After discussions with their new heavily-armoured peacekeepers had been concluded, Pelegon set about preparing himself for the journey to the apothecarion – as he had dispatched two of seventeenth’s finest, it would be down to him to see that they were appropriately transported. Pelegon took first his shovel, clipping it into its mag-lock, and then bent down to take Jasen’s chainglaive in his good hand, examining the weapon. The grip was well-worn, with a series of notches engraved down its length, and its teeth shone in the subdued glow of the lighting. Though not as fine as the specimen in the vault, it was certainly nothing to turn his nose down at, especially considering that he no longer had his thunder hammer. The Olympian clipped it onto the mag-lock on his backpack.
“Now…” Jasen started colloquially, and Pelegon punched him in the face. He felt the crunch of the marine’s nose being broken beneath his knuckles, and there was a small spray of blood as it was crushed to a pulp. Another scar, which would doubtless make the Night Lord happy when he regained consciousness. Pelegon picked up Jasen’s helmet and stuck it on over his head, and then grabbed the now limp form in his good hand, and swung it over his left shoulder. Though he had no grip on that side, he could cradle him between shoulder and elbow, and the loss of both an arm and a leg had rendered Jasen somewhat lighter.
Pelegon then went over to the dead Raptor, whose name he still did not know, nor cared to find out, and swung him up over his right shoulder. Thus laden with two marines, the Iron Warrior followed the rest of First Claw to Veptus’ dread domain, porting both with little difficulty. The apothecaries looked up as Pelegon dumped the two on separate operating tables with a clatter, their hands straying toward their weapons, but the Iron Warrior shook his head to indicate that he had nothing to with any of this, and they returned to their work, one moving to the dead Raptor to recover his gene-seed. Then the Iron Warrior sat down at one of the tables to examine his damaged hand, removing the vambrace and gauntlet that protected that part of his body.
The burning was extensive, that much was certain, and a lot of the flesh would need to be amputated, damaged as it was beyond repair. However, the basic bone framework beneath it was intact, as was the interface port just below it in his wrist, and some of the muscle tissue and tendons were serviceable. He planned to strip away that which was too damaged and replace it with servo-muscles from scavenged power armour, and the dead Raptor would serve to that end – after sealing with synskin, he would again have a perfectly serviceable appendage, without having to replace it with a bionic. He didn’t know why, but somehow the idea of chopping off the hand when its core structure was essentially sound struck him as terribly wasteful.
Of course this was all his fault; if he’d fought properly, managed to stay clear-headed, then none of this would have happened. He should have shoulder-barged the Raptor and crushed him beneath his weight, should have pulled him into an embrace when he grabbed the blade, and he should certainly not have stuck it into a jump-pack’s exhausts. These moments of uncontrollable hatred were common, despising as much as he did, but it had only twice before ruled Pelegon like this. The injury was a fitting punishment for his foolishness, and as the Iron Warrior considered how best to avoid Veptus and another apothecary who was muttering to him while casting glances at Pelegon, Tyberus approached him.
The stocky marine was growling something about his reputation, brandishing a knife. He seemed annoyed that their duel might not be able to go ahead while Pelegon was incapacitated, but did not come across as threatening. The Iron Warrior wanted to explain that he had accounted for all this, and could fight perfectly well with just the one hand, could repair the injury fairly quickly, but could not bear having to justify himself. If the reasoning was not apparent to the Night Lord then Pelegon wasn’t going to waste his time. Tyberus didn’t suspect that the Olympian knew how to medicate himself, how to repair and reconstruct that which had been damaged, and he would keep it that way. Better to be underestimated than overestimated.
Tyberus grabbed Pelegon’s exposed forearm, continuing to rant, but he did not move, or even indicate that he was aware of what was going on. He could not resist, for he was vastly outnumbered – better to let this little episode play out, though he realised with a sense of disappointment that it looked like he was going to lose the hand. As predicted, Tyberus swung the knife, and even as the blade descended the IVth legionnaire could see where it would land, and what would happen. It cleaved the hard muscle aside, the pain an almost refreshing sensation, until it jarred against his adamantium skeleton. Tyberus looked dumbfounded, as though unable to comprehend what was going on. Good.
The Iron Warrior leaned forward, and with his good hand took the blade of the knife between forefinger and thumb, extracting it from the already healing wound, and gently guided it until it was over his wrist, where it would cut only skin, tendons and muscle, avoiding the iron-hard bone. Tyberus recovered, and, laughing, sliced the hand off. Pelegon didn’t react, but braced himself against the agony that would have had a mortal man screaming uncontrollably. It was purifying, made him know that he was still alive and still functioning, and of course he deserved it. Sticking his hand into an exhaust vent indeed.
Tyberus picked up the hand and tossed it to a junior apothecary, who stuck it into a cryo-tube, which was duly presented to Pelegon. For the first time since the stocky marine had approached the Iron Warrior, he moved, accepting the tube with a nod to the apothecary, and clipped it to his waist.
"I did what was necessary, had I left you to the vultures I don't know if there would have been enough of you left to fight the Apostle, and I would very much like to see his head removed from his shoulders. Be ready Pelegon, they may look to settle our challenges as soon as possible, I certainly hope they do, I want to be the one to kill that bastard Rashel, not some errant bolt round on Istvaan, I want their blood before we drop planetside."
Pelegon merely nodded, unsure how else to reply. It looked increasingly unlikely that their duel would take place before they made it planetside, but if belief in it kept Tyberus happy then he would play along. It was at that moment that Veptus, lord of the realm, decided that it was time to intervene, and he did so by hitting Tyberus in the throat. Why he did this the Iron Warrior did not know, as Tyberus had not at all directed his enquiry toward First Claw’s erstwhile medic. Perhaps there was bad blood between them for other reasons.
Pelegon drew his meltagun beneath the table, and it was trained firmly on the apothecary throughout the little discussion they had. If he made another move, Xandrek’s protection or no protection, he would get vaporised. Fortunately the marine seemed content to be as unpleasant as possible without getting any more physical, and having concluded with the unfortunate gagging Tyberus turned his attention to Pelegon, whose meltagun was kept firmly trained on him, safely out of view.
The apothecary gave him a very considerate little speech, and the Iron Warrior felt that he should make an act of feeling honoured that this level of attention was being bestowed upon him. So he nodded at the right moments, even leaning forward and resting the chin of his helmet on the bloodied stump, the sharp point causing it to start bleeding anew. It was not only blood that came from the end, but darker synthetic fluids, and it was possible to see strands of metal among the muscle fibres where his assimilation had taken root.
“You assume too much, apothecary” Pelegon replied sweetly, his usually bassy growl coming out instead in a clear, high tone that was a mockery of Veptus’ voice. “You know nothing of my physiology, or how it may have been modified. Perhaps I have a meltabomb instead of a lung? Or that perhaps I have a protocol that would trigger the self-destruction of my geneseed unless my body were opened up in a very
Pelegon adjusted where he was sitting, aiming the gun up through the table so it would blow straight through the looming apothecary’s torso if he made a false move. His targeter and innate marksmanship would be able to account for any form of attempted movement, and his finger squeezed down to the first click of the two-stage trigger.
“Of course I could be lying” the Olympian continued, with a slight shrug; where he had previously been a statue, he was now all body language and differing poses “but you don’t know that. So let me conclude with your final assumption; you believe that I require your attention. I could talk to Var about a bionic hand, or I could take one of those” he said, pointing his stump at a row of bionic limbs on one of the tables “and do the rest myself. I respect your ability to inflict pain and to intimidate, Veptus” Pelegon stood up, the meltagun again clapped to his hip in a single fluid motion “but I can assure you that it would be wasted on me. Though we have much to discuss in that regard; it is an area in which I confess ignorance, and would wish to learn. Take care now”
With a respectful nod that was completely at odds with the mocking, almost sarcastic tone of his voice, Pelegon moved over to the row of bionic limbs, grabbing his vambrace and gauntlet as he did so. They were bloodied, and most looked to be in various stages of disrepair – clearly recently removed from the dead or those too heavily injured to make use of them. Likely hurriedly amputated, and the chunks of flesh that clung to them indicated that the amputations may have been carried out by bullets and explosives rather than surgical tools.
There was only one left hand, and it was an abused-looking thing, heavily scorched with little charred flecks of soot that were all that remained of its original wearer. This one looked heat-damaged (appropriately, Pelegon thought), but after picking it up and giving it a cursory examination, the Iron Warrior realised from almost invisible markings near the wrist that it had been crafted on Nocturne. Whoever its last owner had been in life, he had clearly had ties to the Salamanders; considering current affairs, perhaps it was for the best that he was (probably) dead. Flames would not have affected its function; indeed it was likely that it had been made especially for working with and tempering hot materials.
“I’ll have this one” Pelegon announced to Veptus, turning to wave it around, keeping his thumb over the markings on the base in case the apothecary managed to somehow see them or read them. “I can repair it, and” here his voice now adopted the same high-pitched imitation as he spread his arms expansively, as though basking in the adoration of a crowd “think how considerate I am, clearing up your rubbish for you”
With that concluded, he nodded to each of the present members of First Claw in turn, before taking his leave of the apothecarion.
Pelegon clenched and unclenched his new left hand, at last more or less satisfied that it was working, bar the thumb which responded a little too sluggishly for his liking. Feeling around in the fragments of his little toolbox, he grabbed a spanner that would have been small even in the hands of a mortal, and with the utmost delicacy used it to adjust the tightness of one of the valves on the underside of the thumb. The tool looked like a toothpick in Pelegon’s enormous armoured mitt, but he handled it with the grace and care of a true artificer. Without a hand, and thus a palm, he had not been able to properly engage his interface port into his little box and had had to smash it open – he had no attachment to the thing, at least no more than he did to any object, but it would be inconvenient to carry his tools with him all the time. The hand, in fact, had not been the work of a great artificer as he had expected, and had taken two hours of modification and rewiring to get it to make the correct movements at the correct signals. Pelegon had found it a trial, even with his technical expertise and body augmented to receive bionics, and wondered how awful it would have been to calibrate for one unprepared. Far from a heroic death in enemy hellfire, the Iron Warrior now concluded that it was most likely that the hand had driven its previous owner so mad with frustration that he had resorted to cooking his own arm off rather than deal with it any further. It worked well now, however, and would be flame-retardant. What it lacked in quality of circuitry it made up for in sheer robustness.
The Iron Warrior finished adjusting the valve, and then moved his thumb; now it moved as naturally and fluidly as if it had been his own, with a full range of motion. Clearly the hydraulic inside had been losing pressure, a flaw that could have been potentially fatal if he had lost grip strength on the field of battle. Despite its excellent hydraulics, the hand’s grip still wasn’t as strong as his own, unable as it was to exert the same crushing pressure that his own massive paws could, but that was a problem to be addressed once Isvaan had been concluded. The perfectionist inside Pelegon was loathe to accept this substandard piece, but knew that he did not have the time to make one of his own or to reattach his actual hand. He sorely hoped that they would be fighting the Xth legion, for their bionics were reputed to be of the highest quality, though he had never had the chance to see this for himself. On Istvaan, even in the field of battle, thanks to his assimilation it would be the work of a moment to rip this bionic off and replace it with a better one.
There was a smooth hiss as the door to his little cell opened, and Pelegon turned to see the hulking frame of the destroyer, Serhiy. The rattling, whirring wheeze of his mechanised respiratory system had been inaudible through the door, indicating the cell’s degree of sound insulation, but now it dominated the tiny space. Pelegon set down the spanner and rose, punching his right hand into the palm of his left in the traditional IVth legion salute, inclining his head slightly.
The destroyer said nothing, and Pelegon took the time to scan his body with his siege auspex, the readouts from his armour and the noises coming from him. The marine was kept functioning now by augmentations and cybernetics, and despite those Pelegon knew that it was only a matter of time before his body failed him entirely. He had worked with destroyers plenty of times before, and whenever he had held a command position had made keen use of their ability to clear out breaches – though their method of warfare was ultimately self-destructive, it was one that he respected and had a great deal of time for. How the VIIIth legion’s destroyers would compare to his own he did not know. Likely they took their time over killing their foes, savouring the sloughing of flesh from bone through phosphex and rad-rounds as slowly as possible. Serhiy certainly seemed to move with slow but certain purpose.
"Hail. . . son of Perturabo. . .child of Olympia. . . You have bled at my side. . . You are my brother now and I yours. . However we've not had the formal pleasure."
Serhiy held out his left hand, and Pelegon christened his own bionic by engaging in that strange greeting once again. Never in a century and a half, and now twice in the course of a few hours.
"You are Pelegon. . delegate to our Family
heh, aheh-heh. And I am Serhiy...Legion Destroyer of 4th Company."
The laughter was a diseased and evil-sounding a thing as had ever graced Pelegon’s ears, and he knew immediately that it was the sort of thing that made mortal men quake and children scream. Coming through layers of mechanical and then vox distortion, it was something that he would have once registered as deeply unpleasant - he didn't know why he thought it might terrify a mortal. Previously all that he would have noted from it was that the mechanical gearbox in Serhiy’s throat was riding a bit high and needed readjustment in order to tamp down the wheezing sound and allow the destroyer to speak in a slightly less broken fashion.
“I've heard you've already been acquainted
with. . Much of our chapter. . The wolves you encountered upon the Nightfall are leashed to their masters…however in the trenches there will be little to stop the more daring…from attempts on your life…I also understand that you wish to know more of our chapters inner workings…a daunting task indeed. If I may…it would serve both of your interests to blend in more with your new brotherhood
for the duration of your stay…to deploy on Isstvan in something more reminiscent of Midnight Clad would be beneficial to you."
The Iron Warrior appreciated the low gothic, but he had been listening to and analysing the recordings and texts that he had through his armour’s cogitator while working on his hand, and had a good grasp of the concepts of Nostraman. The language defied logic, with the slightest variation in intonation or spelling altering the meaning of a word entirely, and no set of grammar, adjectives or even nouns bearing any similarity to any language that Pelegon knew. His understating would be fine, as would his vocabulary and ability to construct sentences. His accent, however, was truly abysmal.
“I thank you, Serhiy” Pelegon managed, his mechanised snarl distorting the words even further “for your kind greeting, and appreciate the sentiment. I feel that while you speak sense, some of your brothers would not take kindly to one of Olympia wearing your legion’s colours. There is, to me, a strong sense of needing to prove oneself, and though I have killed in First Claw’s name, it was a killing of another of the VIIIth legion. I have been tasked to remain with the VIIIth until the end of this civil war, so I believe that I have plenty of time to earn those colours”
Another disturbing chuckle emanated from the near dead one. This was a lot more pronounced as it seemed to strike the destroyer as humorous.
"Olympian. . . Most honour secured in the VIIIth Legion has come from killing other Night Lords."
Pelegon paused as he slipped his vambrace and gauntlet on, readjusting it to fit the bionic more smoothly, thinking. He needed as many allies as possible, and while he could likely count Tyberus (and perhaps even Azrael) among that number, the others had no love for him or his kind. The destroyer would be a worthy addition to the little conclave of those that he did not entirely distrust. Unfortunately, damaged as he was, the destroyer would also be almost entirely dependent on the clemency of their apothecary.
“Allow me to make a proposition, Serhiy” Pelegon continued in Nostraman, careful to stay on a private vox-link “I do not trust Veptus, and believe that he is the one most likely to stab me in the back, whether proverbially or literally, though I can assure you I bear him no ill-will. If you could assist me in keeping him as far away from me as possible until he has decided to cease loathing me, you will have me at your service with maintaining your bionics” and here Pelegon reached out and tapped a finger on Serhiy’s armoured breastplate “and weaponry. I was offered the position siege-breaker, one I declined in favour of being a liaison officer – but from that offer alone you will now know that I am familiar with your variety of armament, and I believe that we could work well together”
Pelegon was not too keen to engage in this variety of destructive warfare; for that he could have stayed in his own legion and blown things up from afar, and instead wished to see how the units of the VIIIth more unique to them operated. But he would have time enough over the course of his assignment, he suspected, and in any case it would be a good chance to show off his abilities.
“What do you say to that, Serhiy?”
The destroyer paused, as though in thought, and after a few moments passed, Pelegon thought that it looked as if he was looking for a way to let him down. He was to be proven wrong.
"Veptus is a curious sort. A truly skilled Apothecary but...but with a more sadistic side that is not lost on anyone…if it aids your study I will do what little I can…I know how meticulously the IVth legion treats their tools…you will find our method of combat much more intimate
than your distant destruction. Your siege will be welcome…and I will assist your study as long as my body holds”
Pelegon stood with the rest of First Claw to receive their captain, and at this the Iron Warrior felt pleased – at last some degree of control would be exercised, and he would meet the man to whom his life had been sworn. And in due course he appeared, speaking to the one he knew as Sevatarion, and he looked exactly as Pelegon had expected; his own IVth eschewed trophies and fine livery, viewing it as weakness and pomposity made manifest, the need to make oneself appear stronger than they were. For some this was the case, as with Guilliman’s sons, who viewed themselves as being paragons and exemplars of warfare despite being thoroughly mediocre. Xandrek wore livery and gruesome trophies aplenty, but carried himself differently to his brothers. He at last saw the pack mentality of the VIIIth made manifest, the final piece in the jigsaw; that the others of Fourth Company were vultures feeding off the remnants that their alpha, Xandrek, deigned to leave for them. The First Claw were merely those deemed useful or worthy enough to get a little more for themselves, but none could truly challenge him. If they at all posed a threat, he would have killed them.
His carriage was magnificent, every move self-confident without being boastful, his words quiet yet commanding, authoritative without being pompous. This was a man who would lead through order, fear or loyalty enforced or earned, and the Iron Warrior simultaneously the parallel between the captain and his own Warsmiths, and that this was a man he could follow the orders of without complaint.
When Xandrek approached him, Pelegon suddenly realised that they had met before - though Xandrek had been very different then.
27-4-18 had not been a siege of any particular note. On dataslates and reports these campaigns were given neutral terms such as ‘pacification’ and ‘compliance’, but they did not convey in any way the brutality of what they comprised of. The enemy? Standard separatists, a colony on an unnamed rock of a planet in a forgotten corner of some forsaken system who had been separated from humanity during the Age of Strife, and had since found harmony by living side by side with xenos. Now they would pay for that betrayal of their race.
The fortress was the principal bastion of the whole planet, a multi-tiered affair that was not dissimilar to the hive cities of the Imperium, though it was built as a military structure first and foremost, and residential one second. The 23rd Grand Company, under Warsmith Lykourgos, had been given the task of breaking it, with promised assistance from the VIIIth legion, who had as of yet failed to make an appearance. The fortress was, in due course, reduced to rubble and its occupants and those they defended put to the sword.
Eighteen days in and the siege was nearing its conclusion. The bastion’s main strength lay in its energy weaponry, which was on the upper two (10th and 11th) tiers, protected by an ancient energy shield system that was archeotech from the Dark Age of Technology. The batteries of volkite carronades, themselves as venerable as the shields that protected them from bombardment, had destroyed the initial human armies sent in to test their strength, and so the siege had been not one of exchange of fire, but of sapping and undermining. There was no point in engaging in armoured assault or setting up counterbatteries if the defender’s guns were untouchable. The fight had been bloody, with the city falling tier by tier as breacher squads, supported by the able Iron Havocs, fought their way up the bastion. Their principle objective was to disable the generators that powered the shields and carronades, enabling full armoured assault; bombardment was not to be used as the Warsmith wished to capture the shields and the carronade batteries, with the intent of refitting them for his own use, priceless as they were.
The first five tiers had fallen, and it was known that from the sixth tier and upward there were no more separating walls; this was the final assault on the final keep, and yet despite this the carronades were silent. Though unable to depress their barrels sufficiently to scour the lower levels of the city, with their seemingly limitless energy reserves they made shots at any vehicle of the foolish supporting Imperial Army that showed their faces. The human soldiers were unhappy, and felt the urge to prove themselves as being useful as more than just targets – as of yet they had been nothing more than shields for the IVth as they advanced through the fortress, tier by bloody tier.
Pelegon, sergeant of the XIIIth squad of Iron Havocs, stood fifty metres distant from the breach. Hours ago, in the dusk, his squad had effected this hole in the wall through sustained krak missile fire, and now they were preparing to enter behind a squad of breachers twenty-strong, led by none other than his brother Loxias. There were twelve other such breaches, with similar units assigned to them, and as soon as the sun broke over the horizon they would assault and clear out the remaining six tiers. By sundown that day, the fortress, and its precious weaponry, would be theirs, and its defenders dead. There had been fire from the breach initially, but after a few hours it had died out. They were likely saving the last of their ammunition, for they would give no quarter and expected none in return. Mortals though they were, Pelegon admired the defenders for their tenacity. Not that it would at all change his course of action.
Knee-deep in corpses, most of which had been completely dismembered by the murderous firepower of the combined arms of the breacher squads and havocs, Pelegon received the order to attack, and, shouldering his missile launcher and arming it, gave the signal to advance. The breachers moved forward as one, their shields forming an impenetrable wall over which the fronts of their bolters pointed. The havocs moved behind them, their weapons primed and ready, loaded with different varieties of ammunition.
They were braced for incoming fire…and met none. Nonetheless they advanced, and Pelegon took his auspex in his left hand, glancing at it as they pushed forward into the gloom. The lighting had been disabled, which immediately struck the sergeant as odd. No movement, no signals indicating mines, tripwires or other traps. He couldn’t see the front through the line of breachers, but…
“Pelegon, see this” came Loxias’ bassy growl, and he patched his visual feed through the vox-net to Pelegon, so the Havoc could see what he was seeing.
There was an improvised barricade made of sandbags and ceramite plates, with a mounted heavy bolter and two mounted heavy flamers, covering the breach and blocking off the corridor behind it, and into the receding distance were similar barricades. All had been deserted, with discarded weapons lying around, rifles scattered like toothpicks. There was blood everywhere, dripping off the walls, furniture, they even stood in it. Of course, this paled compared to the corpses. They had been suspended from the ceiling, all hung up by the heels, red raw masses of meat that had been flayed and disemboweled, glistening slightly. Pelegon signaled that they should hold, and bent down to dip his fingers in a little of the blood, briefly lifting his helmet to taste it.
It was human, and its occupant had died screaming in agony, several hours ago. This was apparent from its consistency and the fact that the bodies had been drained, no longer dripping fluid. Pelegon patched his vox in straight to the Warsmith, intending to report this new development.
A corpse dropped down in front of him, smashing into the ground with a wet splatter that mostly dismembered it. Pelegon and his havocs aimed up as one, launchers locking straight onto their targets; twenty figures in dark blue power armour chased with gold, squatting on supporting beams, clinging from the walls and ceiling. They were not perturbed by the veritable arsenal aimed at them, though they would surely have been obliterated in a single hail of fire, and did not even have their weapons drawn. More disturbingly, they had not been there seconds before.
“Is that how you greet your friends on Olympia?” one of them, with wings on his helmet and a pair of power swords crossed over his jump pack asked, before dropping down the fifteen metres to land right in front of Pelegon, in the midst of the havocs, who still had their weapons up, but no longer trained on the Night Lords above them.
“Xandrek, Sergeant of the Night Raptors of the 4th Company of the Night Lords” he said, with a small bow to Pelegon, recognising him as the commanding officer.
“Pelegon, Sergeant of the XIIIth Iron Havocs of the 23rd Grand Company of the Iron Warriors” he grated back, nodding by way of greeting as he was unable to salute with his missile launcher in hand. Over his vox came in reports from the other breaching units that they too had encountered the sons of Nostramo.
“Havoc? Legendary, I have heard, for your ability to spot the slightest chink in an enemy’s armour and tear it asunder with those…cumbersome weapons of yours” Xandrek continued, his voice oily smooth “a pity you failed to notice the company of marines infiltrating your siege”
“Our battle company is positioned out of range of the carronade batteries, out of the range of our large auspex scanners. I have no doubt that our masters of signal may nonetheless be censured for failing to detect your presence” Pelegon replied evenly, realising that there would be no fighting for him on this level of the fortress. “Kindly explain your tardiness – assistance was promised on the outset of the siege”
Xandrek chuckled, shaking his head from side to side. “Manual labour up until this point, the systematic overwhelming of entrenched defenders and the smashing of walls and barricades. Our method of warfare does not fare well against those who are sure of themselves – we could not strike until breaches had been effected. Nor do I think a shovel or breaching charge fit as well in my hand as a sword does”
The Iron Warrior bristled, though the slight had been implied rather than outright stated, which was better than his legion usually got from his brothers.
“Then inform me, Night Lord” Pelegon stated, his voice ice-cold and threatening “why we should accept your assistance when the siege is practically over? To have you take the glory for yourselves?”
The sergeant sighed, as though the answer were so obvious that he would not have to point it out.
“Because, o iron one, I know that your commander, Warsmith, whatever you call them, wants the volkite carronades that top this bastion’s towers. A timed assault against a prepared, organised enemy would allow them to destroy these weapons long before you reached them. However…” the Night Lord leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner “…were the enemy to be thrown into disarray, be left swinging in the dark at a foe they cannot see…well then they could not rally themselves to destroy your objective. The inner keep of this bastion is an ample hunting ground, let us do what we do best – the joy of hunting and skinning mortals in so perfect a cage will be reward enough for our efforts, and at the end of it all you may salvage the gun batteries. All that we ask is that we be left undisturbed for as long as it takes”
Pelegon had been patching this conversation through his vox to Warsmith Lykourgos, and the silence at the other end was proof enough that this turning of the assault over to the VIIIth grated on their commander.
“You are famous for your logic, Iron Warrior” Xandrek concluded, drawing the swords over his shoulders and sticking their points into the ground “let me see you use it. You can tell your Warsmith that we’ve already disabled the generators that power the guns”
Pelegon waited for the response, and after a full minute of nothing other than the slight crackle of static came Lykourgos’ growl.
“All units stand down and hold position outside the breaches. Secondary support units are to move in to your position, with transporters following behind. Iron Within, Iron Without” and the vox went dead.
Pelegon nodded to Xandrek, holding his free hand out to indicate that the fortress was his.
“Good hunting, Night Lord. May it prove profitable for both of us”
In the end, it did prove very profitable for both parties concerned. The VIIIth spent two days inside the central keep, clearly savouring and drawing out the experience – it seemed gratuitous, with the 23rd Grand Company redeployed and ready within two hours of the order to stand down, the plain outside the bastion transformed into a veritable city of parked vehicles and fortified encampment, but there was ultimately little point in complaining, for the Night Lords were as good as their word.
Pelegon didn’t see Xandrek or enter the bastion again, relegated as he was to logistical duties, but Loxias and his breachers were sent in as manual labour to assist the techmarines with dismantling and moving the priceless carronades, and he showed Pelegon some of the recordings he’d taken on his armour’s built-in picter – the carnage that they showed was more than ample proof that the Night Lords were true masters of their bloody art. The occupants had been slain, and the weapons and generator systems were unharmed – of the Night Lords, there was no trace. They had signalled that the battle, if the massacre could be accorded that title, was over by firing a flare from the top of the highest tower, but that was it. No marines were noted entering or leaving the encampment, nor were any ships detected leaving the system.
“Lykourgos had the masters of signal turned into servitors, you know” Pelegon stated to Xandrek’s retreating back, and the Captain turned to look at him, and the Iron Warrior nodded in acknowledgement of his recognition.
“I thank you for your words of greeting, Captain” he intoned in Nostraman that was grammatically and verbally correctly worded but terribly accented, dropping down to one knee and smashing his left fist into the palm of his right hand with an audible clang “and swear to serve you as loyally as ever I served the commanders of my own legion. My iron is yours until the day it breaks or you no longer have use for it. Ave dominus nox