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Skull Reaper​

Table of Contents

Chapter I - Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V - Part VI

Chapter II - Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

Chapter III - Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV - Part V

Chapter IV - Part I - Part II - Part III

Chapter V - Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

Chapter VI - Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV (Part IV Completed 07 Aug 11)

CHAPTER I

For millennia, we have been nothing but scavengers, picking at the rotting husks of both the Imperium and those we once called our allies. We are basking in the shadows of former glories with no legacy to call our own. My Lord, the time has come to act.
- Ezekial, Seer of the Venom Guard




I​

Breathe.

The thought came unbidden, unwanted, into his mind. Confusion followed it. He was breathing, quickly and shallowly inhaling into each of his two open lungs. A lateral swipe of his power fist, the claws sheared through the entire body of the guardsman. Red mist spraying…

BLOOD.

More welcome, more wanted; no, not wanted, needed. The coppery smell, the moist sensation, covering his face and his armour. The fountain of blood with chunks of viscera covered his gauntlet and fell like a foul rain to the ground. The joy of the kill, the thrill of the murder. Nothing else mattered as long as the carnage continued. Surrender to it, become lost to it.

Breathe.

Again, stronger this time. Strange, a mixture of feelings, the sensation of falling mingled with the utter euphoria of the slaughter. He shook his bare head and roared a wordless cry of rage and hate. His throat was raw from screaming. A punch with his left fist, holding a bolt pistol, separated the head from the shoulders of another man. The red of the blood, the white of the bone was intoxicating.

Kill time, that was what it was called. The world seemed to slow down; everything moved at a crawling rate. The droplets of blood coming from the severed head, the string of flesh tearing as the velocity and force of the punch propelled the head further, the two vertebrae protruding above the stump that had, a tenth of a second previously, been the neck of a human being. Everything was so… perfect.

SKULLS.

Another gift for the Lord of Rage, a skull for the Skull Throne. The Blood God’s demands were simple, his joys pure, his desires insatiable. Another swing, this time vertical, split the torso of a new victim, homage to the unyielding thirst for blood and death. The blow started low, entering the man at the groin, the energy sheathing his clawed fist parting the flesh and armour easily. A last second flick of a finger severed the neck of the man. The head spiralled down to join those of his comrades on the blood-soaked dust.

The champion spat on the ground, casting his gaze about in search of the next sacrifice to the Blood God, the next skull to be added. None presented themselves, no more humans were visible. The only movements were of his…his…what were they…who was he? Ah, yes, he was a Champion of Khorne. The Skull Reaper. The Vile Butcher. The daemon…NO!

BREATHE.

The warrior gasped, feeling the sensations of consciousness as though for the first time. From a depthless tunnel, his mind struggled to the forefront of his being. The blood dripping down his brow obscured his vision; the moans of dying men and the roars of his brethren rejoicing in the hunt echoed in the valley. He felt the familiar scream as the daemon that shared his body was forced back, pushed down to the recesses of his mind. It was still there, lurking in the darkness, waiting for release.

He shuddered, trying to ignore the aftershock tremors of his mind regaining control. Close this time, very close. Another deep inhalation steadied his dual heartbeat. The red tint in his vision began to fade. Gnashing teeth, gaping jaws and a scream of fathomless rage echoed at the back of his mind. The thrum of energy surrounding his fist abated as he sub-vocalized the command to power the weapon down. He glanced left then right, surreptitiously removing the magnetic lock clasping his helmet to his thigh.

Golden jagged teeth stared the champion in the face as he lifted his helm up. A stylized skull painted and stained gore red, it was the badge of his station. Skull Champion. The name was meaningless to him when he was calm and in control. But during battle, when he succumbed to his darkness, it was everything…

‘Sir.’

The voice cut through his thoughts and he tore his gaze from the hate-filled mask that was both his prison and his release. Release, liberation, exhilaration, shame. His Primarch, praise be to him, had most emphatically impressed upon all of his sons the necessity for discipline.

‘Sir?’

A question now. Question, query, interrogative: necessitates a response. His mind snapped back to the present. ‘Status?’ He felt the tortured flesh in his throat knitting itself together; already the hoarseness of his voice was fading to be replaced by the natural growl.

The warrior addressing him…what was his name? Vorn bowed his head to hide the blood in his eyes, an outward show of shame at his mental and physical abandonment of self-discipline. He, like his master, was cursed and blessed simultaneously.

‘Brother Uzick has lost his hand from lucky power sword swipe, but the flow of blood has slowed,’ he said, unable to hide the slight tremor in his voice while mentioning blood. ‘The rest of the squad is unharmed. Ammunition supplies are at eighty percent, Charritt will be distributing it out evenly.’

The champion nodded thoughtfully. Uzick would be chastised, but not yet. His carelessness and surrender to his rage had been becoming more and more complete. Punishment was in order, but only after the operation was brought to a successful conclusion. The champion lowered his helmet over his head, closing himself off to the outside world.

He engaged the squad vox, ‘Very well. Proceed as planned. Time is of the essence. Redistribute your magazines on the move.’ He removed the half spent magazine from his own bolt pistol and slammed in a fresh one. Engaging the magnetic link on the ancient weapon, he clipped it to his thigh plate.

He sub-vocalized to switch to the command frequency vox, ‘Wrathful, Box Two-Beta-Seven has been cleared. Moving forward towards the objective.’ He received a double click acknowledgement, indicating permission to continue. The Wrathful had been clear in his instructions to keep long range communications to a minimum to decrease the probability of premature detection. Though the company’s encryption codes were superior to the enemy’s, their way had always been discretion. Or, as Ezekial enjoyed to say in his refreshingly blunt manner, Better safe than sorry.

The haze and smoke were beginning to clear. A breeze from the northeast, the direction of their objective, was cleansing the battlefield of the airborne residual. Without his thermal vision engaged, it granted the champion an unfettered view of the carnage enacted. An entire battalion, one thousand Guardsmen, lay dead. No communications had been sent from the slaughtered men. The detachment had struck swiftly, decisively, and without mercy. Brother Tynan had fallen from the sky on burning wings of vengeance, obliterating the command vehicle of the enemy from above with a devastating close-range shot from his melta. The rest of Squad Anderan had followed closely behind, cutting off any hope of retreat for the embattled element.

The champion along with ten of his brothers from Squad Finarius had struck from the south. Finarius and his cold-blooded killers laid down a devastating level of suppressive fire while the champion and his men had swept around to the east, flanking around the enemy. Those souls quickly found themselves facing the western cliffs and the three thousand foot drop to the rocky beaches below, the unrelenting bolter fire from Finarius, ferocious assault from the champion’s men and their axes and blades, or the shrieking killers from Anderan.

The battle had been over in minutes. No brothers lost, though three had entered the long sleep and required immediate extraction. Talium treated the fallen men, having moved them clear of the carnage on the field.

‘Bravvick, your god smiles upon you.’ This transmission from Anderan was over the private vox channel shared by the echelon’s command.

Ah, that was the champion’s name. Bravvick. He had almost forgotten, losing himself to the daemon sharing his mind for the course of the battle. He addressed his fellow champion as Anderan strode to him. ‘Khorne smiles upon only blood. Whether it is mine or the enemy’s matters not. Only that it is spilt.’

‘Aye, this is true, Brother,’ he replied, ‘You would do well to remember that.’

Antonin Bravvick, the Skull Reaper, brother-sergeant, Chaos Marine, begrudgingly allowed himself a tight smile. The plan of the Wrathful, the Underlord of the Venom Guard, was coming to fruition. Ten thousand years of blood, of subversion, of careful manipulation had brought the warband to this moment. Since the death of the Primarch had the warriors of the Legion been waiting for this, biding their time for the last piece to fall into place. This planet will be ours…
 

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II​

Unremarkable. That was the word that came to Gadriel Padati’s mind as he gazed over the ramparts. Barren was a close second. Grox-dung came in third. He and the other members of the Larillan Three-Oh-Second Regiment of the Imperial Guard had been stationed on this black hole of a planet for over three years. A promising career with a future of seeing the galaxy and fighting for the Emperor of Mankind shattered in one seemingly endless tour of duty.

Viaticus Secundus. The only world in the Viaticus system with a breathable atmosphere. The only world other than Larilla that Gadriel had ever stepped on. The only world that could be this far from the arse-end of nowhere. The only world that, for all Gadriel cared, was a nine thousand kilometer wide ball of rancid grox pies. Viaticus Secundus and its “supreme tactical import” were a complete waste of men and resources. Nothing. Ever. Happened.
Gadriel sighed, admitting to himself for the thousandth time that at least the garrison itself was not so bad. There were roughly ten thousand Imperial Guardsmen stationed smack in the center of the planet’s temperate zone on the main continent. Latitude fifty three degrees seventeen minutes, longitude one hundred six degrees forty-seven minutes. God-Emperor, I’m bored.

Ten thousand Guardsmen and two thousand women that had somehow managed to tag along for the journey were stuck here. Throw in the assorted dregs that ran distilleries, sold obscura, dealt for the betting tables, and did generally all sorts of under-the-table dealings to prevent the soldiers at Way Station Centrus from killing either themselves or each other, and they had themselves a party. All that and enough excitement to thrill a sea slug. Not too terrible, but certainly far from good.

The fortifications upon which he stood were well-built, fifty meter high rockrete walls and nearly half as thick surrounded the sixty kilometer square “safe zone.” Every one hundred meters a two-man guard position was built into the walls, jutting out from the otherwise flat surface. Gadriel snorted. Safe zone. The entire planet, as far as he could tell, was devoid of any sort of sentient life apart from the Imperial Guard soldiers scattered around in the planet’s sixteen garrisons. Were it not for the ever-encroaching Tau fleets, he doubted that he would ever have been stationed here. The only safe zone he wanted or needed was his bunk safe from the dust. Fek.

He lifted his magnoculars to his eyes, scanning again for the enemy that would never come. Seeing that the system’s small yellow sun was setting, he carefully packed his magnoculars away; You break it, you buy it! and retrieved his thermal night optics.

Darkness had, as usual, fallen before his shift was half over. The planet was irregular in that it had no tilt of the axis, creating an absolute and depressing constancy to the guard rotations. Three years, every day from 1600 until 2400 local time he stood in Tower W-2 staring out at the black sand until even the sky relented to the darkness the earth itself emitted.

A quick glance at his wrist’s illuminated chronometer elicited the usual groan. Four and a half more hours on the rotation, great. He shifted awkwardly on his feet, trying to relieve the ache building up, and lifted his binos to his eyes. He peered through his thermal optics towards the seemingly endless barren wasteland stretched before him, broken only by the towering mountain chain one hundred kilometers to the southwest. Gadriel still was far from sure as to why the Colonel insisted on wearing full combat loads while on sentry duty; his shoulders and back were constantly aching from wearing fifty kilos of carapace armour, lasgun cartridges, frag grenades, flashlights, water…the list went on and on. Fek, that was without the crew-served heavy stubber he had to haul up before each rotation.

Sighing, he sat down on the ‘bench,’ a ten centimeter-wide length of plyboard balanced precariously atop sand bags. That was a bad day. He remembered the third day following his arrival on planet, still freshly cut and full of enthusiasm, until a nameless Captain Fekhead had instructed the Three-Oh-Second that each and every crew would bring their own stubber to and from the shifts. The man had, wisely, ducked into the dark catacombs underneath the compound, losing any Guardsmen who would have – and rightly so! – done him harm.

‘How much longer?’ a cantankerous voice asked from behind him. Gadriel turned, squinting to regain his night vision after staring into the stark white and grays of the thermal scopes. It was an odd habit, still trying to look to identify the same voice that had asked the same question for nearly one thousand straight days. Habits, patterns of life, ritualistic conversation and amasec were the only things that kept Gadriel’s tenuous grip on sanity in check.

‘Same as when you always ask, Kyp.’ What happened next was also a part of the routine. Gadriel closed his eyes in preparation.

‘Dammit, if I have to sit in this fek hole one more day, I’m heading to the Command Post and shoving my foot straight up the Colonel’s arse.’

Wait for it…wait for it. Kyp flipped a switch behind him, causing his eyelids to turn blood red with the sudden light. He slowly opened them to adjust them from the total gloom to the sudden, well, less-than-total gloom. With the interior lights on, the glass of the exterior viewport became reflective, containing the ambience within the tower rather than allowing it to bleed out into the night and becoming, in effect, a mirror. On the exterior, the pane of glass appeared no different than rest of the eight kilometer stretch of wall, a dark black mass of stone sitting atop a flat black mass of sand.

‘Oh shut up.’ Again, the exact same phrase Gadriel had uttered every night for one thousand sixty-three consecutive days.

Gadriel ran his hand over his face, feeling the stubble along his hollowed cheek. He traced his finger down the long vertical scar stretching from his upper lip through to his hairline. Bayonet drill a year back had forever marred his good looks, his noble, and oftentimes arrogant, countenance. I used to have a life. Tall and of aristocratic descent, Gadriel had forfeited a life of leisure and comfort for the chance for an adrenaline rush, giving away his family’s inheritance and leaving a bewildered ex-wife and greedy little brother behind on the estate back on Larilla.

A clatter behind him indicated that Kyp had tossed his helmet into his usual corner. Kyp cleared the dusty phlegm from the back of his throat and hacked it in preparation for his customary rant. Gadriel cut him off before he could begin, ‘If I have to listen to your whining any more, I’ll probably suck start my lasgun.’

I hate this planet.
 

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III​


I love this planet. The endless flats swept by two hundred meters below him, the reckless headlong charge reducing any details of the ground to a black and grey blur. The cool wind rushed along his bare scalp and roared past his ears. He allowed himself a feral grin. Normally he felt hollow, empty. While he preferred to be flying under his own power and not magnetically clinging to the side of a Thunderhawk, this was what he lived for: the thrill of the hunt. Were it not for the stimulation of combat, he doubted he would feel anything.

The Wrathful’s plan called for a full encirclement of the key Guard garrison on the planet. A massive, coordinated attack to crush both the enemy’s ability and will to resist. This was the way of the Venom Guard: to masterfully move each element into place before acting. In a way, their method of battle was akin to the termites of ancient Terra carefully burrowing through the wooden supports of a bridge, until that single and crucial moment that set the whole construction crashing down into inevitable and complete disaster.

‘Zors, distance to target.’ This was not a question. It was neither, in truth, a statement, having been bellowed through external speakers to enable the auspex operator to hear his brother-sergeant over the combined roar of the wind and the Thunderhawk’s engines.

The Raptor glanced at his portable auspex unit, showing icons of his squad, their ship, and the distant Imperial fortress. He carefully unclamped his helmet, placing it over his head. ‘Three hundred kilometers, Lord Zecharias. We will cross Phase Line Hydra within the hour. Insertion into the target at phase line plus five.’ The rush of wind died as the helmet completed the seal with his carapace, eliminating the intoxicating exhilaration of the flight.

A moment passed before Zecharias responded. ‘Very well. We will arrive precisely as the Wrathful has planned. Vox blackout from here on out, battle sign only. Acknowledge in sequence.’ The Thunderhawk began to ascend as each brother clicked his vox in confirmation. There was little need, the Raptors had been waiting for this moment for years. Years of machinations, of plotting and subtle manipulations. Zors howled inside of his helmet, eager to begin the hunt. All of it had come down to this one instant, the pivotal moment in which the future of the Venom Guard would be assured.
 

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(Due to the short length of Pt III, I'll go ahead and post up Pt IV today)

IV​

Another glance at his chronograph drew a sigh of simple and pure exasperation. Three more hours. To say that time was crawling would be a vast understatement. It was already dead and rotting. Gadriel leaned forward on the bench, stretching his lower back as best he could while Kyp maintained his semi-vigilant watch on their sector. Gadriel removed his helmet and shook his head. He heard the droplets of sweat impacting dully on the dust covered floor. ‘Kyp did you turn the air off?’

Kyp looked back over his shoulder and shrugged, barely visible in the gloom. ‘Nah, must’ve gotten clogged again. My light’s in my webbing if you want to grab it.’

‘Well where the hell is your kit?’

Kyp would now have cocked his left eyebrow. ‘Same as always,’ he said.
Gadriel swore under his breath. True night had fallen on the planet, and the absence of any natural satellites minimized any light that may seep in through the windows. He could switch on the overhead again, but despite the security that the reflective windows provided in terms of light discipline, it was, in the words of the good Commissar, ‘Strictly forbidden!’ Fekhead.

He stood up and felt his way in the pitch black confines of the room, hands extended in front of him to remove any possibility of the wall becoming overly acquainted with his nose. Two steps forward... there. His outstretched fingers hit the warm rockcrete wall, luckily without the force to remove any skin in the process. Sidestep four steps… his left boot connected with what was more than likely Kyp’s discarded gear. Gadriel knelt down, fumbling through several pockets before coming across his companion’s head lamp. He wrapped it around his own bare head and turned it on.

The small circle of light illuminated the back of Kyp’s tattooed neck. His friend had claimed that he had been an underhiver before someone else volunteered him to join the Guard, and he certainly looked the part. While not overly muscled like stereotypical slum-trash, the man did seem to have tattoos covering nearly every square centimeter of skin on his body. Having recently been forced to get a haircut that actually conformed with the strict standards emplaced by the Commissar and the Three-Oh-Second, the upper portion of a huge tattoo was now visible.

Gadriel had seen Kyp without a shirt on multiple times and, sadly, knew his backside better than he knew his own. On his back, in a rather dramatic fashion, stood the Emperor of Mankind, resplendent in golden armour and holding high a trident in a pose of triumph. Crushed and torn about his feet were aliens and mutants of indescribable origins. The upper portion of the trident had always been hidden in the past, and Gadriel figured it would be a decent way to at least pass the next two minutes of his shift. He walked up behind his friend and shined the light closer to get a better look at the intricately detailed trident.

Kyp seemed not to notice, evidently lost in his own personal reveries of the gambling he would soon be partaking in or the prostitute with whom he spent many of his lonely nights. Probably both. Gadriel leaned closer, careful not to breathe on Kyp’s neck because, well, that would just be weird. The tips of the trident, he discovered, were not spears at all. Instead of a metallic sheen, they were covered in scales. The point of each was an image of a snake or a mythical dragon and the forks themselves the necks. Three dragon heads? Each head had been subtly blended into the design of the trident so as to be unnoticeable except under close inspection. Weird, he’s probably got a tattoo of a black hole around his arse, too. He snorted.

That was a mistake. ‘What the fek are you doing?’ Kyp spun around in a rage, striking Gadriel in the temple with his palm. The smack caught Gadriel completely off guard, and he stumbled backwards, catching the back of his calves on the bench. He pitched back and toppled over the ply board. His head smacked against the wall in as graceful of a manner as he could muster. Luckily, the head lamp caught the worst of the impact and it shattered. He could vaguely make out Kyp’s outline, standing over his supine form.

‘Throne, man! What was that all about?’ Gadriel rubbed his forehead, feeling his hand come away wet. He had skinned it on the way down.

‘You were up in my personal space, brother.’ Already Kyp seemed to be calming, and he grasped onto Gadriel’s arm and helped him to his feet. ‘You can’t get all up in my business.’ He patted Gadriel’s shoulders, dusting them off. A smile entered his voice, “Your turn on the shooter anyways, off you go.”

Gadriel heard him remove the flask from his pocket and pop the top. True to form, he took three gulps before depositing it back into one of the numerous pouches on his uniform. Gadriel shook his head and stepped forward, pulling out his thermal optics again and peering through them into the nothingness, the cooling unit all but forgotten. He hardly paid attention to the vast blackness on the best of days and could not help but have his mind wander now.

What the fek was that about?
 

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Well, I'm certainly glad to see the return of this. It is easily one of the better fictions on this forum, perhaps the other Warhammer ones as well! It flows nicely, your action scenes are....Perfection. They are vididly visceral, enough that you can almost feel the blood hit you! I do rather the Marine perspective than your Guard one in this fiction however, not a fan of this Larillan unit! :p

Plus rep if I can, and get posting more!
 

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Thank you DA for the kind comment!

And the conclusion of Chapter I


V​

Bravvick and his squad were in the back of his rhino, speeding across the barren wasteland towards Way Station Centrus. His vehicle was at the apex of the five rhinos making all due haste towards their objective. He checked his heads-up chronometer. Five minutes. He felt it lurking.

BLOOD AND SKULLS.

‘Not now dammit!’ He cursed. Too soon, this was too soon. It was becoming stronger. Images flashed before his eyes. Piles of skulls, pools of blood, hacking limbs, and laughter. Always the laughter. Not…NOW!

He would not give in again to the beast, he could not. His composure inspired his men, his leadership guided them. If he fell to the thirst, they would succumb as well. The tenets of the Legion must be upheld, the teachings of his Primarch followed. Every time he lost control, he fell from grace in the eyes of his fellows, his desires to be apprenticed to the Champion further extinguished, until it would become unattainable. That will not happen.

Clarity, calm. Finally. Bravvick checked his chronograph again. Soon. The peals of laughter persisted deep in his mind.


VI​


Thirty seconds. Prep melta bombs, triple check bolt pistol, pat chain sword. Zors could feel it now. The beast within pushing out, begging to be released. He shrieked, the sound muffled by his helmet and lost in the wind.

Fifteen seconds. Soon, so soon. His double hearts pounded, the pulse beating in his ears overwhelmed by the roar of the engine. His armour started pumping stimulants into his system to prepare him to do all that was required and more for that moment. That single, critical moment.

Five seconds. A warning rune began blinking red in his visor, counting down.

Four. The adrenaline surged through his veins and his breaths came heavy and quick. He could feel it…

Three. He fought to hold on, keeping the beast at bay. So soon now…

Two. The seconds lasted for hours, the hours lasted for years, the years stretched into millennia.

One. Ten millennia passed in an instant. For ten thousand years he had fought. Ten thousand years of murder and plunder against the Corpse-God, all felt, in that critical moment.

Zero. He let go of the Thunderhawk and began another countdown. Ten long seconds of plummeting to the planet below in a free fall. He tore his helmet off and clamped it on his leg. The wind gushed past his face and screamed past his ears, his double hearts furiously pumped, as though they were on the verge of bursting. His jet pack erupted into life, tripling the rate of his plummet. The enormous black fortress below grew nearer by the second.

Contact.
 

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CHAPTER II


You will know when the time comes and there is nothing left to do but to kill, to destroy. That is when covert action has exhausted its usefulness and ferocity is the only answer.
- Bale, Lord of the Alpha Legion, prior to his invasion of Tartarus (dec.)




I​

The awkwardness had, somehow, made time pass even slower. This was an incredible feat in and of itself, as time was already at a veritable standstill at Way Station Centrus. Gadriel checked his chronometer yet again. Less than a minute had passed. Damn.

He risked a glance behind his shoulder at Kyp. While the gloom prevented any real details to be ascertained, Gadriel could tell that Kyp was leaning forward and slowly rocking. He looked…eager, maybe manic. Gadriel could hear him whispering, chanting under his breath. Dismissing it, he leaned down and squinted into the heavy stubber’s mounted light-amplifying sight, a mode enhancing any ambient glow ten thousand times to turn the night into day.

Repeating the scan he conducted on-and-off for hours at a time, he traversed the stubber-mounted optic as far right as it would go to his right limit. Tick tick tick. As it passed each degree marking on the tripod, a metal hasp behind the trigger well caught on the mount…tick. He continued the slow movement to the right, watching for any sort of light or movement on the horizon, focusing on the incredibly annoying tick.

Without warning, the sight’s image flared blindingly. Gadriel pulled back from the scope, squinting his eye shut. The overhead illumination had been turned on, amplified ten thousand fold, and slammed into his open pupil. ‘Kyp, what the fek?’ He spun around with his right eye clenched shut and watering. ‘The fekking lights when I’m looking in the fekking scope?’

Kyp, for once, was wearing his full armour. His eyes blazed with a fire burning deep within him, something Gadriel had never seen in the man before. Gadriel slowly lowered his gaze from Kyp’s madness, down his carapace armour and webbing, and down to his hands, finally noticing the lasgun at his hip that was, incidentally, pointed straight at Gadriel’s chest. ‘Now is when I suppose you would expect me to say that I was sorry. I’m not, and you won’t hear that coming out of me. I don’t, however, want to shoot you.’

Gadriel struggled for words. His mouth had become frozen, his tongue a motionless slug. He could do nothing but stare. He risked a glance down at his own lasgun slung and hanging at his waist. The charge had been removed, and there was no way he would manage to load it before Kyp managed to shoot him.

His mind began racing, possibilities and scenarios flying through his mind. Reload his lasgun, get shot. Charge at Kyp, probably get shot. Go for a knife, get shot. His prospects for not getting shot were bleak at best. Talk to Kyp, maybe not get shot? That one. He turned his focus from the weapon in Kyp’s hand to concentrating on his own mouth. Sensation returned, he managed to lick the back of his teeth.

‘C’mon, Kyp. Let’s not do anything stupid.’ Do anything stupid? Slick line. He raised his hands up in what he hoped was a non-threatening gesture. ‘Put the gun down.’

The fire behind Kyp’s eyes intensified. ‘Put the gun down?” He shook his head slowly, deliberately. ‘No no no no. Everything is ready, every piece is in place.’ A chuckle followed by a deep inhalation. Kyp took a slow step forward. ‘The strike is prepared, the die is cast. Nothing can be stopped. Not by you, not by the Golden Throne wasting away on Terra, not by the False Emperor’s dutiful lapdogs.’ A quick movement of his thumb disabled the safety on the lasgun held firmly in his grip. The lasgun that was about to end Gadriel’s life in a spray of fire and blood.

Well…shit. Impulse overcame reason and panic got the best of Gadriel. Years of training and muscle memory took over, quick step forward with the left foot, fall through the step to the knee, tilt head to the right, push shoulder into the hips, left hand smash down on the back of knee, right hand grab ankle, thrust hips forward, lift and twist, slam into the ground and disarm. The moves played themselves out in his mind a split second before he did each step, a textbook Guard unarmed close-quarters takedown.

Kyp, in his apparent madness, never saw it coming. Gadriel lifted him into the air, throwing his full weight into the body hurl. Slam. The power of the move with the additional weight of his shoulder being bodily forced onto Kyp’s stomach completely winded the man and caused the room to rattle. Gadriel struggled to his feet, untangling himself and his gear from Kyp’s prone form as his former comrade gasped for air. He snapped Kyp’s head back with a rapid kick, knocking him out cold.

Leaning forward with his hands on his knees, Gadriel tried to make sense of what had just happened. He had spent over eight hours a day, every day, with this man for the past three years. Nothing made sense. Wait…the room shook? The room was solid rockrete, and it would take a good bit more than simply a man hitting the ground to…

Oh fek. The vox unit. He had to get a hold of the commander, had to report the situation. That was what the drill sergeants had always said, what the lieutenant had further ingrained in his memory. Establish security, control the situation, report to higher. What made the tower shake? What kind of elemental force was required to make thousands of tons of rockrete tremble?

He listened, suddenly picking out a new sound over the sounds of his own heavy breathing and beating heart. In the distance, fire alarms were wailing, a toning pulse that caused a strain behind his eyes.

Gadriel grabbed the handset to the vox, bringing it to his ear. Straining to remain calm, he voxed in, ‘Larilla Command, Larilla Command, this is Tower W-2, come in, over.’ Silence. Static. He increased the volume, and tried again. ‘Larilla Command, this is Tower W-2, I’ve got a fekking situation here, over.’ Wait…the vox had not beeped when he keyed in. It was down. He had no way of communicating with the headquarters. He smelt smoke, and looked to the door. It was wafting from underneath it, accompanied by a dull orange glimmer. Somewhere, Way Station Centrus was burning. Fek.
 

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II​

Target building, southwest quadrant, two structures east and three to the north of the very corner. Three floors, covered in communications equipment. A last second twist coupled with the sudden roar of thrust slowed Zors’ suicidal dive with a torque that would have caused a lesser being to lapse into unconsciousness. A slight additional nudge from his jump pack arrested his downward fall just ten meters above the ground and sent him into a horizontal streak straight at the building.

He carefully took aim with his bolt pistol, letting loose with three precisely aimed shots. Each exploded against the exact spot that had been marked in infrared dye as having been weakened by acid from the inside; the former Legion’s operatives had performed their duties to the letter. With his enhanced vision, Zors made out the spiderweb of hairline fractures now spreading across the massive pane.

A split second later, Zors impacted with the window, shattering it completely.

No longer could he contain the beast within, it must escape, it must hunt and kill. His external vox let loose with an eardrum rupturing shriek, the cry of a predator closing on his prey. He kept his body straight, lest his bulky pack and frame collide with the floor and bring disaster to his mission. Behind him he heard the roar from his brother who followed close behind through the window portal. Zors flew on, smashing through furniture and bewildered Guardsmen alike, ignoring every distraction in an utter focus on his prey. He deftly reached down, flicking the timer on his melta bomb. His retinal targeting display counted down the meters and time slowed.

The primary vox station for the entire compound was closing in, twenty meters, ten meters, five, zero. He threw the melta bomb right as he passed by the array, a dexterous flick of the wrist that simultaneously activated the strong magnetic link on the bottom of the bomb. It hit the station dead on, affixing itself to a cog of the False Omnissiah. He did not look back to confirm that his brother had done the same. If he had failed in any way, he would soon be dead. The other three Raptor teams had hit separate facilities in a similar fashion in a swift strike that would decapitate the enemy, leaving it senseless and without leadership. The Guardsmen would become a crippled prey awaiting the predator, unseen and stalking in the shadows.

Zors continued soaring through the compound, getting ever closer to the opposite wall. His helm display counted down with the melta bomb, less than two seconds to get out or else he would be nothing more than a stain of incinerated organic matter in the wreckage of the building. Again, he took careful aim and shot at the window ahead of him, sending three bolts in rapid succession. Before he had time to blink, he crashed through the armoured glass and was once again outside and in the air. He quickly increased the thrust from his pack and jetted towards the center of the open area, where already two of his brothers were emplacing a beacon, calling out to the strike cruiser above, calling to the Theta and the Serpentis.

Behind him, the command hub and very voice of Way Station Centrus erupted in an earth shaking explosion.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
III​

It thirsts. It quakes. It screams. Still the laughter echoed in the recesses of his mind, down to his marrow, to where a normal man might still have a soul. Always the laughter, booming and thunderous, mocked his feeble resistance. The rhino was nearing its objective, still travelling at breakneck speeds without the aid of exterior lighting, blackout. Bravvick looked forward through the troop bay and the vision slits in the front of the vehicle, bracing from the constant rattling of the tracks. The countdown runes in his visor hit zero and a massive shockwave passed over his rhino, rocking it back and forth and threatening to throw him off balance. His helmet’s autosenses deafened the roar of the blast, reducing it to a dull and hollow thump.

Ahead of them, maybe three hundred meters, a huge fireball had burst into life behind a towering black wall. Squad Zecharias had struck the opening blow.

The hunger arose again, the voices behind his eyes, the visions. Corpses bloated with decay covered a vista with blood-soaked soil. A rain of blood fell from above, and still the laughter reverberated. He shook his head in an effort to clear his mind and cast the hellish thoughts away. They persisted, always there, always lurking. He had to focus on the mission, must focus. Knowing that the rhino was almost at its disembarkation point, Bravvick stood and removed his helmet.

He gazed at his brothers as he always did, one at a time, taking the chance to reaffirm his commitment with each before the first drops were spilled, before the slaughter and the madness threatened them all. Vorn, bearing the banner of the Venom Guard in his fist and a chainaxe in the other, gazed back with barely controlled hatred, an infernal fury tempered by an icy control. A froth of spittle and blood leaked out of his mouth. Graff stared intently at his own chainsword, in apparent control, but his eyes were those of a monster awaiting release. Kayzit fidgeted with his bolt pistol, absently wiping it down with a bloodstained rag. Battle-brothers all, with thousands of years of experience at one another’s side.

“My brothers, Sons of The Last, there was a time when we would ride into battle and make oaths to one another. While this practice has fallen out of favour, I will swear to you all on this night, on this planet…” He paused. His gaze had met Charritt’s, the ancient Marine’s black eyes speckled with red. Not speckled anymore, swimming with red, overflowing with crimson, bubbling over with blood. Swirling ruby, depthless obsidian. Rage and bones. Fury and death.

Charritt blinked and Bravvick’s thoughts whirled back into relative focus. Dammit, not now! I am my own! The rhino jerked to a stop and the ramp released, pistons pumping steam and the sounds of combat leaking in. The squad reacted automatically, Kayzit and Charritt in the rear exiting on opposite sides, chainaxes held high and bolt pistols ready, disappearing around the rhino before the ramp even hit the ground. In pairs they charged, Jib and Wermbo bellowing cries of bloodlust, Langshi and Vorn disturbingly silent and moving with pure focus and precision, Graff and Bravvick last.

Bravvick rounded the front of the rhino, searching for a target to slaughter and bathe in a pool of blood and gore engage. To his right, Squad Hektar poured out of their rhino, immediately emplacing their heavy weapons systems. Eight missile launchers aimed at the gate, a twenty meter slab of solid adamantine adorned with the massive bronze aquila of the Corpse Emperor. Bravvick and his men, howling to the air in anticipation, began a slow, leisurely trot towards the gate.

Hektar’s voice was audible over the barking yowls of the charging assault squad. “Take them down!” The Havoc’s unleashed their volley of krak missiles at the four guard posts surrounding the entrance, bursting them open like a mace slamming into a skull before their weapons had a chance to fire. The soft flesh caving in, brain matter and blood spurting out. The scream cut short as the life that fueled it was extinguished…

The center of the immense gate began to glow, softly at first, quickly escalating to an immolating inferno. Molten metal began to ooze down, flowing to the ground like lava. The intense heat and pressure finally grew too great to withstand the onslaught and the gate exploded outwards, peppering the ground for hundreds of meters with shards of twisted metal.

Flickering fire lined the portal, reminiscent of the gaping maw of hell. Five massive figures strode forth, their armour proof against the flames licking at them. Armed to the teeth, radiating menace, the shining emerald of their battle armour glinted in the blaze, both majestic and utterly terrifying at once. The largest of them, massive tusks of bone extending down from his battle helm, hefted his power mace into the air and bellowed, “Hydra Dominatus!”

The Serpentis marched on Viaticus Secundus. Hulking monsters, bringing death to all who dare stand in their way, the Terminator elite of the Wrathful were unleashed on Way Station Centrus. The sight was enough to stir the soul. Such destructive ability, no matter how many times he had witnessed it, was godlike.

Bravvick activated his power fist and charged, feeling the kill maim burn slaughter GIVE IN TO IT adrenaline being pumped into his system. His senses were heightened, reflexes on edge, ready to kill. The Serpentis, the mighty, watched him impassively. He would not disappoint such beasts of fury. He waded through the flames, the heat licking at his boots. It was over in an instant, his reckless charge inside of the compound propelling him past the burning wreckage of the gate.

Lasfire began spattering the ground around him, the surprise and ferocity of the attack fading and the ingrained resolve taking hold in the Guardsmen defenders. Bravvick grinned a feral smile, knowing the futile attempts at retaliation could not harm him. The Guardsmen were unable to harm him, all but the luckiest of shots were completely incapable of piercing his ancient armour. RAGE LET ME OUT GIVE IN. Fading out, feel the blood, feel the gore, satisfying, need to murder have to kill destroy.

Lucky shots blistered the paint from his armour and its spirit screamed in rage. The rage of his armour fuelled him, befouled him. He grew closer to a cluster of men, kneeling and standing, firing frantically. Within, he felt the stirring, the excitement. Blood was to be spilt, gallons and gallons of blood. Let them leak out, their fluids stain the sand. Their offal would litter the courtyard. He just had to get to them, reach them and destroy them. His legs pumped furiously, his armour’s spirit pushed the servos to their very limits. The stench wafted in, subtle at first. The reek of fear, of the knowledge of imminent and unavoidable demise permeated the air. He snorted as he noticed streaks of piss staining the humans’ legs. Fear was a weakness. A weakness must be exterminated. Their fire intensified as he bore down upon them. He was ready to crush them, to rip their fragile bodies apart to bear the mantle of, of…

Skull Champion. That was what Bravvick was, down to his essence, a berserker. The need overtook him and he charged the men. One, two, three steps and he was amidst them. An uncontrolled backhand to the left burst the torso of a man, spattering blood and innards onto the champion’s helm, covering the eye slits. He ripped his helm off and threw it at another mortal, embedding the garish ornamentation into the man’s skull. His falling body was lost in the melee.

Falling, he was falling, deeper down far down into the dark. Arterial spray spattered onto his face, a severed arm fell to the ground twitching, a man screamed as he held his intestines inside of his ruptured stomach, the downwards blow of an axe split a man in two. Odd, the left half of his body instantly collapsed, but the right remained upright as though supported on unseen strings. The man’s heart was still pumping, sending spurts over the already saturated ground.

Rejoice in the slaughter, blood for the Lord of Hate, the Brazen God. He demanded more, always required it. More death, more pain, more suffering. Never ending thirst, never ending agony. Those were his requirements. They must be met; they must be satisfied. An eternal butchering, the galaxy must be submerged in blood and drown in the infinite ocean of gore. Worlds would burn, their populations would be massacred, it was inevitable, it was beautiful.

The laughter, it was overwhelming. Booming and thundering in the forefront of his mind. An endless plain of broken bones, shattered skeletons, pools of blood. GIVE IN TO IT. Bravvick disappeared and the Skull Reaper, Champion of Khorne lost himself to the slaughter. ‘BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD!’
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
IV​

Gadriel was on the verge of panic. His heart raced at the bottom of his throat, impossible to subdue no matter how many times he swallowed. Sweat poured down his brow as the immensity of the situation dawned on him. He had just been attacked by someone whom he had spent countless hours and days with in close proximity, someone that had clearly turned from the Emperor’s light and given in to the perversions of… something. The initial tremor of the compound had elevated into a constant trembling; explosions sounded from the entire way station. Kyp lay unconscious on the floor, a trickle of blood from his mouth dripping to the dust. The slight wafts of smoke intensified and billowed into the room from beneath the door. The reek of promethium filled his nostrils.

He glanced out the viewport, trying to gain an idea as to what was going on. He could see flashes coming from the southwest, but whatever was happening was too far away to tell specifically. A firefight? Here? Things were making less sense with each passing second. Way Station Centrus was under attack.

The flash reflections he could make out were yellowish in colour. Not the Tau then. Guard indoctrination on the nature of the threat to Viaticus Secundus had extensively covered the Tau and their weapon systems, emphasizing that their shots and blasted tended to be a bright blue or a white rather than the typical yellow and red from Imperial weaponry. The ingrained memories were as much for an understanding of the enemy as for an attempt to minimize friendly fire. The realization that the flashes appeared to be coming from Mechanicus-built firearms was chilling. He was sure his stomach would actually leap out of his throat at any moment. He smirked, the image of a poor bastard running around in the midst of a fight with his bloody stomach dangling from his mouth stuck in his mind for a moment. Another shudder of the facility brought his mind back to the moment, the possibilities of the threat.

Stories of Imperial Guardsmen, sometimes even entire regiments, turning to heresy were some of the commissar’s favourite speeches. Men who threw away their loyalty and faith to the Emperor and threw their lots in with the Ruinous Powers were despicable, the lowest form of humanity. The yellow flashes, the complete insignificance of the planet, and Kyp’s recent madness all pointed towards heresy from within. Still, the thought of it happening on Centrus, on the most monotonous and mind-numbing planet in the Subsector, was mind boggling.

The possibility that this was an attack from off-planet was even more preposterous. The Fleet had relay stations emplaced that would transmit astropathic warnings to the Astropathicae should any non-Imperial systems exit the warp in the system. While Gadriel was certainly not of a high enough rank to be told of such transmissions, he was sure that Colonel Illaren would have at least put an alert out to the towers. No, a planetary assault was impossible; part of the garrison had to have given in to heresy.

Gadriel was at a loss as to how to act. His platoon was located in the billeting at the very southwest corner, the direction from which the explosions were coming. While he did not think of himself as a coward, the thought of blindly running into a firefight with heretic Guardsmen and Throne knew what else was about as appealing as slathering himself up with grox fat and jumping into a pen of nekk dogs. He had no idea who the enemy was or how to differentiate them from those still loyal to the Golden Throne. Direct fire plan: consolidate in company area, report to your first-line supervisor, dammit. He eyed Kyp one more time, smashing the butt of his lasgun into the unconscious man’s temple to ensure he would stay that way, and opened the door to a scene of chaos.

Thick clouds of smoke boiled from the hallway to the left, stinging his eyes and obscuring the end of it from sight. Fek that. He looked right, knowing that there was an exit stairwell cut into the walls a hundred or so meters down. He turned to the stairwell and started to trot in that direction.

A platoon of Guardsmen from Captain Shobel’s company rounded a corner and rushed towards him, all of them armed. There goes that plan. No way in hell would he be able to dodge a platoon, it would be too suspicious and he would certainly wind up in front of the commissar for rehabilitation.

Gadriel paused, studying the other men as they charged towards him. Though they attempted to exude an air of confidence as they had been taught, the eyes that met Gadriel’s were filled with utter terror. They ducked at each distant rumble or blast, on nerve’s edge. Well, at least I’m not the only one. A dark, expanding stain crept down the leg of one of the men.

He recognized the sergeant in charge of the men, leading them from the front in the direction of the fight. ‘Sergeant Grazy! What the fek is going on!’

The grizzled man stopped and the running men behind him followed suit. ‘Entire garrison’s gone to hell. Astartes are assaulting the gate! Get yer shit and fall yer arse in, Pedati!’ Without waiting for a response or confirmation, he took off, running into the haze of the smoke. Gadriel took another longing look to the right, away from the smoke and sounds of battle. Running was out of the question. Wait, fekking Astartes? A horrible situation had just, miraculously, gotten worse. Slowly, painfully, he turned to the left and followed the platoon into the haze, his lasgun at the ready.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
CHAPTER III


The machinations of the Archenemy are just as the names of their false gods suggest: chaotic. There is no unified goal, no overarching objective that can be deciphered by those who are untainted. Trying to identify their purposes and bring sense to the Archenemy is a path with an unavoidable conclusion: heresy.
-Inquisitor Lemuel Orelion, Excommunicate Traitorus Extremis



I​

The Champion advanced slowly, cautiously. His emerald helm, crowned by curving horns of bone, ducked low to avoid scraping the low ceiling in the hallway. His boots, caked in soil and dried blood, resonated down the corridors with each footfall, muffled by the dust but still thunderous in the silence. He filled the narrow passage with his bulk, his ancient tactical dreadnought armour hissing with each deliberate step.

Movement ahead. A thin slit of light had appeared for an instant, then just as quickly extinguished. A fatal mistake had been made by the outmatched defenders. Inside his helm, the champion smiled grimly. Despite having fought his way across countless battlefields and butchering creatures by the millions, he always felt the anticipation before the kill, that most singular moment before inevitable violence. His enormous power maul hummed, his grip tightened.

Doorway to the left, ten meters. His implacable march quickened, traversing the distance in the blink of an eye, his footsteps echoing down the endless stone hallways. He stopped briefly and searched for the door that he knew was there. Nothing was visible, no cracks in the stone, no tell-tale breeze or sound emanating from within.

A quick consultation of his auspex confirmed his sighting. The rock here was hollow, a sizeable cavern lay behind it. His power maul crackled, its machine spirit eager for destruction.

Taking a step back, he cocked his arm back, feeling the strength in his limbs, the absolute power of his armour. He prayed to no gods, owed fealty to no denizens of the warp; his wrath was his own, that of a son spurned, an heir disinherited. His odium was its own weapon, his self-loathing wrought devastation on his enemies. None of the Ruinous Powers fuelled his strike, for they were unwelcome, unnecessary. Hate filled his blow, fury was his strength. His revulsion met the rock, and won.

The maul’s energy field shattered the invisible door, chunks of stone crashing inwards with a whoosh of displaced air and released ionization. A second strike widened the breach enough for him to pass through.

He stooped down and pressed onwards through the opening. Beyond was a dim cavernous room, sparsely lit by lumiglobes suspended on chains from the vaulted ceiling. Three hallways branched from the end of the room, the space between filled with toppled tables, scattered papers and desperate Guardsmen. All of this information and more was filtered and transmitted into his retinal displays. Heat signatures abounded as terrified men prepared for their demise.

A lasbolt flickered out from the darkness, followed by dozens more. The Guardsmen had taken cover behind tables toppled onto their sides, thinking the trifling wooden boards would allow them to kill him from safety. His runic armour had seen conflict the entire span of the galaxy, weathering all that had been thrown at him. The paltry fire from the Emperor’s pathetic lap dogs would do no more than blister the paint. The intensity of the fire increased, yellow stabs of light too fast for the eye to follow, glancing harmlessly from the adamantium encasing him.

A second form filled the gap he had created in the wall, and a booming laugh reverberated throughout the chamber. ‘My lord Ravven, they think to kill you!’ Uriah breached the portal, his massive heavy flamer dripping burning promethium onto the dust.

‘How quaint.’ Ravven turned his attention back to the room, mumbling a silent prayer to the machine spirit of his autocannon. The fierce volleys of incoming fire persisted, pitting the stone wall behind him and peeling the ornamentation on his armour. He activated his external vox, increasing the volume to ensure he was heard over the racket of lasfire.

‘Prepare to meet your Emperor!’ His bellow overpowered the sounds of the discharging lasguns, blanketing the room with its echoing taunt. He barely heard their half-hearted battle cries to their God as he racketed his autocannon. ‘Tell him his wayward sons have returned!’

With this, he unleashed a hellish barrage of fire. Shots rocketed through the overturned tables, splintering the wood and shattering the men taking refuge behind them. He traversed his fire slowly, seeding the room with deadly solid-shot rounds and airborne debris. Screams now overcame the shouts of the defenders as their bodies were torn asunder by the pitiless monster ruthlessly cutting them down. Bodies exploded, gobbets of flesh, blood, and entrails filled the air.

Hundreds of reactive shells chewed through any resistance they met. The Guardsmen, doomed from the start, died by the dozen as their futile defence was crushed by the unrelenting fusillade. Two men on the far side of his sweep attempted to escape, standing and fleeing towards the left-most entrance, all thoughts of bravery and piety forgotten in their blind panic. A third massive Terminator cut them down with two controlled pairs of shots, the bolts bursting their bodies from within.

The autocannon’s arc of destruction came to an end as he reached the left wall. Where once there had been men, there were now only mangled corpses and spatters of blood staining the floor. Moans were still audible over the still-echoing gunfire, entreaties to a false God that would not be answered. Ravven switched his optics to prey sight, looking for something…

There, cowering in the corner. One human remained miraculously unscathed, huddled in a corner and whimpering. His gore stained uniform stood him apart as an officer, and a fairly highly ranking one at that. Ravven allowed himself a tight smile.

‘Patiorus, bring him to me. We have much to discuss.’
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
II​

Whirling and hacking, he ripped bodies apart in the swirl. The sweet tang of blood, the constant mist of gore intoxicated him as he fully succumbed, becoming one with the daemon. Submerged to the daemon.

The creature killed with gleeful abandon, discarding its bolt pistol and lifting a man over his head, pulling. Tendons popped, bones shattered. Skin stretched as screams filled his ears, the sweet sound of indescribable agony. Suddenly, all resistance vanished as the body tore in two, showering the Skull Champion in a rain of viscera. Rearing his head back, he roared, an unearthly cry to the glory of the Khorne.

Laughing manically, a presence lurked in the back of its mind. A personality, lost in the blood lust, in the unquenchable thirst for slaughter, cried for release and redemption. Both were denied, the daemon’s power had awakened and overwhelmed.

‘Your souls will be feasted upon by the Lord of Carnage! Come to me,’ he howled, ‘like lamb to the slaughter!’

He gripped the neck of another human and lifted the pathetic mortal into the air. Tightened like a vice, his gauntlet squeezed. His prey’s eyes bulged at it beat futilely against the Skulltaker’s armour, trying to find a weakness in the impenetrable adamantium to exploit with its bayonet. The face turned crimson, then purple as oxygen was denied. The man’s bowels evacuated, and the stink of feces mingled with the sweet odor of a violent death.

‘Pray to your Emperor! Pray for his mercy for it shall be ignored! He rots upon his Golden Throne, ignorant of your plight!’

The Champion grinned, his gaze bloodshot and mad. Gathering up saliva in his Betcher’s Gland, he spat acid into the human’s face. The skin began to bubble, the eyes dissolved. An agonized scream tore itself from the man’s constricted throat as the cartilage and tissue liquefied, revealing a grinning skull beneath it. His body became limp and the thrashing ceased. Finished with his momentary amusement, the Champion threw the corpse aside.

‘Another soul for the Brazen God! Skulls for the Skull Throne!’ Holding his hands high triumphantly, blood dripped to the dust like a rain from hell.

A Guardsman charged through the melee, brandishing his lasgun like a club, the butchery having driven him to madness. The being known as Bravvick backhanded him with his power fist even as the man tried ineffectually to batter his way through the ancient armour. The soldier burst apart like an overly ripe fruit, legs falling to the ground as the arms tumbled through the air.

Let me out!

The voice reverberated dimly in his mind. A forgotten presence pleaded to be let out. The screams of the dying faded to be replaced by the tortured entreaties. Panic filled the Champion, it needed blood, required murder. Without these, it could not thrive, evolve. Dominate. The reaping of skulls had to continue, only ceaseless slaughter could appease the Blood God. Khorne’s needs were few; murder and sacrifice were all he required. They must persist, never-ending bloodshed and death.

I will not succumb!

‘But you already have!’ The Champion bellowed into the night, ‘Your soul belongs to Khorne! Your body belongs to me!’ He needed to find more to fight, more to kill. The gore covered ground sloshed around his boots as he ran frantically, searching for anyone, anything with the sacred blood to spill.

Through the haze of battle, through the crimson tint of his vision, the Skull Reaper spotted another victim, a sacrifice to be made in His Unholy Name. Adorned in emerald armour, it too stood amidst a sprawl of the butchered, smeared in the lifeblood of the dead. Its gaze met his and he held his power fist up in open belligerence. The contender lifted its chainsword into the air, meeting his challenge, before beginning a slow, loping jog to meet him.

NO!

A futile denial of the inevitable. Death to the living! The galaxy must burn, infinite warfare to satiate the Blood God. Rivers of blood, oceans of the dead, a world of destruction.

Howling with rage, the Champion charged at his foe. Another scream sounded, not a cry emitting from the throat of a warrior, but the screech of something…jump packs!

A crushing weight crashed into his back, pushing him to the ground. His open mouth filled with mud, the angry cry stifled in the mush. Muck rushed into his flared nostrils, the tangy stink and coppery taste of blood were utterly overwhelming. Hands of iron clamped onto his arms, deactivating his power fist and immobilizing him. Clenching, pushing with all of his considerable might, he could not move.

An angry voice spat into his ear, ‘Calm yourself, brother.’ The voice was familiar, achingly so. Not to the Skull Reaper, but to another…

Let me out!

‘Bravvick, you are better than this, find yourself!’

The arrogant bastard thought he would give up this body so easily? The Skull Reaper owned this body, it was his to control. No mere Astartes could pry the daemon’s prize from its grip so easily.

The Champion tried to shriek his denial, his unwillingness to immerse, but the mire pervading his mouth and lungs denied him. A gauntlet grasped the back of his bald head and slammed it into the ground with bone-crushing force. He felt his nose shatter, shards of bone stabbing into his face. The warrior was dazed. The unexpected blunt trauma to the skull shook its resolve, weakened its will. The internal screams grew louder, more insistent. The beast felt itself being drawn back, smothered and suffocated.

Anderan! You cannot have him! Rage filled him and fueled him, an internal inferno unleashed and consuming. It felt its grip slipping, NO!

I am my OWN! Bravvick swam to the surface, wrestling the daemon down, its own hatred and wrath burning out its domination. Forcing his head up, he spat out a mouthful of blood and dirt, gasping for air. ‘Anderan!’ he cried before the hand could force his face down, ‘Let me up you bastard!’

Reluctantly, the assault marine lightened the pressure on him. His bonds released their vice-like grips, and Bravvick rose himself up on trembling legs. Grasping his broken nose between his fingers, he snapped it back into place.

Anderan stood before him, arms crossed and a scowl across his stern face. His tone was harsh, ‘Bravvick, you fool. Your thirst will be the end of you.’

Unable to stand, exhausted from his physical and mental exertions, Bravvick knelt down, gasping for breath. ‘My brother,’ he said softly, ‘thank you.’
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
III​

The platoon emerged into the courtyard to be greeted by a scene of absolute madness. Guardsmen were scattering every which way, some running forward and some back. There was no clear sense of where the enemy was; firefights seemed to be stemming from every direction. Abruptly, the headlong charge of the men halted, all desire for action gone dry. The trooper with a flamer on his back shifted, lighting the primer to his weapon.

Gadriel tried to absorb it all. The communications center was a flaming ruin, the northern wall shattered and slagged. The Astropathicae was no more than a mound of rubble, having taken a direct hit from a shell of incredible destructive energy. Bodies littered the courtyard, corpses that held little resemblance to the men they had once been, torn to shreds by massive amounts of firepower. Entrails littered the ground, dust mingled with blood, creating a gory mud that slicked the ground. There were no signs of the attackers, the only evidence of their passing the destruction left in their wake.

The sounds of the firefight had faded. Only the moans of dying men and the crackle of the fires could be heard, an unholy serenade that was more terrifying than any explosions. A priest of the Ecclesiarchy wandered through the slaughtered men, closing dead and staring eyes or giving the mortally wounded the Emperor’s Grace. Gadriel was frozen, entranced by the desolation. His eyes continued across the landscape, finally focusing on a sight that sent a chill running up his spine.

One of the bodies of a fallen Guardsman had not died from mass-reactive rounds like his fellows; his wounds had been inflicted by a lasgun. There, twenty meters away was another. The more he searched the more bodies he found, killed by wounds from Munitorum-issued weapons. These men were not killed by the phantom attackers, but by their own, by men they had lived with and trusted. Fekking friendly fire? There were too many dead for them to have been killed by stray shots, far too many. He recalled Kyp for a moment, the insanity in his eyes, the zealous fervor he had been overcome with.

Beside him, the flamer-bearer removed his helmet. Gadriel, focusing his attention on this new revelation, failed to notice the branded mark on the man’s bald head. A mark of a mythical creature of ancient Terra, three-headed and terrible. He did not see the man’s feral, fanatical grin as he hefted the weapon to his hip and deactivated the safety.

Without a warning, the trooper let loose with his flamer, unleashing a wave of ignited promethium over the gathered troopers. A man screamed in agony as his legs melted from under him, the skin peeling back from the bones, blackened and charred. Another flailed as his torso burst into flames, his carapace armour turned to slag and streaming down his body. His waving arms sent drops of burning liquid in all directions, splashing into the face of the sergeant who had led the platoon. He fell to his knees in agony, clawing frantically, trying to rip out his eyes. The flamer continued to spew molten fire, the horrified men dancing in a tortuous ballet as they collapsed to the ground, writhing in incomprehensible anguish as they burned alive. A dozen Guardsmen died in the first seconds, scorched piles of cooked flesh plopping into the black dust.

Cackling, the branded trooper persisted in his traitorous rampage. Guardsmen frozen by surprise were submerged by infernal tidal waves.

The man began screaming while he killed, ‘The lapdogs of the False Emperor will fail! Kneel before the true Gods, the Dark Powers!’

Gadriel was overwhelmed with his own outrage. This bastard was murdering men, good men who had been performing their duty to the Golden Throne. They had deserved to die while fighting the enemy, not slain from behind by some treacherous fekhead. Hatred filled his mind and granted him the strength to act. He moved as though possessed by the Emperor Himself to wreak vengeance in His Holy Name. He quickly primed his weapon, countless repetitions having embedded the motion his muscle memory. He brought the lasgun to his shoulder and took careful aim, then acquired his target in his aiming reticule as he had done innumerably during Guard marksmanship training. He squeezed the trigger, feeling the meat in his finger gently pull back, holding his breath so as to keep the muzzle steady.

A lasbolt struck the traitor’s head, expanding his skull as it superheated his brain. The hydra on his flesh stretched then ruptured as blood and grey matter exploded outwards, covering Gadriel in a shower of gore. The headless body collapsed to the ground, the flamer extinguished as nerveless hands convulsed and dropped the weapon.

He dropped to his knees, sapped by what he had seen and done. Although he had trained for it and even volunteered for it, he had never before killed a man. Fek I’ve never seen forty men get burnt alive, either. The experience was both physically and mentally draining, a lesson of his own mortality that terrified him. The Emperor had blessed him by sparing him from harm and giving him the strength to kill. He removed the golden aquila he kept on a chain around his neck, kissed it, and prayed.

Kneeling for what seemed like an eternity, a sound finally pierced his entreaties to the Throne. It was guttural yet pleasing, power and beauty somehow united in a melodic roar. The whine of engines drew his eyes to the heavens. A shriek echoed from the darkness, overpowering the sweet hum of thrusters, an unearthly and unholy sound resplendent with an ancient hatred. His fealty bled away to be replaced by dread as eight figures soared from beyond the rampart walls, eight angels of death adorned with emerald power armour, radiating an unholy light. All thoughts of the Emperor’s mercy keeping him from harm were forgotten as they landed in the blood-soaked dust, graceful and predatory. They stalked off to the north, towards the entrance to the crypts below the fortress.

The dead sergeant had been right. Space marines were assaulting Way Station Centrus. Fekking space marines, the fabled protectors of the Imperium, were murdering the garrison, destroying everything in their path, intent on getting something. The thought filled him with revulsion, confirmation of his deepest fears. He was a dead man, and he knew it. Leaning forward, he vomited into the dust.
 

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IV​

Zors pressed on at the head of his squad with Brother-Sergeant Zecharias close behind. His auspex held before him, he searched for any signs of hidden passageways or unseen doors. The squad had descended deep into the crypts, in search of the Wrathful’s goal. No clues had been found, no sign of the machinery or Mechanicus personnel that would be required to run a facility of the type the Venom Guard were seeking. While far too low in rank to know exactly what the Company’s goal on the planet was, Zors knew it was of great importance, crucial was the word that he had been told.

The beast within him stirred, yearning for the spilling of blood. Resistance had faded the deeper the squad descended; the only human contact in the past five minutes had been the operatives leading the way. Three mortals were ahead of the squad, each bearing the mark of the Hydra branded or tattooed on their flesh, each bearing these marks with pride. Their service to the Legion was absolute, their obedience unquestioning. They had been trained since birth and prepared for this attack, for their moment of complete betrayal on those that trusted them. The Wrathful’s preparation had been thorough.

These men were fanatics, not in the same manner as the followers of the Emperor’s Children or the Black Legion, heretical and in utter servitude to the Ruinous Powers, but incredibly dedicated none the less. Their zealotry was in the name of the Venom Guard, in the furthering of their cause. The Wrathful despised the manner in which other war bands, the proud remnants of the once-mighty Legions, prostrated themselves before the Gods of Chaos, beseeching them for a fleeting moment in their favour.

One of these men paused and raised his closed fist. Freeze. The Raptors halted in their advance, the scraping of adamantium boots on stone ceased. Motionless, tense, the group waited for any signs of movement, any sounds of life. Zecharias glanced towards Zors, slightly nodding his head.

Without a sound, he removed his auspex and consulted it. Opening ahead. He creeped forward three steps in the gloom, bolt pistol and chainsword ready. The lead operative canted his head to the left and whispered, ‘This is it, the last chamber in this hallway. It is here.’

Zors activated his squad vox, ‘Lord, this is the final chamber. The vault is here.’ A rune appeared inside of his visor, an acknowledgement to proceed. He removed his last three melta charges from his belt and handed them to one of the nameless operatives. ‘Bring it down,’ he instructed. Taking them from the Raptor, the operative nodded and crept towards the wall.

‘Move back into the last room we passed,’ Zecharias ordered. ‘Set the charges on remote detonation and ensure the blast is directed back down the tunnel, but strong enough to breach the entrance. I will not stand before the Wrathful and tell him I destroyed his prize.’ With this, the squad about-faced and trotted down the hallway fifty meters to take shelter in a chamber they had already cleared, a vacant mess hall that appeared not to have been used in ages.

Zors leaned against the inner wall and steadied his breathing. The beast howled and yelped, needing release. His control was slipping, his hold on his inner monster waned. He had to focus on something, anything, to keep his mind intact. On the opposite wall hung a massive aquila, the emblem of the False Emperor’s reign. Despite the darkness, it still shone brightly, ambient light reflecting off its untarnished surface. Lacking any other real decoration, he chose the aquila to centre his mind.

He could not help but appreciate the beauty of the artefact, feeling an odd hollow ping in the pit of his stomach. Having served in the Alpha Legion since its formation on Terra, he had seen and destroyed countless aquilas in the persecution of the Long War. His chest sank a bit as he absorbed its details, the sweep of the wings, the splash of blood on the doubled head. This was no more unique or magnificent than any of the others, why was this insignificant sign affecting him? With a sharp shake of his head, he cleared his mind.

A hollow explosion echoed down the hallway, followed by a wave of searing heat that washed over him. The rock that the crypts had burrowed into contained the entirety of the blast, funnelling it onwards until it would find the tunnel exits and dissipate into the air. This close to the detonation, however, the full force of the molten heat flowed across the Raptors. Zors felt his armour’s machine spirit screaming in agony as its temperature regulation systems were overwhelmed. So this is what it feels like to be roasted alive. He snickered at his private joke, just as the blast wave passed and the searing temperatures began to drop.

He heard something, muffled and persistent. Not the predator, the beast inside his mind. These were not the familiar snarls that he lived with every moment of every day, the gnashing teeth always in the recesses of his thoughts. He quickly glanced around and detected the trace of the sounds. Screaming. The two operatives who had taken refuge with the Raptors had been burnt to a crisp, blackened skin clinging loosely to their bones. They were alive, but would not stay so for long. He moved forward, prepared to give them the Primarch’s Mercy.

‘Save your energy, they are not worth the effort.’ Zecharias was never one for mercy, even when it came to the Venom Guard’s allies. ‘Cheeyt, Shang, take point, move quickly, kill with care. Do not damage any machinery until the priests have a look.’ The sergeant waved them forward. ‘In the shadows, brothers.’

The squad sprinted back down the hallway. Wreckage filled the corridor, remnants of the shattered doorway were strewn along the walls. Ten paces and the lead of the squad ducked through the passageway, fanning out to the sides. Zors jumped in behind them, scanning his sectors of fire, looking for movement. He found none.

The room was vast, at least forty meters high and stacked from the floor to the ceiling with shelves, machineries, and emblems of the Omnissiah. Stale air rushed past his helmet as the air pressure in the room and the corridor reached equilibrium. Snarling, barking in his mind. To the left lay the remains of a group of tech priests, half-machine and half-man abominations, cultists devout in their stagnation of technology. These seemed to be much more of the former, his helmet indicating that over seventy percent of their overall mass was augmetic enhancements to their human physiology. No other life signs presented themselves.

Sensing no immediate threats, Zors lowered his bolt pistol and fixed it to his hip. The shelves were empty, the machines idle. He ran his gaze upon every surface as his enhanced retinas captured every detail. Dust gathered on the shelves, the black powder infesting the surface of the planet gathered even here. The shelves were full of empty metal clamps, thousands upon thousands of empty vial holders, disconnected tubing still trailing from above. He followed the tubes to the stalactite-filled ceiling, where they were fastened into thickened bundles, disappearing into portals leading elsewhere in the facility. The temperature was much colder in here, regulated by the only active machinery, air coolers that ran along the walls, boxy and noisy contraptions constantly emitting the hiss of passing air. Footprints covered the ground, large outlines, far larger than any mere human’s. Only power armour would leave tracks of that size. His eye caught a glint underneath the lowermost shelf nearby, light reflecting off of glass.

‘My lord!’ Zors stepped forward and knelt down to peer beneath the wood. He reached under, delicately grasping for the object. He closed his gauntlet around it cautiously, not wanting to shatter its precious cargo. It was a vial, no more than ten centimeters long and one wide. It was fastened at the top and filled with a transparent, amber fluid. A miniscule object, no more than a handful of cells, floated buoyantly within.

Zecharias approached, removing his helmet to get a better look at the vial. His brown face, furrowed with age, scarred from countless wounds, twisted into a scowl. His eyes lit with fury, blazing with rage.

‘Zors, inform the Wrathful that the embryos are gone.’ His voice was a whisper, a hissed threat. ‘Give him our coordinates and prepare for his arrival. My brothers,’ he cast a look at the assembled Raptors, all staring at the vial, mouths agape, ‘we have failed.’
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
To my readers, thanks for the comments, and don't worry there is plenty more Skull Reaper.

However, I've just gotten back to the States and my laptop with the document on it is currently at Best Buy getting fixed, so ideally in the next week or so the conclusion to Chapter III and the first extracts from Chapter IV will be posted.

As always, thanks for reading!
 

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I really enjoyed chapter one. All I wanted to do was read more so I could find out who they were and what was their purpose. I'll read chapter 2 soon Adrian
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
Adrian, thanks for the comment!

V​

Debased and disgraced, the Imperial Guard leadership was led into the holding chamber, the cryogenics lab. Men who had once unquestioningly followed their every word, whose true allegiances had finally been to the forefront, accompanied them. From colonels to captains, every officer that had been spared in the first savage minutes of fighting was paraded unceremoniously before the Venom Guard, lasguns held to their backs. Fifty officers, all told, were led in, guarded by over a hundred of the Venom Guard’s operatives, resplendent in their newly etched devotional icons of the hydra upon their armour. Ravven bore a silent vigil as they passed, his warriors of the Serpentis impassive, uncaring giants besides him. Across from his squad stood Zecharias and his lot, assault soldiers with massive aggression ingrained into their systems from centuries of violence.

Ravven continued his surveillance as a third Raptor squad under Brother Sergeant Anderan entered the room, the middle two reverently carrying a teleport beacon between them, encased in a protective adamantine box. Ancient and irreplaceable technology, the beacon was to be used with great discretion and the maximum amount of available security. The two battle brothers gently laid the device upon one of the vacant tables and began working the dials.

A scuffle started to the right. While being forced to his knees by an operative, a man in a major’s uniform had spun, getting a hold on the barrel of the traitor’s lasgun. As the two grappled for control, a second former Guardsmen securing the major butt-stroked him across the forehead and knocked him to the deck.

‘Stay down, wretch!’ The man who had nearly lost his weapon kicked the prostrate major in the face, breaking his nose. He snarled, the brand of the hydra upon his face twisting grotesquely, ‘It will be better to accept your fate, give yourself over to the Wrathful. Give in to the Legion, and your death will be swift.’ A kick to his head emphasized his point.

Curling his lip in disgust, Ravven could not help but feel contempt for the warband’s agents. A necessary evil, they were cannon fodder for the Astartes, though valuable in their own way. Agents groomed since birth in all corners of the galactic east provided a near-constant influx of information, a veritable flood of data regarding anything that the Wrathful may deem of value.

‘Do not bother with this specimen,’ he said. The agent flinched away from the Terminator Champion’s voice, cowed by the sudden and unwanted attention.

Without raising his eyes, the man replied, ‘Aye, Lord.’

Not giving the situation another thought, Ravven turned his attention to more pressing matters. ‘How long until the beacon is recalibrated?’

Concentrating on the work at hand, the two Raptors did not look up to respond. ‘Almost…there.’

A cog clicked into place and a chime sounded. One of them glanced up, a smug smile across his cragged face. ‘See? Nothing to worry about.’

‘Remember your place, whelp,’ he growled. The Raptor was young by the Company’s standards, and his arrogance had not yet been extinguished and tempered by centuries of combat.

An array of lights along the beacon began to rapidly flash red. One at a time, they changed to green as the internal cog of the machine became aligned and generated a twenty-digit and three-dimensional geological location. Once completed, it would beam the coordinates it to the Theta, allowing a precisely calculated teleportation. The last light turned a solid green, and all sounds ceased.

An explosion radiated from the center of the room, a whoosh of displaced air, a bubble of vacuum given birth. It was accompanied by a dazzling flash, an intense flare which caused his helmet’s lenses to darken so as to avoid temporary blindness. The blaze disappeared as quickly as it had materialized, leaving in its absence three personages. Their magnificence was terrible to behold. They were adorned head to toe in intricately engraved emerald adamantium, forged millennia before on the furnaces of Mars. Scripts depicting their deeds spiraled down their armour, long sigils illustrated their valour in service of the Legion dating back to the Crusade. Hydras and their many heads coiled up their massive arms, a conglomeration of iconography acid-etched by the finest artificers in the Legion’s history.

They were the inner circle, the heart and soul of the Venom Guard. The Serpentis Coven. The Wrathful, the Seer, and the Champion of the Company in their terrifying glory, again standing in the midst of their warriors. Immediately, the assembled Astartes bowed to their knees, averting their eyes from their commander in a show of both subservience and respect.

The figure on the right spoke first, ‘Rise, my brothers.’ His voice resonated throughout the cavern, a melodiousness and fierceness resplendent with experience. ‘There is no need for prostration amongst mortals.’ His gaze passed over the kneeling Guard officers, looking past their shells of skin and piercing their very souls. His head rotated slowly as though on an axis, massive golden horns converging in the distance on the object of his scrutiny. Eyes blazing, his breath began to crystallize, his use of the powers of the warp made manifest in the physical world.

‘Colonel Illaren,’ said Ezekiel, pointing his obsidian and gold force staff in the direction of one of the officers, ‘Come to me.’ At first, the Guardsman did not move a muscle, frozen by fear or denial. The fire in the Seer’s eyes burned brighter, aetheric energies trailed like smoke from them, ‘It is pointless to deny your identity, mortal. Your soul is laid bare to me, open like a book. I can tear your mind to shreds, ripping anything I want from it, but this is easier for both of us.’

Trembling, the man stood, clearly uncomfortable at being singled out. He was shoved forward by his two handlers, forced to his knees before the Seer.

‘You are the commander of this garrison.’ It was not a question, but the man nodded anyways. ‘Fifty thousand embryos were kept in this facility. They are of vital importance to us.’ He stepped forwards, kneeling in front of the prisoner and setting his force staff on the ground. Leaning over the man, eyes alight with an internal blaze, he hissed, ‘Where are they?’

The front of the man’s uniform trousers darkened as he lost control of his bladder. ‘I – I,’ his eyes narrowed, some forgotten reserve of strength given air, ‘I am a servant of the Emperor of Mankind, and I will not—’

His words broke off into an agonized scream as the Seer’s hateful glare intensified. The tendrils of energy extended from Ezekiel’s face, fingers of the empyrean seeking their target, flowing into Colonel Illaren’s eyes.

Where are they?’ Hatred flowed from the Seer, radiating outwards like the ripples of a disturbed, bitterness and betrayal, an eternity of misery inserted directly into the man’s brain. His body spasmed, froth spewed from his mouth. The Seer grabbed him by the shoulders, controlling his flailing limbs. His gaze tore into the man, flaying his soul and ripping it from his body.

The temperature readings on Ravven’s armour began to plummet as the Seer continued his mental barrage. The hair on the human’s head ignited in a cold, blue flame. His skin began to singe and peel. He screamed, an inhuman cry of agony, as his soul was burnt in the fiery and unholy fury of the Seer.

With a cry of rage, Ezekiel threw the man against a table, shattering the wood and the man’s skeleton.

The monstrous figure of the Wrathful plodded forward, raising his daemonically possessed axe over his shoulder. He halted directly behind the Seer, who panted from his psychic exertions.

Ezekiel took a steadying breath before facing his master. ‘The embryos were evacuated weeks ago, my Lord. There are none left, and the men here have no idea as to where.’ He snarled, ‘Space Marines have stolen our prize.’ He regarded the assembled agents and Marines, ‘Exterminate the prisoners.’

Screams were cut short by blasts of lasfire and mass-reactive shells as the mammoth figure of the Wrathful approached the colonel, eyes wide and nostrils flaring. His hatred emanated from him, becoming a physical force that sent chills through the very marrow of the man’s soul. The pool of blood around Illaren continued to spread as his singed hair and clothes smouldered, his injuries well beyond the abilities of the Sisters Hospitaliers to repair. He forced his chin up, defiantly looking into the monster’s eyes. ‘Wh-who are you?’ His trembling voice was unable to hide the terror in his heart.

The Wrathful sneered, lifting his daemon axe over his head. ‘I am Alpharius!

Leaving a bloody smear upon the floor, Illaren’s head spun away.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
CHAPTER IV​


Not prone to waste, the Traitors of the Alpha Legion tend to absorb, like a sponge, whatever they conquer. No servitor is too broken, no cogitator is too damaged. This is their way, scavenging their existence, floundering in their inevitable demise at the hands of the Emperor’s Holy Warriors. It is a despicable and desperate existence.
- The Archenemy: A Study in the Practice and Behaviours of the Traitor Legions, author unknown


I​

My family would be so proud of me right now. Gadriel was hiding for his life in the burnt out husk of a destroyed building. He had lost his lasgun about an hour before, after falling in with his third platoon of the night. A tank had appeared in the smoke, an engine of death on the familiar Rhino chassis, bearing a massive dozer blade surrounding an immense cannon. It had fired one round, one fekking round, and completely obliterated half of the platoon. Twenty men eradicated, ripped apart. Death was granted so swiftly, not one had the chance to cry out. He had sought cover, diving into the still-burning structure that had been the Astropathicae, while the remainder of the men had charged. A second shot had erased them from existence.

His panicked flight to refuge had cost him his lasgun when he’d stumbled over one of the hundreds of bodies littering the courtyard. He had attempted at first to search for his, grabbing hold of several and inspecting the Munitorum stamps on their sides to find a match. All had been scorched to ruin, the inner workings destroyed in either the ordnance blasts of the tank of in the battle before his arrival. Slipping his hands in the blood soaked dust had been draining and nauseating, and he had abandoned his search in the interest of self-preservation. His run had ended with an ungraceful combat roll behind the smoking rockcrete of his fighting position.

He had been there for an hour, biding his time, hoping the damnable abominations would get on and fekking leave already.

Scraped and bloody, his knees ached. His throat burned from his irrepressible fit of vomiting. At least I’ve got nothing left to puke up. He leaned against a short wall, surrounded by ashy ruins of what appeared to have once been the Astropathic choir. A shriveled man lay a scant five meters away, his back bowed beyond any human’s physical ability. One of his sewn-shut eyes had popped open, staring vacantly at Gadriel accusingly.

“Fek off, freak,” he snorted. There was nothing he could have done, these were fekking Space Marines. Unstoppable in their eternal watch over the Imperium of Mankind, unwavering in their faith in the Emperor. Tenacious in their destruction of Way Station Centrus.

The first and only time he had laid eyes upon Space Marines was months ago, glorious giants resplendent in their golden and crimson armor. It was a happenstance glimpse, when he had run to the latrines after lunch. They had stopped at the garrison briefly, staying only for a few hours before they departed as swiftly and mysteriously as they had arrived. They were everything he had dreamed of since he was a child and more: beautiful, mighty and just.

A shudder flowed through his body. Those magnificent warriors were a far cry from those he had seen tonight, from these, what the fek were they? Bogeymen? Marines in appearance, but he had never in his wildest imaginings thought that the noble Adeptus Astartes were capable of slaughtering the men and women of the Imperial Guard.

Shouting from the distance shattered the stillness of the night, oh fek they’ve seen me! He panicked again, a paralyzing fear that seized his limbs and twisted his stomach. Gripping his aquila, he slowly rotated, using his other hand to pull himself into a kneeling position. Get a hold of yourself, Gad. You’re a fekking Guardsmen, not a spineless civvie. He leaned to the side, risking a glance around the side of the destroyed wall.

A column of giants, of the emerald angels of death, exited the crypts a scant two hundred meters away. These were not like the first he had seen, the ones bearing jump packs; these dwarfed even their fellows, hulking monstrosities with a hunched posture, bearing ornate and massive combi-weapons and trophy racks. Terminators. He had read of them as a child, seen them in holovids, heard of their abilities in hushed, reverent tones. They were destruction incarnate, unstoppable.

All told, eight of them exited the building. Gadriel could not help but hold his breath, fearing that the slightest inhalation or movement would give away his location and, as a result, get him killed. A highly unpleasant idea, as he had managed to survive thus far the seat of his britches. Behind them emerged the same Marines who had soared in on their jump packs with eerie screams from their vox casters.

Prisoners followed, hundreds of them. He remained on his knees, watching the columns of Guardsmen being corralled into the courtyard, herded like livestock. More came from his left, ragged companies of defeated and dispirited men. The march continued for several long minutes, all of the men being led to the center of the courtyard before being forced to their knees. Overwhelming despair overcame Gadriel as he watched, recognizing several of the procession as members of the Three-Oh-Second.

His despair transformed to rage as he noticed the final figures emerging from the fortress walls. They were Guardsmen, yes, but these were still armed. “Traitorous bastards.” Throne take them all.

Upwards of three thousand Guardsmen filled the courtyard, men and women who had trained to fight against the enemies of mankind. They had been crushed, beaten without effort, cast aside and annihilated by the superhumans who were supposed to protect them. Bitterness welled up within him, absolute anger, hatred.

In the distance, the first shot was fired. A lieutenant’s skull burst apart like a ripe melon as he was put to death by a man whom he had once led. Hundreds of shots followed in rapid succession, the execution of the defenders of Way Station Centrus. Bolters roared into the clustered bodies, ripping apart two and three with each shot as their destructive payloads detonated. Lasguns spat, precision shots at point-blank range ending lives with each blast, superheating the delicate tissues of the unarmored Guardsmen. Screams filled the night, screams of the betrayed and murdered. There would be no eulogy for these men, no comforting words before they died from a member of His Holy Church. Despite the horror of the scene, the complete anguish torturing his soul, Gadriel could not close his eyes against it. He stared, transfixed, tears streaming down his face.

It was over in seconds. An uncontrollable sob ripped itself free of his chest.

In the distance, an emerald visor snapped towards him.
 

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II

Meticulous cuts severed limbs and split bodies, precisely-aimed shots burst apart heads. In a private act of atonement, he had removed his power fist, trusting it to Brother Norn. He now wielded his ancient chainsword, a weapon that had been in his hand for thousands of battles spanning the width of the galaxy. This was the way of the Legion, of the Venom Guard. Even as he butchered the Imperial prisoners, Bravvick silently chastised himself. Yet again, he had shown his lack of self-control, absence of composure. He had allowed himself to succumb to his own thirst for blood, to his possession. Despite its effectiveness, it was inexcusable, especially coming from one entrusted with leadership.

Cold, calculated murder. What he had been trained to do, ingrained in his mind thousands of years before. Passion in the purpose, detachment in the execution. The prisoners were screaming, pleading to their Emperor for deliverance, falling on their backs with arms outstretched in futile attempts to ward off the blows and shots of their killers. One man in particular struck Bravvick. Wearing the rank insignia of a captain, the mortal knelt rather than grovel. His face was upturned to the skies, his hands before him in a gesture of supplication. Clutching a tiny, golden aquila, he was uttering something, pleading. The marine amplified his sensory input, straining to pick the man’s words out above the tumult.

“God-Emperor, hear my prayers. Know that Thy servants have died well, and come to you in humble sacrifice. Accept us into Thy embrace, that we may eternally fight at your side against evil.” Eyes glistening, tears began streaming down his face. From a supposed warrior, his lack of composure was revolting.

Bravvick savagely cut his way to the officer. He grabbed the aquila from the man’s hands, breaking the human’s fragile bones in the process.
Holding it up, he snarled, “He cannot hear you, mortal.” Casting the symbol into the blood-soaked muck, he viciously backhanded the soldier, ripping the man’s face open into bloody rags. “I have called to him in vain on many occasions, long before the whore you called mother brought you screaming into this existence.” The man’s composure was gone now, clasping his face, streams of blood dripping down from between his fingers. “Even if he was not rotting in his sarcophagus, he would have little time for you.”

A perfect downwards thrust. Arm perfectly perpendicular to the ground, blade parallel. Blood dripped from its shining teeth. The officer’s head tumbled away, making sucking sounds as it passed through the mud. The model of an efficient and flawless execution. Screaming echoed in the back of his mind, fighting to get out, eager to partake in the bloodshed. Not this time. Taking deep breaths, slowing his heartbeat, he felt the voices recede, the impetuous beast within was quieted but never silence. Refocused, he gazed around; thousands lie dead, coldly executed by both the operatives and the Legionnaires. Only the Venom Guard remained.

His enhanced hearing picked up a muffled sound from the south, towards the burning ruins. He glanced in the direction; a quick cursory inspection with his prey sight indicated several sources of heat, most of them appearing to be smoldering fires. There. Someone cowering behind a broken pile of bricks, transfixed by the massacre. A victim trying to avoid its fate. The hog hiding from the butcher.

“Langhsi.”

The marine approached, blood coating and flowing down his armor, chainaxe whirring. “Lord?”

“We have an observer.” He sneered, “Send him an invitation to our little party.”

An ugly grin split his face as he followed Bravvick’s gaze. “With pleasure.” He trotted off, loading a fresh magazine into his bolt pistol.

The sight of a Space Marine intent upon his destruction must have unnerved the man. Clearly panicked, he stood up and attempted to flee towards the relative safety of the crypts along the southern bastion wall. Langshi halted, bringing his pistol to bear. With deliberate care, he squeezed the trigger, the sudden report of the round breaking the silence that had fallen. The Guardsman’s head burst, disintegrating in a puff of red mist. The body continued running, the last impulses of a non-existent brain, before collapsing into the dust.

Langshi turned, a smile stretched across his face, “A fine shot, if I do say so myself.” It had been, over two hundred meters with a pistol was no small feat, especially from one cursed with the blood thirst. It dulled the senses, atrophied the physical and neural responsiveness required for precise bolter marksmanship.

Nodding, Bravvick keyed the command channel on his vox, “Wrathful, the garrison has been cleared, assault elements standing by for retrieval.” The Thunderhawks, which had been flying a holding pattern far above the garrison, would now be en route to the makeshift assembly area to recover the armoured and dismounted Marines.

He switched back to the squad-to-squad frequency to hear Hektar’s instructions, “Bravvick and Anderan, move to my position and maintain security. Ravven and the Seer will oversee the cleansing. Birds should be here in five.” Quick and clipped, precisely imparting instructions.

Bravvick felt his resentment brew up within him, an uncomfortable yet uncontrollable emotion. He maintains his sanity, he thought, his battlefield efficiency. But at what a cost. The man, like his Legion, was but a faint echo of his former glory, his personality subdued at the intense demands of remaining composed. It was a reminder, albeit a harsh one, that one way or the other, the Venom Guard was dying.
 
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