"We shouldn't have run," Dreagher said.
"We didn't run," Zekhoros protested. "We... well, okay, we ran. But what use would there have been in staying behind to die? The battle was more than lost."
"I must agree," Upiliz said. "Why bother with the heroic last stand when you have a back port out? Let the Fists or Ultramarines take pride in those."
"Not all of us made it out," Kharn said, more melancholy than usual.
Angron, Lord of the Red Sands, the Red Angel and the Emperor's Executioner, harrumphed at his sons' bickering. It irritated him, residual pain from residual wounds. But, perhaps, it was to be expected.
The Twelfth Legion did not run. They were the Emperor's shock maul, striking again and again until their enemy was destroyed at whatever cost. To take a step back, except to reload, had been anathema to them. Yet Angron had ordered his sons to take Numeon's way out.
Of course, the reason he had was not to run.
"You're all missing the point," Angron said with a grunt, turning to his sons. "We ran, yes. But we didn't run because we were beaten. We ran because we'd won."
"The beacon," Zekhoros said, almost immediately. "Was it truly more important...."
"It was the objective," Buktal said.
"We ran." Dreagher spit. "We ran, and we let our Legion's homeworld be taken by the damned Ultramarines, of all Legions. Next thing you know they're going to build it up in blue grids and put up giant statues of Guilliman all over the place."
"Let them." Angron almost growled with - not pure rage, now, but frustration. "Let them have Nuceria and rename it Roboutia if they want to. It was never my home! And the Legion's home is not there. It is here. On Bodt."
And with that, Angron swept a demonstrative hand around and, considering his point made, stalked forwards, through the muster field that stretched ahead of them and to the crude-looking citadel of Tredhimmia, rising before them in crossing bars. Gray hab-blocks crouched close to the surface to either side of the ground, in something resembling a rectangular grid, and the volcanic pinnacle of Morradhim looming in the distance was silhouetted as a black triangle against polluted red skies.
The warriors of his Legion, armored in white and blue, saluted as he strode past. He gave no sign of noticing. Let them fawn if they wished, or let them hate if they preferred that. They were his sons either way.
It was one of the many bonds he was now realizing he had entangled himself in, and not the most worrying.
As he came to the head of his column, however, he narrowed his eyes in recognition. Something was there - something on the edge of his vision, but -
No, not his vision. Something on the edge of reality.
"Out with it, daemon," he told the presumable messenger. For a moment he considered the chance of it being Vulkan miraculously returned - but no, wherever Guilliman had sent him would not be so easy to come back from. It was a messenger of one of the two powers they had paid their respects to on Nuceria, and Angron was not sure which he wanted to see less at the moment.
Yet when the form materialized, he frowned in surprise, for it had neither the bloated form Nurgle's appendages took nor the glazing of blood Khorne's servants tended to be drenched in.
It was humanoid in shape, perhaps even a faint mockery of one among the Adeptus Astartes, if sized nearer Angron himself. Yet it was clearly not a being of regular space. For one, it had four arms, each of them seeming to smoothly transition from the metal of its 'armor' into something like flesh. For another, the golden glow surrounding it had an unnatural stink. And in addition, there was its face, below its white crown. It was a human face, yet its features were as protean as those of his father, every motion of its not-muscles an incitement - to create, to betray, to tyrannize. The figure wielded four staffs topped with various animalistic symbols, one in each hand, and behind its shoulder blades a knife of leaden metal - the only chink in its overbearing goldenness - protruded from its shoulder blades.
"Angron," it said. "So crude, always, even now.... I only come to give thanks."
"For what?" He did not trust this being. He could, he imagined, be forgiven for that. It as good as screamed that it was not to be trusted, even by daemons' standards. (In these moments he almost wished to be talking to a servant of Khorne, for those were at least straightforward. Yet the words rewound themselves in his mind. 'I will be free, you will not.' And with the words, as ever, swirled the doubts he did not wish to confront.)
"Do you not see what you have achieved?!"
"The beacon," Angron said. "You are not of the Four, yet I presume you are linked to the beacon."
"I am," it said with a cruel smirk. "Though still you do not see.... I am the Forgotten Pharaoh, and I am the first."
"The first what?" Angron asked, suppressing a yawn. These games were so pointless, yet they had to be maintained.
"The first of the Emperor's court," the Forgotten Pharaoh said. "The first Empyrean foreshock of His impending ascension. As to the rest... all that, you will know. But I thank you nevertheless, for letting me emerge."
It vanished with a flourish, and Angron watched it swirl into nothing. That was what it was, then - his father was creating a court of daemons of his own. New sons. What of the old ones?
All this did nothing at all to chip at Angron's unease. The Emperor had elevated him, called him to Terra for that first revelation when most of the Primarchs had been let be to accrete into Horus's rebellion. He had been formally named executioner, had been given the honor of illuminating Vulkan. He had accepted that at the time as merely his due - but when had his father ever cared about his due, before?
I will be free. You will not.
"Zekhoros," Angron sent by vox. "Walk with me."
As the Thirteenth Captain caught up with his Primarch, Angron strode up the steps to the citadel's ceremonial entrance, the guards hurrying to open the gates. After that he headed immediately to the vox suite, to reacquaint himself with what he was meant to be doing now that the whole adventure with the beacon had ended - about as well as could be expected after the Ultramarines had shown up, really. Guilliman had been delayed, giving Fulgrim the time to ravage Ultramar if he had that strength (which Angron privately doubted). And whatever the beacon was had been a triumph.
"Sire?" Zekhoros asked, once caught up.
"Take all those of my sons who do not have the Nails," Angron simply ordered. "Including Lhorke and the Librarians and whatever other flotsam is around, plus the batch that Guilliman... cured. That should be a thousand Astartes or so. You have command of them, as an independent Chapter. The War Hounds if you want to call them that, or you can come up with a new name if you want."
Zekhoros was silent, in shock, perhaps at the responsibility. "Why me?"
"Lhorke will be asleep most of the time," Angron said. "Who else would it be? As to me... even freed from the Nails that I forced onto them, I am bound to the World Eaters. They are my sin now, to steer to unknown ends. My only command to you is this - your Chapter must not be dedicated to the worship of Khorne, or any one of the Chaos Gods. Let some of my gene-sons at least be free of those chains. Follow the path of Chaos Undivided, as Lorgar calls it... and may it lead you better than it did him."
Zekhoros bowed and took his leave. Angron proceeded onwards.
His melancholy was not an echo of Kharn's. The Eighth Captain had merely lost friends, Numeon first among them, and was now reflecting on those sacrifices. But it was not the first time, and Kharn would recover in time - from that, at least.
But the chains -
Magnus had not lied, then. He had truly believed that Angron had not merely damned himself, but enslaved himself. And if for now Khorne and Chaos were happy with the tally of skulls he was reaping, the day would come when he faltered. What was to be his fate, on that day? What was to be his Legion's?
"Primarch Angron," the tech-priest's words came, and the Primarch realized he had arrived in the comms room without realizing it. "A ship has arrived in orbit, class unknown, claiming Imperial codes."
"Bring its bridge through," Angron answered absentmindedly, before taking a look at the measurements and reeling in surprise.
That was not an Imperial ship. It could not be, for the Imperium did not have ships that large. Perhaps some xeno ruse - perhaps some relic of the Dark Age of Technology, at best. From the auspex it was ornately decorated, a cathedral, or three cathedrals stacked on top of each other, yet Angron could see from the heat plumes that the decorations were only a foil layer atop a machine of war.
And then the bridge came through, and the order to activate the planetary defense grid died in Angron's throat.
"Report," the Primarch said, with a smile, to a friend he had feared would never be able to return to the line of duty after Maragara.
"Since that Terran oaf managed to lose the Conqueror," Admiral Lotara Sarrin answered, "the Emperor, or rather Lorgar, has seen fit to dispatch a new flagship for the Twelfth Legion. You have full liberty to rename it, of course - but the name that it was built with, in the secret dockyards of Mars, is the Furious Abyss."