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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 08-27-10, 12:32 AM Thread Starter
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Default A Raven at Dawn

An original Raven Guard work that I've finally finished after being on the shelf for two years or more. Please feel free to provide feedback and critique. Now in bite-sized pieces for your reading enjoyment.

Part I


Two flashes of light overhead and the rustling of trees was all that heralded their arrival. Silence held sway over the darkened wood while they silently fell into place, gathering in number until they were prepared to move. Moving quietly but swiftly through the dense wood, nearly two score figures, mere shadows within shadows, made their way towards their destination. Despite the lack of light, each form made its way unerringly forward in tactical formation, avoiding any obstacles that would make noise and alert their target.


At a gesture from the lead form, as one they all came to a halt. Another gesture and each one found cover behind a tree or some brush. Brother Captain Allan Frakes, commander of the Fourth Company of the Raven Guard chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, crept forward silently to confer with his point man. Sergeant Daniels simply pointed towards the direction they had been traveling. The autosenses built into his helmet let the captain see for quite some distance in the dark, providing him with the vision of a lone figure moving to and fro among the trees, as if on sentry.


“We must be near the entrance,” Frakes whispered into his vox, speaking to all three squads. Even though the inside of his helm was sound-dampening, long years of habit made all of the Raven Guard soft-voiced unless in the midst of battle. “Two scouts around the left and right flanks to spot any openings. As soon as an entrance is marked, squad Daniels goes in with squads Nestor and Hamilton’s Scouts in cover. Let’s move. Victorus aut Mortis.”


This was why they had come. A report of Chaos worshipers being active in this region of the planet Shaja’ir had come to the attention of their Chapter Master, who had sent Frakes with two assault squads and a scout squad to bring a swift end to the spreading taint of Chaos. It had been a matter of days after their arrival for the scouts to locate the ancient temple near here, and the steady trickle of citizens arriving and departing the supposedly abandoned compound.


A day more, and they had all the information they needed to strike at what must be a sizable underground compound, located here in these woods. The captain had decided to strike that night, both to make use of their superior skill at night fighting and to put a rapid end to this foul taint on the Imperium.


Unfortunately, a misstep by Scout Delios snapped a fallen branch and alerted the figure standing outside the tunnel entrance, completely negating the element of surprise. The sentry turned at the sound, clutching at his belt for a hand torch, then lighting it to try and find the source. Scout Delios darted out, faster than any normal man could move, and grabbed the figure by the throat, crushing the torch, and hand that held it, with his free hand. Rather than cower in fear, as expected, the sentry's mouth split in a wicked smile, his eyes glazing over in ecstasy at the pain. Tattoos on his face seemed to crawl under the scout’s gaze, distracting him just long enough for the man to pull a laspistol from his waistband and fire it into the scout’s leg.


Discipline prevented Delios from crying out in pain, but there was no need for silence any more. Over a dozen holes formed in the hillside as hidden doors opened and light came pouring out, followed by scores of deformed and tattooed individuals. Each had some form of Imperial Guard weapon in his hand and was screaming incoherently.


Ignoring the pain in his leg, Scout Delios snapped the neck of the man he was holding and threw the now lifeless body at the advancing cultists. Frakes decided that the time for stealth had passed, and advanced into the small clearing to assist. A quick burst of light flared, accompanied by a loud thundering, as he fired a round from his bolt pistol. The round struck one cultist in the shoulder and the resulting detonation from the mass reactive round sent him spinning to the ground, dead before he landed.


“Weapons free,” was all the Captain had to say.


As soon as the words left his lips, the Astartes line erupted with bolter fire. There were more cultists than they had expected, pouring from numerous openings, and thus no shortage of targets. The light in the area grew brighter as another opening in the hillside appeared scant meters from a pair of scouts on the flank. A score of cultists rushed out and were among the scouts before they could fire more than a round or two each. Several of the cultists immediately dropped to one knee and fired wild, ill-aimed shots. Volume of fire has its own accuracy, however, and more than one shot struck home as it found the weak points in the carapace armor the scouts wore.


Apothecary Israfel, who had been moving with the Astartes of Squad Nestor, saw the scouts’ injuries and immediately moved forward to treat the wounded. As he knelt by the first fallen scout he came to, he saw that a solid round had ricocheted off the scout’s armor and lodged itself in his throat. A few adjustments to his Narthecum glove and Israfel had the shrapnel out, allowing the scouts Lariman cells to do their work and clot the blood flowing from the wound. In a matter of moments, the bleeding had stopped and the scout was able to stand, albeit with some aid.


“Thank you, Apothecary, you have saved my life,” the scout said reverently.


“The only thanks necessary, scout Poe, is that you get back to the mission, and try not to die this time,” replied Israfel, smiling slightly behind his helm at the awe on the scout’s face. The first of what appeared to be several wounded having been taken care of, Israfel moved on to the next. The majority of the scouts had been wounded in some way or another, but more than a few of the full Astartes had been struck by the withering crossfire coming from the hillside. They would have to pull back soon and regroup, or they would be overrun.


“Raven Guard, pull back into the woods!” Captain Frakes called out over the din of battle. He lunged forward and removed a bloated mutant’s head from its body with his power sword, cutting through the torso of a heavily tattooed cultist holding a lasgun on the return swing before withdrawing himself. “Bring any wounded that cannot walk. Regroup at rally point one.”


With that, the Captain disappeared into the shadows. The Raven Guard owned the night, and could use any shadow to their advantage in both attack and withdrawal. All of them now did so, even the wounded disappearing from sight in moments. Undaunted, the cultists followed with lanterns, torches, and any other light source they had available illuminating their path.

-I-

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Part II

Rally point one was a small hillock with a fallen tree near the top that was able to provide some small measure of cover if such was needed during the withdrawal. Captain Frakes had not expected to actually need it, but events just such as this proved that it never hurt to be prepared. The squads moved quickly to take up positions of interlocking fire behind cover. The enemy was not far behind, the Astartes greater size and speed hampered by their need for stealth in the woods.

Israfel, who had been assisting Brother Sergeant Nestor to walk after having had a stray lasround pierce the armor on the back of his knee, was one of the last of the Raven Guard to enter the clearing. His white armor made him a more attractive target, and several burn marks had been scored in his chest and legs from the occasional hit. He lowered the sergeant onto the ground next to his squad and turned to glance down the line to see if any more needed his aid. Sergeant Nestor, for his part, had already taken his place in the line and was aiming his bolter in the direction they had come from.

They had mere moments to wait for the first cultist to burst through the edge of the clearing at a run. It was a half-crazed female, laughing at the top of her lungs and brandishing a laspistol that she fired in random directions, not even looking to see if she hit anything. Her laugh was silenced by a bolter round through the head, courtesy of Brother Sergeant Hamilton. Over a score of cultists broke through the treeline before her body had hit the ground, and the night was lit up once more with the full line of Astartes opening fire.

Captain Frakes glanced up and down the line, taking stock of the position of each Astartes in a moment. He knew that with the numbers arrayed against them, there was little chance they would avoid being surrounded, and this was not a readily defensible position. At an order, the squad sergeants quickly repositioned their squads to cover the flanks and prepare for further withdrawal. Every Astartes despised the idea of running away, but also knew that giving up indefensible ground in exchange for more favorable conditions could mean the difference between victory and defeat.

“Withdraw by squads, reconvene at rally point two on my signal.” Captain Frakes' voice was calm, yet loud enough to be heard despite the din of battle surrounding them. “Scouts, one grenade each, in succession, to buy us a moment.”

Within seconds, the clearing became a bloodbath as ten grenades exploded, one after the other. Exposed flesh was torn from bone by shrapnel. Shattered bone turned into yet more missiles to pierce the flesh as shards hurtled through the air. The screams of the injured and dying would have been deafening to a normal man, but the battle hardened Astartes shrugged it off and continued to fire into the confusion, awaiting the order to move.

“Squad Nestor, move,” came the order from the captain. “Scouts of Squad Hamilton next, Daniels last. Rally point two in two minutes, no need for silence, just get there and dig in.”

The three squads moved quickly into the woods once more, leaving behind them nearly a hundred dead and dying in the clearing. Rally point two was meant to be a last stand. An easily defended position a kilometer from rally point one, it consisted of two small, connected hills in a clearing, one slightly higher than the other, with a copse of trees standing at their top. The approach was steep on all sides, meaning whoever was attacking those at the top would already be at a disadvantage.

Apothecary Israfel found himself once again bringing up the rear of the formation, this time to aid one of the scouts who had been hit in the eye with a glancing shot. The wound still wept a clear fluid, but the bleeding had stopped. Israfel, while on the move, wrapped a bandage around the scout's head to prevent further damage to the eye socket until they reached the Apothecarion aboard the ship and the surgeons could more properly treat it.

Urging the scout to go ahead of him, Israfel turned to make sure no one else needed his immediate attention. The chatter of an autogun seemed far too loud in his ears as he turned back towards where they had come from. He felt a sting in his upper thigh, along with a tugging at his armor there. Looking down, he realized a round had punctured right where the thigh plate met the hip. Shrugging off the pain, he let his enhanced body deal with the injury. Drawing his bolt pistol from his hip, he turned and fired a round through the weapon that had fired on him, causing the ammunition to explode and killing its bearer, then made his way quickly to the rally point.

“Apothecary,” called Brother Sergeant Nestor as he approached. “I have three wounded.” That was all the word he needed, as the medic set about his task once more, the pain in his leg subsiding somewhat.

The speed they had used in reaching rally point two afforded the Astartes a couple of minutes to establish themselves in their positions. Israfel set about clearing a space in the center of the copse to treat those too wounded to remain on the line. Trees were pushed over to add to what cover they had. Fields of fire were checked, and the scouts were interspersed among the more heavily armored marines. This last ensured that there would be no portion of the line weaker than the others.

The noise of the cultists dashing through the woods could be heard several seconds before their arrival. Cracking tree limbs and incoherent babble echoed across the clearing, while the beams of light cast by hand torches danced about. Captain Frakes cautioned everyone to hold fire until ordered.

“Let them commit, then devastate them in swathes. Conserve ammunition, but weapons free.”

Once more, the cultists broke free of the wood line without care for their own well-being. It took several seconds for first ten to reach the hill, but by that time, over a hundred had entered the clearing behind them, with more on the way. When the first cultist reached a boulder jutting up from the ground nearly half way up the hill, Veteran Sergeant Hamilton voxed quietly to those around him.

“Gentlemen, unleash hell.”

-I-

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Part III

Seven Astartes opened up simultaneously, three of them firing at the lead cultist, who burst apart in a spray of blood and bone. The cultist immediately behind was covered in blood and scraps of flesh, but merely smiled and charged on, licking the blood from his lips. Scout Delios, revolted by this, put a round through the man's chest, dropping him instantly.

Despite the accuracy of the Astartes, the sheer numbers of the enemy allowed them to get close enough to begin returning fire. Soon, hundreds of shots per minute were ricocheting off of carapace armor and tree limb alike. Keeping the enemy at bay was far too rapidly draining the limited supply of ammunition the Astartes had, and the enemy showed no signs of breaking.

Israfel looked up from his ministrations on his route around the now-surrounded line and realized that he could not see the ground for the sea of humanity either rushing towards them or writhing on the ground in pain. His momentary distraction cost him. A round managed to find the narrow crevice between the massive pauldron that covered his shoulder and his back plate, lancing its way into his armpit and causing him to hiss sharply in pain.

The injury calling his mind back to his task, Israfel ducked back down and examined himself quickly. He didn't think that anything vital had been hit, but the pain was distracting. A quick injection from his narthecum glove dulled the pain and allowed him to continue moving among the injured. All Astartes are trained to push aside pain and fight on, but many forms of injury could not, or should not, be ignored. That was where the Apothecary was to step in and treat on the field of battle what could be treated, allowing a more capable Marine to carry on.

Time and again, Israfel put an injured scout or battle brother back into the fight from injuries that would have impaired even the vaunted Astartes. Then the bolters began to go silent as munitions were exhausted. Even as the first cultists were rushing in to fight hand to hand, Captain Frakes was voxing for support.

“I need thunderhawk cover here, immediately!” he said on the command channel, raising his voice to be heard over the battle. He kept the audio feeds from the exterior of his helmet turned on so he would not miss anything going on around him, but that tended to make communication over the vox difficult.

“Sir,” came the reply. “We …ing to close on your pos… for ten mi... There … psy bar… from get…in five cli…emple.”

“Say again Thunderhawk,” Frakes said. “You are coming in broken. Say again all of last transmission.”

“Sir,” the pilot voxed again. “I say ag..n, we … trying to close … for ten minutes… psy barrier…ing with… clicks of …”

“Return to the ship,” said the captain, slowly but emphatically, hoping they could hear him better than he had heard them, “and get Librarian Haephestas to take that barrier down. My men will not be slaughtered needlessly!”

“Understood,” the pilot returned. “…derhawk RG-3 out.”

Captain Frakes switched channels back to address the unit he was with.

“It appears we are on our own for Corvax knows how long, gentlemen,” he said. “Make this refuse pay for interrupting our mission. I want nothing left alive in this valley that is not a Raven Guard.”

With that, he drew his power sword once more and began cutting down any cultist who was within his long reach. Dozens fell before the might of the Raven Guard in minutes, cut down by chain sword and combat knife, burned alive by the one flamer they carried, or broken bodily by the bare hands of the massive Astartes.

The initial rush of the enemy soon tapered off as the more sane ones realized they could not overwhelm the lines with sheer numbers. They began taking cover behind trees and firing up the hill. Hundreds of the cultists had poured out of the openings in the hillside and were now moving to surround the clearing. Throughout the next hour, the Raven Guard’s bolters grew silent as they conserved their ammunition, but the volume from lasgun fire remained constant. As one cultist ran their power cells dry, another moved up to take their place, determined to take out as many of the Astartes from a distance as possible before advancing.

Through it all, Israfel continued to move among the Astartes, risking a hail of fire with each dash to the next point on the line to treat those who needed his skills. He had run out of medications and skin-sealant by the end of the third hour, yet still the punishing fire continued to strike tree, plasteel armor, and flesh when a lucky shot got through.

A trio of battle brothers from Squad Nestor made an effort to break the developing siege by barreling down the hill towards the thickest of the enemy, the now-late-morning sun shining off the metal of their combat knives as they ran. Over a hundred cultists died on the end of those blades before the trio was cut down by lasfire. The last one to fall, Brother Horvath, was dragged to the ground by more than a score of the cultists and shot, point blank, in the lenses of his helmet.

Captain Frakes was revolted to see one of the cultists pick up the massive combat knife with two hands and lick the edge of the blade. The cultist half closed his eyes and shuddered in ecstasy as his tongue was split open by the still sharp blade. As if sensing the Astartes’ eyes upon him, the cultist opened his own and turned to stare directly at Frakes, opening his mouth in a wide smile and baring his tongue for the captain to see. Brother Sergeant Nestor spent one of his few remaining bolter rounds to end the gruesome scene, firing from further down the line. The shot struck the cultist in the side of the head and the resulting detonation left a small crater spurting blood where the neck once was.

-I-

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Part IV

Another hour passed before the lasfire began to let up. Thousands of holes had been burned in the felled trees and soil of the hillside, but the Raven Guard had not been idly hiding behind their barriers. Though they specialized in hit and run tactics, all Astartes were taught the fundamentals of both assault and defense of a position. All who were able to be spared from watching the line had been busy fortifying their immediate area, digging a trench-line to quickly move from one position to the next and allow reinforcement for any assaults on the hillside.

As the firing slowed, Veteran Sergeant Hamilton voxed the captain.

“Sir,” he whispered. “I suspect we are about to be attacked from the north.”

“Why do you say so?” asked Frakes, looking in that direction.

“There are groups of them clustering around cages,” the sergeant responded. “It appears that they are about to release some abomination at us from that direction.”

“Understood,” said Frakes. “I am on my way to you.”

Before Captain Frakes could join Sergeant Hamilton, the contents of the cages were revealed. There was not some warp-twisted beast contained within each, but rather a small child, or what appeared to be one. Eight of them were led by the hand towards the hillside. It took only a moment’s inspection by the veteran sergeant’s augmented eyesight to recognize the pattern the cultists were forming as they advanced. An eight pointed star, with varied lengths at each point, began to take shape as more cultists stepped into the circle to form the hub and spokes. They began to chant as they stepped within the area between the children.

The hub grew into a ring of bodies around an empty space and the chanting grew louder. The chanting itself was unnatural and tore at the edges of the Astartes' nerves. Sibilant whispers were mixed with wild, haunting laughter. Multiple throats spoke in a range of tongues, none of which were Imperial Gothic. The only thing that tied them together was an underlying current to each chant.
A red glow began to form in the empty space, possibly signaling the opening of a rift in the warp to allow something through. Sergeant Hamilton checked his bolt pistol and noted that he only had three rounds left. With a short prayer to the Emperor to guide his sight and forgive him for what he was about to do, he selected three of the children on one side and fired a bolter round at each in rapid succession. The first round struck a psy-barrier in a flash of green light and a discordant sound, then ricocheted off into the woods. The second was aimed at the child two down from the first, with the same result, but the round struck a cultist approaching the circle, killing her. The third round struck the barrier, but the energies used on either side had weakened this point. Instead of ricocheting away, the round detonated as it struck, pushing the edges of the barrier back, burning the child’s face, and knocking it to the ground from the concussive force.

The instant the child struck the ground, the protection around the formation shredded like torn cloth. What had been an invisible shield turned rapidly into green mist carried away as if by a psychic wind. Captain Frakes, who had arrived just in time to see Sergeant Hamilton’s act, took immediate advantage of the barrier falling. Calling on two of the Astartes in power armor to come with him, he sprinted forward to cut down the remaining cultists in the group. He was unsure who was the impetus for the warp rift, but took no chances and cut down each person as if they were tainted with warp magic.

“Commander,” came Sergeant Daniel’s voice in Frakes’ ear. “Beware the children.”

Frakes turned and looked down at the nearest child, a scant meter away. The child stood, fearlessly looking up at him. Then it raised its right hand and an arc of green lightning lanced out of its hand to strike him in the shoulder. Captain Frakes’ reflexes allowed him to roll away from the blow in time to avoid most of the force, but even a glancing blow spun him around bodily. Only the most highly tuned reflexes and training allowed him to keep his feet at all.

Regaining his balance, the captain thrust his power sword out towards the child. The noise that escaped the thing's throat was as inhuman as any demon’s squeal, giving the lie to its form. Reddish light, the same color as the rift still forming slowly in the center of the circle, beamed out of the hole rent by the power sword in the “child’s” flesh. Its face contorted with anger and it reached out to strike him again with lightning.

Frakes saw this one coming, and so bashed the demon-child’s face with the back of his gauntlet. The captain knew in his heart and mind that it was not a real child, and self discipline forced him to carry out his task for the survival of his men, but the body broke and crumpled in just the same way as any six-year-old would beneath the force of his blow. The small form flew through the air and dashed against a nearby tree, spinning off to one side and coming to rest on the forest floor.

The sight of that body, looking so frail and human as it lay there with its eyes closed, distracted Frakes just long enough for a second demon-child to wrap its hands around the outsides of his right knee. Searing pain lanced through his entire right side, radiating out from his knee in a shockwave that left him gasping. He staggered forward a few steps, then sliced down with his sword, cutting through the thing’s back and into the ground. It let go a squeal of pain and anger, reaching weakly for the sword before falling to the ground.

Several cultists, realizing that their summoning was in jeopardy, broke away from the formation to attack the three Astartes in their midst. The two battle brothers with Frakes cut them down with ease, but were having less success with the demon-children. Brother Stephenson’s arm was blackened and hung limp at his side from where he held it up to protect himself from the same lightning used on Frakes. He had killed the demon-child by kicking it across the clearing, but was now suffering from his injuries while battling three cultists at once.

Frakes limped towards Stephenson, cutting down cultists as he moved. He found that he could move through the pain, but only just. He reached Brother Stephens and took up position on his injured side, allowing the injured Battle Brother to adjust to using his combat blade with his left hand more easily.

“Brother Johnathan,” Frakes called to the third of their group, “Seal that opening.”

Brother Johnathan carried the task force’s flamer and had just thrown one of the few remaining demon-children off of his pack, barely in time to avoid having it detonated while he was wearing it. He turned now and sent a stream of burning liquid promethium out over the formation. The rift had begun to coalesce into a bright red light with roiling maroon clouds around it. The burning promethium incinerated flesh and bone where it struck cultists, but only sizzled and evaporated where it struck portions of the rift. The screams of the dying started to throw off the chanting of the remaining cultists, though. The warp gate began to waiver as the will of the summoners did.

-I-

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Part V

Captain Frakes heard one voice cajoling the other cultists to chant louder, to believe, and turned towards the sound. That would be the one directing this abomination. A female stood just inside the central circle, her robe splayed open from the waist up and covered in self inflicted cuts, made by the blade she held in her hand. She looked at the warp rift in rapture as she made another cut and flung droplets of blood on the opening. The rift stabilized and began to grow once more.

Seeing his prey at last, the captain redoubled his efforts to reach the center of the circle. It was only a dozen meters to go, but there was no shortage of cultists willing to throw their lives away to prevent him from moving forward. Brother Johnathan joined the pair, making it easier to advance behind the flamer. Frakes knew he should not let his emotions decide his actions, but felt the burning need to destroy this cultist leader himself. She was anathema to all that he held sacred, tainted by the filth of the warp and consorting with the avowed enemies of the blessed Emperor. He waived off Brothers Johnathan and Stephenson as they approached the circle and leaped into the center, over the heads of the innermost ring. Those hapless individuals were so intent on their chanting that they never saw the Astartes approach.

The warp mistress, as Frakes chose to call her, turned to face the Astartes with an evil smile on her lips. With a roar of rage, Frakes rushed forward to put an end to that smile, the pain in his knee all but forgotten. A tentacle from the warp rift reached out for him as he drew near, drawing a victorious laugh from the mistress, but the laughter died in her throat as a single stroke from his power sword cut the tentacle off in a stump. A backhand from Frakes sent her sprawling, and as she tried to rise from the ground, his massive boot pushed her over on to her back.

“Your days are ended, witch,” he said, stepping down onto her chest, crushing her rib-cage. “The Emperor take your soul.”

To be sure she was dead, Frakes slammed his power sword down into her skull and twisted it on the way out.

With the warp mistress’ death, the red light took on a deeper, ugly brown color, and the warp rift began to close in on itself. The cultists, their reverie snapped by the death of their mistress, looked around the center of the circle in confusion, before being cut down by the two Battle Brothers clearing the way for their commander.

“Back to the fortifications,” Frakes ordered, limping as quickly as he dared. “We have them confused, but not for long.”

The trio made it back to the fortifications quickly and was greeted by Israfel, who saw to their wounds as best he could. He had run out of most of his supplies, but still managed to splint and bandage their wounds so they would not bleed out before their Lariman cells could repair the major damage. The captain continued to limp down the trench, seeing to his men, until Israfel ordered him to rest.

“Sir, you will be no good in the fighting if your knee fails you. Give it rest and be ready when you are needed.”

“I am needed now,” said the commander.

“You are a mother hen clucking at her chicks,” rebuked the Apothecary. “You are no more necessary ten feet from here than you are right here… Sir. Rest.”

Frakes bit back his response as his face colored. He knew Israfel was right, but it angered him to not be able to move as freely as he wished. The captain sighed and sat back against the hillside.

“I bow to your expertise, Apothecary,” he said at last. “But this day is not yet won.”

“Nor will it be without your arm, Captain,” replied Israfel, before moving on to the next injured man.

The siege lasted throughout the day and into the night. No communications could be heard from the ship above them, and the thunderhawk was unable to break through the barrier around the temple as of yet. It had made several trips to and from the surface, but each to no avail. Librarian Haephestas remained cloistered in his chambers on the ship throughout the night, using his craft to search for any cracks in the armor of the warp barrier that he could widen.

On the surface, the cultists tried twice in the darkness to assault the hill, and were rebuffed both times. Eventually, they set up floodlights in the clearing to prevent the Raven Guard from slipping off into the darkness. Each attack led to more injuries among the Astartes, and several eventually succumbed to their injuries, their sus-an membranes taking over and putting them into a veritable coma until they could receive better treatment.

Israfel used the last of his supplies just after dark, and had to continue splinting limbs with tree branches and tying them off with strips of bark. Captain Frakes’ knee had stiffened considerably with the damage done to it by the demon-child’s warp lightning having run through it, and he now limped around with the branch of a tree tied to that leg for support. The leaves had already been stripped by incoming fire, so it had taken little time to make an adequate splint out of it. The only thing they did not seem to be short on was incoming fire.

Israfel looked up from his work for a moment when he noticed the third attack that night moving forward. Only one Battle Brother had any ammunition left, and he now expended his last precious rounds slowing down the advance and allowing the few resting marines to fully awaken. The attack came just before the sky began to lighten with the dawn, the black above slowly lightening to purple as the cultists came on.

There was a sense of desperation with this assault. Far more of the enemy rushed the hill from all sides than any of their previous attacks. More than a few had a look of fear on their faces as they charged, screaming incoherently. Barely more than a dozen Raven Guard stood to oppose them, their more severely injured protected in the middle of their formation. Each Astartes made his peace with the Emperor and prepared to meet Him face to face.

-I-

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Part VI

The wave of charging cultists struck the stalwart rock of Astartes, and broke. Each Space Marine held his own ground, performing heroic deeds that no one would see. Though they were injured and exhausted from the fighting, they gave no quarter, and not an inch of ground. Israfel, who had been splitting his time between fighting on the line and caring for the injured up to this point, was forced to abandon his charges for the moment and take his place among his brothers.

A hundred cultists' bodies were joined by a hundred more, each Astartes drawing on his last reserves of strength in defense of the man to his left and right. Captain Frakes' shoulders burned with fatigue, yet still he grabbed a cultist, who had been about to shoot Sergeant Hamilton in the side, by the throat and threw him nearly twenty yards to crash against a lasround-riddled tree. The captain turned towards the next foe, cleanly slicing the man's head in two with a backhanded swipe and kicking the still warm body into the next two pushing their way up the hill. Despite his stiff leg, he managed to keep his feet among the growing mound of corpses, but only barely so. His injuries slowed him enough to allow a lucky shot or cut from a cultist to draw more blood in the joints of his armor. If he was to die this day, the Astartes Captain thought, then it would be in a sea of his enemies' blood, lying next to the greatest heroes he could hope to serve with.

After half an hour of constant struggle for supremacy of the hill, Sergeant Nestor noticed that the the attack was abating some. He finished off the cultist he was facing with a downward stroke of his chainsword and had to search for the next. The momentary pause allowed him to hear a sound that was music to his ears. The whine of a jet engine that signaled the approach of a thunderhawk gunship.

“Commander,” he panted into the vox, searching the skies for the sound. “Do you hear it?”

“I do,” came the captain's voice, “And such a sweet sound it is. Men, hold fast, for victory approaches on the wings of a raven.”

Captain Frakes switched channels to communicate with the gunship and direct its fire so they could break the siege around them. The number of injured they had forced the pilot to minimize the amount of ammunition they brought, but he was able to cut a large swath of them down so he could land. The gunship lowered itself unsteadily into the valley, forced to land delicately among the bodies of the cultists, and lowered its ramp. A brace of Astartes leaped out and took up position guarding the portal and directing the loading of the bay, firing at any cultist who came within range.

“Brothers,” called the captain over the vox to all who could still hear him. “We leave no man behind. Get the injured into the thunderhawk. I go for our fallen comrades.”

“I go with you,” said Israfel, the weight of his office bearing heavily on his heart. “They are fallen Astartes. It is my duty to see them safely returned.”

“They were my men,” said Sergeant Nestor. “I will go, but we will need a fourth, unencumbered, to ensure we are not, ourselves, struck down.

“Very well,” said the commander, “One more and we shall be all.”

“My sword still swings true,” chimed in Sergeant Hamilton. “Let us end this right.”

The four made their way as quickly as possible to where the three battle brothers had fallen. They met small resistance until they reached the bodies, and even then only faced a brief struggle to collect their fallen. By the time they returned, the remaining Astartes had all been loaded into the thunderhawk. Captain Frakes, despite carrying a fully armored Astartes and being injured, drew upon astounding reserves of willpower and ran ahead of the others, releasing the body into the waiting arms of a fellow marine and turning back.

“Make haste,” he called to the others. “They are not yet defeated.”

The intensity of fire coming at them had begun to increase once more, and so the chatter of an autogun could be heard over the din of the engines. Sergeant Hamilton turned back to aid Sergeant Nestor, who was lagging behind from his injuries. The two carried the body of Brother Horvath between them to the ship, which was now hovering above the ground in preparation for departure. A stray lasround caught Sergeant Hamilton in the side before they reached the ship and the three went down in a pile.

Israfel, having handed off his charge into the arms of the waiting captain, ran back to the trio. Sergeant Nestor rose to his feet and lifted brother Horvath's body to his shoulder.

“See to him,” he said to Israfel. “I can bear this burden alone.”

Israfel did a quick glance at Sergeant Hamilton and saw that it was a blow to the head from falling on a rock that incapacitated him. He would live, but must get back to the ship soon, for his other injuries were more severe. The Apothecary lifted the veteran sergeant into his arms and staggered back towards the ship, the injury to his hip, sustained more than a day ago, sending a dagger of fire up his side with each step. He reached it at last and handed his burden off to the Astartes at the door.

Time slowed to a crawl as Israfel felt the sting of several solid rounds impact his lower back through his armor. A warmth spread over his body as the pain he had fought through for over a day finally eased. The end had come at last, he thought, slowly falling to his knees. His last charge had been seen to, and his last debt had been paid. The Apothecary saw hands reach for him, but heard only the beating of his twin hearts as they slowed in his chest.

Looking off into the pale morning sky, lit by a bright, warm sun, Israfel noticed that the hilltop afforded a beautiful view of the surrounding forest. Treetops swayed slightly in the breeze, and movement caught his dwindling attention. A large black raven was watching him from a branch in the middle distance. When he caught its eye, the raven seemed to nod in acknowledgment, then it spread its wings and took flight.

Seeing the majesty of the raven, as the sun reflected off of its slick black feathers, brought a tear to his eye in a way that no amount of pain could ever do. The relief of setting down one’s cares and taking flight one more, free of all worry and fear. He had seen to what must be done, and was ready to be brought up to the Emperor’s side.

A memory returned to him of something he had heard in training, but could not understand the full extent of until now. The Chapter’s senior Apothecary had looked each of them in the eye and said “At the end of the day, an Astartes does not need fame to know he has done his duty. He does not need the adulation of the masses to feel complete. Nor does he desire these things. All an Astartes wants to know is that his life has made a difference; his tasks have been fulfilled. Let this be the last thought written on your hearts and in your mind as you breathe your last. Caught in the fires of battle, no greater glory hath a Marine than to pay the cost of another's life in his own blood.”

With the last echoes of that thought fading in his mind, and the spark of sunlight shining off of the raven's wings fading in his eyes, Israfel slept.

-I-

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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 09-11-10, 12:53 PM
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very nice!

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Originally Posted by Minizke1 View Post
Fluff is written by Matt Ward, and thusly, your point is immediately withdrawn.
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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 09-11-10, 09:54 PM
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Great story and awsome characters, Israfel was a true hero of the imperium..
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