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Title: Tales from the Great Crusade, Vol. 2
Description: Full anthology available for download!


ShroudFilm - January 11, 2010 05:47 PM (GMT)
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!

==========

Broken Blades by Ahriman - Death Guard vs Death Guard
Prophecy by Arden Fell - Luna Wolves vs Davinite Cultists
Airlocked by Argent - Imperial Navy
Dusk Raider 'Til Dawn by Benedict Arnold - Dusk Raiders
Even in Death by Brother Handro - Thousand Sons vs Eldar
A Knife in the Dark by Fingol23 - Night Lords
The Angel's Daemons by Fulgrim - pre-Unity Blood Angels vs Ursh
Speed Kills by Gagoc the Ancient - Blood Angels vs Dark Eldar
Unity by IngoPech - Pan-Pac rebels and Emperor's Children
Nurma zu Asche by Lord Caldera - White Scars vs Alpha Legion
Here Instead by Marshal Wilhelm - Iron Warriors
Olympian by Mortarion - Iron Warriors vs Iron Warriors
That Other Place by Pacific - World Eaters
Before the Conqueror by Provost Dylanof - non-Imperial pre-Unity
The Gethsemane Dome by RandomX - Imperial Fists vs Iron Warriors
Caduceus by Night by Renlegunvrs - Night Lords vs Mechanicum
Simulacra by ShroudFilm - Imperial Army and World Eaters
The Sins of the Father by Titus Pullo - Blood Angels and Imperial Army
White Hot by Vinnie - White Scars and War Hounds
Mud and Blood by Yvraith - Iron Warriors

==========


BROKEN BLADES

by 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.

==========


PROPHECY

by 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!’
Iacton stiffened.
‘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.

==========


AIRLOCKED

by 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 DAWN

by 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.
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.
Our victory.

==========


EVEN IN DEATH

by 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.
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.’
Remade.
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 DARK

by 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’ DAEMONS

by 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 KILLS

by 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.
For now.
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.

==========


UNITY

by 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.

==========

No discussion of 'edit vs original' on this thread please - PM me instead.

ShroudFilm - January 11, 2010 09:21 PM (GMT)
NURMA ZU ASCHE

by Jamie Morris (AKA Lord Caldera)




“YUCKSHTE! WHAT HAVE they done to this place?”
Sergeant Bataar could hear the pain in Sukh’s voice over the vox. It was rare for Sukh to show much emotion, and rarer still for him to say anything beyond a curt answer to a direct question. This outburst reflected the grim situation in which the Astartes found themselves.
The first time the Vth Legion had landed on Tallarn it had been a thriving agriworld, with lush forests and grasslands covering its surface. Bataar, then a mere novice Scout, had felt almost as if he were back on Chogoris while he gunned his stripped-down bike across its plains.
Now, upon his return, Bataar led his jetbike squadron over a hellish landscape scoured of life and feature. The air was full of gritty grey sand, whipped up by winds now free to roam where they would after the Iron Warriors’ virus bombs had annihilated the vegetation which had previously broken their path.
The White Scars viewed the Iron Warriors’ inert tactics with distaste but they still had held a grudging respect for the efficiency of the other Astartes’ ordnance campaigns. But traitors... Bataar still could not believe that even a single Space Marine could turn from the light of the Imperial Truth. It was unimaginable that fully nine of the Adeptus Astartes legions had fallen. He was proud to know that the Great Khan had never let thoughts of betrayal enter his mind, and that none of his brothers had turned either.
Bataar was startled by a hash of static on the vox. The dust storms and residual electromagnetic interference from the IVth Legion’s bombardment had been wreaking havoc on Imperial communications since they had landed, and he could only make out a few words before the transmission cut out completely.
“…port…quested…Warriors tank…engage…western…”
The sergeant barked an order to his squad and they swung out to the west. His spirits were rising at the thought of hunting his enemies once more, when a plasma bolt tore from the sand to Bataar’s left and evaporated Brother Alagh’s head. Bereft of control, his jetbike careened downward and smashed into the dunes, obliterated in a tumble of flaming wreckage.
‘Throne, where in the hells did that come from?!’ shouted Chuluun. The remaining four jetbikes banked around and settled into a tight formation, the riders unslinging weapons expertly.
Another incandescent ball of plasma narrowly missed Sukh, and Gal unleashed his meltagun into the lee of a dune beyond him, blasting a furrow of sand into bubbling glass. A return shot hit Bataar’s exhaust as the White Scars rocketed overhead, pitching the sergeant from his saddle. Crashing awkwardly onto the rocky sand many metres below, he felt many of his bones break with the impact and his helmet was torn from its seal.
A figure in gunmetal Crusade-pattern power armour with yellow and black pauldrons rose from the sand near Bataar, a bolter clasped in its hands. But Bataar sensed it immediately – something was not right about the Iron Warrior.
He saw Chuluun swing around and power towards the traitor, his tulwar flashing. The Iron Warrior did not fire or seem to move at all as the jetbike sped towards him, and Bataar realized too late that the armour’s occupant was already long dead.
Chuluun split the corpse in two with his blade, before his jetbike’s prow connected with something solid. The collision flipped it end-up in a splintering second and detonated the engine’s fuel supply. Bataar covered his face as Chuluun’s scream was drowned out by an almighty explosion, fragments of rock and metal raining down onto the sand. He heard Gal curse over the vox, and the whine of his engines dropped sharply as he roared overhead to avoid the blast.
The smoke cleared quickly in the fitful wind to reveal a jagged rock formation, draped with the burnt and tattered remains of a huge cameleoline sheet. Of Chuluun and his mount, there was no sign beyond the scattered chunks of debris. At that speed he wouldn’t even have seen it coming, Bataar realised.
The hammering of a bolter came from behind him, shells tracing a line of explosions across the flank of Gal’s jetbike as he swooped in low. One bolt sheared off a stabilizing flap, sending him into a tailspin. The White Scar leapt clear but was caught in a melta blast which vaporised his torso as he fell.
Bataar pulled himself to his feet and staggered up the slip face of the dune towards the unseen shooter, drawing his powered scimitar and using it to steady himself on the sand. Sukh screamed overhead on his jetbike, dropping a pair of grenades over the crest of the dune. A trail of plasma bolts followed him before a second plasma gunner opened fire from the side, forcing Sukh to jink and roll sharply to evade.
Hearing the concussive blasts of the grenades, Bataar was greeted by the sight of a bloodied crater as he crested the dune. He whooped and signalled the kill to Sukh, just as the flash of a sniper’s shot connected with the final rider’s eye lens, blowing blood and brain matter out the back of his helmet.
Bataar stood bewildered at the sudden and brutal eradication of his squad. He still had no idea of where the enemy was hidden: his fall had disoriented him and even his enhanced eyes could barely penetrate the swirling gritty winds. He activated his voxbead almost without thinking to report the attack but was met with only a screech of static.
The sergeant spun with his scimitar ready and was shocked to see a tall figure in a billowing grey cloak standing not five metres from him.
‘Who are you? Why are you here?’ demanded Bataar as he warily studied this new arrival. A smirk creased the man’s face as he drew back his cloak, a short sword flashing into his gauntleted hands. The purple Astartes pauldron he revealed was emblazoned with the symbol of the XXth Legion.
‘Why are we here?’ replied the Alpha Legionnaire, ‘Why are you here?’
‘I have no other reason than to destroy you traitors,’ snarled Bataar as he brandished his weapon.
The legionnaire laughed, a cold and mirthless sound. ‘Then I suppose I have no reason to be here other than to fight you. You ask who I am?’
Without warning, he flicked his cloak into Bataar’s face and leapt upon him.
‘I am Alpharius.’
The White Scar’s final sight was of the Astartes’ sickly smile as he thrust his gladius through Bataar’s chestplate and into his hearts, before his killer disappeared into the rising storm.

==========

HERE INSTEAD

by William Hooke (AKA Marshal Wilhelm)




THE SMOKE WAS clearing. The damp valley air kept it around for a long time, but it was definitely clearing. The fierce bombardment had raged for minutes and now was the time to check for progress.
Falx shook his head in disbelief. Rumour was that the rest of his legion was about to join with the Space Wolves and White Scars to eliminate “Overdogg Mashogg”, some Orkish warlord who actually possessed rudimentary levels of cunning. An honour, teaming up with brother Astartes against a worthy foe, shoulder to shoulder… but he was here instead.
Here in an earthworks bunker, slopping around in inches of red mud, water and rotting flesh, doing what Iron Warriors always did: tightening the screws on another nut, waiting for it to crack.
Not much had changed. Casting an experienced eye over the fortress revealed the walls were still intact. Running through the spectra on the magnocs confirmed it. Nearby, Paramerion ran through the cycles on the sonoscope.
‘No change, Sergeant Falx’.
He sighed.
‘Falx to Captain Rabdia.’ His voxbead crackled in response. ‘As before, sir.’


A PORTION OF the 4th Grand Company had been sent to this world – the 33rd Imperial Army Regiment required assistance. Their fool of a commander, Colonel Sainglend, saw “Fortress Twenty-Seven” as a chance for glory. At least he had had the decency to get himself killed during the mad rush he led.
With the depleted force in a bad position, the locals could launch strikes against the lightly held space port. It was sheer providence that the 4th Grand Company received the order to relieve them, scant hours before they were due to make the journey by Warpspace to rendezvous with the other legions.
Falx’s hearts jumped as the rolling thunder of Imperial artillery roared into life once more. They did every time. He laughed at himself – how many times had he done this before? And still when the big guns spoke, he jumped.
Many times before. Too many. The guns thundered on.
All they had needed to do was wait! The locals had been bested in pitched battle and had fled to this mountain range, giving the Imperials free run of the continent. But that wasn’t enough for Colonel Sainglend, and so he lead them to their deaths. Artillery was only weeks away – super-heavies, moles and other Mechanicum ingenuity. Nothing could stand before those colossi.
Sainglend had run his troops into a vainglorious assault on Fortress Twenty-Seven. He had tried to claim the planetary governorship through martial accomplishment. Just because his army was “Imperial” it didn’t mean victory was automatic! No recon, no skirmishers, no artillery and no sense. They attacked the fortress with little knowledge of the emplacements, minefields and choke points. The smarting locals were only too keen to wreak vengeance upon the belligerent invaders. Falx laughed bitterly: the army had paid for Sainglend’s megalomania.


AGAIN THE SMOKE cleared, after a while. The stink of dead men lifted a little too. Not much though. There were hundreds of them – twisted, broken and bloody.
Falx marvelled at Fortress Twenty-Seven. They might be arrogant enough to deny the Imperial Truth, but the locals knew how to make the most of terrain and materials. Their angles through all the planes were as good examples as he had seen outside of the Mechanicum, and Falx had seen many.
Running again through the spectra, the magnocs revealed no exploitable fractures. The clicks, whistles and thuds from the sonoscope were picked up by Falx’s autosenses – he guessed Paramerion’s assessment and shook his head. Paramerion confirmed it.
‘No change, Sergeant.’
That bombardment had lasted an hour. The Iron Warriors were seriously under-resourced. They needed more time to make up for the lack of ordnance.
‘Falx to Captain Rabdia.’ The vox was smooth this time. ‘As before, sir.’
The guns roared. Falx’s hearts skipped.


‘SIEGES ARE NOT complex…’ muttered Falx, as he shadow-executed some phantom whilst gunning his chainsword. Sieges are like a fitness routine – things never really change.
Aye, there were always variances but generally very limited. But the procedures had to be run through. Each one. Every time. Like an automaton.
An Astartes automaton. Bred for glory, but stuck fighting by numbers.
It was monotonous. Every time. Unless the enemy tried to sally out… such a delight! The excitement was always tangible in the officers’ voices over the vox whenever the foe tried it, like an agriworker feeling rain on his sun-aged face after the dry season.
These few locals would not be sallying out though. No such sport, he mused as he continued his shadow-swordsmanship. Their walls were well made and the Iron Warriors guns were few.
They were progressing well, considering – in spite of it all, the Iron Warriors would win through. The firing patterns would be rotated through the program. The walls would break. They always did.
Captain Menaulion always said there was no such thing as an “immovable object” nor any “irresistible force”, despite what the ancient Terran saying implied. The object just needed even more force applied to move it; and a troublesome force just needed a counter-force. Ignorant Terrans.
The vox chimed, and Falx snapped back from his reverie.
“Sergeant Falx,” came Captain Rabdia’s voice.
‘Yes sir,’ Falx responded.
“The seismic scans have detected no potential flaws in the local geology or the fortress walls, and the foundations are too deep for us to reach with present equipment.”
‘Excellent,’ replied Falx, with no noticeable inflection but loaded with sarcasm.
“Yes, but you know the procedure. This is what we do. Iron within…”
‘…Iron without!’ Falx responded.

He settled back down into the bunker’s earthen corner. He gazed out at Fortress Twenty-Seven, wishing to be inside those gates. The locals would regret their obstinance…
Falx gunned his chainsword, following his fantasy.
The Iron Warriors would unleash hell on the defiant population. Halls and walkways would run red. They would scream for mercy and receive none…
After a long while, he relaxed his grip on the weapon’s hilt.
But he was here instead…

==========


OLYMPIAN

by Andy Clark (AKA Mortarion)




THE SOUNDS OF battle echoed faintly from below as the warrior removed his helmet, the icy winds buffeting his craggy features. He knelt, placing the helmet on the crystal flagstones and resting his gauntleted hand on the pommel of the sword embedded in the ground before him.
He closed his eyes, filtering out the sounds from below, picking out the distant rumble of artillery and the intermittent fizzing crackles as the void shields absorbed their impacts.
There is that at least, he thought, the shields are still holding.
Raising the citadel’s shields had been a risk: the massive amounts of power it required would deny life support systems to all but the highest levels of the tower. The cold mattered little to the Astartes, but the thousands of civilians who had fled there for safety would not last in the glacial chill.
But had he not raised the shields, they would not have lasted even this long. Even so, Arsen Thaddea, captain of the Iron Warriors 6th company, now knelt alone.
The irony of the siege master becoming besieged himself was not lost on the captain. He reflected upon this in silence for several minutes before rising again, scooping up his helmet and holding it in the crook of his elbow. He could hear the distant whine of a gunship’s engines.
He knew what it meant – one way or another, this was all about to end.
Moving stiffly towards the standard planted in the centre of the courtyard, Thaddea placed his helmet at its base alongside his boltgun.
The joints of his armour were beginning to seize up in the extreme cold, the thermal regulation controls having been damaged early on in the siege as his warriors fought a rearguard action, giving the civilians time to escape. His Warsmiths had been unable to repair it. No matter.
He moved back, drawing the sword out from the flagstones, and turned to look out across the city – his city. Over the course of the months-long siege he had come to see this polar fortress as his home.
At first a distant speck but growing steadily larger, the boxy form of a gunship resolved itself on the horizon. It was one of the new Thunderhawks which the legions now favoured over the older craft. He had to admit that he didn’t like the new models: they lacked the sheer presence and majesty of a Stormbird.
The ship slowed to a halt over the citadels courtyard, the backwash from its engines bathing him in heat. With a hiss of escaping pressure, the forward ramp dropped, pulverising the battlements and giving the ship’s lone occupant a clear walkway onto the courtyard.
The ramp creaked ominously and ground itself further into the crenellations as a hulking armoured Astartes warrior descended, carrying a great warhammer in one hand and a furled battle standard in the other.
The delicate flagstones cracked beneath the warrior’s weight as he stepped from the ramp. He took two large strides before ramming the banner pole hard into the floor, rooting it in place opposite the first.
The warrior nodded and reached up to remove his helmet. He tossed it down beside his own standard and unholstered his pistol – a long, unnecessarily ornamented thing with a perforated barrel – before laying it beside his helm.
With the ceremonies complete the two warriors stood facing one another. Arsen studied the newcomer – the two knew each other well enough but he still hoped to glean some insight into the other Astartes’ mindset. With a sigh, the newcomer swung his hammer round into a two handed grip and raised himself to his full height, his burnished terminator armour lending him an imposing presence.
‘End this foolishness Arsen,’ he said, his voice carrying easily across the courtyard like the low thunder of a waterfall, ‘You cannot win. Your warriors are encircled and your void shields are about to fail, and when they do my artillery will reduce this pitiful wreck of a fortress to rubble.’
Arsen spared a glance at his own banner, the personal heraldry of a gauntlet clutching an artillery shell flapping and swaying in the fierce winds. His eyes were drawn to the Aquila sewn carefully into the honour marking near the bottom and his resolve hardened.
‘No Hercule, you are the fool. You have abandoned your honour in search of what? Petty vengeance against an imagined wrong.’
His voice was faltering. He was tired. The long drawn-out siege had taken its toll on his body as well as his armour. ‘The Emperor did not send us to those warzones because we were expendable… he sent us because we were – are! – the best at what we do.’
Hercule Berossus, 4th Captain of the Iron Warriors, laughed.
‘You poor blinkered fool. The Emperor is against us – they are all against us! The only person we can trust is the Warmaster. Horus is the way forward, he will give us the recognition we deserve!’
Arsen shook his head. ‘You are wrong. His little insurrection can only lead to more death. Even now those legions still loyal to the Emperor will be making all speed to Terra, and Dorn’s Imperial Fists will have bolstered the defences of the palace a hundredfold. It is insanity to think you can overcome them.’
Berossus rocked back as if Arsen had struck him, the idea they would not win evidently having never crossed his mind. After a moment he recovered his composure, shifting the weight of his hammer from his left hand to his right.
‘You are a coward Thaddea, and you always were! You may have been born on Olympia but you do not have the soul of her warriors.’
Arsen closed his eyes recalling the rolling landscape of his homeworld.
‘If you are what is to become of the true Olympians, then I gladly renounce my heritage and birthright.’
Berossus flexed his massive armoured gauntlets around the shaft of his warhammer in expectation, ‘So you will not be moved from this course of action…’
It was not intended as a question, but Thaddea answered anyway.
‘No. By my honour, I am for the Emperor. I will never willingly become a traitor.’
Berossus flinched, as if the word had stung him, his eye twitching slightly.
‘Then we have nothing more to discuss.’
With that he lunged forward, and brother fought brother.

==========


THAT OTHER PLACE

by Graham Cooke (AKA Pacific)




DRIP... DRIP... DRIP…
Warule sat entranced by the steady stream of moisture as it fell from the roof and rolled down one wall, pooling near the feet of the crouched Sergeant Buseyt.
Though the liquid was stained and clouded it reminded him of something else: blood. Of the way which the crimson fluid stuck to a surface until sufficient weight forced it through gravity to descend, forming in rivulets and pooling like mercury, its faintly reflective aspect represented in myriad colours and shades – the mirror image of another world…
But the water which crept morosely down the wall was very much of this reality, a sorry contrast to the dominant white and blue of the Astartes crouched throughout the room. Poor comparison to faded red, the remains of stained blood not entirely removed.
“Make yourselves ready, cohort!”
The harsh digital representation of Buseyt’s voice chimed in Warule’s earpiece, breaking his reverie. Instinctively he gripped the haft of his chainaxe, running his gauntleted thumb over the well worn activation rune.
Lime-green diagnostics winked positive in his visor: compartmentalised diagrams of his turbofans became opaque and then disappeared as the systems in the device were checked by the control centre of his armour.
Warule had seen each and every step on a hundred occasions and anticipation built in him as it moved through its sequence: auto-senses; environmental integrity; power levels. Each confirmed in turn until only a single system remained. The diagnostic interface, as if sensing the tension, paused for a moment before an image of opened fangs enveloped the cross section of his MK3 helm – his bio-neural implants were ready. The image faded, leaving Warule staring once more at coarse granite and discoloured water.
When Buseyt spoke again, this time in more measured tones, it came to Warule as if he were submerged beneath that thin film of water and in another world. Flat, undisturbed. A shade of nothing…
“Ignatov is pinned down in those ruins two hundred metres ahead,” the Sergeant’s words came broken and halting. “Auto-weapon nests. A trench. Heavy fire.”
Despite the digital compression, all of them recognised the sense of anticipation inherent in his tone – the sense of eagerness mixed with fear. After what seemed like an eternity he spoke again, but this time the words rushed forth like a torrent, “We attack from above! For Angron! For the Emperor!”
A pause. A drip of water.
The hollow echo of Warule’s breath faded into silence, and it hung in the air for what seemed like an eternity.
“Activation code...”
The world that existed around Warule collapsed, and the man that was the Astartes heard no more. A torrent of images cascaded through his mind, a bursting flash of memories and experience which flowed through him, fleeting, never giving him respite or chance to reflect.
The blood red skies of Lalonde; Brother Gasker lying in his arms, his life blood draining away; Commander Dreyt falling to the Reavers; the howls of his brothers caught in the Maelstrom of Iskar; the training camps of Bodt – a thousand white gauntlets held to the sky, fists clenched and the galaxy their prize!
The images began to merge: decades of war, of death and destruction, condensed into a heartbeat. There… and gone like the flash of bolter fire. With a scream of exaltation the faded world of greys fell away from him, and the veils which cloaked his vision were discarded as he burst through the surface of that sterility.
To Warule it did not matter that special biological pre-cursors had been activated, releasing carefully targeted hormones and chemical programs into his brain. That reservoirs of adrenalin and more exotic components were being dumped directly into his bloodstream.
It did not matter.
At that moment it felt like lightning had struck him. As if tens of thousands of volts of electricity were arcing through his body, as his muscular frame arched and threatened to tear itself loose from his skin of armour and launch itself through the ceiling. Twin hearts hammered in his heaving chest like pistons, his helmet desperately struggling to allow enough air into his lungs as they heaved in great ragged gasps.
As his teeth clamped together, threatening to splinter apart, he gripped the haft of his chainaxe: it roared to life, the scream of its serrated blades echoing the fire which coursed through his veins. His eyes bulged, and he barely noticed his brother Astartes around him, wrestling with their own invisible daemons as their bodies were wracked by the tumult within. Ceramite strained at the seams as they stumbled out of the building, those too inexperienced to have loosened the seals on their armour joints now paying the price – searing pain as their hyper-extended musculature bulged within their battle plate.
Warule bounded after them in great strides, barely able to keep his footing as his legs drove him forward, chainaxe singing its chorus of death and destruction. A serrated blade symphony which commanded his entire being, eclipsing any moment other than this...
Moments later they found themselves in an open space of sand covered pavement and roads. Warule’s heart sang at what was to come next, and he skidded to a halt sending chips of dirt tumbling through the air.
Placing his arms by his sides he planted his feet into the ground and squatted. He looked up into the red-tinged sky – to Warule it looked as though scarlet mists drifted through the raining blood of his brethren. Of Gasker; of Dreyt; of every World Eater who had ever fought and fallen...
Diagnostics blinked positive, and screams of exaltation sounded in his earpiece as with a thunderous roar the turbofans in his jump pack ignited. His armour shook, feeling as though it would shake itself from his body. With an almighty roar he was launched into the sky in a corkscrewing trail of black smoke and ozone.
Towards the enemy.
Towards blood and destruction.
Towards that world which existed so fleetingly, and to which Warule longed always to return…

==========


BEFORE THE CONQUEROR

by Dylan Wasdahl (AKA Provost Dylanof)




In the 45th year of the Great Crusade…


ASPASIA’S FACE REFLECTED on the transparisteel portal above the broken husks of five hundred ships. Many of those wrecks belonged to Cygnus.
Five other Sovereigns sat around the table with downcast eyes. Their fleets also drifted, broken and crushed, across the void. Each had ruled a Kindred of hundreds of systems. They had all been bound together in the Thulcandran Alliance.
And then the Emperor had come.
The Emperor’s messenger wore a crisp uniform with gleaming buttons. He slouched at the head of the table and sipped from his wineglass. A sinuous female acolyte brought a sheaf of papers as he waved his hand.
‘You have been defeated,’ he announced, ‘For two decades, you fought a vicious war. But, as you were warned in the beginning, no force can stand before the rightful lord of mankind.’
Diogenes, Sovereign of Pyxis, sighed. ‘You did say that a lot, didn’t you.’
Someone gave a short laugh. The messenger scowled and gestured to the portal. The meeting had been planned with this particular view in mind.
‘Do you see your fleets? The Imperium can visit the same destruction upon your space-borne hives.’
Aspasia’s eyes met his. ‘Did you feel fear when those fleets besieged Sol?’
His composure faltered. ‘Enough! You lost. Now surrender your white rings.’
The Sovereigns slid the symbols of authority from their fingers in silence, placing them solemnly on the tabletop. Only Daedalus of Ursa did not.
‘This is a judgment, isn’t it?’ he said, ‘God raised the Imperium because we betrayed the First Race.’
The attending Imperial troopers bristled, drawing their side-arms. One stepped beside Daedalus. ‘Give us the ring.’
Daedalus shook his head. ‘I have forsaken my brothers, but I will not abandon the stewardship of my Kindred.’
The soldiers fired until their clips ran dry. Then they dragged the body from the room without a word.
The Emperor’s messenger examined the rings. Though they all looked alike, some felt warm, some cold, some sharp, and some dull. ‘You must stop resisting the Emperor-’
‘I wish that I also kept my ring,’ Aspasia interrupted him. He looked up at her.
‘Do you really?’
He slid it down the table and drew his laspistol with a predatory grin. All eyes fell upon Aspasia.
She stared out over the ruins of the fleet, at the pale reflection of her grey eyes. She looked back at the messenger and pulled the ring over her finger. Warmth shot through her veins again.
‘There are some things that your master cannot conquer, Mattacoman.’
After a moment, Mattacoman put down his weapon. It had taken the Imperial Army and the involvement of every single Space Marine legion to break these people. The Thulcandran Alliance boasted more than two thousand systems, and their ancestors had used ancient technology to build their hives in the depths of space, far from the terrors of the Age of Strife. At first, their superior navy had wreaked havoc upon the Imperial fleet, but ultimately they had been unable to match the Emperor’s ground forces.
Mattacoman shrugged. ‘As you wish. Now, about those you call the “First Race” – my Lord demands that you immediately cease all contact with said thinking-machines and treat them as enemies… ugh, to think that even you could sink so low!
‘Secondly, my Lord will send techno-magi to salvage your fleets and add them to the Imperial military. Thirdly, he will graciously allow you to maintain your positions should you swear oaths of loyalty to the Imperium.
‘Look at you: five Sovereigns out of eleven. Three of your number became Sovereigns because their predecessors were slain in the war. Four died in yesterday’s battle. Take your peoples,’ he said, gesturing to each in turn, ‘Cygnus, Scorpius, Pyxis, Aries and Fornax, and swear them to the protection of the Emperor. Two years ago we shattered an entire Kindred beyond recovery. Spare yourself the same fate.’
Aspasia thought of Cetus. ‘Your Blood Angels are well named, messenger… but not as well as your Death Guard…’
Mattacoman sank back into his chair. In the half century of the crusade, he had never met defeated leaders who remained so insolent. If only he had some Astartes with him now…
The battle wreckage drifted aimlessly outside in the void. Much of it bore the double headed eagle – curiously, the only Kindred that had not yet surrendered was named Aquila. At that very moment, three whole Astartes legions were hurtling through the Warp, drawing ever closer to the battered Aquilan capital.
‘Swear the oaths,’ he said.
The Sovereigns glanced at each other. Aspasia rose from her seat.
‘May we have a moment to discuss it?’
‘Hah!’ Mattacoman snorted, ‘You have had twenty years.’
‘True,’ she said, glancing back at the wreckage, ‘Then the answer is clear. We will take your master’s yoke. I fear it will be heavy, but we can bear it. Now, know this: we will not do evil in the Emperor’s name. Cygnus will not abandon our God.’
Electra, Sovereign of Fornax, thumped down on the table. ‘Nor may your iterators crush us – my people revere the Number God, and we will not be banded in together with your Cult Mechanicus!’
Other Sovereigns began to speak up, each barking out their own demands.
The messenger snarled. He could not even divide them there. There was nothing more to be had from these people – they were more determined at the end of the war than at the beginning. He stormed from the chamber, followed by his guardsmen.
Diogenes smirked. ‘He’s had better days. Do you suppose he’ll put our rings on a shelf, or present them to his master?’
‘Our master,’ Aspasia corrected him. She did not look up from her ring.
Electra knelt. ‘Fornax is forever grateful to Cygnus.’
Coriolanus also knelt. ‘Aries is grateful.’
Marduk followed. ‘Scorpius is grateful.’
Diogenes knelt, bowing his head.
The white ring filled Aspasia’s blood with the undying fire of the stars. She looked again past the transparisteel portal – the husks of ships hung like tombstones against the blackness of space.
Though scarred and cracked, the emblem of a great stylised swan still lay majestically on the side of her flagship. Beyond it, a thousand constellations danced across the heavens, free in a way she would never be again. They burned eternally, glittering and reflected in the tears trickling down her cheek.

==========


THE GETHSEMANE DOME

by Eric Walker (AKA RandomX)




THE GETHSEMANE DOME: once an idyllic expanse of gardens for Imperial autocrats to wander, it was now nothing but twisted razor wire and trenches. The plascrystal dome was cracked and now bore holes through which traitor Stormbirds could manoeuvre, three abreast. No longer would the dome – at one point a self-contained ecosystem complete with its own microclimate patterns inside the mind bogglingly vast interior space – host conferences of remembrancers and scholars. The fountains were shattered, the trees cut and burned. Paradise had turned to mud and fire.
Fire stitched along the earthworks as the Iron Warriors’ heavy weapons teams attempted to keep the Imperial Army defenders pinned down. Sigismund, 1st Captain of the Imperial Fists legion, walked the lines behind the Imperial infantrymen. Another assault was coming – it would soon be upon them, and Sigismund knew that his new duties as the Emperor’s Champion would be tested for the first time here in the hell that had been made of Gethsemane.
‘Keep your courage! Fear not the traitors and hold the line!’ he called, hefting the massive black bladed power weapon gifted to him that very morning by Lord Dorn.
‘You are the Champion of the Emperor, Sigismund,’ he had said, placing one immense hand upon Sigismund’s bowed head as he knelt in front of his liege-lord in the arming bays of the Eternity Gate. His jet black armour – new MK4 plate saved from Mars by Sigismund’s company during the Red Planet’s schism – had been worked upon by the most gifted among the legion’s techmarines until it was a work of splendid artifice. Upon its pauldrons they had worked his personal heraldry: a stylised cruciform from ancient Terran myth in a field of pearlescent white.
‘Find those who would lead other Astartes to spit on their oaths of loyalty, and accept any challenge they offer, no matter the odds. Persecute the enemies of my Father, our Emperor, with righteous zeal.’
Dorn had then unsheathed the Black Sword and placed it point down into the decking before Sigismund. The newly honoured champion had gripped the blade barehanded, his blood running freely down it, and kissed the pommel.
“I swear it, my lord.”
A swelling roar from the Iron Warriors’ line broke his reverie. The grubby steeled forms of the traitors were rising from their trenches, and advancing swiftly through the hellish no man’s land that lay between them and the Imperial positions.
Sigismund leapt to the firing step, and then powered himself over the parapet.
‘Hold fast, men of the Emperor! He is watching you!’ he roared, his choler up, and then charged towards the advancing traitors.
He saw that their once proud form was... twisted, as if altered in some way to please their new master. Their armour, a mixture of venerable MK2 and MK3 plate, now seemed more sharp-edged; their helms sculpted into the grotesques of daemons and beasts from the darkest corners of the galaxy.
They poured fire from dragon-mawed bolters at him, but none of them could touch him. Sigismund’s black armoured form sprang across the detritus of war and ruin, and he soon spotted the captain of these Iron Warriors among them. As Sigismund drew near, the traitors seem to clear around him, continuing towards the Imperial lines as the champions faced one another.
What corrupt beast of an Astartes is this, thought Sigismund. The warrior’s armour was split and jagged at the seams. Taloned hands curled around a cruelly hooked blade, and horns sprouted from his skull.
Daemon.
Sigismund knew he was outmatched. He had seen one of these creatures run rampant across the top of the Saturnine Gate before the Primarch Sanguinius himself had stepped in to kill it.
He was but an Astartes. But he was sworn to stand firm, no matter the odds.
‘Face me, traitor!’ Sigismund spat, his unhelmed face awash with hate and revulsion, ‘Face your death at the hands of a true son of the Emperor!’
The corrupt Iron Warrior chuckled from behind his armoured gorget, the wet sound seeming to rip apart the air like tearing silk.
‘Oh, I will feast upon your soul, whelp of Dorn! Son of a lesser man! Gaze upon the perfection of Chaos and the true gods of Perturabo.’
Sigismund leapt upwards, launching himself from the lip of a wrecked marble fountain with the Black Sword before him, whistling through the air as he aimed the energized monomolecular blade at the beast. But the daemon casually batted him aside and backhanded him across the pauldron, crushing his ornate cruciform and the shoulder beneath and sending him spinning into the mud.
Sigismund scrambled to his knees, his crushed arm dangling uselessly at his side, and brought up the Black Sword in front of his face as his enemy strode towards him.
‘Emperor… Progenitor… forgive me,’ he whispered though bloody lips. ‘I have served, but failed. I give my life to you.’
The Iron Warrior’s sibilant voice hissed, and it raised its own sword above it for the killing blow. ‘Your death will be delicious, lapdog. The gods will take your soul and make it a plaything for all eternity.’
But the killing blow never fell. A golden light blazed, seeming to come from everywhere at once. Strength flooded through Sigismund, and he surged to his feet. Not a drop of mud remained on his armour: it was once again pristine, the pauldron no longer ruined. The heraldic cruciform stood luminescent upon it.
And his arm. Against all reason, his arm was healed.
Deep within himself, he heard – nay, felt – a voice, gentle yet firm.
-Fear not, son of Dorn. Your work is not yet complete-
Sigismund roared as he drove the Black Sword into the breast of the daemon, golden fire surging along its length and pouring into the wound. The creature howled beyond the range of mortal hearing, golden light and fire spilling from its gaping mouth and eyes, and then it burned to ash upon the blade of the Emperor’s Champion.
As he withdrew the weapon, all around him the Iron Warriors broke off their assault in terror, fleeing for the supposed safety of their defensive positions.
The golden light died away, but Sigismund was left infused. And he knew his true purpose.
‘Glory to you, my Emperor,’ he said, eyes closed and head bowed. ‘Your will be done.’
He looked up at the retreating Iron Warriors and pointed the Black Sword at their backs, calling to the awestruck men on the trench firing step.
‘Come, men of the Imperium! Our duty is not yet done!’

==========


CADUCEUS BY NIGHT

by Dan Williams (AKA Renlegunvrs)




THE WALLS OF the makeshift infirmary shook as loyalist artillery fell on the advance positions of the Night Lords. The siege of the forge complexes on Thramas had begun twenty days before – Warmaster Horus had dispatched them here to protect his flank for the main thrust on Terra.
The legion had gained complete surprise by methodically cutting all communications within the system. Fear gripped the Mechanicum forces. The prattling binary transmissions had ceased and were replaced by the tortured screams of the poor souls who had been captured on the orbitals in the opening days of the engagement.
The outer forges had easily been swept aside as all resistance was crushed ruthlessly by the concentrated might of the VIIIth Legion. Increasing desperation among the techpriest defenders had panicked them into using experimental bolter ammunition, in development since the Isstvan V massacre had heralded the beginning of a new darker age for the Imperium.
Carpal, the macabre Chief Apothecary of the Night Lords, had been attached to the veteran Ur-Curlon squad. He leaned forward and skilfully employed his chirurgeon’s armature to saw through the third and fourth ribs of his patient’s chest.
His device had been a prototype, built to heal and torture in equal measure. The idea was originally sparked by a conversation with the Chief Apothecary of the Emperor’s Children on Cheraut long ago. Out of respect for his input, he had of course forwarded the early schemata back to Fabius Bile, and the fool had – with his usual pomp! – taken the information, improved upon it, and claimed it was entirely of his own devising.
The right side of the Astarte’s chest where the bolt round impacted was a splintered mess: it had penetrated the warrior’s armour and secondary heart in one shot. Carpal frowned as he cauterized the ascending and descending vena cava which supplied the ruined heart with Larraman-rich blood. A replacement will be required, he thought, bred in the gene vats of the Umbra Insidior, Night Haunter’s flagship currently in orbit.
The Apothecary was stirred from his work by an approaching rumble – a pair of Sabre tank hunters. Through a gap in the ruined wall he saw his brothers positioning their tanks at the edge of the open rubble field littered with dead Skitarii, the odd legionnaire scattered amongst the bodies.
Carpal admired the low silhouette of the Sabres. They were a rare STC variant of the Rhino – the troop carrying capacity had been forgone and the front hull was armoured as thickly as a Land Raider. A vanquisher cannon protruded off-centre to the right side of the hull, perfect for the long range sniping that was its forte.
The tanks took up defiladed positions, covering the battered ruin of the forge complex’s inner gates.
With a whine of anti-grav engines, a speeder suddenly emerged, darting between the Sabres in an attempt to bait its pursuing loyalist Knight titan out of the gate. Its efforts were rewarded as the Knight emerged, and both Sabres opened fire simultaneously with a thunderous roar. The shells struck home, the jarring impacts forcing the damaged titan to limp back into cover.
As the smoke cleared, the top hatch of the nearest Sabre opened to reveal the dark brooding face of Brother-Sergeant Raz. Without warning, a staccato burst of auto-fire sounded from the left, causing Raz to flinch – a dormant Legio Cybernetica maniple had been activated from its slumber among the nearby ruins when the Sabres had fired. Their rudimentary programming identified the tanks as a threat, which had spurred them into their combat subroutines.
Another burst, and Raz was struck by a hail of shots, pitching him from the hatchway to the rubble below. Advancing from among the low ruins, the robots’ heavy weaponry began to carve great gouges in the armour of the Sabres.
Carpal backed away from his vantage point, barking orders to the remnants of Ur-Curlon. The veterans brought up melta weaponry and krak grenades, quickly opening up on the automatons with controlled fire from their covered position.
Their simple programming confused by the simultaneous presence of two greater threats and a closer swarm of lesser targets, the robots auto-senses flickered back and forth, unable to categorise the Night Lords. Within moments, the machines were no more.
Carpal looked at the scene with disgust and hastened to Raz’s side, attending to his injuries as best he could. The wounds were severe – his jaw had been blown apart by the impact of an explosive bolt, and bright crimson blood bubbled in Raz’s ruined mouth as he tried to breathe.
Carpal’s chirurgeon went to work, removing armour and spraying syn-skin sealant on the mangled mess the bullets had made of the sergeant. He jammed his narthecium into Raz’s throat, boring a hole into the trachea which allowed the air to bypass the foaming remains of his airway. This left Raz looking more butchered than before, but at least he was now breathing. The Apothecary summoned his medicae attendants and gurney-bearing servitors to take Raz back to the drop zone - his condition would only improve once he was safely inside the medicae facilities of the flagship.
The Ur-Curlon veterans had found the robots’ controller and dragged the struggling and howling adept before Carpal. He shook visibly at the sight of the Apothecary, transfixed by his midnight-blue battle plate and the scenes of death adorning it. He eventually managed to force his gaze to Carpal’s crimson vambraces in order to distract himself from the dizzying blades of the chirurgeon which clicked and whirled expectantly. Carpal grinned – this man knew that the Apothecary’s knowledge of anatomy would not be to his immediate benefit.
Whining in protest, the chirurgeon’s blades bit into the adept’s flesh-and-steel body, and the man’s screams began again in earnest. The gathered Astartes chuckled and taunted the man as the device plunged deeper in, seeking out softer tissues.
The tortured wailing fractured the resolve of the loyalists manning the gates. Unrest spread like a wave through their ranks as the torture was broadcast over the vox. The screams of the adept became interspersed with what he thought the Night Lords wanted to know – troop deployments, access codes and the like. He tried to offer whatever crucial strategic information he had in return for a quick death.
Unfortunately for him, the Night lords were not known for their compassion.

==========


SIMULACRA

by Laurie Goulding (AKA ShroudFilm)




AS EMBARRASSING AS it was, he had resorted to scrawling notes on a fistful of old playing cards for fear that he might forget his speech at the last moment. His fingers trembled as he skimmed over each card in order and cold sweat ran down his back beneath his dress uniform, which was odd because he felt uncomfortably warm in his seat at the side of the stage.
Captain Armand Kruspe. Decorated hero of the Tharn IV campaign and founder of the 18th Brakktyr Infantry Regiment. What an honour.
Kruspe hated public speaking almost as much as he hated being away from the front lines. Somewhere out there, battles were being fought and glory won by the true heroes of the Great Crusade… while he was stuck in an honorary position, being poked and prodded by the facility’s medicae personnel. He had lost count of the number of various and sundry bodily samples he had provided them, and was seriously considering asking for a receipt on all future deposits.
As he turned over the cards with clammy hands, he noticed that Calpine was watching him again. He always felt that the man’s glinting augmetic eyes were studying him, even when he wasn’t in plain sight – it was part of Kruspe’s role to be the centre of attention, he supposed, but it was still unnerving.
Resplendent in his polished silver breastplate and brocaded longcoat, Thellion Calpine was the wiry Imperial governor of Brakktyr Prime, having been appointed immediately after the planet had been “made compliant” by the barbaric Astartes of the World Eaters legion. In the wake of such indiscriminate genocide, Calpine had been forced to consider options other than raising regiments directly from the native population, and had consulted with his family who were – by all accounts – gene-merchants of some renown on Gallant.
In spite of the evening breeze which kept the garish buntings and hung regimental standards twitching at the sides of the open amphitheatre, the serried ranks of recruits still stood to attention as their appointed Iterator continued his opening address well into its twentieth minute. In spite of his oratory skill, Kruspe noted that the man had lost the attention of most of the command staff seated behind him upon the stage, and particularly that of the attending Astartes.
Kruspe risked a sideways glance at them. Brother-Captain Vorhan sat with his immense arms folded across a chest like a stacked fuel drum: clearly the formality of the ceremony was lost upon him, and his boredom was evident as he muttered idly to the robed equerry seated beside him. At least they didn’t show up in their filthy battle armour, thought Kruspe as he thumbed through his cards once more, all too aware that a previous diplomatic summit had infamously been derailed when a representative of the World Eaters had shot an ambassador for asking him to remove his helmet.
Presently the Iterator drew to a close, and gave Kruspe his formal introduction. To a pattering of polite applause Kruspe shakily rose to his feet and stepped towards the podium, gripping his cards like some protective charm against the attention suddenly directed at him. He caught Vorhan’s gaze and the giant acknowledged him with a disinterested nod – doubtless the Astartes commander would be itching to leave behind once again the little planet he had conquered so many years before and return to the more pressing concern of wholesale murder in the name of the Emperor, and while Kruspe might find his manner and methods distasteful he knew that Vorhan was likely to be his only way back onto the front lines. For very different reasons, both men longed to return to war.
The Imperium needs me, he thought. Or at least, men like me. He allowed himself a moment of paternal pride as he scanned the throng. It was narcissism at its most mind-bendingly surreal. Very much like me.
A sea of alarmingly familiar faces stared back at him expectantly, a testament to the skills of Calpine and his geno-engineers – using Kruspe as a living blueprint, they had created more than a thousand vat-born clones to serve in the newly founded Brakktyr 18th. He, who had recovered the fallen standard of the Imperial Army from the crazed fire-cultists of Tharn, was now legion.
‘At ease brothers,’ he began, having long deliberated over whether that was actually the appropriate term to use, ‘I’m not so good with my words as the Iterators so I’ll keep it short, eh? You’ll soon be leaving here to join the crusading forces of the Emperor of Mankind. There are wars to be won, and unfortunately I can’t be everywhere at once.’ In spite of his nervousness, Kruspe’s intended bravado shone through enough to draw smiles from his audience.
‘The writings of Petraeus say that the ancient warlords of Terra used to encourage their soldiers to be “an army of one”, meaning that they wanted them to think for themselves and be willing to fight to the death, all alone if necessary. Well the more I think about it, the more I think that idea carries real weight now – you are, literally, an army of one…’
A few murmured chuckles and theatrical groans spread through the formation as the troops tried to maintain some semblance of formality and decorum under the watchful eyes of their superior officers. Kruspe paused for a moment.
‘…but you are the right man for the job.’
Laughter erupted from the ranks of clones, an eerily stereophonic chorus of identical mirth, and as Kruspe raised his hands in gratitude they began to applaud, to whoop and cheer. If nothing else, he realised that he could always amuse himself.
Turning from his audience, he saw that Calpine had also risen to his feet with an approving smile as he joined the ovation. Kruspe hardly dared to risk a glance towards the Astartes seated behind him, but when he did so he found that they had, predictably, already taken their leave.

==========


THE SINS OF THE FATHER

by William Raffle (AKA Titus Pullo)




Imperial World 18-24 Mining world of Enoch System
Distress Transmission
+++ GOVERNOR QUILLON REQUESTS IMMEDIATE SUPPORT.+++
Last planet of the system with remaining defence capacity.
Renegade Astartes and mutinous population in control of southern hemisphere.
Imperial fleet destroyed.
5 orbital laser batteries functioning.
20m combatants, 97m civilians/wounded.
800k tanks, 200k pieces of ordnance.
Ammunition and food supplies expected to last 1 Terran month.
+++May the Emperor grant mercy. +++



CAPTAIN CISCUS OF the Blood Angels legion read the distress message. It was one of seventeen. His aides found the associated resource data on each of them, and in a few seconds he had made up his mind.
His Astartes would have to go where they could protect the most valuable of humanities assets – they were not to be found on Eighteen Twenty-Four.



+++ BATTLEBARGE EMPEROR’S BLOOD ACKNOWLEDGES YOUR DISTRESS CALL. +++
There is no support to be spared at this time or in the foreseeable future.
+++ Be salved by the grace of the Emperor, may He always protect. +++



EZEKIEL QUILLON WAS sitting at his grand oak desk in the petitioning hall of the Governor’s palace. Its vast magnificence was hollow, as the daily bustle of thousands of Administratum staff had been thinned to a handful of military aides. Every available man and woman had been sent to frontline duties.
All was quiet. The calm before the inevitable storm of combat arrived, sweeping across the last bastion of the Imperium on this world. Night had drawn in and the yellow glow globes cast long shadows across the marble floors and granite pillars.
Quillon looked up from the grim dispatch from the Astartes and caught a glimpse of himself reflected in the polished metal of an ornamental combat shield hung on the wall. He was unshaven, his tunic creased and the almost total darkness around his tired eyes made a shiver run down his spine at his own appearance. He touched a vox button and spoke to his aide.
‘Lieutenant, I must get some sleep. Wake me in four hours.’
‘Yes sir,’ came the reply.
With that, Quillon retired to his bedchamber.


A SWEET SOUNDING voice haunted Quillon’s dreams…
No one is coming. Your father has left you to ruin. All you thought certain will be washed away to a sea of the never-ending. The voice was quiet but a raging, boiling anger seemed to rumble beneath the words.
Open your eyes and see.
Quillon snapped awake and sat bolt upright. Light spilled into the room and a buzzer sounded. ‘Your wake up call, sir.’
He quickly scanned his bedchamber. Nothing seemed out of place. The voices of the night were not his own dreams, he was sure of it.
‘Thank you, Lieutenant.’
Quillon dressed quickly and made for his briefing room.


FURTHER REPORTS CAME in throughout the day, each one heaping misery upon misery. Heavy losses were reported in all sectors. Imperial citizens had become crazed in the hive cities – some scarified themselves in repentance, while others were turning against each other, performing sadistic acts of cruelty, sacrifice and cannibalism. Entire regiments of the army were sabotaging the war effort by capturing supplies and ambushing their comrades before declaring for Horus and the traitors. This was not a war between men: it was animal savagery against decency. It seemed impossible to hold, but they must.
Quillon had spent all his life trying to create unity between mankind, to make it stronger to stand against the indifferent, infinite universe. He had sacrificed his own personal life for it. His wife and daughters had perished during the Great Crusade, attacked and stranded in space by xenos raiders on their way to his join him on his first governorship, some fifteen years earlier.
His only son, a captain, was reported missing in action two days ago and for Quillon, that heralded the death of his faith in mankind. The report stated his son’s battalion had turned and slain their officers. Remains could not be identified. Quillon knew he was gone.
He co-ordinated the remaining defences with his generals but hope had left him and anger at the traitors ebbed to a blank and numb despair. He craved the emptiness of sleep. As the daylight faded, he made his excuses and retired to bed.


MORE VOICES IN the night…
Quillon woke and saw it was not yet dawn. Faintly remembered whispers rang in his ears. Casting his eyes about the room he saw the outline of a figure in the darkness, which made him start and reach for the pistol by his bed.
‘There is no one coming,’ the figure spoke, its voice calming and soothing, ‘You are lost. I am your salvation.’
Neither masculine nor feminine, the figure’s voice was somehow familiar. Quillon felt alarmed but sluggish, unable to speak as it continued.
‘I can stop the death and suffering. This world will know peace.’
The speaker stepped out of the shadows. Quillon saw the handsome young man he had seen many times before, dressed in the uniform of the Imperial Army.
‘My son!’ Quillon rose from his bed, his voice quavering. Tears sprang to his eyes.
‘Yes father, it is I. Returned from death itself to bring you with me.’
Quillon broke down into wracking sobs and tore at his own hair.
‘But you are dead! You cannot be here…’ Quillon wanted to continue but the other man raised a hand and he felt compelled to silence.
‘Father, we are all here.’
At his words three more figures stepped from the recesses of the room, emerging from the darkness. Quillon was trembling with a mixture of fear and elation as his wife and daughters stepped into view.
‘We can all be together, forever,’ they spoke in unison, smiling, reaching out to him as one.
Quillon’s mind was wrenched back to the cold, hard reality of service to the Emperor of mankind. The deaths he had wrought and the echoing corridors of power he had trodden. For what?
He gazed at the figures standing before him, made his decision and reached out to embrace them.

==========

No discussion of 'edit vs original' on this thread please - PM me instead.

ShroudFilm - January 21, 2010 07:54 PM (GMT)
WHITE HOT

by Michael Vincent (AKA Vinnie)




THROUGH THE WHIRLING dust cloud that had filled the heavy atmosphere of the city, he watched the assault squad of the War Hounds legion descend on roaring columns of flame. Dropped from a Stormbird, the Astartes reinforcements came not before time. However confident of victory he happened to be, ten snarling chainaxes were always an appealing addition to one’s efforts.
Suddenly, a heavy armoured vehicle bearing the heraldry of the dissenting nation lumbered around the buttressed corner of the city wall. It had the snub nosed muzzle of its formidable looking main turret raised, and the crew clearly intended to eliminate the War Hounds before they made planetfall.
He smiled at the sight of this new target. It had been nearly forty seconds since he had teleported into the warzone and he had not yet engaged, mainly due to the lack of enemy units in the vicinity. He wasn’t sure whether to chastise his teleport operators for dropping him into a dead sector, or congratulate his Astartes warriors for making one.
But now it was time to get his hands dirty. Time to make his presence known.
Jaghatai, Great Khan and Primarch of the Vth Legion, cricked the tendons in his neck, flexed his immense gauntleted hands, and loped into a thundering charge. Even if what passed for auspex technology on the enemy vehicle detected his approach, there was no way any turret could traverse quickly enough to do anything about it.
‘For the Scars, and for the Emperor!’ the Khan bellowed in the flowing, affricative tongue of Chogoris. He drew his glittering qhatan blade, forged from the hardy ores of his homeworld, and threw himself shoulder first into the side of the vehicle.
It was not large by the standards of many battle tanks he had seen in his time at the Emperor’s side: perhaps thirty-five tons. It shifted with the impact. Not far, but far enough.
A blistering stream of tracer fire erupted from the barrel of its main weapon, hissing past the War Hounds squad at a distance of no more than a few inches. Yes, thought Khan, far enough.
A periscopic device appeared almost comically from the top hull of the tank. Jaghatai brought the palm of his hand down hard on top of it, and was rewarded with a muffled scream of agony from within. Grabbing the edges of the periscope cavity, the Primarch hauled himself on top of the vehicle and sprang towards what he knew was the commander’s hatch.
The vehicle began to move, jerking in and out of gear, attempting to dislodge their assailant. A mortal man might have been pitched from the hull, but not the Khan – a lifetime spent hunting game on the uneven peaks of the Khum Karta mountains; and riding first the powerful tahki warhorse and then later the Astartes assault bikes; all had given the Primarch reflexes that defied comprehension. Sometimes, to a mortal, they might even appear prescient.

Riding the juddering vehicle like he would a bolting horse, Jaghatai Khan grasped his blade with both hands and drove it hilt-deep down into the armour of the command hatch. Swinging his massive form, he wrenched the blade sideways into what he hoped would be the driver’s compartment.
Tortured metal screamed as it peeled into ribbons, booming as welds in the superstructure gave way. The vehicle stalled and trundled to a halt.
With a squeal and a clang, a trooper bearing a heavy energy pistol emerged from a hatchway behind Khan. The Primarch turned and was ready to dive from the path of the inevitable shot, but the trooper was cut down by bolter fire before he could level his weapon.
Khan peered around, and saw the War Hounds assault squad sprinting toward the tank, smoke rising from their pistols. He leapt down from the top of the tank.
‘My gratitude to you, War Hounds.’ He spoke in their common High Gothic, ‘I was very nearly injured.’
The squad’s sergeant stepped forward. ‘My Lord, it was our duty and our pleasure.’ Khan regretted that he did not know the warrior’s name.
There was another noise from the disabled tank. A terrified crewman pushed open a side hatch and was scrambling out on his hands and knees. One of the Astartes hopped forwards and slammed his power boot into the hatch, effectively crushing the man’s midsection in the jamb. With a twitch, the crewman vomited bloody tissue onto the ground and died.
Khan punched the locking mechanism of the hatch, the inhuman strength of his blow buckling the metal and effectively sealing the port. Cries and hammering erupted from within as at least two more crewmen panicked and scrabbled for escape.
The War Hounds sergeant cocked his helmeted head, as if listening. He was, but not to the doomed men.
‘My lord,’ he looked to Khan, ‘We have orders to assist in contesting a vital strongpoint to the west.’
‘Indeed,’ replied the Primarch. He nodded to the enemy tank. ‘Torch that before you go, would you?’
‘If you intend to head westwards, we will be honoured to accompany you,’ the sergeant said.
The Khan felt slightly uneasy. He still struggled to comprehend the reverence with which he was treated by Astartes of his brothers’ legions – to his own Scars he was a beloved commander and respected leader, not an object of veneration.
A clanking rumble from behind them drew his attention. It was another enemy tank approaching.
‘No,’ he said with a dark smile, ‘I think I shall be fine here.’
‘Yes, my Lord!’ With a nod of the head, the sergeant unclipped a melta bomb from his belt and clapped it to the side of the vehicle before leading his Astartes into the scorched sky with a roar of turbofans.
Jaghatai Khan stepped back, and with a bright flash the tank crumpled outwards, everything inside immolated. The sound was almost desultory, but the effect was inarguable.
He turned to face the thunder of the oncoming tank, and cricked his neck again.
For the Emperor, he thought, and grinned.

==========


MUD AND BLOOD

by Christopher Barton (AKA Yvraith)




HE REGAINED HIS senses slowly. How he had come to be in such a state he was unsure. Reality strove to bring him back into its fold, the sound of nearby artillery strikes piercing through his dulled awareness.
Cautiously he tested the movement in his fingers and toes, and emboldened by this small success he strived for something a little more adventurous. He hardened his resolve and forced himself to sit up, nausea threatening to swamp him… but he fought it back.
He looked around. He was perched upon the bank of what appeared to be a crater, presumably gouged by an artillery shell. He glanced down at his body to confirm what his nerves were telling him: he was – remarkably – still in one piece.
A visual inspection of his armour revealed that its dull metal finish was besmirched with mud spatter, and what appeared to be diluted blood. None of which was his own.
He grinned inside his helmet. Still fit to fight on, he thought.
The voxbead in his ear crackled into life. “Are you alright, Stuvant?”
He looked up at the rim of the crater to see the power armoured form of Brother-Sergeant Argento appear, the old warrior removing his helmet.
‘I’ll be fine,’ he replied, ‘What happened?’
‘Our position was targeted by counter-battery fire: of course, they couldn’t miss your enormous ego and so your position was hit.’
‘I take it that the enemy guns have been taken care of?’ Stuvant asked.
‘Almost instantly. It appears they are finally growing weary of this siege and are getting desperate.’
‘Good, then we’ve nearly broken them,’ he surmised, ‘The assault should begin soon then?’ He pushed himself to his feet, checking the seals of his battle plate.
‘That’s why I came looking for you – we’re leaving for the muster now.’
That made little sense to Stuvant. ‘So soon?’
‘It seems that Lord Perturabo is keen to move onto another system for some reason.’ Argento replied.
‘Then the Primarch is here?’
‘No, he’s due in-system shortly. He’s returning from a meeting with the Warmaster.’
Something on the horizon then, Stuvant thought. He furrowed his brow.
Argento rose, taking no notice. ‘Whatever it is, it’s none of our concern. Have you gathered your few remaining wits yet, brother? We must move on.’
Stuvant realised his hands were empty. He looked around, digging into the loose watery mud at the base of the crater.
‘My weapon, Brother-Sergeant…’
‘No sign. Looks like you’ll have to source another on the way.’
Wiping off his gauntlets, he carefully picked his way to the lip of the crater to join Argento, and together they made their way to the rendezvous point.


SOME TIME LATER, Stuvant stood hunched beside Argento and the remainder of their squad, waiting for the signal to commence the assault. The timing was crucial.
On cue, the Iron Warriors’ artillery pieces recommenced their firing pattern, a creeping barrage of destruction churning the battlefield ahead. As the time countdown continued, the artillery barrage intensified.
The order was received! Stuvant nodded to Argento and the Iron Warriors rose as one from their trenches and advanced into what any normal mortal human would have called hell.
Gouts of damp earth were flung into the air as shells impacted hard and detonated beneath the surface, and nightmarish pall of smoke hung low over the terrain. The enemy, sensing something was afoot, alternated between cowering in their defensive positions and firing sporadically at the advancing Space Marines. Their lasfire streaked through the madness, seeking any target, but their efforts proved futile as the armoured Astartes advanced, returning fire with their bolters and continuing toward their objectives.
Calmly firing his scavenged bolter from the hip as he advanced, Stuvant trusted in his battle plate to keep him from harm. The footing had become treacherous as the dark brooding clouds above opened up, drenching the already wet ground.
Puddles formed in shell holes only to be blown clear by subsequent barrages. Sinking up to their armoured greaves in the mire, the Iron Warriors resolutely continued their advance. This is what they did best – grind an opponent down over weeks or months of siege warfare, and then finish them off with a bold, artillery-supported assault.
Stuvant’s weapon ran dry, and as he changed the clip he realised that the enemy resistance was faltering. Their headquarters should be just ahead: the enemy however seemed to have had all of the fight drained out of them, sapped by the constant pressure applied by the Iron Warriors’ tactics.


AS PER THE artillery fire plan, the guns shifted targets to cut off any retreat as the Astartes neared their objectives. The remaining ragged defenders surged from their hidden positions in an attempt to deny the Imperial forces, but they might as well have fled. Malnourished, sodden and with no sense of organisation, they were dispatched easily by the controlled bolter fire of Argento’s squad.
Stuvant was first to reach the command post, calmly placed his melta charges on the reinforced bunker door and signalling back to Argento.
The sergeant responded with a nod and Stuvant activated his detonator. The door vanished in a white hot haze, splashing the surrounding mud and ceramite walls with gobbets of molten plasteel which fizzed and popped in the cold rain. The Iron Warriors were through the opening swiftly, gunning down the armed personnel floundering within.
All was suddenly quiet. Argento scanned the interior of the bunker with his auspex – among the survivors, who were few, was a man who appeared to be a ranking officer. He looked up at them.
‘Now what?’ he asked.
Argento raised his weapon. ‘You will order the remainder of your forces to surrender, and become a compliant subject of the Emperor.’
‘I will not give that order,’ he replied.
Stuvant stepped forward. ‘I strongly urge you to reconsider that,’ he advised.
The officer repeated firmly, ‘I will not give that order.’
A bolter shot rang out, and his skull detonated from within.
‘So be it,’ Argento muttered ruefully.


WITH THEIR COMMAND structure removed, the remaining enemy forces would be swiftly defeated. An Imperial Army commander would then be placed in charge of governing the system, and the population brought to compliance.
Stuvant and Argento had received their new orders, and returned to the strike cruiser Resolute.
‘Where to next, I wonder?’ Stuvant mused.
‘On to Istvaan!’ Argento replied with a smile.

==========

No discussion of 'edit vs original' on this thread please - PM me instead.

Fulgrim - January 21, 2010 08:04 PM (GMT)
Are you only posting 1 per day, Shroud?

Any word from Nick?

BigWill - January 21, 2010 08:15 PM (GMT)
Thank God I have been fiending to read these.
More More More :lol:

ShroudFilm - January 21, 2010 09:06 PM (GMT)
One per day for now.

I spoke to Nick on Tuesday, he is having real trouble picking a winner from among the great stuff you guys have produced! :D

I will let you know as soon as we hear back.

Pacific - January 21, 2010 09:28 PM (GMT)
Nice twist at the end there Ahriman, that is especially cruel :D

I like the way you've extrapolated from a sequence within Galaxy in Flames and provided a different viewpoint, from the ground as it were, of that event.

ShroudFilm - January 21, 2010 09:32 PM (GMT)
Aye, I liked that too - it's a very Rosencrantz'n'Guildernstern viewpoint, which I always really enjoy. Good work, Ahriman!

Dargor - January 21, 2010 10:41 PM (GMT)
Good work, Ahriman!I really enjoyed the ending too,best of luck with the story.


Cheers! :)

eFTy - January 21, 2010 10:44 PM (GMT)
A story a day keeps the madness at bay. Very nice, Ahriman, I loved it!

Vinnie - January 22, 2010 12:35 AM (GMT)
Very enjoyable reading Ahriman -clap on back- Setting a good precedent for the rest to come!

Alas and alack, but I'm sharing a few sentiments with Arden Fell I'm afraid. Got too caught up in the excitement! And consequently wrote a decidedly wet entry and submitted it, before immediately thinking of at least four much better ideas :S

Ah well, such is life, I spose.

Good luck to all you guys, looking forward to the rest!

ShroudFilm - January 22, 2010 10:57 AM (GMT)
Ok, time for Friday's update - here we have Arden Fell's dark tale of the Luna Wolves first conquest of Davin. This actually made me shiver the first time I read it... :D

Arden Fell - January 22, 2010 10:58 AM (GMT)
Yup!

I'm fubared. :D

Awesome piece to start with.

I'll get me coat. :unsure:

Dargor - January 22, 2010 11:15 AM (GMT)
Emperor's teeth Arden,great stuff!I really enjoyed the dark atmoshpere and the bit at the end (i believe it refers to the missing Legions) was an excellent touch!


Keep up the good work people! :D

eFTy - January 22, 2010 01:29 PM (GMT)
Hm, nice and ominous. A bit short on the gory descriptions in my view, but I liked it. :)

Hero of Istvaan - January 22, 2010 02:04 PM (GMT)
Very good reading so far from you both i really enjoyed them!

i see what u mean about 'Prophecy' Shroud i got the same feeling! Very good Writing Arden Fell ;)

Arden Fell - January 22, 2010 02:33 PM (GMT)
Wow, did I write that?

Thanks for tidying it up Shroud/Nick. Mine must have seemed like Peter Griffin wrote it.

You guys really must have a job on your hands if you have to tweak the rest as much as you did mine.

Not that I'm complaining. :lol:

It's amazing what a slight change of vocabulary can do to a story. Note to self must read Nick's book soon.

Dargor - sworn to secrecy about the ending. <_<

HoI - strangely it still gives me shivers reading it too.

BigWill - January 22, 2010 03:34 PM (GMT)
Wow we have some truly talented members.
Great job for a second I thought Happy was Hastur Sejanus.

ShroudFilm - January 22, 2010 05:34 PM (GMT)
As far as I can see, only minor alterations have been made with all stories... avoiding repetition, correcting of grammar or formatting, and most importantly any retcon or canon mistakes.

These fan-fics are truly amazing, I dread to think where you twisted freaks get all your horrible ideas! :lol:

Pacific - January 22, 2010 06:07 PM (GMT)
Great story, really, really enjoyed that one! Once again neatly tied in events, and once again a great little twist at the end! Great stuff.

Benedict Arnold - January 22, 2010 08:58 PM (GMT)
Another great piece. I've definitely been logging on here early in my day to get the latest story. I look forward to reading the rest.

Vinnie - January 23, 2010 12:41 AM (GMT)
Sweet entry Arden, very intriguing implications...

Provost Dylanof - January 23, 2010 02:11 AM (GMT)
Gunga-din go for water!
Er... Shroudfilm post more stories! :unsure:

Arden Fell - January 23, 2010 11:19 AM (GMT)
Hey Shroud-baby,

It's lunchtime. Where's number 3?

:lol:

ShroudFilm - January 23, 2010 02:35 PM (GMT)
Ask, and thou shalt receive! :lol:

Next up with have Argent's rather sinister look behind the scenes of the Imperial fleet during the Heresy... 'Airlocked'.

BigWill - January 23, 2010 03:56 PM (GMT)
I like all these stories not a bad one yet.
Argent were you ever in the Navy?You seem to have a good grasp of shipboard life.
I have two little critiques
1) would they say Throne in 30k? The Golden Throne is the Imperiums best kept secret at this point
2)I think a shotgun would be more appropiate on a starship than a Las-Carbine\

Please do not think I am being picky I want to see all these stories reach thier maximum potential.

Pacific - January 23, 2010 06:15 PM (GMT)
1) Doesn't Conan say "throne" (going from the books)? Might be wrong with that one.
2) Stormtroopers carry las-carbines, and loads of them are on space craft :)

++EDIT++ Weird! I wrote the above without reading that the characters name was Conal, coincidence?? :)

Really enjoyed this story! The name 'Polyboros' has gone into my 'favourite words' list, and any story which has people going out of the airlock instantly gets +10% score in my book :) Great little twist in the end as well, and nice one not painting the Warmaster's followers as unreasoning savages.

Dargor - January 23, 2010 10:15 PM (GMT)
QUOTE (BigWill @ Jan 23 2010, 03:56 PM)
1) would they say Throne in 30k? The Golden Throne is the Imperiums best kept secret at this point


I think we have read this more than one time in the HH novels as well,lines like "Throne alive!" and others like it being very common.We can just assume that the all mighty Emperor of Mankind would have a proper Throne in his Palace,one to sit on,rather than just the Golden Psychic Leech he sits on now... ;)

ahriman - January 23, 2010 10:48 PM (GMT)
Have only just found this thread, so a belated thank you for the kind comments on my piece, and will look forward to reading the others, though quietly hoping that none are quite as good as mine :lol: .

ShroudFilm - January 24, 2010 12:25 AM (GMT)
I think Argent was either in the navy, or has watched a lot of Battlestar Galactica! Either way, I wouldn't ever annoy him/her within marching distance of an airlock... :lol:

Arden Fell - January 24, 2010 12:36 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (ahriman @ Jan 23 2010, 10:48 PM)
Have only just found this thread, so a belated thank you for the kind comments on my piece, and will look forward to reading the others, though quietly hoping that none are quite as good as mine :lol: .

Ha, Ha!

Only another 17 days til you find out. :P

(well 16 now 'cos it's gone midnight :rolleyes: ).

Benedict Arnold - January 24, 2010 12:45 AM (GMT)
Seems like I'll be up next. I apologize in advance for my "work". I had an incredibly rough idea of what I was going to write about, a humorous title, and about 25 minutes to write it before I had to get ready for New Year's Eve festivities. That being said, enjoy it for what it's worth I guess, and hopefully you all find it at least moderately readable. :lol:

ShroudFilm - January 24, 2010 01:16 AM (GMT)
BA - I actually thought yours was pretty good, and once it had been formatted and the various capitalisations brought into BL standard, it stands alongside the others just fine! :)

I don't want to give anything away before tomorrow though... so I can't say which bit I particularly enjoyed! ;)

VESPASIAN - January 24, 2010 11:13 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (BigWill @ Jan 23 2010, 03:56 PM)
1) would they say Throne in 30k? The Golden Throne is the Imperiums best kept secret at this point

They certainly would say Throne in the Pre-Heresy period, for example:

QUOTE (Mechanicum @ Page 46)
'Throne alive, its hot!' she said


QUOTE (Mechanicum @ Page 161)
'Throne, they're big,'hissed Moderati Bannan


I have no idea as to its origins though in the 31st Millenium.

ShroudFilm - January 24, 2010 11:20 AM (GMT)
Before you all start PMing me in frantic desperation... I'm about to update with Benedict Arnold's aptly titled 'Dusk Raider 'Til Dawn'! More wonderful tie-ins with existing characters - you guys have really taken the canon material into consideration on these stories!

Dargor - January 24, 2010 12:10 PM (GMT)
Great story Benedict,and being written in a hurry,makes it even better in my eyes!


Ullis+Garro= win


Cheers! :)

Provost Dylanof - January 24, 2010 07:50 PM (GMT)
Making effigies out of wires? For some reason that really cracks me up. The rest of the story was good too. You guys are great at the trick endings.

Benedict Arnold - January 24, 2010 11:36 PM (GMT)
Huh. That's... an interesting edit. It keeps the heart of the story.

IngoPech - January 25, 2010 02:47 AM (GMT)
Wow lads! I have to say I'm floored :blink:

Absolutely brilliant writing from all entrants thus far (and I'm sure the rest will be at least as good). I can see why NK is having a hard time choosing. I just went and re-read my entry and I'm feeling like a bit less of a man here...

Regardless of who "wins" the contest we're all getting a prize once this compilation goes up!!!

-sigh- ;)

lord_caldera - January 25, 2010 07:19 PM (GMT)
Great job so far guys! And I thought mine was okay, shows how wrong I was.

Shroud where's our fix for today?!




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