The gilded doors swung outwards languidly, the effigy bifurcated by a shaft of dim, star-illuminated light. Cleomenes straightened instinctively; mouth forming a grim, determined smile, gauntleted fingers sliding down to his bolt-pistol. A white-robed figure stood in the entranceway, broad-shouldered, dark-haired, his blue eyes sparking with inner lambency. Cleomenes recognised the Marine instantaneously - One of the Chapter’s most skilled warrior-physicians - An Astartes that Cleomenes both respected and lauded.
‘Alexander,’ He half-whispered, licking his empurpled lips. The Prime Helix, the Apothecarion’s symbolic heraldry, stood out blood-red on his back as he spun. Battle-Brother Vermaas entered first, pushing past Alexander, who enquired Zeiran upon the state of his armour.
Cleomenes marched inwards. The Chapter Master’s chambers were an horrible place, by Cleomenes’ standards. It was formed entirely of reinforced glass, completely transparent, displaying the distant, star-speckled void for all. Squad Scrious’ boots clattered across the floor, which, coincidentally, was also made of glass. Far beneath, like a metal carpet, the Heart of Sotha shot away.
The Polemarch groaned, focusing on the Chapter Master. Thorcrya was not standing there, his flaxen hair shining, golden-orange eyes bright with intelligence and charisma.
‘Lord Thrasius,’ Cleomenes said, momentarily stunned. The Brother-Captain was bare-chested, a lurid scar decorating his pale, cold flesh. He turned, greeting Cleomenes warmly - Though the two had never been friends - Associates, perhaps. Cleomenes and his Scout Auxilia had served alongside Thrasius’ Third on several inhospitable worlds. And moons. And hulks. And..
One-by-one, the Squad begun to inform Thrasius of what had occurred on Sotha. Cleomenes’ portrayed himself in somewhat biased light, vilifying Sergeant Scrious - Displaying the Squad in less-than-favourable light. It was a mundane task, Cleomenes voice decidedly deadpan. Thrasius paused for a moment after the last Space Marine had finished, before casually dismissing them.
When the other Marines had gone, leaving Apothecary Alexander, the Brother-Captain, Cleomenes and Sergeant Scrious alone, the elderly Marine turned his blue eyes upon Thrasius. ‘What happened?’
‘I am sure you remember the alien plague that entered the Galactic South-East, plunging into the realm of Ultramar? They were called the Tyranids.’ Thrasius spoke, now.
Cleomenes arched an eyebrow, empurpled lips peeling apart. ‘Vaguely. Tybarr Nymeros had an Ultramarine amongst his entourage. He shared with me what information he could acquire - Though, ruefully, that was scarce at best.’
‘Well, you will come to learn much about them soon. With the defeat of Hive Fleet Behemoth, as it was called, the Imperium believed that to be the entirety of the species. But, this was anything from accurate.’ Thrasius continued, Cleomenes listening intently. ‘In 992.M41 a second Hive Fleet swam into the galaxy, this time from the Galactic East. This Fleet was smarter, by tenfold. It planted seeds of corruption in major hive cities causing mutations and alien cults preparing major worlds along the eastern fringe for easy capture before the fleet even entered into play.’
‘Unlike Behemoth, this Fleet, called Hive Fleet Kraken, used a two pronged method of attack, splitting its enemy's forces and their focus. The Tau worlds were hit first but they failed to stop it. After that, it kept going, and eventually one of its major fleet paths came across our beloved Homeworld,’ He gestured downwards at Sotha with a wave of his hand. ‘All ten Companies were present, some coming in later for the defense than others, but all ultimately took part. Even with nearly the entire Chapter present on Sotha, we couldn’t halt the Tyranid advance.’
‘They bested us, brother, these Xeno monstrosities. They pulled biological resources to constantly regenerate their dead from all the worlds they had consumed before reaching ours. Their number was infinite, their fear as non existent as our own but without any sense of honor.’
Cleomenes ground his teeth together, fingers becoming fists. ‘You failed.’
With an nod that perhaps would have been surprising for any Astartes to see come after such a declaration, Thrasius responded with a simple - 'We did. The Scythes of the Emperor lost Sotha to the Tyranids. With less than a third of the chapter still alive It was on Thorcrya's order that we withdrew from this theatre. We made for the death-world of Miral, where we were to make our final stand against Hive Fleet.’
‘Evidently, brother, it was not so absolute. You still draw breath.’ Cleomenes sibilant tone made it sound like an accusation, rather than a statement of fact.
'To my own surprise, scout-master, It wasn't. Kraken made its way to Miral soon enough. We had taken to the Giant's Coffin; a steep highly defensible cliff faced mountain. The Heart remained on the opposite side of Miral from Kraken's advance. Its smaller vanguard class ships came first and we were able to easily defend against the Tyranid forces for some time. But inevitably came the bulk of the Hive Fleet. Before the Tyranids made their final push up the Giant's Coffin to finish us, Thorcrya made his judgment.’
‘Despite our protests, he commanded that every Scythe of the Emperor still alive who was not a part of the First Company to get back aboard the Heart, and flee for our Chapter's survival.’
'We had to, brother. I'm sure you knew Thorcrya as well as I... I could not disobey him. As I said, we protested, but there was something in Thorcrya’s eyes, in his voice, his posture when he reaffirmed his command... And he had never steered us wrong before. He named me Chapter Master and thus put me in command of the Heart and its survivors,’ Thrasius waved at the power-scythe, the symbolic badge of authority. ‘There was just under a Company's worth of us still alive. And that feeling, that one you feel now with your lips curled and eyes sharp... Everyone one of us felt the same. We fled Miral, but we did not flee the war.’
‘I sailed this ship across the Eastern Fringe, doing everything possible to try and sate our need for vengeance. The Hive Fleet had broken into countless splinter fleets by then. Its forces spread thin. We, the Scythes of the Emperor went from world, to world, to world. Any that was in the path of one of these splinter fleets that we could. We would bolster the defences there and recruit its best youths after the fight to rekindle our numbers. Some of your brothers aboard this ship were taken from these worlds along the Easter Fringe, rather than Sotha.’
‘This went on for years. Ultimately by this time the Hive Fleet had been defeated, but remnants of its forces remained scattered across the Fringe. Multiple forces were at work cleaning them up. With each battle we lost a few more Marines. So our number stayed the same, for each time we gained a battle-brother, another was soon lost. But we kept on going. We wanted to kill the Tyranids until either every single one of them was dead, or every one of us was. Though with yet another Hive Fleet entering the galactic south, called Leviathan, and several smaller fleets elsewhere... We realized the extent of the improbability of us killing all of them. Leviathan came in 997.M41, and was defeated early on in the new millennium, and ironically it was Orks that saved the Imperium from Leviathan reaching Terra... As much as I despise that truth.’
‘These Tyranids bled the Chapter dry. Vengeance, Thrasius, is not always sweet. Survival alone is the best revenge that you can offer the Xeno. Against indomitable odds, you lived. I commend you for that, if nothing else.’ Cleomenes intoned, giving the Chapter Master a half-smile. ‘Continue, please.’
'I thank you for that. Truly.' He paused, for a moment, before continuing. 'In our battles we became something else when battling Tyranids. When we fought by the side of other Chapters, there was always tale and talk of no other Chapter with the ability to slay Tyranids like us. Many proclaim us to be even better at it than the Ultramarines. For some reason I find this honor to be quite sour. Our pace only changed when we came to a small world named Tri'vaa by the Tau Empire.’
‘There was a Black Templar fleet there, and more remains of Kraken. Evidently, the Templars didn’t feel like leaving the clean up of the Tyranids to the incapable Tau. Rather than stay out of the Templars way, the foolish aliens of course intervened. We had been watching the events unfold from afar and moved in when things were quite obviously going awry. Something odd was going on with this particular Tyranid force. We stepped in to handle them so that the Templars could focus their efforts on killing the Tau there instead.’ Thrasius paused again, as though searching for the right words. ‘It was massively bloody for everyone.’
‘In short, there was fallen Norn Queen, a creature that basically controls the force's hive-mind, and she was protected by her minions hidden away in Tri'vaa’s extensive caverns beneath one of its mountain ranges. Before this Norn Queen was killed, it gave birth to a Hive Tyrant, this is the main form of a Tyranid warlord, or a general of sorts. Normally they only act as major hive-mind buffer, but the Queen some how transferred complete hive-mind control to this beast. It had a mind and will of its own. The Templars took heavy losses form both the Tyranids and the Tau and the fleet's Marshal declared Exterminatus. We got off the surface as soon as possible.’
‘..And so did the Hive Tyrant. We followed it to a world named Ferim. It was relatively new world set for hive-city construction, rich in an extensive list of mineral. The Hive Tyrant proved time and time again to be something we had never seen before. We had never even thought possible for a single Tyranid to possess such ability. Its psychic levels were outstanding, its strength incredible, and its intelligence... Something we had never encountered from the species before. We lost many brothers on Ferim. It took far longer than we had hoped but we accomplished our goal. We killed this Hive Tyrant.’
‘Unfortunately it took far longer than we had hoped, and took the support of the world's shorthanded Guard and PDF forces to finally bring it down. But we killed the beast, and ended its foul reign upon the Eastern Fringe. This victory, was one that finally gave us some real satisfaction in our goal to commit vengeance on the Tyranids. We finally felt we could let our hatred seep into the background for a time, while we rebuilt the Chapter.’
‘But unfortunately,’ His mouth instantly became dry, ‘Unfortunately this victory was darkened by something even worse. The Tyranids are not the only thing that took life from us on Ferim, brother.’
The sorrowful glitter in Thrasius’ eyes gave it away.
‘A traitor,’ Cleomenes rumbled, his voice a deep, hate-dripping growl. ‘One, or more, of the Scythes of the Emperor had fallen to the Eight-Fold Path. Whom, Brother-Captain?’
Thrasius nearly trembled, ‘Is it that clear upon my face that one of our brothers betrayed us? By the Emperor… It was one of my own men, a long time veteran and a solid warrior of the Third. His name was Astelan. There was a Daemonic presence on Ferim, one that was there before the Imperium had reached it, and Astelan’s mind was only just awaking to its inner potential. He had been a latent Psyker, and the daemonic entity on Ferim took hold of it and corrupted him. There was a band of Mortifactors on Ferim with us, a veteran squad led by a Librarian to help us fight the Hive Tyrant, Astelan fully revealed himself as a traitor in their presence. The Librarian saw it immediately, and tried to cleanse Astelan. But it was then that he showed the true extent of his betrayal to the Emperor and his Chapter.’
Cleomenes pursed his lip thoughtfully. ‘Gaius Astelan. I remember him, if by reputation alone. I was tutored under Brother-Teacher Othello - As was your Marine. Unlike I, Astelan scorned Othello’s teachings. He was a cruel Astartes, calculating, efficient, arrogant, even craven. He was weak-willed, certainly. But a Psyker? That is astonishing.’
‘Indeed. I saw it in him, and early on in the theatre of war that became Ferim, Astelan was fighting heavily with his Squad members. Before I could coax his mind in a different direction is when I received this,' He pointed to the gruesome scar upon his chest and midsection, ‘And was removed from the fight. I was unconscious for a time, but the miraculous efforts of our younger Apothecary kept me alive.’
‘I did not know of Astelan's betrayal until we had left Ferim. My mind has been plagued by his betrayal ever since. I was unable to detect it, even with so few Marines left under my command, but of course the greatest problem is the fact that no one else in the galaxy can ever know. The Mortifactors knew, and they helped our brothers kill Astelan. His gene-seed was destroyed. The Mortifactors returned to their Homeworld, which we later found out met the same fate as Sotha at the hands of Hive Fleet Leviathan. I assume the are all dead. But, Astelan's betrayal showed me just how much some of the minds left among us have slipped from the Codex since losing our Homeworld.’
‘Our chapter is severely lacking in resources. We have two Apothecaries, one Tech-Marine, no Chaplains. I am Chapter Master, Master of the Fleet and all other head positions. We have four Sergeants, one of them a Veteran-Sergeant. We have Solaki the Dreadnought. The rest.... Tactical battle brothers.’
Cleomenes circled around Thrasius, eyes dancing over the Chapter Master. He towered over Thrasius, in his ornately-decorated power armour. The act alone reeked of threat. ‘You and I served together at Antioch, you know? No, no. You wouldn’t recall, I and my Initiates were deployed under somewhat dubious circumstances,’ He flashed a grin. ‘You are a capable commander, brother. Thorcrya saw it. I see it.’
He moved away, advancing on the throne, or rather, the power-scythe that hung above it. His hands reached out, fingers dancing across the haft, before retracting - As though stung. ‘My apologies, Chapter Master. May I?’
‘I am afraid not, Cleomenes. I have yet to even use it in battle, for it is the most tangible remainder of Thorcrya's legacy and final command to his Chapter.’
Cleomenes’ raucous laughter echoed throughout the glass chamber. ‘Of course. I forget myself, at times. I have been absent from my brethren for far too long. I have several requests of you, Lord Thrasius, if you will?’
‘Please.’ Thrasius spoke simply.
‘Firstly, I would like a roster of all current serving battle-brothers - Including attached psychological and physical reports, combat records and Squad organizations.’ He glanced at Apothecary Alexander, giving a smile beneath his salt-and-pepper beard. ‘If Alexander can arrange that, I will be most thankful.’
‘That will be arranged, yes,’ Said Thrasius, bidding Alexander a nod. The Marine returned it. ‘Which reminds me. There is now only one Company, the Battle Company. Squads are not concrete by any means. My aim has been to make each remaining individual of the Chapter as versatile as possible and members are placed with another at my whim. What else do you request, Cleomenes?’
‘Very well, thank you. Secondly. A manifest of current supplies - Ammunition rates, along with a compilation of what arsenal we still have, including functioning vehicles and armour.’
‘As well, this will be done. Go on.’
Cleomenes nodded once. ‘Thirdly, I have acquired a somewhat extensive list of materials, weapons and antiques whilst traveling with Tybarr Nymeros. I would like to have them - You needn’t commit any of your forces, merely allow Nymeros to organize their transferal aboard the Heart.’
‘Lastly,’ Cleomenes said, this time a triumphant smile flittering on his face. ‘You mentioned recruits. I would like to inspect them, and if possible, oversee their future instruction.’ He paused, pursed his lips, before continuing onwards. ‘However I would like to petition that you have Brothers Raxan, Ryan and Zurik assigned to my training cadre.’
He glanced at Sergeant Scrious. ‘The lack of a Librarian amongst the Chapter has not gone unnoticed. If we are to mend the Chapter, I will need confident, reliable Space Marines to induct the youths. Brother Raxan is a must and from what I’ve witnessed of brother Ryan and Zurik, they are perfect for the role..’
Thrasius sat upon his throne, now, fingers dancing over his mouth and chin. ‘With the taint that showed itself in Astelan, we have no means to pass any of our recruits to the status of scouts. I am currently waiting on a reply from some old allies to help resolve that issue. No one can know about Astelan, Cleomenes. It essential to our existence that it be kept silent. I have not kept the Scythes alive from the Tyranids just be extinguished for treachery by the Inquisition.’ His eyes trailed to the floor. ‘Veteran-Sergeant Tobias has been training them so far. I must speak with him first. Raxan is never an issue, but as for Ryan and Zurik... I honestly don't think that’s a good idea.’
‘Hm.’ Cleomenes purred, narrowing his eyes. ‘Why not?’
‘Regrettably, of them I have the least control. There is quite a history with their former Squad.... They are expert killers without a doubt, but they do it in their own way. I am not sure that one, they would be interested in helping to train those boys, and two, I am not sure I would like their methods if they did so.’
‘Orphans are often the wildest of children, Thrasius. They are reckless, rebellious, hateful. Allow me to speak with Ryan and Zurik. I will find the cause of their seditiousness and I will excise it.’ Cleomenes spoke, this time leaning in closer to the Chapter Master, adding more emphasis upon the desperation in his voice.
‘You are certainly welcome to speak with them and try as you will. I certainly won't stop you, brother. Again though, I will have to get back to you about training the recruits. Surely you have much to think on now, There are plenty of unoccupied personal quarters on the ship if you wish to be undisturbed. So, will there be anything else before you leave?’
‘Yes, a word of caution, if you will.’ His empurpled lips peeled back in a smirk, directed towards Sergeant Scrious. ‘The Scythes of the Emperor have been to where constellations set, where the last of the ocean waves die. You have stared into the abyss. You survived. Do not let impetuousness and the desire for vengeance cloud your view. Do not let us fade away, Thrasius.’
‘Duly noted. Its good to have you back with us Cleomenes.’ The Chapter Master said, waving Cleomenes away.
Nyctophobia- Fear of the Dark Angel.
"No one ever spoke about of those two absent brothers. Their separate tragedies had seemed like aberrations. Had they, in fact, been warnings that no one had heeded?"
'Killing a man is like fucking, boy, only instead of giving life you take it. You experience the ecstasy of penetration as your warhead enters the enemy's belly and the shaft follows. You see the whites of his eyes roll inside the sockets of his helmet. You feel his knees give way beneath him and the weight of his faltering flesh draw down the point of your spear. Are you picturing this?'
'Is your dick hard yet?'
''What? You've got your spear in a man's guts and your dog isn't stiff? What are you, a woman?'