My laptop dies for a few weeks yet it seems like ages in LO time!
I've given it all a quick read, and like it so far. I'll read it thoroughly later today or tommorow and give you proper C&C.
edit: Same goes for the other stuff you've posted.
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My laptop dies for a few weeks yet it seems like ages in LO time!
I've given it all a quick read, and like it so far. I'll read it thoroughly later today or tommorow and give you proper C&C.
edit: Same goes for the other stuff you've posted.
Wow, I take a look at the Arts and Literature forum and find this? I am impressed.
I particularly like the way in which you seem to have mastered the way in which the Astartes converse, it feels "right" to me.
One small thing I noticed (and it is probably down to the way you've written this over a long period of time) is that you first mention the presence of the Sons of Spite on Corrun early on (when Cairl tells Boltane what is going on), yet everyone seems surprised when this gets proven right. Am I missing something, or is it just a mistake?
Overall though, excellent, I hope you write some more soon!
Well, thanks for pointing that out Sparhawk, I wish I could say that it was deliberate. I'll look back and see what can be done to fix it.
Glad you like it.
A tiny bit more, more on the way. I wasn't going to continue this for a while, but then I found the teaser I'd written a while back and it rekindled my enthusiasm for Terrenis & Co. Since it continues directly from where I last left off, I've reposted the whole thing to maintain the flow of the writing.
“Only in death does duty end.”
The proverb, an old one, had been the first words Drill Custodian Kendrick had spoken to the convicts during operational training.
Not convicts. Initiates. That was the word the officer cadre of Punishment Battalion 66079, and Kendrick in particular, preferred to use when referring to the poor unfortunate ‘volunteers’ assigned to them. It helped, they claimed, the men to develop an esprit de corps and a feeling of self-worth.
It was very hard to agree, however, when the same officers turned away in disgust at even the mention of their charges.
And perhaps they were right to.
The men of the battalion were, after all, without exception some of the vilest scum of the earth ever to enter the ranks of the Imperial Guard.
Karl Flücher, Prisoner 4937061, was, like all the initiates, there for his own reasons. Unlike the others, however, Flücher had been a professional, a career soldier valued by his commanders despite his murderous nature.
Then, Captain Norn had taken command of the company.
The young, efficient officer had refused to be intimidated by Flücher, and had taken an instant dislike to him. Flücher had watched, seething with rage, as other, younger NCOs were promoted in his place.
And so he had done what he felt was necessary.
He felt no remorse for the murder of the young captain. He had enjoyed Norn’s death, savouring the moment in which the man had realised that everything he had believed in and hoped for was futile. He had laughed in the dying man’s face.
For Flücher was a killer, and had been all his life. He smiled cruelly at the memory of the deed, the corners of his cracked and hardened lips curling upwards mirthlessly. Anyone foolish enough to look into Flücher’s eyes saw only an empty void of blackness. Indeed, the Court Martial had said as much in their damning verdict. He was a soulless murderer who happened to have been a good soldier.
The world of Cyprian IV had once been a verdant paradise. Thirteen years in the hands of the Archenemy had changed it into a barren mass of unrelenting mud,
concrete, mines and razor-wire, broken only by the hideous shrines to their deities. The images they had seen from orbit made the planet look like a death-trap.
And now they were going to assault it.
Battalion 66079, alongside three other penal battalions and sixteen fresh regiments, were to spearhead the assault on the first of its bastions, the old imperial fortress of Ferrosk. The landers screeched through the atmosphere, their squat grey forms scarred from the heavy weapons fire of this and a hundred other campaigns. Flücher stood up as the plasteel/ceramite assault ramp slammed open with a metallic clang, and started running, lasgun held at the hip and blade in its scabbard. Custodians were herding their reluctant charges forward with shock prods and whips.
Flücher gave an incoherent bellow of rage as he hurled himself forward. Heavy weapons fire streaked across the churned ground, hissing las-bolts scything through the muddy drizzle and sending hissing clouds of steam into the air. Flücher saw three men fall instantly as a heavy stubber further up the ridge burst into life, a dense hail of bullets ripping through the penal legionnaires. He navigated a shell crater and a coil of razor-wire, diving to the ground as an artillery shell screamed towards their position, vaporising another six unfortunate legionnaires and a custodian. Flücher grunted in pain as a hot shard of shrapnel lodged in his arm, drawing blood and staining his tattered green jacket. He moved on again, madly charging through the rain-filled craters. Men, both legionnaires and guardsmen, fell all around him, milling helplessly as they were trapped in the mire and gunned down mercilessly.
Tripping, Flücher saw a Custodian detonate a squad’s collars as they attempted to flee, before being gunned down by a storm of heavy bolter shells. This wasn’t war, this was madness, and he had no intention of dying on this Throne-forsaken world. He dropped his lasgun and turned to flee, and found himself looking down the barrel of a Custodian’s laspistol. He swung at his opponent, catching the Custodian by surprise, and hammered his large fist into the man’s nose, feeling it crunch beneath the blow. They were the last two imperials in the immediate area by now, sheltered by a lipped crater with shells detonating all around them, the deafening crash of the explosions shaking the very ground. Flücher grinned nastily as he swept out his knife from its sheath and the Custodian backed away slowly. Flücher followed, and the man turned to run, but tripped on the crater lip. In an instant Flücher was on him, knife stabbing up and down in a bloody mess. Flücher pulled himself up, hands and uniform slick with blood, and ran towards the shelter offered by the landers. Bullets whickered around him, but he took no heed of them, looking over his shoulder for the foe.
Then he collapsed; his head a shattered ruin.
Chaplain Mortis strode over the corpse, bolt pistol smoking.
“In death may you gain absolution,” intoned the skull-masked Astartes. Bullets and las-fire pattered harmlessly off his ceramite breastplate as he advanced inexorably. Drop pods streaked through the sky, wreathed in ruby flame as they burst though the atmosphere and slammed into the ground, hatches swinging open to disgorge squads of disciplined Tactical Marines. The remaining imperial guardsmen renewed their efforts, and the high pitched whine of las-fire was punctuated by the louder, percussive blast of sustained bolter fire.
A dark armoured figure fell in beside Mortis, helmet off and bolter blazing, and an ornate power sword was strapped at his side. Caius Terrenis was captain of
Second, and his close cropped grey hair ruffled in the radioactive wind. His cool, aquiline face made him the very image of an Astartes. His golden shoulder pauldrons shone bright, stark against the jet black of his power armour, while his scarlet cloak was detailed with gold filigree. He was followed by the five warriors of his command squad, each clad in suits of mark VI plate.
“For the Emperor,” spoke Terrenis softly, his voice cutting through the din of battle despite its low volume, and he drew his sword and swept it downwards in one swift motion to signal the charge. Scores of black-armoured figures followed the order instantly, and Terrenis’ cloak billowed out behind him as he ran with Mortis and his command squad at his side, his equerry Cadmus first amongst the retinue. Mortis had his crackling crozius arcanum raised aloft, and he bellowed a prayer to the Emperor.
Terrenis snapped off a precise volley from his bolter as he ran, and a pair of cultists fell before the fire, their bodies pulped by the mass-reactive shells. The Space Marines swept through the cultists’ positions, surging over the broken bodies that marked where the previous imperial guard assault had failed. Occasionally, an Astartes fell, but most righted themselves and continued fighting despite their wounds.
The cultists fell back before their onslaught, retreating to the innermost bastion that bristled with heavy weapons emplacements. Terrenis turned as a wave of heat washed over him, and saw Brother Flavius of his command squad incinerating an enemy position with his flamer. Terrenis nodded to Cadmus beside him and the pair leapt into a trench, blades felling the terrified defenders.
The heretical inhabitants of this world were so long isolated from imperial culture that they did not know what it was they faced. Most hadn’t even originated from Cyprian, and had instead been soldiers in the vast swarm of anti-imperial forces that had assaulted this world and so many others. Indeed, many had not even heard of the Emperor, let alone of the Astartes. And now, they were learning, thought Terrenis as he delivered a killing blow to yet another cultist.
The pair of Space Marines fought back to back as heroes of old, and with total economy of motion, every stroke a kill-stroke, every blow lethal. More brothers were following them now, the threat of the remaining cultists outside of the main complex utterly eliminated. Terrenis cut downwards with his sword to split a foe’s skull open before hammering his fist into a second’s masked face. He heard the sharp crack as the man’s neck broke at the impact, but did not bother turning around as he brought his blade up sharply to sever another man’s spinal cord. At his back, Cadmus fought, coolly thrusting and chopping with his combat blade, the energy field of the short utility sword tinting the weapon blue as it sliced through opponents with ease.
A quad-mounted autocannon, squat and powerful, roared in the background as the foes regrouped from the shock of the initial impact, but it was swiftly silenced as the massive form of Brother Ergolos’ armoured sarcophagus burst from behind it and ripped it apart with a huge power claw. Terrenis backhanded his foe off his sword and watched as Cadmus thrust his weapon up to the hilt into the last cultist’s face.
“You’re losing your touch, brother,” admonished Cadmus mildly. Although nominally subordinate to Terrenis, the equerry had been friends with his captain for so long that the pair shared a bond of brotherhood and equality stronger and truer than steel. Terrenis looked at him quizzically. The equerry simply indicated Terrenis’ shoulder pauldrons, gashed where a cultist had penetrated his guard. Terrenis grunted in acknowledgement.
“I’ll ask the techmarines to fix it once we’re done.”
The armour was a relic of the chapter, a rare fragment of chapter history preserved beyond the fall of their homeworld of Granica to Hive Fleet Leviathan. Terrenis mentally assigned himself two weeks punishment for his failing.
He gathered the rest of his command squad to him, and they moved swiftly around the formidable bastion. The black onyx of the fortress was totally smooth and diamond hard, and had no visible entrance.
“How in the name of Terra are we supposed to get inside that thing?” wondered Sergeant Veronus after a trio of melta-charges had failed to breach the walls. Terrenis didn’t answer. Throne knew how the fortress would be captured if they couldn’t enter at ground level. The advance was continuing as assault squads soared through the air to land on the topside of the fortress and scour the fortification from above, but the ground based attack had effectively ground to a halt.
Terrenis clenched his fists in frustration.
The vox in his helmet suddenly crackled and burst to life. Terrenis stood up sharply, recognising the call-sign of Brother-Sergeant Faeros.
“Respond, respond, this is Terrenis receiving,” Terrenis shouted into the vox bead.
“Faeros, acknowledged. I think we may have found a way in.”
“Where? Send coordinates, brother,” answered Terrenis. Moments later a location pinged on the locator grid on his visor.
“I’m on my way, brother. My thanks to you.”
* * *
Terrenis peered down the entrance, a seemingly bottomless black abyssal chasm opened in the tortured earth. Unnatural pink-hued flames burned in torches at uneven intervals, yet they seemed not to illuminate the tunnel. Terrenis had to admit that the effect was unnerving. He suppressed the emotion and motioned for his command squad, Mortis and Tactical Squad Faeros to follow him down.
There was a clatter as the power-armoured warriors hit the bottom of the pit. It was far shallower than it had at first appeared, and the tunnels appeared to reknit themselves as the Astartes landed. Terrenis curled his lip in disgust as he scented the thick reek of untamed witchcraft. He collected his bolter from where he had dropped it in the fall.
Ghostly, spectral hands clawed at the warriors, and insidious whispers emanated from the hideous, malformed features of snarling stone gargoyles embedded in the walls, each ancient, malign breath offering honeyed lies to the warriors. The Space Marines ignored them. The tunnels gave way to long galleries of dark crimson marble, the eerily empty halls offering no resistance to the Astartes. The passage sloped sharply upwards, and Terrenis cautiously led his men through the place, passing vile shines and fanes to forbidden gods, each littered with the desecrated corpses of imperial citizens. Their blood ran in thick runnels beside them, rendered black and sluggish by horrific magicks. Terrenis shuddered involuntarily as he saw the defiled corpse of an elderly priest, his magenta robes stained with his own blood and penetrated by viciously barbed black iron spikes.
As the path sloped upwards, the whine of chainswords and the dying screams of cultists became audible, and then deafening, clear signs that their brothers in the Assault squads were meeting with success. Behind him, Terrenis heard Faeros activate his own chainsword, and Cadmus racked the slide on his bolter. The enemy were close.
Closer, in fact, than the Astartes had thought. The passages seemed to distort sound and distance, confusing even the enhanced olfactory senses of the gene-seed warriors. A cultist, clearly a guard of some sort, appeared at the end of the corridor, back to the passages.
“Kill him,” instructed Faeros over the link, and in one smooth motion the squad raised their bolters and fired, the mass-reactive shells ripping through armour, flesh and bone. The cultist collapsed in a heap on the floor, his guts spilling from his opened stomach, knocking over a torch as he fell. Terrenis watched in horror as the torch flared, sheeting the walls in pink flame that licked lazily along the corridor, and a score of armed cultists spilled out of a side door. With no other option, Terrenis bellowed a warcry and hurled himself forwards through the flames, flicking his bolter onto full auto. This was not a time to conserve ammunition.
The first cultist staggered back, his innards pulped by the detonation of a three-quarter inch bolter shell. A second collapsed, headless, as the Space Marine Captain’s sword flicked outwards to decapitate him, before Terrenis barrelled into a third, smashing him to the floor with the force of the charge. A blade rang off his auto-responsive shoulder plate and he spun in time to see Sergeant Faeros flense a man with his whirring chainblade. Terrenis nodded his thanks before pressing on. Gunfire rang off his breastplate as the surviving cultists fell back firing before the force of the onset, but the hardened ceramite plating of his armour protected him from the volley, and he punched his sword into an opponent’s face. His foe went limp instantly, and he wrenched the blade out in a welter of blood and gore.
Their foes, though clearly some kind of battlefield elite from their size, were no match for the Astartes, and more fell as Chaplain Mortis slammed into the last knot of resistance, smashing more to the ground with his crozius. Terrenis watched impassively as the last foe fell and drew his bolt pistol before striding towards the large and ornate gilt door of what had once been the imperial strategium.
* * *
Lord Kharon Asrak drew himself up in an attempt at defiance and drew his autopistol as the door to his throne-room swung open to reveal a huge figure clad in black plate armour. The sheer scale of his opponent stole his breath, and he dropped the pistol in terror as his hands went slack. The figure strode purposefully towards him with its pistol drawn, and Asrak whimpered involuntarily. Its movements had a statue-like quality to them, controlled, majestic and powerful; and Asrak fell to his knees as the pistol was raised slowly to his head. His voice quavering and barely above a whisper, he spoke what he knew with sickening certainty would be his last words.
“What are you?”
Caius Terrenis pulled the trigger before answering.
“We are the Soul Flensers, and we have come to claim this place.”
Even after the better part of twenty five years spent on the planet, Governor-Elect Aldarin Karsh was unsure of where the land ended and the sky began. The two merged seamlessly into one, grey, ashen expanse that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was a universally accepted truth on the plains of Corrun that the only landmarks on the world were those that had been raised by the sweat and toil of mankind.
Except that tonight, the world was bleeding.
The sky, stained with crimson flame by the detonation of orbital ordnance, was scattered with the dark, swarming forms of landing craft like thick, black clouds of insects swarming over the dying world. Occasionally, brief, half-second flares of dazzling multi-coloured light threaded from the battery positions mounted in spires and on the hive curtain walls, as well as the more immediate missile salvos launched from the Fortress Rabenschwartz itself. Karsh was glad of the small mercy that he was in the old Adeptus Astartes fortress and not in the main cities, where the populace were caught like rats in a trap. Through his borrowed magnoculars, the governor saw the dreary, grey columns of refugees as they trudged in through the hive gates towards relative safety. Even at this distance, Karsh could hear the voices of Hive Militia Commissars screaming into megaphones for the frightened mob to move on; and the ominous shrieks of warning klaxons as they blared out propaganda and curfew information. Even inside the Fortress, there was an unusually subdued mood, and a palpable sense of terror followed the refugee columns.
For, despite the claims of Imperial tacticians and strategists that such a thing was impossible, the forces of the Archenemy had come to Corrun.
Karsh pulled himself away from the observation window with an almost physical effort, face drawn and pale from the stress of the past twenty-four hours. He turned and saw Brother-Sergeant Comemnus of the Soul Flensers chapter, commander of the garrison of the fort.
“My lord,” the sergeant said stiffly, bowing his head to Karsh. Karsh nodded curtly in response at the massive warrior and strode past before standing behind his good friend Colonel Loret of the PDF at a strategium tac-display.
“What’s the current situation like?” he asked Loret.
“Not good,” the colonel admitted. “They’re all over the orbital defences, and the army can’t hold the capital against a force of this size for any length of time. A strike force maybe, but this… this is a full invading army.”
His voice trailed off. Karsh could understand what he meant. This was no strike force, and Throne knew how they were going to deal with such a force on the ground. The navy had stood the best chance of all of them, but they had failed, and now it was down to the army to hold the world until support arrived or they all lay dead, whichever came first.
* * *
The sky was now dead at last, the resistance from the hive crushed by the onrushing wave of Chaos violence. Dawn broke as the sun cast its first rays of tentative crimson that washed the plains in radiant light.
But the rising sun revealed new horrors still. The corpses of PDF troopers were pinned, spread-eagled, onto the hulls of vehicles, their ribcages protruding harsh and white from bloodied torsos. The forms of cultists swarming over the captured hive city, and beside them marched the terrible forms of traitor Astartes. Karsh watched open mouthed as the victorious forces raised a tattered scarlet banner with the sigil of a fist clasping an eight-pointed star. He heard Sergeant Comennus inhale sharply and turned.
“Is something wrong, Sergeant?” Karsh enquired mildly.
“Aye, lord. He. Is. Here.” Each word was spoken with the force of a hammer blow, and Karsh did not need to ask to know of whom the Sergeant spoke.
Phocas. Every chapter had renegades, traitors who needed purging, but Phocas’ treachery was something else entirely. Formerly the Chapter Master, the man had broken his oaths of loyalty and led fully a third of the chapter to damnation under the name of the Sons of Spite. The treasonous actions had cost the chapter dearly, almost leading to them being declared Excommunicatus, and the Soul Flensers hunted down their fallen leader and his disciples with a zeal that bordered on fanaticism.
And now, he was here. Karsh shuddered involuntarily at the implications. If Phocas was here, then the Astartes would be present in force, and the small garrison would be unable to hold for long. And if Rabenschwartz fell, then the world and its entire populace would be at the cruel mercy of the Chaos invaders.
The nervous energy that had kept Karsh going over the past two days was finally and cruelly drained by the thoughts, and he collapsed on the floor.
* * *
The interior of the Teeth of Ralarq was as bare and spartan as one might expect from an Astartes strike cruiser, and the command bridge was no exception. From orbit, large patches of Cyprian were pock marked with black, like gigantic bruises on the surface of the planet. The command chair turned slowly to reveal an armoured figure.
Admiral Hektor Boltane was tall, even by the indomitable standards of the Imperial Astartes, and the skin of his face was creased with age. He wore a stripped down version of the standard mark VII armour, and he languidly raised a hand and turned in the command chair as a young lieutenant approached, the sensors of his augmetic eyes dilating slightly as he adjusted to the light emerging from the open door, and he gently rubbed his bald scalp with his free hand, feeling the defined ridges and scars that marked him as a veteran warrior.
The officer at the door inclined his head at his commander and spoke. His words had a soft edge to them, as if he were speaking to a small child, and the affectation irritated Boltane.
“My lord Admiral, the Master of Astropathy Vibian Cairl requests an audience.”
So that’s where the pup had come from. So like that pompous ass Cairl to approach him through the most formal of channels. He was sure the Master of Astropathy only did it to annoy him.
“Tell him he may find me here if he wants to speak to me.”
“That will not be necessary,” came a voice from the rear of the chamber, and Boltane cursed as he recognised Cairl’s superior tone. The man was a complete fool, and Throne knew what he was doing on a ship like the Teeth. The man wasn’t even a telepath himself. Nepotism carried men so far now, Boltane sighed inwardly.
Cairl strode arrogantly across the chamber, left hand on his hip and his face drawn into a haughty expression. His blue eyes blazed with cold intensity.
“You may speak, Cairl,” Boltane prompted him.
“Indeed, my lord. An astrotelepathic message has been received from a neighbouring system. It is quite weak, but it appears to be a plea for help.” The Master’s voice was boorish, as if the detail was below him.
Boltane bit back a sharp retort.
“Master, do you have any idea how many hopeless requests for aid we receive over the duration of a campaign? If I answered every one of those calls then we would be dead many times over, and we would have achieved nothing by our sacrifice.”
“If my lord will let me continue, I was going to say that the world in question is a chapter hold.”
“Repeat that,” he instructed.
“I said that the world in question is one of ours, sir. Corrun is its name, I believe, sir.”
Corrun. Boltane thought for a moment as he recalled the nature of the planet.
“Corrun,” he mused, “we’ve got a garrison there haven’t we?” he asked ASQI, the ship system AI. Although supposedly banned by ancient laws, AIs were still in use on a number of ships predating the Imperium, the Teeth among them.
“That is correct, sir. The chapter maintains a fortress by the name of Rabenschwartz on the world,” the computer answered solemnly.
“The stuff you know, eh, ASQI? Still, can’t hurt to have a look. What’s the nature of the threat recorded?” he asked, turning once more to the intolerable Master of Astropathy. The man greedily accepted the scrap thrown to him.
“This is, I believe, the part you may find interesting, sir. I have reason to believe that the Sons of Spite are on Corrun.”
Boltane growled angrily at the mention of the traitors, the sole blemish on the otherwise exemplary record of the chapter. Suppressing the storm of emotions and hormones released by his displeasure, he addressed ASQI once more.
“What does protocol state?” he asked impatiently. ‘Protocol’ was the name applied to the series of regulations laid down after the heretical actions of their last chapter master. In order that one man should not hold complete authority over the chapter, the masters of the chapter met regularly in order to make important decisions and alterations to chapter organisation.
“The masters of the chapter voted on the issue two centuries ago. If a chapter world is threatened, all available chapter forces in the vicinity are ordered to reroute immediately to provide aid,” replied the AI sourly, anticipating the reaction to its words.
Boltane swore violently. Brother-Captain Terrenis would not be pleased at having to end his campaign early, but the protocol was an unbreakable code of conduct and as such it would be unthinkable to ignore the request.
“I shall inform the commander. In the meantime, prepare to fire the warp drives.”
* * *
Captain Terrenis sat in the strategium of a new temporary structure commissioned by the guard forces in honour of his actions early in the campaign and at Ferrosk. He was not fond of the building, which bore little resemblance to the majestic spires and elegant domes of the world he had once called home, but it sufficed and in truth he was grateful for the gesture, which clearly indicated that he had the support of other imperial organisations on-world.
The room, with its grey rockrete walls and complicated hololithic tac-displays, had little in common with Astartes command centres, and reminded Terrenis of the Cadian outposts he had seen while serving with the Deathwatch.
He looked up expectantly as the communications-array mounted on the south wall crackled harshly and moments later the voice of Admiral Hektor Boltane came through the vox.
“Captain Terrenis, Captain Terrenis, this is the Teeth of Ralarq, I repeat, the Teeth of Ralarq. Do you copy?”
“Transmission received, Admiral. What in the Emperor’s name is going on?”
Boltane winced. The commander and he had been friends for decades, and rare was the occasion on which Terrenis would address him by his rank and not his name. He cleared his throat before flicking the powerful ship system onto send.
“We have new mission directives. A chapter world is under attack and we are to intervene, sir.”
“Where is this world, Admiral?” he asked irritably.
“It is but two systems from here, to the galactic south of the Hyparabes nebula, sir. I believe its name is Corrun.”
“Copy, Admiral. Did you just say Corrun?”
“Affirmative, Captain. Why-”
Terrenis cut him off.
“Duly withdrawing. Tell the techmarines to ready the Thunderhawks.”
* * *
The world of Corrun was not unknown to Terrenis. The world, the site of an ancient chapter relic, had witnessed the action which had seen Terrenis promotion to Brother-Captain, and to this day he mourned the loss of his friend and mentor Artax Kleomenes, the former captain of Second, who had bled his last defending the chapter fortress on the world. It had been his heroic example that had driven Terrenis to lead from the front in the way that he did, and he was damned if he’d see Kleomenes’ final resting place defiled. He rose from the cold chamber and strode through the passages, a new urgency present in his step as he called his sergeants to him to relay orders down the chain of command. Making a quick prayer of thanks to the Emperor that he was in a position to defend the world; he set about the task of extraction.
* * *
The news of the withdrawal of the Astartes from the system was ill received by the guard forces who had so recently praised them, but if Terrenis was aware of the contempt of the generals he did not show it in the days leading up to the extraction. Boltane was surprised at the dedication Terrenis gave to the extraction process, a role the captain would not normally relish.
He had been told of his commander's history on Corrun by Cadmus, and in truth he did not blame Terrenis for acting the way he did. He remembered the days in his youth in which he had fought to avenge the sergeant who had inducted him into the chapter, and knew that he had been every bit as focussed on his vengeance as Terrenis was.
His thought process was interrupted as Mortis approached.
"Greetings, Chaplain," he smiled, the corners of his mouth creasing into a smile at the reassuringly familiar sight of the skull-mask. The chaplain inclined his head slightly to acknowledge the greeting. Like many of his calling, Mortis was a taciturn man when not performing his duties, yet he exuded faith and confidence.
"Where is the Captain?" Boltane asked, and was rewarded as the chaplain answered verbally this time.
"He's in the practice run with Cadmus and the command squad. Said he needed to get his eye in again."
Boltane cursed. That was the other thing. Convinced that he must devote every spare moment to additional training, Terrenis had spent more and more of his time in the cages. Sighing heavily, Boltane turned once more in the command chair and activated the plasma drives.
* * *
Terrenis broke into a run as he saw a target servitor, its chest clad in bulky ablative plating, cycled the autoloader on the heavy bolter that replaced its left arm. Firing from the hip, he unleashed a trio of shots that shattered the armour plating of his target and the servitor collapsed on the floor, and Terrenis spun on heel as another servitor bolted from behind a crate and raked the hall with autofire. Rolling to evade the powerful volley, Terrenis flicked his weapon to full auto and let rip at his foe, blasting it backwards into the adamantium bulkhead behind it. To his rear, Terrenis heard Cadmus leading Brothers Flavius and Pykon to support him.
An automatic weapons emplacement clunked noisily, and Terrenis was forced to dive for cover as a hail of heavy calibre rounds burst from the twin muzzles of the heavy stubber. His torso was stitched by tracer rounds, but the shots pattered off the Aquila emblazoned on his chestplate, casting chips of gold paint into the air.
The atmosphere in the practise run was humid and cloying, and ancient climate controllers drenched the Astartes with torrential rain. Terrenis snatched a krak grenade from his dispenser and tore the pin out with his teeth before hurling it over the crate which sheltered him. There was a half-second burst of gunfire before an explosion engulfed the emplacement and hurled the burning fragments of the guns into the air.
Signing to Cadmus to follow his lead, Terrenis burst from behind the crate, dropping a pair of servitors with headshots. Cadmus tracked a target through the air, and his bolter barked as he blasted the thrusters from a gun-probe darting across the chamber. There was a roaring sound as Flavius purged a corridor to the left with a sheet of burning promethium, and two more servitors fell. Almost there.
A warning rune suddenly flared red on Terrenis’ motion sensor, and he turned in time to see a hulking servitor with a shock maul slam the weapon downwards, denting the steel plating of the floor. Terrenis raised his bolter to blast the combat servitor aside, but his opening rounds went wide and before he could adjust his aim the weapon clicked to indicate that the magazine was empty. Letting the weapon fall on its shoulder harness, he danced to evade another blow and swept his power sword from its sheath and pressed the activation rune. The blade flared to life and he blocked the next stroke and hammered his free hand into the servitor’s head, severing the nerve signals to the brain. The servitor went limp and fell to the floor, and Terrenis motioned for Cadmus to follow, loading a fresh sickle magazine into his bolter. He turned the corner and gunned down four more targets, dodging the blades that swung from the ceiling as it thrust at his unprotected face. He then watched as Pykon slammed his crackling power fist into the last.
Terrenis checked the timer on his visor. Two minutes thirteen. The whole affair had been over inside two and a quarter minutes, and Terrenis panted heavily before turning to Cadmus.
“Not bad, brother. Perhaps we’ll break the two-minute barrier,” he smiled. Cadmus smiled warmly and nodded to the servitors raising themselves to their feet and slowly withdrawing into the wings where they would auto repair.
“I think we’ll have to wait a while for that attempt, sir, given the damage we’ve done to the cages. Trajan will be furious.” Trajan was the senior techmarine attached to Terrenis’ command, and had been enraged by the captain’s use of explosives in the run over the past days. Terrenis looked back at the run, realising that his equerry was right. The place had been torn apart by the volleys of bolter fire, and several gun turrets were missing, blasted wide open by grenades.
The place looked like the battlefields it simulated, and the damage to the facility would put it out of action over the next few days as Trajan and the other techmarines tended to the machine spirits within the compound. He cursed his decision to let the servitors use live ammo as he saw rows of logic engines punctured by heavy calibre shells, their delicate circuitry visible behind charred casings. The other members of the command squad emerged from the blasted cages, and Pykon greeted them with a grin. None of them were completely unscathed, their armour battered and dented, but the veteran warriors exchanged good-natured banter and casual insults to each other’s skill as they spoke. These were the elite of Second company, and Terrenis had made it clear from the moment that he had taken up the post that any man under his command could enter the ranks of the command squad should they prove themselves worthy, leading to fierce battlefield competition and friendly rivalry amongst the men.
The veterans slowly filed out of the chamber, leaving Cadmus alone with his commander.
“You alright sir?” he questioned gently, sitting down beside Terrenis.
“Aye, brother. I just wonder if what Trajan says doesn’t have at least an element of truth in it.”
“What does Trajan say?” Cadmus asked, but Terrenis cut him off.
“Quiet, friend. I am not so focussed on my task that I am oblivious to the claims that my judgement has become… unsound. Because I have never before left a world before my work there is completed before, they feel that my choice to do so now has been somehow coloured by my grief for Kleomenes.” He looked intently into his friend’s eyes and continued.
“But despite what is said, this was not the case. I loved Kleomenes as a father, but I will not sully his name through needless grief. He died well and in the line of duty, and a better death I cannot imagine. No, I left the fight for other reasons.”
He paused for a moment.
“What do you remember of Granica?” he asked.
Cadmus was taken aback by the question.
“Not much, sir- just snatches and images from my childhood really. I was one of the last initiates to join the company before the invasion, and I never got the chance to return. I remember that it was a wondrous place, ordered and civilised, but little else beyond that.”
“Aye, that it was. I was there, the day she fell. Captain Asticus himself commanded the garrison and I was a young sergeant at the time. He ordered me to leave the world. It still pains me that – that I had to leave my homeworld to die.”
His voice was soft, and Cadmus was unsure of what to say as Terrenis continued.
“Of course, Asticus saved my life with that order – without it I would have fallen too – but I have no desire to see another world burn because I left her to die. And that, I think is my point, friend, for I do have one. I will not damn another chapter world based on simple pride and a desire for glory, no matter how pernicious the foe. And that, my brother, is why I left Cyprian.”
* * *
Resplendent in his crimson battle-plate, Lord-Champion Kinaos of the Sons of Spite was a terrible figure to behold. The flesh of his face was greyed and pallid, and he wore a permanent and mocking smile that revealed cruelly pointed and yellowed teeth jutting from decaying gums. His eyes burned red with baleful light, and his armour was battered and dented, but Kinaos wore them as marks of pride. The vile sigils of the blood god emblazoned on his armour glowed red-gold in anticipation of bloodletting. He bore a vicious spiked power maul, and a chain-axe was slung across his back.
Lord Phocas curled his lip in disdain of the crudity of the armaments his subordinate bore. He felt his ire rise at the boorish nature of the man, and was glad that his skull-masked helmet visor hid the expression from his face.
The ground shook beneath the black marble shrine in which Phocas had made his headquarters, casting a ritual blood-bowl off a shelf. It shattered on the cold stone of the floor in front of Kinaos’ boot, washing it with its scarlet contents. Phocas ignored it and strode to the window, snatching up his plasma pistol as he did so. Growling at the sudden movement, Kinaos followed him.
In the distance, specks of orange and yellow marked the earth-shaking detonations of the artillery shells the besieging forces ceaselessly bombarded the corpse-god’s followers with. Phocas smiled and reached for the long range vox unit mounted on the servo-harness he wore. The time had come for an assault.
* * *
The jarring detonations of heavy mortar shells were deafening in the close confines of the Astartes bunkers beneath Rabenschwartz, and Karsh cursed as a surface explosion shook a clod of earth from the ceiling, showering him with stones and soil. He stumbled and fell, but his fall was arrested from behind as the strong arms of Colonel Loret hauled him to his feet.
“Are you alright sir?” questioned Loret, concerned as he saw how pale and drawn the governor’s face was. It had taken the skills of Apothecary Nero to heal Karsh when he had collapsed before, and Loret was aware of the damaging effect it would have on morale were his lord to show weakness once more.
“I’m fine, Loret,” replied Karsh. His voice was weary, but had a defiant edge of steel to it. Loret smiled, relieved. Karsh turned and descended a flight of steps into the lowest chambers of the fortress, leaving Loret alone with his officers. Loret began to follow him, when he stopped in his tracks.
Something was wrong.
It took a moment for him to register what was going on, and then it settled upon him with an awful finality.
The guns had gone silent, and that could mean only one thing.
Pulling a laspistol from his belt, Severin Loret stepped out of the shelter into the light of what could be his last day.
* * *
Brother-Sergeant Comemnus snatched a bolter from the armaments rack as he heard the baying masses of cultists hurl themselves forward at the fortress. Slamming home a fresh sickle magazine into his weapon and checking his grenade dispenser, he bellowed for his squad to follow him as he ran towards the walls. A shrieking mortar shell came hurtling earthwards to detonate against the ramparts, showering Comemnus with white hot shrapnel, and he snapped off a pair of unerringly accurate bolter rounds that caught a cultist full in the chest. The man doubled over, clutching at the shattered ruin of his chest, but Comemnus and his men were already moving on, weapons picking off attackers with lethal precision. A cultist vaulted the walls, and Comemnus slammed his adamantium boot into the man’s face. Suddenly, Brother Tarost was beside him, heavy bolter chattering as it sprayed the attackers with fist-sized bolts. There was no need to aim; the attackers were so numerous that every bolt found a target anyway. The roar of the heavy weapon drowned out the sounds of the innumerable foes beyond the walls momentarily, before the noise of the mortals below rose in intensity once more.
It was for firefights like this that the Astartes had been forged, Comemnus thought, hopeless battles against the encroaching tide of foes, where the bolters each brother bore could kill hundreds of men with precise volleys like a storm of reactive anti-personnel shells. Together, the squad moved with a perfect unity that went beyond mere teamwork or even parade ground manoeuvre, each brother so perfectly attuned to the needs of his fellows that he instinctively acted to complement his strengths. Comemnus gave a command over the vox, and together the Astartes moved away to purge other areas.
The cultists were gathering in a series of spearheads now, the gigantic formations pressing forwards against the defensive ramparts. Comemnus loosed another trio of shots before the weapon gave a sharp click as the hammer came down on an empty chamber. Letting the weapon fall on its shoulder strap, he swept out his chainsword and a bolt pistol and tore through the tides of humanity. He killed without thought or remorse, unthinking in his battlefield reflex. In another foe, he might have found himself admiring their resolve to stand before their gene-enhanced opponents, but the heretical fanaticism that bred such courage merely disgusted him. He swept the chainsword around to flense another opponent and blocked a blade with his arm, spinning to catch his opponents off guard and slam them off the edge. Using his moments respite, he risked a glance across the defences. Everywhere the defences were holding, and he was about to turn back towards the fight when he saw a streak of bronze armour flash before him and into the heart of the Imperial defences, slamming into the robed figure of Severin Loret and sending him crashing to the ground.
Cursing loudly over the vox, Comemnus broke into a sprint.
Along the walls, PDF troops were scrambling into position now, but it was the strength of the Astartes that held the line. Loret was astounded at the sublime skill of these warriors; he had heard of the prowess of the Emperor’s finest, yet to see them in action was to know that the reports did not even approach the truth. The wrath of the Astartes was a controlled and terrible thing, and now that he saw these superhuman heroes at work Loret was not sure that he liked them. There was something terrifying about the way in which they killed, fighting as tools rather than as men.
But for all their martial perfection, Loret could see that even they could not hold the line alone forever.
With a roar of defiance, he ran forwards from the bunker and fired blindly into the cultists below. Comemnus and his men had moved on by now, but PDF troops had now taken up the position and repelled the foe with disciplined volleys of searing lasfire. A defender fell, struck by a solid slug from an autorifle, but his place was swiftly filled by another. Along the wall, a heavy stubber stuttered into life, cutting deep into the midst of the enemy. Perhaps this assault would not be such as challenge after all, mused Loret inwardly. The foe, for all their numbers, did not have the strength to take the fortress.
Suddenly, he staggered backwards and fell, stunned, as a massive object slammed him to the ground. He swore as he felt his ribs crack beneath the impact, causing pain to lance across his chest in a wave of agony, and he turned his head to look at what had struck him. He painfully began to draw himself to his feet when he noticed that the weapons of the defenders had fallen silent He looked about, trying to determine what had happened.
It was then that he saw it.
Huge, and clad in power armour the colour of brass, the figure was a vile parody of the Astartes whose skill he had been admiring moments before. It wore a faceplate fashioned to resemble a leering skull, and it bore a pair of claws instead of hands that crackled with barely-contained energies. On its back was a massive thrusters unit with a pair of ornamental bat wings affixed to the sides, like dark reminders of a child’s nightmare.
But however terrible its appearance, that was not what frightened Loret the most. What scared Loret was the sound that emerged from the crude voxponder attached to its helm.
It was laughing.
Laughing. It was not exultant in the moment of the kill, nor was it indifferent like Comemnus. Somehow, this creature, this thing – for he could not consider it as a man – found the action of killing to be amusing. Unintentionally Loret soiled himself, hot piss running down the inside of his leg. He didn’t care. He just wanted to be away from that thing, to escape the reality that he was going to die.
The Raptor advanced towards him, a slow, purposeful crawl, as if it understood his fear and as a final cruel insult intended to prolong his moment of terror for as long as it could.
Summoning all of his remaining strength of will, Loret closed his eyes and waited for the killing stroke that must surely follow.
It never came. There was a loud, hard bang, and the Raptor collapsed, his skull-him fractured by the impact of a bolt shell. A second bang, and Loret was showered with a fountain of gore and skull fragments.
Sergeant Comemnus stood over him.
“Th-thank you, Brother-Sergeant,” he stammered, “without your intervention, I would surely be-”
The Space Marine cut him off.
“Think nothing of it, Colonel. I did what my duty dictated I must do. I would suggest that you do the same.”
Translation out of the warp was never a particularly smooth affair, but the reception received by the Teeth of Ralarq as it exited the immaterium was decidedly rougher than Boltane had expected. Warning klaxons blared across the ancient vessel as she materialised in real space, the residual ribbons of coruscating warp energy washing off her sleek hull like water before the bow of one of the piratical longships that had once haunted the oceans of Granica. The entire ship shuddered as if struck as she unexpectedly entered the gravitational field of another object. Her superstructure screeched in protest at the rough treatment.
For contrary to the assessments and hazy system scans provided by Cairl, they were not alone over Corrun.
The other ship was massive and blocky where the Teeth was streamlined and beautiful, its design standardised and ugly. Like the Teeth, she was the colour of the night, but unlike the Teeth, she wore the colour as a mockery rather than as a badge of allegiance. Along her flanks bristled lance batteries, jutting into the abyss like lethal spines. Her prow was heavy and armoured, and on it the eight-pointed star of Chaos was emblazoned onto the leering face of a vast brass gargoyle, the only embellishment upon the ship. Boltane watched the vis-screens helplessly as the monstrous craft turned to face them.
“What in the Emperor’s name is going on Admiral?” demanded Chaplain Mortis, lurching in through the bridge entrance as the ship shook once more. “We were not expecting significant resistance from orbit, so what the hell is that thing doing?”
“I’m not sure, Chaplain. I am sorry that our data appears to have been incorrect, but-”
Mortis cut him off.
“Appears? It’s a damn sight more than that, Admiral. Someone has made mistakes, and I think we both know who it is. Cairl has miscalculated once too many times. I think it’s time to deal with him.”
“No.” Boltane’s reply was calm and considered, but his face was a steely mask. “Now is not the time. Cairl has made mistakes – Throne knows the man is an incompetent fool at the best of times – but I think that we all have more important things to do in the short term than discipline those under our command. We’ve hit resistance. We must deal with that before we go about recriminations. You may outrank me Mortis, but this remains my ship and I’ll be damned if I’ll see her destroyed because your choler was up. Is that clear, Chaplain?”
Mortis reeled as if struck, but swiftly regained his composure. His reply was uncharacteristically softly spoken.
“You are right of course, Brother. We have a war to prosecute. Perhaps it is time I brought myself to remember that fact before I consider punishment.”
“What is the situation, Admiral?” questioned Terrenis, joining them on the bridge.
Boltane pivoted in his command throne before tapping at a hololithic keyboard in front of his face. Instantly a series of tac-readings appeared around the warriors.
“We have translated into the midst of the enemy. This is the only vessel in range at present,” he said, motioning the massive craft firing upon them as its lance batteries glowed red with the energy required to fire upon the Teeth, “but energy readings from the external scanners suggest that there is a sizable enemy fleet in orbit around Corrun, including a number of hostile Astartes craft in attack formation.”
"Traitors then," growled Terrenis, “is there any chance that the formation is the result of their previous engagements with the Navy.”
“I fear not Captain. For an attack spread like this, there is only one possibility. They knew we were coming.”
A battle in the abyss of space is a slow and beautiful dance, and the art to fighting in this type of war was one Boltane was adept at. Terrenis and Mortis had since left to prepare the company for the potential of boarding action, leaving Boltane alone with his mortal officers once more. Cursing to himself, he flicked the switch on the hololithic dashboard displayed in front of him to fully activate ASQI. The console before him hummed momentarily as it processed the request. A message popped before his eyes in glaring, official letters demanding authorisation, which he duly provided. The Teeth was an ancient ship, but the safeguards that protected her systems were no less stringent than on younger vessels.
“Admiral?” questioned ASQI as a vid-screen in front of Boltane flickered to life. “We appear to be surrounded by a hostile fleet, odds of survival one-hundred and sixty-nine to o-”
Boltane cut off the AI.
“We’ve got a situation ASQI, and I need you to move fast. I want shields and weapons fire optimised, the power stripped from the warp drives as we exited the empyrean should suffice. Then, I want to turn the ship hard to starboard, firing once we cut across that ship’s prow, understood?”
He didn’t wait for the reply from the AI before keying in the override on the console in order to alter the attack vector of the vessel. They were outnumbered, yes, but Boltane had commanded the Teeth for nigh on two centuries and understood her systems and capabilities better than any man alive. In his hands, every system aboard the ship was a weapon, and he was damned if he’d let her be taken from him by these whelps.
Runes flashed red before him as several ships from the enemy fleet emerged on the targeting auspices of the Teeth, but Boltane ignored them for the time being. The vessel before them was the immediate threat.
As if realising what Boltane was attempting to do, the blocky Chaos warship began to turn also, lance batteries firing hugely powerful beams of energy into space in an elegant web of crossed threads, but the shots were made in desperation and it was clear from the vis-screens that most were well wide of their mark, and the remainder wasted their strength against the Teeth’s void shields when they reached their target minutes later. The Teeth slowly circled its more cumbersome opponent, and Boltane waited patiently until the Teeth had a clean shot up the length of the enemy ship before activating the ship-wide vox system and calmly giving the order that would consign the Chaos vessel to oblivion. Finally, he gave it, his voice authoritative.
There was a momentary pause as the amplifier systems across the ship broadcast his voice to the gun crews who waited at their stations.
The firepower of an Astartes strike cruiser was terrible to behold, but the Teeth was something else, a relic of a brighter age in which humanity had still possessed optimism and creativity, and her weapons decks contained weapons of a sophistication and power long lost to the race of man. Brilliant plumes of energy erupted from her broadside and raced across the vast gulf of space between the combatants to rake the enemy vessel, slicing effortlessly though void shields to peel away at the adamantium plating of the hull. The warship lurched, stricken by the fire and attempted to return fire, but Boltane turned once more into the fire, the Teeth far lighter and more responsive than any craft of her size should have been.
From here it was a waiting game. Such was the nature of void warfare: a series of short, fast events followed by a long and slow ballet.
Boltane turned his vessel to bring its broadside to bear on the enemy once more, making the turn this time in little under an hour as the distance between them increased. The gun crews aboard the Teeth fired a second salvo, and when the shots hit home in a dazzling explosion Boltane could clearly see clouds of oxygen and plasma bleeding from the Chaos ship where its hull had been ruptured. Moments later, the vessel exploded as the plasma reactors at its core went critical and flooded the ship with a half-second flash of vapourising energy.
Boltane smiled at the simplicity of the first kill, but even as he celebrated the victory he was starting the protocols that would bring the Teeth to face its newest opponents, a squadron of Astartes frigates bearing heretical livery that Boltane did not recognise, and they were led by a strike cruiser, The Flames of Damnation. The next fight would not be so easy.
As if to confirm this, a young mortal officer – Phelpin, Boltane recalled his name was – called across the bridge to announce that the next phase of the fight had begun.
“Incoming torpedo fire, sir!” he called, his tone possessing a slight air of urgency. “I suggest that we translate once more into the warp while we still can, sir.”
Boltane nodded in response to the shouted warning, but ignored the latter part of the officer’s advice. Sound though it was – under normal circumstances even a vessel such as the Teeth could not fight an entire fleet – retreating and leaving Corrun to its fate was not an option.
“ASQI?” he addressed the AI.
“Yes, Admiral?” ASQI’s voice had taken on a softer quality as it assessed the situation quickly.
“I want the close in defences activated. Get those turrets online.”
The AI hummed its acquiescence, and Boltane turned back to the officer.
“Lieutenant Phelpin.” His words had the tone of command to them, and Phelpin shuffled nervously under the gaze of his superior officer.
“I want you to bring a message to Captain Terrenis, and to Navigator Hespreria. Any minute now I anticipate a boarding action by The Flames of Damnation.”
“Sir, surely we can’t intend to fight a fleet this size-” began the young officer, but Boltane fixed him with a baleful glare to cut him off.
“Gentlemen,” the Admiral addressed the remainder of the bridge crew, “it seems that we have a battle to fight.”
The torpedoes wove their way across the depths of space towards the Teeth like a shoal of ravenous metallic sharks swimming through the void. They flew in a dense cluster of sixty or so warheads, their silver forms reflecting the harsh light of Corrun’s sun.
The defensive batteries of the Teeth opened fire when the torpedoes were approximately a hundred kilometres away; point blank range by the standards of void warfare. The first torpedoes in the salvo exploded in a shower of debris as they were struck by the heavy calibre defensive shells, detonating harmlessly away from their target. The heavy guns f the Teeth’s defences hurled a relentless stream of fire at the incoming warheads, and within moments several of the projectiles were neutralised. Moments more and still more became blazing wreckage.
By the time the warheads hit the void shielding of the Teeth, barely half a dozen of them remained.
But they were still enough to pose a threat.
There was a sudden bloom of flame as the first of the torpedoes hit the Teeth in a flash of thermonuclear light, a tiny speck against the vast flank of the strike cruiser, yet still enough to hurt it. The Teeth’s superstructure groaned like a wounded animal before the onslaught, and several other warheads found their mark in a series of similar explosions, each striking home with the destructive force of a star going supernova.
Boltane felt sharp jolts of pain course up his arms as the neuro-implants linking him to the ship’s machine spirit alerted him to the damage, and one of the junior officers called out in alarm as the ship rocked.
“Shields down to sixty-three percent, sir! The superstructure appears to be intact,” shouted the officer, although the gesture was largely unnecessary for Boltane already knew the scale of the damage done to be less than it might have been.
They’d been fortunate.
The torpedoes had been Venator-class warheads, ship killers with only one purpose.
Boltane’s response was simple as he cut across the advancing line of frigates. The Teeth unleashed a broadside at the rear of the frigate immediately behind the Flames of Damnation. There was a half-second flare of energy as the shield systems protecting the frigate’s plasma engines burst under the sheer weight of fire, followed by a metallic shriek as the vessel’s engines failed and the frigate lurched heavily to one side, drifting helplessly now she was deprived of her engines.
The Teeth powered on past the wounded frigate, preparing to strike a second vessel. A rippling volley erupted from the Teeth’s starboard flank and hammered the oncoming frigate’s prow. The traitorous warship reeled under the impact, listing dangerously to port as she bled vital gases from the gashes in her hull.
But the Teeth had lost the advantage of her attack run, and The Flames of Damnation now prepared to face her, the two cruisers matching each other for size and firepower. The frigates had been a fight, this would be a test.
Slowly, but with sicking certainty, The Flames of Damnation turned to face her attacker, her prow figurehead opening to reveal her primary weapon.
The Nova cannon was a huge and ugly weapon, its barrel squat and heavy, and it was seldom used because of the impracticality of its firing procedures. Nonetheless, in situations like this it was deadly.
It fired, the entire ship shuddering under the massive recoil of the weapon.
The massive projectile sped through the void between the two vessels, striking the Teeth amidships and imploding with huge force. The hole punched in the shielding of the Teeth was enormous, and entire layers of the external armour plating had been simply vaporised under the impact.
Boltane felt the pain and fury of the venerable machine spirit of the Teeth, felt its anger at the way in which she was being assaulted. But he also found another truth hidden in the recesses of machine spirit’s consciousness, a truth that the machine spirit itself had remained unaware of until now.
For The Flames of Damnation was not the enemy vessel’s original or true name, and in that instant Boltane became aware of what that ship had once been.
It was once one of theirs.
Before changing their allegiance, the crew of The Flames had once called their vessel the Fury of Granica.
Looking over the frigates before him, Boltane realised that each and every one of them was once a part of the Soul Flensers’ fleet.
The presence of such a force could mean only one thing.
The Sons of Spite were on Corrun.
“Tell Captain Terrenis that we’re facing the-” began Boltane, but even as he spoke he saw why the enemy vessel was not firing on them any longer.
For in the void, gleaming bright and silver, were hundreds of boarding torpedoes.
The structure of the Teeth shuddered and groaned beneath the onslaught, and Terrenis was nearly thrown from his feet as the steel mesh flooring rocked dangerously under the impact. He steadied himself and offered his hand to Cadmus, who was stood beside him along with the other members of the command squad.
"That sounds bad," commented the equerry, retrieving his bolter from where it had skidded across the deck and gently racking the slide to ensure it had not been damaged.
"Aye," agreed Terrenis, "but Hektor knows what he's doing. It's just a waiting game; either we board them or they board us."
"That's what worries me," admitted Cadmus, "I can't abide this endless waiting and the sheer helplessness of it all. I was not made for void warfare."
There were murmurs of agreement that showed that the sentiment was shared by the others in the squad, and Terrenis well understood their resentment of the fight. The Astartes were godlike in their power and strength, and the feeling of powerlessness was one they were neither familiar with nor wanted to be.
"Me neither," said Terrenis heavily, "but I believe the waiting will be over soon. And then we shall show these traitors that there is strength left in the Imperium."
Pykon glanced out of the viewing port and then turned back to face his Captain with an amused expression on his face. He activated his power fist before speaking.
"Looks like you were right, Captain. They're coming."
The impact of a boarding torpedo upon the hull of a warship is a terrible thing, and across the Teeth the sound reverberated like a peal of angry thunder. The first menials aboard the ship in the loading bay near the site of the collision were instantly shredded as the boarding vessels hurled a stream of lethal shrapnel at them from sophisticated assault pods, and from those torpedoes that had not been destroyed by the impact emerged massive figures clad in crimson power armour the colour of gore. The Sons of Spite boarding parties fought with a precision and discipline uncommon amongst the forces of Chaos. These were Lord Phocas' Kingslayers, the elite veterans who had chosen to follow their leader into damnation, and they were fearsome to behold. Mortal defenders attempted to resist, and lasrounds and heavy calibre autorounds pierced the smoke and chaotic destruction, but they pattered harmlessly off reinforced chestplates, and the firers were swiftly silenced by flurries of bolt shells that detonated in and around the makeshift defensive positions. Assault-Captain Daiernen of sixth squad smiled cruelly as he flensed the last remaining crewman in the loading bay with his chainblade, spattering his armour with gore and entrails. He savoured the look of surprise on the man's face as he came to terms with his death, his face contorted with agony, before then opening the comms channel in the skull-helm he had takern from a fallen chaplain.
"Daiernen to Champion Khjorl. We're in."
Sergeant Veronus cursed and fired a short burst of bolter fire into the smoke billowing from the hole the boarders had gouged in the loading bay wall, the bright muzzle flash creating an area of light in the darkness and smoke. Visibility was poor in this place, even for the genhanced Astartes warriors, but he could faintly make out the outlines of several figures in crimson plate armour, and their hostility was confirmed as a volley of armour piercing shells whistled towards the position the remnants of his squad now occupied. One of the rounds struck his helmet in the centre, cracking the reinforced ceramite and shattering the red glass of his lenses. He ripped the useless helm from his head and cast it aside before tasting the air. The oxygen in the room tasted artificial and recycled, as usual, but there was a certain thinness to the air that betrayed the fact that the hole in the hull made by the boarding torpedo was now bleeding oxygen into space. He spat on the floor, his acidic saliva making a faint hissing sound as it ate into the metallic flooring. Another fusillade, this time from their left, confirmed the fact that Veronus had only hitherto suspected: they were heavily outnumbered. He attempted to access the long-range vox channels over his armour link, but the link was dead, its delicate internal circuitry fried by the EMP generated by the atomic charges the torpedo had used to gain entry. A quick look at his surviving squadmates confirmed that the story was the same for them. They’d have to make do with intersquad vox. He swore again before casting his eyes quickly across the three members of Squad Veronus who had survived the initial onslaught before pulling Brother Tsarius close. Although he hated giving the order for the young initiate to leave them, it was vital that Terrenis should learn of their failure. The word grated against his every instinct, but he suppressed his frustration and spoke softly to Tsarius.
"Brother? The odds are too great for us here. Terrenis needs to be alerted, the rear quarters of the ship must not fall. Rasian and I will hold the accursed traitors as long as we can."
Tsarius looked unhappy at the order, his desire to make a share in his Sergeant's defiant stand evident, but he understood the situation and simply nodded his acceptance.
"Good luck sir. You will be remembered."
"Emperor go with you, Brother Tsarius. Do us honour."
Veronus gestured to Brother Rasian, the squad's plasma gunner, and Rasian nodded to acknowledge this. Veronus waited for a moment as another volley tore chunks out of the wall behind him and burst out from behind the bulkhead, firing his weapon on full auto. He saw one of the red armoured figures stagger and fall as his shells ripped away at the layers of ceramite and artificial musculature of his target's power armour. An unbearably bright streak of blue plasma flew from the muzzle of Rasian's weapon behind him, and it struck a second foe, the traitor marine's torso dissolving instantly as the bolt of energy struck home. Veronus caught a movement out the corner of his eye and fired on a warrior in half-plate running towards Tsarius as the young Astartes made his escape through the sole intact blast door. Veronus sighed in relief as he saw the doors close behind Tsarius, guaranteeing his escape. His sacrifice would not be in vain.
The foe were moving in more quickly now, as if realising how few the defenders were, and Veronus moved to accommodate Rasian as the gene-bulked warrior pulled up beside him. The plasma gunner's armour was rent and torn, large gouges torn in it showing the damage the sustained bolter fire was inflicting upon the warrior. Blood flowed freely from his wounds as even the Larraman cells in his bloodstream failed to clot the blood sufficiently quickly. Stimm-dispensers in the armour fought to keep the pain under control, but Rasian was visibly dying, and Veronus knew that he himself could not be in a much better state. A frag missile slammed into the bulkhead, showering Veronus with shrapnel and inflicting several fresh cuts on his unprotected head, but Rasian fared worse and was thrown to the ground by the impact, his breastplate ripped away and his breathing shallow as he desperately fought for breath. Veronus moved carefully over to the fallen warrior.
"S-Sorry sir. I did my best."
"As did we all, Rasian. We did our duty. You can go without shame."
Rasian's features betrayed a relief at the words, but he still had more to say, fighting desperately to gain sufficient air from collapsing lungs.
"Don't let them take me alive sir. I don't want my geneseed to serve these traitorous dogs." The words were faint, barely more than a whisper, and the effort required to speak them was evident.
"Fear not, Brother," answered Veronus, another missile detonating nearby. He drew his combat knife and spoke one last time to his brother.
"Go with honour, Brother," he whispered, and slid the blade up to its hilt below Rasian's jaw in a mercy stroke. The warrior's body convulsed as Rasian finally died.
Tsarius heard Rasian’s last words over his armour’s vox link and felt a wave of sorrow wash ove him at the death of yet another of his brothers. He suppressed the emotion, seeing it for the inconvenience that it was, and he broke into a sprint as he turned into a corridor damaged in the naval duel with the enemy cruiser, its bare adamantium walls scorched and warped by the force of the bombardments. Pools of blue-green coolant fluid gathered beneath burst pipes leading towards the plasma drives at the heart of the ship. The damage was evidently worse than any of Squad Veronus had realised, but Tsarius had little time to dwell on this new information as a pair of foes emerged further behind him, spraying the corridor with automatic fire from their bolters. The armour piercing shells punched further holes in the weakened walls, atmosphere venting from the room with a silken hiss as further sections of the corridor were punctured. Tsarius jinked to one side to avoid a burst of fire before flicking his own bolter to semi-auto and snapping off a pair of shots behind him, firing from the hip. He didn’t bother checking to see the effect of his fire, but the volume of return fire reduced momentarily, indicating that his fire had at least driven his foes into cover. He took advantage of the opening and ran again, filled with shame at the way in which he fled the men responsible for murdering his brothers but equally understanding the importance of his task. Vengeance could wait, for now at least. Gratified to see that he was no longer being pursued, he opened another set of blast doors and headed for Captain Terrenis’ position as indicated on his visor display. He closed the door behind him, setting it to emergency lock setting, and hoped that his tac display was still functioning correctly. If it was damaged, and Terrenis was not nearby, then with that last action he had effectively stymied his own mission.
He prayed that it was not so.
Veronus lay still next to Rasian, hating the necessary subterfuge as more traitors disembarked from their transport, but grateful for the brief respite in the firefight his apparently prone form provided. His monitors had flatlined, and he was aware that, like Rasian had been, he was slowly dying of the injuries inflicted. It took a lot to put an Astartes down, but the Sergeant had served long enough to know it was far from the impossible task portrayed in civilian propaganda feeds. He winced in pain as the deck shook beneath heavy boots, and heard the unmistakeable sound of Terminator-armoured boots on the floor. Good. Perhaps this action would have some significance to it then.
The newcomer spoke, his voice a harsh bastardisation of Veronus’ own noble Granican accent, and his words clearly bore the weight of a senior commander. Veronus shifted slightly, his hands moving to the case at his side and removing a small, spherical object. He waited for a moment before thumbing the activation rune.
It was precisely twenty-milliseconds later that the loading bay and everything in it was turned to fine ash as the meltabomb detonated, instantly incinerating the traitors still inside their boarding craft, the bulkhead behind which Veronus had hidden, and the corpses of Brother-Sergeant Veronus and his fallen squadmates in a spectacular funeral pyre.
Daiernen screamed his rage as a massive wave of heat washed over him, hurling him against the side of the corridor he had left the loading bay through and scorching the skin beneath his armour where the bolter shells of the fleeing loyalist had clipped him. The wall disintegrated as he hit it, the reinforced metals of its construction turning semi-solid and weak at the exposure to intense heat, and as he landed Daiernen was aware that parts of his own armour had melted. He slowly pulled himself to his feet and reached for his bolter, but immediately discarded the weapon in disgust as he saw that the vast heat from the explosion had fused the barrel closed and warped the magazine holder to the point of uselessness. Instead, he drew his plasma pistol from his belt, hoping that its delicate circuitry had not been harmed, and retrieved a chainsword from a weapons rack in the room he and the two survivors of the Kingslayers now found themselves in, clearly some kind of armoury. Many of the weapons here too had been spoiled, but enough remained for the trio to reequip themselves, grimacing with distaste at the Imperial iconography the weapons bore.
The loss of their supporting troops was a blow, yes, but Daiernen had not risen this far in Kinaos’ favour without the ability to adapt to a situation. He turned to one of the other two survivors, a hulking giant with heavily cracked and damaged armour who bore a crackling power fist and a combi-plasma gun. Daiernen recognised him as Ergolos Bloodreaver, one of Champion Khjorl’s favoured warriors, and for once was glad to have the Khornate warrior beside him. If nothing else, his sheer ferocity would draw attention away from his own task.
"The gods have chosen to make our task that much harder, Bloodreaver," he spoke, forcing an undercurrent of respect into his voice. Not that this barbarian would detect it, he thought bitterly to himself.
Bloodreaver merely grunted in response and regarded him, his dead eyes utterly devoid of emotion. Yes, this one would do well, thought Daiernen.
"In such times, the greatest of us must sometimes take on the least glorious of tasks in order that the gods should not be disappointed. Will you spill blood this day in devotion to our masters?"
The hulking warrior's face showed sudden interest at the mention of bloodshed. He grinned, cracked grey lips peeled back to reveal filed yellow canines.
"Who must die?" he asked, his voice a coarse rasp. Daiernen smiled at the bluntness of the response.
"Our cousins aboard the Teeth consider themselves to be too pure and are too haughty to accept the power of the gods. You must head for the bridge and show them the error of their ways."
The champion of Khorne grinned again, raised his axe in a crude warrior's salute, and broke into a loping run after the lone loyalist who had escaped the loading bay.
"You're a cunning bastard, Daiernen, I'll give you that much."
The words belonged to the other survivor, a warrior clad in armour the colour of midnight.
“Brother Rusek. I will bring fire and thunder to these Imperial lackeys. Will you join me?”
Rusek chuckled for a moment, the sound an incoherent burst, like the cough of a wounded giant from the damaged amplifiers built into his faceplate. He stopped, suddenly serious, and intoned the ritual words.
“Aye, Captain. My hatred runs pure.”
Daiernen nodded. “Then let the Imperium remember this weapon it forged us into and abandoned. Let them remember us, and let them know fear.”
Last edited by Captain Corrigan; November 25th, 2012 at 20:07.
Nothing short of a masterpiece!
I've read and enjoyed every word of it! And that's not easily accomplished when reading from a mobile phone.
I want more! My brain hungers for more reading goodness!
Damnit, I'm never going to get any more of this done if I don't find some motivator...this might help.
Here is the teaser I spoke of a while ago, just to let you know I hadn't abandoned you all...
"Sir, I must protest. We have direct orders from the council to hold this world, and the authorisation to issue Exterminatus should that prove impossible; and to allow non-Granicans to crew our ships would be counter to ancient Chapter doctrine. We cannot contemplate this evacuation, sir. You cannot order us to do this," stated Comemnus. Terrenis's eyes flashed dangerously as he wheeled on his brother.
"Cannot? You forget your place, Sergeant. Last time I checked, I was Captain of Second and not you. Have you forgotten the ideals that Kleomenes stood for? The Imperium is an idea, but not all of us have forgotten what we are, nor why the Emperor forged us like this. We are here to protect humanity, Sergeant, and you would do well to remember it."
He sighed, his anger evaporating as he exhaled. When he spoke again, his voice was altogether softer.
"I am sorry. You are right of course, Brother. I cannot order you to do this thing. But I will ask you nonetheless. Please, do not make me kill this world."
Well I've edited in a tiny update, finally finished that part from Daiernen's perspective (God that was annoying to write, don't know why). Hopefully I'm right in saying you can expect more updates soon.