Mortun and the marine traded blows, the Astartes had speed, strength, and experience on his side. Mortun had a slightly bigger and better weapon, along with his own considerable experience.
‘Shoot the damn marine,’ said Fortensen.
‘We don’t want to hit Mortun,’ said a trooper Fortensen recognized as the one who carried the contraband smokes around.
Fortensen watched as Mortun blocked a thrust from the marine’s knife. He truly was a skilled swordsman.
But he didn’t have a chance, not against an Astartes, not if he fought alone.
He parried the swinging knife with the side of his blade, he was about to disarm the hulking red beast when the power armor clad giant kicked him to the floor for a second time and reversed the grip on its knife.
‘Give me that,’ he said, grabbing one of the Jackals hellguns. If they wanted their commander to die with pride then fine, but Fortensen needed him.
‘Die you son of a bitch,’ he said and pulled the trigger, shooting three rounds into the marine’s knee.
The traitor stumbled, mid stab. The surprise caused him to miss Mortun and sink his blade into the floor.
Mortun wasted no time and rolled off to one side, away from the eight foot tall Astartes. Fortensen shot another three rounds into the marine’s backpack, damaging the armor’s mobility. Mortun stood up and reversed his two handed grip on the power saber.
‘We’re wasting time,’ said Mortun to Fortensen, and stabbed down.
‘Glad you’re alive,’.
‘Glad you could help with that. I assume you have an escape plan?’.
The squad set off down the hall.
‘What’s the situation?’.
‘My Valkyries are getting your men out of the detention center, they’re being evacuated to a location in the desert I found. We should be able to hold out within a cave system close to the evac site,’.
‘Most recent scans showed it was relatively safe. Like I said we could hold out there for quite some time,’.
‘We’re not going to hold out,’.
‘I found out why Kor’Farrah is here and not joining his master in the Isstvan system,’.
‘Lorgar needs him to find something,’.
‘A weapon, or some device of some sort that will help them in the war,’.
‘So there’s something out there, in the deep desert I’m guessing or we would have found it by now, that we need to destroy to weaken the rebellion,’.
‘Not necessarily, it could be something Lorgar needs destroyed lest it prove a hindrance to his rape of the Imperium,’.
‘When did you get melodramatic?’
‘Not the time Mortun,’ Fortensen sighed.
‘So we need to find this thing and what? Protect it? Prevent anyone else from getting it?’
‘That’s what it looks like to me,’.
‘That is terrific,’.
Before long they found themselves back at the breach point Mortun and his men had made. The Valkyrie was still hovering there, but one of the Vultures had been shot down.
‘You flew around a few time to make yourselves harder targets right?’ said Mortun into his helmet vox.
‘You must have forgotten to tell me sir,’ said a static riddled voice on the other end.
Once they were back on the Valkyrie Fortensen finally had a moment to breath, but found himself unable.
‘Are my men safe?’ he asked.
‘Let me get a status update,’ said Mortun, raising a hand to his helmet vox. After a few moments he lowered it and looked Fortensen in the eye.
‘Two hundred and fifty of your men have made it to the evac site, we’re among the last out,’.
‘Two hundred and fifty?’ gasped Fortensen ‘out of four hundred?’
‘A lot of my Valkyries got shot down,’.
‘Where where your Chimeras? Why didn’t’ you plan better? You just got over a hundred of my men killed!’ Fortensen shouted.
‘The Chimeras were destroyed! The traitors snuck explosives onto them and then detonated them, that’s why the Valkyries had to go in, thats why so few of your men got out. Now shutup, if it hadn’t been for me and my Jackals you’d be dead, and they’d all be dead. Stop acting like you’re the only one who’s ever lost men under your command,’.
Fortensen didn’t look at Mortun.
‘Here I got you these, I know they’re not your own but I doubt you’ll be getting those back,’ said Mortun, taking a belt with a holster and sheath attached off a rack.
‘An empty sheath and holster, to remind me of something else taken from me?’
‘These go with it,’ said Mortun, tossing a power blade and plasma pistol to Fortensen, ‘They were the closest match to yours in my armory,’.
‘Thank you Mortun,’.
The Valkyrie took off into the night, followed by just a few others of Mortun’s aircraft.
‘I’m glad you were the only commander brought here who’s regiment had aircraft,’ said Fortensen.
Mortun shrugged. ‘The Astartes probably have a Stormhawk hidden away somewhere, and the navy’ll have its own fighter and bomber wings,’.
As the sun rose on the horizon the men of the Glison 33rd Regulars and the Flying Jackals kept their eyes open for any sign of the enemy. None came.
On a flat stretch of ground the surviving squadrons of Mortun’s gun and troopships waited in loose formation, no one wanting to bother packing them in tighter. No one had the energy.
The commanders of the two regiments sat on two empty water barrels, with a third serving as a table with a map on it. The traitor’s camp was marked in red, their current position in green. Fortensen didn’t like how close they were.
‘So is there a plan?’ Mortun asked Fortensen.
‘Find what Lorgar wants, make sure he doesn’t get it,’.
‘That’s terrific Fortensen, now do you know where this thing is?’
‘No but I-‘
‘I think I might,’ said a trooper from the Glison.
Mortun and Fortensen looked up from the map they had been staring at and looked at the trooper. Their bodyguards did as well.
‘What’s your name son?’ asked Fortensen.
‘Alright Clarkson, tell us what you know, or what you think you know,’ said Fortensen.
‘Sir,’ began Clarkson ‘after the raid, when we were all imprisoned they had us in that detention center, it was almost like how you rescued us except they were in there with us and they wouldn’t even let us move. We waited like that for about an hour and then this… black robed… thing came in, Kor’Farrah was with it, along with the leftover Astartes’.
‘Did the general refer to it as “sorcerer”?’ asked Fortensen.
‘He might’ve sir, it certainly looked the part,’ Clarkson continued ‘the thing walked through the detention center, it stopped sometimes, in front of someone and just stood there, looking at him from inside it’s robe thing we couldn’t see into. Sometimes, after stopping in front of someone it would point at him and one of the Astartes would take him away,’.
‘I’m guessing that’s what happened to you?’ asked Mortun.
‘Yes sir, it is,’.
‘What happened after that?’
‘I don’t remember sir. I remember a hand, and a flare of pain like nothing else I can imagine and since then, since they dropped me back into the detention center I’ve just been… drawn in some direction,’.
‘Where are the other men that were taken in?’
‘I don’t know sir, I looked for em’ after they were done with me, I couldn’t find any. They either died then or during the evac last night,’.
Fortensen looked at Mortun, briefly.
‘So are you still being drawn towards something?’ Fortensen asked.
‘Yes, I think so at least,’.
Clarkson pointed into the mouth of the nearest cave, which was hastily being barricaded by the Glison Regulars and Jackals with pieces of aircraft that had only barely made it there before breaking down beyond all repair.
‘There sir,’. he said.
‘Well isn’t that convenient,’ said Mortun.
‘Gear up men,’ said Fortensen, ‘we’re going spelunking,’.
‘Why did you allow them to escape!’ roared Sor’Talla, the leader of the Astartes left behind by the blessed Champion Lord Tor’Kalrion to enforce Kor’Farrah and make sure he fulfilled his set task.
‘It’s all part of the plan,’ said Kor’Farrah ‘they will lead us to the device, the marker spell worked and one of the Glison is leading us there right now, everything he sees we see and when he sees the device we will swoop in and kill them all,’.
‘If you had followed your orders we would be combing the desert at this very moment, not playing games with a couple rouge commanders you dislike,’.
‘Just get over the fact that I have a plan and its working,’ snarled Kor’Farrah.
Sor’Talla raised his bolter to Kor’Farrah’s head.
‘Don’t forget who’s orders I follow,’ he said.
‘I haven’t,’ said Kor’Farrah, ‘and if I fail, which I will not, you can do things your way but until then,’ he raised a hand to the bolter and tried to push it away from his head, it didn’t work, ‘I am in charge and we will do things my way. Ready your men,’.
‘Five of my men are dead,’ said Sor’Talla, ‘I want the rest of my marines to go in, alone, when you find the device,’.
‘And you will, but right now, we must be patient,’.
The beam of a flashlight lit up the dark tunnel. Mounted on the barrel of one of the Jackal’s hellguns the flashlight began to flicker.
‘Jensen go to the rear,’ said Mortun, in the middle of the formation as the trooper, who had taken point, saw that his flashlight was dying, ‘Markus take point,’ he added.
The troopers moved smoothly, exchanging positions as the company moved on.
‘I ordered you all to check the batteries before we left,’ said Mortun to Jensen.
‘I did sir and it was fully charged, I don’t know what’s wrong with it,’ he replied.
Fortensen came to his aid.
‘Its probably got something to do with the device,’ he said.
‘I think we’re getting closer,’ said Clarkson ‘the feeling’s getting stronger,’.
The group kept advancing down the long, dark, and wet tunnel. Every step echoed, no matter how carefully they walked, and every drop of water from the ceiling was like the ticking of a bomb waiting to go off. The dark was an impenetrable shroud around everything good and right, hiding it not from sight, but from existence. The flashlights had trouble piercing it, and when they did it was only ever for a few feet.
By the time the group had spent about an hour walking through the tunnel it was Clarkson who had taken point.
Five flashlights lit up his back, making him visible for those behind him. The twenty five others tried to pierce the darkness around them.
In the back Fortensen was keeping pack, drumming a mark into then handle of his plasma pistol with his fingers.
Mortun was a few paces ahead of him, before motioning Markus to take his place from back where Fortensen was.
The trooper quickened his pace to take his leader’s place while Mortun stood still and waited for Fortensen to be right next to him and take Markus’s spot.
‘We can’t keep going on like this,’ he said.
‘We need to find that device,’ came his reply.
‘We need to know when they come for us,’.
‘You’re right, but we still need to locate this thing,’.
‘Group halt,’ said Fortensen, the thirty men stopped.
‘We need to go back topside, make sure we’re secure against attack,’.
‘But sir we’re close, I can feel it,’ said Clarkson, desperately.
‘Mark this spot with electro sig, we’ll find our way back, once we know the men topside are safe,’.
Clarkson reluctantly gave in to his commander’s order. ‘Yes sir,’ he said.
The group turned around and started down the path they came, all but two glad to be moving on. As for the two disappointed, it was for as many different reasons.
As the group followed the trail of infra red markers they left in their wake the sound of running feet came from up ahead.
Thirty rifles came up and Colonel Fortensen shouted ‘Star!’ the challenge word.
‘Heartbreak Ridge,’ came the countersign and a Glison trooper came up to the group.
‘Colonel Fortensen, Lieutenant Mortun,’ he said ‘we need both of you topside now, there’s an emergency,’ he started running back the way he came.
Fortensen, Mortun and the rest of the men ran after him back to the surface.
Clarkson kept pace for a few meters, before slowing down and quietly falling back to the end of the group.
When the rest of the soldiers had passed him he stopped completely and turned around, in the direction of the force drawing him.
When Colonel Fortensen reached the entrance to the main cave was swallowed by a storm of panic.
‘What’s going on?’ he asked.
‘They’re here sir,’ a Lieutenant answered.
From the mouth of the cave men came in, carrying everything they could and barricading the entrance.
Fortensen strode through the ocean of soldiers and looked out the cave mouth. More men were lugging equipment up the slope of the rocky mountain the caves were in.
The Colonel started down the slope to help the soldiers still out in the open. He looked up and blood red Astartes Thunderhawk was flying in circles above the mountain.
Mortun joined him on the rocky slope and saw what he saw.
‘Come on we have to get it all inside!’ he shouted.
Mortun started down the hill towards the gun and troopships. Fortensen kept his eyes on the Thunderhawk while all around him men rushed back and forth between the mouth of the cave and ad hoc camp with all their equipment and supplies.
The Thunderhawk flew behind the mountain and Fortensen lost sight of it. When he looked for Mortun he saw the younger man running for one of the Vulture gunships.
Fortensen heard the scream of incredibly powerful engines and saw the Thunderhawk coming in low over the landing zone.
‘Mortun no!’ he shouted before the Thunderhawk let the nose mounted heavy bolters, all four of them, open up and began to rip apart the grounded aircraft along with the scores of men who were still out there, trying in vain to get supplies in to withstand a siege.
Explosions hid the landing field from Fortensen’s sight and the old man lost sight of Mortun’s Vulture in the fire.
‘No!’ he shouted again at the loss of his friend.
‘Sir we have to get inside!’ shouted a trooper, Fortensen didn’t know from which regiment.
The Thunderhawk finished its attack run and soared up into the sky in preparation for another attack.
The trooper tried to pull Fortensen with him but the horrified Colonel wouldn’t budge, losing so many men in the escape just a few hours-or was it days?- ago had been like losing his sons, this was like losing a brother.
In the end Fortensen had to be dragged back to the mouth of the cave where he stood upright, forsaking the cover of the barricades as men of the two regiments kneeled behind the crates and kept their weapons pointed in the direction the enemy would come in as the Astartes Thunderhawk continued to loop around the mountain, occasionally blasting at it with its main cannon.
After two hours Fortensen looked away from where Mortun had been slain and looked at the men around him.
‘Where is Clarkson?’ he asked.
The young trooper stumbled through the tunnel like a blind man, unable to see anything it was so dark. He used his hands to find the walls and fell on his face once or twice when he stepped into a shallow hole.
He continued on this way for a while, about two hours after he disobeyed the Colonel’s orders and went deeper into the mountain. He knew he was getting close.
He forged his way onwards, letting the force calling him show the way. He let the force show him the way until it stopped.
The force just left him as though it were never there. In its place Clarkson saw a faint, ghostly green light at the end of the tunnel, where it curved off to the right. He followed it.
‘Dammit!’ shouted the sorcerer.
‘What is it?’ asked Kor’Farrah.
‘I can no longer see what the marked sees,’.
‘Did his flashlight go out or something?’
‘No, I would still be able to see even if he could not, it is as though the mark on his soul is gone,’.
‘Then Sor’Talla will get his wish, tell them they can land,’.
‘Sir we need you up here,’ said a Captain of the Glison to Colonel Fortensen.
‘We need to find Clarkson, he knows the location of what we’re after here,’.
‘But we don’t know when the Astartes will attack the cave sir,’.
They were distracted when the men at the mouth of the cave started firing their lasguns. Fortensen and the captain rushed to the mouth and saw the Thunderhawk landing, facing the cave entrance.
The ramp on the aircraft lowered as the main cannon elevated towards the entrance.
‘Get down!’ shouted Fortensen just as the massive gun bellowed in anger. The shot hit the inside of cave entrance and killed a dozen men. Fortensen rose with a long gash down the side of him arm. The captain he’d been talking to was dead and there was a loud ringing in his ears.
‘Fall back!’ he shouted.
Glison Regulars and Jackals rose to their feet around him, firing their weapons into the cloud of dust that was covering the exit. Fortensen raised his plasma pistol and added his own firepower to the panicked barrage.
‘Fall back!’ he shouted again and the men around him began falling back farther into the cave.
As Fortensen ran with the men further back he chanced a glance back at the cave entrance and saw two squads of Astartes walking, just walking, in.
‘Take cover!’ he shouted and threw himself flat on the ground.
Men took cover behind crates and fired on the Astartes with everything they had. A heavy weapons crew with the last remaining heavy bolter opened up and stitched a path of bolt explosions up the ground towards the cave mouth. Two of the heavy bolts smacked into the breastplate of a warrior in the front of the loose formation.
The giant was knocked back a step and the armor was significantly deadly. This didn’t stop the traitor from raising its bolter and firing two shots, killing the two weapon operators in a second before firing off a third into the heavy weapon’s ammunition box.
The bolt rounds exploded and sent shrapnel out in all directions, pelting the Astartes power armor with no effect and killing many of the loyal Imperial Army men.
‘Fall back!’ shouted Fortensen again. Snapping off two shots with his plasma pistol. The first plasma bolt hit an Astartes in his shoulder, turning him to the right a bit with the force of the shot. The second hit him in the face and the traitor howled in pain moments before the plasma ate through his helmet and killed him.
‘Fall back!’ Fortensen shouted again.
The men tried to fall back, but the bolter of the Astartes made deadly and accurate enemies, but they had nowhere else to go.
Running doubled over Fortensen and the men around him tried to get to the end of the cave mouth, where it broke off into several tunnels going in many directions.
Two men to Fortensen’s right died as the Astartes fired into the retreating defenders.
Fortensen made it to the tunnel and rounded the corner, just barely avoiding a bolt round that almost took his arm off.
Fortensen went into the tunnel that went right, the one he, Clarkson and Mortun had taken earlier with a group of soldiers to find what needed protecting or destroying. Other soldier went off in different directions.
He didn’t stop running until he’d turned five more bends, putting much ground between him and Astartes and meeting up with a small group of soldier who had taken what little cover there was.
‘Here sir,’ said a Jackal, handing Fortensen a detonator. Not asking what it was for, the Colonel hit the detonator.
Three tons of rock fell with the sound of thunder, covering the exit at the back of the cave entrance and preventing access to the tunnel system.
Fortensen exhaled, for what felt like the first time in hours.
‘We need to find Clarkson,’ he said.
Sor’Talla beat his fist against the pile of rocks. Roaring his anger the marine raised his bolter and fired half a clip into the pile. It did little.
‘Get the melta,’ he said.
‘Sir,’ said one his squad ‘the Army shits are coming,’.
‘Then get the melta quicly,’.
‘He’s not here sir,’ said the trooper called Markus.
‘Shit, I thought he came back with us,’ said Fortensen.
‘Maybe he went off looking for the thing,’
‘Most likely, come on, we’re going back where we left off,’.
Fortensen took off down the long tunnel he and the survivors of the attack were situated in. All the men went with him, not wanting to stay behind and wait to be gunned down by Astartes.
‘Set up traps for the Astartes, it might not hurt them, but it will slow them down a little,’ said Fortensen as he checked the charge on his plasma pistol.
Sor’Talla leveled the melta gun at the rock pile and pulled the trigger and the rock melted under the hellish heat.
Soldiers of the command of Kor’Farrah came in through the mouth of the cave. When Sor’Tall finished cutting a hole through the rock large enough for him and his men he turned around and faced the small group of ten soldiers sent out ahead of the main host.
‘Unworthy mortals do not deserve the glory our gods will give us,’ he said, raising the melta gun ‘go back, and tell Kor’Farrah he wasted too much of his master’s time and that we will take the glory from this world. He had his chance,’.
The fierce deathmask painted on the Astartes’ helm gave his words a fearsome edge. The soldiers turned and left, they couldn’t get out fast enough.
‘How many does it take to deliver a message?’ asked Sor’Talla.
‘Only one,’ chorused his remaining men and nine bolters came up.
‘Come on we have to go faster,’ said Fortensen as they heard the echoes of bolter fire.
Markus had an auspex out and was looking at it.
‘If we run we can get to our last marked position inside thirty minutes, but visibility is something that never thought to come here so running could be a potentially harmful option,’.
‘It may be our only option,’ said Fortensen.
The group continued down the path left my electro-markers earlier.
‘Sir, do you know what happened to everyone else?’ asked Markus.
‘I don’t know, they fled into different tunnels, the detonation that covered up the entrance probably helped them get away, and if they have supplies they may last for a while but I’m afraid they’ll be on their own unless we succeed,’.
‘And what will happen then sir?’ asked Markus.
‘What do you mean soldier?’
‘If we succeed in destroying, or protecting whatever Kor’Farrah is after, how do we get off this planet? The chances are slim we kill the Astartes, and even if we do we still have several thousand traitors back at the camp to deal with if we want to get off this planet, so even if somehow we survive this day, how exactly do we go on?’
‘We don’t trooper, everything has been taken from us, our brothers, our only viable way of getting off this planet, everything, save our duty and that is what we shall carry out unto our dying breath,’.
Markus said nothing.
When at last the group reached the point where the original party turned back, they found Clarkson keeled over on the floor, sobbing.
‘I tried to go down there…,’ he whimpered.
‘Down where?’ asked Fortensen.
‘Down below, but it wouldn’t let me, led me in circles…’
‘What are you talking about?’ asked Fortensen.
Clarkson began to cry again.
‘Speak damn you!’ shouted Fortensen and the tunnels carried and echo of his voice far.
Clarkson gathered his strength. ‘We were close… the last time we were here. After you left I tried to go on and find what was… drawing my forward, but the force… just led me in circles after I saw a green light, I noticed that when I dropped my helmet… and found it a few minutes later as I stumbled in the dark, then I heard a voice and it said “not alone…not alone…not alone”… so I came back here, to wait for you sir,’.
‘Well get up, we’re going now,’.
‘Yessir,’ said Clarkson, his spirits visibly rising.
‘Can you lead us back?’
‘Then do so,’.
The bark of a bolter ended the conversation as well as the life of a Glison trooper who screamed in pain moments before he died.
‘Run!’ shouted Fortensen.
The group began running again, a few troopers firing blindly down the tunnel to no effect.
A few more bolters opened up and more men died as the explosive bolts detonated inside them.
‘Which way Clarkson?’ shouted Fortensen,
‘Just follow me!’ shouted the young trooper.
‘We can’t keep doing this!’ shouted Markus.
‘I agree,’ said Fortensen ‘Clarkson, keep going, take five men the rest of us will hold them,’.
‘Yessir,’ said Clarkson, starting down the tunnel with five envied others.
‘What do you mean hold them?’ asked Markus.
‘We buy Clarkson the time to get to the source, take down an Astartes or two then try and get back to him,’.
Sor’Talla marched forward through the tunnel, joining up with his scouts.
‘Well?’ he asked.
‘They’ve dug in up ahead, we scanned the tunnels in front us and they have a dozen pointes where they can fall back to and get the drop on us no matter what we do,’.
‘Then we’ll make our own tunnels,’ said Sor’Talla, raising the melta gun.
Five men were incinerated in the energy beam that erupted from the left wall. Another three were killed when the force of the blast split the rock and the pieces went flying.
‘Retreat!’ shouted Fortensen ‘We can’t hold them!’ he added.
The last thirty men of the group began running after the trail of electro markers left by Clarkson and his group.
Markus stayed where he was, firing from the hip with his hellgun on full auto. The red las-bolts filled the newly made tunnel, still glowing with the heat of the melta beam.
‘Markus we have to go!’ shouted Fortensen, dragging a Jackal up.
‘Just go!’ shouted Markus, taking a krak grenade off his webbing. A second later he was hit in the side by a bolt shell. He fell to the ground in anguish and yelled out in pain.
‘Just go!’ he repeated.
Fortensen made his way to the next curve in the tunnel, keeping an eye or Markus as the trooper kept spraying las-bolts into the tunnel.
Fortensen turned his back on the trooper as he turned the next corner. The next thing he heard was the krak grenade going off.
‘Keep moving!’ he shouted.
Sor’Talla kicked the ragged remains of the mortal that had killed two of him men.
‘Keep moving,’ he snarled. The rest of him men, sixteen now, followed the mortals in thrall of the false god.
‘Make sure they lead us to the prize!’ he shouted after them ‘Don’t kill them all, not yet!’.
‘Run!’ shouted Fortensen as the marines came up the tunnel right after them.
He made a few steps before turning and snapping off a quick shot with his plasma pistol, hitting the ceiling above the hunched down traitors. A trooper next to him exploded in a cloud of blood as he was hit by a bolt round.
‘Grenades!’ shouted Fortensen and the men who had grenades threw them down the tunnel, set to explode on impact.
‘That’ll slow them,’ panted Fortensen ‘We can’t stop though, come on,’ he added.
Sor’Talla came upon his men, twelve of them standing, two of them kneeling in pain as their genetically enhanced bodies repaired the damage, two were dead.
‘Why have you stopped?’ asked Sor’Talla
‘We need the melta my lord,’ said one of the marines doubled over in pain.
Sor’Talla drew his rite knife and stabbed into the weakling’s neck, severing the spinal cord and killing him instantly. He did the same with the other.
‘Keep going,’ he snarled.
The marines resumed the chase, rounding the corner and meeting a volley of lasbolts. They returned the favor tenfold and continued.
Sor’Talla leveled the melta and carved himself a straighter path through the rock.
Fifteen men now, Fortensen’s group gave up trying to slow the implacable advance of the Astartes. They were out of grenades and had few weapons that could truly hurt them and no armor that would save them from deadly bolter fire.
Before long the group came upon Clarkson and his men at the end of the path set down by the electro-markers.
‘Where is it?’ asked Fortensen.
‘At the end of this tunnel, there’s a green light, it looks like a pool of green water. We’re supposed to walk through it,’.
‘Fine, lets go,’.
Clarkson turned his back and started down the tunnel. He didn’t get far before the Astartes caught up with them and opened fire once more with their weapons.
‘Everyone down!’ shouted Fortensen.
Clarkson dropped down and crawled back to Fortensen who help his plasma pistol in both hands and was pointing it at the Astartes. The others were firing on them already and managed to back them retreat back behind the corner that led to this last tunnel.
‘The portal won’t let us pass as long as they live!’ shouted Clarkson above the din of lasguns and bolters trading fire.
Fortensen fired off two rounds from the plasma pistol.
‘Why not?’ he asked.
‘The Guardian said so!’ he replied.
‘The one who spoke to me earlier,’.
‘That all makes perfect sense,’ said a Jackal, moments before being shot by a bolter.
‘Fight to the last breath!’ shouted Fortensen, knowing this was the end, that he would not reach his goal, that he would die down here under several miles of rock, having failed his lord.
He was ripped from his thoughts as a single metal ball was thrown into his section of the tunnel. He looked at it and recognized it as identical to the stun grenades used in the raids on his regiment.
‘Shi-‘ he said before the explosion of sound and light knocked him and the rest of the men out.
When Fortensen and the survivors came to he saw that they had been placed next to the wall of the tunnel sitting up. His hands were bound in a steel cable that dug into his wrists when he tried to move them.
Twelve Astartes stood before the remaining mortals, bolters held at the ready with a their captives’ weapons in a pile behind them.
Another Astartes stood at the end of the tunnel, before a glowing green portal of some sort. It must have been what Clarkson was talking about.
‘It moved,’ said the young trooper, just waking up.
‘What?’ whispered Fortensen. The Astartes looked at them.
‘It was around the bend, now its in front of it. Its moving,’.
‘What is moving?’ asked the Astartes who was standing right in front of it, turning around. This one held a melta gun.
‘The portal, the portal that leads to what we’ve all been looking for,’ said Clarkson before his commander could shut him up.
‘I see no portal,’ said the traitor.
‘You’re not pure in the eyes of the Emperor…’ said Clarkson, his head lolling to the side.
At a nod from the Astartes commander one of the marines kicked the young trooper in the stomach just hard enough to wake him up.
‘Your god is a false god!’ he shouted ‘the traitor of the crusade shall burn in the fires of the true gods!’.
Behind him the portal began moving again, coming down the tunnel towards the bound prisoners.
The Astartes commander raised his melta gun. ‘Tell me, right now, where the prize is,’ he said.
‘Not here,’ said Clarkson ‘we’re not even on the right world,’.
The portal started moving faster, and before long was right at the end of the line of prisoners.
‘Talk faster,’ snarled the traitor ‘where is the prize?’
Fortensen disappeared as the portal closed on him and swallowed him whole. He made no sound as it engulfed him. The traitor commander swung his melta around to point at the vanished commander.
The invisible force he could not see touched the barrel of his melta and weapon exploded in hundreds of fragments. The beast snarled in pain as the weapon’s fuel engulfed his hand.
‘Get out of here!’ he shouted to his men.
Clarkson and the rest of the prisoners rose to their feet and leapt into the green portal, letting it take them away.
Sor’Talla didn’t know what was happening, two of his men were killed by something he could neither see nor sense and the prisoners had escaped. He didn’t know what was going on, so he ran out of the tunnel, going back the way he came with the rest of his men behind him.
When the green portal engulfed him Clarkson felt relief. His hands were no longer tied, the Astartes were gone, and he felt safe, for the first time in many days.
He added pain to the list of things he felt when he slammed into a smooth stone floor from what felt like a thousand foot drop.
The other men who had gone through with him were in a similar position.
Clarkson found his way to his feet and saw Fortensen half sitting half leaning on a boulder with his arms crossed.
Behind him was a massive antechamber, miles high and simply too vast to describe.
Clarkson heard screaming and saw more men of the Glison and Jackal regiments appearing in the air above where he found himself.
‘Get out of the way,’ said Fortensen.
As they did so the men appearing in midair fell to the floor, but were unhurt. Looking quizzically at his commander Clarkson got only a shrug in answer to his unasked question.
More and more men kept appearing and falling to the floor.
When about two hundred men in total had appeared a lone figure, tall and powerful figure armored in gold and holding a long spear with a bolt weapon attached appeared behind Fortensen. All eyes were on it.
‘It’s a Custodian …’whispered Fortensen.
‘Come,’ said the gene-bulked super-human turning around and walking into the dark chamber.
All the men began to follow him, not knowing what else to do.
‘No,’ said the nine foot tall ancient warrior ‘Only him,’ he said, pointing to Clarkson.
The young trooper broke out of the pack of men and caught up with the tall being. The two walked off and were lost to sight.
‘What now?’ someone asked.
‘We wait,’ said Fortensen ‘We wait,’.
Finished: Too Much Love Will Kill You (working title), an original fiction novel. Working on: Second draft of Too Much Love, and the first draft of A Winter's Tale (working title).