Silence veiled the bridge of Invictus, no words disturbed the unusual tranquil. As the energies of the immaterium washed and eddied around the shields of the colossal battleship, its captain’s brow furrowed. His eyes were shut tight in thought, his breathing steady. Captain Deamus Herrossa’s mind spun with the lessons he had learned throughout his career. Soon they would once again be put into practise for the glory of mankind.
Next to him, the fleet Commissar eyed the gothic splendour of the bridge lazily. As such, he had seen the bridges of so many ships in the service of the Imperial Navy. Even now, the intricacy and brutal beauty of these giant warships never ceased to intrigue him. An amused smile crept across his lips, as he relished the thought of the new fame and glory that this ship would bring him.
“Captain, I see our destination through the mists. Your order sir?” The navigator’s words cut through the silence and echoed slightly in the dome of the bridge. Herrossa’s eyes snapped open, his decisions made. He straightened in his throne, and glanced at the Commissar.
“Bring the fleet out of warp,” the Commissar ordered casually. Herossa nodded respectfully. “Aedis; notify the fleet, we break warp on my signal.”
“Aye Sir” the Lieutenant replied and immediately began hailing the rest of the fleet. As the other captains of battlegroup Aeries readied their vessels, Captain Herrossa watched as two tech-adepts activated the chart desk, its pale blue hololithic sphere smoothly composing itself, ready to survey every cubic inch of space within seven-hundred thousand kilometres of the ship.
The navigator addressed the bridge: “The light of the Astronomican shines clearly this day; the Emperor is with us!”
“And so shall he remain I pray” laughed Commissar Bourne, as he rose from his seat and slowly paced towards the edge of the Plexiglas dome of the bridge. Herrossa’s eyes followed him. The Captain respected the man; both men had served the Imperial Navy for decades. Both had seen glorious victories, and on occasion a humiliating defeat. Both men were stubborn in their faith; they would once again have victory.
“Confessor Mentius” the Captain addressed the Ecclesiarch; “Would you be so kind to lead us in prayer as we re-enter the Imperium.”
“From my lips to your soul, shall the words of the Emperor’s will guide us all in passage,” the wizened old man smiled. As the proud servant prepared to uplift the bridge in prayer, the Captain gave the order to break warp. He shuddered as he felt the warp drives begin to shift the energies ahead of them. Even in this gigantic and magnificent ship of mine, we are so small, he mused. Even after decades of service, he was still chilled when entering or breaking warp. So much to go wrong, he sighed.
The Confessor’s powerful voice penetrated the deck as he began the prayer. Though becoming frail in his old age, even with the aid of juvenat drugs, his voice had never aged. It was still as full of faith, devotion and fury as it ever was. His prayer rose and those that could sent their voices booming with him across the void in righteous defiance of death.
Scarcely had the hands of the bridge uttered the last words of the Confessor’s prayer, when a huge surge of energy leapt forth. A seething, blinding light engulfed the battleship and all who could see it shielded their eyes. Tense seconds passed, and gradually the light receded.
Herrossa opened his eyes, and sighed with relief to see the cold, star spattered black of real space. Ahead lay their hunting grounds. The Gostya Nebula, purple and blue in its radiant splendour. What irony is this, that such beauty should hide such abominations he thought as he surveyed the vast celestial canvas.
The Captain spoke once more: “Have the fleet report in.” Again, the Flag Lieutenant went about hailing the fleet.
“Lord Rahn, Artemis, Blue squadron and the Widowmakers all reporting all systems functioning. They await your orders Admiral.”
Herrossa gazed into the holograph displayed by the chart desk and surveyed his companions. Lord Rahn, the Dauntless class cruiser and Artemis, a fearsome Mars class battlecruiser travelled in tandem to starboard. The two squadrons of escorts were to port, four sword class frigates and three Firestorms. Then of course in the very centre of the sphere was the Captain’s own magnificent vessel: Invictus the Retribution class battleship. This was indeed a force to be reckoned with.
Commissar Bourne paced impatiently, hand on the hilt of his powersword. His knuckles were white with the force of his grip. A scowl darkened his features; he was tired of the chase. His battle-lust was as immense as his tall frame. Built like a wild grox, and just as much patience.
“Captain I must….”
“Patience Commissar,” the Captain cut him short. “Let us assess our position, lest we ride into the storm unprepared.” The Commissar’s broad shoulders hunched slightly, and his scowl deepened. He is correct however, the Captain thought. Time is against us. We must strike soon.
“Commissar, what say you to a closer inspection of our hunting grounds?”
“Do it I say, and be quick about it. My instincts advise against waiting,” the man’s face twisted into a malicious grin. “We will take this prize and I’ll be damned if he thinks he can hide out in that Nebula without us sniffing him out!”
“We think alike commissar. Herrossa to Artemis, I want four flights of Starhawks with escorting fighters to be ready to launch in ten minutes.”
“Roger Invictus, bays are ready for your signal,” came the reply over the commlink.
“So it begins,” grinned the Commissar.
“Herrossa to engines, bring us to three quarters ahead.” The Captain took a step forward and leaned against the surge of thrust. The ship immediately lurched onward, heaved by its gigantic plasma drives. The fleet moved as one, spread over a large area, giving maximum surveyor capability.
The fleet bore down into the gaseous space like ferrets into a rabbit warren, except that their prey was no rabbit.
It was a traitorous monster, built over ten millennia in the past, pre dating even the great heresy. She was one of three sisters who turned on the Imperium. She, like her sisters now answered to chaos. Damnation’s Fury they call her, a battleship, more powerful even than the mighty Emperor Class whose unyielding strength has as yet remained unconquered. For millennia, the ships of the Imperial Navy had brought battle to her, and each time she had escaped into the warp leaving only death and graveyards in her wake. Now though, her strength was fading. The Imperium gave no thanks to the Eldar who had crippled her, but none the less they had given the Imperial Navy exactly the conditions needed to end her reign of bloodshed.
The blue sphere of the bridge’s holomap sputtered and shook with the static of the nebula. The thick, impenetrable fog suffocated the ships and overloaded their scanners, but they headed it not. They knew how to find their quarry.
“Have the Starhawks begin their sweep” Herrossa ordered. Through the gloom, he could just see the feint flicker of their engines as they blasted fourth from the carrier. They split according to plan forming a rough half-sphere around the fleet. As they spread, Herrossa prayed that the units they carried would be successful.
The pilots reported their status.
“Artemis reports that the bombers are ready to execute code six.”
“Good, commence firing,” he stared hard into the cloud. “Have the signal routed directly into my surveyor.”
“Aye Sir” the Lieutenant said.
The sphere of the surveyor cleared, no longer scanning for large vessels, but for the hundreds of tiny signals from the bomber’s payloads.
The first of the Starhawk flights fired into the nebula. A small speck appeared in the holographic sphere. Others soon joined it. They streaked onward through the nebula, and then simultaneously, they erupted into cascades of smaller signals. Tens of thousands of fist-sized probes diffused through the gas. No more than space dust to an unsuspecting ships scanners. As they spread, the Captain waited. He thanked the Emperor for a clear and undisrupted signal from the probes.
“Well?” The commissar enquired curiously, he too had put much faith in this new product of the tech-adepts of Mars.
“The probes will have spread throughout the Nebula in three minutes Sir” Lieutenant Aedis replied. The commissar nodded and began pacing the deck once more.
The air in the bridge was a soup of excitement and tension. Two minutes passed, then: blip, another blip. Suddenly the surveyor’s audio was alive with signals.
“Report!” the Captain barked.
“I have probes changing velocity around four large objects in the South-Eastern quadrant of the Nebula, it could be her Sir!” The Lieutenant was practically shaking with anticipation.
“Enlarge on my surveyors” Herrossa ordered. The sphere zipped towards the target area. The signals were going haywire, travelling in a straight line only to suddenly change course and fly in another direction. They were bouncing off something.
“Yes! That’s it, we’ve got you Heretic!” Commissar Bourne shouted triumphantly, grinning like a madman; his eyes were a flashing cocktail of hatred and glee.
“It would indeed appear so Commissar,” Herrossa calmly remarked. “Helm, take us within eighty-thousand kilometres. Sensors scan for energy signals.” The Captain glanced towards Confessor Mentius, “Our prayer appears to have been answered” the old man smiled.
The fleet closed formation, the wolf pack crept towards the now fading signals. The Captain silently cursed the dying probes. To short a lifespan he noted. The gas clouds shifted and floated over the ship’s void shields. Visibility slowly started to improve as they moved away from the core. Herrossa could at least see the other Imperial ships. “Gunnery crews to stations, shields to maximum power. I want a full salvo of torpedoes loaded immediately.” The orders were delivered with the time old precision of Imperial nobility; they were the words of the Emperor as far as his crew were concerned.
“Begin scanning.” Herrossa watched as the surveyor flickered, reaching out to the stars for a signal.
Commissar Bourne now stood by his side, upright, confident and ready to deal out the fiery wrath bent up inside him. The Captain was no less eager to throw himself and the ship into battle. He and the Commissar were different. Herrossa was a thinker, a great holochess player and a superb commander. His reputation was one of steadfast resolve and flexibility.
Commissar Bourne on the other hand, was most famous for his part in repelling a boarding action on board the Blade of Woe during the Damocles crusade. Systematically butchering an entire party of alien Kroot in the confines of the battleship’s corridors, leading his men forth in a killing frenzy that impressed fleet command as much as it had worried them that the man was capable of such brutal and bloodthirsty savagery.
He was a man born to the feral world of Kanak; power, ruthlessness and martial prowess were in his blood. Patience was not counted among his many virtues.
Now the two were brought together in the service of the Emperor, at this hour all their skills were needed.
“Sir, I’m picking up a feint signal ahead. A more seconds and I’ll have it on screen.” Herrossa merely stared out of the dome, daring his adversaries to come forth.
“Sources confirmed, four ships ahead, classes unknown. I’m only picking up slight shield signals. They haven’t seen us sir.”
“Delicious,” Herrossa allowed a sly smile to cross his face.
“We have them,” Bourne murmured with satisfaction.
“Send Blue squadron to port, Widowmakers make an attack run on the closest vessel. Have Artemis hang back and await orders,” again, Herrossa’s orders were smooth. Unquestionable.
“Herrossa to Lord Rahn form on my port-quarter, prepare for attack,” he ordered. “Engines to all ahead full!” The ship seemed to spring to life as the engines howled and roared, gunnery crews scurried to their weapons.
The hull was filled with the sounds of the clanking of gears, slamming of breaches and heavy running footsteps of the crew. They charged. The escorts shot off to port and the two warships sped onwards to their prey.
“We have visual,” yelled the Lieutenant above the clamour. “On screen” barked Herrossa.
It was her, Damnations Fury, her monstrous form looming ever closer. With her were the three other ships, all in vulnerably close formation.
“Classes confirmed: one despoiler class, a murder class and two raiders!” The ships were now in plain sight. Lights flickered on in their hulls; their engines were still silent.
Now the shock of the attack run was complete.
As the two ships closed both Captain and Commissar watched as the Firestorms opened up with their prow lances on the closest raider. Virtually unshielded, the smaller ship was instantly gutted. The centre section was vaporised, the rest of the vessel swiftly followed. A blinding flash of seething plasma and an eruption of molten plasteel was all that remained. “Such is the reward of those who consort with the dark powers!” the Captain said between gritting teeth.
Blue squadron followed and threw itself towards the lone cruiser. Though the massive power of the las-weaponry of the frigates was vicious in the extreme, the cruiser’s shields did not yield. Her commander at least was less surprised.
The Chaos ships now began to power up. The second raider accelerated at an astonishing rate. It shot through the swords, letting lose a single volley that was easily deflected by the Escort’s shields.
A ghostly blue veil began to fall over Damnation’s Fury; her shields were among the best the Adeptus Mechanicus had ever constructed.
Shielded she was, but she would not be gunned for a time. Shields can be activated at the flick of a switch, heretic crews cannot. Captain Herrossa knew this well and used it to full effect as he took the two ships dangerously close to the monster’s stern. “Herrossa to port guns, all open fire immediately!” This he yelled as he raced across the bridge to the port side of the ships. He gaped at the sheer size the enemy vessel’s engines. As he stared, his ship shuddered as twelve full strength plasma batteries locked on to their target and belched out destruction. Fire and detonation raked across the stern of the Chaos battleship. Herrossa was astounded by the punishment that its shields absorbed.
However powerful, she was by no means invulnerable and with the last volley that the batteries of Invictus could muster the shields of the vessel collapsed. Herrossa’s ship shot away leaving the chaos ship’s engines for the guns of Lord Rahn. Shell after shell smashed into the traitor’s stern, tearing up retros and obliterating her thrusters.
“A hit! A very palpable hit!” Commissar Bourne mocked as a small star was born from the light of the carnage.
A sizeable section of the ships keel was blasted clean off from between the two colossal engines, now glowing pathetically.
As the two ships raced away from the waking guns of the traitor, the escorts joined to make a run on the cruiser.
This was unwise. Herrossa cursed loudly as the forward gun batteries of the now fully operational cruiser claimed a frigate, its blasted body flying into the nebula. He angrily ordered the remaining escorts to hunt and destroy the raider, which had disappeared. Loading its torpedoes no doubt. As his ship drew away from the enemy, her guns twitched and began tracking. None fired however.
It was only then that he beheld the true scale of the opponent he had challenged. The lamed battleship was far from finished. It would take far more than a smashed keel and a decimated engine.
From the prow of the ship, a cloud appeared. It spewed out from the port and starboard bays, an unending tide of attack craft. Waves upon waves of bombers and fighters launched, ready to strip like locusts all that strayed into their path.
The Commissar gaped and muttered an oath; Herrossa was taken aback by the sheer volume of craft spilling from the battleship’s bays, a cloud of them, like blood diffusing in water.
Before the Captain had time to react, he was assailed simultaneously by the cries of the Lieutenant and the sight of several white objects tearing past their port quarter.
“Captain! Captain! New contacts closing fast” exploded Aedis. “By the Emperor…Eldar!”
“WHAT?!” Roared the Commissar wheeling round as his sword caught a rail with an almighty clang.
“Several Raiders, unknown class….they’re heading for the Chaos vessels Sir!”
The Captain did not reply; he knew exactly what was about to happen, he had seen it before.
“Cursed Xenos, those are Aconite’s! Damn it all!” blazed the Captain; he knew that the Eldar were about to attempt to snatch his prize.
The Eldar Aconite class was most adept at dealing with attack craft; their prows bristled with weapons batteries, capable of cutting swathes through waves of fighters and bombers. But the worst was still to come.
The Chaos fighters scattered as the Aconites nimbly cut through them and destroyed pockets piecemeal. Herrossa’s infuriated mind could not help but be reminded of the ancient Pict records of Dolphins hunting small fish on ancient Terra.
Invictus was still firing broadsides into the Chaos battleship, but could not get close enough to target critical locations through the melee of attack craft and Eldar. Herrossa barely registered the Lieutenant’s voice calling new contacts through his rage. He could only watch as no less than three Eldar cruisers shot through his squadron towards the Chaos ships, followed by several large escorts.
The Chaos cruiser could not stand against the furious Eldar barrage, and with a retina-scorching flash its plasma drives spelled its doom. The debris field left behind would be a magnificent find for scavenging Orks.
The Eldar vessels, having eliminated every immediate threat turned their attentions to Damnation’s Fury, as the battleship’s huge lance batteries feebly attempted to target the Eldar running circles round her.
A red mist descended over Herrossa’s vision as he witnessed shot after shot crashing through his prize’s hull.
The now began to withdraw, leaving the once terrible ship a blazing wreck. They did not even bother to destroy her, so smashed and twisted she was.
As a final mocking gesture, a squadron of small escorts flitted around Invictus once before streaking off after their companions heading out of the Nebula.
Both the Commissar and the Captain stood agape, watching the glory that should have been theirs sail away with the vile witches in their fragile ships.
The Captain shook himself out of his stupor. After composing his thoughts, he strode heavily over to his throne, and slowly sat into his upright, battle-ready posture.
“Quartermaster! Set a course to pursue the Eldar!” Ordered the Captain. Bourne shot a startled glance towards the great Captain, before the thirst for revenge trickled into his mind and slowly overcame him. They would yet have their victory.