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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Coming soon:

IT IS A PERIOD OF CIVIL WAR. REBEL SPACESHIPS, LED BY THE FORMER IMPERIAL WARMASTER HORUS, ARE BEGINNING THEIR CAMPAIGNS AGAINST THE CORRUPTED IMPERIUM OF MAN.​

AGAINST THEM, THE NIGH-IMMORTAL EMPEROR WAITS ON HIS GOLDEN THRONE. ALLIED WITH HIM ARE THE FOUR CHAOS GODS, ELDRITCH NIGHTMARES THIRSTING FOR HUMAN SUFFERING. THE SPACE MARINES, ONCE THE IMPERIUM’S FINEST SOLDIERS, ARE DIVIDED. FROM HIS MIGHTY WARSHIP, THE PRIDE OF THE EMPEROR, FULGRIM LEADS HIS LEGION TOWARDS EVER-CHANGING IDEALS OF PERFECTION. MEANWHILE, IN THE GALACTIC EAST, ROBOUTE GUILLIMAN, ALLIED WITH THE RENEGADE WARMASTER, CONSTRUCTS THE CORE OF A NEW GALACTIC EMPIRE.​

THE SCREAMS AND PLEAS OF THE INNOCENT WILL HAVE NO EFFECT ANYMORE. THE AGE OF DEBATE AND ENLIGHTENMENT IS OVER. THE DREAM OF EMPIRE HAS ENDED.​

THE NIGHTMARE HAS BEGUN.​

Renegades is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=90862

Renegades 2: The Flames of Belief is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=98148

Renegades 3: The Fate of Prospero is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=106279

Renegades 4: The Emperor's Will is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=110117

On why gothik isn’t the one writing this: In the Renegades: Anthologies thread, I signed up (and so can you!) to write a story in the Renegades AU. This tale’s basic plot is gothik-approved. (PS: If by any chance anyone is interested in writing something for one of my AUs, please say so!)

I own neither Warhammer 40K nor Star Wars (which this is NOT a crossover with, if anyone was wondering).
 

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look foward to reading this when i come back on line if its not ready by friday. You do me a great honour for taking part in this thank you and good luck
 

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Discussion Starter #3
gothik: Thanks! The prologue should be up by Friday, BTW, but there'll be plenty more to read after you come back.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Renegades 5: Perfection’s Cry​

PROLOGUE​

The light was dim in the Hall of Rites. It had been some time since the Andronius had been back to Chemos to recruit new warriors. That time, Ancient Rylanor of the Emperor’s Children hoped, would come again soon; it was necessary a year ago.

Two warriors now stood in front of him, though they were not new recruits by any measure. To Rylanor’s left stood Lord Commander Eidolon; to his right, the equally ranked Vespasian. Both were more magnificent than ever in armor rather too decorated for Rylanor’s preference; odd, jarring sigils littered it. Off to the side, Rylanor could see First Captain Julius Kaesoron in even more convoluted plate.

“Why have I been awoken?” Rylanor rumbled.

“Times have changed,” Vespasian answered.

“It was considered necessary to inform you,” Eidolon added.

Rylanor groaned. “Is Fulgrim still our lord? Do we still serve the Emperor? Is our aim still perfection?”

“Of course,” echoed both Lord Commanders.

“Then I will stay here and maintain my vigil over the fallen.”

Fabius Bile’s modifications to the Third Legion’s gene-seed had had a massive detrimental effect on recruitment. Casualty rates had gone beyond all reasonable bounds. It was Rylanor’s fault as much as Bile’s, though; a closer watch could have saved many of those Initiates.

He had failed. Not as gravely as Fabius- though the Apothecary, to his knowledge, still had Primarch Fulgrim’s favor due to his alterations’ effectiveness- but too deeply for a perfect Legion nevertheless.

Vespasian and Kaesoron accepted the refusal and walked off, their slow footsteps echoing across the massive hall. Eidolon stayed. “The Emperor,” he said, “has made certain… changes.”

“What is hanging below your chin?” Rylanor inquired out of honest curiosity. The organ looked like a deadly disease of some kind; if the Dreadnought’s cameras were right, it was actually hanging out of the Lord Commander’s power armor through a dissolved hole.

“Apothecary Bile has bettered me. I feel sorry for you, truly; your organic body will never be improved by his touch.”

“I never thought I would be glad I have died once, but you have led me to that. Well done. Now GET OUT!” Rylanor roared the last two words, trying to put as much of his righteous fury into them as possible. It worked- Eidolon rushed from the hall, which shook with Rylanor’s scream. Its vibrations produced a harsh music of their own, echoing Rylanor’s rage over and over.

Insulting an elder was never acceptable, especially not with Eidolon’s flippancy. But worse, Eidolon was not lying. The Commander was truly glad Bile had worked his horrors on him. And when Rylanor remembered the sight of the other two Astartes, he recognized Kaesoron and Vespasian had accepted the modifications too, albeit less of them.

What was Fabius doing to the captains? What was he doing to the Legion? In past times, Rylanor would have contacted the Primarch with such problems, but now it seemed even Fulgrim’s judgment was clouded.

With no answers, Rylanor turned back to the marble statues that he had spent painstaking months creating- marble statues of the neophytes whose would never become Children of the Emperor due to his folly.

“Tasober,” he muttered, “Apkalus, Olastalil….”
 

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great start, Rylanor truely is an ancient to be reverred and the way he sent Eidolon scurrying made me like the ancient more then i already did. well done
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
Two minor notes:
1. I slightly modified the introduction text.
2. This is near the lower end of a chapter's length- expect future chapters to be about 90-150% as long as this one.

CHAPTER ONE​

Captain Erikon Gaius, Twenty-First Company, Second Chapter, Thirteenth “Ultramarines” Legion, was still shocked by the events of the past few months.

There were a lot of details- the initial gathering, the news of Venus IX, Horus’ first decision of rebellion, Prospero. It was not official outside the Legion’s highest ranks; it was not announced; it was rarely talked about. But, more and more, it was becoming clear: the Ultramarines were betraying the Emperor of Mankind.

Gaius wasn’t certain how he felt about that. While Roboute Guilliman was choosing to follow Warmaster Horus over his father, Gaius had been crusading against orks in the Argent Stars. He had only recently been recalled, along with the entire Second Chapter, to meet with the Third and the oversized First under the command of Marius Gage. Ultramar would be an empire once more, a counterpart to Terra.

For the most part, Gaius believed the reports. For the most part, he simply couldn’t imagine anything besides those tales of worlds burned and cultures exterminated that could turn Guilliman away from his father. For the most part, he trusted his gene-father’s judgment that the Emperor had simply gone too far.

But the seed of doubt was there, as it rarely was for Gaius. And it was for that reason, more than any other, that Captain Erikon Gaius was immensely glad his duties were to be purely defensive.

He was walking now towards the Chapter Master’s throne. No other from his company was present; Akrit Honoria of the 23rd walked to his left. Gaius could see his own hesitation reflected on Honoria’s features, and the other Captain’s wary glance told him that, perhaps, Honoria was even more paranoid now than Gaius.

“Brother-Captain Honoria,” Gage greeted the arrivals. “Brother-Captain Gaius.”

The Captains bowed.

“I am sure you have heard the rumors,” Gage stated. “Unfortunately, we don’t have much more than rumors. The Primarch has commanded us to fortify Ultramar, for it appears the Emperor has betrayed the Imperium.”

“The Emperor is the Imperium,” Honoria argued.

“Then,” Gage said, “let it be known that the Emperor has betrayed humanity. On a dozen worlds, first among them Prospero, we hear of Astarte Legions attacking civilians and destroying entire planets. The Emperor is unwilling to discuss the subject. Horus has risen in rebellion. Our Primarch has done the only moral thing and sided with the Warmaster, though victory seems doubtful. But while he leads the majority of the Legion- including several Companies from my own Chapter- to war against the Word Bearers, a conflict without precedent, a conflict that is nevertheless a practical and not a seditious theoretical, we are left here.”

“To mind the fort,” Gaius completed.

“To mind and expand the fort. Ultramar will grow, I am certain; Ultramar must grow. Here the core of an Imperium Secundus will be forged.” Gage looked at the Captains intently. “We have no theoretical for this course of action- we never could. So make one. The two of you and your companies are responsible for the Carenn sector.” Gage waited for questions for at most a second before nodding. “Dismissed.”

Gaius and Honoria exited silently, though only until Gage’s ship was left behind. Gage was far from ostentatious, and in fact reserved a specific contempt for rich trophy rooms; his ship was similarly spartan. The throne itself was pure, almost certainly uncomfortable plasteel.

“Well,” Honoria said upon exiting, “that was interesting.”

Gaius felt the question he now had was absolutely vital. “Will you side with the Primarch?”

He tried to keep his voice questioning, though he knew his own side.

“Yes,” Honoria said, “because I will not be a traitor to the Legion. But I’ve had moments of doubt.”

“We all have,” Gaius said with tangible relief.

“The margin was narrow. But you needn’t worry; if I had sided with the Emperor, I would’ve killed the First Chapter Master then and there. My mind is made up, and nothing will move it. What about yours?”

Gaius’ first instinct was to react with anger, but he knew it would be a lie. His own mind was made up for Guilliman- he thought. But there were too many variables he wasn’t aware of to be sure.

The Captains flew in silence until- when the shuttle was about to dock- Honoria finally stated where he was going.

“I’ll be on Seb. You can take care of Carenn itself. Leave a few Marines on every world south of Jesta. And like Gage said, run abundant theoreticals.”

Gaius simply nodded as Honoria, on the spaceport’s slick floor, marched off to the shuttle that would take him to his own vessel. For his part, he waited a few moments, then marched towards the surface shuttle. Perhaps talking to Carenn’s current governor would calm the confusion that was making inroads into his psyche.

Probably not, though.

The second shuttle was almost torturously slow in its descent to Carenn’s surface. One of the westerly planets within the five hundred worlds of Ultramar, Carenn was a Hive World of towering spires and great, barren plains. It was a world of Ultramar, and so it was not in the squalid condition that so many of the Imperium’s Hive Worlds existed in- a lower layer filled with criminals, several upper levels inhabited by increasingly rich people fleeing from the aforementioned criminals. Indeed, as one of only a few Hive Worlds in Ultramar, it was often the site of visits by Chapter Masters or the Primarch himself.

In general, Guilliman discouraged the building of large Hives; though popular in the wider Imperium, the Ultramarine Primarch considered them recipes for disaster. There was little else to do on Carenn, though- it was too far from its sun and too dry to be much of an agricultural world, and there were no useful deposits inside it to mine.

As it was, constant communication with at least one Agri-World was required to keep Carenn from starving. Fortunately, there were several in the vicinity.

To distract himself from the potential- no, real- betrayal that his Legion was committing, Gaius considered how he would reorganize the sector. Having the capital at Carenn made sense. Most enemies would not be interested in quickly capturing Hive Worlds- they held little short-term strategic importance, except as places where a lot of innocents could be killed quickly, which- consistent as it was with the Imperium’s current policy- was not a valid strategic aim. Agri- and Forge-worlds were more typical targets.

Gaius sketched out how he would place the void shields and citywide defense systems. Carenn was not built for warfare, and thus presented an interesting challenge; nevertheless, by the time Gaius arrived at the palace, he had a rough plan of what he was fairly certain was the optimal placement. Orbital bombardment would have minimal effect under the system, and the enemy would be forced to take severe losses in a foot or bike assault.

The Captain was rather satisfied with his calculations. Carenn, under this system, was virtually untakeable, especially the center of the hives where an evacuation would send the people. And though the alterations would be expensive, they would make the planet an ideal location for a military base- not a bad idea in any case.

Gaius thus landed happy and, mentally humming Macragge’s anthem, headed towards the governor’s palace- fairly successfully, despite bumping into a couple of clerks on the way.

Governor Itacia Remasna’s office was open. Gaius wasn’t sure how sturdy the door was, so he walked in without knocking.

The governor- an elderly, spectacled woman who clearly had taken a fair amount of rejuv treatments in the past, putting her quite possibly at older than Gaius himself- growled at the Marine’s entrance. Carenn was, in principle, a republic; but the Lord (or Lady) Ruler was elected for life, which could be… exploited… with the right technology.

“Here to relieve me of my duties, are you?” Remasna asked, her voice more screeching than any other Gaius had encountered anywhere.

“Er-”

That single word, combined with a slight arm motion, caused two precariously balanced meter-tall stacks of paper to topple, leaving about twenty.

“Astartes, you say. Superhuman, you say. Taking our jobs! I’ve guided Carenn through rich and poor for seventy-five years, and here you come and expect to just take over without comment.”

People like this, Gaius recognized, were what kept Ultramar running. Besides, he didn’t specialize in civil governance anyhow, so he blurted out- before Gex could really roll into her rant- a loud “Wait!”.

The governor paused, and Gaius clarified, “I’m only here as a defense advisor at most.”

The governor looked slightly shocked, then shrugged. “Then by all means! Come and defend us! From what, anyhow? Isn’t the Imperium supposed to be safe?”

“Civil war,” Gaius explained. He didn’t go into any more detail; old people were usually more conservative, and the last thing he needed was a rebellious governor.

The ancient woman made no reply and restarted filling in papers at her desk. Gaius was amazed at the speed- she was quite clearly reading everything that came her way, but at her rate the stacks in the room would be done in two hours at most.

“Well?” she asked after a couple minutes. “Are you going to make a suggestion or are you going to leave? Jakane is going to bring more papers in in a minute.”

Wondering about the government’s deviations from his theoretical, Gaius briefly explained his plan to the governor. Itacia Remasna did not seem to understand much and said only that she had her own defense advisor, with whom Gaius should confer, but that if Carenn really was in danger there was no sum she wouldn’t give.

“But still,” she said at the end, “I rather regret that Carenn must become a fortress.”

And Gaius stayed silent, for he knew that every other world in the sector- every other world in Ultramar- would have to become a fortress too.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
gothik: (belatedly) Thanks!

CHAPTER TWO​

The Pride of the Emperor had changed, Marius Vairosean noted.

He was walking the Triumphal Way with the Brother-Captain of the Second Company, Solomon Demeter. Vairosean himself headed the Third Company of the Emperor’s Children, the Third Company of the Third Legion; there was an honor in that he wasn’t sure he deserved.

Months ago, on the bloody world of Laeran, Vairosean had been bogged down in heavy fighting and failed to meet his objective in the final, decisive battle of the campaign. It was his shame, shared among the Emperor’s Children only, perhaps, by Ancient Rylanor. But while the Dreadnought had little control over the malfunctioning of Initiates’ experimental implants, strategy was Vairosean’s life.

“Are you stuck in your head again, Marius?” Demeter asked him.

The Second Captain was a good friend, but sometimes he was simply exasperating.

“Solomon,” Vairosean said, “I failed. The Phoenician does not tolerate that.”

“It’s true- Fulgrim doesn’t tolerate failure.” It really was- recently, Lord Commander Verona of the Third Legion’s intelligence arm had been executed for a disastrous operation on the world of Racas. It was deserved, and Vairosean didn’t think his failure was as deep; but the element of fear was there.

“So why,” Captain Demeter asked, “has the Primarch not even censured you? Why are you still in his inner circle? I didn’t reach the temple on Laeran either, if you remember.”

“You couldn’t- your transport crashed!”

“And you encountered impossible resistance. Would you have sacrificed half your Company to get to the temple, brother?”

“I didn’t have to. I’ve ran simulations-”

“With information you didn’t have at the time.”

Vairosean loudly sighed. Demeter didn’t understand, but how could he explain? Ever since the failure on Laeran, he had been in need of redemption.

He refused the implants of Fabius Bile, alone among the Legion’s Captains- he needed to regain his honor himself, without the aid of Fabius’ modifications. Bile was a Lord Commander now, and Fulgrim seemed to spend most of his time with the Apothecary; but Vairosean had received special dispensation not to receive implants until he had proven his worth.

As for Demeter, the Second Captain had received a couple implants to make his feet faster, but had refused Bile’s more radical surgeries outright. He looked as he always did- short hair, tan skin, wide features that seemed to suggest profound emotion even when Demeter wasn’t feeling any.

“You notice the changes,” Demeter noted with a bitter mirth, “don’t you?”

Vairosean did, in fact, see the changes. The Triumphal Way was still decorated with statues of Legion heroes and remembrancers’ paintings, but the black columns were now multicolored and the honor guard was halved. The departed Astartes were replaced by spears with mangled skulls of fallen enemies on them.

“It almost feels like a Space Wolf ship,” Vairosean observed.

“Or a World Eater one. Though neither of those Legions have much appreciation for art.”

Vairosean nodded, still largely lost in thought. The Legion was changing; the Imperium was changing. That was normal, and the command hierarchy of the Emperor’s Children, at least, was still unbroken; but the Captain heard other Legions had been forced to conduct purges. Yet others- among them, tragically, Horus’ Luna Wolves and Sanguinius’ Blood Angels- had refused to accept the changes and rebelled completely.

The Ultramarines had, too. The Legion that Vairosean considered the greatest (besides, of course, his own) had turned its back on the Emperor, beloved by all, and joined the Warmaster’s rebellion. It was almost impossible to believe, but the Third Captain knew it to be true.

“But I don’t think,” Demeter stated as the Captains came up to the Phoenix Gate, “that Verona should’ve been killed.”

“It was the Primarch’s decision,” Vairosean said.

Then, almost suddenly, the Captains arrived at the Phoenix Gate.

“Captain Solomon Demeter.”

“Captain Marius Vairosean.”

“Both admitted,” said the Phoenix Guard at the doors, and slowly they swung open.

Fulgrim had, apparently, decided to bring his senior Captains closer together, as the Brotherhood of the Phoenix was meeting more and more often. Lucius of the 13th and Saul Tarvitz of the 10th were the newest to be admitted into the warrior-lodge. Others sat closer to the Primarch; the nearest were Lord Commanders Eidolon, Vespasian, and Fabius. The chairs behind them were reserved for First Captain Julius Kaesoron, Demeter, and Vairosean himself. There were other seats, too- Daimon of the Eighth, Krysander of the Ninth, Damas Axalian of the 29th, Korander of the 37th, and others, seated in rings around the throne at the center of the Heliopolis. That throne was as yet unoccupied- Fulgrim always showed up precisely at the time of the gathering, but none of the officers wanted to face the Primarch’s wrath for arriving late.

Demeter and Vairosean silently took their seats. A few minutes later, Julius Kaesoron rushed in and hurriedly sat down himself. The Brotherhood of the Phoenix was now almost gathered- the only remaining member missing was the Primarch himself.

And then, slowly, majestically, the Phoenician entered the room.

He was clad in full violet battle-plate. An ivory cloak billowed in the artificial wind. His perfect face was uncovered, and he held no weapons; yet none who looked at him could possibly conclude he was anything but a god of war.

Fulgrim took his throne.

It was Eidolon that broke the brief silence. “Well,” he said, “where are we going next, lord?”

“The Great Crusade must continue,” Fulgrim simply declared. “We are currently in Warp transit to the rebellious Unbroken Stars, from where we will continue to the equally traitorous Ultramar.”

Ultramar.

“It will be tragic to destroy a realm so close to perfection,” Vairosean said, with a softness he could not control. “If Guilliman had not betrayed the Emperor, beloved by all…”

“Then our job would be a lot easier,” Vespasian concluded. “But the Ultramarines are traitors, and that proves their flaw.”

“Their arrogance is astounding,” Daimon observed. “With five hundred planets under their control, they think they can defeat an Imperium that owns hundreds of thousands of worlds?”

“Karas etnom le garikul; karas arokafratz in bul,” Julius Kaesoron quoted. “Names are feared; but a foe one has not considered terrorizes no one. The Imperium of Man is not what they need to fear- the Imperial Army and our Legions are.”

“We all know,” Tarvitz said with an intangible air of regret, “that each of us would follow our Primarch to the end of the universe; of course we will go to Ultramar. And of course we will triumph, given that Guilliman’s Legion is still crusading.”

“Yes,” Demeter noted, “but there’s an unrelated question I wanted to ask. Who put up the skulls in the Triumphal Way and why?”

“Eidolon did,” Fulgrim said.

The Lord Commander gave a small smile. “Are skulls not as much a symbol of our victories as paintings? And are they not, also, art, given my modifications?”

“What about the reduction of the guard?” Demeter pressed, likely emboldened by the lack of open hostility to his previous question.

Fulgrim shrugged, though like everything else he did the movement was epic. “Fewer volunteers. It is a rather boring duty, after all, and anyone who attempts to board this ship will be sorely disappointed anyhow.”

That was a proud statement, but try as he might Vairosean couldn’t think of anyone who could board an Astarte Legion flagship and win. The exception was, as always, other Astartes; but the Pride was among the most powerful vessels in the Imperium, even when compared to its brothers.

Captain Demeter nodded, suddenly almost sorry. “I apologize if I offended you, father; I was merely curious.”

The Second Captain’s disapproval was evident, but his honesty was equally clear. Vairosean imagined all men must be so transparent to one such as Rylanor; but Demeter’s openness was unique in that it was painfully obvious, and painfully charismatic, to all who saw it.

Vairosean, in all honesty, shared Demeter’s distaste; but the decorations of the Pride of the Emperor were beautiful, and would probably be beautiful even if they were painted in pus and built of feathers. What concerned him more was the guard. It was a tradition, and order required tradition.

“There was a time when guarding the Triumphal Way was seen as an honor,” he carefully noted.

“Honor, aye,” Dasara of the 25th said, “but things are changing.”

Fulgrim nodded. “It is possible to reach perfection in standing and beautifully holding a weapon; yet it is much more worthwhile to reach perfection in using it. Times are changing indeed, Vairosean, and I would like you to be among those at my side as they do.”

“I always will be,” Vairosean stated.

“Then why,” Eidolon attacked, “have you still not received Commander Fabius’ augmentations?”

Fabius opened his mouth to protest, perhaps to say he had enough willing volunteers as it was- he had used that argument no less than thrice before- but Vairosean waved him to silence. “I will accept the implants after my next victory,” he declared.

It was as if a weight had been lifted off his feet. It was something he had to do, sooner or later. And he would put the past behind him yet. He had, after all, done it before.

The Phoenician’s face filled with radiant content. “So be it,” he said. “The Third and Twenty-Fifth will fight on Slodi in the first battle of the Unbroken Stars campaign, both with individual strategic control. And I do expect victory, Marius. Victory and perfection.”

“I can allow myself to give nothing less,” Marius said.

There were some quick words after that, several congratulations, but the campaign was a few days off yet and the Legion would not yet feast in honor of the victory to come. The gathering ended on the highest note Vairosean had felt in some time. It was only as he exited that he felt the cold eyes of Commander Fabius glued to him and a slight chill- a tiny sliver of the fear Astartes were not supposed to feel- ran down his back.

He did not greet any other Captains on the way out, instead turning from the Triumphal Way to find his Company. They had felt the same shame as their Captain after Laeran; they had spent the same number of months practicing swordplay and strategy. They would be as uplifted by news of the Slodi deployment as Vairosean. The Third Company had not sat idle since the failure on the atoll world, but they had never been deployed in full and never independently.

“Gather in the Triple Hall,” he voxed his sergeants and staff. “I bring good tidings.”

For his own part, he stopped in his quarters before the Triple Hall. They were clean and organized, though richly decorated; most of the paintings on the walls were realistic depictions of Terra. All the paintings, save a couple made by artists recently assigned to the fleet, predated Laeran; besides being Vairosean’s own shame, that planet changed those humans that had depicted it. Many of the Astartes, and all of the Remembrancers, who had seen the central temple had been affected by gases within. The Phoenician had explained to the Lord Commanders and the first three Captains that the effect was of the god Slaanesh and that there was nothing bad about it; but Vairosean could not look at or listen to the works of artists who had seen Laeran without being reminded of a flaming wreck.

Admittedly, the effect had been worse on first exposure, and now Vairosean could at least bear post-Laeran works. Still, as he put on his armor, his eyes took in Voyage of the Kartella- a legendary painting of the first human ship to arrive in the Chemos sector. It was the oldest work in the Third Captain’s collection, dating back two millennia.

Once ready, Vairosean marched into the hexagonal Triple Hall. Three massive marble columns supported a richly decorated ceiling, painted entirely in varying shades of violet. In the center a huge statue of the Emperor, recently completed by Fleet remembrancer Ostian Delafour (who had, due to unclear circumstances, not visited Laeran and thus still produced great work), stood behind Vairosean’s throne.

Most of the Company was already gathered; 100.34 seconds after the Captain entered, the last member of Squad Terogil hurried in, and Vairosean began his brief speech.

“Third Company! Today the Phoenician himself, Lord Fulgrim, has deigned to grant us an opportunity to redeem ourselves after Laeran. Today he has assigned to us the honor of fighting on the planet of Slodi, alongside- but independently of- our brothers in the Twenty-Fifth.”

A great cheer went up as Marines slowly, individually understood what had been promised, knocking its way across the Company.

“We will fight well, of that I have no doubt. But the Phoenician expects nothing less than perfection. We must give it to him! I will upload the operation specifics to the Company database. Train well; mankind needs you. Children of the Emperor!”

“Death to his foes!” the Company echoed, this time as one.

They began to file out immediately; Vairosean was among the first. Sergeant Terogil tried to get up to the Captain to apologize, but Vairosean waved it away; he was not the Primarch, and he did not get offended at minor lateness. It would be hypocritical, to say the least.

He returned not to his quarters but to the simulator room and began to replay, for the hundredth time, the operation on Laeran, though this time he fought with a concrete determination he had previously lacked, in the light of the coming victory. When he succeeded- against resistance twice as difficult as he’d actually faced- he picked up his best blade and headed toward the dueling cages.

For hours on hours, Captain Marius Vairosean fought ceaselessly.

And around him, the galaxy changed.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
CHAPTER THREE​

Marius Gage stood in the hall of the Vengeful Spirit, watching demigods argue.

“Roboute,” Warmaster Horus Lupercal said, “I have nothing but respect for you. But you can at least wait to divide up power until we’ve won this war!”

“I’m not trying to grab power, brother. That’s the last thing I want to do! I’m merely trying to quantify what we’re fighting for.”

“We all know what we’re fighting for,” the Warmaster said with a sigh. “The ideals of the Great Crusade- enlightenment, justice, order. Ever since our father forsook them….”

Guilliman obviously couldn’t continue the debate, so he merely nodded, a hint of tears in his eyes, and quickly exited with Gage.

“Well,” he said as they walked towards the shuttle, “that could’ve gone better.”

“What was your goal,” Gage asked, suddenly curious, “in reality? Did you just want a constitution to spell out Horus’ power, or-”

“A republic,” the Ultimate Warrior said.

They were silent until the shuttle, at which point Guilliman continued, “A republic. What right do we have to rule people- humans!- that do not desire it? Conquest is one thing, but we should not act like conquerors on our own soil.”

“Not so long ago, you were proposing replacing the governors with Astartes,” Gage noted, his curiosity and mild confusion not satisfied with Guilliman’s response. “What changed?”

It was a bold question to pose to one’s Primarch; but Gage was the First Chapter Master of the Ultramarines, second in command to Guilliman himself, and the Ultimate Warrior was far less choleric than most of his brothers.

“Father changed,” Gage’s Primarch answered. “When I met him, I had plans to turn Ultramar into a republic; but he said we were more than human and able to rule without the threat of corruption.” Guilliman let out a short chuckle, but it was a dark, cynical one. “What was he thinking? Power always corrupts, Marius. There is no way to escape that. And in the absence of planned perfection, one might as well let freedom build its own.”

“And Horus-”

“Horus is not corrupted, but he understood my suggestion as a power grab. He wants the Imperium Secundus to be established before he decides what it is.”

“A dangerous name,” the Chapter Master noted. “Some might think of an Imperium Tertius.”

“If we continue on this path,” Roboute Guilliman said, “an Imperium Tertius might yet become necessary.”

This time, the silence continued throughout the shuttle ride and into the Macragge’s Honour, up to the Primarch’s blinding throne room. It was a sign of pride, which Gage rarely forgave; but this was Guilliman. When Gage had first arrived at Ultramar, he became as good as an equerry to the Primarch, devoted beyond imagination; this was his gene-father! That had passed only when Guilliman had rebuked him for overly focusing himself on the Primarch’s person. “You fight for humanity and for Ultramar,” he’d said, “not for me.”

And he’d been right. And that had been why, when- decades later- Lorgar had been set back for worshipping the Emperor as a god, Gage made no comment except to utterly back his Primarch and Emperor.

And that was in large part why, now, he did not even consider turning his back on the former and following the latter.

“Marius,” Guilliman said as he sat down on the throne. “Do you have anything else to say before I depart?”

“I would like to once again request the First through Seventh Companies to remain with me.” Gage made no comment on the unprecedented breaking-up of a Chapter; Guilliman defied precedent. Nevertheless, that was the reason for his apprehension- he didn’t want his command divided.

“And I will have to once again deny that request. I need them- Ventanus, Cestus, Damocles…. Evexian of the Eighth, Lorchas of the Ninth, and the others will stay with you.”

“Then I would at least ask the entire First Chapter, including myself, accompany them. You can leave the Fifth and Twelfth behind instead- they haven’t rendez-voused with us yet.”

“Marius- do you really want to fly with me as I disassemble the Imperium?”

That stung. And it stung even more because Gage knew that his Primarch was right, that he could not wage offensive civil war. He was devoted to Ultramar above all; but to mankind, and thus the Imperium, equally. It already discomfited him that the Ultramarines were helping to pull it apart- how could he bear to kill other Astartes?

“Request rescinded,” Gage said. “Permission to leave?”

“Wait,” Guilliman said. “This is a long war we will wage; Ultramar will be threatened. You must defend it, reorganize it, command it.” He stood up from his throne. “I will take the Perfect Honour. The Macragge’s Honour, until my return- if that return comes, for these campaigns will be harder than any that have come before- is yours. Until I come back, you are officially the Regent of Ultramar.”

Regent of Ultramar.

It was a massive honor, one Gage had never even contemplated receiving. He was, in effect, the temporary dictator of the Five Hundred Worlds. This was not where he had been born; he had originally hailed from Terra. Yet this, from the gardens of Prandium to the hives of Carenn, from the caverns of Calth to the mountains of Macragge, was his true home, ever since he had taken the first step upon Guillimani soil.

“An honor,” the Primarch said, “but also a responsibility.”

True, but also a vast understatement.

The next minutes and hours passed in a haze- congratulations and departures, rushes and speeches. It was only the last of those, given by vox-network from the Perfect Honour as it prepared to leave the system, that Marius Gage truly listened to.

“Defenders of Ultramar!” Guilliman exclaimed, determination and respect mixing in his infinitely powerful voice. “You remain now in the core of what should become the greatest empire the galaxy should ever seen. We depart to wage war against our near-equals, against our brothers. You have the more honorable duty; you are the stewards of Ultramar itself.

I do not need to tell you not to let it fall. Yet perhaps I should remind you that that is not enough. Improve Ultramar. Expand Ultramar. Make it so, on our return, we will be blinded by the brilliance of what you have created.

You are more than soldiers, my children. You are guardians. For the Warmaster. Courage and honor!”

And the Ultramarines fleet jumped into the Warp.

Marius Gage watched it depart, ships vanishing into nothing via everything. Eyes resisted gazing too long at the Warp- there were things there, creatures that were supposedly beyond logic. That, of course, was false, but it was true that Warp-spawn did not obey the laws of physics. Human emotions affected them, and some scholars said human emotions created them.

The Emperor had supposedly allied himself with these “daemons”, though how that was possible Gage didn’t know- the beasts certainly didn’t look sentient when they lurked outside a ship’s Gellar field.

As the last ships disappeared, Gage sat down into Guilliman’s throne. It was oversized, of course- Ultramar was never meant to be ruled by a mere mortal, or even a Space Marine. Captains Evexian and Sattolo of the 14th were in the room, but otherwise the chamber was empty. Guilliman’s extensive decorations remained; Gage considered taking them down for a moment, then dismissed the idea as being an insult to the Primarch.

“So what now?” Sattolo asked.

“A brief database search of the regions surrounding Ultramar,” Gage noted, remembering Guilliman’s words on improvement and expansion, “indicates a number of prominent human and abhuman civilizations. The Outer Sphere and New Draconic Federation are probably the ones that will most readily join us.”

“What about the Inner Sphere?” Evexian suggested.

“The Inner Sphere has a close relationship with the Vespid Empire to their galactic southeast. For obvious reasons, that relationship cannot continue once the Inner Sphere joins Ultramar. Emissaries will, however, be sent to several other nations, such as the Conitian Empire to our east-northeast.”

Evexian nodded, satisfied. “So who will go where?”

“Sattolo will defend, together with Bosteton of the 16th, the southern extremes of the Five Hundred Worlds; thus I will be joining him as I go to negotiate with the Outer Sphere. Evexian, you will stay with the Tenth in order to fortify Macragge. Lorchas and half of the Ninth Company will negotiate with the New Draconics, while the other half will follow me to the Outer Sphere. The Tetrachs will be sent to negotiate as well, along with their private forces; specific dispositions will be determined later. After diplomacy concludes, I will return to Macragge; for now, Guiliman has more or less optimized Ultramar’s output. We will respond to changing factors as they occur. “

“And if they occur while you are away?” Evexian inquired.

“Reach me via astropath,” the Chapter Master said, before waving away the Captains. They gave deep bows, almost reminiscent of the ones tradition demanded they give the Primarch; Gage, for his part, considered them misplaced. He was the Regent, true, but that was for civilian rule; among the Legion, he was the First Chapter Master, and any honors should have been based on that.

Still, he wasn’t particularly offended. And before departing to the Outer Sphere, Gage decided he needed to visit Macragge and oversee construction projects. Perhaps he could even help personally- yes, that was a good idea. The Regent of Ultramar now ruled a realm at war, true, but Ultramar was more than that. It was going to be perfection.

And perfection did not indicate riches, Gage noted as he looked through the illuminators at the blue, green and gray surface of the planet below. Perfection indicated happiness, and happiness was culture, too; and relaxation; and progress; and safety. And in the end, happiness was freedom. Perhaps, in the end, the perfect empire was one that didn’t appear to exist. Perhaps a benevolent anarchy-

But without a central authority of some sort, well-being could not be optimized. And moreover, there was the eternal problem of crime. Realizing he had turned his gaze up from Macragge to the stars, Marius Gage of the Ultramarine Legion looked down to soil once more, ceased philosophizing, and ordered his shuttle to be prepared.
 

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CHAPTER FOUR​

“The danger now,” Lord Commander Vespasian had recently said to Solomon Demeter, “is no longer our aim, but the lack of it.”

Demeter considered Vespasian a voice of reason in general, and this comment he saw as particularly insightful. The Emperor’s Children were too close to losing their decency. Ever since Fulgrim had executed Lord Commander Verona, the morality of the Legion had declined. Leaders of failed operations- including two Captains- were regularly executed, sometimes even without Fulgrim’s orders. Enemy civilians were massacred. Remembrancer Serena d’Angelus’ last work had used blood as a medium; she insisted it came from rats, but based on its tint Demeter suspected a more sinister origin.

So now he stood outside Vespasian’s office to request a formal inquiry. Fulgrim was unavailable as always, spending his time either working with Bile or discussing religion with Lorgar Aurelian via astropath. And of the Lord Commanders, Fabius seemed not to care about the Legion’s decay- being consumed in his work- and Eidolon actively contributed to it.

“Come in,” Vespasian said, and the Second Captain of the Emperor’s Children did.

“Captain Demeter.”

“Lord Commander Vespasian,” Demeter began, and then stopped because he recognized he had not been welcomed by Vespasian. “Lord Commander Eidolon?”

“We were just,” Vespasian said with an undercurrent of anger, “discussing the matter of Serena d’Angelus.”

“And I repeat,” Eidolon said, “she was within her rights. It was for art, Vespasian!”

“I have seen her so-called “art”,” Vespasian grimly replied, “and it failed to inspire.”

“Most of those who fought on Laeran find it inspiring.”

“Most of those who fought in the temple, you mean.” Vespasian turned to Demeter, quickly copied by the other Lord Commander. “What are you here about, Solomon?”

“The same, actually. I was about to request an inquiry.”

“I’ve already carried out one,” Vespasian said. “Serena d’Angelus murdered crew members Aseka Terpesi and Taur Taodor and used their blood for her paintings.”

“Murder?”

Demeter was aghast. Executions- even ones ordered by Eidolon instead of Fulgrim- were bad enough, but murder on an Astarte vessel was simply- simply unthinkable, really. Even when Demeter had suspected d’Angelus was lying about the blood’s origin, he didn’t really consider-

“Murder,” Vespasian confirmed, “and Lord Commander Eidolon considers it acceptable. As well as executing Saul Kisteus, who was a Sergeant under MY indirect command!”

“Those structures no longer matter, what with Kisteus failing in MY operation,” Eidolon noted, “and who are you to complain about death? How many humans have you killed in war? How many-” Demeter pressed his blade to the Lord Commander’s neck, but the speaker seemed not to notice- “sentient xenos? Death is natural, and there is nothing profane about it.”

“Would you like to experience it, then?” Demeter inquired with grinding teeth.

“Mutiny, on the other hand,” Eidolon proclaimed, finally realizing the danger he was in, “is unforgivable. So please let me go.”

“You are already gone,” the Second Captain said, a cold hatred for this slime filling him.

Eidolon looked to Vespasian, but the other Lord Commander was unmoving. And then, just as the chainsword’s teeth were about to spring to life, the Phoenician entered.

It was clear Fulgrim had not been expecting this; as soon as he saw the scene, a luminous and despairing rage filled his features. He was dressed in only a white robe, but he was as majestic and mighty as ever; light, or steam, seemed to go up from his lilac eyes.

“Release him,” Fulgrim said with the temperature of vacuum.

Demeter could not disobey. Yes, the Legion was declining. Yes, they were flying to do the unthinkable- to fight another Astarte Legion. Yes, Solomon Demeter suspected Lord Commander Fabius’ implants had a hidden, dark purpose. Yes, the last recruitment visit to Chemos had, even after gene-seed compatibility testing, met with a 99% casualty rate. In sum, yes, Demeter doubted his Primarch.

But now, at this moment, against this glorious perfection, there was no way Demeter could deny him. Murder on an Astartes vessel had been unthinkable so recently- had he really been on the verge of committing fratricide?

“Now,” Fulgrim said, simultaneously seeming murderous and melancholy, “what happened?”

“My lord father,” Vespasian answered, “Eidolon endorsed Serena d’Angelos’ murder of Terpesi and Taodor. Moreover, he endorsed murder in general. Demeter, understandably, considered that a license to kill the Lord Commander.” It was a daring response, and Vespasian took a moment to gather his breath before continuing. “My lord, please, stop this madness. The Legion I have fought for for so long, your Legion, is degenerating into- into nothingness. Into the void of death.”

“I know,” Fulgrim said. “This is precisely what I wanted to avoid.” He glanced at both Eidolon and Demeter as if they were squabbling children, and Demeter knew that was precisely what they had been- yet their struggle had almost ended in death. “Eidolon,” the Phoenician said, “I will clarify two things. First of all, remembrancers must be punished for murder. The pursuit for artistic perfection should not involve criminal acts. Secondly, and more importantly, you do not lead this Legion. When you killed Kisteus, you killed your brother. That was too far. Both of you will be publicly censured for conduct extremely unbecoming of the Legion.”

“Father,” Eidolon let out, “the Second Captain threatened a senior officer!”

“And you have threatened Fabius- don’t think I’m unaware. Marius Vairosean might not like it, but command chains change naturally, in the process of perfection. In another month, you may well be the junior officer.”

Eidolon nodded. Demeter could not even move, much less speak, in uttermost awe and shame.

Then the glare of the Phoenician left, his anger spent and the melancholic humour dominating his classical features, and the Second Captain could think again. Censure was not too difficult a punishment for what he had done, what he had almost done; he could easily have been executed, like Verona. Perhaps Fulgrim thought there was already too much death among his children.

“Thank you,” he said.

“Why?” the Primarch asked, seemingly ignoring him. “Why must you make this so difficult?”

He seemed distracted, nebulous somehow, and Demeter wondered again at how much was changing. Vairosean did not see it, locked within his training cages all day as he was, but some torrent had been unleashed after Laeran, a torrent which was now filling up the pool of tolerance and spilling out into madness.

“Demeter,” the Phoenician instructed, “bring Serena d’Angelus to me. Her, I will have to kill, no matter how beautiful her paintings. We will meet in the front of the vessel, at the Navigator’s hall.”

Demeter didn’t wait for further instructions. He respectfully went to do his duty, remembering Verona’s execution as he did so. This was different; Demeter did not argue that d’Angelus had to be punished. But as he crossed the Triumphal Way and gazed at Eidolon’s beloved mutilated skulls, the Second Captain found himself wondering if there was no other way.

There is none. If she was to be imprisoned, Fulgrim would be saying he had erred in executing Verona, and he did not.

Yet for all that the Phoenician was now trying to stop his Legion from going too far down that path, Demeter felt his trust in his lord had been broken forever.

Perhaps it was his way of war. The precise opposite of Marius Vairosean, Demeter fought without excessive amounts of foreplanning, individualistically, emotionally. Vairosean said that his methods were perfection, but Demeter felt perfection included leaving time for other matters, such as art.

Like Vairosean, Demeter had not been at the Laeran temple that had changed the Legion’s aesthetics; his gunship had crashed on the way, and he’d barely survived. He had taken up painting in the aftermath, drawing images that parodied traditional war art; they had smoothly turned into images parodying post-Laeran art, creating which was becoming more and more difficult as post-Laeran art became more and more ridiculous.

Entering d’Angelus’ studio, Demeter was immediately struck by the smell. Blood, sweat, salt, various perfumes, body waste, industrial waste and much, much more assaulted his olfactory organs. Demeter was a Space Marine, and his body could take punishment on a demidivine scale; but this was too much. Immediately, the Second Captain of the Emperor’s Children retched into a corner.

Serena d’Angelus didn’t even notice him. She was crying and painting with the tears, which dried into nothingness as soon as they came into contact with the paper.

The odor crushing Demeter’s melancholy, and the Second Captain decided that anyone who created it- he vomited again- deserved to die. “Humph,” he said.

d’Angelus turned around. “This is my newest work,” she said, “The Meaninglessness of Life. It’s- oh. You’re here to kill me?”

“I’m here to take you to the Phoenician,” Demeter truthfully said, and dragged the remembrancer out. His nose was elated.

“May I- may I see Ostian Delafour before the end?” d’Angelus asked, and Demeter suddenly realized just how much radiation she was emitting. Fortunately, he shouldn’t have received any serious damage yet, but he hurriedly put his helmet on and turned rad-shields to maximum nevertheless.

And this, he remembered, was supposedly one of the remembrancers least affected by Laeran.

“I will summon him. Gaius Caphen,” he voxed, “call remembrancer Ostian Delafour to the navigator’s hall.”

They walked through the winding corridors of the Pride of the Emperor, and as his sensors reported various extremes of chemicals in the air, Solomon Demeter swore to never take his helmet off in the remembrancers’ section again. In one spot, an odd reddish growth hung from the ceiling; after banging his head on it, Demeter voxed a sergeant to clean it up, reminding him to put on his helm before doing so.

The navigator’s hall was at the front of the ship. It was more or less the community center for the ship’s human inhabitants, including the remembrancers. The hall itself was a private space no one but Navigator Cranutus himself intruded on; but outside, a lounge of sorts extended for several hundred meters.

The region was undecorated, the only part within the Pride of the Emperor to be such. Therefore, it served as a neutral region of sorts, one where both those who had seen the Laeran temple and those who had not could meet without tearing each other’s throats out about- well, previously Demeter assumed it was simply the art style, but now he suspected the smell had something to do with it too.

Not all post-Laeran works were particularly malodorous, but Primarch, that studio!

Fulgrim himself was already there as Demeter and d’Angelus entered between the pipe-covered walls, as well as Eidolon and Lucius of the 13th- the latter was perhaps the single Space Marine most devoted to the Legion’s decay. There were rumors he was involved with a female remembrancer- utterly impossible, of course, given Astarte physiology, but demonstrative of how people felt about the decadent, proud Captain.

Ostian Delafour, a sculptor, entered seconds after Demeter. “Why am I here?” he sputtered. “I- oh.” He deeply bowed to Fulgrim.

“Why is he here?” the Primarch asked.

“The remembrancer requested it,” Demeter explained.

“Very well,” Fulgrim stated. He took out his blade, taken from the Laeran temple. “When I was originally gifted this blade,” he noted, “there was a Warp entity in it. The Emperor cleansed it, but the markings, the promises of doom, are still there. Today they promise doom for you, Serena d’Angelus. For murder of two crew members on my ship, I condemn you to death.”

Cranutus- Demeter wasn’t sure when the Navigator had appeared in the lounge- smiled. He was as close to a leader as the non-remembrancer crew had, given that the captain’s chair officially and indisputably belonged to Fulgrim. Indeed, that was probably for this reason that the execution was taking place in the lounge and not the Heliopolis. It was clear the Navigator desired vengeance for Terpesi and Taodor, and Demeter remembered that when he had pressed his blade against Eidolon’s throat- a horrible, senseless mistake- he had been smiling as well.

“Lucius,” the Phoenician said with a tragic air, “I will not sully my hands with the blood of this pathetic woman. Execute her.”

Fulgrim handed the 13th Captain the blade. Lucius moved d’Angelus closer to himself, into the center of some sort of symbol. The woman looked to Delafour, but the uncondemned remembrancer only glanced at Lucius and nodded.

He was not afraid, Demeter recognized with some surprise. Perhaps Delafour, having been with the fleet for a long time, was simply used to having Emperor’s Children around him. He certainly hadn’t been afraid during Demeter’s visits to his studio, to discuss the philosophy of art. The remembrancers were both averting their eyes from Fulgrim, however; it was impossible to get used to a Primarch.

Lucius’ blade swung down slowly- not because of the illusionary nature of time at deciding moments, but simply because the 13th Captain was being dramatic. At the last instant, the Laeran blade swung faster. It collided with d’Angelus’ neck, and Demeter watched the remembrancer’s blonde head roll to the floor.

And then there were daemons.
 

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CHAPTER FIVE​

Juilus Kaesoron had been reading Ignace Karkasky’s latest poems when they appeared.

It was a tangible itch at first, one the First Captain of the Emperor’s Children, lord of the self-proclaimed “Lions of Chemos” First Company, didn’t fully understand, especially as he felt it so often around the ship. Then a disembodied pink claw swung out at air from the room’s center. Kaesoron dodged, then grabbed his powersword and disintegrated it.

Only when a red, bear-like beast began to appear in the chamber did Kaesoron truly recognize the threat.

“Gellar field breach!” he screamed over the vox.

Kaesoron always had his helmet on now. Lord Commander Fabius had said that his implants to the First Captain’s trachea made a helmet’s filtration systems obsolete; thus, Kaesoron had upgraded his helmet. What he had was probably sliding into paranoia, a compulsion to isolate himself from the outside world; after Laeran, however, he would prefer that to ever having to face an airborne poison again.

Kaesoron swung at the bloody bear, cutting off half of its head. Even now, however, he was hearing whispers in the air, whispers of a malignant power still waiting to claim him.

“You think you can escape us so easily, Space Marine?”

It was a soft voice, one that tried to pull Kaesoron into its embrace, to once more-

“No!”

The First Captain of the Emperor’s Children ran from his room without looking back.

It had begun on Laeran. After fighting in the xenos’ temple complex, Kaesoron had discovered his favorite poems and other works of art no longer induced any joy or awe in him. He had gone to a Phoenician with the question of why; Fulgrim, for his part, had contacted the Emperor.

The days without a response had been agony. Kaesoron could remember it, days of utter ennui, days without Karkasky or Xantelle or Pserio, days when he doubted he would ever feel pleasure again. But the reply had come, and Fulgrim had gathered his Lord Commanders, with then-Apothecary Fabius and the first three Captains, to explain the situation.

The thing on Laeran, he’d explained, had been a Warp toxin. It was cleansable, and so Apothecary Fabius cleansed it from Kaesoron; but it was not malevolent, merely a token of the god Slaanesh. It was simultaneously with that response that the Third Legion had been summoned to Terra, and only weeks later that the Great Crusade had changed forever.

Kaesoron believed in the Emperor- he truly did, though with nothing approaching the faith of a Word Bearer. But he could not bring himself to trust this other deity. Thus, when a week ago Fulgrim began to crack down on some of Laeran’s more extreme effects and the Legion’s resultant disorganization, Kaesoron had backed him even more than Vairosean.

Demeter was… well, Kaesoron wasn’t sure if there was anything Fulgrim could do to get Demeter back.

Voices without bodies whispered to the First Captain, but Kaesoron automatically shut them out. They were the speech of daemons, the speech of Slaanesh. They were lies.

“Get to the engineering deck,” he voxed as he ran to the Company armoury. “Gellar breach plan 2-Alpha.”

Few ships survived a Gellar field breach; fortunately, Kaesoron knew a quick path to the generators. He’d planned it out specifically for this sort of emergency. Slaanesh dwelled in the Warp, and a Gellar field breach was precisely the moment to fear the god most.

Within the armoury, Kaesoron clipped his powersword and took up a plasma cannon, which limited operational reports suggested was effective against Warp-spawn.

As he sprinted away from the armoury, the cannon’s heavy weight trying to pull him down, Warp-spawn- “daemons”- swarmed in front and behind. The First Captain shot again and again. He was alone- the rest of his Company was, it seemed, delayed somehow.

Then he saw the door to Sergeant Perio Wascero’s room. He knocked it open, almost crushing it with gauntleted hands. Inside, the Sergeant stood, approaching a singing female daemon. She turned to face Kaesoron, her beautiful face-

Kaesoron shook his head, dispelling the illusion, and pulled the trigger on his plasma cannon.

Her face became a flaming mess, and her image faded.

“Wascero!” Keasoron called.

The Sergeant blinked the glamours away and turned to his Captain. “Brother-Captain, I’m-”

“We need to get to the generators. Go!”

They ran together now. As they did, three more Marines joined them from a side passageway- Sergeant (formerly Epistolary) Saul Jasnian, Battle-Brother Venitro Eseter of Squad Jasnian, and Battle-Brother Quartus Nitran of Squad Renaekarn. They battered their way towards the generators with swords and bolters; Kaesoron’s cannon was ripped apart by a large, rotting daemon which the Astartes squeezed by without killing by the passageway’s side. It crushed Jasnian as the Emperor’s Children made their escape.

“Brother-Sergeant!” Eseter turned a begging eye towards his Captain. Kaesoron felt for the young Marine’s loss, but there was no reasonable way to save Jasnian.

“Eseter, you are promoted to Sergeant in his replacement. Just keep running. Children of the Emperor!”

“Death to his foes!” the Astartes cried in response, though their breath was already all but spent on the endless combat.

Their eight hearts pumping in unison, the Emperor’s Children crushed their way to the Gellar field generators through overwhelming opposition in seven point five minutes, though it felt like a lifetime to all involved. They fought as one, even though they had never fought together before, because they were fighting by the precepts of the Emperor’s Children.

They fought as one, because each of them fought with equal desperation.

The generators were largely undamaged when Kaesoron arrived, though a lilac-hued blob of Warp-stuff was beginning to rip one apart as the Space Marines entered. A bolter round from the newly promoted Eseter took it down, and Kaesoron rushed to fix it. It was quick, given the damage was mostly superficial; the other generators were completely uninjured, merely turned off for some incomprehensible reason.

The other Astartes surrounded the generators with a storm of fire and steel. Bolter shells exploded and chainswords flashed as, bit by bit, invading daemons were torn apart. But that could only buy time; from the corner of his eye, Kaesoron saw Nitran get torn apart by a putrescent Warp-creature similar to the previous one- perhaps it was, in fact, the same daemon.

Daemon. It was odd how quickly Kaesoron had managed to settle into using the name; but this was no time for introspection.

“We’re not here to hurt you,” a creature said, even as the repairs were completed.

Julius Kaesoron turned on the Gellar field.

The effect was immediate. Slime and body fluids began to disappear. The daemons disintegrated, one by one. A large, winged one tried to rush Kaesoron as the field’s effect took place, but it was too slow.

Within twenty seconds, the Pride of the Emperor was clear of daemons. It was then that Tenth Captain Saul Tarvitz shambled in, flanked by one of his Sergeants- Marius Xaerus, according to the armor.

“Thank you, Julius,” he said. “The Warp-spawn almost killed me.” Indeed, his armor was crumpled, apparently from impact with a wall.

“You’re welcome. Do you know what happened?”

“I do,” the Phoenician said.

Fulgrim came in flanked by Captains Lucius and Demeter. He had no armor on, only a robe; this did not lessen his intimidating visage. The Captains looked exhausted, but Fulgrim was as tranquil as he ever was.

“My Primarch.” Kaesoron knelt, simultaneously with Tarvitz and the Sergeants.

“Rise,” Fulgrim said. “Now. Captain Lucius, of the Thirteenth, why did you execute Serena d’Angelus in such a way as to let these Warp creatures in?”

“I… I was informed of a ritual. I believe I misunderstood its purpose.”

“And,” Fulgrim said, his tranquility fading, “how many of my children died because of your misunderstanding?”

“I-” Lucius faltered under the unrelenting gaze of the Primarch. Kaesoron had an uncomfortable moment of déjà vu; Fulgrim’s incandescent anger was the equal of that he had felt at Lord Commander Verona.

“The daemons weren’t aggressive,” Lucius finally mumbled.

“Aye,” Fulgrim said, “they didn’t attack us before we attacked them. I have few enough qualified senior officers as is, so I will not execute you- Battle-Brother Lucius.“

Kaesoron watched the spectacle with increasing amazement. Demeter’s feelings appeared to be similar. Tarvitz glanced at Lucius with regret- Kaesoron knew of the Captains’ friendship.

“Lord Father,” Tarvitz asked, “is there any way- I know Lucius meant the best for the Legion on its new path-”

“The Legion,” Fulgrim said with a deep power, “is on the same path it has always been on- the path to perfection. Lucius unforgivably deviated from this path, and he must be punished. He will be censured along with Captain Demeter and Lord Commander Eidolon, and then stripped of his captaincy and assigned to a squad. I do not tolerate failure!”

Lucius nodded and went to one knee.

“Dismissed,” Fulgrim said. “The new Captain of the Thirteenth will be announced tomorrow, once Lord Commander Vespasian has reviewed the options. All but Captain Kaesoron, dismissed. Julius, come with me.”

They walked through the engineering deck with Fulgrim. “You did well in the Gellar fields’ restoration,” the Primarch noted.

Kaesoron beamed with pride. Given how little preparation he could reasonably have had, he did consider it a rather successful mission.

“However,” Fulgrim continued, “Lucius was right- the Warp beings were not aggressive. How many of your party died before they could reach the generators?”

“Two.”

“Two of my children, and surely there were others attempting to restore the Gellar fields. If you had reasoned with them, as you should have, the Warp beings would not have killed you.”

“They would simply have let us restore the Gellar fields?” Kaesoron asked with some skepticism.

“No. But you should not have risked your life and the lives of others to restore the fields a minute before I arrived there.”

Inside, Kaesoron felt gravely offended, but he did his best not to let it show- after all, he reminded himself, this was Fulgrim. “That minute saved Tarvitz.”

“That was circumstantial. Your companions’ deaths, however, were not. Again, I am not punishing you; but the forces of the Warp are our enemy no longer. I will accept they make for unreliable allies. But this is the path the Emperor himself set us on.”

“The Emperor and Lorgar.”

“Yes- Lorgar played a role as well. But this is the Emperor’s work we are doing. You do not doubt our assault on Ultramar, after all, and indeed no one in the Legion does. Why do you doubt this decision?“

“I believe in the Emperor,” Kaesoron said. “I believe in the golden road he has put humanity on. I believe in the Imperium of Man, too, and the new Imperial truth. But I believe in perfection, in sanctity, in art, as well; and I cannot look at post-Laeran works without weeping of disgust. Where are we going, father?”

“Where the Emperor wills,” Fulgrim said. “Is that not enough?”

And thinking of the daemonic assault, of Nitran’s last cry, but also of Terra and the many-faced glory that was humanity’s leader, Kaesoron knew- as he often knew things after a battle- that he only had one answer.

“Yes,” Kaesoron said, looking down in the vague direction of his Primarch’s feet. “Yes, it is.”
 

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Vulkan this is really good, i like the way Fulgrims mood swings are described and how it affects the others. I am truely honoured that you wanted to take part in this and i am thoraghly enjoing what you are writing.
 

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Discussion Starter #12 (Edited)
gothik: Thanks a lot- I'm happy that you're satisfied with my contribution to your epic.

CHAPTER SIX​

The Outer Sphere was a loose organization of planets and space stations to the south of Ultramar. Formerly, it had been part of a petty empire known as the Great Sphere; a civil war over the Sphere’s governance had erupted about a century before the Great Crusade had found Ultramar, however, and the conflict tore the nation apart. At first the faction that would become the Outer Sphere was winning; in desperation, the future Inner Sphere appealed for help from the nearby Vespid xenos. The Vespid did, in fact, give their aid, and the Outer Sphere came out of the war in much weaker condition than the Inner; but in the years since the Inner Sphere had gradually turned into a Vespid puppet state.

Therefore, Gage did not seek to negotiate with them, but rather with the recently resurgent Outer Sphere. He only had five hundred Astartes at his side- half a Company- but Gage knew that was a sufficient force to conquer the nation if necessary. That eventuality, regrettably, appeared more and more likely with each hour.

He was currently seated, with his bodyguards, in the antechamber of the Spherical Overseer’s throne room. Of course, antechamber and throne room were strong words- the Overseer seemed to have an even greater distaste for excess than Gage himself. Gray and white were the only colors visible in the walls, and the Regent of Ultramar suspected the gray was some sort of fungus. He had been staring at that fungus for half an hour, considering what Ultramar had to offer the Outer Sphere in the context of the current galactic political situation.

“The current galactic political situation.” Only a cycle ago, Marius Gage had learned the reason for the Twelfth Chapter’s disappearance was that the Astartes had departed for Terra, rescinding their oaths to Guilliman and repledging themselves to the Emperor, claiming that Prospero was a lie. The current galactic political situation, whether Gage liked it or not, was that the Ultramarines were taking apart the Imperium of Man, rebelling against the Emperor himself even as the Emperor himself burned worlds. The current galactic political situation was treachery and destruction.

And war. Impossible war. Gage was devoted to Ultramar and to the Imperium, and he had never imagined those loyalties conflicting. Rationally, he had to back Guilliman, because building up the Imperium was now the same as constructing ruin. But rationality mattered less and less, and Gage was now only certain of his loyalties because, as wrong as it would have seemed once, he trusted Guilliman’s judgment far more than he trusted the Emperor’s.

The doors to the throne room began to swing open, but when Gage shook his head he recognized that it was only the wind. The Spherical Overseer was still not permitting them in.

“Taplon, Vestates, make a theoretical for these negotiations turning hostile. Then prepare for the practical.”

“Do you-”

“I will not strike first.”

Taplon nodded and repositioned his chainsword. Even Taplon, Gage recognized, felt doubt. It was the curse of those who had power, he had once said, but in these days it was everyone’s curse. He wished yet again that Nicodemus was here- the Tetrarch tended to understand these sorts of situations better. But Nicodemus was negotiating with the Conitian Empire, far to the galactic northeast, and having him here was just another dream.

Then the doors swung open again, and this time, it was not the wind. The Spherical Overseer rushed out, clothed in a suit as unremarkable as the room that was revealed. It was a large, elliptical chamber with a round table toward the far end. What Gage assumed was the Overseer’s chair was only marked as such by being slightly bigger than the others. Papers lay scattered on the table, and a large holo-screen was attached to the west wall.

“Thank fortune for you coming!” the Overseer blurted out. “Marius Gage of Ultramar, if I’m not mistaken?”

“You are not,” Gage said, trying to hide his caution at the words’ intonation. “I am here to discuss terms-”

“We’ll accept any terms, as long as you’ll help us! Please, come in, I’m sorry we’ve kept you waiting so long-”

It was clear that the Outer Sphere’s situation had drastically changed, as the tone that the Overseer had struck when Gage had first arrived was a much more careful one. It was obvious the Outer Sphere had been invaded, probably by overwhelming forces- but who was so dangerous as to make a nation as powerful as the Outer Sphere submit itself unconditionally? Perhaps the Vespid Empire and Inner Sphere had finally united to take out their rival once and for all. Perhaps it was something worse.

In either case, Gage dearly hoped it would be a foe he knew of. The Ultramarines could defeat almost anyone if they had a theoretical- though, of course, he only had half a Company.

No matter. Sattolo and Bosteton are close by; I can call on them for a prolonged campaign.

As he calmed himself, a message popped up from the fleet, signaling an Iron Hands fleet had transferred into the system. The Chapter Master mentally filed the information away, recognizing he probably needed to process other things first.

Coming into the room, Gage selected a chair that looked relatively sturdy and sat down. His bodyguards took similar spots around the table. Some of the chairs wobbled, but only Varro Ximeoden’s collapsed. Ximeoden responded by dusting himself off, apologizing, and taking a standing position next to his Chapter Master.

“Regent Gage,” the Overseer- Halriun Veticus was his birth name- pronounced, seemingly calmed down somewhat. “Today the peaceful Outer Sphere was attacked by a force of about five hundred Iron Hands under, according to them, the command of one Iron Father Sorpot. They are now appearing from the Warp around this system, commanding us to surrender or die. They have moreover said that surrender will involve the deaths of this ruling council.” Now Veticus’ expression turned pleading once more, either as a misplaced political maneuver or out of the sudden recognition of how much danger he was in. “Save us and the Outer Sphere will peacefully join Ultramar. I knew there was a civil war in your behemoth, but I never expected it to come here….”

“No one does,” Vestates offered.

“I did warn you that you could not avoid the war,” Gage stated. “But your terms are accepted.”

And only as he said that did Gage realize the enormity of what he was agreeing to do. The Iron Hands were one of the Legions closest to the Ultramarines, a martial exemplar, a steel ideal. The Tenth Legion task force was not even led by a Captain; Gage knew that the Ultramarines could win, with or without Sattolo and Bosteton’s help. But they would be fighting to prevent the expansion of the Imperium. They would be-

They would be fighting for Guilliman and for Ultramar, and the Imperium’s butchers would go down in flames. Cousin against cousin, perhaps, but Gage would protect Macragge from his brothers if he had to.

Thus convincing himself, Marius Gage, First Chapter Master of the Ultramarines and Regent of Ultramar, repositioned his powersword.

“I am ready,” he said, though he was not. “Rerun the theoretical for a space battle against the sons of Ferrus, brothers. Let’s get into orbit and win the battle. We march for Macragge, now.”

“And we shall know no fear!” the Astartes said, and rose as one.

“Don’t you need the tactical?” the Overseer asked as the Ultramarines began to leave.

“Not to condescend, but our sensors exceed yours. Does anyone object to my tactical leadership of the campaign?”

The Overseer shrugged. “As I said, just chase the Iron Hands away. The Sphere is at your disposal.”

One of the advisors seemed about to object, but Veticus waved him to silence.

“I will contact you once on my ship,” Gage said, and began to move there.

He considered various theoreticals on the way, downloading relevant data through his helmet. The Tenth Legion’s fleet was large, but the Ultramarines’ primarily-diplomatic one was slightly superior in firepower; clearly Sorpot had not been expecting any resistance beyond the Outer Sphere’s own forces. Those were also significant- larger than the Iron Hands’ by far. Obviously Sorpot had expected the Tenth’s advantage in hand-to-hand combat would be sufficient for victory. Gage gave orders to the fleet even before he reached the Macragge’s Honour, sending them into brief clashes with far lesser Tenth Legion ships. Sorpot responded with some fitting counter-attacks of his own, but by the time the Chapter Master reached his ship, the Iron Hands were mostly retreating.

As Marius Gage stepped onto the deck of the Macragge’s Honour, a message sent from the Tenth Legion’s Battle Barge to the Spherical Overseer replayed itself in his helmet. The twisted, half-metallic face of the Iron Father appeared on the Chapter Master’s retinal display.

“You were warned,” Sorpot of the Iron Hands, Marius Gage’s cousin, hissed to the Spherical Overseer.

Marius Gage ignored that as he walked and lifted to the bridge. It was the idle protest of a defeated foe. Most of the Iron Hand vessels were even now disappearing into the Warp.

Most. But not all. A drop-pod hammered into the Macragge’s Honour, and Marius Gage felt the ship rattle. He sprinted to the bridge, rushing in as the first enemy Astarte- an oxymoron if there ever was one- entered the ship’s brain.

It was an Iron Hand Sergeant like any other. Saph Kontewax, according to his armor. He was not a horrible mutant abomination or a Warp-spawn fused with the human form. His only distinction was that he fought without a helmet, showing off his metal-plated forehead; but even that could be explained, for instance by his booming voice.

“Death to the traitors!” he screamed with unnatural hatred, the sound gratingly amplified through a plasteel voice-box. “Death to the heretics!”

“For the Emperor!” the other Iron Hands, filing in behind, yelled in response.

Gage came face-to-face with one of them. Jerking his powersword out of its place on his belt, he somewhat clumsily batted aside the Tenth Legionnaire’s attack, then moved into a guarding position. The Iron Hand swung again, but Gage deflected the strike, forcing the son of Ferrus to turn slightly leftwards and giving the Ultramarine a momentary opening. He used it, sliding his blade in and slicing the Iron Hand’s head off.

As the Space Marine- Tarn Kissot, according to his armor- slowly fell backwards, his arm still moving back into a second slice at Gage despite its owner’s death, the Chapter Master only saved the trouble of blocking it because of the body’s drop, Marius Gage considered what he had just done. He had just killed his cousin. He had just ended a Space Marine. As far as the Imperium was concerned, he was a traitor.

And- even more worryingly- as far as the empire of Ultramar was concerned, he was a hero.

A shot to his left hand shook him out of his contemplation, the bolter round cracking his ceramite but fortunately not quite penetrating. The sounds of battle- screams, bolters firing, swords scraping on ceramite- came back, as did the smell of blood and burning metal. Swinging around, Marius Gage impaled another Iron Hand, one whose bolter arm had just been cut off by Ximeoden.

“Courage and honour!” he cried, but the words seemed to have little relevance now.

“For Ultramar!” Passtedar cried, even as an Iron Hand bolt exploded his head. The theoretical for fighting other Astartes seemed almost quaint now. He had led his ships to war against the Iron Hand fleet without trouble, but this, Marine against Marine at close quarters, when he could see his foe- his cousin- even as he killed someone he should never have been killing… this was different. For the first time in Marius Gage’s life, the theoreticals were not enough despite being perfect. Nothing could prepare one for this.

No, something could. Logically, there had to be ways to prepare, but Gage would have to remember they were spiritual as well as tactical and physical.

The tides of battle churned. Gage directed the skirmish for a couple of instants, then was forced to duck as the teeth of a chainsword bit into a bulkhead just above him. He decapitated the blade’s owner, then turned and came face to face with the Sergeant, with Saph Kontewax of the Iron Hands, with his cousin, with his attacker.

“I had hoped for Guilliman,” Kontewax said. “I’ll have to settle for you.”

And the dance of swords began. Kontewax snuck into Gage’s guard- this one was good- but the Chapter Master evaded the worst of the blow and hit his own. The Iron Hand retreated and the powerblades clashed, sparkling in the lamps’ light. They clashed once more, but Kontewax’ weapon was weaker, and so he attempted a low strike next; but Gage knocked it into the floor. For a second, he had a clean shot. For that second, though, he also had a question.

Why? Why did this have to be? The Imperium’s actions were becoming wildly inconsistent and purposeless. Gage had always respected the Iron Hands, so why were they fighting? Why had the Imperium betrayed Guilliman, and Ultramar, and in truth even itself?

And as he contemplated the madness and attempted to work out what the abstract practical was, the very concrete practical in front of him swung its weapon and-

And collapsed to the ground, dead. Taplon walked up with the bolter that ended Saph Kontewax’ life.

“Regent?” Gage’s brother asked.

The First Chapter Master shook himself off. The melee was over; all the preparation had paid off. The Ultramarines stood triumphant, although they had suffered severe losses.

“Regent?” Taplon whispered. “Why did you hesitate?”

“I would never go running back to the Emperor and betray Ultramar,” Gage said. It was the truth. He would never do that. “But I… I cannot go on like this, either.”

And that, too, was truth.

But he could not change the present.

“Give pursuit,” Marius Gage of the Ultramarines ordered.
 

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CHAPTER SEVEN​

The war for Slodi would begin soon. Solomon Demeter watched the drop-pods scatter down from the Pride of the Emperor with some regret. Marius Vairosean was a true friend; they would stand together until the end. But now Vairosean was fighting below, and there was all too high a chance that in his drive to redeem himself he would get himself killed.

No, that wasn’t right. Vairosean was never like that. He would wage the campaign according to all regulations, and in all likelihood come back in one piece. But if he did die, Demeter’s position would become desperate. His public censure was bad enough, and Fulgrim’s attempt to curb the Legion’s excesses was a double-edged sword: it slowed down the decay, true, but it turned aside the protests of any who tried to stop it.

Politically speaking, he was in trouble. Politics, however, was not Demeter’s business, any more than, say, business. Thus the Second Captain forced a smile onto his face; Vairosean would at last get his redemption, and perhaps the Third Captain would complain about Demeter’s lack of planning again. The Legion was being reborn, a phoenix of the Emperor.

“Would you like to see our own deployments?” Captain Daimon of the Eighth inquired, coming up behind Demeter.

“Am I with you?”

“Indeed,” Daimon said with a toothy grin. “along with Kaesoron and his Lions, and Ruen of the 21st as well. We’re going to clear out the Slodi moon’s research station, and after we’re done in the system the Legion will spread out. But we’ll stay with Fulgrim! Our four companies will carve the Legion’s glory into the Unbroken Stars under the command of the Phoenician himself!”

“Why are you so excited? We’ve fought with the Primarch before, Daimon. Often.”

“Yes, but not often for a full campaign!”

Demeter responded with a knowing smile. This was a great honor, and a fortunate one, given that Fulgrim would isolate Demeter from the Legion’s worst. Perhaps the weeks to come, the weeks before Ultramar, could be somewhat of a return to normalcy. Perhaps there was hope yet.

“Fulgrim is executing a remembrancer today,” Daimon announced. “Do you want to watch?”

“How long until deployment?”

“Onto the Slodi moon? A few hours. We have time.“

“Executions aren’t a source of entertainment for me. Who is it, though?”

“Sarnita Quoxitti, for making music that literally killed a crew member listening to it. It had to do with live bolters being used for the symphony. I think all the nudity had to do with it too.”

“Bolters- seriously?”

“It was an accident. Believe me: I was there. The symphony itself wasn’t even good.”

Demeter suppressed a sigh; Daimon had been there at Laeran. His taste in music was odd to say the least, and a concert with live bolters seemed like exactly the sort of thing Daimon would enjoy. Exactly what distinguished one wall of painful, deafening noise from another was not clear to Demeter, but to Daimon and his ilk the chaos made sense.

Well, at least it had been music, and as such it probably hadn’t smelled. Ever since bringing d’Angelos to her execution, Demeter had been having nightmares about that stench.

“But,” Daimon continued, “the exquisiteness of some of her previous work… it’ll be interesting to see her die. Tragic, but interesting. Why are you so repulsed, anyway?”

“I’m not repulsed,” Demeter said. “I just want to get my Company battle-ready in a few hours. Farewell.” He left without waiting for Daimon’s answer; it didn’t concern him anyway.

He heard it nevertheless. “Well, fine,” Daimon said with fake apathy before exiting, presumably towards the execution.

Demeter voxed his Sergeants to gather before entering the Company’s gathering hall himself. He was not yet prepared for battle, but that mattered little; even if he got together in five minutes, he would be more perfectly ready than Daimon or Ruen would with unlimited time. And he didn’t plan to wait until there were five minutes left. As for assault plans, he would leave most of those to Kaesoron; for his own part, he preferred having a rough sketch that he could modify depending on the circumstances.

The Company gathered quickly: they seemed eager to get into action. The fleet- carrying the entire Legion- had taken far too long to get to the Unbroken Stars. That had, in fact, probably been a major reason for the corruption and decadence. With nothing to do, Legionnaires had sunk as low as- according to the latest rumor- killing each other for sport.

Brother against brother, for no reason besides sick pleasure. And Demeter still remembered his own shame after coming so close with Eidolon. Yes, the Primarch had made mistakes, but regardless of politics cleaning up the Legion had been an utter necessity.

“Battle-Brothers of the Second Company!” Demeter proclaimed after confirming the order, via vox, with Lord Commander Vespasian. “Today the Primarch has seen fit to send us to war. We will fight on Slodi’s moon and crush the rebellion for Primarch and Emperor. I know some of you have doubts about the changes in the Imperium, but some of you have doubts about whether Chemos is round. Doubts can be forgotten, especially now. On Slodi’s moon we will fight together with the First, the Eighth, and the Twenty-First. I will distribute the rough battle-plans in an hour; we’ll be on the surface in three hours.”

The Second Company let out a cheer. Some Astartes, among them Sergeant Anapene, seemed fiery with enthusiasm; others, Gaius Caphen among them, apparently had difficulty forcing excitement out. Demeter did not, could not blame either side, but he was certainly in the first camp.

The assembly concluded quickly, and Demeter headed back to his chamber. He put on his armor, taking a second to polish the various segments before joining them on his body. Then, he actually began to contemplate the battle plans. Bringing up Kaesoron’s tactical map on his cogitator, Demeter stared blankly at his screen. His mind was working slowly, it seemed.

The stupor passed, and Demeter began calculating possibilities for attack plans. Going up the centre was a favored tactic of his, but here a surrounding strike would be the best to take care of his objective. The centre would need to be heavily defended- perhaps a minor attack up the centre would push the enemy’s focus away from the sides?

Yes, that would do it. Demeter would go up the centre, while Caphen and another lieutenant would surround the rebels and make their destruction inevitable. It’d be an interesting trial to see how the various fortifications and bunkers affected the general strategy, but all of that would be on the ground.

It took some time to write out the plans and send them to his Sergeants, but Demeter still had an hour before real preparations would start. The time was right, he decided, to visit Ostian Delafour. The sculptor was among the few remembrancers with the fleet who had remained on the ships during the Laeran incident, and thus his work was undamaged by the temple’s poisons.

Delafour was working on a titanic statue when Demeter peeked into the door; when remembrancer noticed Astarte, however, Delafour smiled and sat down on his work bench, breathing heavily.

“It’s good to see you again,” Delafour noted. “The stone’s rather… uncooperative. I might have to make the sculpture in a more abstract style.”

“What is it going to be, anyway?”

“What does it look like, now?”

“Spherical. Not quite regular, but it looks like a spherical space station.”

Delafour smiled. “Think bigger. This, my friend, is Chemos. Not exactly a scale model, I’m afraid- the surface details would have to be tiny- but rather an artistic representation. Its surface will be a metaphor for the progress of the Great Crusade, in the incarnation of your Legion. That, for instance-” the remembrancer pointed at a set of tentacles entangling humanoid figures- “is the battle of Laeran.”

“And that’s Fulgrim.” Demeter pointed at a large, somewhat man-shaped protuberance at the top of the ball.

“Indeed, though he’s quite unpolished at the moment. So is there a specific reason for your being here?”

“Besides visiting a “fellow unenlightened lifeform”?”

Delafour chuckled. “Still haven’t forgiven Abranxe, have you?”

“Actually, Heliton said it first. Abranxe was just copying his blood-brother. But yes, there’s a reason; I was wondering… I wanted a centerpiece for the Company hall, and there are all too few pre-Laeran sculptors left.”

“Ah.” Delafour smiled. “Of course- actually, do you want this sculpture of Chemos, if I ever finish it?”

“No,” Demeter answered. “I have Kraste’s statue of Fulgrim triumphant already, remember? I want something… less victorious. Tragic. I don’t want to forget the evil we’ve done along with the good.” With the way things have been going lately, there was actually a slight chance that he could.

“You won’t,” Delafour promised. “My next piece was actually- but no, not right now. Not now.” Demeter wasn’t sure, but he thought that for the first time ever, he saw tears in the remembrancer’s eyes.

Delafour started hacking away at the stone once more, and Demeter quickly retreated. Thinking of Delafour’s unknown personal tragedy and his own frustration, the Second Captain spent the remaining minutes before deployment painting an image of nighttime battle, the Emperor’s Children fighting the Luna Wolves under a sky of meteor fire. This was war, true war, suffering and treachery mixed into a maddening vortex that dragged down progress into regression and faith into nihilism.

Demeter found it useful to push himself into such an emotional state before battle; it made him more deadly.

Then the door opened, and First Captain Julius Kaesoron walked in.

“Demeter?” he asked. “Deployment is about to start.”

“Of course,” the Second Captain said, “of course.”

He took a step back and looked at his work. It was at best a sketch for now, and an apprentice’s sketch at that; but that was enough for now. The details would come if a basis was there. It was his approach to battle, though one disdained by the rest of the Legion, and it was his approach to art, no matter what it depicted.

What it depicted was- “Treachery,” Demeter said. It applied to everyone now.

Then they walked to the deck, where the Second Captain was reunited with his Company. They cheered his arrival, though in his melancholy, Demeter did not comprehend why. Here, among those deployed, Demeter was generally the sanguine, Kaesoron the melancholic, Daimon the choleric; now Demeter was undeniably the melancholic and Kaesoron phlegmatic. Well, times changed.

The galaxy changed, thrashing mankind around in its endless boilers.

The Astartes filed into their drop pods, Demeter choosing a place next to Sergeant Oritran Sabato. Then they dropped, the Pride of the Emperor fading from being the world to being a violet splotch, and then a violet dot, on the blackness of space.

“Ten.”

It was only then that Demeter recognized the true scope of this tragedy.

“Nine.”

They were not going into battle against a xenos foe.

“Eight.”

The Unbroken Stars were aligned with the Warmaster’s revolt.

“Seven.”

Their only error was not believing the Emperor was a god.

“Six.”

Their only crime was backing the Warmaster.

“Five.”

Their only sin was believing in his cousins.

“Four.”

In a very real way, he was walking out to battle to forces of Horus.

“Three.”

In a very real way, he was entering a war between brothers.

“Two.”

He would kill his fellow human, and not for the sacred ideal of unification, but only for the conflicting ambitions of beings- albeit supreme beings- light-years away.

“One.”

And if that did not sadden, what did?

“Impact!”
 

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Discussion Starter #14
CHAPTER EIGHT​

First Captain Julius Kaesoron surveyed the battlefield.

He had crafted this plan meticulously, though with only a day’s warning he knew it could have been better. Daimon, Demeter, and Ruen had apparently not known until a few hours beforehand; none of them seemed to care. Daimon was just glad to be unleashed, Demeter only ever built his plans in rough sketches, and Ruen- of late- rarely had a plan at all.

But no matter; they were all competent, and if they had been members of, say, the Luna Wolves or the Iron Hands- not to speak of the Space Wolves or World Eaters- such tendencies would be typical, and it would be Kaesoron who stood out. The Emperor’s light, it seemed, had been turning the Third Legion closer to such a scenario lately; but Kaesoron didn’t see any reason to change yet. After all, their ways had led them to greatness. They still were, in fact.

“Perfection cries in delight among unending palaces of broken foes.” Ignace Karkasky’s poems often seemed to oppose the Great Crusade as much as they supported it, but his first Perfection’s Cry was more than the ode to the Emperor’s Children others saw it as- it was an ode to warfare.

It was an ode to the Crusade. And now, when Horus had turned his back on the Emperor and Karkasky’s work had stopped coming in, Kaesoron found some comfort in the past- clearer, simpler days.

Days now gone.

“Brother-Captain?” Perio Wascero asked from beside Kaesoron. Since the daemonic incursion on the Pride, Wascero had become Kaesoron’s unofficial left hand, just as Ispequr Davars was his official right.

“It’s time, isn’t it?”

“Yes, indeed.”

Kaesoron spared one last look for Demeter battling in the distance, trying to capture the rebels’ primary reactor. He fought like the Phoenician himself, immaculate skill and perfectly unbalanced humours blending into a god of death. Skitarii and Army soldiers flew away from him rather than toppling. When he had zoomed in, Kaesoron had seen tears on Demeter’s face, and they were not tears of joy; but where most warriors’ sadness slowed them down and turned their minds to compassion, Demeter’s was a weapon. Even as he regretted having to kill those people, Demeter did so all the more efficiently.

But Kaesoron had his own war to fight.

“Children of the Emperor!” he cried, heading down from the landfill rise.

“Death to his foes!” his Company cried, some charging down nearby hills and others running out of the research station’s scattered buildings. They converged on the manufactorum’s back; Kaesoron had reason to suspect that, since this was the best-defended area, the moon’s leaders would make their last stand within the building. Lascannons pounded into their ranks, and several of the Children fell, but the Space Marines’ speed allowed most to get through the killing ground unharmed. Those that were wounded were picked up by those that weren’t, brother carrying brother into the eye of the storm.

As expected, just as the Emperor’s Children were about to impact the featureless wall, the waste disposal automatically opened. It was right on schedule- two hours after the last opening, which Sergeant Ereluto had reported, and four hours after the one before that, which had been witnessed by Battle-Brother Quasius. The otherwise well-defended manufactorum had a back door in the form of Mechanicum standards. If the waste disposal had not opened, signaling the tech-priests had recognized their weakness, the First Company’s chainblades and powerswords would still have forced their way in, though the cannons would have had time to take several more casualties.

Kaesoron rushed in, the Lions of Chemos following. The doors would close in a moment, after all, when the adepts recognized the automated systems were a flaw. Yes, the manufactorum was well-defended, about the only well-defended place on the moon. Kaesoron admitted to himself that Fulgrim’s decision to send four Companies was overkill: though the Mechanicum and Imperial Army were bravely resisting, the battle was more of a massacre.

Well, Fulgrim’s desires were Kaesoron’s law. “Everyone in?” he vox-asked as the doors began to swing shut.

“Yes,” Wascero replied from near the wall. “Half a Company, seven hundred Astartes, at your disposal.”

“Well, to the command center, then. Children of the Emperor!”

“Death to his foes!” came the cry of seven hundred battle-hungry throats. Kaesoron’s control over his Company was unequalled among the Legion; he paid close attention to its running, even more than to his battle plans. That was why his corps of Sergeants, his personal pride, was considered the best in the Legion; Kaesoron picked them, and encouraged them, carefully. Thus, when Fulgrim had reminded him of his duty to the God-Emperor, Kaesoron had encouraged his Company to fight without regret or mercy. For all that it was unfortunate, these people were traitors.

“Squads Renaekarn and Hasanury, plus the Section 2 Apothecaries, stay here and guard the wounded. I want as few casualties as possible. Everyone else- with me. The rebels’ sanctum should be to our east.”

Kaesoron broke into a run once more, though this time it was more of a jog. The next minutes were filled with the tedious work of checking corners, making outposts, and moving ceaselessly. Soon enough, scouts began to report back, commenting on the largest defensive concentrations. Like a giant protozoan, the First Company of the Emperor’s Children, the Lions of Chemos- at least the portion of them that Kaesoron had taken into this strike, as the other half was putting down resistance elsewhere- crawled through the manufactorum’s hallways, absorbing enemy outposts and sending out tendrils of destruction. There were few turrets within the building, probably because it had never been meant for war. The Slodi’s moon station was created for those experiments safety said should not be conducted on the planet’s surface, and though it had since grown into a community of its own no one prepared more than contingency plans for its invasion.

Still, the contingency plans were there, and now they were being expressly used. Kaesoron stood with his back to an admantine wall, peering out a door into a rotunda and the most heavily defended entrance he’d seen yet.

This was it.

“Squads Wasnus and Kontarratz, prepare for assault. Wascero, get that wall open.”

Perio Wascero waved his hand, and fifty Devastators released their fire. The wall guarding the rotunda collapsed. Kaesoron was, for now, on its second floor; below, on the first, the guards scurried around in desperation.

Kaesoron ran at the head of Assault Squads Wasnus and Kontarratz as the rotunda opened before them. The First Captain ran through the railings, landing in a crouch on the first floor, directly before the guards.

He twisted left, slicing one defender in two; then he struck out ahead, spearing a servitor’s brain. Retrieving his sword, Kaesoron blocked a skitarii’s servo-arm, even as a lasgun blast aimed for his head went wide from Kontarratz’ blade.

A single cry began to be whispered by the outnumbered guards as ranks upon ranks of Astartes filed down from above. Kaesoron sliced a plasma gun open, splitting its owner’s arm down the bone. His pauldron absorbed a lasgun blast without so much as a tremor.

More and more of the defenders threw their weapons down and their hands up. The head of the Mechanicum contingent, a lumbering tech-priest with cannons for arms, fired point-blank at Battle-Brother Inius Acumarn; but Acumarn was avenged by his Sergeant, Wasnus shooting from an even closer distance than the tech-priest.

The sounds of battle ceased. The Lions of Chemos were victorious.

“Please spare us…” an Army soldier whispered.

Kaesoron ignored him and kicked open the door. It fell, not quite shattering but offering little resistance to an Astarte physiology.

“Surrender!” Kaesoron cried out.

Within, there were huddled masses of refugees, tech-priests tinkering with large cogitator screens, and apparent community leaders playing cards. Every one of them had a dejected expression, and many of the women- and some of the men- were crying. Every single person in the room with weapons threw them down as Kaesoron entered, his legion behind him, angels of death, cold burning in over a thousand eyes. Many threw up their hands as well.

“Please...” a refugee began, but Kaesoron signaled silence.

The order had been to have no mercy, that those who turned away from the Emperor’s light deserved death; and the military leaders would be executed without doubt. But what sort of black Crusade would it be if Kaesoron were to massacre civilians? There was no way to accept that, none at all. Now, as the battle-choler left him, he knew what must be done.

He was proud of his operation here- it was well-planned, well-executed, and well-fought. Besides, there had been no direct order to kill everyone- only traitors. Kaesoron sincerely doubted that every one of these weeping, pleading people had personally made the decision to turn on the Imperium of Man.

A quick search identified seventeen of the people in the room as major figuress in the community. Kaesoron voxed their descriptions to the members of Squads Tasaqus and Elaeran behind him, then ordered the Tacticals to open fire on them and three of the tech-priests present. Kaesoron would take the fourth.

“Magos Naissib,” he said, “order your forces to stand down.”

Naissib did so, and then the Lions of Chemos opened fire.

Twenty-one bodies hit the floor, Naissib the first to do so. Almost a hundred more souls remained.

“Live,” Kaesoron said. “And do not repeat your mistake.”

Turning, Julius Kaesoron walked out of the chamber with Wascero at his side. Each of their moods was somber; they knew they had done what had been necessary, what had been commanded, yet they took no joy in it.

It was in the rotunda that Kaesoron met Solomon Demeter, the Second Captain looking more choleric than melancholic now.

“How did you get here so quickly?” Kaesoron asked.

“My enemies surrendered,” Demeter said, “and I honored the terms! What have you descended to, Kaesoron?”

“Ehm, following the Primarch’s orders?!”

“There’s a time to take everything literally and then there’s a time to understand the underlying meaning. We should not kill surrendering men!”

“Not even if the Primarch ordered it directly?”

With Demeter stuck for words, Kaesoron continued. “This was what we were ordered to do for the Great Crusade. This is what we were ordered to do for the Emperor! War involves death, Demeter, you know that. And I only executed the leaders.”

“One of which-”

“One of which, like the others, betrayed the Emperor on Terra and his Imperium. We are the Children of the Emperor, Demeter. We needed to bring punishment. And though I agree what I did was wrong, any other course of action would have been even worse. Besides, do you think Daimon or Ruen would not have killed them all?”

“Ruen is a sadist. He’s the opposite of everything this Legion should be. Daimon… I’d expect something like this from Daimon, but not you, Kaesoron. Perhaps he would have killed them all, yes. So what?”

“Do not let your kindness take you into treachery, Demeter. This is my operation, and it was successful.”

Demeter stormed off without saying anything more. Julius Kaesoron, First Captain of the Emperor’s Children, lord of the Lions of Chemos, walked on silently.

“Do you think he was right?” Sergeant San Kontarratz asked.

The First Captain was not angry at the question because it truly was a question, the tone making that clear. “No,” he said, “it turned out well enough. It turned out perfectly. If I had executed no one, Fulgrim would have seen it as disobedience, I know that much. And by the Emperor, it would have been disobedience.”

He walked through ruined hallways of the idle manufactorum. There was no scratching here, no worry in the back of his head that daemons were about to burst through the aetheric divide between his realm and theirs. It was liberating, and Kaesoron considered the option of retreating to his own battle-barge, away from the tempting madness of the Pride of the Emperor. It would take him further away from the light that was Fulgrim, though. And he wasn’t going to turn away from his Primarch- that would simply be sick.

They were all sick already, though. And though he would not disobey his Primarch, as he walked through the manufactorum’s idle hallways, remembering the death-screams of twenty-one hardworking men and women, Julius Kaesoron dearly wished he could.
 

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Discussion Starter #15
CHAPTER NINE​

“Hold the line!” Marius Vairosean exclaimed through the vox-net.

The fighting on Slodi was somewhat difficult, though not any harder than he’d been led to believe. The Third Company had been deployed according to meticulously crafted plans, fought according to the ideals of the Legion, and now were on the verge of triumph, almost having arrived in the Governor’s Palace, where they were to meet up with the 25th and Dasara.

Vairosean knew that sending only two Companies to the heavily defended Slodi while the rest of the Legion idled above wasn’t the perfect plan in most situations; yet here, the Primarch had had reason to act thus. Vairosean required redemption, and sending in overwhelming numbers was rather contradictory to the concept.

Besides, even two Companies were enough to ensure Slodi would be conquered. Even half a Company would probably achieve that. Even though Dasara wasn’t answering his vox-calls ever since he’d become bogged down in fighting around the captial’s outskirts, Vairosean knew victory was assured.

The only question left was, how perfect a victory? Vairosean had so far led a campaign he was, unfortunately, proud of: he’d tried hard to get rid of the emotion, but this war deserved it if any war did. Against many renegade Army regiments, against ceaseless PDF and Mechanicum resistance, against two Titans, the only casualties Third Company had suffered were twenty-five wounded. Not one of Vairosean’s subordinates had died.

Dasara, with his unplanned and improvised approach to warfare- modeled, as those of increasingly many Companies’ were, on Solomon Demeter’s- had lost a full hundred Marines, battle-brothers whose only sin was to serve under such an incompetent and risk-taking Captain.

Well, Vairosean would ensure Dasara changed his ways. If this victory was, indeed, won without the blood of Vairosean’s warriors being spilled-

They needed to win it first. “Group Promethium,” Vairosean repeated as he sprinted into the palace via an underground passageway, “hold the line! Group Coal will meet up with you in a few minutes. Group Oil, continue your advance. There’ll be resistance soon- a supposed ambush in about a hundred meters.”

Vairosean, Group Homewood with him, continued to run through the catacombs. They had been spotted by now, though no forces had yet been dispatched against them. To his sides, Vairosean saw statues of the Old Night Builder-Kings of Slodi. Behind them were the elaborate entrances to tombs, locked forever shut- a monument to the hiding of truth and the worship of idols.

A few of the doors were open, monuments to raiders and vandals. For all the flaws of the Builder-Kings, Vairosean’s disgust with the open tombs was far greater than with the closed ones.

Gunfire lit up the corridor ahead, after a turn. Vairosean suspected it was an automated turret; to check, he motioned Duasnian to fire a rocket into the apparent source of the fire. The lascannon fell silent, having hit none of the Emperor’s Children.

But then the hallway once again filled with the sounds of war, a lasbolt bouncing- for now, harmlessly- off the Third Captain’s power armor.

“Children of the Emperor!” Vairosean cried, leading the charge as it rounded the corner.

“Death to his foes!” Group Homewood responded.

After firing three precise shots at the suddenly frightened Imperial Army- they weren’t precisely Imperial anymore, but that was the closest designation- Vairosean crashed into them.

“Surrender!” he cried, even as his powersword split a soldier in half.

The defenders never got the chance. The strategists in the palace had horribly underestimated Group Homewood’s strength. At the first moment when a normal human, with unaugmented reaction times, could have possibly responded to the Captain’s demand the last mortal resister collapsed to the floor.

“Casualties?”

“None,” Assault Sergeant Arbiaqurn answered. “No wounded. This was a scouting force; they didn’t have enough weaponry to pose a relevant threat.”

“Terogil, how long until we’re under the Throne Room?”

“Just a moment… um… six hundred meters from my position, two hundred from yours.”

“Brother-Sergeant, catch up, please. We run.”

The Third Company headed forwards at a breakneck pace once more, though it was nowhere near the maximum for an Astarte. They knocked down two more automated turrets, visible in the infrared despite the overall dark. Then they were standing, two floors below the Throne Room of Slodi, where the governor sat and plotted his counterstrikes.

“Location, Terogil?”

“A hundred meters behind your position, Brother-Captain. Coming… oomph… up.”

Being a Devastator certainly slowed Terogil down, but Vairosean was growing annoyed with the Sergeant’s lateness. Still, 250% of the Captain’s speed was acceptable.

“Open fire upwards,” Vairosean instructed.

The Devastators eliminated the ceiling in a crescendo of explosions.

Vairosean was the first through the breach, and he helped the Devastators onto the shaky surface of the first floor. They had erupted into a deserted triumphal hallway, lined with the busts of Imperial heroes; among them, Vairosean was amused to note, were those of the eighteen Primarchs. The loyalists’ visages were cloaked, but ten were yet visible- Lupercal, the Crimson King, Guilliman, Sanguinius, Russ, Corax, Mortarion, Jaghatai Khan, the Lord of Iron and a blank face that Vairosean assumed represented Alpharius.

They were rather well-done, actually. It would not do to risk them. “Move forward,” Vairosean commanded, “and burn a hole into the throne room.”

It was done.

Vairosean was again the first through the gap. The stolen schematics proved to be right once again: Group Homewood was, once more, where Vairosean had planned. The throne room stood nearly empty, with only the governor himself reclining in his seat. He was a middle-aged man, clothed formally, with a mixed expression of resignation and determination on his face.

“You’ve come to kill me,” he said.

“Indeed,” Vairosean responded.

“Then do so,” the governor said. “Another will replace me. But Slodi will resist to the last.”

“Surrender. Spare yourself and your world.” Vairosean knew what the governor was playing at: theoretically, his forces were even now surrounding the Throne Room, ready to kill Vairosean as soon as negotiations concluded. In reality, the Third Company had eliminated most of those forces and was methodically surrounding the remnants. But the Captain still hoped the governor would make the sensible choice, for there was no dishonor in logic.

“My world will fight no matter what. And myself… I have lived long enough, I think. But our determination is not futile, Space Marine; you have brought overwhelming force, enough to force most planets to surrender outright. I will die knowing we fought against the fury of dark perfection. And we killed your commander.”

The governor shoved a hand into his throne and showed Vairosean Dasara’s mangled head.

“Gruesome, I know,” the governor said, “but it proves a point. Your fleet is mighty, but you will suffer, even if you do win.”

“Dasara was not my commander,” Vairosean said with disgust, both at the man before him and at the failed Captain.

He shot the governor.

Immediately, the skitarii detachment about to enter the room opened fire, and Vairosean had to twist away from the shells. Some others weren’t so quick; Vairosean saw Arbiaqurn hit in the leg. Vairosean gave three precise shots at the tech-priests’ cerebrums, but only one of them fell; the others had, apparently, moved their brain matter somewhere else.

But it didn’t matter, as the survivors were lit up by a titanic blast from behind moments after Vairosean’s shots. The flame billowed out, and Squad Parstene moved in, the Sergeant’s plasma cannon on his shoulder. Two Imperial Army units rushed into the melee from the throne’s right, but to their left a large force under Vairosean’s second-in-command, Isitan Loisekuas, emerged from a colonnade. Vairosean dodged a blade belonging to one of the remaining tech-priests, then sliced the skitarii’s servo-arm off with his own sword. The tech-priest tried to swivel his gun, but Vairosean had predicted the movement and poked into the skitarii’s shoulder, causing the holding to crack. The skitarii kicked at the Astarte, but it was ineffective, as Vairosean’s bolter exploded his ribcage and the brain therein.

Vairosean tensed for the next enemy, but there was none. The Army ran- calling it a disorganized retreat would be a vast understatement. There were no tech-priests left, indicating any skitarii who’d survived Parstene’s attack had done likewise.

“What now, Brother-Captain?” Loisekuas asked.

Vairosean glanced at Captain Dasara’s head, its skull now cracked. Dasara had failed disastrously, and it was fortunate Vairosean was there to pick up the pieces. How could one possibly lose a hundred Astartes to this level of resistance? And that was before the engagement which had killed the Captain….

“Casualties?”

“Three wounded. None killed.” Apothecaries Tassiditus and Mastados, who’d accompanied Loisekuas in, were scurrying around and taking care of the injured.

“Very well. Loisekuas, stay here with the Devastator Squads, plus the Tacticals of… oh, Naekon and Asaetorto. Everyone else, with me to the war room. Iridius, you have the schematics, right?”

“Yes, Brother-Captain,” the Tactical Sergeant replied. “It’s another floor up, then a kilometer due north.”

“Then north.” The Squads Vairosean had selected followed after him, no longer at a run but rather at a quick walk. The wall of the throne room was broken down, revealing a stairway; the Third Captain marched up it, phlegmatic as ever. He did dearly hope the governor’s designated successor was there; if not, the campaign would drag on, despite the fact that victory was by now assured.

The Emperor’s Children walked behind Vairosean, silently, implacably. They were the finest warriors humanity had ever had. There were rumors of dark things on the ships, of course, of fratricide and debauchery; but Vairosean did not believe the tales. The Third Legion was above such things.

Vairosean entered the traitors’ war room at the head of a column that consisted of, perhaps, two hundred Space Marines; an intimidating sight for an unaugmented human. Perhaps it was telling that the skitarii and other tech-priests in the room simply turned to face Vairosean, some of them even preparing their weapons, whereas the humans’ reaction ranged from throwing their hands skywards to falling to their knees weeping. Perhaps they were simply beyond this imperfection.

“Who is the new governor?” Vairosean asked.

“I am,” one of the relatively resolute human women replied. “And I surrender.”

“I am glad you, at least, saw reason,” Vairosean said. “What are the codes?”

The woman told him, and the Captain typed them in. Within minutes, the automated defenses of Slodi were fully offline.

“Your world is fully within the embrace of the Emperor again now,” Vairosean said. “You will remain governor for as long as you see it stays that way.”

The mop-up and restoration of order would take a few days, but in that moment of surrender the first war of the Unbroken Stars campaign was over.

The Imperium of Man had won.

And Marius Vairosean was redeemed.
 

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Discussion Starter #16 (Edited)
And back to Ultramar. Hopefully no one finds this offensive....

CHAPTER TEN​

Erikon Gaius, Twenty-First Captain of the Ultramarines, was not quite sure why this meeting had been called. It was not that he wasn’t aware the running of a government involved a lot of such meetings, some without any obvious purpose; he’d been involved in the ruling of Valhalla for a year near the beginning of his captaincy. But Carenn was a Hive World, and its government was bigger- and stranger.

The meeting wasn’t even run by the governor, Lady Ruler Itacia Remasna, but rather by her second-in-command, Vice-Governor Alarone Jaranuos.

“Now,” the vice-governor- a bald, but tall, man about the age of the governor- stated, “let us all stand up and sing our national anthem with the dance.”

“Let’s not,” the defense advisor- a younger man named Ulriader Sezemes, with whom Gaius had gotten along quite well- offered.

“You dare question my authority?”

“No, my lord, I-”

“Stand up! Now! Everyone- that includes you, Ultramarine!”

Gaius sighed and remained sitting. He didn’t know the national dance, and if he danced it, the floor would collapse.

“That-” the vice-governor tried again.

“No.”

The vice-governor seemed aback and ready to unleash a frightened, yet furious rant; but at that moment the governor rushed in.

“Alright, what’s going on here?” she asked.

“The lord vice-governor hasn’t taken his medication,” the manufacturing advisor guessed.

“This is not about-”

The governor sighed. “Jaranuos, Jakane, with me. The rest of you, do something useful. Good luck!” And she waltz-rushed out, tapping a familiar melody with her feet. Asazexia Jakane, the palace manager, dragged the vice-governor out; Jaranuos assumed a dissatisfied grimace, but shook her off and marched out on his own.

“I still say he’s senile,” Sezemes said. “Don’t know why the Lady Ruler keeps him around.”

“He’s a genius when he’s sane,” police advisor Yarosine Konscalles noted. “He’s just dependent on the medication. And anyhow, you shouldn’t disrespect your elders.”

Suitably chastised, Sezemes leaned back in his chair.

“Anyhow,” Konscalles continued, “there’s actually a reason I wanted this meeting called, before Jaranuos’ condition hijacked it. There have been a number of statistical anomalies lately. An unusual number of kidnappings, unexplained disappearances and suicides in the Attatti district. I’ve sent some of my best officers down there, and half of them haven’t returned. I need something more.”

“The Ultramarines,” Gaius offered.

Konscalles nodded. “It’ll probably be elementary for you, but we can’t handle the problem. Will you-”

“Naturally,” Gaius said, though even as he said that, doubts began to creep into his mind. Sezemes looked about to protest, so the Captain turned to him. “You can handle the defenses’ construction on your own, I hope?”

“Of course,” Sezemes said. “I do hope, however, that you will return.”

“We will most certainly return. We are Astartes, after all,” Gaius said. He suspected that something capable of taking down a world’s best Arbites was a real threat even to Space Marines, but he had a lot of warriors with him. Hopefully, that would be enough. “Is there anything else?”

“I have the newest imports report,” trade advisor Oralexi Zentonna offered, and everyone began hurriedly getting up to leave. Gaius walked out into the hallway with Sezemes, quickly voxing the fifteen Squads on Carenn’s surface to meet up with him; the defense advisor seemed rather sullen.

“I sincerely hope that you will return soon, Captain Gaius,” Sezemes offered. “I’m not sure how much of the operations my clout will keep running.”

“For Guilliman’s sake, I’ll be gone for maybe half a cycle! It’s one mission- get in, kill or negotiate, get out. We do things fast.”

“That,” Sezemes said, “is encouraging.”

Sezemes was a strong, determined man, if somewhat lacking in respect. He could have been a great Ultramarine, and had in fact passed the initial trials, but genetic incompatibility had kept him out of the Legion. He had, however, served a tour in the Imperial Army and returned to Carenn as an officer; there, he had proven himself to be an able politician and rapidly climbed the ranks. At only twenty-nine, he was in charge of the entire PDF and had a seat in the governor’s inner circle. His son, born before he’d left with the Army, was ten and would take the Legion trials in a couple of years; due to the quirks of heredity, that one was genetically compatible, and Sezemes sincerely hoped his child would be able to achieve what he hadn’t.

That child- Erikon Sezemes, not named after Gaius but after Ulriader Sezemes’ father- was not particularly strong physically, but possessed intelligence and determination that would take him far, whether he passed the Legion trials or not.

“Good luck, Sezemes. Keep everything running.”

“I’ll try to,” the defense advisor answered with a smile as Gaius headed towards the shuttle pad.

Tactical Squad Frasar, along with Devastator Squads Alasigines and Ionnases, were already there; Gaius dispatched them, under Veteran Sergeant Ionnases’ overall command, to watch over construction for the event something happened while he was gone. Besides, a hundred and twenty Astartes was enough to conquer the average planet; cleansing a Hive’s depths of criminals would be- not easy, necessarily, but almost certainly doable even with the decreased numbers, one would assume.

The other Squads arrived gradually, flowing in from construction sites around the city. Tactical Squads Orsono, Loppones, Xelarcal, Zunacles; Assault Squads Hardonisses, Thespates, Ebenos; Devastator Squads Marianes, Frazant, Pernitum. Tactical Veteran Sergeant Usalaguer, Gaius’ second-in-command, was among the last to arrive; he had been improving the details of the defenses within the Hive. The final Squad to come was Alarone Partaxen’s, the Devastator Sergeant explaining his absence by a meeting with a neighborhood association. “They wouldn’t let us in,” Partaxen noted, “not until we broke down the door; but I believe every single one of them has since resigned. It was entertaining.”

It was, indeed, entertaining, but Gaius had other things to worry about. He went over the theoreticals several times in his head, considering the worst-case scenarios because anything else posed no threat.

“We’ll go down in the gunships,” he explained, “and investigate. This starts out as a reconnaissance mission. Hopefully we won’t need to go into full combat mode; but be prepared, because something odd is down there.”

They did as the Captain said. The gunships- the new Thunderhawk pattern, which Gaius had repeatedly commended for its resilience despite the fact that many in the Legion despised it- swept down from the gleaming heights of the Hive City and their artificial atmosphere. Carenn might not have been as stratified as most Hive Worlds, but below Gaius still saw more dust and smoke than in these upper reaches.

The Thunderhawks wove their way between hole-riddled spires under the distant midday sun. Bleak shadows emerged as the five gunships banked sharply, now descending helically around the spire at whose base the incidents had occurred. They hurtled down, accelerating, the Marines within them feeling their gravity lighten; like colossal versions of the birds they were named after, the transports began to draw ever-wider rings around the hive. Now the fullness of the megastructure could be seen and appreciated; it was as big as a small asteroid, and it was alive with the masses of humanity. They were invisible from the gunships, but Gaius knew they were there, somewhere around and behind the intricately sculpted facades.

The descent slowed. Now the birds were gliding, almost parachuting to their final destination, as the golden star above from which the day drew its strength revealed hidden statues on the arcology. It was noon, and now Gaius could see, below, veritable forests of sparkling monuments, lit by mirrors to gleam in the sunlight, multicolored yet with an overall pattern to them. He stared, doing his best to combine that with steering the Thunderhawk.

“The Zenith Statues,“ Frazant noted.

“Indeed,” Gaius said. “Beautiful… But short-lived.”

The sun had passed its highest point; and the fragile order of the mirrors and skylights was lost. The beauty was lost, replaced by a disorganized mixture of lit and darkened areas.

“This is what happened to the Crusade,” Frazant offered, and Gaius had to appreciate how fitting the metaphor was. But in the mosaic, was Horus the light or the darkness? In here, isolated from Legion and Chapter, Erikon Gaius sometimes forgot a galactic war was going on; and that state of mind was one he much preferred to his current one.

The Thunderhawks dove lower, slowing down as they approached the police station where the abnormality had first been noted. Behind, the Hive City still rose, though its heights were now somewhat cloaked by the smoke of countless forges above the convoy. The industrial regions were nowhere near the output of a Forge World, but despite knowing all the statistics Gaius was still amazed at the sheer scale of production.

The smoke concentrated as the Hive deepened, and by the time the gunships knocked greetings to the airstrip at the Arbite offices, the air beyond the widening spire was murky. The Thunderhawks touched down into small reception bays; then, the pollutants were pumped out and cleansed. There were great machines above the smoke-layer that did something similar on a larger scale, if Gaius remembered correctly. Then the bays were bright again, and the grand doors opened.

As Gaius climbed out, one of the two policemen sent to greet him fainted.

“Er,” said the other, pouring out words in a continuous stream, “thank you for coming! We were told, but- Guilliman, this is lucky! What am I saying?! Thank you, thank you, the commander will see you now.”

He scurried in the direction of the commander’s office. Gaius followed, motioning his task force to stay put.

The commander, a large man with a large moustache, proved less impressible. “Hello,” he grunted. “Thank you for coming. I assume you want the situation?”

Gaius nodded.

“Well, the situation is this: 500% jump in disappearances, 30% jump in murders, 100% jump in suicides, and seven of the best police officers in all of Carenn dead- I think they’re dead, but we don’t even know that for sure. We’ve got a problem, lord Captain, some sort of black hole sucking in the people of my division. And as you understand, I don’t like it. I’m close to getting fired, but it’s obvious this rise has nothing to our efforts; so I’ll be simple. Here-” the commander pointed at a large map of what was probably the district- “is ground zero. That’s the epicenter, my statisticians reliably tell me.”

“And what’s there?”

The commander let out a roar of fury. “NO. ONE. KNOWS! I’ve sacrificed my career to end this thing, threw everything I had at it, threw everything the Carennian Arbites had at it- and we don’t even know what in the world it is!” He let out a string of strong curses, then continued his rant, interspersing it with similar profanity.

Gaius stood silently and listened to the commander until the human calmed down. It was clear this man was afraid, both for himself and for his district, but his reaction to subconscious fear was conscious rage. It was a useful trait to have, all in all.

“Anyway,” the man said, breathing heavily, “I’m sorry if I offended your sensibilities, but please. I beg you.”

“Farewell,” Gaius said.

“Farewell,” the frustrated commander answered.

The Space Marines ran into the Hive’s center alert and fully armed. Gaius knew they would look odd to the civilians around them, that the “anomaly” would know they were coming; but there was only so much that could be done to prepare for Astartes arriving.

No one bothered them. As the Space Marines negotiated the corridors and bridges that led them to the epicenter, no attack came. They trod through the heart of the spire, coming to an unremarkable structure nearer the other side- the fabled epicenter.

It was a tower, rising from the relative floor Gaius and the others were standing on; but its top, instead of ending in a pinnacle, spread out across a distant roof, a column in a human cavern. A typical hab-unit’s windows lined its outer walls.

Erikon Gaius of the Ultramarines knocked on the door.

A woman rushed out. She was middle-aged, though she had signs of a rejuv treatment’s early stages; her expression at seeing the Astartes was not one of surprise, but it demonstrated deep awe nevertheless.

“Come in, come in!” she said.

“First,” Gaius said, as threateningly as he judged the order of the Legion tolerated, “explain the disappearances.”

“We’re not- oh, the police are insane about this! Or stuck in bureaucracy, one of the two. You have to believe us- we’re just a church, but the police just write up all our converts as missing persons or murdered.”

“And what about the disappeared police officers?” Gaius dug, choosing not to mention that the Imperial Truth technically prohibited religion (or it did until- no, religion was still forbidden in Ultramar, and that was what mattered right now.)

“They understood the Word too. Come in, come in- I’ll explain. We only want peace, and yet we’re painted as murderers and kidnappers. Kartan!”

Meria Kartan was one of the supposedly-dead police officers. The woman who came out at the priestess’ request did look exactly like the photograph Gaius had been shown. Perhaps it was a fake, but it was looking more and more likely that the priestess was telling the truth- though there was probably a sinister undercurrent to this religion. Bureaucratic mistakes like the mentioned one happened, but not on Ultramar- Gaius assumed, though even that could be wrong.

“Show the Astartes around.”

“I would be honored to,” the former Arbite said with a bow.

“Alright,” Gaius proclaimed. “Put your helmets on; full combat readiness. Squads Zunacles, Thespates, Frazant, with me. Everyone else, stay outside.” He followed his own instruction and then looked at Kartan once more; she did match the picts and the downloaded records of body language, though the details were somewhat off- probably due to the lifestyle change.

She led them through the monastery. It was not unlike a Space Marine Legion’s fortress, with communal living a major focus. Gaius spotted, in passing, two more of the missing Arbites, as well as some other disappeared- though not one of the recorded murder victims showed up.

“We worship five gods,” the priestess explained as she led Erikon Gaius through the multitude of worship chambers, some with disturbingly human-like blood on the altars. “The first is the Rising Sun- that is the Emperor, of course, beloved by all.”

Here Erikon Gaius made his decision, and he barely listened as the woman explained about the High Sun- the god of honor, the Setting Sun- the god of compassion, and the New Moon- the god of hope. All the Captain noted was that the gods were viewed as quite real and concrete entities, which only reinforced his conclusion. He paid no attention to his surroundings, either, except to record a tactical overlay in case of hostilities.

His face plainly exhibited his disgust, but as it was veiled by his helmet, Kartan continued babbling.

“Thus the Full Moon,” the priestess concluded, “is the god of joy, who is also the goddess of joy. Here- smell the ceremonial incense.”

“No.”

“But I insist! We forbid-”

“No.” The woman shrank back, Gaius absentmindedly noted. “Now I will tell you what will happen. Religion is antithetical to the Imperial Truth. This organization has a two-month grace period to disband, after which the cult members will return to their duties and families. We’ll take care of the police records.”

“But please! Has my talk of honor not-”

“I have told you what will happen! And that, by Ultramar, is what will happen. I trust you will not resist?”

“No,” the priestess said. “Of course not.”

“Just remember,” Gaius concluded, “we will be watching.”
 

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Discussion Starter #17
CHAPTER ELEVEN​

Marius Gage stood on the bridge of the Macragge’s Honour as madness rolled back.

The ship’s sensors clicked frantically as they began to detect comprehensible information. The viewports began to open as looking through them became a reasonable course of action. The Gellar fields became intangibly weaker as the outside clicked against them less and less.

And the Macragge’s Honour, along with the rest of the embassy of Ultramar to the Outer Sphere, descended from the roil of the Warp into the realspace of the Osinnden System.

That system was a fairly standard set of worlds in the galactic west of the Outer Sphere. Osinnden II, a Hive World, was the only inhabited planet, though there were agricultural settlements on the moons of the Osinnden III gas giant. Osinnden I was a charred rock; Osinnden IV and V were iceballs in the outer reaches of the system. Osinnden II was mostly notable for being the second-most-populous planet of the Sphere; beyond that, it wasn’t particularly special.

“Regent,” Ximeodon pointed out, “the Iron Hands fleet has been detected.”

Gage checked the sensor arrays; indeed, the Tenth Legion ships were in orbit around the Hive World. “Make full speed for Osinnden II,” he announced. “Check theoreticals a final time. Vestates, send my congratulations to the Navigator for managing to track the Iron Hands- I’m given to understand this sort of task is quite difficult.”

Vestates ran off. Gage, for his part, ran through the plan of battle one final time. It was relatively simple- the earlier engagement had left the Ultramarines with the firepower advantage, so it would suffice to corral the Iron Hands from escaping again (which the heading he was on would already do, stopping the Tenth Legion fleet from reaching either of the two jump points), then methodically eliminate their ships. Boarders were a concern, but there were as many Ultramarines under Gage’s command as there were Iron Hands under Sorpot’s.

The Ultramarines held the advantage, and they would eliminate the Iron Hands- no matter how much Gage hated to do so.

The Thirteenth Legion’s ships lazily swarmed towards the shining dot of Osinnden II hanging in the void. The enemy fleet did not attempt to make a break for the jump point; it remained hanging around the Hive world, in orbit, waiting.

“What are they doing?” Tactical Sergeant Arsetheus inquired.

“I’d guess preparing for us,” Ximeodon offered.

Gage plugged in the details of the inquiry into the sensors. A moment later, the answer came out.

“We’re too far away to see clearly,” the First Chapter Master offered, “but they appear to be active, and in geostationary orbit.”

The Ultramarines glided ever-closer to the green and black sphere of Osinnden II like great eagles, collected but hungry. They were approaching the Iron Hands ships from two sides- one fleet on the straight line to the system’s primary jump point, the other more or less blocking the escape route to the other two. The Iron Hands could, in principle, try evasive maneuvers; but Gage was good at countering evasive maneuvers.

“Humph,” Taplon said, having taken Gage’s place watching the sensors. “All of the Iron Hands are in geostationary orbit around Osinnden II, but above various Hives.”

“Observing?“ Ximeodon asked.

Taplon typed a few more commands into the sensor, and then the confusion in his expression turned to sadness, while the sadness turned to anger.

“No,” Taplon stated after muttering a few curses under his breath. “Not observing. Bombing.”

The image came up on the giant screen, filled with orange pain. A Hive City was crumpling under the methodical bombardment of the Iron Hands, titanic towers falling towards the distant ground. Its void-shields were by now completely gone, and though the Ultramarines were much too distant to see the individual people, the shuttles doing their best to dodge the falling debris made clear what the primary thought on the mind of this once-great Hive was.

“This is happening all over the planet,” Taplon said.

Gage clenched his fists. He tried to let the anger out for a moment, but then concluded that it was unnecessary to do so; the fury would only lead him to fight more determinedly. He had wondered how to fight other Astartes. Well, this was the answer.

This, Gage knew, was the way of the Imperium now. The Iron Hands, his cousins, had exterminated an entire world, killed hundreds of billions of civilians. No, not his cousins- not anymore.

His enemies.

Sorpot’s face appeared on a view screen, even as news of the massacre began to permeate the Ultramarines’ fleet.

“This is what will happen to every one of your rebellious worlds,” he taunted, though his expression was far from childish. “Death from the stars. No warning, no mercy. We will exterminate you!”

“No,” Gage answered. “Ultramar will stand. And to seal Osinnden II’s destruction, you sacrificed yourselves. Think on whether this was a worthy cause. Think about that now, for in twenty minutes you will be dead!”

Gage clenched his fists again, even as Sorpot cut the feed.

“Kill them,” the First Chapter Master ordered, on the verge of tears. “Kill them all.”

He did not regret the need for the decision, because the accursed Iron Hands didn’t deserve it. As the Ultramarines opened fire, Marius Gage directed them into more and more intricate patterns. There were slight deviations from the theoretical, but as black-painted fighters and frigates exploded, the Iron Hands recognized they were doomed. They fired back, mechanically, in great volleys of bleak light; they continued bombarding the Hive Cities on the surface; but through the maelstrom of Warp combat, Gage could trace the patterns that signaled the Iron Hands were behind.

The Ultramarine ships fired at maximum. A couple of fighters rammed into much larger Tenth Legion vessels, dragging them down into oblivion in directionless flame. The Iron Hand flagship headed towards the Macragge’s Honour, and Gage knew the Ninth Company of the Thirteenth Legion could take it apart if it so desired; but he did not give the order to concentrate fire, because it would be completely contrary to his goal.

“Let them board,” Marius Gage commanded. “I want to see them die.”

Sorpot’s vessel continued on its trajectory towards the Macragge’s Honour, spinning like a torpedo as it hurtled toward its final destination. Even as it did so, it fired down, electronically switching guns every second to ensure that it caused the maximum destruction, to ensure that it defeated the point as much as possible, to carve- as much as possible- the message that the Iron Hands within it were no longer anyone linked to Gage.

They were no longer even human. They were machines; dark machines. A legion of swords aimed at mankind’s heart, at Ultramar’s heart. It was Gage’s duty, the Ultramarines’ duty, to turn them aside.

“Remember!” Gage voxed. “This is what the Imperium is now! This is what the Iron Hands are now! They are no longer our cousins, brothers. They are malice in Astarte form. But they can still be killed- so do the favor to the great people they once were, and end these daemons of the Materium!”

Sorpot’s ship was on the verge of impacting Gage’s when the Regent gave the command to abruptly swerve. Sorpot had been expecting the maneuver, though- which, in turn, Gage had counted on- and shot already prepared boarding torpedoes towards the nearby surface of the Macragge’s Honour.

“Boarders!” Ximeodon screamed through the vox, even though Gage already knew.

“About eighty Iron Hands,” Gage commented. “Repel; practical null-zeta.”

Null-zeta called for the Ultramarines to spread out and eliminate a foe of comparable strength to them gradually, with heavy use of the ship’s defenses. It also called for the Astartes’ leader to head the finishing blow, and it was as much for that as for its effectiveness that the Regent of Ultramar chose it.

Of course, that effectiveness- being the plan which had seemed most promising against Astartes in the theoreticals- had played a leading role in Gage’s choice. He did, after all, have to restrain himself from excessive battle-lust; that led to sloppiness. He did a few quick breathing exercises to calm his choler, recognizing that the Iron Hands’ inhumanity only made it more vital for him to preserve his rationality. He did not want to become anything like these slaughterers.

Still, sometimes death was necessary, or even desirable. Marius Gage took out his weapons.

“What is the situation?” he asked Ximeodon.

The bodyguard looked at the ship’s sensors for a moment, after which his expression became slightly worried. “Regent,” he said, “they’re approaching the bridge. Still… fifty-one Iron Hands remaining, of eighty-eight, and twenty Ultramarines lost in skirmishes.”

“We will remember them,” Gage said. He wondered for a moment whether his eagerness to fight personally had doomed them, but if Sorpot’s flagship had been eliminated, the rest of the battle would have been much more difficult for the Ultramarines. As it was, the Tenth Legion’s fleet was virtually destroyed. The best the Iron Hands could now do was hurt the Ultramarines dearly.

And they were doing that, because what did a sword care who it killed? What did a sword know of surrender? Of course, the Ultramarines would never accept it, not now. And the Iron Hands had once been great…

An explosion at the door put Gage out of his thoughts and onto his stomach. Sorpot of the Iron Hands strode in, a giant in black and silver plate. He wielded a titanic war hammer, even now thundering with the urge for devastation. His face was scarred, but the Iron Father had made decorations of the wounds, littering his face with silver lines.

It was pretentious.

With a roar, Vestates threw himself at the Iron Father, his rage even greater than Gage’s own. Feeling the choler rising in him once more, the Regent breathed heavily once more, getting up and raising his weapon.

Some particularly enthusiastic Iron Hands had rushed ahead of the duel, and Gage bisected one of them as he hurtled past. Another swung at him, but Gage dodged before impaling the thing that had once been a Space Marine. He followed it up by deflecting a strike from yet another attacker. His powersword slid past, cutting into the enemy’s power armor even as his bolter screamed the death of yet another in the distance.

Turning, he saw Sorpot, having outplayed Vestates, crushing the Ultramarine’s head with his titanic hammer. With a cry of piercing loss, Gage launched his body towards the Iron Father, turning the hammer aside from another of his brothers’ cerebrums.

“So you are the chief traitor!” Sorpot boomed, even as Ultramarine reinforcements rushed into the bridge. “Know this before you die: my hatred for you was well and true.”

“My hatred for you,” Gage said in response, even as a blow from the Iron Father’s hammer shattered his left wrist, “is twisted by your evil!”

Sorpot cackled as pain suppressors flooded the hand. Gage could tell it would reknit itself together; still, he had to end this battle quickly. His sword rang against Sorpot’s hammer once, twice, every time forcing the combat further and further right. As Sorpot’s sonic hammer punched a hole through the floor, Gage brought up his left hand and, struggling to keep it together, fired.

The Iron Father’s head exploded in a final scream. It was not one of pain, but of triumph, as his hammer shattered Gage’s blade; but he was too dead to enjoy that victory for long.

Around him, the story was repeating itself. Iron Hands lay dead across the bridge. The remaining forces of the Tenth Legion continued to advance, and Gage allowed himself to be shoved to the back of the Ultramarines. He executed a wounded Iron Hand therein, before allowing an Apothecary to come to him.

As his wrist was worked on, Gage considered the battle’s results. A few Ultramarines had died, Vestates among them, but overall casualties were less than he had expected. Perhaps the mood of utter annihilation, the pure hate for the Iron Hands, had led to a greater disregard for one’s own life and a greater density of attacks. Perhaps that was the key to fighting Astartes- there was no way to defend oneself? Or perhaps, as for Gage, the solution had simply been the loss of any mercy or regret.

“That was risky,” Taplon said as he walked up to his Chapter Master. “If you had hesitated….”

“I didn’t,” Gage said. “I couldn’t have. Not against the Imperium, especially these cursed monsters.”

Taplon nodded. He was quite intelligent- perhaps he would become a Champion one day. A Tetrarch, even. “You could have hesitated, but not then. The heat of battle rarely takes you, Regent, and you fight as if it were a theoretical; not here.”

“Indeed,” Gage said. “This was as far from a theoretical as one could get.”

“Anything else?” Taplon asked as he prepared to walk back to his station, combat being over.

“Finish off their fleet and start the rescue mission,” Gage said. “Oh, and have a new sword made.”
 

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Discussion Starter #18
CHAPTER TWELVE​

Marius Vairosean had expected a triumph upon his return to the Pride of the Emperor. He had, after all, subdued a planet with no Astarte casualties. Slodi was his victory, even as it was Dasara’s doom. True, the world was minor, but no casualties against fierce resistance was a success hard to believe, the result of truly incredible preparatory work.

Marius Vairosean had expected a triumph upon his return to the Pride of the Emperor. But Emperor, he hadn’t expected such a triumph!

He was standing now at the head of a detachment of Sergeants, parading through the Triumphal Way. There was a celebratory mood Vairosean had never seen before Laeran, but which had since become infectious after every major victory. Yet the celebrations were even more extreme than before, almost seeming like an attempt to distract.

The Third Company strode through the Triumphal Way, their march echoing off the vast hallway, guards and statues flanking their path. There were more skulls than during his last visit, Vairosean noted; perhaps Eidolon had participated in another campaign, or perhaps some Captain was imitating the Lord Commander. Neither scenario much excited Vairosean, but Fulgrim had, however, given his assent to the skulls, and it was not Vairosean’s place to question his Primarch, ever.

The procession approached the Phoenix Gate, and Vairosean saw Lord Commander Eidolon standing at the entrance, proud and almost paternal. Next to him, and dwarfing the Lord Commander in every way possible, stood the Primarch himself. Fulgrim was in full military gear, and the expression on his face was similar to Eidolon’s, but genuine.

“I congratulate you, Brother-Captain Vairosean,” he said with a smile. “That was… exquisite.”

“It was my duty,” Vairosean answered. “My redemption. It had to be as perfect as possible.” It did, and it was.

“And the greatness of this campaign was undeniable.” Fulgrim raised his head to take in the full parade. “I congratulate you, Marius Vairosean, Third Captain of the Third Legion. The victory feast will be in a quarter of a cycle.”

It was the conclusion; loud music played a triumphal coda, and Vairosean wondered at when the last campaign without had been. He remembered that Verona had led one, for which he had been promoted to Lord Commander within a month; but the war for Analasse had been thirty-two years ago. He remembered it well, along with Fulgrim’s pride. Perhaps Verona’s execution had simply been a product of Fulgrim’s great expectations.

Vairosean dearly hoped he wouldn’t share the same fate.

As the Third Captain departed towards his rooms, he felt a tug at his left arm. Turning around, he noted Solomon Demeter, unhelmeted and grinning with true joy. “Great to see you back, in this sort of victory,” the Second Captain said.

“It took a lot of preparation,” Vairosean noted. “And really, it wasn’t-”

“The last time this happened was before Verona’s promotion to Lord Commander, thirty-two years ago. It was amazing.”

“Thank you. But Dasara-”

“Who cares?”

Vairosean exhaled, feeling a bit of choler. “Dasara was a Captain. Our brother. Neither of us liked him, but it is a horrid evil to enjoy his death.”

Demeter solemnly nodded, exhibiting clear remorse that made Vairosean feel he’d spoken too harshly. “You’re right; I apologize. The Twenty-Fifth….”

“The Twenty-Fifth suffered horrid losses, and in all honesty their absence disappoints me. They did not deserve a triumph, perhaps, but their contribution was vital.”

“You could have won alone.”

“Not without deaths.”

Demeter nodded. “But in any case, you did win, without deaths, and I can’t bring myself to regret a campaign that did that. And- and we need you here.” Vairosean tilted his head in inquiry, and Demeter eagerly continued. “The Legion’s decay- that which Fulgrim had braked- is accelerating again. Kaesoron massacred surrendering civilians. Abranxe killed one of his Sergeants for entertainment. Ruen took prisoners in the campaign on the research station, and is currently torturing them.”

“I find that hard to believe. And Fulgrim-”

“Fulgrim is devoted to the god, the one called Slaanesh. He no longer acts to stop any of that- well, he censured Abranxe, but mildly. He directly supported Kaesoron’s act. Does Fulgrim even follow the Emperor anymore, Vairosean?”

It was a heretical question, an unimaginable possibility; but if all that Demeter said was true (and the Second Captain blatantly believed it), then the impossible became possible rather quickly.

“I will not react with anger,” Vairosean nevertheless said, “but I am still loyal to our Primarch. I will consider your words, Solomon Demeter, but I will not heed them. Probably. Farewell.”

“Farewell,” Demeter replied, still warmly, and they parted.

Vairosean walked to his chambers, trying to suppress the doubt. It was not his place to question Fulgrim; and Demeter could have been misled. The fact of command, the ideal of honor, demanded that Vairosean not even entertain the possibility Fulgrim was a traitor; but to have heard the worst rumors from the fleet, confirmed just like that…

Fulgrim was supposed to be returning the Legion to order. What had happened? It was all so sudden….

Vairosean shook his head. A triumph had happened, one even greater than Vairosean had expected. It was utterly ungrateful to doubt the Legion now, of all times.

Mentally exhausted from the suppression, the Third Captain entered his room and gazed at his collection. He set Tawanaer’s fifth installment in the Cycle of Music to play softly as he concentrated on a simulation of the Slodi campaign, from Dasara’s point of view. Unsurprisingly, it was about as difficult as his half. As he sent Loisekuas to link up with Dasara’s forces, he winced at how badly the cogitator was mismanaging the operation. Perhaps he was, indeed, too humble; Dasara’s failure had come against strong resistance, and it hadn’t been that much worse than Vairosean had predicted.

Still, even doing the simulation for the first time, Vairosean managed to limit losses to thirty deaths and survive personally. That was a significant improvement on Dasara’s results, despite being distracted; and the Twenty-Fifth Captain had achieved that rank for a reason. Vairosean still did not know what engagement, precisely, had killed Dasara; it was beside the point anyways. The better question was what had led to the deterioration of his strategic ability.

After checking the time (three hours remained until the feast), Vairosean searched for Dasara’s previous campaign on his cogitator. The ship’s common net it had been a month prior, and the largest change since then was a modification to Dasara’s brain done by Lord Commander Fabius.

That was not a good sign. Besides, even those who had accepted non-mental modifications had become more chaotic- Solomon Demeter was a good sign (though, of course, Demeter had always been chaotic). Perhaps Lord Commander Fabius’ modifications were at the root of the changes?

And the changes in the Legion had started after Laeran, at that, simultaneously with Bile’s modifications. The only question was: had the sinister alterations touched Fulgrim? Had this injury to the Legion’s ability, the Legion’s perfection, touched the Primarch?

Well, Fulgrim had been noted to be spending all his time with Lord Commander Fabius….

Gears clicked within Vairosean’s mind. That explained everything- Kaesoron’s mercilessness, Ruen’s cruelty, Dasara’s foolishness. It was hurting the Emperor’s Crusade, too. There was no way this traced itself to the Emperor. Vairosean would have shot the surrendering men if that was the honor system of the Imperium now; but blatant failure was not acceptable in any system.

Of course, there were still questions. It was still not clear how the Warp entity, Slaanesh, fit into this- perhaps it was one of Fabius’ accomplices? And just how disloyal were Fabius and Fulgrim?

No. All of this was just theory. Fabius and Fulgrim were not disloyal. Turning his cogitator to statis, he cleaned his armor at a slightly accelerated pace and was in the Triple Fall slightly earlier than his graph had called for. He waited for Isitan Loisekuas there, and then headed to the Heliopolis, walking the Triumphal Way for the second time in a cycle, though this time without ceremony.

They arrived at the Phoenix Gate together. Two of the Guard blocked the way.

“Captain Marius Vairosean.”

“Subcaptain Isitan Loisekuas.”

“This one is not a member of the Brotherhood,” one of the Phoenix Guard said.

“He is my guest,” Vairosean said. He had specifically cleared this with the Primarch before the triumph, getting the right to have Loisekuas visit.

“Very well,” the other Guard replied. Vairosean wondered if Fabius’ implants, if they were indeed the malice’s cause, were within the Phoenix Guard too. It seemed likely, given their closeness to the Primarch.

The Captain did his best to clear such thoughts from his mind as he entered the Heliopolis. Loisekuas hurried off to find his seat, whereas Vairosean descended to his own, near the amphitheater’s center. Demeter sat next to him, silent for now, awaiting the Primarch. The amphitheater began to fill up with the Captains and other senior staff of the Legion. Lord Commander Fabius was among the last to arrive, with only an exhausted Saul Tarvitz following him. Vairosean looked at the Tenth Captain in question.

“Debating Lucius is tiring,” Tarvitz responded.

Fulgrim appeared, as always, precisely on schedule. His light skin glittered in the piercing illumination, and his expression radiated confidence and contentment, as well as the devotion to further perfection. He lowered himself into his throne and cast an overall gaze on the Heliopolis. He picked out, and Vairosean copied, the disgraced Abranxe, his proud blood-brother Heliton, Lucius’ replacement Jaenispius, the ever-vain Eidolon, the contemplative Vespasian, Tarvitz, Kaesoron, Demeter, and others; the Brotherhood of the Phoenix had been gathered.

“We gather here today,” Fulgrim pronounced, his voice as a thunderclap, “to remember the victories past. Let us remember, then, the truly wondrous achievement of Marius Vairosean! Marius, I take it your victory will be sufficient for you to accept Lord Commander Fabius’ enhancements?”

“Ah, yes,” Vairosean said when it became clear Fulgrim was awaiting a response. “I will schedule a time, my lord.”

“Marvelous,” Fulgrim said. “Let us remember that Marius Vairosean of the Third Legion’s Third Company conquered the planet Slodi without a single one of his Astartes falling. Let us remember that, despite this, the conquest was far from perfect.”

“Captain Dasara of the 25th,” Fulgrim continued in magnificent fashion, “fell in battle after his forces were torn apart. He was my son, and I mourned him; yet his own tactics brought on his failure. But in a sense, those tactics were closer to perfection than Vairosean’s. For perfection is not simply the geometric ideal of winning a war most efficiently, is it? It is, too, the living, beating ideal of joy. It is improvisation in the midst of fierce battle. It is the tactics of Solomon Demeter that must pave our way forwards. Excessive preparation is similar to breaking through a wall it would be much easier, and more elegant, to walk around. It is the antithesis of perfection.”

Vairosean tried to calm his choler, but the Phoenician wasn’t finished. “Many among this Legion worship the deity Slaanesh. I endorse this faith; but we must remember we are soldiers, and holy to us is war, not peace. We must make our temple on the battlefield. We must not kill our brothers, their pain a sacrifice; we must use as a sacrifice the pain of our enemies. We must not take joy in decay shipside, but in madness planetside. Worship the Dark Prince in war, and perfection will come.”

Slaanesh.

“I understand,” Vairosean said coolly and severely. “Permission to leave for contemplation?”

“Marius, your victory was amazing for what it was. Yet you have greater things ahead of you. Yes, you may leave; but remember I am in no way taking away your triumph.”

So that Fabius can still call me on my promise and corrupt me.

Without a further word, Marius Vairosean stormed off.

He considered the events, outside, in light of the conspiracy theory. Perhaps it was false; perhaps Fulgrim’s conversion had been a political decision, and the Legion’s failure a natural process. But even in that case…

“Does Fulgrim even follow the Emperor anymore?” Demeter had asked.

And the Captain knew that, whether the Phoenician was aware of it or not, his Primarch was a traitor to the Imperium, sowing chaos and failure.

And Marius Vairosean accepted that he would turn away from the Legion to face the Emperor.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
CHAPTER THIRTEEN​

Solomon Demeter was aghast.

There were simply no words describing the Primarch’s cruelty now. To have raised Vairosean so high, only to dash him against the rocks….

“What has Fulgrim done?” he asked Julius Kaesoron.

The First Captain remained silent.

“This was madness. What did Vairosean do to-”

“Open your mind, Demeter,” Kaesoron answered. “Reply to your own question. What has Fulgrim just done?”

There was a strong exasperation evident in Kaesoron’s voice. Demeter watched him closely, but as always, no expression could be read in the First Captain’s blank helmet, bobbing through the vastness of the Triumphal Way as the Captains walked from the Heliopolis.

What had Fulgrim done, indeed? The Phoenician had turned the Legion to a new tactical paradigm, completely changing the Legion’s combat doctrine for no apparent reason. He had officially endorsed the worship of Slaanesh. When Vairosean had left, the Primarch had casually mentioned rebellion- a nonsensical thought if there was one; Vairosean would never betray the Legion and the Emperor, not even if it was right.

Not even, in all probability, if Demeter did. It had been shocking to hear the Third Captain’s tepid reply to Demeter’s clumsy intimation before the assembly; Demeter had expected him to simply turn away. It had been a necessary risk, and the words had sounded much better in his mind….

But they were unrelated to Fulgrim’s speech. That laid out what Demeter now recognized as a massive course correction to the Legion, one not unlike the one that had happened after Laeran, or when the crack down on immorality had began. The definition of perfection was being altered constantly now; the Legion was ever-changing, and even its basic foundations were mutating.

“He changed everything,” Demeter said, recognizing Kaesoron was still awaiting a reply. “He flipped the Legion on its head.”

“By the Emperor- he justified you, Solomon! He endorsed your ways!”

“I fight best in melancholy, not joy.”

“Slaanesh is a deity of both pleasure and pain!” Kaesoron was agitated- not only excited, but also deeply bothered by something. “And your campaigns are precisely the perfection that Fulgrim spoke of. I will change my ways; other Captains will retain them; but you, you were ahead of your time. The Phoenician has redeemed you, Demeter!”

And, came the unspoken conclusion, this is how you respond?

It was a potent argument, and a true one. Demeter’s Primarch had done everything the Second Captain had asked of him. He had reformed the worst aspects of the Legion and the remembrancers; he had near-pardoned Demeter’s threatening Eidolon; he had given Demeter’s best friend a triumph of unique scale; he had, now, actually reformed the Legion’s military doctrine to match Demeter’s. The Second Captain of the Emperor’s Children was distant from his Primarch, that much was true. So Fulgrim had done everything in his power to bring Demeter back.

And this was how he repaid his gene-father?

“I- I’m sorry,” Demeter said.

“You are,” Kaesoron said, “but you need not be. Besides, there’s no use in apologizing to me. You have been in the darkness, and Fulgrim alone has devoted everything to enlightening you, to joining you into our brilliant path. It has blinded us all with its radiance; but you alone lacked the faith to walk forward unseeing.”

“You speak like a Word Bearer,” Demeter noted.

“That is the way of the galaxy now. Fulgrim was forced to endorse Slaanesh, simply because the Legion grew to worship him. We are a religious species, Demeter.” Kaesoron shook his head. “But forgive me. You can apologize to Fulgrim if you wish. I have a feeling he is more concerned with Vairosean now- though I will accept that, if my operation had been so disrespected, I would have been offended.”

Demeter nodded, even as Kaesoron walked off the Way. He remained on it, wondering at how he had not seen this. The truth had been staring him in the face! He, filled with inertia, had been unwilling to improvise, not even recognizing that he was hurting the Primarch in doing so.

“Emperor…”

Demeter laughed. For the first time in months, he laughed with true joy. There was rot, but there had always been rot. There were obstacles, but the Astartes had been created to destroy obstacles.

His voice died down, somewhat awkwardly, but Demeter continued down the Triumphal Way with a smile. He did not look at the skulls; what did he care about Eidolon? The Primarch, he knew, cared for him, and indeed for all of the Captains, as well as for the mad Lord Commander. Approaching his studio, he considered cancelling the tragic statue he’d asked Delafour for, but thought better of it. The galaxy was still in a horrible war. All that had changed was that Demeter was now certain of his place in it.

He looked at his painting of the clash between Legions, now almost complete. Almost absentmindedly, he sketched in a glimmer of dawn behind the Emperor’s Children. The light fit in surprisingly well; it was night, and yet through the skyfall justice inevitably arose.

Demeter continued work, painting in the scene’s details as the Pride of the Emperor disengaged from the orbit of Slodi. He felt the acceleration as it hurtled towards the Warp jump, as the Third and other Companies fell away into their own vessels, to pursue their own quests through the rebellious worlds of the Unbroken Stars. Fulgrim, and under his command the Second Company, would head for the sector’s effective capital, a Forge World named Kaosen that had broken away from Mars when Ferrus had subdued the Mechanicum’s heart. Along the way, they would suppress any and all rebels they found.

He didn’t leave the studio until the image was all but complete, and then only because he felt the need to ask forgiveness from his Primarch as soon as possible. He knew Fulgrim would be difficult to find, but whenever the Pride of the Emperor entered Warp Fulgrim would stand on the observation deck and gaze out the illuminators. The Phoenician was often alone there, or accompanied by only Lord Commander Fabius; what, exactly, he saw out the vast windows was a matter of much conjecture. Tarvitz had once suggested an idea he had heard from Lucius, the concept that Fulgrim was communing with Slaanesh; but Demeter doubted the Primach was so closely linked to the god.

In any case, Fulgrim would be on the observation deck by now, so it was there Demeter headed. The closest path was through the remembrancers’ halls, but the Second Captain eschewed those paths now, even with a helmet. More and more of the remembrancers were leaving the fleet. Delafour had suggested they feared executions, which seemed logical; art could not flourish in a threatened atmosphere. It was regrettable indeed that it had to be so, but the Primarch’s hand had been forced in punishment.

It was unfortunate, but there were many unfortunate matters in the galaxy now; they would not cloud his clarity of purpose, Demeter resolved.

He walked into Captain Korander of the 37th shortly after that resolution. Korander was hurrying to the drop-pods, late for departure for one reason or another.

“Demeter!” the other Captain yelped.

“Brother-Captain Korander.”

“Listen, Demeter,” Korander mumbled, “where are we?”

Demeter took a moment to consider the question, then gave the coordinates. “Hallway 3-Beta, in other words.”

Korander took a look around, as if seeing the path for the first time. “I didn’t recognize it, what with all the… flesh. Haven’t been outside the Apothecarion for a while.”

Korander’s chosen implantation- improved legs, based on Demeter’s own modifications but much more advanced- had taken a particularly long time for Lord Commander Fabius, and almost killed the 37th Captain.

“Good luck,” Demeter said. “May the gods of battle watch over you.”

“I’d prefer to fight without any gods,” Korander said. “But that’s impossible now.”

The 37th Captain ran on, leaving Demeter to continue on towards the observation deck. It was a long walk, one that spurred Demeter’s wonder at the changes going on. Korander had been the second-to-last; now, among the Captains, only Marius Vairosean had not received Fabius Bile’s modifications. Many of the Sergeants had, too, and even some ordinary Battle-Brothers. Rylanor hated it.

But Demeter knew the truth was always more complex. Fabius desired the best for the Legion, of that he had no doubt. Fulgrim would never have become so closely involved with the Apothecary’s work otherwise. The Lord Commander was, however, overeager and somewhat overconfident; this did not exactly breed trust in many of the Legion’s soldiers.

Rylanor isolated himself. Fabius had also been isolated, in his own way, along with Korander. Fulgrim was a Primarch, and thus always separate. Now the Legion was dividing across the Unbroken Stars.

Of the entire Emperor’s Children, it seemed only Demeter and Kaesoron were connected to the Legion’s many heartbeats. They had a truly gargantuan amount of influence.

And how Demeter had misused that power! He resolved his mistake would end soon.

“Lord Primarch?” Demeter asked as he emerged onto the observation deck.

Fulgrim was watching the jump point. The ship waltzed ever closer to that portal into the impossible, and it seemed to Demeter that the mad colors of the Warp were already shining through into realspace.

Fabius was not there, nor was anyone else. Fulgrim’s visage seemed mildly irritated for a moment, then turned into a smile. “Solomon! I’m glad to have you here!”

Demeter nodded. “Lord Father, I- I wanted to apologize.”

“For what? Have you committed some horrific sin I know nothing about?”

Demeter sighed. “I doubted you, Father.”

“In these days, there is no evil in that. Come- watch with me.”

Demeter walked up to his lord, who dwarfed him, a wisp-boned titan. They stood together as the ship’s Gellar fields engaged, as the very fabric of reality began to depart.

“I believed the Legion was sliding into ruin.”

Fulgrim cracked a slight smile. “Why?”

“The acts of those like Ruen, Lucius and Abranxe.”

“They are merely worshipping Slaanesh as they can, Solomon.”

“If the god leads one to commit fratricide, why worship it?”

Rage flashed across Fulgrim’s features for a moment, and Solomon winced; but the anger was fleeting. After an instant, the Phoenician was thoughtful, and after a few more he had an answer. “Slaanesh is more than torture, Solomon. It has various aspects. You might find a few to your liking, actually.”

“What do you mean?”

“Try it. Try worshipping the god. And you will see that you will be rewarded.”

Demeter nodded. Fulgrim’s plans were law on the Pride of the Emperor, and even without considerations of loyalty this made sense. If only monsters like Dasara and Ruen could gain favor with Slaanesh, if only their devotion found itself within the so-called god, then Slaanesh was indeed fundamentally evil. But pleasure and pain were not in and of themselves dark.

Besides, he had talked of gods of battle before, in jest. Now that he knew such beings were real….

“How do I take the first step?”

“Simply watch with me. You would be the first of my sons to do so, you know.”

And Demeter watched. He watched as the Pride of the Emperor sunk deeply into the abyss of the Warp. He watched creatures that imprinted themselves onto his retinas without allowing his consciousness to piece the beasts together. He watched rings and helices spiral in ever-more-complex patterns on the view screen. He watched dimensions that he knew weren’t supposed to be visible even to an Astarte eye.

He watched it all, his mind throbbing with the nonsensical input of information; he could not turn his head away. He saw civilizations rise and fall. He saw species come into existence and go extinct. He saw planets be forged in the heat of young stars, cool, become blue, become green, become grey, then become red and die in the baking heat of an ancient sun. He saw coagulations of man and xeno. He saw agglomerations of light, beings of pure energy, creatures that moved faster than light yet never shifted a single meter. He saw a titanic fortress, its ramparts spewing blood. There was an infinite maze of which Solomon saw every detail, yet understood nothing. A garden was shining, full of filth and decay yet pulsing with eternity. And there was a wondrous palace, its towers decorated with the most intricate architecture and art Demeter had ever seen…

Demeter awoke a day later, the Pride of the Emperor still in the Warp. He remembered little of his visions- only his thoughts, which described the unthinkable. He felt no desire to return to the observation deck, and accepted Fulgrim’s sort-of-apology.

But his resolve to the Prince of Pain and Pleasure, to the god known as Slaanesh, became unmovable.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
CHAPTER FOURTEEN​

Erikon Gaius was walking on scaffolding when the first rocket hit.

He felt it immediately, a shaking that knocked down his delicate balance. Gaius grabbed onto a metal support, doing his best to hang from enough points of support not to break the plasteel- but to be fixed enough not to hurtle into the abyss, as he had felt his safety cable torn in two.

“Activate missile defenses!” he screamed into his communicator, though he dearly hoped Usalaguer had done that already. It was impossible to use retinal displays to check; Gaius’ helmet was off to calm the normal humans, and the construction wasn’t supposed to turn into a combat situation.

Now it had, and the Captain decided to put on his helmet as soon as he reached stable ground. He crept along a set of planks, redistributing his weight so as not to risk crushing them; he still remembered practicing this as an Initiate, though then it had not really been a theoretical- merely a dexterity exercise.

As he clambered, Gaius saw, far to his north, the traces of the blast. A great chunk of the Hive was missing, the police offices within them. A fiery, white sphere was gradually expanding, and within it metal and composites toppled into the great emptiness below. To his west, above the defense department, a missile collided with a counter, the two rockets harmlessly exploding against each other in the upper atmosphere. Eastwards, in the gap between the government’s spire and the adjacent-end residential one, lasers shot down a twin salvo; but the missiles’ forward momentum was sufficient to carry them forwards, dropping down and exploding far below Gaius.

The building shook once more. The Ultramarine Captain held on to his support, slightly rocked but fortunately not kicked off, thanks to Astarte reflexes. The invaders were, Gaius noted, targeting exclusively the government’s central Hive- a sign that they were well aware of Carenn’s structure. In fact, perhaps the reason they had not been noticed was that they were receiving aid from traitors on the planet’s surface?

Traitors. They certainly wouldn’t consider themselves traitors, Gaius had to admit that, in the abstract, betraying Ultramar could be considered a lesser wrong than betraying the Imperium. If the truth became widely known, there would be many, many Imperial sympathizers among the populace, especially if Prospero was presented as rumor and not fact.

As another rocket impacted, Gaius cursed the slow pace of work responsible for the defenses being unfinished. It was understandable, but the galaxy was at war, and attack could come at any time. He was shoved off one of the beams from his hesitation; retaining his grip on the other one, he nevertheless felt it shake.

Just a little bit more. Gaius hung onto the plank as gently as he could, trying to delay its inevitable collapse. The ledge of the Hive was drawing ever closer, and as he felt the metal give way Gaius jumped. It was an easy enough leap, for a Space Marine, and Gaius walked into the spire without looking back.

His comm beeped, and the Twenty-First Captain of the Ultramarines remembered to put his helmet on.

“What’s the situation?” he inquired. “Who’s attacking?”

“Missiles are coming from the lower levels of the Hive, Captain,” Frazant reported. “No sign of ships in orbit.”

Of course. No invasion had been seen because there had been no invasion.

“Spire Gamma,” Usalaguer specified. “Base, approximately level twelve. There were a lot of rockets there, and we weren’t ready for a salvo from below.”

Spire Gamma. Level twelve.

He had been there, two weeks prior.

“The cult,” Gaius voxed. “Practical: It’s the cult.”

There was a pause, long enough for Gaius to collect his thoughts. The cult had talked of honor and hope, but clearly they didn’t truly believe in any just ideals. To bombard their own center of government, to endanger the very structure of the Hive World… to kill thousands of innocents, only to continue their misguided faith.

The channels filled with animated chatter, every Astarte who had seen Spire Gamma struggling to add their impressions to the Company’s theoretical base. Gaius remained silent. His hatred for the hypocritical believers was too absolute for that.

“Obliterate them,” he finally said as the noise died down. The cultists had offended him and the empire, and they were about to learn never to leave an Ultramarine alive.

“Captain, missile defenses are finally fully online. We’re safe.”

“It would have been nice to have that earlier,” Gaius noted while passing through the somewhat shaken arches of the upper house. “Still good, Usalaguer.”

“Gather in the war room?” Assault Sergeant Hardonisses proposed.

“Negative. This is a matter for all of Carenn. Meet in the Hall of the Cabinet.”

Gaius continued to issue orders as he walked through the slightly ruined hallways. The Hive’s structure as a whole had- very fortuitously- not collapsed. There were nowhere near enough missiles for that. Still, if the defenses had been even slightly weaker there would’ve been a good chance of the government of Carenn being obliterated.

Ulriader Sezemes rushed up to meet the 21st Captain, and Gaius took off his helmet to hear what the defense advisor was saying.

“What’s happening? Who’s attacking?”

“The cult from half a month ago.” Erikon Gaius clenched his fists, the gauntlets creaking from the effort. “Instead of disbanding as they should have….”

“They always had the stockpile,” Sezemes said. “There is no way to get this many weapons this quickly.”

“Quite likely, which would mean they were planning a takeover even before my visit.”

Sezemes continued to the Hall of the Cabinet trailing behind Gaius. They entered the amphitheater together. Most of the Ultramarine Sergeants were already there, seated on benches in the back; they were not official advisors, and thus their spots were those of guests. The Cabinet itself trickled in more slowly, each advisor and minister carefully taking their seat. Many of the humans were shaking; Gaius classified the symptoms as a reflection of shock.

“I thought you had an agreement, Gaius…” Jakane muttered.

“Clearly they have disobeyed that pact,” vice-governor Jaranuos commented, “which means that we should simply send the Ultramarines to take care of them. Isn’t that simple enough?”

“We’ve done that before,” the Lady Ruler pointed out. “There’s something about the cult…”

“Gaius can do it,” Jaranuos said. “I have doubts about Space Marines in general, but none about Erikon Gaius.”

“I still have a question,” trade advisor Zentonna observed. ”What’s going on?”

All eyes swiveled to the Space Marine Captain.

“The galactic civil war has come to Carenn,” Gaius said. ”Religious fanatics denying the Imperial Truth have attempted to stage a coup on this planet. Having stockpiled weapons, the cult has launched an attack, presumably to install themselves in place of this legitimate government. Two weeks ago, an anomalous increase in disappearances caused me to investigate; the oddness turned out to be people leaving their families to dwell with the cult. At that point, I left the cult alone after agreeing they would disband- a mistake, it now appears. There are likely less savory elements to this religion, as to every religion- an increase in murders went along with the increase in disappearances.”

“Then,” Jaranuos asked, “will you be able to take care of this threat?”

Gaius checked his Sergeants for consent before nodding. “We will burn them at their core.”

“My forces will back you up,” Arbite representative Konscalles promised.

“Sergeant Usalaguer,” Gaius said, “will remain behind once more and work on the defenses. The rest of us will leave within hours.”

“I approve this plan,” the Lady Ruler said, “though not without some reservations. Is there anything else?”

No one proposed anything. Not even Zentonna, usually buzzing with some economic report, made any suggestion. The planet had been invaded from within, and was now in a state of war.

How had he not foreseen this? How had he not understood that some humans would remain allied with the Emperor over Guilliman? Gaius chided himself for not even considering the possibility, even as he had been silent about the Imperial civil war’s details to governor Remasna precisely because of the fear of treachery.

But blaming oneself would not fix the problem. Gaius recognized his error and moved on.

“Alright,” Lady Ruler Remasna said, “meeting adjourned. I desire to personally speak with Captain Gaius afterwards.”

The advisors filed out. The rulers of Carenn exited the chamber, dejected and frightened, but also full of resolve. They were, in their majority, civilians; none of them had truly expected war, even after the Captain’s direct warnings.

Gaius walked up to the governor, and she led him out of the Hall of the Cabinet, tiny compared to the massive Astarte she was leading.

“So?” Gaius asked.

“The civil war,” Remasna said. “You’re fighting against the Emperor, aren’t you?”

Gaius fumbled around in search of a response. It was true, of course, and yet it was also more complicated, and yet that really was its core.

“You are,” Remasna confirmed. Gaius’ uncertainty on how to respond had apparently made that clear enough.

“We- well-”

“I am not condemning you,” the governor said, somewhat shocking Gaius. “But you are a rebel, and you should not be afraid to announce that fact.”

“Why?” Gaius asked. “Why do you accept this so easily?”

The ancient governor grinned. “Why do you not? I trust Guilliman, son. When he came to Carenn we had resisted the Imperial Army for half a decade; the Ultimate Warrior convinced me to turn the planet over peacefully. His judgment has consistently been sound, which is more than I can say for the Emperor. Why do I accept rebellion? Because I know that if Guilliman himself is rebelling, rebelling is the right and proper course of action. You should have that knowledge, Gaius. Loyalty to your Primarch. You are blessed with his blood; do not be so fearful of his spirit.”

“I am not fearful. We know no fear.”

“And yet you know doubt.” Erikon Gaius had no comment on that. “Ignore it. Your Primarch is doing the right thing, Gaius. Embrace it.”

For his part, the Twenty-First Captain of the Ultramarines hoped he already was.
 
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