The journey from the “Maiden of Sorrow” up to the “Nightfall” was smooth, just as Var would have expected from Malak; who was a brilliant pilot. Var remained silent as the Stormbird easily moved across the busy space towards the Night Lords flagship. Var was well aware of his captains’ gaze never leaving him, but chose to ignore him, knowing that many of his brothers would take the slightest opportunity to attack the techmarine. They were all fools, frightened of anything they couldn’t control, that they couldn’t understand.
Var remained motionless as the “Revenant” touched down in one of the “Nightfall” landing bays and his restraint harness sprang open. As the ships doors lowered, Var watched the other members of the First Claw rose to their feet and followed Xandrek as he moved out into the “Nightfall” itself. Var hesitated a moment, simply observing, his crimson optical sensors whirring quietly as the techmarine watched the other members of the First Claw, his so called battle-brothers, looked around them. As Xandrek continues to walk, and the rest of the Night Lords set off after him, Var finally rose to his feet, his servo-harness moving around him as he moved across the deck of the “Revenant” towards the open door. Var paused for only a moment, turning towards the seat of Malak and offering a slight nod, and bringing his fist to his chest in the typical greeting between those that worship the Machine God, before stepping out into the flagship of a Legion that had not, and likely never would, accepted him as one of their own.
Var saw the retreating backs of his First Claw, and made sure he kept track of them and tailed them from a distance. Despite the shifting sea of midnight blue, Var’s sight was drawn to the far end of the cavernous embarkation deck, where there stood twelve figures. Even though Var held no love for the Legion that he was a part of, even he recognized the figures. Ten of them wore terminator armour, and that alone caused Var to hesitate. Pushing the very boundaries of the technology that the Imperium possessed, Var had long desired to get his hands on a suit of Tactical Dreadnought armour, yet his desire had never been satisfied. Now, the presence of not just one, but ten suits of the legendary armour, was almost more than the techmarine could handle. Pushing through this almost human emotion, Var turned towards the other two figures.
The eleventh figure was one that Var had heard many tales of, even in his dark forge at the heart of “The Maidens Sorrow”. First Caption Jago Sevetarions. Even Var held some emotion for this man, this legend, this Prince of Crows, an emotion that was the closest to fear that Var ever felt. He was a highly dangerous man, and even Var, the cynical and hated Var, knew to watch his step around him.
The twelfth figure Var recognized instantly. Var had once caught a brief glimpse of him, many years ago, and his image was still one that burnt in Var’s memory. While Var held none of the awe or pride for Konrad Curze that his fellow Night Lords did, just like any predators natural primal instinct, Var recognized that the Night Haunter was a much more dangerous man than himself, and that respect was needed for survival.
Clad in full armour, and armed with two monstrously sized power caws known only as “Mercy” and “Forgiveness”, the Night Lords Primarch looked every bit the top predator, and Var couldn’t stop his tail from twitching slightly.
Var finally caught up the rest of his First Claw and stood a few metres away from them, still within earshot but far enough away to not be noticed as the Night Haunter looked out across the assembled silent Night Lords before turning and walking away, Sevetar addressing the gathered Space Marines before following his Primarch.
“All Captains will follow myself and the Primarch for a meeting about how we will deploy and deal with our brothers down on the surface, the rest of you may move about the flagship to go to the training and sparring halls, the Apocatherion, the armoury or you may remain here. You are all to gather back here on the embarkation deck in three hours for briefing from your Captains.”
As the twelve figures left the landing bays, Xandrek turned towards his First Claw.
“It will be good to speak with the Primarch again, Azrael until I return ensure that you and the other ‘children’ do not embarrass Fourth Company in anyway or form is that understood? Var for once I’m asking you Brother to Brother to not antagonize any of our brothers from the other companies.”
Xandrek turned to face Var, and the techmarine could swear he heard a sense of tiredness in his voice before it became the sharp tone Var knew so well.
“Or you will find that I will be returning to the ‘Maiden’ with a new Master of the Forge, with all of your bionics being used as spares for servitors.”
With his speech done, Xandrek turned and in one flourish of his black cloak he is gone, walking with the other captains after their Primarch. Var watched him walk away for a moment before his eyes were drawn to a figure who’s dark grey, almost black armour, stood out in stark contrast to the sea of midnight blue all around him. An Iron Warrior, what was an Iron Warrior doing aboard the “Nightfall”? Var didn’t have to wait long to find out as the Iron Warrior approached the First Claw, pushing aside the Night Lords that stood in his path, before stopping a few metres away and addressing them. Var smiled as he saw the Iron Warrior glance towards him.
"Greetings. My name is Pelegon, of the 2nd Company of the 77th Grand Battalion of the Iron Warriors, and I have been assigned to your unit"
As the Iron Warrior spoke in High Gothic, Var noticed a handful of the First Claw, and the other Night Lords milling around them, wincing. But for Var, it mattered little what language the Space Marines spoke, Var could speak a handful of languages, and any he couldn’t was roughly translated by his augmented suit. The techmarine could go days deep within his forge without hearing another living being speak, only the grinding of gears and the roar of hungry flames. And yet, this choice to speak High Gothic amongst a Legion that speaks another language altogether obviously irked some of Var’s battle-brothers more than it did him. The short figure of Tyberus squared up to the much taller Iron Warrior first, and almost growled a response.
"You are assigned to our squadron as we embark on the greatest war any of us have ever known to free ourselves from the shackles of this False Imperium, yet you would still speak in their chosen, antiquated tongue? The tongue of the False Emperor.”
Tyberus himself was speaking in Low Gothic, and he paused to step closer to the Iron Warrior, the chains that adorned his armour clinking as he did so. Var could sense other Night Lords noticing the dispute and moving closer, sensing the hostility in the air, drinking it in, as Tyberus continued.
“My name is Tyberus of First Claw. If you fight with us with the reputation of your Legion against those still loyal to the Imperium, then you are welcome among us.”
Stepping even closer to the Iron Warrior, Tyberus thrust his hand towards Pelegon. With one smooth motion the Iron Warrior took the Night Lords smaller hand in his own and shook it. Sensing the tension gone, the Night Lords surrounding the pair lost interest and went on their own way.
Releasing Tyberus’ hand and standing to attention, the Iron Warrior addressed the Night Lord standing before him, speaking in Low Gothic.
"I incorrectly assumed that so slight a miscalculation would not cause offence. I thank you for your warm welcome, Tyberus, and look forward to fighting alongside you and your brothers. I must inform you that regrettably I am not versed in your own language, though I would be more than willing to learn it should a suitable tutor present himself"
Even as Pelegon spoke, the First Claw’s Apocethary, the same man that had called for Var’s blood just hours before, turned to Azrael, another Space Marine that did not see Var in the best light and spoke to him in Nostraman, a language that the Iron Warrior did not know, and could not understand, although Veptus’ tone and glare at Pelegon made the message clear.
“Oh yeah, because I was just saying, wasn’t I Azrael, how much I wished we had a bloody Olympian to drag around with us”
Turning to face the Iron Warrior properly, although only the last word was spoken in Low Gothic, Veptus continued.
“Do you know what we did to the children of Nostramo, Olympian? We employ them as our runners, our front line troops. They are the ones in the most danger. Those who are weak perish. Only the strong survive long enough to make anything of themselves. Which will you be I wonder?”
Switching from his native tongue to the one that the Imperium had adopted as its own, Veptus
“Better learn fast, Olympian.”
And with that, Veptus was gone, slapping the Legion emblem of the Iron Warriors as he walked past Pelegon, reminding the Iron Warrior that he was different, that he was not welcome.
Tyberus, who was obviously not finished with the Olympian, called after the retreating figure of Veptus in Nostraman.
"We can only use him as cannon fodder if he makes it to the battle Brother Veptus. For the time being we're stuck with him so we might as well make sure he doesn't get his bones picked clean by the other squadrons before we drop planetside."
As the First Claw Veteran turned back to the Iron Warrior he spoke in Low Gothic for a final time before walking to stand beside the Chaplain.
"As we are stuck with you Iron Warrior, and you with us, I suggest you stick with First Claw. And Veptus is right, you'd better learn fast and stay out of our way."
Another member of the First Claw voiced their annoyance at this outsider as the figure of Agrippa broke off from the group and walked past the Iron Warrior towards the far door leading to the armoury, scoffing as he went.
"Why would an Iron Warrior be assigned to us, does someone think us incompetent? Who is with me to the Armory?"
Var was tired of this bickering, of these threats, of these creatures that treasured flesh. Var had been too long from the eternal fires of the forges, and so the techmarine turned to follow Agrippa, the sea of Night Lords moving aside quickly to let the fearsome figure of Var through, his tail never staying still, always twitching forward and then retreating.
As he walked away, Var heard the voice of Pelegon once more, still speaking in Low Gothic, followed by the sound of his footsteps as he headed across the deck of the landing bay.
"I will return once I have better acquainted myself with your customs"
Var was still following Agrippa, although staying a few metres behind him, when the low voice of Azrael himself came over the vox, presumably a broadcast to the whole First Claw.
“Have you forgotten who I am Brothers? I am a Terran, an outsider to you just as Pelegon is now. In the search for foolish gratification, do not forget that I am just as foreign to you as the Iron Warriors are. You mock him for not being one of you. Neither am I. The next man to look down on him for not being Nostraman will face me in the cages and we will see whether being Nostraman makes you superior to others.”
Var smirked at that, or as close to a smirk as he could with the metal claiming most of his face. The high and mighty champion talked of welcoming those that were foreign to them with open arms, and yet he thirsted to test himself against Var for little more reason than that the techmarine spoke plainly and was different to the other members of the First Claw. And yet, the bickering between the members of the First Claw continued as Vandread spoke over the vox. The fact that the Veteran spoke in Low Gothic suggested that the Iron Warrior had been patched into the vox channel, and a quick check confirmed Var’s suspicions.
"Brother's, do you know what your pitiful attempts to scare our new squad mate into submission remind me of? You all sound like those worthless excuses for mortals that were our Aristocratic society on Nostramo. The same people who treated us like dirt, the same people that our Gene-sire slaughtered because he was disgusted by them, the same people who tortured me day in and day out until Father saved me. So now ask yourselves 'brothers' should we not be better than what we despise."
Torture? This Veteran dared speak of how he had suffered upon Nostramo? Had he felt his flesh cut open, his nerves burnt away, his very body replaced by cold metal? Var felt a stab of pain before he managed to push his emotion down again as Veptus spoke in Nostraman across the vox.
“Azrael, he is not a novice. You learnt, you adapted, you allowed our Father to mould you into a weapon of fear, as we all have been. Pelegon has no interest or capacity to learn our Father’s way. What I said is true, those who do not learn and adapt, die. It’s as true here as it was on Nostramo. It is just the way of things, nothing to do with superiority. My contention is that he will not and cannot learn and I am not going to carry him, any more than you will. I had hoped that was clear earlier, but I hope now you see my issue is not with his origin, but his malleability.”
The calm and measured tone of the Corpsemaster fell away as he addressed Vandread, to be replaced by a venomous and spiteful edge that Var had heard directed towards himself more than once.
“As for you, Vandread, you have obviously learnt nothing of our Father’s ways, despite how you seem to think he hand-picked you, as if you are remarkable. Our Father taught us the nature of fear. We are his instruments of terror, something you would do well to remember. If you wish to carry someone who has no desire to be moulded by our Father, then do as you see fit, but do not seek to lecture me on how I should treat those who are not unified by our purpose or how I should instruct others in the nature of fear, else I will show you that you suffered nothing in your previous life, you mewling fool!”
Var allowed himself to feel a slight rush of joy, or as close to joy as his twisted black heart could feel. Cracks were appearing all through the First Claw; even here aboard the flagship of their Primarch, the Night Lords bickered amongst themselves. Var had fought with tooth and claw to get where he was now, and he was primed to play these bitter rivalries against each other for his own ends. Not to be done, the voice of Tyberus crackled into life over the vox.
"Brother Azrael, I have never doubted your abilities, nor cared where you or any of our other battle brothers have come from. You are my Brother Night Lord. Any Battle Brother of the Night Lords, regardless of origin is one I will gladly call my Brother. But the Olympian is not of our Legion, they did not even want to join our cause, our war for freedom. I will not tend to him, nor look back should he fall behind in combat. If he proves that he can adapt to the way of the Night Lords, then he is welcome as our Battle Brother, if not, I suppose the coming war will take care of him."
Var paused for a moment at that. Before, Var had written of the Veteran as just another pawn to be moved by Xandreks hand, but something in his speech, of welcoming any brother, no matter what his origin, called out to the Techmarine. And yet now, perhaps there was a potential ally in the Night Lord? Var would have to talk to the Space Marine later. But now, Var was jerked back to life as three Night Lords shouldered past him and began to tail Agrippa. Var’s tail had already thrust forward before Var could call it back, but he managed to hold it before it pierced the shoulder of one of the Night Lords. Keeping his mouth shut, Var recognized the insignia of the trio as that of the Seventeenth Company’s First Claw. Even Var knew of the bitter rivalry between the Seventeenth Company and the Fourth Company, and for them to isolate and perhaps even kill Agrippa would come as no surprise. Moving swiftly, Var called up a basic map of his level of the “Nightfall” and plotted a basic route that would allow him to cut off the pursuing Night Lords. Turning away from the corridor that Agrippa was taking in favour of a narrow side passage, Var glanced back in time to see Azrael set off almost at a run after Agrippa, obviously also sensing the danger but not seeing Var.
Var stepped into the side corridor and came out into the passage he had planned. Turning to look around, Car was almost surprised to see the trio of Night Lords he had planned to cut off coming towards him. Stepping back into the shadows of the corridor he had emerged from, Var watched as the three Space Marines met with another figure, one clutching an intimidating axe, a man that Var managed to identify as Sar’Thel, the champion of the Seventeenth Company who, as Var understood, had a colourful history with Azrael.
Var almost opened a vox link to his First Claws Champion in order to warn him, but Azrael spoke first, his voice crackling over the vox channel to all of the First Claw.
“Looks like the Seventeenth Company have offered a lovely trap for me brothers. I am going to step into the hornets’ nest; I would appreciate it if you could be prepared. Sar’Thel still has a score to settle with me after I took his eye during our last duel and I have no doubt that he is involved in this.”
Var kept his mouth shut, and just moments later he saw Azrael come around the corner and come face to face with the four Night Lords waiting for him. Var was just within earshot of the five Space Marines as the Seventeenth Company Champion addressed Azrael.
“Hello Azrael, it’s been a while and as much as a touching re-union would be enjoyable I think skinning you would prove far more interesting.”
Just as Var knew he would, Azrael immediately dropped into a combat stance, one hand falling to grasp the hilt of his sword before he responded.
“Sar’Thel, it has indeed been some time. Don’t tell me you’re still mad about that eye you lost. It’s in the past brother, nothing to still be angry about.”
Var could just make out Azrael’s smirk through the half-light of the passage, and he instantly knew what the Champion was doing. Azrael was trying to buy himself time, time for, he hoped, other members of the Fourth Company’s First Claw to come to his aid and help even the odds.
For a moment, Var considered his options. He could stand by, and watch as his First Claw’s Champion was potentially cut down and killed by his rival. Or he could move to stand by the side of a man who did not try to hide his burning hatred for the techmarine. In the end, it was Azrael’s absurd sense of honour that won over Var. Owing someone your life was a very powerful favour, and Azrael was a very powerful man. And so, moving slowly and silently as the five continued to face off, Var approached the turned backs of the three Seventeenth Company Night Lords as they watched the two Champions square off against each other. Var’s tail was darting forwards in anticipation for the coming conflict and in one silent movement, Var’s Power Axe materialised in his hand.
Var watched as Sar’Thel took an almighty swing as Azrael, only for the Fourth Company Champion to glide backwards out of the axe’s swing and pulling his own weapon from its scabbard in one fluent, practiced motion. By now, Var was only a handful of paces behind the five Night Lords, but they were all too absorbed in the conflict between the two Champions to notice the dark figure standing behind them. Azrael swung at Sar’Thel, only for the bigger Champion to easily block the blow with the haft of his axe. Unphased, Azrael twisted and pulled his sword free from Sar’Thel’s grasp.
The three other members of the Seventeenth Company took a step forwards as their Champion staggered slightly, but Sar’Thel held a hand up to keep them at bay. Azrael, still trying to keep his opponent distracted, to keep him from landing the killing blow before any of his allies could come to his aid.
“You want to take me alone Sar’Thel? Do you not remember what happened last time you tried that?”
Again Sar’Thel took an almighty swing at the more slender Champion, only for Azrael to step inside his swing and slam a fist into his helmet. A second punch followed, knocking Sar’Thel back a step, and then a third that sent the other Champion staggering. Var couldn’t help but be impressed by the speed of Azrael, even as Sar’Thel tore off his helmet, rage clear on his face.
“A coward’s trick Azrael. A true warrior would not descend to using his fists in an honour battle.”
Even Var’s twisted sense of honour could hardly call this an “honour battle”. Var had observed some of his fellow Night Lord’s honour duels, and they were far from this crude ambush to try and settle some old grudge. And if a cowards trick could injure your opponent and keep you alive, then no-one will be left alive to call you a coward. Azrael did not waste this opportunity to stall Sar’Thel again.
“An honour battle Sar? This is not an honour battle. This is a dishonourable assault on the Champion of Fourth Company because you wish revenge for the loss of your eye. You see, that battle was an honour battle. You dare call me a coward? You who refused to face me without three of your friends to help you if it looks like you’re losing. Yes, I can see the way the man to your right has a twitchy trigger finger and one of your other fellows has been trying to creep behind me since we started this. Fight me like a man Sar’Thel or kill me. It is your choice.”
There was a moment of silence, only for it to be broken by the snarl of Sar’Thel.
“I choose to kill you.”
Var could have sworn he saw Azrael’s eyes meet his own, but whether he did see Var or he did not, he smirked at the towering Champion standing before him.
“Then you should have done it sooner Sar’Thel."
The sound of heavy footfalls caught the attention of all the Night Lords, including Var, and they all turned to see something that had liekly never been seen before aboard the "Nightfall". An Iron Warrior, clad in the distinctive dark armor of his Legion, charged headlong down the ships corridor. Var watched as, with one motion, the Iron Warrior drew a....spade? Var recognized the weapon as an Entrenching Tool, but before he could wonder about the Iron Warrior's choice of weapon, said Iron Warrior launched himself into a diving tackle against one of the Night Lords. Var could only watch as the agile Night Lord fired the engines of his Jump Pack and soared out of the Iron Warrior's reach, leaving him to land heavily on the passage floor and slide several meters.
The path of the Iron Warrior meant that the remaining two Night Lords turned and found themselves looking at the techmarine who stood only a few paces away from them. There was a moment of hesitation as the two Night Lords decided if the new arrival was a threat, but their desicion was soon made clear as one of the Night Lords made a grab for the Power Sword resting at his hip.
Jumping into action, Vars tail lashed forwards and, stabbing through the chink in armour that Var knew would be there, after all he had disassembled and reassembled this type of armour more times than he could count, and punched through the Night Lords hand, splintering bone with ease before it burst through the other side of his hand. Turning towards the other Space Marine, Var only had time to slightly flinch as the Night Lord fired a bolt at the techmarines chest. The round slammed into Var's pauldron, throwing him off balance and sending him staggering back.
Before Var could right himself, the first Night Lord was upon him again, gripping his sword in his left hand while his right was still pumping blood. Although not using his favored sword hand, the Night Lord had obviously been trained to use both and he was blindingly fast. Var barely managed to raise his axe high enough to block the first blow, and the second was only turned away by Var dropping his shoulder to deflect the sword, leaving a deep ridge running across his armour.
Cursing the Night Lord's blatant disrespect for the armour that Var was wearing, the techmarine finally righted himself and attempted to fight back against the two opponents he faced. Var took an almighty swing at the bolter wielding Space Marine with his Power Axe, but the Night Lord was too quick and deftly stepped out of the swing. Using his servo-arms as an extension of himself, Var fired off a handful of Bolter shells of his own towards the Space Marine before turning towards the second Night Lord in time to see the Power Sword swinging at his head. With an almigthy effort, Var threw himself forward, colliding with the swinging Space Marine and throwing him off balance enough to throw his attack off target and send both of them sprawling to the ground.
Var's servo-harness helped him quickly get to his feet, and Var knew he had mere seconds before the Night Lord also found his feet again. Attempting to press the slight advantage he had, Var drove his knee into the felled Night Lords helmet, his leg carrying enough force to shatter the helmets eye piece. Bringing his axe around for the killing blow, Var was knocked off his feet as a bolter shell exploded on his chest.
Rising to his feet, Var saw the smoking barrel of the second Space Marine, bolter shell holes in his shoulder, chest and leg, but still standing, before the first Night Lord was upon him once more. Unleashing a punishing string of blows, it took all of Var's concentration, and all the equipment at his disposal, to stop the Night Lord removing his head from his shoulders. Parrying with all of his servo-arms and his Power Axe, Var was slowly driven back by the sheer ferocity of the assault, and knew he couldn't keep it up for much longer. In a final gambit, Var let the Power Sword through his defense, turning as the blade fell so that it buried itself in the techmarines shoulder. For a moment, Var's eyes flashed and went out, and the techmarine staggered. But then the crimson light returned and Var righted himself. As the Night Lord desperately tried to wrench his weapon free of Var's neck, caught as it was in the bunch of thick cables and wires that made up most of the techmarines throat, Var's Plasma Cutter sprang into life, the roaring flame lighting up the corridor. Before the Night Lord could pull away, one of Var's other Servo-arms grabbed hold of the Space Marines remaining hand, crushing it as well as splintering the Power Swords hilt and leaving the weapon as cold metal, robbed of it's crackling energy. Slowly, savoring every moment of the Night Lord's panic and fear, Var moved the Plasma Cutter's flame ever closer to the Space Marines helmet. Even when it was still a few inches away, the intense heat of the Plasms Cutter, capable of slicing open battle tanks, was causing the metal to heat up and Var knew that the Night Lords flesh was already burning beneath the helmet. Continuing it's slow progress, the Plasma Cutter began to slice it's way through the Space Marine's helmet. Var offered one last prayer to the Machine God, asking for forgiveness for destroying this sacred armour. The flame cut through the helmet like it was paper, and the raw screams of a man in absolute agony echoed across the passage as the Plasma Cutter met human flesh. Continuing to push the Plasma Cutter onwards, there was one last scream before the Night Lord fell deathly silent, his wild flailing ceased, and his lifeless body slumped to the ground in a crumpled heap.
There was a moment of hesitation before a bolt shot through the air and made contact with Var's chest once more, although again the techmarines armour saved him. As the remaining Space Marine let loose a hail of rounds toward Var, the techmarine lifted the corpse of the dead Night Lord up, using his as a human shield until the distinctive click of an empty Bolter sounded down the corridor.
Pulling the Bolt Pistol from where it was attached on the Night Lord's hip, seeing as he wouldn't need it anymore, and leveling it and his own Boltgun towards the remaining Night Lord, Var fired up his Plasma Cutter once more and squared off against the Night Lord as he hurridly reloaded his Bolter, fumbling with the process in his haste. When Var spoke, his voice was dark and low, every bit the voice of the murderous psychopath he was.
“He’s right. You should have killed him earlier. Now it’s just going to get messy.”