning in earnest. He could picture the gargantuan cylinders, flames roaring out of the dispersal shafts and down the launch tubes of the troopship. Suddenly, he was pressed into his seat as the thunderhawk shot forward and screamed down the launch tube, the pressure doors opening an instant before the craft was due to pass through them. Vash breath a sigh of relief as they reached open space and the engines slowed down to a puttering burn. A large red sphere loomed in the distance, dotted with craters and the occasional singular mountain. Onyx Prime, the birthplace of their glorious legion and the location of The Citadel, the Onyx Warrior’s legionary fortress. Visible from space, this massive piece of architecture sprawled across the land below, enveloping plains, mountains, and water features. It was all ringed by a massive system of walls, dotted with gun emplacements and landing pads to allow reinforcements to quickly reach troubled areas. Vash grew misty eyed as he thought of the place he had called home for so many years, and the idea of returning to it gave him an intense feeling of happiness.
“Oy! Listen up! We’re landing in a few, so look sharp Razor squad.” Kenth had clearly not been rattled by the less-than-desirable thunderhawk launch, as he was just as sharp as he had when Vash had met him. Leaning back against the non-existent headrests, Vash closed his eyes and waited for the feeling of the thunderhawk’s landing skid’s hitting rockcrete.
It did not come. Instead, he heard a shrill alarm and a tinny voice coming over the vox, as the servitor pilot coolly warned them of an incoming krak missile. Vash sat up with a jolt. Did he just say krak missile? This is Onyx Prime for fething sake! Who’d be stupid enough to shoot down a space marine thunderhawk on its legion’s home planet?!
Kenth jumped to his seat, and grabbed hold of the crash webbing hanging limply there.
“Razor squad! Brace for impact!” Vash fumbled with his own crash belt, finally securing over his breastplate and pulling the tabs tight to secure it. By now, the alarms were incessant, and the servitor seemed to have given up hope of evading the missile. Vash braced for impact with the missile, and wasn’t disappointed. The small warhead ripped their tail assembly off with the signature KRAK-BANG characteristic of all krak weapons, and suddenly, they were falling. The missile must have cut the engine coils, because they had just flared out. They were falling, high up in Onyx’s atmosphere, with no possible way of surviving.