The sergeant’s request was, to the Iron Warrior, an odd one, and one he was not confident of his ability to fulfil. Since being assigned a liaison officer, Pelegon’s own command abilities within his native legion were something uncertain, as he officially belonged to no Grand Company for the time being. The terminator stood silent, patiently awaiting the Olympian’s response, and after a few moments was rewarded with one.
“My command within my legion has been revoked over the course of my tenure with the VIIIth, brother-sergeant” Pelegon murmured, his eye-pieces level with Nyx’s even though the latter was clad in terminator plate “but I would be happy to personally assist in any way I can. It would not suffice for me to be the sole recipient of learning while in your company, after all. Good hunting, Nyx. Ave dominus nox”
Pelegon finished with the traditional IVth legion salute of smashing his right fist into the palm of his left hand, inclining his head – combining the traditional hails of the two legions seemed the most sensible course of action for the time being, one that would be a way to avoid offence. To greet the Night Lords entirely as they greeted one another would be becoming too familiar, something that the more tenebrous among them might take issue with.
Turning on his heel, the Olympian set off in a jog, checking his armour’s cartograph for Xandrek’s location – it seemed that the majority of First Claw were with him, dots denoting Azrael, Tyberus and Veptus surrounding the captain. As they were a few hundred metres south-west of his position, Pelegon could only assume that they had made good progress cutting a bloody swathe through the ranks of Corax’s sons.
Before long, Pelegon found himself in a small rocky gully about ten metres deep – there were no bodies here, but the distant sounds of battle grew louder with each clanging step. The Iron Warrior took this short downtime to check his ammunition bandolier and reload his meltagun, all the while scanning his surroundings and staying mindful of his auspex, lest a surprise attack should catch him unawares. It would not be unlike the Raven Guard to conduct guerrilla-like counter-attacks when on the retreat. Fortunately Pelegon found his journey unimpeded, and the gully floor began to slope up, taking him to level ground once more – and the battle in sight once more, though significantly diminished from before, as it seemed that most of the Raven Guard constituted a sea of corpses rather than a co-ordinated fighting force of any sort. In the distance he could see First Claw, along with a squad of raptors, fighting their way through a squad of black-armoured tactical marines, standing on a little hummock that raised them above their opponents. It also made them prime targets.
For a moment Pelegon did not move, considering what was the wisest course of action – to stay in this boulder cluster by the gully, see if he could scavenge a heavy weapon from one of the many corpses and provide support from afar, or throw himself into the fray once more. Fortunately, that decision was made for him by the screeching of failing engines and the whooshing of displaced air, and Pelegon looked up to see a thunderhawk coloured in the midnight blue of the VIIIth legion screaming toward him, trailing fire from one of its wings, the pilot clearly failing to keep it under control. The Iron Warrior reflexively threw himself into the dirt, as he had during many a bombardment, covering his head with his hands, calm even in the face of destruction – either it would hit him, or it would not. There was nothing he could do but accept the course of fate.
The Olympian felt it rush over him, missing his back by perhaps a metre or so, and then the ground shook as the vast craft smashed into the ground with the force of an 109cm bombardment, and Pelegon glanced up to see its underside and body shredded by the sharp rocks it had ploughed into, and briefly questioned the pilot’s competence; on a planet mostly made of sand, he had picked the one boulder field in sight as a place to crash land. Amazingly, its engine did not burst into flames upon landing, and the wing that had caught fire detached itself on impact – but from the fact that the craft had been crushed and broken apart like a child’s toy Pelegon reasoned that it was unlikely that any aboard had survived. However, the Iron Warrior found himself proven wrong as the door to the crew compartment and a single Night Lord emerged – one with a pair of strange, primitive looking bionic arms – looking somewhat dazed and spattered with blood, but uninjured. A single Raven Guard scout (perhaps he had been hiding in the rock cluster) moved forward to investigate, but was quickly dispatched by the Night Lord’s monstrous chainfist. Pelegon could hear the splatter from where he lay, even over the gunfire, and decided that the marine looked to be capable of taking care of himself.
A heavy clang snapped Pelegon back to attention, and he glanced up just in time to see Xandrek fly back, as if struck – the source of this became clear as a contemptor dreadnought crested the hill on which First Claw stood. The Iron Warrior jumped up to his feet and sprinted forward, priming his meltagun with a flick of his thumb. The bodies under Pelegon’s feet rolled and moved with each crushing fall of his iron boots, but he managed to stay on his feet, used to marching and running through the mud created by ground churned and wounded by the fire of artillery as he was. He lost sight of the fight as he reached the bottom of the hill, and as he moved up he felt the muscles in his legs burning with the effort of running against the gradient, but gritted his teeth and pushed on. Once he neared the top, anger turned to dismay as he saw two things that stacked the odds further against them – alongside the contemptor was a techmarine, armed with a bloodied thunder hammer, though fortunately he appeared to be trying to direct servitors with a cortex controller, and they were as yet not functioning. But once they did, Pelegon realised that First Claw would be shredded in a hail of heavy bolter fire. What stacked the odds further against them was the fact that the raptors, upon seeing this, were falling back without so much as firing their bolt pistols over their shoulders as they did so.
“Cowards!” Pelegon roared at their retreating backs, his voice betraying his fury, making a grab at the legs of one who passed too close. His fingers slid over the ceramite, but failed to grasp, and he was rewarded with a kick to the face that sent him stumbling back. Fist clenched, the Iron Warrior levelled his meltagun in one hand, taking careful aim, and fired. His vision flashed red as the blast of superheated air sent his armour’s sensors wild for a moment – both his fury and the raptor’s body disappeared in purifying fire, and the few twisted, melted remains of the Night Lord fell to the sand with a series of thumps. With a tight smile on his face, Pelegon turned back to the fight, ignoring the shrieks that he received from the other raptors that had seen what the Iron Warrior had done.
“If you want to kill me, you’ll have to come back here!” he bellowed at them, but it seemed they valued their lives above their comrade’s honour and continued their retreat. Doubtlessly they would try to make him pay for that later, but the fools failed to realise that if they had attacked the servitors then they might have stood a chance. Now there remained little but to sell their lives dearly.
The contemptor was advancing on the downed Xandrek, the techmarine standing in its shadow, emptying its storm bolters into the downed captain. Veptus stood over their leader like a guardian angel, keeping Xandrek’s stom shield between him and the hail of metallic death – Azrael did nothing, but looked at his charred stump of an arm as if fascinated. A plan began to formulate in Pelegon’s mind, but it would require co-operation on Tyberus’ part.
“Take this” Pelegon grabbed Tyberus by the pauldron and spun him round, handing the marine a meltabomb. “I do not have a jump pack, but you do. The contemptor cannot shoot straight up, nor can it swing its arms high. Drop the bomb onto the top of its carapace, the armour is strong there but it can’t defend itself. I will distract it”
Without another word, Pelegon ran forward, right at the advancing contemptor. It saw him coming, registered the meltagun in his hand, and raised a huge arm to crush him into the dirt. The Olympian saw it, predicted the trajectory of the incoming swing, and threw himself forward into a rolling dive, right under the attack, moving between its legs. Landing on his feet, Pelegon saw that he had maybe half a second to make a perfect shot at its back when he felt his chest explode.
To those watching, the attack had been obvious enough; while the Iron Warrior had been advancing, the techmarine had noted him as a threat and moved into intercept, raising his hammer in preparation. He had clotheslined Pelegon with it, smashing the hammer’s crackling head right into the grey-armoured warrior’s solar plexus with both hands, leaving an enormous dent and crack in the armour’s breastplate. As soon as the hammer made contact the shockwaves it sent through the Iron Warrior’s armour shorted it out, causing his status to disappear from First Claw’s HUDs, but not before giving a glimpse of a worrying pressure spike in his heart rate. Commendably, Pelegon did not fall down, though he staggered back several steps, ingrained warrior reflexes trying to keep his failing muscles upright, arms dangling loose and hands relaxing, dropping the meltagun. After a few seconds of ragdoll-like swaying, the Iron Warrior’s head sank down, chin touching his chest, and he fell to one knee. He stayed there, armoured shoulders rising up and down with each laboured breath, the impotent hatred palpable behind the eye-pieces of his helm.
The thing was, he could feel his thorax compress down and expand outward under the impact of the blow, he could feel the immense blast of force that would have crushed his body had it not been for a combination of artificer armour and an adamantium skeleton. Worst of all, he had felt that which he would not wish on even his worst foe; the bursting of his own heart under the pressure. It had been a muted popping, like a large knuckle, right inside his chest, heard as much as felt, and dazed as he was by the electrical shockwaves and his armour’s own malfunctioning computational systems, Pelegon was vaguely aware of a sick heat spreading throughout his chest as his body struggled to staunch the heavy internal bleeding.
He tried to grunt, tried to swear, tried to stand upright, but his scrambled nervous system was failing to transmit to stunned muscles. His mental consciousness returned, and though his vision swam he saw the form of the techmarine standing before him. There was nothing left, now. He could not move, and felt his muscles involuntarily relax as his breathing turned into a heavy, moist rattle, flecking in the inside of his helmet with blood with each breath. Every fibre was dedicated to keeping himself on his knees, to stay off the ground. If he went down, it was over. No. He could not die, not yet.
Anger. Like a light, a lifeline, a rope to a drowning man, it came to him. He was Pelegon, veteran of nearly a hundred sieges, son of Olympia, centurion and siege breaker. He had seen the warriors of the IVth legion fall by the thousand at his side, had watched their staunch resolve even in the face of decimation at the hands of their father. He had carried on where so many others had failed, had pushed himself to his limits and beyond them. He could not fail his father, could not fail Xandrek, could not fail himself. To dedicate his entire existence to the pursuit of war, become the very best that he could be, throw off the shackles of the petty empire that had abused and hated them for so long, only to collapse at the threshold of victory? To die to this filth, this technomancer of a lesser legion who relied on augmented slave-machines to fight? He was an iron man, a son of Perturabo, and if he were to die, he would do so standing. Iron within, iron without.
Pelegon’s armour systems flickered back into life, showing that his breastplate’s integrity had been compromised, and that he had, as suspected, lost a heart. Stimms began to pump into his blood, but the Iron Warrior suppressed them, switching off the armour’s dosing system. Pain. He needed the pain, deserved it. It was his reward for his foolhardiness, for his lack of caution, and it was also his fuel. The techmarine had already turned his back on the Iron Warrior, assuming the lack of life signals to mean that he was dead, and continued programming his cortex controller. He would pay for his presumptive folly.
The Iron Warrior’s shoulders began to rise and fall more quickly as he prepared himself, built up the anger, honed it to a razor’s edge, set it on his target. The dirt would be removed, the Imperial muck cleansed from his senses. The rest of the battlefield disappeared into a red mist, unknowing, uncaring of what happened. To Pelegon there was only himself and the techmarine…and now a servitor, who had stepped between them with a shuffling tread, the clicking of the heavy bolter that replaced an arm showing it to be arming to fire. With an augmented roar, Pelegon threw himself forward, exploding into a leap.
He grabbed the servitor’s heavy bolter with both hands, and with calculated viciousness tore it off its shoulder at the same time he stamped on one of its legs, ripping it free with a screech of tortured metal. Every muscle in Pelegon’s body sang with strength and his remaining heart threw itself into overdrive to keep him fuelled, each beat of it accentuating the agony in his chest to a new high. The servitor began to collapse, and as it did so Pelegon smashed its skull with a headbutt, pulverising it, coating his helmet with a layer of fuel and blood. The techmarine turned around in time to see the enraged Iron Warrior charging him. He tried to duck to the side but with his heavy armour and servo harness lacked the agility that his brothers had and could not avoid the incoming blow.
Pelegon smashed the heavy bolter into the techmarine’s head with enough force to smash the weapon apart into metallic fragments, knocking the techmarine off his feet and onto his back. With a snarl, the Iron Warrior hurled himself onto the black-and-red armoured marine, pinning his arms down with his knees, and raising a huge, armoured fist, punched him in the face.
With both hands Pelegon brought his fury, the hammer of Olympia, down onto the techmarine’s armoured face. The latter tried to co-ordinate his servo-arms to pull the Iron Warrior off him, but his frenzy was so that the repeated blows to the head soon left him stunned. For Pelegon, there was nothing but his foe’s head in his sights, and his beating fists, raining down a hail of blows. Every impact made the ground under him shake, made his arms rattle in their sockets, but he did not relent, beating until the heavy red helmet first cracked, then splintered, showing the bloodied face beneath. With a frenzied growl, Pelegon tore the remains of the helmet off, throwing them aside. The techmarine looked up, dazed, his blue eyes adjusting to the loss of armoured display. Pelegon’s own dark eyes locked on. Justice.
“I’LL SHOW YOU A REAL IRON MAN!” he roared, bringing both of his hands together, interlocking the finger, and smashed them down with his full force, bringing his body down for more momentum. The combined fist crushed the techmarine’s head into a pulp, covering the Iron Warrior’s hands with blood and fragments of skull. Pelegon straightened up, breathing like a bull, the inside of his helmet now sprayed with his own blood. As suddenly as it had come, the anger drained away, and his limbs felt heavy and languid. The techmarine was dead…one of his hearts was gone…the rest of First Claw? He looked around, struggling to his feet with slow, aching movements, grabbing the techmarine’s thunder hammer, the dead man’s slack grip releasing it easily enough. Through a haze of pain and exhaustion Pelegon pulled the headless techmarine upright and realised with dismay that he had smashed the cortex controller to pieces. Had the techmarine had time to program the servitors?