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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-17-11, 04:21 AM Thread Starter
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Default Fire Beast

Fire Beast

The Emperor sends the Beasts with Wrath, for He knows their Time is short!

Prior to his first breath, he signed his mother’s death warrant.

His form was too large for her to birth, even with the help of the three wise sisters who cluttered around the reed bed. He tore her on the inside, sending gushing torrents of blood sweeping out of her as she cried in torment. The woman grew weak, her screams fainter and her face pale as life left her. A conference was held amongst the three wizened women in the door way of the room; the mother would not live, the child might be saved.

A knife was dipped in the boiling water of a cauldron that hissed and steamed outside the small hut, while a small pail of the heated liquid was drawn. The grandfather outside yelled a question at the trio of crones who ignored him, returning to the birthing room. Two of the ancient sisters held down the dying woman’s arms, while the third poured the sterilizing liquid across the stretched stomach. The knife came down quickly, eliciting fresh screams of agony from the patient. Organs were pushed aside, the womb found and sliced open.

He was ripped from the hole, blood and mucus dripping from his infantile body. Rough cloth scrubbed him dry and straw tore the cloying scum from his nose. After severing the umbilical cord, the knife was mercifully dragged across the mother’s throat as his weak cries filled the hut.

‘This one shall live,’ said the first crone.

‘If the sickness does not claim him,’ chimed in the second, ‘he will need a mother’s milk to avoid the pox’

‘Give him to the Fren woman,’ spoke the third, ‘her child died last week in birthing.’

‘He will need a father, his own decorates the stomach of a fire beast,’ the first again spoke.

‘Let us read his path first,’ said the second sister, ‘before we assign him a teacher in life.’

‘Of course,’ agreed the third, gathering the coil umbilical cord in her hand.

Crying child in hand, the trio walked out of the hut to the fire outside where the cauldron boiled. Amidst the small crowd of villagers the child’s grandsire looked on with a hopeful look that the second crone quashed with a shake of her head. They approached the still blazing fire in the center of the circular ring of wooden huts that occupied the small circle of stable rock amidst the endless expanse of bubbling swamp. With a gesture the trio ordered the villages men to move the cauldron from the flames and the third crone tossed the bleeding cord into the now exposed fire.

Orange light flickered in the old women’s eyes as they watched the cord flicker, twitch and finally shrivel. Every shape it formed was catalogued in their mind, long memory matching each movement to its meaning.

‘I have not seen one like this in a long while,’ said the first, ‘his life shall be long, long beyond the span of man. When this rock crumbles into the swamp he shall remain.’

‘Two children he shall have,’ said the second, ‘but they shall not be got by him upon any woman.’

‘His hunts shall be the stuff of legend,’ the third spoke up, ‘his trophies countless. A thousand tribes worth of sacrifices shall he make to the Emperor of the Gods.’

‘I see his death,’ continued the first, ‘strapped down flat, with a knife in his heart.’

‘This cannot be,’ spoke up the second, ‘I see him knocked to the ground beneath a giant hoof, evil permeating the air, yet pure zeal carrying on.’

‘A third death I glimpse,’ answered the third, ‘his body destroyed, his soul carrying on the fight.’

For a moment the three wise women stood in silence, contemplation going through them.

‘Give him to the huntsmen,’ said the first, ‘when he is old enough they shall teach him to fight and the ways of the marsh.’

‘Give him to the priests,’ countered the second, ‘they shall teach him the ways of the Emperor on Terra.’

‘Give him to both,’ offered the third, ‘he shall need fire and knowledge in his life.’

‘That is acceptable,’ said the two older crones as one.

…..
‘Many, many years ago my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather came from beyond the sky,’ explained Father Myrk, ‘to take the name of the Emperor God to the unenlightened heathens that dwelled upon the face of Arlia.’

‘How did he cross the sky?’ asked the boy. At the age of three he had no name as of yet, would not earn one until his fifth year. He was inquisitive and bright for his age though and had earned the interest of the Emperor God’s priest.

‘In a great ship,’ answered the priest, ‘like one of the reed boats on the marsh, but huge, the size of a village stone at least. Now, long ago the people of the north worshipped other gods, false monstrosities that demanded blood sacrifice and afflicted men with disease after disease. They made war against the southern kingdoms, who cried for aid against the dark tides. Far away the Emperor’s angels heard of our ancestor’s malfeasance and arrived in their great ships ready to deal out death in judgment. The land shook and the great cities of the north burned, the rivers overran their banks and once fertile cropland became the great marsh.’

‘All of the north would have perished, had not a humble priest amongst the Angels’ great ships gone to their leader and pleaded with him to show mercy upon the remaining heathens below provided they agreed to follow the Emperor of the Gods. The great lord reluctantly agreed and sent the priest down to Arlia to preach the Emperor’s name. Still in fear from the great purging, the remaining tribes listened to him. They accepted the Emperor into their hearts, learned of his sacrifices for mankind.’

‘He dies every day so that we may live,’ said the boy, an echoed memory from earlier lessons.

‘Yes my boy,’ agreed the priest with a smile, ‘and for a thousand years we have kept that bargain. Though the Angels return on occasion, to ascertain that we are indeed keeping true to the faith and sometimes they take away a few children, for what purpose we do not know. But they left guardians upon us, the great monsters of steel and flame to ensure that we are loyal.’

‘The Fire Beasts,’ the boy spoke, awe and terror in his voice.

‘Yes, the Fire Beasts,’ agreed the priest.
…..
‘Fire Beast,’ said Byl, crouching in the muck of the swamp as he examined in a track, leaning on his flint tipped spear for support. The master tracker was old, but age and hard work had given him skin like leather and the strength of hardened wood. He turned to his apprentice, ‘tell me Tyme, tell me about the beast.’

Tyme, eight years old, tall and strong for his age kneeled down, studying the track for a long moment. He had been named by the priests for his patience and diligence in studying, the Father claiming it meant ‘The Waiter’ in the Emperor’s tongue.

It sank several inches down in the mud, easily as long as the eight year old apprentice that followed the master tracker. Three gigantic talons lead it, whilst another claw trailed in the back. Each of the tracks that lead through the marsh were many feet apart, left by a monster of truly huge size. Scattered in between and partially obscured were the foot prints of fleeing men and and scraps of clothing and weaponry. The flesh they had contained was conspicuously absent.

‘It’s a bull,’ spoke the boy, ‘full grown, you can tell by the back spur pointing down. It ran down a large group of men, a lot of them on Kryss back. It killed them one by one and then came back to feed on their bodies once all of them were dead. I’m not sure which village hold the men were from though. None of them are rich enough to afford that many Kryss or that many metal weapons.’

‘Southrons,’ Byl spat as he pulled an object from the ground. It was a curious shape, similar to the buckets used to fetch water from the village well but made out of neither stone nor wood. It shined where Byl scraped the mud off of it, like ice in the winter. Holes had been punched into one side of it, holes like eyes.

‘Here, put that on Old Gryn,’ ordered the hunter, ‘that much metal will be worth quite a bit in the village.’

‘Southron’s?’ questioned Tyme, the apprentice rolling the unfamiliar word in his mouth as he put the helm into the saddle bags of the feathered bipod. The graying Kryss hissed softly at him through its beak.

‘They come from beyond the Marsh,’ answered the master tracker, ‘down from where it’s warm and dry. Every year at least a dozen groups of them come to try and hunt the fire beasts. Damn few of them ever go south again.’

‘But why do they hunt the fire beasts?’ asked Tym, ‘there so …huge and there’s no meat on them a man can eat.’

‘I’ve lead parties of them to where the beasts rut near the foothills,’ answered Byl, ‘they have a legend, some damn fool tale about how anyone who slays a fire beast is carried away into paradise.’

‘Is it true?’ asked the boy, youthful naivety in his voice.

The hunter mulled over it a while, shifting his spear from one hand to another.

‘Once I lead a party to the hills, one of nearly fifty men armored in metal with steel spears and on Kryss back. I left them there, as none of the southrons ever believes they’ll need to find a way back. While I marched home a few hours later, there was a sound like one of the great spring storms, even though it was the dead of winter. Some great monster roared across the sky, faster than any bowshot. I glimpsed it hovering like a swamp fly with wings of fire over the site where I had left the southerners. It descended and then minutes later flew back into the heavens.’

‘Do you know what happened to the men?’ again Tyme questioned.

‘I returned to the site to find a half hundred dead men and Kryss scattered across the ground ripped to pieces and burned alive, along with a bitch Fire Beast. It was at least ten feet long and eight at the shoulder, metal spikes growing out from its haunches and shoulders. The beast had a spear in its throat and its heart was cut out.’

The old man roused himself from the tale at the sound of a distant roar. Deep, resonant and above all vicious, it sent skin birds flying from the trees and a shiver running down Tyme’s spine. An answering cry, higher and longer came up from some distance behind them.

‘It’s a mated pair,’ said Byl, very quietly with his hand on his spear, ‘we’ll cut left and head back to the village. In a few days we’ll come back and see if anything is left of that metal on the surface.’

Both man and boy turned off the path, muck grabbing at their ankles as they lead the pack beast onwards through the trees. The mud reached Tyme’s knees and Byl ordered him to ride upon the strutting form of Old Gryn. Soon a stink began to fill their nostrils, the rotten and pungent smell of methane.

‘Back,’ ordered Byl, flint spear in hand and fear in his voice, ‘back to the path, now’.

A growl, so low it was not heard but felt deep in the stomach rumbled from the trees. Ahead of them the weak winter sun glinted off metal horns and fangs. A juvenile Fire Beast, five feet high at the shoulder, almost a ton of ravaging muscle and steel.

‘RUN!’ yelled Byl, moving his spear into the thrusting position and tossing the reins back to Tyme. The boy hesitated for a moment; long enough to see the fire beast’s head lean back and a gout of flame erupt from between its steely jaws. Byl leaned backwards from the jet, but kept his spear up, its flint head shining in the light as the Fire Beast Pounced. Old Gryn balked at the sight, almost throwing Thyme from his back, the Kryss bolted fleeing into the marsh. He twisted backwards in the saddle, viewing one more jet of flame.


Chapter 2

Three Kryss loads of metal.

That was his price, the price for taking these Southrons to their deaths. Normally he tried to avoid the northern hills, especially during rutting season when the Fire Beasts covered the area like a carpet. But the village desperately needed the metal, for axes, needles and the thousand other simple utilities of life.

At the start of summer, the convoy of southerners had arrived at the docks that straddled the base of the great stone the village resided on. Over two dozen strong, the southrons were all young men and obviously rich, each of them clad in mail and carrying a steel headed thrusting spear. Six flat boats had carried them, plus a Kryss for each warrior and several pack animals. Their leader had hair like straw and all of them were much fairer of skin than any of the villagers.

‘We want…find Fire Beast,’ said the young man. Tyme did not believe him to be much older than himself, probably fifteen at the most and was impressed that he knew any of the marsh tongue, however haltingly he spoke it.

‘You go to the north, keep riding until you hear the beasts. By that time they’ll have already found you,’ Tyme explained as he pointed, using the Emperor God’s tongue like the father had taught him.

‘Oh you speak Gothic? Jolly good,’ the Southron smiled, ‘now is there anyone here that we can hire as a guide? I was assured in Selic that we could hire a guide in Inteba.’

‘This isn’t Inteba,’ corrected Tyme. His village was small enough it did not have a name period, other than ‘the village’. Inteba was a much larger town of a thousand souls some twenty days to the south.

‘Damn that cursed outfitter,’ spat the Kryss rider, ‘he assured me that Inteba was on this heading.’

The man looked up at the village on its rock, sixty lodge houses nestled amidst the craigs and the stone church of the Emperor’s Mercy atop it. Smoke drifted upwards from the central cooking fire.

‘I don’t suppose anyone here could come along and show us the way?’ asked the Southerner.

Tyme shook his head and stepped away from the landing platform at the base of the rock and began treading the path to the top. Although only fourteen he was already accepted as one of the future leaders of the village and the rest of his people would almost certainly agree that this was a fools errand. Only the Father could match his faith and knowledge and the young man had read all of the seventeen books in the village. Since Byl’s death six years before, Tyme had become the master hunter of the small tribe, bringing in more meat than any of the other hunters.

‘We’d be willing to pay of course,’ the man added quickly.

Tyme paused in mid stride, turning to face the southerner. The village was poor and any influx of southern goods would be much appreciated by the families that made their miserable lives on it

‘How much?’

‘Three Kryss loads of axes, spear heads, buckles, knives, needles, medicines and worked leather,’ answered the armored man.

Tyme considered the offer. This was a huge amount of trade goods, more in one place and time than the village would normally see in decades. With this the work of the other villagers would ease immensely and they would be able to keep all of the meat and crops they would normally trade to the convoys of flat boaters that ranged out of Inteba. Going into the northern reaches of the marsh was madness this time of year, but it was an even greater madness to abandon such an opportunity. The medicine alone would be worth more than the entire village.

‘Deal,’ he said, striding forth to take the other’s hand in the ancient fashion, hand to wrist.

‘Tyme’ the marsher identified himself.

‘Gillead,’ answered the southron.

…..
‘Are you sure you’re leading us the right way Marsher?’ asked Bawn. He was a huge specimen of a southron, well over six feet and at least three hundred pounds of muscle. A bristly, jet black beard poked from beneath his helm and a great maul rested on his shoulder.

‘Of course,’ Tyme answered the hulking southerner, his Kryss stomping through the mud at the head of the group of southrons.

‘Because, we need to go north to where the beasts rutt, you understand this north concept don’t you?’

‘I am somewhat familiar with it.’

‘Very good, Marsher. Well we need to go north, but you seem to be taking us east.’

‘Yes, east towards the only ford in fifty miles on the Aliksaw river,’ answered Tyme, ‘unless of course you think you can swim two hundred yards of brown water in that tin suit?’

Bawn seemed to pause for a moment, collecting his thoughts for a rebuttal. Instead he laughed.

‘Haha, I like you Marsher,’ guffawed the huge man at arms, ‘when I kill the Fire Beast and reach Paradise, I’ll let you be my servant in the Emperor’s Halls.’

…..
Night had fallen and the party had stopped for a few hours beneath the triple moons. A fire was built out oil heavy Kayar logs Bawn had chopped with the huge weapon he carried. They were placed in a beaten tub of copper, keeping the flames from being quenched by the wet swamp; with a roasting Hex-Hog that Tyme had brought down was skewered over it.

‘So tell me Marsher,’ asked Bawn, sitting down on a log and ripping one of the hog’s six legs off its side, ‘is it true that you northerners eat mud and build your women out of s***?’

‘What he means,’ Gillead hastily added, ‘is how are your people able to survive here amidst all this mud? Where there is no land fit for plowing.’

On the opposite side of the fire from the two men and facing outwards into the swamp, Tyme let the insult pass for the moment. He could repay Bawn at some other point, when the hulking axe man was not surrounded by his fellows.

‘There is more than enough food in the great marsh, if one learns how to find it,’ answered Tyme turning to face the huge southron, ‘near the village stones we have orchards and paddies, but out in the swamp one must hunt and gather.’

He idly tossed another flame onto the fire before continuing, ‘Game-beasts swarm on the side paths, but if you you’re up wind or they hear you, they’ll vanish into the trees. All of the rivers and streams are thick with fish and the ground and trees are fit to bursting with plants. But you have to know how to hunt the beasts without making a sound, the plant juices to spill in the water that will make the fish swarm to the surface and which sprig of a plant leads to a tuber the size of your head or is the snare for an Arcroba.’

‘We marsher’s can eat fine,’ Tyme said dismissively, 'but you southrons would starve up here if the beasts didn’t kill you first. And we never worry about women, we usually just take the lonely wives of idiot southrons who are so afraid of the bed chamber they flee up here to die by fire beast.’

He turned to face the southrons, a grin on his dark features. Bawn roared in anger at Tyme, a knife whipping from his belt. It took Gilead and three other southerners to restrain the gigantic axeman from committing murder, finally they had to knock him unconscious with a blow from the flat of his own axe against his aventail.
….

Rain fell downwards in sheets, turning the already full rivers and streams that crisscrossed the marsh into raging, uncrossable rapids. The trees shook with the wind, sending further water drenching downwards onto the group. Each of the bird like Kryss was up to its knees in the fast moving water, struggling not to be swept away.

‘Bael will try to kill you you know,’ Gillead called to Tyme, both men were riding ahead of the main group, scouting out trails that were still passable.

‘I know,’ Tyme replied sagely, ‘a lot of bad things can happen out here, he should have realized that before he tried to stab me.’

‘He get’s …testy about the female issue,’ the southern leader explained, ‘he had to leave the girl he wanted to marry back in Alignon’.

‘Why didn’t he stay there then, rather than force me to look over my shoulder this whole trip up to your deaths?’

‘He’s a fourth son,’ Gilead said remorsefully, as if that explained everything, ‘we all are.’

‘So?Ole Seya had four sons live to manhood and he’s not out here in the wilderness with us.’

‘Seya is a peasant Tyme. Bawne, I and all my part are nobles and for a noble a fourth son has no purpose,the first son inherits the estate, the second son joins the Chaussers, the third son becomes an Ecclesiarch. But the fourth son has no place. Sometimes there are wars in the easterlies and we are sent out in companies to take an island for ourselves. Otherwise we are sent on a quest.’

‘A quest?’ It was a word that was in none of the books Tyme had been able to beg, buy, borrow or steal.

‘A sacred search, where we all swear an oath to slay a fire beast and thereby gain access to heaven.’

‘I’ve seen Fire Beasts,’ said Tyme, ‘even a juvenile can tear through a man like he’s made of bread. One of the big bulls could kill every one of us with ease.’

‘I know,’ said Gilead, ‘but it is what we must try to do. Slay a fire beast and the Emperor shall send his angels to take you to paradise that is what all the tales say.’

……
‘The northern foothills,’ proclaimed Tyme, indicating the expanse before them. The endless marsh spread northward, rising up and drying out as it went into a proper forest that covered the low, rolling hills.

‘You’ll find enough fire beasts to kill all of you up there,’ the marsh dweller quipped as he turned his Kryss around with a tap of his knee. As he moved Bawn’s own mount interposed itself in front of him, the larger Kryss growling at the touch of the southron’s spurs.

‘You’re not going anywhere Marsher,’ the huge noble snarled, war axe in his mailed fist.

‘Bawn, what the hell are you doing man?’ cried Gilead, pulling his sword from its sheath.

‘What I should have done a long time ago!,’ Bawn answered, ‘this barbarian has been leading us around here for days on end and then has the nerve to insult me? He is going to learn what happens when you insult an Alignan’s honor!’

‘Do we really need to do this?’ asked Tyme, ‘is your ego that huge? Your skin that thin?’

For a reply, the mail clad warrior snapped down his helm’s visor, gave a great cry of ‘Mongoy!’, raised his axe high and dug spurs into the side of his Kryss.
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-17-11, 09:15 AM
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Nice work . I know this is on the Bolthole, I've just never got around to reading it before. Also, have some rep.
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-18-11, 05:48 PM
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More please


thanks varakir for the sig!
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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-19-11, 05:18 AM Thread Starter
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More is given and thank ye for the reads and rep :

Chapter 3: To the Death

Tyme ducked the first blow, dropping to the left as Bawn thundered by on his right. The southron’s axe swiped over his shoulder, slamming hard into the flank of Tyme’s Kryss. A screech erupted from the bird as the ax head pierced its hide. The mount snapped its head forward, the bony crest between its eyes crashing into Bawn’s mailed chest and knocking the man-at-arms to the ground and sending his helmet flying.

Despite the sucking mud and the painful impact, Bawn was up in an instant and hit the enraged bird with a massive blow from his axe that left it half decapitated. His weapon lodged in its neck however and now he turned to find his opponent already bearing down on him with a spear. Tyme was one of the few men in his village with a steel headed polearm and it was with this weapon that he jabbed at his enemy's now open face. Desperately, Bawn ripped his axe from the Kryss’ neck and with the flat saved himself a lobotomy. He countered, swinging the massive weapon and forcing Tyme to leap backwards to save his neck.

The group of fourth born sons formed a ring about the two, cheering and calling encouragements to Bawn, only Gilead staying silent. Both combatants circled, Tyme using his faster weapon and longer reach to throw fast jabs at the southron’s eyes. Bawn either dodged or parried each blow, counting on his armor and years of training as a man-at-arms to win against the canvas and leather clad swamp dweller. He hooked the spear blade under the curve of his axe and jerked the pole arm from Tyme’s hands, pitching the hunter into the mud and then following up with a strike from the axe’s butt.

Tyme managed to interject his shoulder between the axe stave and his face, rewarding himself with a painful bruise instead of a pulped eye. From the mud he dodged a great swipe of Bawn’s axe, the blade missing his face by an inch to plow into the mud. The armored southerner was off balance, his weapon lodged in the dirt and Tyme took advantage of his momentary disability to slam the heel of his foot into his opponent’s groin. Bawn’s leather-backed coat of mail took most of the force, but he still felt enough pain to tilt backwards momentarily.

Sensing opportunity, Tyme flung a handful of damp sand into reeling axman’s face. The man pawed desperately with his mail gauntlets, unable to drive the irritating soil from his eyes. Tyme struck him from behind, slamming a stone into the back of Bawn’s skull. The big man collapsed to his knees with a grunt and a jingle of mail rings, remaining conscious somehow. Still enraged at the attempt on his life, the marsher slammed the stone again and again, beating his enemy’s head to pulp.

‘Are you fracking happy now you son of a bitch!?’ a blood-soaked and panting Tyme yelled at the corpse, ‘Is your honor satisfied now you stupid bastard! Is the insult removed from your memory?’

The group of men at arms stood motionless still shocked at seeing their comrade die. Normally they would have cut down the itinerant swamp dwelling peasant who had dared to have the gall to kill their friend, but Gilead held up his fist to restrain them.

‘Bawn brought death onto himself,’ Gilead told the rest of his men, ‘he challenged a man he could not beat in feat of arms and paid the price for his flawed estimation in fair honorable combat.’

‘Honorable?’ one of the soldiers spat, ‘To strike at the groin and blind the eyes is fair and honorable now?’

‘If you're still alive then you must not have been in many fights,’ said Tyme, rising from the muck and grabbing up his spear, ‘for fighting fair is a sure way to die.’

‘I’m leaving now,’ he announced to the remaining southrons, ‘I’m going home and I’ll skewer any of you that tries to stop me. Have fun being mauled, burned and eaten in your damn fool’s quest.’

Tyme pulled the saddle off his dead Kryss, saying a word of goodbye to the faithful animal and taking some of its pinion feathers as mementos. He grabbed the reins of Bawn’s animal and the dead man’s axe as well, shoving the trophy into the bird’s saddlebags. Seizing the horn, he swung upwards and paused.

The stench of methane was in the air.

…..

From behind the group of southerners charged a fully mature bull, at least a century old, eight feet at the shoulder and weighing in at over three tons of muscle metal-like bone. The Fire Beast ploughed into the ring centered on Bawn’s cooling corpse, crushing one southron beneath its clawed forepaw and impaling another on one of the great steel horns that pointed from its skull. It shook its head to the left, sending the body flying in a spray of gore and then flexed the methane sacks deep in its throat.

Each sack contained the decaying flesh of beasts and men and they squeezed forth the noxious fumes given off by the flesh. Hot, stinking gas jetted forth from between the beast’s gleaming teeth and enveloped the nearest of the questers, causing one of them to vomit. Serrated fangs faceted in rows by the dozens gnashed open and shut, sending sparks into the fog of gas. Three of the southrons were engulfed in flame, screaming as their hair burned and their skin charred.

Their cries of pain jarred the remaining Questers into action. Six men attacked its face with spears and blades, one of them dying instantly from a disemboweling strike of the Bull’s claws. Gilead charged at its right flank wielding a spiked mace, another seven warriors at his back sounding the battle cry of ‘Mongoy!’ The remaining five southrons tried to hit its left side, only for the beast to turn from the smaller numbers and charge into their ranks.

One of the southrons was killed by a horn thrust to the throat; another man was cut open, the beast’s claws ripping effortlessly through his mail. The man to his left was knocked into the mud and stomped to death by the bull’s rear hooves, his ribcage crushed by the impact. Almost as an afterthought, the beast bit a spear man in half, swallowing his still screaming top half. Clear of the hunters, the beast spun, facing them again and snarling. Fiendish, near intelligent delight in the slaughter was evident in deep-set eyes, one of the orbs glowing red as firelight.

One of the armored Quester’s threw his spear, the weapon sailing through the air to impact on one of the armored plates on the Beast’s shoulder. It hung lodged in the plate, but doing no real damage to the monster. Ignoring the blow, the Fire Beast crouched low as the nervous hunters approached again, viewing all of them with malicious intent.

‘You have to fight dirty if you want to live,’ a voice said to Gilead’s back. He glanced backwards to see Tyme mounted behind him. The marsher had stayed out of the fight so far and Gilead had paid him little thought.

‘What do you mean man, spit it out?’ the southron demanded.

‘Keep your men loose around it,’ yelled Tyme, ‘use your spears to jab at its eyes and don’t bunch up so it can charge. If it gets a man down, hit it in the rear.’

‘Where are you going?’ questioned Gilead as Tyme galloped away.

‘To stab it in the balls!’ yelled Tyme.

The Marsher’s strategy seemed to work, or at least it worked better than the tactics the southrons had pursued before. When the beast pounced, pinning a man to the ground and savaging him horribly, the other warriors hit its flanks with spears and swords. The sword slashes were mostly ineffective, but some of the spear thrusts managed to pierce the monster’s leathery hide, allowing its oily blood to pour forth from the rents.

Dismounted, Tyme appeared behind the monster, looted battle axe in hand. He hacked savagely into its relatively unprotected haunch, severing muscle and sinew. The Fire Beast roared the stench and sound throwing the men in front of it off their feet. It spun with unbelievable speed, taloned paw swiping at Tyme, while one of its blacklegs kicked at the opportunistic southerners who tried to repeat the marsher’s attack.

Razor sharp claws passed within a hairsbreadth of Tymes face, another man was not so lucky, the Fire Beast’s iron hard hoof caving in his face. Having fallen to the ground, Tyme scrambled backwards away from the vengeful animal’s claws and fangs. It was useless though; the beast was far too fast for Tyme to out run on Kryss back, let alone on his hands. The monster loomed over him, jaws yawning wide, then squealed in pain once again.

Gilead had slammed his morning star into the Fire Beast’s inner thigh; leaving crushed muscle and a half dozen puncture wounds behind. Again the best screamed, rounding on the source of the pain and knocking Gilead aside. It decapitated another southron in his place with a single swipe of its talons, before ripping a man in half with a tug of its colossal jaws.

There were only ten men left alive of the twenty five who had ridden into the clearing by the river bank. The Fire Beast glared hatefully, circling within the circle of hunters that surrounded it. Blood dripped from its haunches and occasionally the monster would dart forwards to try and pin down a lone hunter. When this occurred, the other men would press its flanks, while the focus of the Bull’s anger would jab furiously at its eyes with his spear.

The impasse kept on for some minutes, the streams of blood running down the beast’s legs gradually slowing to a halt as its obscene body clotted the wound. Tyme saw something else, glimpsing the hide at the Fire Beast’s throat beginning to swell. The methane producing sacks in the monster’s gullet were refilling, the enzymes and bacteria inside rapidly consuming the flesh of devoured men at arms.

Too late the marsh hunter yelled a warning, only for the belch of flames to overwhelm his cry. Two men at arms were set alight, the monster taking the opportunity to strike down three other warriors in a matter of moments. The corral of spears around the Fire Beast was broken in a flurry of fang and talon.

Gilead’s attempt at rallying his remaining comrades saw him lose an arm in the fire beast’s maw and another southron was ripped nave to navel by its claws. The two other southrons fled into the marsh, dropping their weapons to aid their flight. It helped little, the Fire Beast catching and killing both of them before they had left the clearing.

Tyme struck then, ramming his spear into the beast’s relatively unprotected belly. The weapon ploughed into the monster’s leathery hide, piercing it and ravaging the organs inside. While everything hit was vital, the heart remained unscathed and the monster turned on Tyme while emitting a high pitched scream of pain. The monster turned on the marsh hunter, half collapsing as it did so, the turn forcing the spear blade up into its spine, severing the nerves to its back end.

Even reduced to dragging its legs behind itself the monster was fast and the tired hunter found himself hard pressed to keep ahead of it. Tyme snatched up a spear and threw it hard and true, the blade blotting out one of the beast’s eyes. Its speed redoubled and it lunged as well as it could onto Tyme, knocking the young man down and pinning him beneath its massive bulk.

Desperate, Tyme found his hand land on the wooden haft of the axe he had dropped. Seizing it he slammed it into the monster’s face, gouging out its remaining eye. Still the monster would not die, forcing Tyme to hit the beast again and again. Pain and fear gave the boy lunatic strength as he slammed the weapon repeatedly into the huge skull, finally cracking it open on the sixth swing. He continued hitting, pulping the gray matter with Bawn’s discarded maul.

……

The psycho-mechanic signal had come in clear and easy to interpret; a group of Questers were making an attempt on a Fire Beast. Not only was this one of the prime bull’s that foraged the northern hills, but the group actually seemed to have a chance at winning. When given the information from the Beast Lord, the Warden had quickly dispatched a troop ship and Apothecary to the site. If victorious, the Questers would need medical attention and induction. If not, then the Fire Beast itself might need healing.

……

Tyme had killed the bastard, for all the good it had done him.

He was still bleeding from cuts along his torso and face, left by the fangs and frills of the Fire Beast’s huge skull. His left leg refused to bear any weight and he had had to drag himself free of the giant corpse. When he had worked himself free, Tyme heard Gilead gasping painfully.

The southron had had his left arm ripped off at the elbow and had almost bled out. Tyme managed to stop the bleeding with a bandage from a discarded pack, although he knew the both of them were dead men already. Another fire beast would be along to kill them shortly, if not then the marsh’s other denizens would be happy to serve. All of the Kryss had bolted and the mount he had looted off Bawn had broken its reins and ran during the battle.

‘This….this doesn’t look like paradise,’ said Gilead.

‘I don’t see the Emperor,’ replied Thyme, ‘and I don’t see any beautiful woman either.’

A roar filled the air, louder than a hundred adult Bull Fire Beasts could ever make. It sharpened and a shadow like a great hawk filtered over the sun. A vast, metallic monster fell slowly into the clearing, a great and foul smelling wind leaping off of it. With a clunk, a hidden ramp in its belly opened up, revealing angels.

Their form was in the shape of a man, but huge. Each of them was at least twice the size of Bawn in weight and heads higher than the dead man as well. War plate made out of some strange substance armored the three giants from head to toe. Each set was horrifying, designed to enduce terror by its dark red and green coloring, one had short horns jutting forwards from each side of his helm in imitation of the monster Tyme had slain and each had dozens of spikes covering their arms, chest, legs and helm. Tyme realized that each of the spikes was a tooth, identical to the ones in the slain Fire Beast’s mouth.

One of the Angels loomed over him, while another whose helm was white kneeled over Gilead.

‘Old Crysarch,’ the giant spoke in gothic, his tone regretful, ‘he’d sired half the beasts in the marsh, a shame to lose him really, he’s improved the breed remarkably. The horns you see,’ and with this the giant tapped the smaller metal studs that grew from his helmet, ‘the horns came from him. The horned Beasts of Arlia are what they call his spawns. That’s why only fourth and eighth companies can wear the horns.’

‘Horns?’ asked Tyme, confusion overwhelming his exhausted mind and body, ‘They didn’t have horns before?’

‘Oh no lad,’ said the giant, ‘not before Beast Lord Ali mixed the genes of Tyrithian Bull into the stock. Only then did they start to grow horns and the first was Old Crysarch here.’

‘Ah, that explains a lot,’ admitted Tyme and with that collapsed.

‘You have done a good work here today,’ the giant said to his unconscious body as he gently carried the boy back to the waiting Thunder Hawk.

‘Initiate.’

Chapter 4

‘You’re lucky boy,’ Sergeant Marcroix had stated, the giant standing with the youth at the external firing range.

‘I know,’ replied Tyme, focusing on the pop up steel target down range, ‘the beast should have killed me.’

He jerked the bolt pistol’s unfamiliar trigger; in response the bulky weapon kicked upwards and to the left, sending its shell to explode uselessly in the bank of earth behind the target.

‘Squeeze the trigger, don’t jerk it,’ advised Marcroix, ‘and don’t close your eyes when you fire.’

The next shot was closer to the target, although it still did not strike the steel plate. Twice more Tyme fired the pistol, finally scoring a hit with his last shot. A clack sounded as the over sized side arm’s chamber slid open on empty. Tyme handed the weapon back to the Astartes Sergeant, flexing his hand where the recoil of the huge pistol had bruised his palm.

‘What I meant,’ Marcroix explained, sliding a fresh clip of bolt shells into the handle of the weapon, ‘is that you were lucky to be chosen when you did. Often we must keep an initiate on ice for years until the chapter can send a ship to collect them. You only have to wait a couple of months before the Loyal Fiend himself arrives; the rest had to wait years to train as a beast.’

Tyme had been shown the others shortly after he had arrived at the bastion. Forty four other initiates waited frozen in stasis tubes in the basement of the Fire Beast’s fortress, a decade’s worth of recruits from this sector of Arlia. Samar, the huge apothecary with the jet black skin and red eyes had explained that each of the frozen recruits had not only slain one of the great beasts, but had passed the initial tests that showed they were genetically apt for gene seed implantation.

‘I’ve never heard of a genet,’ replied Tyme, ‘nor gen seed.’

Samar had laughed at that, slapping his gauntlet against his chest, ‘They are what separate mortal man from Astartes, frail human from Fire Beast.’

.....

The other applicants were awakened the day after Tyme and Gilead had arrived and once they were over the stasis sickness, the training had started in earnest. Sergeant Marcroix led the forty six hopefuls in painful conditioning exercises that lasted from before dawn to after dusk. Long distance runs, rope climbs up sheer cliffs and miles long swims served to further harden the initiates and to separate the weak from those who might grow strong.

Tyme found himself having to aid Gilead, the other youth still suffering from his severed arm. Samar had staunched the boy’s blood flow and had promised that a replacement was being grown in the fort’s medicae halls, but it would have to wait until the initial training was done. As a result, the southron finished near the end of each test, but always finished.

The two had been placed in a six man squad for the tests. Hexile, Valois and Martel were all southerners like Gilead, light skinned nobles and tall. Symon was a marsher, dark like Tyme and stunted by a hard life in the swamp.

‘How did you two kill your beasts?’ Martel asked one evening, as the initiates ate a dinner of wild kryss they had been ordered to hunt that day.

‘We ringed the bull with spears,’ answered Gilead for the both of them, fumbling as he tried to cut the meat one handed, ‘and hit its flanks when it tried to move. It still killed twenty two others before Tyme stove its head in with an axe. It was …brutal.’

‘It was a waste,’ replied Tyme, ‘if we had fought that way from the beginning more would have lived.’

‘Our kill was glorious,’ said Hexile, ignoring Tyme’s comment, ‘fifty mounted lancers charging a mated pair that had stumbled into the plains. For three hours we fought and stabbed, the grasslands running red with blood. Finally I killed the female with a sword blow that went through its eye into the brain.’

‘I remember the shock that went up my arm as I stabbed a lance into the male’s gullet,’ continued Valois, memory in his eye, ‘the flames uselessly spouting from the hole as it writhed.’

‘My hammer struck the death blow,’ finished Martel, ‘five great swings to stave in the buck’s skull.’

‘Mine wasn’t nearly as impressive,’ said Symon, seemingly ashamed that his kill was not so glorious.

‘Eah?’ questioned Gilead, ‘surely any slaying of a fire beast is glorious.’

‘No,’ answered Symon, ‘nothing glorious. I simply watched it come out from its lair every morn and go back every night. Then one day I dug a pit in front of its home and filled it with spikes covered in snake poison. Still took the beast hours to die.’

‘Cowardly,’ replied Martel.

‘Smart,’ said Tyme.
…..
Three weeks of conditioning exercises had left the recruits harder and fitter than they ever had been before. Five had died from exhaustion in the long runs conducted in the heat of summer, one southron had drowned in a swim and a marsher had plummeted to his death from the cliff climbs. Marcroix pronounced them ready for the next stage of physical training.

Now came the fights, drills with wooden sword and padded mace, combats with nothing but fists. Squads were pitted against squads in the sandy arena behind the collection of rockcrete bunkers and landing pads that made up the small fortress. None of the weapons could kill, but they still left painful bruises and knocked countless initiates into the sand.

Due to their smaller numbers and Gilead’s handicap, Tyme’s squad would seem overmatched by their opponents. The other initiates should have used their superior numbers to isolate each initiate and beat them into the turf. But Tyme had persuaded his squad to fight dirty, encouraging them to steal salt from the mess hall and toss it into the enemy’s eyes as they fought. They punched groins, gouged eyes and bit ears.

Marcroix approved of their actions, even when another recruit died choking from a sword blow Tyme landed across his larynx. In particular he lauded Symon for his almost preternatural ability to predict a blow. No blows ever seemed to hit the boy, his buckler and wooden saber always intersecting between his flesh and the strikes. Symon’s own attacks seemed to dance through the other initiate’s guard with ease before landing painful blows against them.

For three days, Tyme’s squad knew nothing but victory in the afternoon combat drills. On the fourth day, another Fire Beast appeared alongside Marcroix to watch the practice battles. Unlike the Sergeant’s dark green and crimson war plate, this warrior’s armor was blue although his left shoulder pad showed the same open, razor toothed and flame emitting beast skull that Macroix armor did. For another matter, the new man’s face was pale and his hair dark in comparison to Macroix and Samir’s jet black skin. For several hours the new comer watched the battle and then approached Symon during a lull. The warrior said nothing, merely looking at the boy for a moment.

Tyme noticed that Symon was not in the Spartan barracks that night.

…..

‘I can’t keep up,’ gasped Gilead, falling to his knees.

‘Come on you have to get up,’ responded Tyme, trying to haul his friend to his feet, ‘if you don’t Crispin’s squad will find us and beat the Emperor out of us.’

‘No,’ Gilead answered, blood beginning to trickle from the spear wound in his side, ‘leave me behind, I’ll try and hold them off for a while.’

‘You heard Macroix, all of a team come back or none do,’ Symon answered. The dark youth was scanning the trees behind them, trying to find signs of persuit.

Their squad had been sent into the mountains the day before, ordered to find the encampment of four other units who had been dropped off by the multi-armed Tech-Marine Khalid in the gunship days earlier. The other squads had been told to fortify their mountainous position and guard an invaluable treasure, a week’s supply of ration bars.

Tyme’s squad had been divided into two teams of infiltrators and ordered to find and steal the three sacks of rations, then bring the priceless artifacts back down to the fortress. Marcroix had been clear with his charges that they would meet with failure if they left a partner behind.

Tyme made out the sounds of pursuit coming closer; the crash of bodies through grass and turf, the thud of feet and the snarl of fire beasts. Several immature pups had been given to the squads to train and the guard squads were using theirs as watch dogs. Now the pony sized monsters were panting as they lead their masters after prey.

‘Run damn it,’ he hissed, helping Symon haul Gilead to his feet, ‘stay here and the pups will tear you to shreds.’ He spoke from experience; he had already seen Valois bitten to death by the half-feral beasts before the guard squads had been able to shackle their animals. The screams the big noble had made as the she-pup had torn out his throat would stay with him for years. Symon took one side of Gilead, while Tyme took the other, the three of them running as one.

The three friends ran, feet slapping against the earth of the highlands. Behind them came ten of their supposed fellows, murder in their eyes for the insult given by pilfering their charge. Fire Beasts gave juvenile roars as they went berserk with the thought of bloodlust, their world becoming red as they tracked the ruby drops that dripped from Gilead’s side.

‘Turn left,’ whispered Symon.

Tyme and Gilead obeyed instantly, having come to implicitly trust Symon’s sense of terrain and reading the land. They dropped into a depression left by the recent fall of a towering conifer, falling to the ground and going low. The pursuing squad was still charging after their trail, juvenile beast’s in the lead bringing them straight to the hiding trio. Tyme gripped the hilt of his dirk, preparing to take one of the beasts with him at least. Symon grabbed his wrist, shaking his head disapprovingly.

Fire Beast’s snuffled against the ground, tracing Gilead’s scent towards the hollow. They stopped in their tracks as the wind shifted to the south, bringing a stench of methane and a low growl to the air. The juveniles ran slinking from the ground as a mature female burst from its lair, sending lesser beasts and pursuers flying as Tyme, Symon and Gilead ran downhill.

……

Loyal Fiend drew near and the first surgeries were done.

Each of the remaining thirty aspirants were rendered unconscious one by one and laid upon the surgery slab. Samar had those still conscious watch as he and his surgery servitors locked the patient upon the slab, sterilized his chest, make the incision and spread the ribs.

‘Tyme,’ the huge Fire Beast asked, clad in surgical scrubs and latex gloves instead of his war plate, ‘hand the servitor a flask from that stand there if you would.’

The initiate carefully grabbed a circular, flat bottomed flask filled with amber fluid and a small pear shaped collection of muscles and tubes. It was taken from his hands by the sterile claws of the servitor, another set opening the container and holding it in front of Samar.

‘Thank you Jean,’ Samar replied to the servitor, taking the organ in his gloves and bending over the unconscious initiate. Deftly he placed the organ in the chest cavity and immediately tied it in to the circulatory system. Then he sutured up the muscle wall with deft strokes, before leaving the superficial skin stitching to the servitors.

‘Now,’ said Samar, ‘who’s next?’

…..
Loyal Fiend entered Arlia’s outer orbitals, its eight kilometer long bulk throwing a shadow on the planet below. An ancient and massive example of the Oberon class, the battleship had been extensively modified, repaired and expanded over its millennia of service. Foundry bays hung like bloated tumors on its sides and thorn like spikes decorated its flanks alongside the heads of its lance and weapon’s batteries. The frontal sensor array had been fashioned to resemble a gigantic snarling maw, a fearsome replication of a Fire Beast.

Scalding Maw patrolled in front of it, a doughty and speedy strike cruiser and a powerful vessel in its own reckoning. Two Gladius class frigates maintained escort along the battleship’s flanks, watching for so far non-existent threats.

Tyme saw it all on the holo-screens of the Thunder Hawk as the gunship rocketed away from the planet’s surface. He felt a small pang of loss as he lifted away from the continent sized swamp and all he had ever known. But he thought, as he sat in the hold with the twenty five other surviving initiates, the loss would be repaid a hundred fold with the greatest gift capable of being given.

He would be made Astartes.
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Chapter 5: A Time for Beasts

‘Stay with me boy!’ Samar growled, slipping an oxygen mask over Tyme’s face.

To Tyme it all seemed rather unreal, as if the ordeal was happening to someone else while he watched from outside. It was only when he looked at the jagged, blood soaked piece of steel rising out of his chest that the painful reality struck home. He had been in a training exercise, a one on one match fought with spears. Tyme had swept the butt of his weapon into his opponent’s face, some other initiate, this one from the rainforests on the southern continent. The foe had fallen, but in some fluke of luck the other youth’s spear had snapped up from the deck and slid its way between Tyme’s ribs.

‘Suction!’ cried the Apothecary, ordering his surgical servitors forward. A vacuum fitted upon one’s arms began pumping up the crimson liquid flooding from Tyme’s chest. The importance of the situation was lost on Tyme and it seemed he was falling down gently.

‘Damn it boy! Stay alive!’

He couldn’t hear the apothecary anymore, nor could he see the surgery room. All was silent and all was blackness. Gradually he became aware of a light, gold and gigantic. The light was not welcoming, nor was it kind or inviting. To Tyme its presence burned such was its purity, for its pureness was beautiful, but its beauty was terrible.

Tyme felt the light judging him and the weight it placed upon him was terrible. Every misdeed he had ever done, every blasphemy he had ever uttered, every lie that had been spewed from his lips was weighed: when he was three and had stolen a biscuit from an old man, when he was eight and cursed the Emperor for Byl’s death. They were piled against the good things in his life; the time he helped a trade caravan from the mud, his worship in the temple, trying and failing to aid the southron’s in their fight when he could have left them to die.

‘Not ready yet,’ came the voice. Tyme did not hear it, for its loudness was beyond that. It resounded in every molecule of his being, each individual atom vibrating to the words, their force slamming into him like a punch.

…..
‘Almost lost you there boy,’ came a voice, this one deep and tinged with kindness. Tyme struggled to turn his head, glimpsing a red and green blur above him.

‘Don’t move,’ the voice explained, ‘you’re still weak after taking a spear to the heart. I had to remove it and replace it with a temporary augmetic while a clone organ is vat grown.’

Tyme’s vision seemed to be clearing and he could make out the familiar bulk of Samar looming over him. There was still worry on the hulking apothecary’s face although that seemed to be fading.

‘Samar…’ Tyme coughed, ‘thought you’d been left on Arlia…’

‘No boy,’ replied the Fire Beast, ‘I was transferred back to active service. You’re lucky I was, another chirugeon wouldn’t have known that the old surgery scar was on the left between the third and fourth rib that saved me a few moments tying off the arteries.’

‘I think… I think I saw the Emperor..’

‘Just a death dream boy,’ answered Samar, ‘just a hallucination cooked up by your mind as it was starved of oxygen.’

‘But I could have sworn…’

‘It was nothing, now relax. Tomorrow I’m implanting your larraman’s organ and your new heart, which should help if you feel like stabbing yourself in the chest again.’
…..

They were marched in parade formation before their lord, one hundred and twenty five initiates between their ninth and fifteenth implantations. Sixty five of them came from the two recruiting fiefs on Arlia a mix of crafty Marsh hunters, well trained Southron lordlings and tattooed jungle dwellers. Forty one others were from the ever warring nations of Ors, barbaric northerners and tattooed southerners whose hatred of each other was legendary. The remaining nineteen were the sons of the chapter’s serfs, boys who had passed the challenges conducted every five years when the younger serfs were invited to test their skills against the menageries of fire beasts kept in the Loyal Fiend’s holds.

Clad in carapace plate of deep green and bloody red with weapons held reverently across their chests, they marched in ranks five wide and twenty five deep into the throne room. Tyme saw banners of a hundred different campaigns on a hundred different worlds fluttering down from the walls. Frescos of Fire Beast’s bringing death to the Emperor’s enemies were emblazoned upon its surface.

‘Scout Company…halt!’ cried Marcroix, like Samar the doughty sergeant had been transferred back to the Chapter’s main fleet, if only to continue to guide his charges.

At his order one hundred and twenty five pairs of armored boots stomped short.

‘Scout Company….about face!!’

The Scouts turned with a rattle of carapace to see their Lord and Master.

Tyme’s Biscopea gland had well and truly taken hold and he had grown a foot and a half in height and massively in muscle weight since its implantation nearly a year before. But the figure sitting upon the throne he faced dwarfed him, making him seem like an infant in comparison.

Pierre Jacquefre, leader of the Terminator Company, Master of the Oberon class battleship Loyal Fiend, Lord of the Spinward Marches of Stonian Sector and First Bull of the Fire Beasts stared back at the newest members of his chapter. Clad in Terminator warplate, he was eight and a half feet from his Ceramite and adamantine boots to the tip of his head. The skin on the right side of his face was alabaster pale, the same shade Tyme’s was gradually fading towards, while the left side was a mass of pink scar tissue and a bright red bionic eye. His horned helm rested on a knee, a melta pistol was strapped across his chest and a Crux Terminatus gleamed at his throat.

Gripped in the First Bull’s fist was the Fang Scepter, a mighty shaft crafted of adamantine and Fire Beast vertebrae at least five feet long. It was tipped with a perfect forty pound globe of solid adamantine, studded with hundreds of knife-like fangs. They glinted razor sharp in the light cast by circling servo skulls.

To either side of the First Bull’s throne stood a hundred and fifty sworn battle brothers of the chapter, still as statues in their armor. The first company in Terminator plate surrounded the throne, assault cannons and heavy flamers head across their chests. On the left was Sixth Company in their sharp faced basinet helms, the banner of a broken horseshoe symbolizing their rout of Khornate Bloodriders upon Halthax. On the right was Ninth Company, fully one hundred Devastator marines, bulky backpacks rearing over their heads.

‘Neophytes,’ spoke Jacquefre, his voice sharp as a knife and with a hint of violence behind every syllable. The First Bull rose from his throne, taking his helm up in his hands as he stood.

‘Neophytes today you truly enter the ranks of the blessed,’ he continued, ‘you are entering the fighting ranks of the Fire Beasts, and what a blessed time to be a Beast! War is all around us; it threatens the Imperium on every front.’

He stamped the butt of his mace upon the armrest of his throne, ‘Endless War with the Greenskins. *BOOM* Eternal war with the traitors. *BOOM* Desperate war with the swarms. *BOOM*. But war my children; war is what the Emperor made the Fire Beast for. We are creatures of shadow and fire, flame and darkness. From the black we shall spring, to strike down the leaders of the foe. Heretical Warlords; Ork Warbosses, Tyranid Queens, it matters not. None are safe from our blades!’

Three hundred Ceramite gauntlets slammed against three hundred plastrons in agreement, the first movement from any of the adult Fire Beast’s present.

‘When their leaders are dead, when their commanders striven, then it is time to burn. With holy promethium and blessed plasma we shall reduce the foe to cinder. The Beast hordes will be unleashed upon them, to rend their flesh and break their bones, digesting their sacrilegious flesh into the s*** it is.’

Howls sounded over the warship’s intercoms, a shrieking, painful cacophony promising a horrifying death to all that faced it.

‘We go now to Trilasia,’ said Jacquefre, ‘to face the Traitor legions and their massed armies of the lost and damned. Billions shall die in darkness and a world shall burn in the God Emperor’s name. And it is a wonderful time to be a Beast.’
…..

Loyal Fiend lurched as it left the warp, bouncing Tyme against the bridge’s bulkhead. The whine of the great plasma engines located deep in the battleship’s bowels rose to a high pitched whine, enormous power seething through them as they shot the warvessel through the void. Continued impacts jostled through the hull, causing the deck to vibrate. Bridge crew and servitors clad in the red and green livery of the Fire Beasts continued manning their innumerable battle stations, the void dwellers long used to the changing velocities of the ship.

‘Ole Halot is driving it close boys,’ muttered Sergeant Shawar, the veteran Astartes balancing himself with the ease of long experience. Shawar commanded the nine man squad from sixth company that patrolled the Fiend’s bridge, alongside a terminator squad from first company and a snarling twenty strong pack of adult fire beasts controlled by the psyker Beast Lord Odo.

‘How so, Sir?’ queried Gilead who like Tyme, Hexile, Martel and Symon had been placed in the same scout squad attached to Shawar’s unit. The nine adult Fire Beasts towered over the neophytes in their spiked plate.



‘He,’ pointed Shawar to a short, one armed human in a buttoned naval uniform with a holstered stubb revolver on his black leather belt, ‘is Admiral Halot, Captain of the Fiend and he has just brought us out of the warp into what is most likely the asteroid field between Trialsia and its nearest neighbor.’

Halot indeed had brought the fleet into the debris ring surrounded the combated world, so close that asteroid shards the size of hive blocks were bouncing off the flanks of the massive Fiend.

‘Are we in range?’ the commanding and impatient voice of Lord Jacquefre barked over Halot’s personal vox net.

‘Not yet My Lord,’ Halot reassured the Astarte, while expertly taking a pinch of snuff with his remaining hand, ‘we are merely making our presence known to the foe.’

‘Sensors!’ barked Halot to his crew, ‘Get me an active burst on Trilesia’s high orbit! Full power!’

Ensigns and servitors scrambled to obey the Admiral’s orders, relaying oral and digital commands to the stations that controlled the huge sensor bank on the battleship’s bow. A pulse of radar, energy seeking and auspex waves shot from the sensor suite, illuminating every powered, metallic mass over five hundred meters in Trilesia’s orbit.

‘One Grand Cruiser…one heavy...twice that many lights…a half dozen…’ Halot murmured to himself as the cogitators worked out the signals of the enemy fleet.

‘They’ve been alerted by the burst Sir,’ one of his underlings said.

‘All ships, power up Geller shields,’ Halot ordered, ignoring him.

‘The enemy has multiple locks on the fleet sir!’ another yelled.

‘Alert the Navigators on all vessels to calculate these positions.’

‘Torpedoes are fired sir!’

‘Take crash positions’

‘Fighter’s incoming!’

‘All lances charge to max.’

‘Jump…now.’

Chapter 6: Hand to hand

An in system warp jump is properly reckoned insane by Imperial Navigators and sailors. The gravitational and electromagnetic distortion of the surrounding solar bodies can throw off even the most skilled and powerful navigators, while the chances of colliding with debris, asteroids or even planets rises astronomically. It is a maneuver almost never attempted, even by the twisted, warp powered fiends of the Traitor Legions or by the fearless, neigh on suicidal Orks.

As such, it was the last thing expected by the Heretic Fleet.

One of the Fire Beast’s Gladius escorts clipped a minor asteroid on its ascent and tumbled upon its entrance into the warp. It was lost with all hands, although its husk was found fused with a space hulk eight hundred years and five sectors away. The rest of the fleet exited the warp without incident, although a minor daemon was able to possess three dozen crew in the depths of the Scalding Maw for a short time before they were euthanized.

‘Lances!’, bellowed Halot, pushing himself off the deck with his remaining arm. Many of the bridge crew had been thrown to the floor by the abrupt entrance and exit into the warp. Automatic scans showed the small Astartes fleet had exited the warp practically within the enemy battle formation.

‘Lances now on the Grands! Full torpedo spread on the light cruisers!’

‘Are we in range Halot!?’ Jacquefre’s voice barked from the vox.

‘Yes Lord we are in range,’ the Admiral answered.

‘Then why the Warp am I still on this ship!’

‘We have to get their shields down first sir!’

‘Torpedoes are away Admiral,’ one of the junior officers reported.

‘We’re scoring lance impacts on the port Grand Cruiser,’ another spoke, ‘its shields are failing.’

‘Order the bomber craft to focus on the port ship,’ Halot commanded, ‘collapse the bastard’s shields and then put all fire onto the starboard cruiser.’

Scores of Starhawk heavy bombers rocketed from the Fiend’s launch bays, the afterglow of their engines bright against the blackness of the void. AA fire from their target leapt up at them, missiles and lasblasts taking down many of the craft. Enemy interceptors were seen off with the chattering blasts of the chainguns and lascannon hard points on the Starhawks. Swarms of anti-ship missiles exited the bomb bays of the Starhawks, falling towards lethal impacts upon the shields of the Traitor grand cruiser.
‘Grand Cruiser’s shields are down,’ a servitor reported in its monotone.

‘Pulse teleporters now!’ bellowed Halot.
…..

Pierre Jacquefre did not enjoy his role as Chapter Master of the Fire Beasts. He disliked the red tape, intrusting so much to underlings, having to miss so much combat. Jacqufre missed the simpler role of a Captain or even a battle brother, when his only responsibility had been killing as many of the God-Emperor’s enemies as possible. So whenever the First Bull had an opportunity for combat, he gleefully seized it with both armored hands.

The Teleporter Primaris Chamber aboard the Loyal Fiend vanished from Jacquefre’s view in a haze of purple lightning. For a moment his weapon’s feeds and visual layout showed only vibrating static, while his ears were filled with nightmarish whisperings. Jacquefre intoned the Laity of Mental Resistance against the toxic interference of the warp.

‘I do not fear, for the Emperor has made me fearless. I do not quake, for he has armored me in Ceramite and faith. I do not quail, for He has armed me with bolter and flail.’

Realspace transition saw the end of the chaotic static and Jacquefre found himself and the seven Terminator-brethren behind him kneeling on the deck of the enemy cruiser’s weapon’s battery. Scores of confused and terrified enemy thralls and ratings stared in horror at the armored, spike coated giants that had appeared at their station in a flash of lightning.

‘Take them all,’ commanded the First Bull, murderous glee in his voice.

Mass reactive boltshells spat into the mobs of enemy, splattering the deck with gore and offal. Brother Carl’s assault cannon spun to life, hundreds of bullets ripping through the foe like they were paper. Malcolm’s heavy flamer would be too dangerous to the building sized pieces of ordinance being hauled through the battery, so relied on his bolt pistol and power fist to blast and pummel the foe.


A deck officer, wrapped in silken fineries and wielding a mauve powering sword leapt at Jacquefre, only to be sent flying with a casual strike of the Fang Scepter. He blocked the swing of a chain axe with its haft and then slammed the barrel of his melta pistol into the hulking deck-rating’s eye. A squad of hermaphroditic armsmen charged the Terminators with chattering hellguns and thumping shotcannons. Jacquefre vaporized them with a blast from his melta, turning them into steaming meat and melted carapace plate.

‘Woe to you, oh heretic and alien,’ sang Jacquefre, impaling a crewman on his mace’s spike.

‘For the Emperor sends the Beasts with wrath!’ answered Carl, assault cannon raging.

‘Because he knows the Time is short!’ replied Malcolm.

‘Let him who has understanding reckon the numbers of the Beasts!’ cried brother Khylamein as he shot a heretic in the face.

‘Our number is One thousand and eighty seven!’ shouted Jacquefre, crushing a heretic’s skull.

Enhanced by the Chapter’s genesmiths and his helmet’s auto senses, Jacqefre glimpsed massive steel doors gliding shut. Whatever Heretic Admiral commanded the ship was attempting to close the weapon’s battery off from the rest of the ship, sealing the Astartes inside. The First Bull put paid to that plan, a melta blast burning the hydraulics of the doors to useless rubble.

Free of the battery’s explosive dangers, Malcolm was at last freed to use his heavy flamer. The sanctified weapon was contained within the vertebrae and skull of a juvenile Fire Beast and holy promethium burped in jets between the blackened fangs to consume the mutant armsmen laying in ambush where the passage connected to the cruiser’s main thoroughfares.

The Terminator squad shot, burned and crushed their way through hundreds of desperately resisting crewmen. They left a carpet of devastated corpses behind them, covering the Slaaneshi sigils and designs with blood and intestines. His helm screamed warning signs as it detected a dozen traitors of the misnamed Emperor’s children in between Jacquefre and his target of the Cruiser’s bridge. The foe had time enough to get off one shot of their sonic weaponry before the Fire Beasts were upon them, but the blast was enough to sever Khylamein’s left leg at the knee.

Blasphemous screams mixed with sacred oaths as the two forces clashed, their impact shaking the steel walls of the corridor. Jacquefre caught a chainsword on his vambrace, the teeth whining as they dragged into his armor. He slammed the head of his mace into the chest of the Traitor marine, doubling the silken heathen in pain. The spiked hilt of the mace slipped easily into the thinner armor of the heretic’s neck, severing the spinal cord.

Brother Malcolm caught an axe on his flamers bone covered frame and then slammed the weapon’s muzzle into the Noise Marine’s face. His finger clenched on the flamer’s trigger and the foe screamed beautifully as the promethium burned its lungs. Khylamein dragged himself forward and seizing an Emperor’s Child by the leg, dragged the foe to the ground. His power fist slammed into the enemy faceplate, crushing bone, Ceramite and brain.

Jacquefre melted another traitor with his pistol, only to have the priceless heirloom weapon knocked from his hand. In rage he seized his opponent and cast him against the wall, denting the bulkhead with his force. He pulped the marine’s skull with a single swing of his mace.

The last of the traitor squad were dead, with no fatalities amongst the Fire Beasts. Khylamein’s leg was crushed to uselessness, while another brother had lost two fingers on his left hand. Jacquefre pulled the still snarling chainsword from his arm, crushing the heretic weapon as he reverently picked up his pistol. He said a prayer to its machine spirits, apologizing for its mistreatment.

Messages came from two other squads of Terminators that the primary power plant and launch bays were secure and that a Shark Assault boat with a Beast Lord and his hundred monstrous charges was arriving as reinforcements. By that time Jacquefre and his squad had already marched into the bridge, bolt pistols massacring officers and servitors.

The First Bull caught the heretic captain himself. It was an obese thing, clad in silks and golden bangels, its sex indeterminate. Jacquefre was loathe to dishonor the Fang Mace with its filthy blood, so he used his armored boot instead.
……
‘Lord Jacquefre reports that he has captured the bridge of the Grand Cruiser and has identified it as a Repulsive class ship,’ Halot spoke to cheers from the bridge staff, ‘once his reinforcements arrive he expects to have all of resistance purged within an hour.’

Celebration continued to sound from the bridge crew, causing a glower to sprout on Halot’s grey bearded face.

‘What are you fools yammering about! We still have a battle to win! Pull the escorts in closer, order the Maw to fire on their frigates!’

Rumbles continued to sound throughout the massive warship; they were ordinance impacts from the rest of the heathen fleet. Warning claxons began to howl on the bridge, while sirens cast flickering orange warnings lights upon the assembled officers.

‘Starboard shields are down,’ a servitor monotonously intoned, ‘starboard shields are down.’

‘All power to the shield generators,’ Halot barked, ‘starboard lance batteries are to divert everything to the shields. Keep the weapon batteries hammering that heavy cruiser, swing the Starhawks around to drop the rest of their ordinance on it.’

‘Starboard shields are down.’

‘Torpedo brace incoming sir! Multiple life signs on each.’

‘Starboard shields are down.’

‘That’s what the Close-in-Defense guns and Astartes are for boy,’ answered the Admiral, ‘now send out the order to prepare to repel boarders.’
‘Starboard shields are down.’

‘And someone shut up that servitor!’
…..

Tyme was having difficulty keeping up.

He had always been fast and his speed had done nothing but increase with the months of training and the implantation of the majority of his Astartes organs. However, while he and the other neophytes were weighed down by fifty pounds of carapace plate, bolter and ammunition, Sergeant Shawar and his squad were only strengthened by their masterwork armor plate.

Gilead and the other three neophytes thumped at his side, all four recruits having grown gigantic and dark due to organ implantation. Tyme on the other hand had seen his skin lighten to alabaster and his irises darken abruptly to the point where they seemed to have vanished into his pupils. His curly brown hair had straightened and darkened to midnight black.

The joined squads of Astartes and Neophytes were in route to compartments on the starboard side of the ship, where ferocious fighting was breaking out against boarders. They passed by groups of serfs calmly moving about their duties and squads of hellgun toting armsmen setting up ambushes and barricades. Bolter fire sounded somewhere up ahead.

‘Stay tight and keep an eye on the corners,’ Shawar ordered, cocking his storm bolter’s drum mag.

‘They’re close,’ said Symon, the librarian trainee’s exposed eyes turning vibrantly azure, ‘within fifty meters.’

‘Auspex shows nothing Brother-Sergeant,’ one of Shawar’s marines spoke.

‘Duck’, Tyme’s instincts told him.

He responded without thought, his knees buckling to the floor as the blast from a lascannon passed through an armored wall and over his head. Two more energy beams powerful enough to take out a main battle tank seared around the squads, hitting nothing. Sharwar’s heavy weapon’s brother fired a flamer through the holes gaping in the wall, the jet of liquid promethium causing howling curses to erupt from the chamber.

A massive figure dwarfing even the mature marines burst through the weakened bulkhead. Inside the flame’s Tyme could make out easily a half dozen gun barrels emerging from its arms and torso. At the queue of the hideous shape, the knowledge implanted in his mind by the Chapter’s ancient Hypnomat machines dredged up a word for the monstrosity.

Obliterator.

The infected Chaos marine howled, another shot from one of its guns killing a Fire Beast. A dozen smaller monsters scuttled in its wake, strange amalgamations of human’s and crabs. One snapped at Tyme with an emerald claw that almost decapitated the neophyte. He dodged backwards and riposted against the fiend, his combat spatha scoring a long and useless scratch against its armored chest. It screamed in either anger or pain and brought up the autorifle gripped in its left hand. Tyme’s blade struck the gun’s handle, severing the metal and splitting the gun in two. Before the crab-beast could respond Tyme shot it in the face, the shells from his bolt pistol splattering its vestigial brain across the wall.

The Neophyte fired again, emptying his clip into the chaos beasts in exchange for downing two of the hideous amalgamations. Martel smashed another to shreds with the decidedly non-standard power maul he had been equipped with, while Gilead downed two with a combination of spatha and bolt pistol. The deep thumping boom of Hexile’s sniper rifle sounded, decapitating a crab monster with the shot and punching into the knee of the Obliterator behind it. Symon moved in a blur of psyker enhanced speed, his spatha striking down four of the abominations in a moment. The last crab-man died from a combination of Tyme’s sword cutting out its throat and Martel’s energized club crushing its spine.

One of Shawar’s Astartes had been killed by a direct lasblast to the head, his skull vaporized. Two others had seen their armor pitted by autocannon fire and their cracked warplate hissed from the damage. The Oblitrator itself was dead, scores of boltrounds and gouts of flame having finally felled the beast.

‘Torch it Andrew,’ the sergeant ordered his flamer bearer, ‘I don’t want it polluting the Fiend.’

Gouts of flame swept over the Obliterator, reducing its huge corpse to ash. The Squad apothecary ripped open the fallen brother’s armor with his narthecarium, taking the still valid Progenoid from his chest.

‘To the side,’ a voice thundered in Tymes head, arriving just as his newly augmented ears picked up a swarm of growls and grunts moving up the passage behind them.

‘Obey the Beast Lord,’ Shawar ordered, leading the squads to a side chamber.

Seventy mature Bull Fire Beasts charged by, shaking the deck plates with their trot. They were one hundred and forty thousand pounds of muscle, steely bone and rage, motivated and controlled by the Librarian mounted upon the largest beast. The pack vanished almost as soon as it appeared, charging into the firefight further on.

Shawar lead his two squads forward, only to be paused by a vox-transmission.

‘This is Librarian Montblanc, the boarders who have defiled the Fiend’s sacred corridors have been dealt with.’
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Excellent work. Looking forward to continued installments.


thanks varakir for the sig!
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A great piece, Gaius, and glad you chose to share it with the Heresy.

Keep up the posting and I'll keep up re-reading it!


Heresy-Online's Expeditious Stories Challenge 13-06: "Serenity" has started, get your stories in by July 11th!

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Chapter 7: Discussions
‘I want Sixth and Tenth company deployed planet side around the city of Varsha,’ ordered Jacquefre, one of his techpriests spraying Ceramite sealant on the gash across his vambrace as the great lord sat in his captured throne, ‘armies of the heretic’s ground forces besiege the last of the loyalist cities and I want the foe smashed between their walls and our guns.’

‘Lord the Tenth is not yet ready to fight a surface war, they’re training is only half finished. I must protest deploying them in mass’ said Scout-Sergeant Marcroix the jet skin of his face bearing three white scars from the talons of a gene-stealer Patriarch.

‘Those that survive the fires of battle will be proved strong enough,’ replied the Chapter-Master, ‘any that fall in their first fight do not deserve to carry our primarch’s sacred blood.’

‘The boys will die Pierre, they will die and their loss will not meet their worth’ barked Marcroix, fury in his face as he glared at the First Bull in the throne room of the captured Heretic cruiser, ‘we cannot afford to lose their geneseed, especially when we haven’t had word from Douglas for years.’

‘I find your lack of respect disturbing Marcroix; you do not sound like the same man who once trained me. In any event, Douglas and the Crusade companies will return when Leviathan has been vanquished and not before,’ said Jacquefre, ‘we can make do without them until then.’

‘Lords, If I may make a suggestion,’ interrupted Beast Lord Montblanc raising his hands in a conciliatory gesture between the two war leaders, ‘perhaps the 6th and 10th could be reinforced in their landing? Surely the valiant warriors of the 9th company or even the vaunted Terminators could be assigned as well. The scouts would learn well from seeing them in action.’

‘A brilliant request Montblanc but I am afraid I cannot say yes to it,’ replied Jacquefre, inspecting the repaired armor as the Tech-adept moved away, ‘the 9th is needed to continue the purges aboard this captured ship, as are most of our available Librarians. It must be scourged thoroughly before it can be taken into our service. As for the 1st Company, we shall be deploying into Corminhaus.’

‘The rebellion’s capital First Bull? A bold move that is and genius, to cut out the cancer’s heart while its arms still think they can fight us,’ said Montblanc, magnanimously accepting the rejection of his proposal.

‘Yes Montblanc,’ agreed Jacquefre, ‘confusion will ripple through their ranks, throwing their armies into chaos.’

‘I am sure you do not wish to tarnish your victory with an excess of companions Lord,’ the psyker carefully spoke, ‘so the victory will undoubtedly remain yours and yours alone. May I request that I and my herd be allowed to fight with 6th and 10th company, if only so the new recruits may become used to working with adult beasts.’

‘Of course,’ the First Bull said with a dismissive wave of his hand, ‘First and First alone shall carry the day against Corminhaus, your pack is released to play with the children.’

‘Then if I may take my leave lord Jacquefre,’ the Epistolary said with a bow and left the bridge of the captured warship.


Marcroix silently fell in beside Montblanc, the two officers marching down the gore splattered corridor that lead to the landing bay of their thunder hawk. The scout leader unclipped the helm from his belt, a hideous thing overlaid with the jaws and portions of the frontal skull of a juvenile fire beast. Montblanc did not need to employ his talents to know that he should do the same.

‘His megalomania grows worse by the hour,’ said Marcroix securely over their in-built Vox, ‘and it is affecting his tactical sense.’

‘Indeed,’ spoke Montblanc, ‘sending the scouts in as a substitute battle company when our numbers and gene seed are so low is insane. Especially when he keeps 9th company in orbit busy purging this physical embodiment of his greed, all the while risking the corruption of every warrior who treads in it. We barely have the man and Astartes power to keep the Fiend and Maw running, much less to add another white elephant to our fleet. Especially one from a class notorious for being infected by the dark powers and only barely reclaimed from their clutches.’

‘I saw him give the orders to Halot’ replied the scout master, ‘the warp jump was his idea. It could have killed us all, it very nearly did. I pray that the crew of Gladius-5 died swiftly, whatever happened to them.’

‘May the Emperor protect them Marcroix,’ said Montblanc, making the sign of the Aquila across his chest.

The Librarian sighed, ‘His plan to attack the rebellion’s place of origin is idiotic. It is not worthy of a chapter master, even a newly made Battle Brother would recognize that any claims to leadership the original cult possessed evaporated the moment the ‘Emperor’s Children’ arrived. Their leadership was either in orbit or is with their main army.’

‘I do not know what his plan is,’ said Montblanc, ‘but I know it will bring no good upon us.’

‘I pray for the Black’s return,’ Marcroix said openly, ‘if Jacquefre’s madness continues there can be only one alternative…’

‘It is best not to speak of that,’ reproached Montblanc, ‘I am going to consult the Ancients and pray that they may deliver a way out of this to me.’
…..
Tyme slid the rough edge of his file down the edge of his combat spatha for the hundredth time. He had already disassembled, meticulously cleaned and reassembled his blessed bolt pistol, as well as polishing his scout armor to a dull gleam and replacing a cracked carapace plate. The file scrapped as it honed the sword’s already razor like edge a final time. Finishing his sacred maintenance, the neophyte stood and sheathed the spatha at his hip.

Amongst his gear was a small mirror, to be used for looking around corners and examining the straps on the back of his armor. Tyme looked into it now, examining the foreign face that stared back at him. His once skin had lightened almost to the point of albinism, some of the blue veins beneath becoming visible. The reverse had happened to his eyes, the once hazel orbs having darkened to midnight black.

His compatriots, Symon, Gilead, Hexile and Martel had seen their skin and hair turn the color of the void, while their eyes became the fierce red of a fiery furnace. Part of Tyme was disturbed by the increasing physical differences between himself and his brother Neophytes and he was tempted to ask Sergeant Marcroix about it the next time he saw the squad leader.

‘Do you ever wonder Gilead,’ Tyme asked his friend, ‘why the Primarch’s gene seed causes such varying affects amongst us?’

‘Not really,’ said the other neophyte, who was busy polishing his helm, ‘but the memo-machines say that blood of Holy Vulkan burns differently in different men.’

‘Scouts stand too!’ the deep and familiar voice of Marcroix boomed across the bay housing the hundred and twenty odd scouts. The hulking Sergeant strode into the square chamber with its six five man cells embedded in each wall, his charges reverently laying aside the weapons and armor they tended to assemble in front of him.

‘According to the august will of the esteemed First Bull Jacquefre, we shall be going into battle aside 6th company on the planet below in a few hours. Before you sleep each of you shall draw a triple load of ammunition from the armory and speak the litanies of victory and Laments of peace. Tomorrow, we shall act in a strictly supporting role; we will allow the 6th and Beast Lord Montblanc’s beasts to due to heavy hitting. We are to verify enemy positions to the Whirlwinds, infiltrate portions of their fortifications and only engage when necessary. Listen to your sergeants, trust your training and have faith in the Primarch and the Emperor.’

…..

Deep in the bowels of the Loyal Fiend an enormous figure stalked through the blackness. Eyes that could stare into the sun unflinching and pierce the deepest depths of midnight had no need for the auto senses of the helm that hung at his side, nor any glow cast by artificial lights. Crew almost never visited these sections, the empyrean depths between the embarkation bays and the beast kennels was the realm of servitors fitted with high powered lamps and cutting torches to repair severed wiring and power feeds.

The figure paused before a nondescript section of bulkhead, armored hands running over invisible seams in the wall. A door hissed as it withdrew upwards, revealing further darkness within. Without pause the figure entered, a short passage leaving him at the center of an X. Several huge gun servitors stood silent, idly cycling their weapons at the figures in the corners, while a feeding servitor stood slack.

In each corner lay a captured Traitor Astarte, lashed to the wall with Ceramite chains and encased behind a solid foot and a half of solid armourcrys glass which was further covered by a flickering void shield. The fronts of their cages would take a main battle take considerable time to batter down; to the occupants they might as well be invincible.

Null-field generators hummed in front of the cell of a Thousand Son’s sorcerer, the sound almost displacing the ancient mystic’s mutterings. Across from him a World Eater Berserker madly through himself at the barrier, his adamantium chains catching him short each time. Foam dripped from his mouth as he howled inane curses. In another corner a Death Guard plague marine launched projectile vomiting against his cell’s triple shielded and quad-ventilated walls. Finally, a Slaaneshi Emperor’s Child hissed obscene promises of revenge and pleasure into the darkness.

The figure that had breached this place of madness stood silent.

And listened.

…..
‘Launch in ten,’ said the automated voice of the drop-pod.

‘Do you ever wander who recorded all those things?’ asked Hexile.

‘All of what things?’ Martel asked taciturnly.

‘Those recordings,’ answered Hexile, ‘the ones here and in the thunder hawks and the rhinos and the elevators. Was it just one person? Did the chapter hire him? Do all the chapters share this person’s recordings or does each use their own voice?’

‘No I never wandered that,’ said Martel, ‘because I have better things to do than sit around and wander about recorded voices.’

‘Launch in seven.’

‘Ah? What better things?’ asked the squad’s marksman, Hexile having by far scored the best in the daily marksman drills, ‘Locked in here it’s not exactly like we can go anywhere, nor even move our arms really.’

‘You should recite the Litanies of Battle,’ answered Martel, ‘to prepare your soul and mind for the coming struggle.’

‘You sound like a chaplain Martel,’ said Tyme, breaking up the argument, ‘you’ve been listening to MacCallister too much.’

‘Lord MacCallister is an honored member of the Fire Beasts,’ replied Martel, ‘and you would do well to follow his teachings.’

‘Launch in five’ the voice droned, oblivious to the argument.

‘It’s not that I don’t respect Chaplain MacCallister,’ explained Tyme, ‘but that you’re beginning to sound like him.’

‘And what if I am?’

‘Launch in three’

‘Well shouldn’t you at least wait until you’ve made battle brother before trying to get promoted to Chaplain?’

‘How dare you assert that I wish for Lord MacCallister’s position!’ Martel spoke half jokingly, ‘Were I not strapped in here I’d beat you into the deck for impugning my honor so.’

‘Launch in one.’

‘We can do so after the battle,’ said Tyme, ‘to the death or merely the first broken bone?’

‘Broken bone of course,’ replied Martel, ‘I would not wish to deprive our chapter of an Astartes, even one as pathetic as you. I shall allow you to retain enough bone structure that one day perhaps you can serve to polish the deck in front of me.’

‘Launch’.

A great rumbling shook the pod as the two squads of Scouts within were fired from the underside of Loyal Fiend. A dozen other pods fell beside them, while thunder hawks zoomed out from the battleship’s hangers carrying sixth company and the heavy vehicles.

‘Woe to you, oh heretic and xeno,’ came Marcroix’ voice over the Vox.

‘For the Emperor sends the Beasts with WRATH!’ the scouts yelled back.


Chapter 8: Varsha

Tyme had decided that MacAllister was insane.

The neophyte came to this conclusion as he had watched the Reclusiarch head butt a Slaaneshi terminator, piercing the armourcrys eye-slits of the ancient helm with the fang like horns that descended from the chaplain’s skull mask. MacAllister vomited fire from one of the horns, burning the face off of the terminator, all the while roaring out psalms.

‘Thus *SNKT* mighty Vulkan smite the heretic, *FZZT* his maul and his *SZZZ* did he smash them upon the *STZS*, with his spear did he *STZZ* their innards, with his fire did he burn them down!’

This sermon came haphazardly from the hulking Chaplain’s vox caster, the grill being half smashed against the unyielding Ceramite helmet of the heretical Emperor’s Child. Tyme did not think this bothered MacCallister, who continued smashing his crozius into the still twitching Terminator as he preached.

‘Get up!’ someone, Gilead maybe, yelled at him, his words interspersed with bolter fire.

At this point, Tyme realized he was lying on the rubble covered ground. His own blood in quantities large enough to be somewhat alarming stained the dark green and red portions of his carapace. The grey ash of the burning city was already sticking to it, forming a disgusting artificial scab across his chest. Fortunately, the flow seemed to have stopped, his newly implanted Larraman’s organ pumping out modified blood platelets to sealing the shrapnel wounds.

He pushed himself up, grabbing his discarded bolter as he rose. Tyme and the rest of the squad were in the cover of a destroyed Centaur APC, providing cover to MacCallister as he continued to beat the pair of Slaaneshi terminators to death. For all the power of their antediluvian armor, the gigantic heathens appeared helpless before the near berserk Chaplain. He’d actually ripped the bolter from one’s gauntlets and smashed it across the other’s heat ravaged face plate.

On the opposite side of the street, increasing numbers Slaaneshi converts were pouring fire from las and autoguns into the melee between the two Astartes. The swiftly falling twilight and omnipresent ash storm was throwing off their aim, but every once in a while a solid round would ping off of MacCallister or his opponents.

‘Glad to see you up Tyme,’ quipped Hexile as he brought up his sniper rifle, aimed and fired in a single motion. The marksman dropped back behind the ruined vehicle as a storm of return fire slammed into its other side. ‘Got a Vox op, couldn’t let you sleep all day.’

‘My dreams were more pleasant,’ replied the other neophyte, checking the load of his bolter’s magazine. ‘Where’s the rest of the company?’

‘I figure about forty others and a squad from the 6th are in those habs behind us, they sound rather tied down’ explained Gilead. Almost as if to clarify his statement, about half of a cultist wearing battered PDF fatigues was hurled from an upper story window to land with a wet plop near the Centaur.

‘Macroix and the rest are somewhere to the south in the main fight. They and the 6th have detonated most of the bridges to funnel the horde into their guns. ’

‘MacCallister needs support up there,’ Martel stated, the power maul crackling to life in his hands. The hulking scout had stowed his shotgun across his back, eager to kill up close with his non-standard weapon. Tyme still had no idea where he had gotten it.

‘He looks like he’s doing fine to me,’ Tyme replied, ‘I’ve never seen anyone rip off a terminator’s arm like that. Or use it to crush a man’s skull. He’s taking on their infantry now, but they don’t seem to be breaking.’

‘They’re meat before our maws,’ Martel snapped back, ‘mortals, lacking in both faith and fire power.’

‘They came from over the bridge and if they’re not breaking that means more of them will probably show up, maybe even ones that can shoot. Or ones with tanks, or even worse some combination of the two,’ Tyme explained, ‘we’ll need to prevent that unless we want our service to end in this mud pile of a city.’

‘Five tanks,’ said Symon, ‘large ones…’

The psyker-scout had sat unmoving for the past several minutes, apparently lost in meditation. Both of his eyes now glowed an unearthly blue and the stench of ozone from him was overwhelming. His hair was standing on end and tiny bolts of miasmic energy were dancing down his drawn spatha.

‘and lots of infantry,’ he finished.

‘Well that settles it we’re leaving,’ said Tyme, ‘is our vox network still down?’

‘Interference didn’t let up while you napped,’ replied Hexile, punctuating his speech with another shot, ‘Lieutenant.’

‘Symon can you..’

‘Alert Sergeant Macroix, Captain Sheireff or Librarian Montblanc to our movement? Yes I did.’

‘That’s about as annoying as it is helpful.’

‘We can get in behind them while they’re focused on the duel,’ agreed Gilead, ‘take out the bridge and cut their reinforcements off. Only question is how we survive to get across the street.’

‘I can solve that,’ Tyme grinned, ‘come here Martel, I need you to break something.’

….
It had taken a few moments but Martel’s power maul had managed to carve a large enough hole in the asphalt to give the squad entry into the sewer system. Filthy water stained their already sordid greaves and boots as the scout squad pushed forwards. All of the squad had already undergone the surgeries that saw their vision enhancing Occulobes, allowing them to view the wide sewer in all its feces covered glory. Early in the battle scores of civilians had come to hide down here, only to fall victim to infection and starvation. From what remained of their rat-gnawed carcasses, Tyme could tell they had turned on one another before the end.

‘Left at the next tunnel,’ Hexile said, reading the returns from the dim auspex screen. His bulky rifle was strapped to his back, a rubber covering over its mouth. The rectangular auspex and a bolt pistol were clenched in his two fists.

‘There’s no glory down here,’ muttered Martel, both gauntlets clenched around the haft of his maul, ‘unless we have declared war upon the rats.’

‘How much farther?’ asked Tyme of the sniper.

‘Not far now,’ replied Hexile, ‘the bridge should be nearby.’

Tyme was the first one to see the ladder leading to the surface and the first one to climb it. He barely raised the lip of the manhole cover, poking out a thin fiber optic cable to view the surface. What he saw did not inspire confidence.

‘At least a platoon up there,’ he whispered down, ‘PDF traitors from their armor and organization. A lot of light vehicles, some of them look like communication arrays.’

‘Could be the jammers’ the technical minded Hexile opined.

And… shyte, there are tanks coming up the suspension bridge. Big ones. Looks like… Stormswords. Five of them.’

‘I may not be the First Bull,’ Gilead spoke, ‘but that’s enough to wipe out the company.’

‘Well we’re just going to have to make sure they don’t reach the company.’

Chapter 9: Sabotage

Scout-Sergeant Macroix had been born and raised in the muck and poverty of the great Arlian swamps. Although he could not remember it, the hut he had dwelled in for the first nine years of his life had been a tiny single roomed thing with a mud floor and smoke stained walls. But for all its faults, the tiny house was a far healthier environment than the hab he currently battled through. The combination of tiny rooms, cramped hallways, ventilation systems home to dangerous carcinogens, water lines polluted with poisons made it an inevitable death trap to the thousands of impoverished workers that had once lived in it. Currently, the enormous gunfight between a scout company of Fire Beasts and hundreds of Slaaneshi cultists didn’t help it.

Macroix bellowed at his charges as they battled through the narrow hallways and claustrophobic rooms. The scouts were young and none had received all of their organs or reached their adult bulk, but all of them had been superbly trained over the past months. Their weapons and armor was not the equal of a Mature Beasts power armor and bolter, but they were well armed none the less. Moulded plates of carapace in the dark green and red-black of the chapter that could easily stop a bullet covered their torsos and forearms, while flak-weave fatigues protected the rest of their bodies from blade and shrapnel. Some of the initiates used automatic shotguns with fat bellied drum mags to spit 00 shot into the screaming heretics, while others used lighter caliber bolters to messily explode the enemy.

‘Aim low and use cover my young Beasts,’ the Sergeant ordered, ‘use grenades to flush them from their hiding places.’

Alerted by his enhanced senses, Macroix’s blood red eyes flashed to glimpse a squad of infiltrators drop from a vent behind him. In an instant his crow’s beak was gripped in his right hand, the adamantine pick slamming through the chest of the first cultist to land. What was left of the wretch’s filthy silken finery was ruined by the polluted blood spilling from her ruined body. His left fist, the rock hard glove of Ceramite and admantine studded with the shed fangs of an adult Fire Beast slammed into the next to fall, crushing ribs and shredding organs. Brother Hazeem, one of the Devastators detailed to support the Scout Company, fired a burst from his ornate flamer into the ducts. The gout of flame erupted from between the skeletal jaws of a juvenile fire beast mounted over the main barrel, cooking the rest of the infiltrators.

Macroix nodded to Hazeem, before using his body to smash through the dimly painted flakboard walls of a room to clear out a nest of stubbers that had some of his initiates pinned. He pierced with the pick end of the crow’s beak and smashed with its hammer while he drew his bolter with his left hand.

A flicker of something moved through his mind, an image of heavy armor rolling towards his men. For a moment he froze, allowing the enemy to scorch the paint of his armor with their las weapons. He recovered instantly, crushing one’s chest with a ferocious kick.

‘Sergeant Macroix pl*kreeshs* respond,’ came the voice of MacCallister across his vox, interrupted by bursts of static

‘Honored Chaplain I’m here,’ the scout leader replied, his crow’s beak blocking a swing from a chainsword. He riposted instantly, piercing the traitor officer’s helmet and scrambling the man’s chaos polluted brain with the razor sharp tip of his weapon. While the Sergeant’s right arm ripped the pick free from the twitching corpse, his left put a burst of bolter fire into the heavy weapons team desperately rising from their weapon. The traitors and the dingy walls of the hab were ripped apart by the mass reactive shells, their blood mixing with the ashy particles.

‘I’m cl*snkt* an Arbite precinct a*psrh*ss the street,’ the fearsome Chaplain answered, ‘There was a c*arsh*pany strength force here with e*snkst* Astartes support. I think you should k*prsst*ow that from here I can see m*crssh*r enemy reinforcements coming up the Narmenes Bridge S*snkt*eant, regiment strength force at least. They have e*sknet* heavy armor.’

‘I thought something like that might be going on. I can get three missile launchers down there in support, two from the scout squads and a Devastator brother down there in a moment, these buildings are almost cleared,’ Marcroix said, impaling a cultist with the short spike on the end of his pick. Blood that reeked of perfume of all thing vomited from the scum’s mouth as he kicked the traitor off and stove in the skull of another with the butt of his bolter, ‘where are the squad I already gave you? I think Symon tried to contact me.’

‘I lost c*dssst* with them while I was having a t*sdssdt* debate with two Terminators,’ replied MacCallister the crackling hum of his Crozius and a scream interrupting him, ‘this is serious. There are at least four Baneblade v*snkt* coming at us, more than enough to wipe out the scouts. I need Adult Beasts, plus air and armored support here, where is the 6th company? Where is Montblanc?’

‘6th is fully engaged with a war hound and a demi-company of Slaaneshi traitors at the moment. All of our predators and land raiders are with them, as are the thunderhawks. Montblanc went silent somewhere near the northern bridges, near where the last PDF holdouts are supposed to be.’

‘The fleet?’ asked MacCallister, his voice forlorn.

‘Fully engaged with captured defense platforms,’ replied Macroix, ‘I’m sending every missile launcher in the company to you as we speak. It’s all I can do now.’

‘Barring a miracle by the beneficent God-Emperor it would be futile.’
…..
Narmenes bridge was an immense structure, the tips of its support towers reaching five hundred meters above the icy cold waters of the Al’Bry sea. Constructed by the famed arch-magos Tsu’lock two millennia earlier, it was eight lanes of black top wide and stretching more than a kilometer in length. Vast adamantine cables held up the enormous span of road, supporting it against storm and earth quake. House sized aquilas lacquered gold covered the sides of its enormous pillars, which were carved as titanic statues of the Emperor and his Primarchs, looking down at all those who passed with a mix of distaste and pity. All of these gigantic and expensive displays of piety had been painstakingly defaced with the hermaphroditic symbol of Slaanesh, made from the blood of those captives not enslaved or processed into combat drugs. But for all the attempts of the heretics to deface it, the bridge was still a gigantic symbol of Imperial achievement.

And every inch of it shook with rolling armor.

Four three hundred ton Stormlord Super-Heavy tanks took up a solid half of the bridge. They had been captured earlier in the war, their swamp camouflaged pant jobs had been repainted into garish hues of pus gold and vomit purple. Captured civilians and PDF troopers had been crudely bolted to their frames, electrical pulses jolted through them causing them to give off a chorus of groans designed to encourage the heavily armed siege troops housed in the transport bay. Damage from their capture still showed in the form of hastily replaced panels and blackened sections of armor, but the gigantic Vulcan mega-bolters housed in their primary turrets were still lethally functional.

Trojan trailers filled to the brim with heavy shells moved behind the trundling tanks, while on the opposite lanes a full battalion of swifter armor advanced towards the Fire Beasts. There were Leman Russ battle tanks of three different models, tank killing Vanquishers, bunker buster Destroyers and fast moving Conquerors. Flanking them were dozens of hydra flak tanks, their rotating turrets and powerful radars seeking out the Astartes gunships. Behind them came a score of bombard siege guns, ready to pound any resistance to dust. All together this was a force more than large enough to destroy the scout company with its massive fire power and then crush the 6th battle company to pieces against the remaining Titans and Emperors Children in the city.

‘About two minutes till they hit the other end Tyme,’ Gilead voxed in a short burst.

As a way of reply, Tyme blinked twice to trigger a short burst of static from his vox. He dangled high above the churning sea below, hands and knees tightly clenched against the support beams of the bridge. Next to him Hexile hung from a tight cord, his legs gripped tight against the pile. A micromelta was gripped in one hand, the flickering flame sealing a det-charge against a strut.

‘Not much time left,’ Tyme reported, handing the sniper another block of explosives.

'Then we’ll have to move fast then,’ Hexile returned breathlessly, ‘always a good idea with plastic explosives. How many left?’

‘Five,’ said Tyme, counting the charges strapped to his chest, ‘enough for the next strut if we can reach it in time.’

‘Then we’ll just have to won’t we?’ the sniper grinned. He holstered the micro-melta to his belt, and then tugged on the line that held him secure to the bridge. A flick of a switch saw the tough cord lengthen and then Hexile threw himself into the abyss.

Like some great spider he swung to reach the next column of bridge, roughly halfway across the span. The enemy armor was right on top of it, causing it to shake violently. Hexile barely managed to grab hold to the image of the Emperor’s divine knee, giving a short prayer of forgiveness for the coming blasphemy as he attached the line. Across the way Tyme slid down the diagonal slant of rope, his knees popping as he hit the column.

‘Less than a minute left,’ Gilead voxed again, ‘Symon is acting strange, I think he’s seizuring.’

‘We’ll worry about that later,’ Tyme returned, having handed his last det-pack to Hexile, ‘now we’ve got our own problems to deal with.’

Prior to squeezing through the hole in the vent cleaved with Martel’s power maul, the two scouts had left their weapons, save for a combat knife, and dumped their heavy carapace breastplates, grieves and helms. Now Tyme used his serrated blade to cut the laces of his combat boots and remove what remained of his rope harness.

‘Charges set,’ said Hexile, quickly removing what was left of his own gear.

‘How long?’ asked Tyme, sheathing his knife and looking down at the water. From here it looked icily cold.

‘Oh, why tell you and risk ruining the surprise,’
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