Well, it was another great year for TGC short fiction! Nick Kyme had the unenviable task of choosing the best from a bumper crop of awesome stories, but we finally got everything sorted and edited and you can now download the finished anthology as a PDF. DOWNLOAD IT HERE
.If you notice any mistakes or omissions in the PDF, please contact us.
Otherwise, here is a list of the featured stories, and a quick rundown of content before each story posted in full. Enjoy!
by Ahriman - Death Guard vs Death GuardProphecy
by Arden Fell - Luna Wolves vs Davinite CultistsAirlocked
by Argent - Imperial NavyDusk Raider 'Til Dawn
by Benedict Arnold - Dusk RaidersEven in Death
by Brother Handro - Thousand Sons vs EldarA Knife in the Dark
by Fingol23 - Night LordsThe Angel's Daemons
by Fulgrim - pre-Unity Blood Angels vs UrshSpeed Kills
by Gagoc the Ancient - Blood Angels vs Dark EldarUnity
by IngoPech - Pan-Pac rebels and Emperor's ChildrenNurma zu Asche
by Lord Caldera - White Scars vs Alpha LegionHere Instead
by Marshal Wilhelm - Iron WarriorsOlympian
by Mortarion - Iron Warriors vs Iron WarriorsThat Other Place
by Pacific - World EatersBefore the Conqueror
by Provost Dylanof - non-Imperial pre-UnityThe Gethsemane Dome
by RandomX - Imperial Fists vs Iron WarriorsCaduceus by Night
by Renlegunvrs - Night Lords vs MechanicumSimulacra
by ShroudFilm - Imperial Army and World EatersThe Sins of the Father
by Titus Pullo - Blood Angels and Imperial ArmyWhite Hot
by Vinnie - White Scars and War HoundsMud and Blood
by Yvraith - Iron Warriors
==========BROKEN BLADESby Joshua Bullock (AKA Ahriman)
HALDUS DIVED INTO cover as a hail of bolter shells impacted around him. He quickly rolled into a crouch, putting up his own boltgun and firing off a few rounds into a figure not more than ten metres away. The large power armoured form sagged slightly as the shells penetrated his battle plate before detonating within.
He heard a cry of pain over the vox and glanced to his right: one of his squad, Strogen, had been peppered with shrapnel from a half-dozen bolter shells and collapsed onto the dry, cracked earth of the trench.
Haldus fired a couple of return shots before dragging Strogen out of the firing line. The man was dead, and Haldus cursed the enemy warriors who had murdered him – the giants were clad in pale off-white power armour. Members of the Death Guard legion, the scions of Mortarion. Until about an hour ago they had been his brethren.
Haldus had also been a Death Guard legionnaire, although he no longer knew quite what he was. Thousands of his fellow Astartes had been sent to their deaths by their traitorous Primarch Mortarion. He, along with the Warmaster Horus, had turned his back on the Emperor of Mankind and had ordered his followers to exterminate all of the surviving loyalists among them. Haldus vowed to make the traitors pay heavily for their betrayal.
The familiar form of Sergeant Thurgan charged from cover towards Haldus’ position, his roared battle cry filling the air between them, and his chainsword ready in anticipation of bloodshed. How can he hate us so, Haldus thought, when mere hours ago we were brothers in arms?
He fired two shots at Thurgan but neither managed to penetrate the traitor’s armour. Haldus flinched as Thurgan reached him, expecting nothing but death, but was saved by Sergeant Danail who decapitated his attacker with a deft stroke of his power sword.
‘Haldus, survey the area!’ Danail shouted, though through the din of battle he struggled to hear him. He simply nodded in response and hunkered down against the side of the trench as he waited for Petoran to move the squad’s autocannon into position. He heard the sharp stuttering bursts as Petoran opened fire, and rose to glance briefly over the parapet: Istvaan’s trench system spread out before him. Bunkers lay at intersections and razorwire covered every inch of the no man’s land between them. He could also see the distant pale armour of the traitor Death Guard as they moved through the trench systems towards them.
The keen whine of engines filled the air, and three large Stormbirds descended through the upper atmosphere, no doubt laden with reinforcements ready to storm the defences and uproot the stubborn loyalists within. They disappeared behind the colossal towering form of the Dies Irae which stood astride the earthworks – the venerable Imperator Titan had yet to recover from the virus-bombing and subsequent firestorm, and Haldus wondered if anyone had even survived within. The air vents were sealed shut and her eyes were dull and lifeless, staring blankly over the ruins of the Precentor Palace.
Petoran dropped back down into the trench with a clatter of spent ammo casings as bolter shells flew past him overhead. The rest of the squad formed up around them.
‘It’s roughly one-twenty metres to the next intersection, sir,’ Haldus reported, ‘But there must be three full companies assaulting the trenches, and more of their Stormbirds are inbound.’
Danail nodded. ‘We need to push forwards and get to a defensible position! Kamen, you’re on point – standard bolter drill, on to the next intersection.’
The squad moved out immediately, stepping cautiously through the trenches with Kamen stalking slightly ahead, searching for snipers amongst the dug-outs and saps with his bolter at the ready.
They managed to reach the intersection without any contact with the Warmaster’s forces, but as they approached the squat rockcrete bunker they saw that their luck had run out: a flurry of movement and a hash of encrypted vox-chatter indicated that the building was already occupied. Kamen shouted a warning and dived behind the plasteel wreck of a gun turret, while the rest of the squad went to ground as the traitors opened fire.
Autocannon and bolter rounds raced towards them, catching Proden as he tried to scramble aside. He fell, his armour pierced by many shots, and the rest of them tried their best to return fire without exposing themselves to a similarly fatal volley.
‘Kohl,’ yelled Danail, ‘Take out that autocannon!’
Setting his plasma gun to maximum power, Kohl took aim at the protruding muzzle of the autocannon and squeezed the trigger. The traitor Astartes at the firing point disappeared in a cloud of super heated plasma and a searing flash of blue light illuminated the trench.
Seizing the initiative, Sergeant Danail and his squad rushed the bunker, each hurling a single grenade through the narrow viewports before bracing themselves with their backs to the outer wall. The occupants of the bunker had had no chance to prepare for the sudden attack: the same tactic had been used to oust the Istvaanian defenders from the same bunkers just a short time before. Haldus had never imagined that the same tactic would be required against members of his own legion, but nonetheless a series of clipped detonations from within signalled that their assault had succeeded.
They rose carefully and cautiously from cover, making their way slowly towards the bunker’s entry point and scanning for signs of movement within. Danail moved round to the reinforced plasteel door which had been ripped right out of its frame, and saw that no one had survived.
Before he could order his men inside, a loud low humming rippled through the air, startling the Astartes and vibrating through the earth around them. They looked up as the Dies Irae’s eyes filled with a sickly green light and the mighty war machine’s reactor fired up. Slowly, she began to move once again.
Thoroughly relieved, Haldus heard the rest of squad cheering through his vox-bead, and a hint of a smile played across his face as the Titan began to sweep the defences for targets.
None of them could have known that they would be among the first.
==========PROPHECYby Michael Strathearn (AKA Arden Fell)
THE BOLTER HISSED as the drizzle swirled around the glowing barrel. Silence slowly returned to the grey morning light as the last cracks of gunfire echoed around the valley. The battle had been swift and pointless; like all the other battles in this campaign. The clans stood no chance with their inferior armour and weaponry.
‘If only they weren’t so stubborn,’ he thought to himself, remembering the hive gangs of his youth, ‘We are so alike.’
The warrior of the Emperor’s XVIth Legion looked out over the corpses of the fallen. This was the fifth civilisation he had seen brought to compliance on this expedition. To ignore the word of the Emperor was to know death.
He sighed, wiping his forehead to remove the veil of sweat and drizzle which had accumulated on his ageing skin. He had forgone the wearing of his helmet in this battle as a mark of respect to his foes, and the refreshing sheen of moisture was his reward. Caught up in the sensation, he was suddenly startled by a croaking voice behind him.
‘Your time is over, grey one…’
It came from a particular mound of bloody ragged clothing and body parts a few feet away from him. His training had kicked in automatically, his bolter brought to bear on the speaker without conscious thought and his finger tense on the trigger. The unseen speaker continued haltingly.
‘All that you have worked for… shall be in vain. Your Empire shall crumble. You shall be betrayed… by your own, and your honour shall be… lost for all time…’
The white-armoured Astartes approached the slaughter heap cautiously, prodding at the scorched and torn corpses with his boot. Through the shreds of red stained hessian and bronze armour plates, a body twitched and coughed. Its head rolled back to reveal a face, barely recognisable as human through the crusted blood and swollen features. The eyes rolled open, fixing the dominant warrior with a look of silent rebuke and cold hatred. It was as if he represented every man the Astartes had ever slain in the name of the Emperor.
The fallen figure was racked by a bloody fit of coughing, yet all the time his cold green eyes remained upon his foe. When the coughing subsided he drew a shallow wet rasping breath.
‘Your warrior-prince will return to our temple. His whimpering minions will beg for his life, but my masters will laugh,’ the man began to chuckle as he regained some strength, ‘But you shall not see it, grey one. You shall be lost by then on a fool’s errand.’
The warrior snorted. ‘Your weak words do not impress nor concern me, seer.’
Laughter turned to deep hacking coughs, and more red foam fell from the wounded man’s lips.
‘Oh, but they will, Grim Lear of Cthonia. Mark my words: before the end of your Great Crusade, the greed of your king shall be his downfall. Brother will fall upon brother and the father will slay his sons. As your armies befo-’
Grim reversed his grip on his humming power sword and plunged it deep into the throat of the psyker, cutting the last words from his lips. A shiver ran through the company captain at the thought of this latest prophecy.
Why do they always tell me of the dark days ahead? he wondered. So far he had heard similar foreboding portents from three different dying men on this planet. Were they just the defiant words of a fallen people, or could there be more to it?
Brother will fall upon brother.
That same phrase had been used each time.
There it was again. The shiver. That feeling that all was doomed.
‘Never again,’ he muttered to himself as he strode from the pile.
‘Talking to yourself again, Happy? Shall I fetch the Apothecary for you?’ Another Astartes warrior in the polished white livery of the Luna Wolves approached the ageing captain. Grim Lear was one of the eldest commanders in the legion, renowned for his droll sense of humour and his generally miserable disposition – hence why he was nicknamed “Happy” by the other captains.
‘Iacton, do you not know how to address your betters?’
‘I bow to your infinite experience, oh wise and ancient one,’ fawned Iacton Qruze, performing an elaborate bow. His grey hair fell over his face, adding to the mockery. The two Astartes were of a similar age – though neither would admit to who was the younger! – and both had been brought up in the same hive city on Cthonia, running with different rival gangs before uniting with the mighty Horus in the service of the Emperor.
‘That’s better. What news from the Primarch?’
‘We are to return to the Vengeful Spirit. The compliance of Davin is assured.’ The other captain adjusted his grip on the red-plumed helmet in his left hand and looked down at the bodies of the fallen natives. ‘They didn’t put up much resistance. Shame they had to die so needlessly – they had so much to offer.’
Both men looked out over the hazy battlefield, littered with countless corpses and strewn with the wreckage of the Davinites’ primitive technology. Silence descended, broken only by the rumble of distant Imperial engines and the cawing of carrion birds.
‘I heard it again old friend,’ Grim confessed at length, ‘From another dying priest.’ Looking Iacton in the eye, his expression saddened. ‘Why do they tell me this? Why not some other among us? I would even feel less of a fool were I not the only one!’
‘You can’t tell Horus. He won’t hear of it. It smacks of sorcery. You will be marked out and no good will come of it. Trust me on that.’
Grim’s gaze dropped to the corpse at his feet. ‘You are right of course, my friend. It’s just…’
Iacton shifted uneasily, moving closer to his brother. He glanced around before speaking in a hushed whisper that only they could possibly hear.
‘We cannot speak of the past as if it will happen again. We are among the last of the legion who know what happened before, and we were sworn to secrecy by the Emperor himself. Brother shall never again kill brother. It is forbidden, and to speak of it is akin to heresy.’
Grim nodded. His brother spoke wisely.
==========AIRLOCKEDby C. Alice Clayton (AKA Argent)
ANOTHER HEAVING TREMOR wracked the ship, the tortured plasteel beams of the internal superstructure shrieking and groaning under the unimaginable pressures being heaped upon them.
A shower of sparks burst from somewhere in the vaulted ceiling of the bridge as the hanging lumen strips failed and plunged the crew into darkness. Emergency lighting activated, and Captain Nyall Devanti was forced to strain as his augmetic eye failed to adjust to the reddish glow which bathed the chamber.
‘Throne,’ he muttered, squinting at the dead navigation instruments with his remaining eye, ‘We’re flying blind.’
In spite of the current crisis, the statement’s irony was not lost upon his executive officer, stooped in the shadows beyond the command dais to retrieve a sheaf of scattered charts. Lieutenant Conal chuckled gruffly as he rose, ‘The eye giving you trouble again, captain?’
Before Devanti could respond, the lumen strips fizzed back into life and the crew began to relay status reports back and forth with frantic shouts: the engineering decks were still experiencing seemingly random power surges which threatened to overload their delicate cogitator systems, but – thank Terra! – the ordnance batteries and magazines were secure.
The Polybolos was an older vessel, lacking the more sophisticated devices found on other ships in the Imperial fleet, but Devanti preferred it that way – he had refused to allow Martian adepts to retrofit her with newer STC autoloaders and hardwired noospheric conduits the last time they made port. His ancestors had had no need for such crutches. Certainly it made the crew’s work harder, but it also meant that one failed system would not necessarily affect the safe running of the rest of the ship.
‘Captain, the Enginseers report that the Gellar field is twenty-eight percent below optimal, but still holding,’ Conal read from his flickering dataslate, ‘Looks like our little saboteur failed in his mission.’
Devanti gritted his teeth. ‘Have the sergeant bring him to the aft loading bay.’
THE DECKHAND CERTAINLY didn’t look dangerous. He was young, younger perhaps than even Devanti himself had been when he had served aboard his grandfather’s command. He seemed no more than a gangling youth, shackled and trembling like a pitiful penitent before the great hydraulic workings of the airlock doors. But, Devanti reminded himself, appearances can be deceptive.
Here in fact was a man who had taken it upon himself, during a crucial Warp transit, to exploit his position within the Imperial Navy deliberately to give assistance to the enemy. As a trainee adept aboard the Polybolos he had accessed all the vital systems of the ship and planted crude sabotage devices throughout, hoping to destabilise the protective fields which shielded the hull and crew from the terrifying primal energies of the Warp. If the Gellar field had collapsed during transit, the ship and everyone on board would have been torn apart within seconds: an end feared by all voidfaring crews.
A carapace armoured security officer stood with his lascarbine trained on the prisoner, but the captain motioned him back as he approached.
Lieutenant Conal was in step behind him. ‘Here he is, captain!’ he spat, ‘Just look at him… cowardly little wretch!’
Devanti squared up to the prisoner, and saw in his eyes a look of bitter defeat. How could someone so young be willing to break his Imperial oaths, to give up his own life and those of all his former shipmates, and commit such an atrocity? He couldn’t even begin to fathom the young man’s motivations – maybe he had deluded himself into thinking that he could change the course of history, defect to the other side or become some kind of martyr in the destruction of a gunboat like the Polybolos? The captain considered this for a moment before speaking.
‘A civil war threatens to shatter the Imperium. It began with the Astartes, but has now spread to every branch of the military and the fleet. You have attempted to sabotage an Imperial vessel in a time of war. Where is your honour, eh? Where is your pride?!’
The young man hung his head, and began to mouth what sounded like some kind of prayer. Security had reported that his billet had been full of pseudo-religious paraphernalia: rough pamphlets, hand-scrawled devotionals, and crude effigies twisted out of conduit wire. In spite of the Emperor’s former decrees and the dictates of the Imperial Truth, such revivals of the old ways had been rife throughout the fleet even before the civil war had erupted. Devanti bristled at the thought – he believed only in the sanctity of the chain of command.
‘The presence of a fanatic threatens the safety of my crew and our mission. I will not have you aboard my ship.’ He turned to address the waiting security officer. ‘Give this traitor to the Warp.’
Putting up only feeble resistance, the prisoner was bundled through the portal and the depressurisation switches thrown without ceremony. An infinite swirling abyss of colour and emotion yawned beyond the airlock, emitting a keening which was not quite drowned out by the roar of the air – and the saboteur – being vented into space.
He ceased thrashing after a few agonised moments, and then for a long while seemed to hang suspended against the madness, tumbling away from the ship. Devanti fancied he could make out thin shadowy forms circling the body like Salacian coral rays, but to look further was to invite peril.
Striding back up the corridor, he turned to Conal. ‘Accounting for this delay, how long until we reach our destination? Can we still make the rendezvous?’
‘At best speed, barring any adverse empyreal currents,’ the Lieutenant replied, scrolling through his dataslate and rubbing his stubbled chin wearily, ‘Yes… I believe so.’
Devanti straightened the high collar of his tunic as they approached the main bridge hatchway. ‘Excellent. Oversee the remaining repairs personally, and begin loading the ordnance before we jump back to real space.’
‘Sir,’ Conal drew up into a tight salute, ‘For the Warmaster.’
‘Aye. For the Warmaster.’
==========DUSK RAIDER ‘TIL DAWNby David Bandych (AKA Benedict Arnold)
TICK. TICK. TICK.
The seconds seemed to pass like an eternity. Combat made all of your senses sharper, made time slow to a mere crawl. When your awareness was already heightened far beyond that of a mortal man, it made the delays and sense of powerlessness that much more unbearable.
Huddled behind the ruins of some old and rotten xenos architecture, I stared at the dirt- and blood-spattered eagle cuirass and the broken body of the man that wore it. The captain deserved a better death than that – he deserved one worthy of his glorious and honourable rank. Now he lay in a twisted heap of armour and broken bones, bleeding out at my feet. The crimson right cannons of his Crusade-pattern armour stood boldly like a cry for vengeance and death to the enemies of the Emperor: a call I hoped would still be heeded here.
Damn. Where was Garro?
He had gone off on a flanking effort with his squad when Captain Huron-Fal and his second were brought down in a hail of gunfire which had pinned us in our current location. Garro had said to look for him at the dawn, but time wasn’t moving fast enough, and the damned xenos were pushing back the few men he had left behind.
If we were to believe in the old miracles, it would take one for us to endure the time left until the plan could be realised. Failing that, Lieutenant Garro would return to find little more than a heap of dead Dusk Raiders; the last of the xenos guerrillas would have escaped once again; and the final stage of the campaign in this system would have failed.
One last duty to perform here, one last step, and then victory… and the Great Crusade could move on to the Barbarus system.
Another battle-brother went down in a spray of bright blood and shattered armour plate, the last clipped report he had made still clear in my mind, if no longer in my heads-up-display. The darkened outlines of over half of my unit stared back at me from inside my bucket-helm in a silent demand of victory, to make their sacrifices worthwhile and to win glory that they would no longer be able to savour. I was not about to fail them.
Ordering the few remaining members of the squad – and also the survivors of the earlier ambush who had not gone with Garro – to hold fast and retreat on the right flank while giving cover from the centre, I kept on eye on the chronometer in my HUD.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
Thirty minutes until dawn.
One thousand-eight hundred seconds away lay our salvation. Or so I hoped.
I’d known Garro since our training days on Terra, and he had yet to let me down.
I LOOKED DOWN once again at the shattered form of Huron-Fal, captain of the 7th Company and mentor to Garro and myself since we had been inducted into the Astartes. He smiled weakly up at me and managed to wheeze out some reassurances amidst the staccato bursts of gunfire and general carnage that surrounded us.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I ordered the men around me to pull back, followed by the right flank, in order to lure the xenos in. Either Garro would return and we would slaughter them all, or the foul things would feast upon our corpses!
Slinging Huron-Fal over my shoulder, I dragged him to the fallback position.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
One minute until dawn.
We were in position. We would either live or die here – there would be no more retreating. No more selling of ground and lives in exchange for time.
Over seventy percent of the men who started this effort now hung as dark outlines superimposed on my auto-senses. Of the remainder, most had taken some type of wound or damage to their armour’s systems. Desperation was an understatement.
Tick. Tick. Click.
“Good morrow, Ullis!” Garro’s unmistakable voice chimed through the vox, “Good to see you’ve held our guests’ attention. It’s officially morning and time to send the lads home, don’t you think?”
‘Nathaniel, you old cur! You and your boys took your time getting here! You are right though, it is time to end this. We’ll leave the cleanup detail to the infantry. Count the Seventh!’
“Count the Seventh!” he responded as his men opened fire.
The cry echoed through the vox as the remainder of the Astartes under my command rushed forward to catch and surround the baffled xenos bastards who now hugged every scrap of cover they could find; who had only just been a mere tick of the chronometer from the cusp of victory.
The word tasted sweet upon my lips, but I knew it was only a hint of what was to come for the Imperium of Mankind. It was the dawn of the 31st Millennium, and the galaxy would know only victory.
==========EVEN IN DEATHby Alex Charidemou (AKA Brother Handro)
HE HAD SEEN it before of course. It always ended the same way. No matter how he struggled, no matter how hard he tried to prevent it, the outcome was always unchanged. He always died.
The companies assembled on the bright open deck, the silver and gold banding of their armour glittering in the harsh light. They gathered there to board their dropcraft, but before they did so the warriors of the legion stood and chanted as one, as they would on the surface of the homeworld that the soaring deck represented. They chanted for Prospero.
The assault on the world below had shuddered to a halt after the discovery of xenos artifacts hidden among the ruins of the human civilisation that had declined the invitation to join the Imperium. Adepts of the Mechanicum had attempted to catalogue and then destroy the alien technology.
But then the Eldar came, and the Imperial Army started to die in their thousands.
Elements of the XVth Legion Astartes, the Thousand Sons, had been the first to respond to the calls for aid, eager to assist in the compliance of the world but also to recover any possible knowledge of the Warp through which – they knew – the sinister Eldar were able to travel in relative safety. Now they stood poised to eliminate any resistance in their quest for greater enlightenment over the countless mysteries of the Empyrean.
The dream always started in the same way: a harsh light; keening wails from unseen mouths; and then the sudden swirling melee of combat. He found himself fighting alone, without the honoured brethren of his sect.
Seraphis had been a warrior and a student of his lord Magnus for more than one hundred and fifty years, and little he had seen in that time had caused him more than a moment’s fleeting anxiety. Yet these waking dreams that came to him with increasing frequency were causing him to doubt himself and his own inner strengths.
That, more than anything, scared him.
‘Brother Seraphis – there you are. All is made ready, I assume?’
The figure that had spoken strode purposefully towards him, his deep blue cloak flowing in his wake. He carried the curved khopesh blade gifted to many of the legion’s favoured warriors in one hand, and his gold-faced helm in the crook of his arm.
Ahriman, knower of the ways, keeper of the fates. The greatest student of lore, Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons legion, and the one to whom wise Magnus had entrusted The Book.
‘Everything is prepared, my Lord.’
‘Please, call me brother. For that is what we are, are we not?’
Seraphis nodded. ‘Of course Lor-... brother.’
‘You seem distracted. Does something trouble you?’
‘No, of course not. It is nothing.’
Seraphis’ contradictory answer elicited a raised eyebrow from the librarian, but he did not press the issue. Instead, Ahriman gestured with his blade.
‘Then go. See to your men, and may our father's hand guide you.’
Seraphis bowed his head. ‘As you command.’
As he walked away, a single glaring thought prickled his awareness: He knows.
Seraphis also bridled at his fellow librarian’s fatherly, superior tone. He had been a member of the Librarium for almost as long as the vaunted Ahriman, and indeed he had been an Astartes much longer. He felt like he had been put in his place, but allowed his choler to fade. Control was everything, and he looked to the needs of his men to focus his mind.
Sometimes the dream would end with the fighting, but often it would continue. Haze would descend about him, and the sounds of battle would be calmed, deadened by the mist. Tall and stylised helmed visages swam before his eyes, and voices that he could never quite make out communicated urgently.
Images swam through his mind – a dark cold cell and the taste of iron. He found himself unable to move or respond, and the impotency, both in being able neither to react nor fathom the meaning of the visions, chafed at him.
SERAPHIS HAD DROPPED into hundreds of battlefields in his time and his psycho-conditioning and experience simply took over as he directed his command cabal in short clipped tones. The air had only trace levels of toxins and visibility was good. The terrain was rocky and broken but open – their enemies lay before them.
‘Into them,’ was his simple order, and his squad moved with machine-like precision, laying down bolter fire as they advanced like a ceramite-armoured wall.
Xenos warriors broke before them, and Seraphis called upon his witchsight to locate his next target through the mists that spread out in fro-
The anomaly took a second to register in his conscious mind. There had been no mist before now…
A cold realisation dawned upon him as he recognised the scene before him: his brothers had been swept away, and the sounds of battle receded, replaced by the swirling visages of Eldar warlocks. An odd, half-forgotten feeling constricted him as he perceived the inevitable conclusion.
It was fear.
The psykers began to chatter to each other in their lilting tongue, but their meaning was beyond him. He wanted to cry out, both physically and psychically, but he was rendered powerless by their mastery. He fell to his knees as they invaded his mind, delivering a single assertion, couched in images of pain and restriction and the taste of either blood or iron – he couldn't tell which.
-In time, you will serve a purpose. But first you must be remade-
Seraphis was prepared for his end, but the icy blast of pure energy that engulfed him was utterly devastating in its intensity, and he cried out soundlessly until the void claimed him.
PAIN. NOT DEATH, not nothingness. But pain.
That and the taste of iron was all he could perceive. Slowly, he discerned the limits of his environment, and felt rather than saw the cage that held him.
The shock almost rendered him unconscious again, his rage and despair at his helplessness threatening to drive him into the abyss.
‘Ah,’ mused Ahriman, ‘He stirs.’
The fleshly remains of Seraphis thrashed against their confinement, a palpable frustration emanating from the amniotic tank.
‘See, brother – we have remade you.’
Of all the words Ahriman could have chosen, he had used that one.
To Seraphis, it spoke of hidden machinations; of plans unknown to mortal men; the faintest suggestion of collusion with the foul xenos scum; and of countless millennia of war and betrayal to follow. The agony of his wounds screamed in his flesh and his soul alike.
Ahriman's gaze lingered on the armoured sarcophagus a moment longer, a knowing look in his eye, and then he was gone.
==========A KNIFE IN THE DARKby Andrew Green (AKA Fingol23)
JACOB STOOD IN the dark waiting for the moment to strike, knife held ready in his hand. It was a Mars-forged power blade and had cost him a fortune, not that it mattered now of course – once he had used it, he would never have need of money ever again. He slowed his breathing and listened to the ringing of footsteps on the plasteel deck as his target approached.
The moment would come soon: after months of planning, it was finally upon him. He had tracked his target and formed a mental map of how he tended to move from one section of the Umbrea Insidior to another.
Jacob had purchased the power blade in secret from one of the techpriests who accompanied the expeditionary fleet, and then he had waited. Finally fate had drawn the strands of his plan together and now his mark was but a few feet away.
He waited as the heavy and purposeful footsteps rang twice more on the deck, the sound seeming to reverberate around the entire corridor.
Then he struck, lunging out from the bulkhead behind which he had been concealed, bringing his arm scything down towards his target’s hearts… and straight into his open and waiting hands. The grip was like a vice, and within a second its crushing force had brought Jacob to his knees and the knife had fallen from his numbed fingers to the deck.
Tears forming in the corners of his eyes, he looked up into face of the man he had just tried to kill.
Those eyes… inhuman!
They bore no iris, but simply vast darkened pupils: two black voids which hungered to swallow his soul. As he fought to escape their hypnotic pull, Jacob sensed movement behind him and another hand gripped his shoulder tightly. A single energised talon slid out from the gauntlet around his neck.
‘Don’t kill him,’ hissed the Night Haunter, Jacob’s intended target, ‘I wish to find out why this… urchin wishes to kill me.’
‘As you wish, my Lord,’ replied Jacob’s unseen assailant. The would-be assassin started in fear at the sound of that voice – it could only be Zso Sahaal, captain of the 3rd Company and the Primarch’s favoured son. Sensing the shudder, the captain laughed.
‘It seems the whelp recognizes me,” Sahaal grinned, leaning forward until his mouth was almost touching Jacob’s ear, ‘And you would do well to fear me, little one, for as soon as the Primarch allows it I will dissect your living body feast upon your heart!’ Nevertheless the talon retracted back into its gauntlet although the grip on his shoulder remained just as agonising.
The shadowed Primarch leaned forward and gently lifted Jacob’s head until their gazes met. Jacob, unwilling to be lost once more in those demonic eyes, fixed his gaze on the red jewel which adorned Night Haunter’s brow.
‘I have followed your movements for a long time, remembrancer. I could have had you killed at any moment but I did not, for you are special. He did not send you, but yet still you would try to kill me. Why is this?’
Nearly overwhelmed with terror, Jacob barely managed to stammer a reply.
‘B-because I saw what you did on Twenty Seven-Fourteen. They were j-j-just human! And you massacred them! You didn’t even give them a chance to join us… the streets were full of bodies: children hung from streetlamps and the gutters ran with blood. How could you do that? How could you order that? How can you live with yourself?’
Night Haunter smiled, baring his teeth.
‘It is what He wished me to do. They were too advanced: energy weapons, artificial intelligence. If I had come to them in peace, they could have prepared to fight us. We would have taken unacceptable losses. Instead I went in secret, in the shadows of the night…’ He closed his eyes, savouring the recollection.
‘I struck at their hands so that they could not cut me. I struck at their heart so that their life force waned. I struck at their minds and their courage failed, their faith left them and their defeat was assured. Only then did I reveal myself, and they joined us without a struggle. I brought an entire planet to compliance without the loss of a single Astartes. Is that not a wondrous achievement? Do I not serve Him well?’
‘You’re a monster,’ spat the remembrancer. Konrad looked down sadly.
‘Yes, that is what He also said. But if I am a monster then I am His monster: I serve only His will; I was shaped by his hand. Should he not be responsible for my actions as for His own?’
‘W-what are you talki-’ began the remembrancer before a blow to the head from Zso Sahaal silenced him. The Primarch seemed not to have heard him.
‘Instead He leaves me at the mercy of my brothers: so noble and… uptight. Such arrogance. They do not understand the things I do, or why I do them. Sometimes humanity needs its paladins of light, and sometimes it needs one who will fight to defend it without conscience, without honour. One who will do whatever is required. He leaves me at the mercy of those blinkered fools, lets them decide my fate. Or so they think…’ Night Haunter’s voice became a low growl, lower even than usual.
‘His mind is made up! I am an embarrassing secret who must be disposed of, so he sends his agents to kill me! He created me, made me into His perfect killer, and now He wishes to kill me!’
Night Haunter’s eyes became fixed once more on Jacob’s face, those diabolical black pits somehow managing to convey great sadness. ‘And now I shall dispose of you, for I cannot bear the presence of those who do not understand.’
‘Wait!’ choked Jacob, ‘Wait, please!’
Night Haunter looked at him quizzically.
‘Who do you mean by “He”? You speak as if of one of the old gods!’
In a voice brimming with hatred and yet simultaneously laden with despair, the Primarch who had once been Konrad Curze spoke.
‘No, not a god. The Emperor.’
Jacob just had time to gape in astonishment before his life was ended.
==========THE ANGELS’ DAEMONSby Matt Kerrod (AKA Fulgrim)
HONOUR. GLORY. REMEMBRANCE. The three things Raldoron desired most of all waited for him within the gates of the citadel, and only its defenders stood in his way. This was the last stronghold of the Emperor’s enemies, the only thing standing in the way of His conquest of Terra.
They – His IXth Regiment, known to some as “the Angels” – had been tasked with its destruction. The warlord Draghsei had withdrawn to the fortress when the last of his allies, the vast Ursh Empire, had been annihilated scant months earlier. The battle lines had been drawn and now, by the end of the day, the Emperor truly would be the master of Terra, and the last of His enemies’ blood would stain the sand. To show His warriors that He was watching them, the Emperor had dispatched a contingent of the Custodian Guard to fight alongside them, a symbol of the importance of their mission.
Bombardment cannons at the rear of their position signalled the start of the battle, their deafening salvos roaring like thunder across the valley. The citadel’s shields absorbed the impact of the first few thousand shells, concussive energy shockwaves detonating them prematurely as they struck it. But it did not take long before the old technologies failed: the shield collapsed in a rush of static-charged ozone, and the shells began to fall upon brick, mortar and flesh.
The first drops of blood fell upon the earth, and soon the streets were painted with red. It was as the screams of the dying began to ring out across the valley that they, the Emperor’s Angels, charged.
Raldoron reached the curtain wall in less than thirty seconds – his warriors behind him, glory ahead of him. He fired his pistol, and men fell to the floor dead, blown to pieces by the mass-reactive shells. Some of the more unlucky ones received less enviable fates, falling injured and then being gutted with chainblades as the Emperor’s forces overran them.
The defenders had massed at the gate, willing to defend it with their lives, but it didn’t take long for the enhanced Proto-Astartes to cut their way through. Once they entered the fortress the real bloodletting began - they spared no one, the rage and anger of the past months being vented onto the populace of this final stronghold against Unity.
In a frenzy, the Astartes killed and killed and killed again. There was no honour to be found on the streets and ramparts of the citadel, only bloodshed and the murder of innocents.
The Custodians watched in appalled horror: it was said that the Angels were fearless, and it was true. But here they sacrificed their new purity of form for the sake of their hatred. As the Proto-Astartes slaughtered their way through the streets of the fortress, the blood began to flow in streams through the clogged gutters. With every shot and every swing of their blades the Angels worked their way up to the citadel’s central temple, a place of worship.
It was ironic – here and now, amid all this horrific bloodletting, the Emperor’s words would prove true: Humanity will be free once the last altar falls upon the last priest. The Imperium would become truly secular, and the blood of the innocent was a price it seemed He was willing to pay.
A unit of Astartes hammered down the doors of the temple at Raldoron’s command, their guns spraying fire into the holy place. The tiled floor became slick with the blood of those who cowered within, people who had hoped that their faith was greater than the Emperor’s ambition.
Eventually only one remained, the one sat atop the throne on the temple’s central dais – the warlord Draghsei. He had remained seated, his face impassive as his people were slaughtered around him. His eyes were now closed, and his lips moved in constant prayer. He paid no attention to the intruders. Among his people he was “the Anointed”, the mouthpiece of the one true deity.
He said as much soon enough when pressed, screaming curse after curse at the Astartes as they tried to drag him from his throne. Not that they cared – the Emperor, the pure and true master of mankind had taught them how the galaxy was a place of reason and science, not one filled with miracles and misplaced faith. Draghsei was the only thing between them and the completion of their Emperor’s vision. To them, that was all that mattered.
Raldoron moved towards him, his armour stained red with blood in the flickering light of the temple. Such was the warlord-messiah’s faith in his god that he accepted death with open arms, in defiance of the Emperor to the end. As the Astartes drew his blade and plunged it through Draghsei’s chest, the man did not move, nor did he scream any longer.
‘You have sullied yourselves with the blood of the innocent,’ he spoke through cracked lips, ‘You have revealed to all, His Angels’ daemons: may they never see the light of day again.’
The Angels stood in silence, watching the dying warlord as his lifeblood drained out across the floor. With one final gurgling exhalation, Draghsei died.
‘Terra belongs to the Emperor,” Raldoron proclaimed. His warriors hammered their fists against their chests and cheered.
As he turned, his vox-link crackled.
“Lord Raldoron, the Emperor is recalling all regiments to the Palace. What are your orders?”
Withdrawing his blade, the captain turned to address the Angels.
‘My brothers, we are summoned. What other duty would our master yet have us perform, eh?’
There was only muted enthusiasm as Raldoron left the temple, the Angels having been convinced that their work would be done once Terra was conquered. Looking up at the stars, he had the strangest feeling that there was much that he and his warriors did not know of his master’s plans, and that a far greater challenge lay ahead.
But he knew that Draghsei’s final words would stay with him forever, as would the daemons within him that thirsted for blood.
==========SPEED KILLSby Gary G. Crook (AKA Gagoc TheAncient)
KORTHIN’S JETBIKE TORE through the natural avenues of rock, bolters blazing at the thrice-damned xenos he was pursuing. For him, it was just another battle in a long campaign of warfare that his legion – in alliance with that of Sanguinius – had already waged to bring this cluster of habitable worlds to compliance.
But these pointy-eared, darkly armoured xenos funts had decide to complicate things, and thus did he find himself fighting a running battle upon a benighted, arid moon of dust and shale that slowed even the mighty Astartes; amidst the labyrinthine network of ravines and dustbowl canyons so complex that tactical wisdom had dictated the only option open to the legions was to use their nimble jetbikes to prosecute the conflict further. The only problem was that the enemy had come to the same conclusion.
So here he was, flying in perpetual twilight at near-suicidal speeds with the undulating rocky walls of the ravine whipping past, after peeling off in pursuit of an enemy rider through a winding maze of mind-boggling complexity. Even if I knew where they were, he thought, I doubt I’d be able to rendezvous with any other of the jetbike formations for some time in this labyrinth.
While he reflected upon this fact, another jetbike in the livery of the Blood Angels appeared, before slipping alongside and then past him in the narrowness of the passage, steadily gaining on his intended quarry.
Noticing this new threat, the xenos rider braked hard, the nose of his mount bucking sharply into the air as he dropped back almost level with the Blood Angel rider. Cackling wildly from behind his grilled facemask, the alien was drawing forth a wicked looking bladed weapon to strike at the Astartes when its head was detonated by a bolt round, sending him tumbling down onto the jagged rocks below. Korthin glanced over his shoulder to see a sight that warmed his hearts.
The Baal’s Fire chariot squadron of the Blood Angels utilised a form of jetbike with a chariot car and engine unit mounted to the rear of the bike. The passenger of this particular chariot casually lowered his smoking sidearm and used standard battle-sign to acknowledge Korthin before their paths diverged among the canyons.
Though Korthin relished speed, his experience crewing the more heavily armed two-man attack bikes had taught him a certain bit of battle-forged wisdom: wisdom that looked upon the Blood Angels’ chariot as wasted potential. But whilst there were enemies of mankind at hand he could ill-afford to pursue this avenue of thought.
He cleared his mind and steered his jetbike back into the ebb and flow of battle.
AS THE BATTLE raged on and splintered into countless smaller skirmishes, Korthin’s enhanced vision caught sight in the middle distance of an entire squadron of Astartes jetbikes being systematically ensnared and destroyed by their cunning Xenos counterparts. By drawing the Imperial riders into enclosed gullies, they would about-face and turn on their pursuers with support from large skimmers – he had seen the enemy spring many such traps upon his brothers throughout the long day, with scores of Astartes falling before their hissing and crackling xenos cannons.
Korthin gunned his engines towards his ambushed brethren, calling in their position over the vox and hoping that reinforcements would arrive in time.
After the enemy had been scoured from the field, above all else it would be the lingering memory of these attacks that would later prompt him to go before his legion’s Master of Jetbikes, to outline his ideas…
ANOTHER CLASH BROKE out during the region’s campaign of compliance, on a world further in-system. Again the Astartes opposed the infestation of these ‘dark’ xenos scum, supposedly members of the haughty, hubristic Eldar race. This time though, the field of battle was amongst the ruins of a vast and ancient metropolis full of tight streets, winding alleys, and the occasional open space between them. Timeworn avenues, squares and parks stood forlornly, strewn with the rubble of their once proud majesty.
Thus was it again decided to deploy jetbikes throughout the advance, and both legions committed nearly their full complements to the spearhead of the expeditionary force.
It was more akin to aerial dog fighting than the rapid ground assaults more traditionally fought with jetbikes, except with lightning-fast skirmishes fought just a few metres above the ground level and certain catastrophe. The enemy soon demonstrated their now favoured tactic of drawing Astartes jetbike formations through the ruins to more open areas where their larger skimmers waited in ambush, heavy weapons poised to strike.
But this time Korthin was ready for the xenos’ filthy tricks.
The crew of Baal’s Fire found themselves in just such an ensnaring trap. They fought back valiantly against the overwhelming enemy force, inflicting numerous casualties on the Eldar raiders, but bolt rounds and grenades alone would not be enough to win the day…
And then Korthin sprung a trap of his own, his newly formed unit striking out from the cover of a wrecked viaduct.
They swooped in, riders hurling grenades and raking the enemy skimmers with fire from bolt pistols and the jetbikes’ forward-mounted bolters. But it was the Astartes in the cars of these newly commissioned jetbike chariots that tipped the balance, for each manned either a blazing heavy bolter or multimelta that could deliver punishing blows to their target’s armoured flanks.
IT WAS NOT long before Korthin’s chariot squadron left the sector, flying high over a fresh tally of downed and burning enemy wrecks, and drawing awed glances from the Blood Angels below.
‘Now this, is what I call a chariot!’ he muttered as he ran fresh coolant into the casing of the multimelta he’d put to such effective use, always scanning for new targets to add to his kill markings.
==========UNITYby Chris Eustace (AKA IngoPech)
‘YOU WERE SUPPOSED to wait, Pol!’
Syngh was beside himself. He’d been in a rage since word had come back to him that the latest operation had failed. ‘Everything was perfect! We had his itinerary, security dispositions, travel route… everything!’
Pol just stared blankly at the ceiling joist running over Syngh’s head. He’d heard these rants before. Syngh – while an able leader – was prone to violent outbursts if anything happened to go wrong. Pol remembered to look down at his own boots – it helped to appear ashamed and ready to grovel.
A desk lumen flew across the room, shattering against the wall. Pol rolled his eyes in exasperation, and was careful to speak quietly.
‘Did you think that the Sigillite would be so easy a mark, Syngh? I told you it was a waste of effort, that we’d have been better off trying for a lesser target.’ His eyes rose to meet those of his leader; Syngh was almost purple with rage at being told his plan was less than perfect. Pol decided to continue.
‘On top of that, you gave me Armund’s cell for the mission. Armund trained his own men and as a result his cell couldn’t find their collective arses with both hands and a map.’ Pol was angry too, his tone growing sharper as he spoke. However, he prided himself on not letting his emotions run away with him. ‘Now the gene-whips and the damned Custodian Guard are scouring the townships for us, from here to the Siblaskan plateau! Hokong arcology is under lock-down. So are Gapore and Nova Kobe.’
He took a deep breath and released it slowly while Syngh glared at him.
‘In any event, all is not totally lost: my people have discovered exactly why the Sigillite was travelling.’
A look of curiosity stole over Syngh’s features. Enraged though he was, he still knew when to listen – it was one of his few redeeming qualities.
‘Malcador was touring the planet’s defences, surveying readiness and capability.’ Pol leaned across the desk and his eyes met Syngh’s, ‘We’ve been wondering why the sudden surge in on-world military activity? The recall of the VIIth Legion? The fortifying of the palace complex? Something has happened. Something big.’
“…AND THEY HAVE every reason to be worried, brothers!”
Syngh always could give a good speech, Pol thought as he listened to his leader in action. He often became fiercely emotional during his addresses – it was not always a useful thing in Pol’s opinion, but it had helped Syngh to convert many to his cause over the years. He had kept the dream of Pan Pacific freedom alive.
“Yes, it is true – one of their mightiest has turned against them!”
Pol could imagine the looks on the faces of the anti-unity fighters. Syngh himself had fallen to his knees in elated disbelief when Pol had told him the news.
“It has recently been discovered that none other than the Imperial Warmaster, Horus Lupercal himself, has rebelled against the great tyrant and even now leads his legions here to overthrow him!” Cheers erupted in the adjoining room, and Syngh roared in triumph, “He will free us all!”
As he continued, exhorting them to be ready when the great day of liberation came, Pol looked over at the cogitator viewscreen opposite him. The plan was sound: the Pan-Pac Liberation Front would strike at communications and logistics centres across the region once the Warmaster’s forces began planetfall.
As they had no way to contact Horus’ forces directly – and little hope by other means – they would have to attempt contact after the rebel legions were on the ground. It would be risky but, with luck, they’d show Him what “unity” truly meant.
THE STORMBIRD ROARED overhead, keeping low and nearly deafening Pol as it made for the dropzone. He had crouched in the forward observation point near the ruins of the city of Akshent, destroyed during the Unification Wars two centuries earlier, observing and reporting back to Syngh as the droppers and transports rained down from the sky. They were continually ferrying the Warmaster’s seemingly infinite invasion forces planetside from the massive fleet which hung in orbit.
He watched as the Stormbird, in the purple and gold of the 3rd Legion, finished its landing and disgorged a platoon’s worth of Astartes onto the prefabricated ferrocrete landing strip.
Pol noted a new symbology on their battle plate: an eight pointed star. Rebel insignia, he thought, surprised to find that the sight actually disturbed him somewhat. Something about it just felt wrong, like a horror from some half-remembered nightmare. Well, if it wins us our freedom…
His voxbead squawked, and Pol lowered himself down from his vantage point. He began moving through the rubble towards the rendezvous point, twice having to evade foot patrols from rebel army units supporting the Warmaster’s legions. He rounded a corner and saw Syngh with three others awaiting him in the shadow of a ruined temple.
‘They’re down in force,’ he gasped, ‘If we’re going to pledge ourselves, then it’s now or never!”
Syngh looked serenely over at him, his smile almost beatific.
‘It’s time. Tell the others to move.’
Pol nodded and keyed his vox, relaying the command. Syngh turned suddenly.
‘Pol, I want you to wait here. Observe and record what happens. This is history in the making, brother!’
Before he could protest, Syngh had led the others onwards. Disgruntled, Pol made for an elevated corner among the ruins overlooking an overgrown plaza. He watched Syngh and the others approach a patrol of rebel soldiers.
After a short Parlay, both groups turned and moved towards the Astartes mustering on the landing strip. The soldiers halted a respectful distance from an ornately armoured Astartes officer and presented the Pan-Pacs.
The giant listened for a moment before whirling to tear Syngh’s head from his shoulders with his bare hands. The others in the group were gunned down by the Astartes without mercy before they had even understood what had just happened. Pol gaped in disbelief as the renegades began to mutilate the bodies with savage relish.
They’re not here to free us, he thought as he fled for his life.
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