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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
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. NOW, ON THE JUNGLE-COVERED DEATH WORLD OF CATACHAN, HORUS LUPERCAL HAS CALLED A COUNCIL TO BRING UNITY TO HIS RAGGED COALITION. JOINING HIM, AMONG OTHERS, IS HIS CLOSEST BROTHER, THE ANGELIC SANGUINIUS. YET SANGUINIUS AND HIS LEGION HAVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS, AND THE COUNCIL - AS THE GALAXY - IS DESCENDING INTO INTERESTING TIMES.​

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

Renegades 5: Perfection's Cry is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=116059

Renegades 6: Bright Swords is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=116893

Renegades 7: When Death Calls is at http://www.heresy-online.net/forums/showthread.php?t=117991
 

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cant wait for it, just so you know im no longer writing a blood angel one instead im sticking with alpha legion and maybe one other.
 

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Aw yis!
 

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Discussion Starter #4 (Edited)
Thanks for the confidence! I’m not ready with the prologue yet, but here’s the beginning of the Dramatis Personae page (it’ll be updated with time).

And son of azurman- sorry to hear that, but it’s probably for the best. Good luck on whatever you do end up writing!!

Renegades 8: Foundations in Scarlet

Dramatis Personae

PRIMARCHS

Horus Lupercal- Primarch of the Sons of Horus. Renegade Warmaster. Most human of the Primarchs. Often angry, though for good reason. Nominal leader of the Renegades.

Sanguinius- Primarch of the Blood Angels. Called the Angel. Most ethereal of the Primarchs. Horus’ closest friend.

LEGIO IX- BLOOD ANGELS

Azkaellon- Commander of the Sanguinary Guard. Unyielding. Ruthlessly devoted to his Primarch. Relatively unpopular.

Zuriel- Sergeant of the Sanguinary Guard. Unyielding. Nevertheless, aware of his limitations. Less caustic than his commander, but also less capable.

Aalitton- Member of the Sanguinary Guard. Unyielding. Yes, it’s a common trait in this group. Serious traditionalist.

Dahka Berus- High Warden. Knows the Lore, the Legion and the Loss. At the same time, excessively skeptical.

Raldoron- Captain of the 1st Company. Also Equerry to Primarch Sanguinius. Renowned strategist, known for his adaptable command style. Relatively sociable. Unreadable. Few negative opinions.

Vendrenze- Veteran Sergeant in the 1st Company. Noted strategist. Somewhat disdainful of Raldoron.

Gurio Fikant- Assault Marine in the 1st Company. Of criminal origin. Troublemaker/joker.

Yteros- Assault Marine in the 1st Company. Nevertheless, carries a bolter. Humble.

Gastent- Techmarine in the 1st Company. Pyromaniac.

Ten Enurican- Sergeant in the 1st Company. Smashes stuff. Honorably.

An Dalverante- Sergeant in the 1st Company. Poet. At least, he claims so.

Phitagginitt- Veteran Sergeant in the 1st Company. Unstable. Historian.

Mkani Kano- Adjutant to Captain Raldoron of the 1st Company. Former Epistolary. Fondness for secret meetings.

Aphgori- Captain of the 3rd Company. Terran-born, but loyal to the Legion above the Emperor. Company known for high number of Techmarines.

Kaole Eonataggio- Battle-Brother (formerly Codicier) of the 3rd Company. Determined. Knows a number of random secrets, possibly due to simple luck.

An Ohgiocci- Battle-Brother of the 3rd Company. Anger issues. Straightforward. Rival of Kaole Eonataggio.

Amit- Captain of the 5th Company. Brutally honest. Called the Flesh Tearer (guess why).

Dar Nakir- Captain of the 24th Company. Probably insane. Smiles a lot. Technomad descent.

Aezireze- Veteran Sergeant of the 24th Company. Once the heir to a Baalite noble house- which isn’t saying much, but gave him a good education. Has continued pursuing knowledge.

Lorore Daduri- Sergeant of the 24th Company. New, often confused.

Andam- Sergeant of the 24th Company. Idealistic crusher.

Nassir Rinaspon- Sergeant of the 24th Company. Idealistic slicer.

Siriant Acral- Sergeant of the 24th Company. Mildly paranoid. Righteous.

An Xinui- Captain of the 26th Company. Candidate for being the sanest of the Blood Angels. Optimist.

Enzurior- Captain of the 95th Company. Embodies many Blood Angel virtues. Brevity is not one of them.

Ziors Oramantr- Captain of the 254th Company. Assault Devastator. High inertia, both mental and (especially) physical.

An Ziatton- Captain of the 299th Company. Young. Compassionate. Anxious.

LEGIO XVI- SONS OF HORUS

Ezekyle Abaddon- First Captain. Choleric part of the Mournival.

Tarik Torgaddon- Second Captain. Sanguine part of the Mournival.

Hadrus Handalok- Sergeant, Second Company. Also an accomplished pilot.

Horus Aximand- Fifth Captain. Melancholic part of the Mournival.

Gavriel Entimalus- Sergeant, Fifth Company. Annoying, but great swordsman.

Serghar Targost- Seventh Captain. Master of the Warrior-Lodges.

Gavriel Loken- Tenth Captain. Phlegmatic part of the Mournival.

LEGIO UNKNOWN

Mephiston- Navigator of the Accursed Eternity. Scary.

Draigo- Captain of the Accursed Eternity. Silver.

Angelos- Engineer of the Accursed Eternity. Scarred.

ADEPTUS MECHANICUS

Kane- Fabricator-General. Commander of the Mechanicum. Nevertheless, a nice guy.

Salaia Kerme- Magos Biologis. Bad sense of location.

OTHER RENEGADES

Wu Zatee- Navigator. Head of House Zatee. Arrogant, but often for good reason. Paranoid about things it pays to be paranoid about (i.e. daemons, Primarchs, Catachan wildlife).

Li Zatee- Navigator. Heir to House Zatee. Sheltered. Particularly skilled in Navigating, but uncomfortable in politics.

Damed Ilabum- Admiral of the Imperial Army. Honorable. Easily offended. Distrustful of the Adeptus Astartes.

Kespee Krawell- Admiral of the Imperial Army. Four bionic limbs; not well-liked by immediate underlings. Suspected of Imperial sympathies.

Nryor the Goldtouched- Captain of the Blue Shadow of Arcatase. Second-in-command of Krawell. Got his nickname either from his extreme wealth or for his extreme love of the color yellow.

Athene DuCade- Shipmistress of the Blood Angels Flagship, the Red Tear. Experienced. Commandeering.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
PROLOGUE: SANGUINIUS​

The Red Tear, the mighty flagship of the Ninth “Blood Angels” Space Marine Legion, glided through the surface of reality. As if on cue, the stars snapped back.

In the core of the great vessel, where the starship’s shifting out of Warp was nothing more than a slight change of psychic pressure, a meditation chamber hung. Within it, an angel perched. He was never more avian than in this place, and yet his visage did not suggest a bird. It suggested perfection.

Sanguinius knelt in the private chamber, gazing into omnieternity; yet the future was more elusive than usual, and the stars guided him backwards instead of forwards. There was wisdom in reflecting on one’s actions, the angel thought.

There was wisdom in-

////-\\\\​

The stare of a disheveled beast.

Angron, the Red Angel, did not look like a Primarch now. He barely even looked sane. Yet his butcher’s glare concealed an understanding, a momentary, full understanding of the way the universe worked. Seven brothers stood around a golden self-called god; six stood accepting. And as the Emperor laid out his doctrine, Angron stabbed the poisoned spear he was holding as a gift into his father’s heart.

His father said too much.

////-\\\\​

The pyramids of Prospero, intact.

They stood, and in front of them Magnus the Red, the Crimson King, wove the last of the threads in the spell that would sunder the planet of the sorcerers from a universe gone mad. Roboute Guilliman was at his left side, holding the banner of fallen Macragge, the banner of a wild dream called Imperium Secundus. Sanguinius himself was at his right, four bands of mourning on his arm- for his father, for his brothers, for his homeworld and for his Legion.

His brother stayed loyal.

////-\\\\​

Chambers buried under sand.

The fortress-monastery of Baal was ruined forever, now; the attack of the World Eaters had leveled the planet. In a deep catacomb, the renegade Warmaster was tracing scorch marks towards two bodies lying tangled in the dust. The Red Angel and the Blood Angel, utterly indistinguishable in death after Chaos consumed the former, and the Flaw the latter.

His father feared him enough to send the executioner.

////-\\\\​

The nanostructure of gold.

The Custodians’ gleaming, elaborate armor surrounded the indistinguishable Emperor as the core of humanity prepared for war. Above, the heavens screamed with the final invasion, even as Amon handed Constantine Valdor Arbilent. The Emperor of Mankind, the God of Order, chuckled.

His uncle was assassinated.

////-\\\\​

The war rooms of Macragge.

Roboute Guilliman stood side-by-side with seven-winged Emperor Sanguinius, glaring at the map of the galaxy, a jagged line separating Imperium Secundus from the endless Warp storms of Terra. A wolf skull marked the last battle of Horus Lupercal. The Mark of Prospero was running, still going strong, on the massive clock dominating the chamber’s rear wall; it showed a time two thousand millennia from war’s dawn.

His brother compromised with the Ultimate Warrior.

////-\\\\​

Skull-filled catacombs.

Mortarion and Magnus stared at each other over the body of eight fallen Astartes in horned leaden-gray armor, violently gesticulating. The body of the greatest Eldar warlock was thrown off to the side, head crushed. In the skies, an aphotic sphere burned on its way into the system’s star, the first casualty of a total war between humanity and the Eldar.

The Eight Swords fell.

////-\\\\​

The last broken promise of a traitor.

A Death Guard in decorated armor hung from the vaulted arches of the flagship, suspended by the feet. His father stared at him in disgust- tempered only by the knowledge that the heresy had been stopped before deep damage was done- as the Captain muttered a final curse, then dropped to the pit below. A faint buzzing arose from the hole, then calmed.

The spy was uncovered earlier.

////-\\\\​

Sanguinius rose once more, wings fluttering upright. He had seen enough; even to a Primarch, observing what could have been was disturbing. Besides, there were more important tasks at hand.

The Angel swung the door open, revealing his brother.

“Horus,” Sanguinius said with a grin. “It is good to see you again, in the real.”

The Warmaster smiled, and the brothers embraced, a small crystal of serenity in the writhing ocean of the Milky Way.
 

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That was amazing. Keep up the good work! Now off to write another chapter of my own...
 

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:shok: :shok: :shok: (brain goes supernova) wow
 

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Discussion Starter #9 (Edited)
Thank you, thank you! (Assuming these were good wows here.) Though I am afraid the story might get slightly less grandiose for the next few chapters. Less alternate history, more Council of Catachan. Still, hopefully it won't be boring.

Speaking of which, here's Chapter One:
 

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Discussion Starter #10
CHAPTER ONE​

Before the Imperium came to Baal, it was- by appearances- just another insignificant peak of the human diaspora. Indeed, it was less than that, as Baal was- in the end- a radioactive wasteland, one whose inhabitants were barely aware of their former glory.

And yet… and yet, even before Sanguinius, there was something about Baal. Perhaps it was eternity. Across the shifting radioactive sands, within dusty tunnels left over from the first terraforming, through the skies- crystal-clear, near-black skies, for Baal’s atmosphere was thin- there was a unique bind to the power of deep time. And to be sure, people were aware of the entropic end of everything; yet they were aware, too, that there were places not bound by the whims of thermodynamics (the first order of which was the space some called the Great Ocean), that there was hope of trueternity yet.

Hope- first among sins, according to Macipize.

And Sanguinius had only confirmed that bind. For the Angel, it was said, had been shaped by two designs- his father’s and Baal’s. The Emperor had given to Sanguinius nobility and fury, honor and uncontrollability. Baal granted him distance and time, separation and foresight.

Some Primarchs had whined about the possibility of an end to the Crusade. Others had merely feared it. But though Sanguinius knew fear, he had never felt it about the conclusion of the Great Crusade- at least, not visibly. Once, Dar Nakir- Twenty-Fourth Captain of the Ninth Legion- had assumed that Sanguinius had always looked beyond the petty confines of the galaxy. Once, Dar Nakir had assumed that the Crusade would be infinite in both time and space.

Now, of course, the things he assumed Sanguinius had seen were quite different.

Nakir glared at the green sphere of Catachan, doing his best to intimidate the planet. His best was, of course, not good enough. Thus, distractions.

“Nakir,” Captain An Xinui of the 26th Company warned. “You’re scaring the dignitaries.”

“I’m thinking about Macipize,” Nakir replied. “I suspect they have reason to be scared.”

Xinui walked up to Nakir’s side. “Macipize was wrong, you know. Imperial Truth and all that.”

“Was he? If anything is going to confirm the cynic, this war is it. The Imperial Truth is imploding, over half the Legions- including us- have raised the banner of rebellion, and those that haven’t are engaging in atrocities three times worse than the nadir of the Night Lords. Except the Night Lords, which are ten times worse than their previous nadir.”

“And yet the fire of humanity still burns. Or however you like to phrase it.”

Nakir flexed his shoulders. “It doesn’t matter. We have a war to fight- why, exactly, is half the Legion gathered here anyway? I should be killing people.”

“Someone needed to supervise the Mechanicum.”

Nakir chuckled and continued staring.

“In any case-” Xinui began, even as Nakir noticed a female tech-priest approaching the Space Marines.

“Excuse me,” she asked Nakir, “which way are the Raldorine Halls?”

“Straight ahead,” Nakir said with a turn- regardless of his possible madness, he wasn’t rude. Not usually, at least. “The escalator to our right leads straight into a long hallway; a kilometer and, er, two hundred and seventy-six meters into it, there’s a giant scarlet door on the left. That leads into the Raldorines, Madam-”

“Magos Salaia Kerme. Thank you!”

“You’ve memorized the directions,” Xinui noted as the Magos departed. “Impressive.”

“I’ve been asked before,” Nakir said. “By- er- Salaia Kerme.”

An Xinui blinked.

“I think,” Nakir ventured, “that we should go to the Raldorines. It could be… interesting.”

“Why does a tech-priest need directions anyhow? Don’t they all have cogitators?”

“As I said. Interesting.”

Xinui blinked again, and Nakir grinned.

To his credit, Xinui pulled Nakir along rather rapidly, though still keeping far behind probably-not-Kerme. The Blood Angels strode through the grand hallway, Nakir making note of the recent redecorations. It all seemed somewhat less ethereal than a few months ago, more… secular. Fewer metaphorical murals of battles past; more busts of the great Legion heroes. The mere mention of ritual was frowned upon.

A secular Imperium, of course, for a secular future; but Nakir couldn’t help but suspect that they were breaking with tradition a bit too much, making Guilliman’s error.

The Captains trekked through the hallway, heading towards the massive doors to the Raldorine Halls. First Captain Raldoron had, of course, resisted the honor; but he’d found it preferable to having an entire ship named after him, and so the name remained.

“Is it an assassin?” Xinui wondered. “And if so, why aren’t they heading somewhere closer to the important people?”

“Everyone here is important enough to kill. Besides-” Nakir unclipped his helmet and punched a few lines into it, then glanced into the interior- “the Raldorine Halls are the meeting ground for the Mechanicum contingent. They’ll choose their representatives to the Great Council here.”

“Which means that Kane himself will be present.”

“Who’s Kane?”

Xinui let out an exaggerated sigh at Nakir’s professed ignorance, but cut it short as the 24th Captain slammed open the door into the Raldorines. It revealed an expanse of massive arches, each one leading into a separate mingling room; they surrounded a semicircle filled with tables, cogitators, and so many tech-priests that even a normal human would be hard-pressed to pass through by simple squeezing. Astartes, even unarmored, would require another method.

Xinui shoved a couple of unfortunate Adepts out of the way as he stomped up to the massive figure dominating the semicircle. He stood as tall as an Astarte himself, and indeed for a moment Nakir had thought it was a Techmarine; but he was too far from the human form to fit into power armor. Mechanical appendages snaked around him, a large cooling tower rose from his head, and a screen on his abdomen showed the vast numbers of guests in phenomenally small text.

“Captain Dar Nakir, Captain An Xinui, welcome.”

“Fabricator-General Kane,” Xinui said, and bowed. Nakir was too stunned to do likewise- this was the commander of Mars?- but gave a nod.

“Has a problem emerged?”

“Could you call Magos Salaia Kerme here?”

Kane gave no visible sign of affirmation, but a moment later stated, “The command has been sent. So, how is the Legion?”

“Divided,“ Nakir said. “One half is killing xenos and Imperials; the other is providing security to this conclave.”

“Council,” Xinui put in.

“Conclave. Anyhow, I’m not sure why I’m in the latter half and not the former, but duty and all that.”

The three figures stood in silence for a second. Kane broke the impasse. “Magos Kerme. And- er-”

Two Adepts- not as augmented as Kane, and therefore still appearing more human than robotic- came up to their leader. Both looked rather slug-like, with a large metal tail sticking out from their backs. More disturbingly, both looked identical.

“Polymorphine,” Xinui stated, now virtually certain.

“Left one is real,” Kane said, and raised a weapon-limb. Suddenly, the right “Kerme” rippled, even as one of Kane’s tentacles slammed upwards to grab her. Nakir unclipped his chainsword, running towards the silvery mass, pushing into it; Kane’s limb passed right through the false Magos; Xinui blinked-

The false Kerme contracted in pain, and Nakir flicked the momentary electric discharge custom-built into his blade. Suddenly, the polymorphine gave way, and a normal human being in a skintight black suit lay on the floor, bleeding to death.

The Astartes stared at it.

“Callidus Temple,” Kane commented. “A sect of Imperial assassins. They use the compound polymorphine to assume the forms of their enemies, and then kill them.”

“We know,” Xinui said. “Well, that was a lucky catch.”

“Lucky, yes,” Kane observed. “But the chances of finding a single infiltrator, especially one as skilled as a Callidus, by luck are insignificant. There are more.”

“Lots more,” Nakir noted with a smile. “This gathering might prove interesting after all.”

Xinui frowned. “Are you sure the other Kerme-” by this point the Magos in question had left- “is real? She asked Nakir for directions.”

“Since your Legion insists on refusing to reveal the deck plans of the Red Tear to our brotherhood, yes, a number of us have needed to ask you for directions.” Kane’s face etched itself into a grimace. “Since you refuse to treat us as brothers-in-arms, and insist on believing us barely loyal allies, since your kind destroyed Mars itself-”

There was a pause, and then Kane stopped his rant. “My point is,” he said after a few moments, “there is reason for bitterness from the Mechanicum’s side. I hope your Warmaster is aware of it.”

“Everyone seems to be bitter,” Xinui observed. “The governors, the Navigators, the Astropaths- and that’s out of the ones that sided with us!”

Nakir shrugged. “For any number of men, any two will always disagree on something. Especially in these cycles. What is it you say, Xinui? Surely some revelation waits in line, surely the Second Order waits in line?”

“That’s Sanguinius, not me, and he was citing a lost poem. But yes, Nakir, something big will come of this war. Maybe it’ll be the Second Order.”

“Maybe,” Dar Nakir said, grinning at the fact that the Fabricator-General of the Mechanicum so obviously had no idea what they were talking about. “My point is, truth is found in conflict. We’re lucky to have a diversity of opinions at this conclave. Good luck!”

And he was pushing through the crowd of tech-priests again, considering his words. Yes, this conclave-council-gathering-assembly-thing-parliament-meeting-congress-negotiation was no war, but it was surprisingly like one.

Perhaps he’d be useful yet.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
gothik- Heh.

CHAPTER TWO​

The city was filled with dusk. The local star was not setting on Catachan; Horus Aximand knew well that the reason for nightfall was the planet’s regular spin.

And yet here, in a spire at the heights of Karchak- the lone city of Catachan- the Fifth Captain of the Sons of Horus couldn’t help but feel the weight of dusk. The Warmaster had been tired lately- he was built for rule, true, but managing the chaos of the Council of Catachan was difficult nonetheless. And the exhaustion had been passed on to Lupercal’s sons. For Aximand, for Little Horus, this meant looking back.

His life had been spent in war; the great task of the Crusade. Many times Aximand had placed his life and more on the line for the Imperium. And now these days were gone, as gone as his violent and wonder-filled youth. A new epoch. Many times Aximand had looked at the Luna Wolves who’d retreated to Terra with some jealousy; they did not have to give up anything, not in their minds.

And yet they had lost everything, too, even more than Aximand. And above all else- “Brotherhood,” Little Horus said.

“A good answer,” Ezekyle Abaddon said. Loken had asked Aximand what gave the famously melancholic Second Captain the strength to go on; he had replied.

Torgaddon was oddly silent, probably racking his brain for any jokes that would still apply. His last favorite punchline- well, Loken’s punchline, but it had been Torgaddon’s favorite- about Horus killing the Emperor seemed more like a wild dream than ridiculous heresy nowadays.

Not that Aximand regretted it all, not as strongly as Torgaddon or Loken. There was a new focus to them now. The Mournival had been consecrated in the blood of the past, and to contemplate the change only made it greater. They were unbroken.

“A good answer,” Torgaddon eventually said, “but a boring one. Couldn’t you have said, I don’t know, “the idol of Sanguinius in my chambers” or something?”

“Torgaddon, you know the edicts of the Imperial Truth,” Abaddon noted with a frown.

“To forbid jokes about religion is the first rule of religious law,” Loken observed. “When we stop being capable of joking-”

“We bind our souls to the God of Grimness and Severity named Lorgar Aurelian,” Torgaddon completed.

“And yet jokes about our foes were much funnier when they weren’t about our cousins, no?” Loken asked.

“Give it time,” Aximand said. “Give it time. Also, the opening ceremony.” The entire reason the Mournival was gathered was to prepare for the opening of negotiations. A symbolic transition of sorts.

Abaddon nodded. “Forward!”

The Mournival, the elite body of advisors to Warmaster Horus Lupercal of the Sixteenth “Sons of Horus” Legion, moved out. They were Captains, and only rarely had fought together; yet they moved like a well-oiled Squad. Torgaddon’s behavior was most visibly warlike, even checking side hallways for traps; Aximand and Abaddon simply walked, the latter with more determination, whereas Loken almost ran, though still at the same pace as his brothers.

The Mournival rounded a corner, and then there was the grand staircase. The readiness for war faded into the Astartes’ bones, and the four Sons of Horus ascended into the Tip of Karchak as dignitaries, representatives of the Warmaster- albeit representatives in power armor, to be sure.

The hall itself was titanic in scale, a kilometer in diameter. At its center, Horus Lupercal stood, Sanguinius at his side. Other important figures were seated in irregular rings- Aximand could see Fabricator-General Kane, Navigatorial Envoy Wu Zatee, even a couple of Eldar. Most of the seats were yet empty, however.

The Mournival marched to their spots and took them. Slowly, more visitors trickled in, filling the chairs; gradually, an annulus of people emerged, a ring filled with chatter.

“Well,” a governor in the row behind Aximand commented, “if it isn’t the great Ezekyle Abaddon! Listen, if you-”

“Abaddon is to my right,” Torgaddon interrupted. “And if you want to present your concerns to the Warmaster, then talking to me will ensure precisely the opposite results.”

The governor sunk into his chair.

Of course, a couple of minutes later, an Admiral referred to Aximand as Abaddon. Suddenly, Aximand remembered why he’d felt so much distaste at the appointment of the Council of Terra. Still, the Sons of Horus were mostly left alone; Torgaddon discussed strategy with Loken, the real Abaddon entertained himself by informing one of the few remembrancers still with the fleet of his most recent campaign (because no matter how annoying remembrancers were, the propaganda war had to be won), and Aximand read.

It was a rather fascinating revisionist account of the Unification Wars. Aximand had talked to veterans of those conflicts, and he was quite certain that the Thunder Warriors were far less promiscuous than described, as well as that the Emperor of Mankind did not, in fact, begin his descent into madness when the aforementioned proto-Astartes had to be destroyed. Still, the rest of the tale was plausible, and its theological underpinnings were intriguing.

How open the galaxy had once seemed! A wide canvas, built for adventure, not only war. A land whose most basic foundations were unknown. How the young Aximand had resisted the focus of the Crusade, how he had himself imagined revisionist histories like the one he now read, trying to analyze the Emperor’s mind! How the Imperial Truth had seemed like a series of needless restrictions on the imagination! Not even the hypnosis of induction had changed those ideals. Where had they gone, then?

A salute woke Aximand from his deep thought.

Fireworks exploded across the transparent spire. Sanguinius soared upwards, lighting torches on the rim of the Tip. The First Company of the Blood Angels, led by Captain Raldoron, paraded in a circle outside the ring of representatives. In the sky, the flotilla of the Legions came together, forming Catachan’s inner moon into the Eye of Terra. Rolls of Horus’ great victories unfurled around the walls, forming a vast strip of triumph.

Even Aximand could not help but join the crowd’s roar, screaming his pride in his Legion and his father, screaming defiance to the mindless butchers of the Imperium, screaming the truth to the sky.

“Men of the Imperial Truth!” Horus Lupercal exclaimed. “We are gathered here today to forge the foundation of our rebellion, to coordinate our path. I will be brief, for all of us know that the details of the future will not be decided tonight; but some things need to be said.

We live in strange times. We live in an Imperium forsaken by its Emperor, a humanity betrayed by its exemplar. Yet we will fight on. No matter what comes out of this council, we will fight on. And we will win!”

Ezekyle Abaddon got out of his seat and headed towards the stand. Above, fireballs bloomed.

“Today, we gather to redefine the Imperial Truth. Not change it- renew it. The way is hard, but it is necessary- so let us begin!”

A cheer went up, though not as deafening as before. After a brief pause filled with mumbling, Lupercal gave the stand to Abaddon.

Interesting.

Ezekyle Abaddon gave off a toothy smile. “My father has spoken for us all, but let me say those things humility would not allow him to state. The Emperor of Mankind is mad, unfit to hold his throne- hate him for it! Humanity is at war, a primal war of justice against madness. Let us not forget the past, but put it behind us nevertheless, save for that part which we have yet to avenge. And let us not feel an iota of compassion towards those who felt none towards us! Who felt none towards Malcador, towards Kelbor-Hal, towards Jaghatai Khan! For the Warmaster, servants of mankind! And death to the False Emperor!”

This time, the roar was massive indeed. The Mechanicum representatives filled the air with static. Navigators, many Terrans, scions of destroyed planets- so many here had lost everything to the Emperor. And this time, there were words in the roar, probably due to the Mechanicum’s coordination. Five words.

“DEATH TO THE FALSE EMPEROR!”

Perhaps Aximand’s estimate of the difficulty within transition was excessive. The Emperor had, after all, alienated his people with amazing efficiency. Still….

“I don’t like this,” Loken said quietly, even as the crowd cheered.

Torgaddon nodded. “Abaddon is going too far. Positive emotions would bind them to Lupercal’s cause far better than the promise of vengeance.”

When Torgaddon was serious, it was clear something big was happening. When Torgaddon was serious, he was also often wrong, possibly from lack of practice. “No,” Aximand said. “After what Ferrus did to Mars, nothing will bind the Mechanicum to Horus’ cause better than the promise of vengeance.”

“Perhaps,” Loken said, “but there’s something wrong with this. I mean, Aximand, you have to agree this war is sad.”

“It’s sad, yes, but it’s other things as well. The Legion has not changed at its core, after all. This is more than just a new crusade, but Abaddon’s words are truer than yours. We have to move past our obsession with summer to pass through the winter.”

“I thought,” Torgaddon said, “that the melancholic humour-”

“The melancholic humour is one of contemplative change, but change nonetheless.”

Abaddon strode down the alley, almost glowing. Aximand thought back to the question of his youth, of the eternal opposition of adventure and war. Perhaps the change in his position had come about simply because the Great Crusade was, in many ways, an adventure. And now that war alone stood dominant, the philosophical questions of the past reemerged.

“Abaddon,” Torgaddon said, “are you sure that was wise? I mean, you sounded rather fanatical there.”

“There’s nothing wrong with fanaticism,” the First Captain said. “You just have to be fanatical for the right thing.”

“Which is tricky,” Torgaddon retorted, “given that the right thing constantly changes.”

In front, Kane was giving a few words to conclude; fireworks were still transfiguring, and the massive torch-flames swirled with the circular breeze. Ezekyle Abaddon shrugged and sat down, even as the audience began to stand up.

“No, Abaddon,” Aximand said, “there is good reason for fanaticism’s bad reputation. It’s closely linked to lack of thought. But you see, for the Mechanicum or the White Scars, agreeing with you is not fanaticism. It’s simply common sense. And vengeance.”

The hall was emptying; the actual work of negotiation was beginning in the backrooms. Astartes were hardly necessary for all that; they were present to provide security. But besides a single Callidus assassin the Blood Angels had found a month ago and an Imperial warship that had, by all accounts, blundered into the system without any expectation of finding Lupercal himself, there was no indication of threat.

The Mournival remained; but Aximand noted the passing of most of the other present Astartes. Most of the Renegade Legions had members present. After the Sons of Horus and the Blood Angels, there were the most White Scars; there were also Death Guard, Iron Warriors, Alpha Legion and Thousand Sons. A single representative was present from each of the Space Wolves and Ultramarines; there were no Raven Guard. The Horus-Guilliman argument had reached the point where there were, effectively, two separate rebellions against the Imperium.

“Lupercal!” Loken announced, and Aximand was sent flying out of yet another meditation. Warmaster Horus neared his body of advisors, squatting down in the alley for lack of a fitting chair.

“Interesting,” Lupercal noted. “Is the Mournival of one mind on what Abaddon implied?”

“Not at all,” Loken said. “Though it seems the audience certainly was.”

“Confident determination is good for riling a crowd, even when it’s misplaced. But yes, I let Abaddon speak for a reason. I, myself, am not of one mind on this subject.” Lupercal shrugged. “Rationally, it’s hard to explain just what the difference is… but emotionally, there’s a world of difference between crusade and civil war.” Pause. “I’ll talk to you later; right now, I need to mingle. May you stay free!”

“May you stay free!” the Mournival said. The torches had been put out; the fireworks had ceased. The glory was over, after an unusually short reign, and the dirty work was about to begin.

And yet the Eye of Terra still stared down from the heavens, promising that- no matter what change came- the Mournival and the Legion would stand, unbroken.
 

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Woop! Looking forward to more of this :) Keep up the good work Vulkan :wink:
 

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Deus Mortis: Thanks!

CHAPTER THREE​

The assassin spun in Azkaellon’s raised right hand. The polymorphine in her blood was wearing off, and she had returned to the form of a regular human.

She had imitated a Space Marine- Kaole Eonataggio, one of Aphgori’s Third Company. The Astarte in question had been found a few hours after her capture; he had been busy in the training cages, therefore allowing the infiltrator to attempt stealing some codes from Captain Aphgori. Only her weakness while shaking Aphgori’s hand had proven she was not a Blood Angel.

It had been close; and what bothered Azkaellon most was that he still had no idea what, exactly, the Callidus had been trying to accomplish. Any of them- the Kerme incident could be explained away, but by now it was clear that the Imperium had deposited a lot of assassins into the ranks of the Council.

Trust no one. Fortunately, Azkaellon only trusted Sanguinius anyways; and experiments had shown that imitating a Primarch was beyond the abilities of even the best chemicals known to mankind. Even kelboryl thiotimoline, which modified a body permanently and carried a high chance of fatality, was incapable of creating anything resembling Perturabo (who had been the experiments’ mastermind).

Still, security had to be raised.

The assassin sniffled. Azkaellon looked down at her once more. “Well?” he asked. “What IS your name?”

“I am nameless.”

“Your number, then.”

“I am not at liberty to reveal it.”

Azkaellon had tried everything short of torture; and even torture wouldn’t work. Assassins were trained to resist anything the Blood Angels could provide. Perhaps the Emperor himself could have extracted something of worth. Perhaps Magnus could have- the Callidus’ shields were too strong for the former Librarians to bypass, but maybe….

But Magnus was too far away, and there was only one thing to do. “Don’t you want to live?” Azkaellon, Commander of the Sanguinary Guard, asked the woman.

“Nothing I could do would enable me to survive to tomorrow. Farewell.”

And, as Azkaellon cracked her in half across his knee, she spit at his helmet.

“Failure,” he voxed. “The assassin is dead.”

He tossed the body into disposal. It rattled off, worthlessly swearing vengeance. Azkaellon had been unable to unravel the conspiracy thus far; but given that there was a conspiracy, it would be uncovered. And the Commander of the Sanguinary Guard would stop at nothing to ensure that happened soon.

“As expected, then. We’re at training section number 146,” Zuriel returned. “There’s been an incident.”

“Coming,” Azkaellon returned, and began a jog through the halls of the Red Tear. It was a magnificent weapon, as well as more the Blood Angels’ home than Baal was, these days. Baal was the ultimate origin for most of them, to be sure; but besides sentimental value, it was ultimately a base. Sanguinius spent relatively little time on it- perhaps a mistake, but Azkaellon was not going to question his father over something like that.

Baal could fall; it would be a great disaster- Prospero’s lament- but it was not unthinkable. The Red Tear held much less value for an enemy, and would be much harder to capture besides.

Azkaellon jogged through the flagship’s halls, thinking about desperate contingency plans and the future of his Primarch. Nevertheless, he was fairly satisfied as he headed through the hallways, and when he blocked the passageway of Navigator Li Zatee he even apologized.

“No need,” the heir to House Zatee said. “I’m not Navigating anyways, at the moment. You need the time more.”

“I’m not fighting,” Azkaellon said with a frown, “am I? My time is at the moment as worthless as yours.”

Zatee shrugged and left, leading Azkaellon to reconsider whether the young Navigator was dangerous to the Legion and Primarch. It did not appear so, but House Zatee was significant. Perhaps this meeting, chance as it appeared, was a political ploy of some sort?

Azkaellon mused on these topics as he walked up to the shadowed training cage he had been called to; but all such thoughts vanished from his synapses very rapidly when he came up to the site. Sanguinius and Zuriel stood off to the side; but in the cage itself, two warriors lay, one with a clean shot from Zuriel’s bolter through the head. The other looked dead at first glance, but on the second was revealed to still be breathing under his once-brother’s mass. Kaole Eonataggio- coincidences fit together.

“The Flaw,” Eonataggio said as he struggled upright, and Azkaellon thought of that Battle-Brother’s past tenure in the Librarium- just how many secrets was a psyker able to glean? “Xageal fell to it fifteen years ago. I remember.”

“As do I,” Sanguinius said, and there was the deep distance of eternity in his voice. “Xageal, Adosius, Alotros…. And yet then it was rare, only erupting in the heat of battle.”

“It was such until we arrived in the Catachan system,” Azkaellon put in.

“An exponential rise since then,” Sanguinius said. “Though not precisely exponential- there’s an aspect of irregularity to it. It will become utterly random in three and a half- no, four and a third Terran days.”

“And then what?” Azkaellon asked.

“Then we will need to find the problem’s source,” Sanguinius said. “This is a separate crisis, not merely part of the rising blood-tide we have faced since inception. We are dealing, quite possibly, with a specifically targeted attack.”

Azkaellon saw the difficulty his Primarch- his father- had in talking about the fallen Blood Angel as if he was nothing than a number. He saw, though it did not appear that either Eonataggio or Zuriel did; and he wondered if he should say something, but there was nothing to say. It was too simple. His brother- An Ohgiocci- was gone, consumed by the Black Rage.

“The Black Rage” was not an official name, given that some preferred “Red Thirst” and most simply used “The Flaw”. In truth, it didn’t matter how it was called. It was an error of creation, a tiny nick in the gene-seed of Sanguinius, that led to uncontrollable anger, the transformation into a beast, and- inevitably- death. It was sometimes called a curse, and that was as good a description as any in this time of reborn superstition.

Eonataggio dusted himself off, looking down at his fallen brother. “An infection?”

“Perhaps,” Sanguinius said. “Though that isn’t how the flaw has spread thus far. Something is coming; temporal shock waves rolling backwards....”

“Is the Warp not timeless?” Eonataggio inquired.

“Its interface with our world,” Sanguinius answered, “is not timeless. But why time? I do not know, my sons. I do not know.”

Eonataggio, unusually comfortable in the company of his Primarch and the high command of the Legion, nodded. “But we will.”

“No matter what,” Azkaellon reiterated.

The Blood Angels stood around the training cage in silence for several moments. Azkaellon felt the determination burning in his chest, the hope and need for salvation.

“But a less desperate matter,” Sanguinius said at last. “Azkaellon, did you tell Admiral Damed Ilabum that his battlefleet was useless?”

Azkaellon was stunned.

“Along with,” his father continued, “certain utterly misleading recommendations about strategy and an insinuation about his loyalty to the Warmaster?”

“Of course not,” Azkaellon said. “I haven’t ever talked to the man.”

“Which proves,” Sanguinius completed, now turning to Zuriel, “that your doubt in your superior was misplaced. Admiral Ilabum mistook an infiltrator for the Commander of the Sanguinary Guard.”

Azkaellon’s mind clanked into a conclusion. The unprecedented mass infiltration, the imitation of Astartes, this debacle…. “They’re trying to split us apart. To ruin the negotiations by sowing mistrust!”

“They don’t have to sow mistrust,” Sanguinius said. “That is already there. They merely have to confirm it, which is always easier.”

Azkaellon glared at his brothers- his brothers? “Handshakes,” he evenly said.

Eonataggio was the first; his strength was about Astarte-normal, perhaps slightly weaker than that but unquestionably more than a mortal human’s. Zuriel was real, too. Still, Azkaellon couldn’t resist the urge to glare into shadows, to search for signs of opposition.

There were none. The training cages here were empty; not even pests endured. And Azkaellon’s gaze was inevitably drawn back to the fallen Blood Angel at the center of it all.

They stood- by now Eonataggio had come out of the cage, and now there were only four figures, still, a ring around the end of rage. Sanguinius seemed ready to fly upward, to depart this place and return to the negotiations, when the former Codicier stopped him.

“Father,” Kaole Eonataggio of the Third Company said. “There is something else. I’ve been having- a number of the former Librarians have been having- dreams. Visions.” The Primarch inclined his head in curiosity. “The details vary, but inevitably, there is a war, fought in forests or caverns or mountains. The skies above go berserk- the suns obey no feasible laws of physics, looping back upon themselves as if controlled by… other orders. And then, suddenly, everything freezes, and the vision ends. A sudden end- not the usual awakening from a dream that is common with visions, but a jarring discomfort.”

“Does Nikaea not yet hold?” Azkaellon interjected. It did- the Warmaster was not denying that the Emperor had, once, been sane, and due to legalistic nitpicks Nikaea wound up hypothetically recognized by the renegades. In reality, of course, Legions like Magnus’ ignored it.

“I did not seek out these sights,” Eonataggio said. “I would be mad to.”

Sanguinius frowned. “I have not seen such matters; but then again, my foresight has always been more… distant. I will think on it. Farewell; I need to talk with the Warmaster.”

And the Angel of Baal spiraled upward, leaving his sons in the darkness.
 

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CHAPTER FOUR​

Raldoron, First Captain of the Blood Angels, glanced at his adjutant- Mkani Kano, once and (presumably) future Librarian.

“Are you certain?”

“I’m sure,” Kano said. “A vessel is preparing to exit Warp into this system.”

Raldoron nodded. Kano did not know, but it was exactly two and a half minutes before the time Sanguinius had predicted the Flaw would become unpredictable. Already the Blood Angels were gradually distancing themselves from negotiations, although it wasn’t as if the entire Legion was going to be afflicted at once- the chances, Sanguinius had assured him, were still miniscule.

Seconds ticked; Raldoron observed the clocks alter, and then the storm broke.

“The sensors are recording a ship entering the system.”

“Not responding to vox-hails!”

“Class unknown- oh, oh Warmaster it’s huge!”

Shipmistress Athene DuCade walked through the chaos, blurting out orders. The Red Tear prepared for battle.

“Name of hostile vessel?” she asked an officer near the visual sensors.

Accumulated- no, Accursed. Accursed Eternity. Written in High Gothic.”

Raldoron grasped his powersword, preparing for the possibility of boarders- though that was distinctly remote, given the size of the flotilla gathered here. “Don’t fire first,” he ordered DuCade. “This ship is significant; if possible, we’ll board.”

“It looks… suspicious,” Kano observed. Indeed, the vessel- there was a hologram of it hanging in the room’s center- appeared pristine, but with an aura of something intangibly wrong. Tracing the geometry, Raldoron could make no sense of it; it was all physically possible, but eerily welded together.

“How does it feel?” the First Captain asked.

“Psychically? At a distance, it feels very wrong. I’d rather not test it up close.”

“Possession risk?”

Kano shrugged. “Also a lot of other risks.”

Raldoron nodded; there was good reason to avoid this place. And yet- “We have to board. Sanguinius’ visions.” After Kano gave a nod of acknowledgement, the First Captain put on his helmet and spoke into the vox. “First, 24th, 81st, 99th, 144th, 269th Companies- prepare boarding torpedoes. Target: the large unidentified vessel that just translated in-system, apparently named Accursed Eternity.”

After that, it was fast. Most of six Blood Angel Companies- over two thousand Marines- was overkill; but overkill accomplished missions faster. Besides, it was always nice to have more forces than thought necessary for a situation- margin of error of that.

Raldoron clambered into a torpedo with Veteran Sergeant Vendrenze. It was a well-defined cylinder, with long benches on the sides. Cables traced the underside, and where the outside was painted scarlet, the inside was mostly a pleasant beige.

“Brother-Captain,” Vendrenze said, “I am honored to have you here, but- um- what, exactly, are we flying into?”

“As I said in my orders, I don’t know. But it appears to be important.”

“By the still-technically-forbidden psykers’ testimony?”

“By our Primarch’s testimony.”

That, at least, calmed Vendrenze’s worries. He merely stared through the hole at the torpedo’s front at the gleaming spaceship ahead as the countdown to launch went forward.

The torpedo swung in its restraints, its engines on the verge of ignition; and Raldoron considered the slowly locking doors, the vastness of space ahead, the seated Squad. He knew each of their names and histories- Fikant the troublemaker, Yteros the sniper, Gastent the obliterator- but he didn’t truly know any of them. The distance of command….

For a moment, Raldoron wondered if Sanguinius himself felt the same distance. Did the Primarch’s perfect memory and other mental powers mean that he truly knew his children? Or was the sheer size of the Legion enough to separate the Angel from those not in the high command?

The countdown began. The moment ended.

“Two!” the metallic voice stated. “One! Launch!”

It began.

Air and fire roared around the torpedo, and then the Red Tear was an adjacent ship, a building dominating the celestial sphere. Around it, stars glimmered, and below Catachan’s surface, sickly-green, smiled. The torpedo spun as it flew, and stars and Tear and Catachan whirled around, presenting dizzying vistas to Raldoron’s eye. A grand expanse presented itself; and in the distance, the pure white light of pure darkness. The Accursed Eternity stared at the Blood Angels, daring them to face its scale.

The vastness outside was a board of regicide for some, and a god to worship for others. For Raldoron, trying to analyze the universe’s meaning was pointless, no matter how tempting it could seem at moments like this.

“Captain,” Vendrenze evenly said, “landing impending.”

Raldoron squinted forwards through the slits; it didn’t look like the Eternity was that close. Then an unexplainable ache appeared in the back of his eyes, and he decided to trust the instruments.

And then the shock wave came, and any doubt remaining was washed away.

Raldoron braced for impact, even as Squad Vendrenze grabbed weapons and adjusted armor. Then the nose popped open, and he rushed off the ramp, half-expecting to wade into a sea of Warp xenos.

There were none. There was only a featureless white hallway. It was square in cross-section, visibly curving forwards to both of Raldoron’s sides; above, square pipes traced its arc. To the right, the nose of another torpedo pierced the tainted ship’s shell, Kano likewise transferring into the hallway.

“Eerie signature,” the adjutant told Raldoron. “Just… wrong.”

“Well,” Vendrenze said with an audible grin, “we don’t need to be psykers to see that.”

Raldoron found it hard to disagree. There was no peeling paint here, no sign of pest infestation; just empty whiteness. It was snow-like in how deeply it colored perception of this space.

“Right,” Raldoron voxed. “First Company, meet at coordinates three hundred meters to my right.”

At least his location sensors were functioning.

The First Captain walked through the curving corridor, trying to pinpoint any signs of life. There were some- footprints of non-Astarte shoes, for instance. Still….

“You sound satisfied,” Vendrenze observed. “Was this predictable?”

“I had no idea what we would find here. The absence of hostiles, however, is a plus.”

“Certainly. Even Nakir wouldn’t want to fight Warp-spawn.”

The Blood Angels trudged forward; slowly, the meeting point took shape. It was- as Raldoron’s helm readings had predicted- a large hall, titanic in scale and bone-like in macrotexture. It was approximately elliptical, but balconies and cavities riddled the walls. To the touch, however, the walls were plasteel like any other. It was only when considering the entire chamber that the animalistic tendency became clear.

Raldoron saw Sergeants emerge, slowly filling the giant space. He separated from Vendrenze and walked to a wall, then clambered upwards. There were few handholds. Still, before long Raldoron was on the lowest balcony, a convenient vantage point to watch the Astartes of his company enter (and potentially to address them).

Red poured onto the floor of the white, covering it up. But the Blood Angels were not liquid, and so specks of white still glimmered under the Astartes’ feet, reminding Raldoron of this place’s utter emptiness.

Checking the wall behind him, Raldoron made sure that no one would emerge. There were no holes, only a small seat-like pit. It would be too dangerous to sit there, though; for all he knew, he could fall through the wall.

“Brothers,” the First Captain stated as the last Blood Angels walked in. No one had been lost- here, at least, Materium geometry was not being violated that severely. Sensors showed that might be happening deeper into the ship, though. “We are all gathered here as the Warmaster’s sword. We do not know what is happening in these white hallways; for all we know, it is a trap. But if the Emperor’s forces thought to trap the Blood Angels, they will soon learn their mistake!” A cheer. “Be wary. Stay together. And let’s do our best to figure out what’s going on here!”

“A stirring speech,” a voice came from above and across Raldoron, “but utterly unnecessary. We are your allies, Captain Raldoron.”

A figure resolved itself in the shadows on the third balcony opposite Raldoron. He was an Astarte, without doubt, and armored; but he was covered by a thick mahogany-colored cloak. It waved in the absence of wind, billowing behind his feet. His face was light, with lordly features. He was tall, commanding, and clearly a psyker- he even had the hood. His weapons were concealed by the cloak, but everything Raldoron saw made it obvious he was armed.

“I am Mephiston,” the Space Marine said, “Navigator of the Accursed Eternity. I come from the future to give a grave warning. The war you are fighting will tear the galaxy apart. You must stop the march on Terra!”

There was silence. Raldoron looked at the First Company thoughtfully. “Why?” he eventually asked Mephiston.

“It is this conflict,” Mephiston said, every word filling the air with a dread resonance, “that is granting the Dark Emperor the power to ascend- though not even he knows it. He will open the floodgates. A plethora of petty gods that will slay and scheme and spread and smile and stand… the galaxy will have little chance. We will be the last of the pure, though by your standards we are quite corrupted indeed.”

“So what should we do,” Raldoron inquired, “if not fight?”

“Come with me, and I will show you,” Mephiston answered.

It was a bold proposal, and a suspicious one. Raldoron had no doubt of Mephiston’s capacity to control the ship, but his goodwill was in severe question. “Which Legion,” he asked, “are you from, anyway?”

“I do not know. We are past the point where such distinctions are clear. Come- choose your brothers, and follow me.”

There was really no choice. “Squad Vendrenze,” Raldoron said. “Squad Enurican, Squad Dalverante, Squad Phitagginitt, Adjutant Kano- reach Mephiston.”

For his part, Raldoron began to jog along the wall, jumping over small gaps in the balcony. Distance faded behind him, and he absentmindedly recorded the angles of the massive chamber as he rounded it. Or, rather, he recorded its curves and spikes- there were no right angles. Mephiston hadn’t been lying when he mentioned “corruption” (presumably, by the Warp): Raldoron could hardly imagine such a mess being created intentionally. At most, it could have been a monument, but not a functional space.

He emerged at Mephiston’s side as the four Assault Squads rocketed up to join him, as the members of the Company staying below received orders to hold position, or discreetly follow, or try to link up with the other boarders.

“Welcome,” the Librarian said, though there was no welcome in his face. “Follow. And send for Sanguinius- in time, we will need to talk to him too.”

Raldoron forwarded the request, with a healthy dose of associated warning, along with a suggestion that the other Companies leave- after all, there seemed to be no battle. Then the mysterious Librarian-Navigator passed into the depths of the vast vessel, and one by one, Squad Vendrenze followed him in. There was no other breath.

“I will take you to the Captain,” Mephiston explained. “His name is Draigo. He will explain the occurrences better than I ever could.”

Raldoron nodded. “So you say you came from the future?”

“From an era far past this one, yes, though that future will never come about now. We come from the Warp Storms of the 41st Millennium, from a time where Chaos reigns. Sanguinius was not enough.”

“And you’re here from the future to change the past.”

“Yes. We have solutions, but only the Angel can reach them.”

They walked on in silence for some time, and Raldoron observed the grand vistas visible from their catwalk. They were bestial, cetacean even, and yet inherently dead. No, not dead- timeless. They were beyond such petty realities as Raldoron’s. They were of the Second Order.

Well, maybe they were of the Second Order. Probably not. But they made one think of it, that semilegendary domain that was to the Warp as the Warp was to everyday reality. It was a conjecture, most brilliantly suggested by E the Nameless, an ancient Baalite philosopher.

It was unknown outside Baal. In the heyday of the Imperial Truth, it was considered superstition, perhaps dream. Raldoron still considered it such. Still, it was poetic.

They walked, and Raldoron watched the baleen, and the ribcages, and the lungs. Grand towers of porcelain-like bone, in truth facades like any other. The galaxy seemed strange from a distance.

But here? Here, the world- for all its obvious weirdness- was comparatively normal.
 

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CHAPTER FIVE​

The shuttle tumbled through space, carelessly diving towards the docking bay. The designers of this classless vessel had clearly lacked any comprehension of grace, Dar Nakir noted.

His Company had been sent back by the commanders of the vessel, which had turned out to have peaceful intentions after all, thereby showing their intrusion was meaningless. Somehow, though the ship had in every way signaled suspicion, Nakir wasn’t surprised.

It would be called a fiasco by certain elements of the fleet. Still, overreaction was preferable to underreaction. At least it had occupied Nakir.

The Blood Angels Captain stood unmoving as the ship gave another tumble. It was not being fired upon; it was simply a horrible transport. That surprised Nakir more than the intruders’ peaceful intentions. Anyone, after all, would have peaceful intentions when staring down five Companies of Space Marines.

Almost anyone. The stubbornness of xenos lacked a maximum. “Well,” he told his Company, “we all know what a disaster looks like. This wasn’t one. So let’s get back to… “work”.”

“Brother-Captain,” Sergeant Aezireze- the current pilot- observed, “the chronometers are malfunctioning. I will be unable to make a precise approach.”

“Then make an imprecise one. We don’t want to be stuck here- wait, do we?”

A bit of rest might do the assembled Squads good.

It probably wouldn’t. “In any case,” Nakir stated, “make do with what you have.”

The shuttle gave a slight shudder before rapidly shooting off, and Nakir wondered if this craft was originally made by Orks. At least it didn’t smell like it was. Nakir was a sufficiently good judge of smell to detect much- still, however much he sniffed, he couldn’t tell the gene-lineage of the mysterious Astartes.

He did smell Warp-spawn, but Raldoron must have done so too. It was unclear what these Space Marines had done to gain the First Captain’s trust; Nakir hoped it was a lot.

It was beside the point. Raldoron, Dar Nakir reminisced as the ship gave another shake, could take care of himself. Then the mass of the Red Fury glided into view, and Nakir’s thoughts were even more firmly focused on the here and now. Guns flew past, and the hull seemed close enough to touch. The shuttle wove between bulges, aiming for the docking bay; Nakir remembered riding a rad-wurm in his youth. It had zoomed through caving tunnels, head smashing through walls, wriggling its rider off. He had lasted longer than any other five-year-old (Terran years, of course, though they had used the Baalite equivalent) of his tribe; but his injuries were severe.

The ship was no wurm, of course, but it appeared similarly unstable. A wing knocked against the Blood Angel flagship, knocking it spinning into the void. Some loose wire screeched against a cannon before tearing. Ahead, the docking bay was opening, slowly-

But the shuttle was small, and decelerating. Shuddering a final time, it crawled through the hole, then slid into an empty slot on the vast deck. Already the doors were swinging open.

“Were the unknowns just trying to kill us with their shuttles instead of their bolters?” Daduri inquired.

“Possibly,” Nakir said.

Daduri chuckled. The possibility was funny, but also worryingly plausible. In any case, they had escaped the grip of the Accursed Eternity. Nakir led the Blood Angels off the ship, and back into their home.

Captain Enzurior of the 95th greeted Nakir as the latter stepped off the shuttle.

“Brother,” Enzurior said. “Where was the 24th? Where is the First?”

“Visiting the Eternity,” Nakir said. “Didn’t you get the notice?”

“For three weeks?”

Behind him, Nakir felt Daduri’s jaw drop open.

“Time compression, I presume?” Aezireze suggested.

“Yes,” Sergeant Andam said, “unless my sus-an membrane activated in there without my noticing. We were stuck in time.”

“Humph,” Enzurior said. “Given the unknown and rarely contemplated physics of the Warp, such a result is quite possible, but- suspicious.”

“This entire mess is suspicious,” Nakir agreed. “Too bad we can’t do anything about it. Three Terran weeks to slightly over half a cycle- one to 36 ratio. Does this match known phenomena?”

“There are no known phenomena,” Aezireze said. “It’s the Warp. What sort of weirdness-”

That was when it hit.

Andam was grinning one moment, and the next his face was contorted in the fury of brotherloss. It was unearthly, Nakir considered as his Sergeant barreled towards the Captain. It was simply unbelievable. A weapon of the unknown Space Marines? Some secret hate that had eventually let itself out? It was hard to tell. Impossible, in those last few moments.

Nakir smiled, even as Aezireze took the shot. He did not miss. No matter how much was off with the universe, Aezireze’s aim was incorruptible. Even as his torso barreled towards the inactive Nakir, Andam’s brain exploded from a direct bolter shell hit.

It was not easy to kill a Space Marine. Even after the second headshot, there was something breathing within the former Sergeant; something tried desperately to hang on to existence. That thing slammed into Dar Nakir, slamming the Captain onto the floor, tearing at his incomplete armor with its gauntlets. It tried to get through Nakir’s skin, into his blood.

It collapsed slowly. Bit by bit, its movements calmed, and Nakir’s skin- still unblemished, his armor ensured that much- relaxed. The body of Tactical Sergeant Andam sank to the hangar floor, slowly quieting down.

It was only then that Nakir realized how loud, how painful, the transfigured Blood Angel’s screams had been.

“It’s over,” Dar Nakir said as he kicked the dead weight off himself. “Now explain to me what “it” was.”

Most of the Blood Angels were still in the ship. Good. “This never happened,” Nakir stated when no response came. “I will bring the corpse to High Command- Aezireze, Daduri, with me. Enzurior, direct the Squads to debriefings.”

Enzurior did, after profusely- though not as verbosely as usual, given the event had shaken him as well- thanking Nakir for the honor. And it was only afterwards, as he carried a cooling Astarte body without a head through the hallways of the Red Tear, that Dar Nakir recognized the gravity of what he’d done. Tactical Sergeant Andam, the idealist, the dreamer, the obliterator, was dead- killed by Aezireze’s hand. And Nakir had played a role in it too.

When the Terran Blood Angels had departed to their home planet, Sanguinius had not fired on them- not that he could have demolished them, but the possibility of damage was there. He had foreseen the matter, he had pronounced. And he had seen that offensive fratricide would not lead to victory. Some- Fifth Captain Amit most notable among them- had called that a waste of time. But Nakir had felt the deep impact, had felt the fine steel that divided them from the enemy. There was something to be said for deciding when to fire on one’s own. It was a two-way war.

Guilliman did not understand. Guilliman would have fired; he probably had fired. Horus had fired, too, but out of rage and not calculation. But Sanguinius had announced that there was no benefit to attacking now, that the Terran Blood Angels would return in a more favorable situation.

Nakir’s actions had been purely defensive, of course, but he couldn’t help feeling regret at the fragility of the world. The Blood Angels had been different, purer at that instant; but that had passed with stellar wind. Time had flipped the dilemma.

And in all probability, time had flipped it because of those who had abused time- the crew of the Accursed Eternity. Nakir felt the fury within him, an uncoiled spring, and wondered if he would himself succumb to the same weakness in time. It was disturbingly plausible. Indeed, even his excursion towards Command could have been part of the plan.

But his intent was pure, and so was his action. He would not retreat. Nakir smiled despite the occasion. He was a Blood Angel, still, and he would fight the corruption until the end.

The funeral procession zigzagged up the ship, until the audience rooms were in sight, until High Warden Dahka Berus himself blocked the ascendants’ path.

“Captain Nakir,” he said, calmly as ever. “Who is this?”

“The body of Sergeant Andam of the 24th. He was affected by an unknown, erm, contagion- went berserk….”

“Ah.” Berus snapped out of his confusion immediately, and his aspect became one of phlegmatic judgment. “You have told no one of this?”

“Some of my battle-brothers, and Captain Enzurior, saw it. But I have instructed them to keep it secret.”

“Good,” Berus said, “good. Though it may not stay secret much longer. So tell me, Captain Nakir. What do you know of our gene-seed?”

“I’m not an Apothecary. I know the basics- mild similarity of features to the primarch, mild sympathetic personality traits enhanced, though most of that is due to conditioning, and high acceptance rate for Baalites.”

Berus nodded, and signaled Nakir and his Sergeants inward. “There’s something else. Not taint, but a… Flaw. It was rare in the past, but for unknown reasons has spiked since the Accursed Eternity arrived in-system. Thirty-three brothers have fallen to it in those three weeks.” Berus glanced down as Nakir squeezed the body into the door. “Thirty-four.”

“So it will eventually kill all of us?” Daduri inquired.

“No, no. It’s too rare for that.”

“And that Flaw,” concluded Nakir, “induces an artificial rage, crafts uncontrollability, reduces a son of Sanguinius to no more than… a beast, a berserker. It is death.”

“A good metaphor.”

“It was not a metaphor.”

Berus strongly blinked a few times, then shrugged. “The body will be burned according to protocol. Extract progenoids and so on.”

“Are they safe?”

“No. Research.”

Nakir listened, but found it hard to continue. For the Legion to have such a gene-seed wound, without him ever being aware…. It was a massive blow to everything he had thought he knew. It spoke to the Primarch’s ability, of course. But also to his secrecy.

“How many know?” Aezireze inquired.

“More and more,” Berus stated. “It’s out of control. Initially it was kept secret, while the infection occurred only in battle. To prevent suspicion from the Emperor. Now that this is no longer an issue, Sanguinius plans to tell the gathering the truth. It will breed mistrust; a questionable move, certainly. But what the Primarch commands….”

“And Horus knows?”

“The Warmaster knows,” Berus repeated. “But truly, I tire of sharing this darkness. Are we not here to provide the foundation of a greater Imperium? We will all die, one way or another. There are greater subjects.”

A typical response for Berus. The High Warden had little patience for idle talk and less for curiosity. His focus was unerringly on the greater good of the Legion, which he tended to treat as a single entity. What was beside the point was false.

Those qualities made him annoying. They also made him an excellent High Warden.

Nakir left the office soon after, having given Andam to Aezireze. He meandered through the halls of the Red Tear aimlessly, scaring a couple visiting sub-admirals. There was no one to kill, no one to fight; there was, in sum, nothing useful to do. And more importantly, there was nothing he wanted to do. His faith in Sanguinius had been shaken.

No, not faith. Faith was for the Imperials and Macipizians. He was an arrow in the Warmaster’s quiver, nothing more. He was simply tired. Lost.

It was Enzurior who shook him out of his stupor.

“Brother,” the 95th Captain said as he approached the 24th outside the latter’s quarters. “I have been enlightened as to the natures of Andam’s ailment. I see they have shaken you, as well.”

“Yes.”

Enzurior sighed. “The Primarch is relentlessly questing for a solution. We are not threatened, not in bulk.”

“The strength of the Legion remains intact,” Nakir concurred, now walking side-by-side with Enzurior. “But its soul….”

“Our soul is the same as ever. We have always been such, wondrous yet flawed. In every Legion. The Fifteenth bears the possibility of excessive sorcery. The Seventh is devoted to the pursuit of pain. The Sixth is barbaric, beastly. And all of us are inhuman in our defense of humanity. All of us are warriors. Our own flaw is not the Rage alone; but the Rage is at least a physical twist in the helix, one we can seek to combat. Perhaps it was the Emperor himself who placed it there, whether intentionally or by fatal accident. Perhaps it stems from the same source as Sanguinius’ wings. I will not besmirch the honor of the fallen by excessive philosophy. But this is who we are, Nakir.”

“It is not! We are not Angron’s hounds, or even Russ’ wolves. This is an error, not an intrinsic element of us.”

“Apologies,” Enzurior said. “Perhaps I said it wrongly, but…. I merely meant to say that it is better to know, in this case, than to keep a secret to be exploited by our myriad enemies.”

“That is true,” Nakir said. “That… that I cannot debate.”

The Blood Angels walked through the flagship, meditating on the pure shadow within true light; and the Accursed Eternity hung in distant illuminators, forgotten.

It shouldn’t have been.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
INTERLUDE: WARMASTER​

“And what of Kane?” Ezekyle Abaddon inquired.

Horus Lupecal, Warmaster of the Coalition (that was the newest version of his title), sighed. It would have been so much easier to take Ez and the others along, to have multiple pairs of eyes immediately; but protocol made that difficult.

“Kane,” Horus said, “is still a good friend. Agreed to tone down the worship of the Omnissiah- no, Ezekyle, we aren’t getting rid of it entirely.”

“Isn’t it just veneration of the Emperor in another form?”

“The Emperor was worshipped- before the Battle of Mars- as an avatar of the Omnissiah, not as the supreme deity. He’s been exiled from the canon now.”

“Are you sure,” Torgaddon asked, “that they aren’t just making all this up as they go along?”

Horus shrugged. “According to Kane, they pretty much are. It’s a… flexible religion.”

“Still,” Loken said, “it seems insensitive for them to have a religion in these times.”

“In these times,” Aximand retorted, “tradition is among our greatest strengths. Our ranks are as numerous as they are because of those who did not desire the destructive change of the false Emperor. It’s sad, really; we should be more capable of starting over. But we can’t. That isn’t how the galaxy functions.”

Horus nodded. “I do think I must allow an exception for Kane. Though, if you feel strongly on this subject….”

“I don’t,” Torgaddon said. “I like Kane’s approach to religion much more than the Emperor’s.”

“I only worry about the effect on the Imperial Army,” Loken suggested, “when the Titans supporting them are chanting prayers while moving into battle.”

“As I said, they’ve stopped that,” Horus replied.

Loken shrugged. “Well, that settles it. A secret religion that they only half-believe in? At this rate, the Cult will go away without us ever intervening.”

Abaddon gritted his teeth. “This will come back to bite us. But, I will admit, that doesn’t matter if we lose the war.”

Horus nodded. “Very well. I trust that if the need for action were severe, you would say so.” He didn’t know to what extent Loken was merely hiding his true feelings, even now; but the young Tenth Captain was improving. Abaddon and Torgaddon were never ones to mask the truth. The Mournival was wavering; and given Horus’ personal friendship with Kane, something none among the advisory body shared, this course was acceptable.

“May you stay free!” Horus exclaimed to his sons- a new old greeting, that. It had been used in the pre-Imperial era on Cthonia, and had been resurrected by the iterators. It did have a fashion of worming its way into everyday speech.

“May you stay free!” the Mournival echoed, in staggered fashion- Horus suspected the effect was intentional.

He walked to one of his offices slowly, considering the myriad facets of the galactic military situation (that took his mind off the myriad facets of the diplomatic situation). Three Legions made up the Imperium Secundus; seven, Horus’ rebellion; eight, the forces of the Emperor. The Imperial Army was roughly equally split between the three. The nobility of Terra still favored the Emperor, for the obvious reason of his having the ability to squash them without difficulty; those that escaped, Navigators and Astropaths alike, tended to go to Guilliman. The Mechanicum was Horus’- the Emperor had taken Mars, and Guilliman desired its replacement with a secular order.

That was the large scale; but there were eddies on eddies within the current. Some Magi agreed with Guilliman that the Mechanicum was stagnating. The heads of the most powerful Navigatorial House of the Imperium- House Zatee- had sided with Horus. In the Imperial Army, the distribution- though even- was hardly neat.

And on top of it all, any strategy had to deal with the fact that communication across the galaxy was becoming effectively impossible.

Horus reached his office, and from under a desk took out a barely worn volume. It was an audis, a recording of fin whalesong- the last such recording in existence, of which all the others were copies. Terran fin whales had been driven extinct by a variety of pressures millennia ago, and no surviving colonies on other worlds were known. Once, Horus had said that he would go on the Crusade to find the whales.

That had been long ago, in a more naïve age; but as Lupercal listened to the calming sounds for the first time in a century, his mind calmed, in a peculiar melancholy way, nevertheless. He felt on the verge of understanding it; perhaps there was a hidden message, perhaps even an intentional one. That was in the past, though.

For the hours of whalesong, Horus Lupercal- though never sleeping- was distant, despite never losing awareness of the whirling galaxy and screaming demigods that surrounded him.

But it was a song of ending, and as such, it ended.
 

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Discussion Starter #19 (Edited)
Romero's Own: Thank you! And glad I could be useful to your creativity. :)

CHAPTER SIX​

Another audience. Another speech. Azkaellon wasn’t sure if his gene-father could get exhausted from public proclamations, but the bodyguard had become so just listening to them.

But this was different. This time, the darkest secret of the Blood Angels was about to be aired to the galaxy, and the Legion’s soul bared to the blade of hatred. Both the Black Rage and the Callidus invasions could be construed as lies, inventions to clear the Astartes of blame for their missteps. But Azkaellon knew, like few others on the Red Tear, that these speeches were not lies.

And now, again, Sanguinius was speaking black truth to the teeming crowd.

“Flaws,” the Primarch of the Blood Angels continued, “are present in much of the physical. Much of what is not physical, too. But the Blood Angels are both, both a brotherhood and an idea; and our greatest flaw is one that, until now, I have chosen to keep secret, for fear of retaliation from my father.

Now that danger is past, and the weakness grows ever-stronger. So I will admit that a biological defect in the IX Legion’s gene-seed has been causing some among its members to lose all control, to turn into mindless assaulters… to die in a blaze of rage. This tendency has been detectable for some time.

This was a matter of which I had to speak, but which is too panful to speak much of it. Thus, I thank you for your time, and bid you good fortune in future fate-swirls. Glory to the Warmaster!”

And Sanguinius was walking off, and the filled hall shook in confusion, even in shock, with the recognition. Azkaellon could guess what they were going through; he had gone through it himself, long ago. A tectonic shift in trust.

“They will think,” the Commander of the Sanguinary Guard told his Primarch, “that you are dangerous.”

“Not precisely,” Sanguinius replied. “But they will think worse of me. Sanguinius did not tell us the full truth, they will recognize. The Blood Angels hold a caged monster. Horus alone is perfect. And that is better for them to think- better, by far, than that Horus is replaceable.”

“He is not,” Azkaellon accepted, “but neither are you. And you have a better claim to perfection than Horus.”

“Perfection,” Sanguinius said, “is not what matters. Horus is more human. The most human of us all, always.”

“Horus was defined by being raised by the Emperor, was he not?”

“Not primarily.” And then there was the Grand Expanse above the Tear’s core, and the Primarch of the Blood Angels soared again. “But there are other worlds. What of the Accursed Eternity?”

“You know better than me. My investigations have been limited to the Callidus assassins.” Azkaellon glanced around. “Incidentally, you should keep cautious of them. They do, after all, carry the title for a reason.”

“They are not after me,” Sanguinius said. “My visions have made it clear they have another primary target.”

“Who?”

“Who knows? But the possibilities are quite narrow.”

Azkaellon nodded. Kane, Sanguinius, and the Warmaster himself were the only feasible targets for such a large assault- though nothing said there had to be only one target. “Couldn’t it be all of you?” Azkaellon asked.

“I would know if my life was in danger,” Sanguinius said. “Although this is not certainty.”

“Though that is doubtful,” Azkaellon concluded. “But as I said, of the Eternity I know nothing, save that you should not accept your invitation to go there.”

“I will accept it,” Sanguinius said. “My mind is made up. And you will stay here, to lead the hunt for the Callidus in my absence. The intersection is too important.”

“At least I suppose you’ll be safe from the Callidus,” Azkaellon joked, even as footsteps echoed through a perpendicular corridor leading into the Expanse. A second later, Aalitton of the Sanguinary Guard emerged. His armor was slightly blood-marked, and his face joylessly excited.

“Lord Primarch,” he said, “Commander Azkaellon. Another Callidus has been found. This one… this one killed Admiral Krawell.”

Admiral Krawell. Azkaellon needed several moments to match the name with a human. An experienced commander of the Imperial Army’s Navy, Krawell was seen as an inspiring leader. She had started her career in the Unification Wars, and many said that she desired to return to the Emperor’s side; but Lupercal had trusted her, and it was her troops that provided the primary security forces for the Council of Catachan (outside the Astartes).

The Commander of the Sanguinary Guard slowly shook Aalitton’s hand, feeling every microfracture, every bulge. It was a normal golden gauntlet, but here it shone with the history of the IX Legion.

It was not enough.

“Now Nryor the Goldtouched will inherit the ships,” Azkaellon concluded. “Krawell… she was loyal after all.”

“It is peaking,” Sanguinius said. “A war is starting, in forests and caverns and mountains. The skies… the skies are going berserk, an accursed eternity watching our defiance. It will all end suddenly.”

“What?” Aalitton asked.

“You remember, Azkaellon, don’t you?”

Azkaellon did, and said so. “Nevertheless,” he continued, “you did not see that vision. Something is odd about all this.”

“Everything,” Sanguinius said, “is odd about all this. But Horus has sent for me, Azkaellon; take Aalitton and meet Nryor. We will continue our discussion later.”

The departure was swift after that. Aalitton didn’t even get a chance to bid farewell to his gene-father before Sanguinius ascended, wings beating in rhythm with ship’s hum. The Sanguinary Guard strode off, through crimson halls and hallways, through hospitals and forges. They did not speak. Azkaellon was not one for idle chatter, and Aalitton was even more silent.

They walked into the shuttle, and then Catachan glimmered outside once again, and the sun was glowing, and the peace of the constellations reigned; but not for long enough. Within scant minutes, the Blood Angels were on the Blue Shadow of Arcatase- Nryor’s flagship, currently navigated by Wu Zatee.

It was, in fact, a blue shadow- well, a blue blob, at least. The paint scheme was atrociously contrasting; Azkaellon couldn’t imagine that not being on purpose. The shape was odd, too.

At least the geometry was of realspace.

Aalitton and Azkaellon strode through the hallway, the taller Aalitton having to slightly bend to a roof not designed for Astartes. The bridge door shrank from them in the distance, but it could not help but be tugged towards them, even as the ship’s engines ignited a rumble in the distance.

Then they were in. Nryor the Goldtouched, a round man with a well-decorated uniform and a bottle of Cthonian wine, nodded to the entering Blood Angels.

“I assume,” he said, “that you’re here to tell me Kespee is dead.”

“Indeed,” Azkaellon said. “You’re Admiral now.”

“So I have heard,” Nryor said, putting down the bottle- Azkaellon saw it was barely touched. Nryor was not as heavy a drinker as rumor would suggest, he knew; the Goldtouched tended to present the image to be more relatable, but in reality his demeanor concealed a sharp, determined mind. Unlike Krawell, he was well-liked, although also not free of treasonous rumors.

People- including much of the security force- gradually trickled onto the bridge. “They’re expecting me to give a speech,” Nryor said. “Can you imagine? So annoying.”

“Hardly an unreasonable desire, though,” Azkaellon observed. “Aalitton, go talk to Navigator Wu Zatee.”

“I’ll send an honor guard with him,” Nryor said. “Might as well, after all.”

“That will hardly-”

“He can go berserk at any moment,” Nryor said, eyes suddenly freezing. “I don’t want to lose my Navigator, especially when my navigator is one such as Lady Zatee.”

That was… valid. To be sure, the opportunity of the Flaw striking was astronomically small, but the Commander of the Sanguinary Guard knew he would do the same in the Admiral’s place.

More than two hundred men of the Imperial Army came with Aalitton; the standard estimate for killing a Space Marine was a hundred, though a Sanguinary Guard was more than a normal Astarte. Either way, Azkaellon couldn’t help but feel some suspicion that, were Aalitton to lose himself, he would be the only one that could kill the Guard.

And, incidentally, vice versa.

Men and women of the Army continued to sluice into the bridge; Azkaellon considered talking to Nryor further, but there was little to say. And then the Admiral was on the podium, and Azkaellon first of the crowd, and the first speech of a new age for this fleet was beginning.

“People of the Imperium!” Nryor said. “We live in an age of shocks. The rebellion was plenty for a time; but now the starquake penetrates into our lesser lives. The Astartes are entrenching their dominance over us all. Warmaster Horus Lupercal has turned from the Emperor of Mankind, and the Legions begin their plots to kill us all! They make excuses- the Blood Angels can’t control themselves, they say, assassins lurk among us, they say. Who do they take us for?!” To Nryor’s credit, the traitor- or merely loyal?- general continued speaking even as the first shots were fired. “We know the truth. Krawell trusted them until the end, and she was killed for it. For the Emperor, then! And for humanity!”

Azkaellon had fired the first shot at Nryor, and the second into the crowd, even as his other hand slammed on his helmet. There was barely a sign of melee; clearly most of the Imperial Army either agreed with their Admiral or was afraid to defy him.

“Kill Zatee,” the Commander whispered into his vox to Aalitton through the gunfire. That was the most important thing of all. If the Blue Shadow escaped, with the rest of the fleet….

Azkaellon’s armor buckled under the massed fire, even as his jumppack vaulted him roofward. Killing Zatee was the important thing. He was too outnumbered here to fight until the end, and Nryor was well-protected. The thunder of lasguns and bolt pistols continued, even as Azkaellon punched upwards, through the ceiling-

Into another chamber, of course. It would have been too much to hope this strike took him, and the entire bridge, directly into space. Weaponry pattered below, and Azkaellon sprinted through the hallways, sniping every one of the few people he saw. From his helmet readouts, the Navigator’s sanctum was close.

Lesser minds, Azkaellon reflected, would be shocked or frustrated that the betrayals were still not over. He was hardly happy about it, either. But the treachery never ended, he knew, not really. The best humanity could do was to transcend them.

The dash continued; the sanctum was two hundred- one hundred- straight left. Azkaellon kicked open the door, using his pack to decelerate. It swung open, fluorescent yellow turning to the whole rainbow.

The first thing his genehanced eye spotted was Aalitton’s form. It sprawled on the curved floor, dead to all appearances- but, Azkaellon could tell, actually in deep sus-an sleep. Then there was Navigator Zatee.

She was dead. Very dead, curled in her golden seat hanging in the geometric center of the room, arms frantically thrust towards her holster. Azkaellon breathed a sigh of relief at the recognition that Aalitton had- predictably- succeeded in his mission.

The third thing Azkaellon noticed was the group of surviving humans. There were about ten of them, the rest having drifted off one way or another.

“For the Warmaster,” Azkaellon announced, “yield.”

Their sergeant fired the first shot.

The Commander of the Sanguinary Guard slammed into the gathering, body-crushing the impactee instantly. He turned around, punching another guard against the wall, even as a couple of others lost their nerve and fled.

Grabbing his power-blade, Azkaellon swung left with fist and right with sword, neatly decapitating the sergeant. Four men- well, two men and two women- remained. All young, all desperation-faced.

“Until the end, then,” one of those women said, raising her face to look Azkaellon in the eye. “What is dead can never die-”

“Just yield,” Azkaellon commanded. “Give me my brother and run. I tire of killing humans.”

That was a bit of an exaggeration. Still, he would hardly lose anything by letting them go- he couldn’t exactly take on the entire ship by himself, now that Aalitton was incapacitated. Fear to be spread, shock to be lost- a fair trade, for a tad of mercy.

They took his offer, of course. First the back two, and then even the praying woman rushed off. Two lasguns clattered to the floor.

Clipping them to his belt with his left hand- he had the room- Azkaellon swung Aalitton over his shoulder with his right. Then he ran again, charging across the width of the Blue Shadow of Arcatase. Golden banners surrounded his flight, oddly providing some camouflage. A pair of security officers gave him a wide berth. Another crewman, apparently feeling suicidal, fired. It mattered little. Right now, Azkaellon was divine; it was an illusion, he knew, but a convenient one.

He headed into the ship’s belly. He could hardly get to the shuttles, especially given that a large portion of the crew would be defending the primary exit. But it didn’t look like the bridge was too successful at tracking his blazing route, and so he shot towards the escape pods. There was no time to look around, now, except for the most basic tactical appraisal. Metal dust fluttered up from the floor. Doors were punched shut. Others were cut through.

Azkaellon ran. It was an unfortunate thing to be doing, as glorious as it seemed in the moment; but he believed in doing what one must. The good of the Legion required his and Aalitton’s survival, and their untrackability could only last for so long.

His vox opened.

“Brother-Commander?” Zuriel’s voice asked.

“I’m busy. How are matters?”

“As expected. We are firing on Admiral Nryor’s assembled traitor fleet; they are vastly outnumbered. Just survive, Brother-Commander.”

“Same to you,” Azkaellon said, and cut off the conversation.

He emerged onto a balcony above the escape pods. A few workers were milling about, but a single shot into the air was enough to send them screaming off. Azkaellon flipped his jumppack open, the glided off the edge, into the shadows.

He sprung upwards even as he landed, Aalitton precariously balanced on his shoulder. The Commander ran forth, tossing his brother into the pod before falling in himself. He initialized the launch sequence, then locked the door and considered the possibilities.

Above, the first guns were fired, even as the Blue Shadow fell away and Azkaellon again shot through the heavens. Taking a deep breath, the Space Marine secured his brother, from eye-corner watching Catachan unfold. Perhaps he should have run to the shuttles- Nryor’s response was worse than usually tolerated in the Imperial Army.

Or perhaps there was a sizeable rebellion on the ship, one he had abandoned to escape- a chilling thought.

It was past, now, either way. Green Catachan lit up below, and the pod dove in. Azkaellon took a last look around the room to check for deficiencies-

And found one.

Not good.

“You’ve been listening in on me all this time,” Azkaellon voxed, “haven’t you?”

“Of course,” Zuriel responded. “That’s how we first found out about the betrayal. A few Sons of Horus- I mean Luna Wolves- joined them too. Led by Targost.”

“Serghar Targost of the Seventh?”

“That one.”

“Well, let him rot, then. Listen- the landing mechanism on my escape pod is jammed. I’ll be jumping, and even if I survive, my armor might be wrecked.”

“On Catachan? That would be bad.”

“But survivable. Either way, if I should go offline, remember this: truth is ever forged in the crucible of doubt. For the Warmaster! And for Sanguinius!”

And smashing the pod walls open, Azkaellon jumped.

They were in the low atmosphere by that point; yet the fall was still significant. He toppled through, the pod crashing to a fiery doom in the distance. Aalitton dangled in his arms, even as his eyes moved to select the jump pack, on a low power setting. And then Azkaellon veered, and the fog was coming up, and the heavens spun overhead; and somewhere there, the Red Tear hung, looking at the falling angel.

The pack worked, even as it wound down its last reserves of energy. Azkaellon crashed through titanic branches, but there was armor for that. With amusement, he noted that a particularly tough branch had scratched his vox; it seemed his prediction to Zuriel had been correct.

And then, kneeling, Azkaellon, Commander of the Sanguinary Guard, landed in the unmapped forests of Catachan.
 

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Discussion Starter #20
CHAPTER SEVEN​

“How many of the traitor ships are down?” Berus inquired, striding onto the bridge.

Dar Nakir looked at the High Warden and smiled. The whole mess was quite entertaining- something to do, at least.

“All of them,” he answered, “or at least all that we know are traitors. They’re using escape pods, though, and those are more difficult to deal with.”

Berus nodded, giving no sign of concern. “Well, most of them will perish on Catachan.”

Aphgori of the Third nodded, not turning away from his station- a remote control of two sniper cannons on the Tear’s underbelly. “The place is a deathtrap. It seems an incredibly ill-considered move. But as I was telling Nakir, they’re desperate. I believe they’d make such an error.”

“It isn’t an error,” Nakir answered, frustration building inside his throat.

“It annoys me to see my brothers argue so uselessly,” Berus said. “Whether they planned for this or not does not affect our strategy. The three Captains here, plus Ziors Oramantr of the 254th, will coordinate the attacks on four of the landing sites; use other Companies as necessary. The fifth site is the Luna Wolves’; the Sons of Horus will lead that attack, as well as five more. I will continue the hunt for the Callidus. Sanguinius is needed on the Accursed Eternity.”

“We’re getting stretched,” An Ziatton of the 299th- the third Captain on the bridge- observed.

“We have half the Legion here,” Aphgori contradicted. “High Leadership, perhaps, is somewhat stretched- but it always is.”

“Not physically stretched,” Nakir said, “but… unfocused, I suppose. Too many objectives, and unlike the Crusade we can’t each focus on a single part.”

“I do not believe,” Berus stated, as if he was the Primarch himself, “that the Legion’s division poses a problem- not yet. But yes, the Council is chaotic. In any case, good work; keep organizing the fire until the pods are gone, then plan descent. I must talk to Sanguinius.”

And the High Warden was gone yet again.

“He’s more… frantic now,” Aphgori said. “Nicer, too. Is he also being affected by the disorder?”

“No,” Nakir said, “merely busier. And effective leader of the Legion; that takes time on time.”

Then he turned back to the controls and continued to coordinate the guns. In truth, there wasn’t much left to accomplish. The pods were crashing into the atmosphere, into a range where space weaponry was ineffective; at most, one or two more could be downed.

He got one in the next minute, and then the guns of the Red Tear fell silent. Below, tiny crimson dots completed their blooms. Catachan hung on the screen. Around, the human crew rushed around, desperately trying to keep the ship above 100% strength.

“Done,” Nakir said, tilting off.

“Same,” Aphgori said.

For a couple of minutes, they considered each other. Nakir knew Aphgori was an excellent commander and fighter, but often, the Third Captain was simply annoying. He knew, too, that Aphgori held a rather odd opinion of himself- a view that Nakir was an unstable genius who lived in imaginary worlds.

If Aphgori had ever stated that directly, Nakir would’ve replied that no realm was purely imaginary while the Warp existed, that he was not that unstable, that frankly his tactical and swordfighting skills were not unusually high for a Blood Angel Captain. But their disagreement never escalated that far. The Blood Angels were a civilized Legion, after all (except for Amit).

“Finished,” Ziatton said, and the Captains broke into activity once more. Nakir’s Company was scattered through the Red Tear and other ships; many of them were responsible for actually firing the guns Nakir was coordinating, where their superior reaction time gave them an advantage over normal men.

“Well done,” Aphgori declared, even as Nakir began the task of voxing his Company together. “For Sanguinius and the Warmaster, brothers.”

Ziatton responded in kind. Nakir did too, though somewhat less concentrated. Then he was running, sending Squad after Squad the coordinates where the landing took place, converging the leylines of war. He slowed to a fast walk on the path into the armory, joining the serfs in fastening full armor onto himself.

With the retinal displays, the work of gathering went much faster. The Company– all four hundred and seven functional Space Marines– gathered in the official hall, waiting for Nakir’s personal orders. Aezireze was there; so was Daduri. Andam was, of course, gone.

Nakir forced a smile nonetheless. Even one such as Andam did not deserve endless mourning. And he was getting his own wish at last- Catachan was orange with the first sparks of war.

“Brothers,” he declared. “The humans and Marines under Admiral Nryor and Luna Wolves Captain Serghar Targost have betrayed their oaths to the Warmaster. Oaths are dust to all of us, of course; but it’s not for making this war even less elegant that we must obliterate them. It is not even for the fact that they dishonor Andam’s memory through their anti-Astarte propaganda. It is for their allegiance to the forces of Destruction, or Imperium, or Chaos- however you choose to call it. It is because this ultimate conflict has only two sides, two options; and they have taken the other option. I do not need to remind you why that necessitates their destruction.

We will strike at their landing site, in the titanic forests of Catachan; you have the coordinates. Speed is essential, and the mission is clear; so I will not detain you longer. For Sanguinius!”

“For Sanguinius!” the Company echoed, and then there was more organization. Drop-pods were filled and fitted, armor was checked and dusted, plans zipped through the vox-network. Nakir felt distanced, somewhat, from the dire realizations of recent days; war called. It would be a generalization to say he enjoyed it, but he was an Astarte.

“For Sanguinius!” And then the 24th Company of the Ninth “Blood Angels” Legion stacked into drop-pods, and launch protocols were initiated, and Dar Nakir felt other times sing. Other landings throughout the Great Crusade, up to Ullanor.

Too short; too abruptly cut off was Horus Lupercal’s reign as Warmaster of the Imperium. But its very beginning had sown the seeds of resentment- hatred of Horus among the Primarchs, hatred of the Primarchs among ordinary men. Yet it also gave a second ideal to the Imperium, one Chaos’ corrupting force could not as easily crush. That was the true Imperium Secundus; the new meaning of the two-headed aquila. Horus had replaced Mars, even as Mars hadn’t gone anywhere. Had the Emperor foreseen, even then, his corruption? Had he worked to ensure a failsafe?

Then, launch; the pod veered off the surface of the Red Tear, and Dar Nakir was in the present once again.

His neighbors in the pod were the Blood Angels of Squad Rinaspon. Sergeant Nassir Rinaspon was slightly cowed by his Captain’s presence; Rinaspon was newly promoted, and though his combat abilities were undoubted, he was apparently surprised at Nakir’s choice. Or perhaps it had been the Captain’s muttering that had disturbed Rinaspon.

“So,” Nakir asked, “what do you think of all this, Nassir? Frankly?”

“Frankly, I think it’s a mess,” Rinaspon answered. “The Warmaster should have been able to manage it.”

“The “it” is humans,” Nakir said. “They’re rather difficult to manage, harder than, say, Orks.”

“Really?” one of the Marines asked.

“Really,” Nakir said. “I mean, you’ve fought them, haven’t you? All you need to do is to scream really loudly and point, and they’ll charge, or build, or do whatever. Mind you, it might be a bit harder to make it clear what you want them to do….”

“They do fight among themselves quite often,” Rinaspon observed.

Nakir, smiling, nodded. “That’s because they have a simplistic social order, and therefore can only resolve disagreements by battle. We, however, have developed diplomacy, which- although it can sometimes make us wish for simpler days, and occasionally creates this sort of mess- allows us to fight less often. Really unfortunate, in some ways.”

“Secrets caused this,” Rinaspon contradicted. “It was much simpler when it was just diplomacy.”

“Of course, because-”

“Countdown!”

Dar Nakir gripped his blade tighter as the surface of Catachan grew more detailed on the screens. The pod would be landing in the midst of the enemy base, to the east side of the center. Around, a hail of fire descended, and to his shock Nakir even saw two drop pods scrape each other, almost ruining both. He’d have to work on that.

“Three!”

The green below was only slightly interrupted, by temporary shelters, some actually within the tree branches, others in a large meadow. Finding such a clear space by accident would be a significant miracle in itself; but it wasn’t that excellent of a defensive position, anyhow.

“Two!”

Gunfire spiraled upward into the crimson pods, but it was too weak to accomplish much. Nakir had tried to imagine a successful defense for the humans several times, but he still couldn’t understand how they meant to win, unless they co-opted the environment of Catachan in an unknown way.

“O- Impact!”

The machine had overestimated the distance again. Fortunately, it corrected itself quickly, and the drop-pod doors flopped open. Nakir was second out, analyzing the situation. Above, tree branches rained on the Astartes’ helmets where the pod had forged its trail. There was a large, well-camouflaged shelter directly ahead.

“Baal!” Nakir shouted, and Squad Rinaspon charged into battle.

There was gunfire from the branches and the sides; but it was erratic, and quickly grew desperate. The Marines took out these snipers, one by one, and even supercharged lasguns did too little against Astarte armor.

Nakir shot off a couple of orders to the scattered Company, even as the enemy fire died down. Sergeant Rinaspon walked up to the shelter, swinging it open-

Only for it, and every shelter around it, to explode in a ball of fire.

Rinaspon was thrown backwards; Nakir cursed his short-sightedness at not realizing the visible-from-orbit site was a trap. Though he had seen large life-signs within….

Two things happened, at that moment, to confirm Nakir’s mental point. Firstly, a hail of charred corpses flopped to the ground. Secondly, a fiery ring, multicolored symbols within it, drifted from the inferno in place of smoke.

Around, a forest fire was beginning. Nakir had no idea how a forest-and-swamp planet could survive such a cataclysm. But more troubling was the Warp rift- for that was, without a doubt, the circle’s nature- dawning over the flames. A large, blood-red monstrosity was emerging from it, even as smaller xenos fluttered around it and reality struggled to seal the breach….

Nakir tore his eyes off the visage. Stumbling backwards, he grabbed Rinaspon and ran away from the fire.

“Command,” he voxed to the Red Tear, “the shelters are traps. They’re sacrificing the humans to summon daemons.”

Above, the hateful glow of the Warp Rift finally faded. Nakir dared to raise his head and observe what was happening; he immediately wondered why he’d bothered. The creature that had come out was a thing of raw hate, paradoxical curls in serpentine segments. It was enormous, orange, and one-eyed (although it was difficult to define where that eye was).

“Regroup at my position,” Nakir ordered as his hearts began to calm, as flames drew ever-closer. “Power armor can probably withstand this; and we can take out the abomination.”

Vox-traffic continued, though impeded by the fire. “Local wildlife affected,” Acral voxed. “Am executing an undulating toad.”

“Don’t!” Aezireze screamed. “Life-Eater!”

But it was too late.

Nakir stood in the distance, watching the poisonous cloud gradually boom from Acral’s position. It was distant for now, and perhaps the Captain would personally survive; but his Company would be decimated. Rune after rune blinked out instantaneously. The daemons paused in their charge- Acral had been almost under the rift- and disintegrated, the toxins of the Catachan Barking Toad being enough to destroy even warp-flesh. The orange snake screamed its last rage, but too was ripped to shreds, and then less. The fire died.

It was over within minutes. A crater in the canopy stood in the midst of the forest, Nakir on its edge (power armor had saved his life, at low toxin concentrations). Of the 24th Company, perhaps half was still alive. The havoc had at least eliminated the Warp-xeno assault as well. There was only a circle of death.

Warily, Dar Nakir stepped back and walked into the forest.
 
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