Preparations were underway. The Legion, four
Legions, were going to war. Isstvan III, the traitor Vardus Praal, was going to be crushed, into the dirt, by the might of Horus Lupercal. It was a gross show of power, the Warmaster was throwing his weight around, it was a bold declaration - Thus fall all traitors.
Akkad Krateron, Son of Horus, looked down at Isstvan III with distaste. He was alone, unarmoured, wearing a coat of mail and a long, flowing robe of silk. He had recently returned from the Minotaur
, overseeing operations aboard the cruiser on behalf of his Captain, Serghar Targost. The Legion was changing, Krateron thought, chewing his lip. Since Davin, that accursed, swampy moon, the Legion was becoming something else, something more menacing, something where friends had become enemies, where rifts had sprung up between the closest of brothers. Now, come Isstvan, Krateron hoped that that damage would be undone, that the Sons of Horus could march into the stars, greater than the Luna Wolves ever had, more triumphant, where their name would be uttered in reverence and in fear. Though, that had always
been the case, Krateron mused.
'Brother,' A voice called, behind him. Krateron wheeled. Nal Verustan, with his golden locks and golden eyes, was standing behind him, equally as unarmoured and unarmed as Krateron. 'You summoned me?'
'I did,' Krateron said, clasping his brother's hand, thumb around thumb. He smiled, stepped back, and straightened. Verustan was his senior, a Lieutenant, though he and Krateron had long been friends, despite their differing cradle-worlds. Krateron talked with the harsh, drawling accent of Cthonia; Verustan's accent, though watered down by two centuries of warfare, was unmistakably Terran. 'I have a request.'
Verustan pursed his lips. 'Speak.'
'I wish to accompany you,' Krateron nodded towards Isstvan. Hundreds of ships orbited it, circling like sharks, ready to unleash the doom in their holds. 'Down there. To the Choral City.'
'Why?' Verustan asked, walking towards the view glass. 'Targost hasn't been selected.'
'I am a warrior, first and foremost, Nal,' Krateron said back, smiling still. 'Isstvan will be glorious. Would I miss the chance to bring glory to the Primarch and the Emperor?'
Verustan laughed. 'Of course not,' And then, after a moment, he grimaced. 'You are not my man to command, brother. I am sorry.'
Now it was Krateron who laughed. 'I sought out Serghar before you. He approves of my reasoning, permission has been granted, so long as you return me, in one piece, I can come.'
The Lieutenant paused. 'Very well, then. Make your preparations, Akkad, and report to me. Planet-fall commences in four hours.'
The Choral City, once a monument of beauty, with long, wide avenues of marble and odd, organic structures. Now it was a battlefield, corpses littered the streets, buildings had collapsed, smoke billowed around the feet of Space Marine and rebel alike. Verustan and his Marines were dead, slaughtered, save for Kel Genaddon, a young Cthonian who followed Krateron's footsteps like a loyal hound.
They were advancing along a processional avenue, staying in the shadows of domestic habitations, occasionally snapping off shots at fleeing Isstvanians. Their cause was lost, now, and they realised it. Death and destruction, in the form of Space Marines, ruled here, now. Vardus Praal was dead, they were saying, slain by some Emperor's Child. Not that that mattered to Krateron, only survival did - Their drop-pod had been knocked off course, coming down into a market square, southeast of the Precentor's Palace, and for the rest of the day, Krateron and his companions had been battling their way westwards.
'What have we done, Akkad?' Genaddon remarked, as they marched along, bolters held at the ready. 'The hand of the ship is on me.'
Krateron came to an halt, gripping Genaddon's wrist tightly. 'Our duty
,' He growled, regarding Genaddon with his ruby-red eyepieces. 'What was expected of us. Do you doubt the Primarch, Kel?'
'Do you doubt the Emperor
? The Imperium
? Have you lost your stomach for war? Must I report you for cravenness?'
'Be quiet,' Krateron said, pushing Genaddon away. 'Do you hear that?'
'No, I hear nothing.'
,' Krateron hissed. 'All day, the Dies Irae
has been firing away, and now nothing. Something is wrong.'
'Could the Isstvanians have felled it?'
There was a sonic boom. Windows broke, glass raining down upon the Sons of Horus, bouncing off their helmets and shoulder-plates. Genaddon ducked, but Krateron looked upwards, staring.
'The second wave,' Krateron remarked, seeing streaks upon the sky. He blink-clicked, magnifying the image, and then cursed. Too thin, too little, not drop-pods. Missiles. They began to fall apart, opening up like metal flowers, releasing puffs of gas.
Krateron was running, then. He turned, mag-locking his bolter, and sprinted down the street, towards a bunker. The door lay ajar, though the building was remarkably untouched, displaying no signs of damage, no bloodstains, anything that suggested war had been fought here. Behind him, he could hear Genaddon doing the same, though slower, having been caught unaware by the sudden bombardment. Too young, too inexperienced, too hopeful.
He skidded into the bunker, slamming the door behind him, and smiled as the air pressurised. These bunkers were designed by the Imperials, they were built to last.
Genaddon began to pound on the door. He shouted, furious, calling Krateron a coward and a traitor, and then he started to scream. Virus bombing
, Krateron thought, as the Choral City died. Tens of thousands, more
, were dying, screaming as their bones turned to jelly, as their eyes melted and their skin sloughed away. Genaddon's fingers screeched as he collapsed, dragging over the bunker door, and then everything fell silent.
The firestorm followed. It always did. Krateron did not see the blast, but he felt it. The bunker shook round him, racks of tinned food and ammunition tipped over, the lights fizzled, died and then exploded. He knelt down, as dust trickled over his armour, and listened. He lost track of time, as the fires raged, hissing and crackling through the Choral City.
When it was done, Krateron opened the bunker door, and surveyed the damage. Rock had turned to slag, bubbling in the head, dripping onto the floor. Ash and embers swirled around him, oddly pretty, obscuring his vision beyond a few feet.
He stepped over Genaddon's burnt, broken corpse.
'The hand of the ship is on me,' He mocked, laughing bitterly. 'The hand of the ship is on me, the hand of the ship is on me
And then he saw them. Three blots, purple and gold, trudging through the devastation. Third Legion, the Emperor's Children, more survivors. He magnified, though they were too far to identify them. He looked skywards. His vox crackled back into life, and he spoke into it, briefly, communicating with someone, his words muffled, unheard.
'Emperor's Children,' He said, opening communications with the trio. 'Be you friend or foe?'