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Title: Tales from the Great Crusade, Vol. 3
Description: Every contest entry to be posted here!


ShroudFilm - January 14, 2011 04:22 PM (GMT)
EDIT: We have a result! The winner has been announced here:
http://z15.invisionfree.com/The_Great_Crus...pic=4093&st=140

Here is a complete list of every 2010 fiction contest entry, for your reading pleasure!

Rage Unknown by Ahriman (WE vs WE, Istvaan III)
The Draconis by Aiwass and Argent (UM and civilians, HH-era)
Recruitment Drive by Apologist (IA gang conscripts during HH)
Waiting Game by Arden Fell (LW pre-Heresy)
Angel's Blood by Bjorn (BA at Signus Prime)
Active Hydra by Bob Hunk (AL saboteurs during HH)
Dead Man's Shoes by Catalyst1980 (possessed IA officers)
The Last Librarian by Cobra6 (WE purge their Librarius)
Bastion by Cyrox (IF vs IW, HH-era)
The Dark Saga by Dargor (NL vs BA at Siege of Terra)
Brother vs Brother by Dark_Claw (WE vs WE, Istvaan III)
Burning the Cradle by eFTy (IF vs SOH at Siege of Terra)
Emperor's Mercy by Einarr (RG and IW executioner post-Istvaan)
The Mark of Loyalty by Fernuz (Custodian Guard in training)
Precinct Alpha by Fingol23 (Adeptus Arbites at Siege of Terra)
For Caliban by GabrielStrom (Luther and DA vs Caliban rebels)
Iron Garrison by Haerosia (isolated IW does a bad thing)
In Our Darkest Hour by Hero of Istvaan (IF at Siege of Terra)
The Hidden Word by IngoPech (AL and WB, HH-era)
The Emperor's Finest by Lord Caldera (NL on the Great Crusade)
Heroes Fall by Lord Commander Lucius (NL vs BA at Siege of Terra)
The Enemy Approaches by Lucius (BA and RG vs WE and xenos)
The First Templar by Marshal2Crusaders (IF HH-era)
Red Night by Marshall Wilhelm (Kharn and WE on the Great Crusade)
Of Hounds and Angels by Matthew Roy (WE and BA on the Great Crusade)
Dissolution by Meatshield (non-Imperial vs IH on Great Crusade)
Deliverance by Midgard (Corax and RG pre-Great Crusade)
Litany of Silence by Neamtzu_Rau (UNKNOWN, RECORD PURGED)
Monsters by Ogun (SA vs NL, HH-era)
The Red Angel by ORKY ARD BOYZ (Angron and WE on the Great Crusade)
Sating Desire by Pip (Imperial colonists, HH-era)
The Silent Angel by Plague Angel (Scouring-era BA)
And It Will Set You Free by ProvostDylanov (LW on the Great Crusade)
The Artisan by Spacewolf#1 (AdMech, HH-era)
The Drifter by TheLaughingMan (Imperial Navy, Isstvan III)
Great Volpo by The Lieutenant (LW on the Great Crusade)
A Thorn Among Roses by Tim the Corsair (non-Imperial)
Blood and Sand by TyraelVladinhurst (NL and Curze vs psykers)
The Watcher on the Wall by Umbral_Shark (IF at the Siege of Terra)
Facsimiles by Vinnie (AL on the Great Crusade)
One Knight Stands by Whitehorn (Imperial Knights, pre-Heresy)
World Eater by Xrayx (WE vs WE, Istvaan III)
Dreadclaw by Yogi (IW landing craft, Heresy-era)
Adopted by Wolves by Yvraith (LW and non-Imperial on the Great Crusade)

The titles and further info will be updated as I get them back from editors and proof-readers.

As always, the versions in this thread are headed for the downloadable PDF anthology so they may not be EXACTLY the same as the versions which were submitted (corrected spelling, grammar, and consistency with other TGC fiction etc) but rest assured your contest entries were exactly as you wrote them for judging.

==========


RAGE UNKNOWN

by Joshua Bullock (AKA Ahriman)




ANGER FILLED HIS body. Anger whose source was unknown to him, anger the likes of which he had never quite felt before, even with the psycho-stimulative implants in the base of his skull. The air smelled of blood and his armour was caked in it. He smiled to himself as he stared down at the dull redness that covered his body, breathing in its coppery tang and focusing on the rage that filled his head.
The ruins of Istvaan III’s Precentor Palace lay all around him, reminiscent of dying men’s fingers clawing at the sky. The air was thick with dust and anyone but an Adeptus Astartes would have been hard pressed to see more than a few metres.
But there were none but Astartes within the ruined walls of the dead city. Brother fought brother from behind hastily constructed barricades amid the shattered but still hauntingly beautiful architecture, with the frescos of primitive gods still somehow intact following the orbital bombardments and the ongoing ravages of battle.
Warriors from several legions made war upon the planet’s surface: the perfect ranks of the pristine Emperor’s Children stood beside the sea green of the Warmaster’s own sons, while the stoic forces of the Death Guard fought one another within the grimy trench systems outside the ruined city. Kruer stood with his own warriors, the white of their battered armour catching the fading light of the dying world’s sun. The World Eaters were on edge, ready to rip apart anything within their reach. None more so than the primarch Angron, who stood with his favoured warriors, fixated upon the blood congealed upon the teeth of his huge chainaxe. The blood of those whom had fallen from his graces.
Kruer took in none of this. Not the ruins nor the art, not the purple and gold-clad warriors cleaning their weapons, nor the Sons of Horus who seemed content to let the other legions do the work for them. Not even the awe inspiring presence of Angron could disturb him from the all-consuming rage that filled his body. From where this anger had come, the hatred for warriors that just mere hours earlier had been his brethren, he did not know. All he did know was that he liked it.
Oh yes, he was quite certain about that.
A hash on his vox-channel penetrated the haze, and a single command rose through the roaring in his head:
+++KILL+++
Kruer needed no more encouragement. He barely registered the Emperor’s Children advancing to his right, moving steadily through the devastated buildings covering one another as each squad carried out its function in the great scheme of battle.
The World Eaters followed no such tactics, each squad running loosely together, vaulting fallen masonry and smashing down walls in their haste to close with the enemy. Kruer could now see them, crouched like cowards behind the remains of the broken city: it served only to fuel his burning rage, seeing warriors with whom he had once been proud to serve, stooping to such gutless cowardice.
He sprinted through the rain of bolter shells, paying them no heed. He could see the entrenched warriors clearly, their white and blue armour standing out from the destruction around them. He knew some of them by name, and he knew all of them by blood. And it would fill him with great sense of satisfaction to remove this taint from his legion.

IRATUS KNELT DOWN to reload his boltgun, yanking out the drained sickle magazine before ramming home a fresh clip and raking the slide. He rose again swiftly as others around him knelt to reload their own weapons. The sight was strange to him – this was not how the World Eaters usually fought, taking cover behind barricades and exercising tight bolter drills.
The back of his head throbbed as his psycho-stimulative implants urged him to violence, and it took almost all of his willpower to stay in line with his brothers and not to engage the implants’ feedback loop and launch himself at the traitors heading their way. One thought above all others kept him grounded in the moment: they were World Eaters no more. They were War Hounds once again.
He resumed firing, adding his bolts to the fusillade. A depraved figure emerged from the midst of the rabble, caked in blood and charging with such reckless abandon that he cared not what struck him – masonry, bolt rounds, shrapnel. Even his own comrades, whom he smashed aside in his need to close with Iratus‘s line.
He emptied his rest of his magazine at the bloody figure and those around him, before diving down once more to reload. The warrior to his right fell to the ground clutching his throat, blood running thick and fast before his enhanced physiology could clot the wound. The War Hound to the other side of Iratus fell also, his headless body crashing into the rubble and the armoured helm following an instant later. Desperately Iratus leapt back to his feet, ready to fire, only to be confronted by the viscera streaked face plate of the berserk World Eater on the other side of the barricade.
The roar of his chainaxe seemed to merge with the war cry from the warrior’s helmet vox-emitters, and Iratus fired two rounds into the berserker’s armoured torso before the boltgun was torn from his grip by a downward strike. The World Eater leapt over the barricade, and Iratus drew his combat blade and held it out across his chest. The tempered plasteel was no match for the foe’s axe, but if he was lucky...

RAGE WAS ALL Kruer knew, all that he could see. He didn’t even feel the foe’s blade as it pierced his throat, nor the impact of his chainaxe upon the loyalist dog’s helmet. Darkness overcame him and he smiled behind his visor.
It mattered not from where the blood flowed.

==========


THE DRACONIS

by Jorge Viejo (AKA Aiwass)
and C. Alice Clayton (AKA Argent)





IT FELT LIKE weeks had elapsed since the Ultramarines cruiser Draconis had entered the warp. Though she had narrowly escaped the destruction of Shardaw II, unfortunately the same could not be said for the rest of the fleet, which had succumbed to heavy torpedo fire before they could activate their jump engines.
Perhaps they were fortunate to be spared this, Laertes mused grimly. The return voyage to Holy Terra had been calculated to last ten days, and they had already been adrift for eighteen. With the loss of their navigator, and also of the ship’s artificial gravity just before the jump, it was a miracle they had lasted even that long. The very structure of the ship shrieked and groaned as though titanic forces were trying to tear it apart. The human crew were space-sick from the constant dizzying motion, and Laertes did not even want to think of how the civilian refugees below decks were faring.
Bracing himself against the rolling of the deck, he gripped the communications console and opened a vox channel. ‘Brother Claudius, report to the bridge immediately.’
It did not take the Techmarine more than a few minutes to appear, in spite of the maddening motion of the ship which hurled naval ratings off-balance and made a mockery of schedules. With his heavy armoured boots mag-clamped to the deck plates, he stood tall before Laertes.
‘What are your orders, sir?’ he said, saluting automatically. Laertes rolled sideways in mid-air to face him.
‘Don’t play games, brother,’ he snapped. ‘I can assume that our gravity is unlikely to be restored in the foreseeable future, but can we not yet make the jump back to real space?’
Claudius stared blankly for a moment. A crewman vomited noisily at his station in the background.
‘Sir… we are experiencing problems,’ he finally offered by way of response. ‘We will have it in hand soon, without a doubt.’
Laertes erupted. ‘Without a doubt? Without a doubt? That is all you’ve said for the past two weeks! No more excuses, you have run out of time. We make the jump back to real space now, before things spiral any further out of control.’ He knew that morale among the crew was running low, and with nearly a thousand desperate refugees on board as well, the possibility of a mutiny against the twelve remaining Space Marines was a real concern. Laertes needed to get them back to the illusion of safety, and pretend that this was anything less than a total disaster. To remain adrift in the warp for much longer would be the death of them all.
Nevertheless, Claudius stood silent. Doubt twitched at his features.
‘Sir, without a navigator-’
‘No, Techmarine Claudius. I don’t want to hear it. Do your duty and get us out of the warp now.’
Laertes dismissed the free-standing Techmarine with as much dignity and poise as he could muster from forty-five degrees off the low vaulted ceiling, and Claudius stomped away back to the engineering deck, the thud-click of his mag-clamps echoing down the passageway.
The Draconis was a Dictator-class cruiser, and not carrying a heavy load beyond her human cargo. Captain Thracius had reluctantly jettisoned the munitions and relief supplies destined for the loyalist forces beyond the tactical ‘red line’, and made room for as many of the terrified Shardaw civilians as his men could cram aboard before the traitors’ first barrage hit. This apparently altruistic decision could not now be queried, as Thracius had been killed during ship-to-ship combat scant minutes after they left orbit and tried to break through the Iron Warriors’ fleet blockade.
The refugees were unskilled labourers and farmhands, with no appreciable value in the war against Horus’s legions. Men, women and children – children! It was inconceivable that civilians had been allowed to board an Imperial warship during a military action, but the decision had been made. Though he resented feeling like a wetnurse for bawling needy infants, Laertes could do nothing but try to follow what he believed Thracius would have done, were he still with them.

SOME TIME LATER, Claudius and his novice adept reported that they were ready to attempt the real space translation. Klaxons alerted the nauseated crew to their posts, and the panicked civilians below decks assumed the emergency brace positions they had been hurriedly shown for an unexpected warp jump. The countdown reached single digits, and the ship’s Geller Field began to pulse and intensify.
With a tearing pressure felt in the base of the skull by every single soul on board, the Draconis burst from the warp and back into the material universe. Shreds of slithery pseudo-matter clung to the hull for a few seconds before boiling off into the ether once more.
Too late, proximity alarms sounded, and upon her bridge the Draconis’s crew had scant moments to realize that their jump had brought them within the gravitational pull of a large planetary body. Worse still, they were well inside the atmosphere.
Those among the crew who were not fastened in at their posts were flung into the ceiling with deadly force as the ship went into freefall. Those who remained alive and conscious saw great wreaths of flame flaring across the superstructure and the horizon of an unknown world whirling in the distance. The ship had never been intended for atmospheric flight, and fell like a misshapen stone shedding towers, weapon ports and external sensor arrays into the building inferno surrounding her.
Within the corridors and compartments, holds and crawlspaces, the cacophony of shrieks and screams from the terrified occupants was largely drowned out by those of the adamantine hull itself. Of the five hundred or so souls still aware of their chaotic descent, only a handful managed to utter anything as coherent as a desperate prayer to whatever half-remembered gods they had once adored. Rather more of them had the clarity of mind to curse and swear right until their sudden end.

FROM ORBIT, A great flash was seen erupting on the surface, followed by the carving of an impact trench some two hundred miles long as the ship tore through the planet’s crust. Other than an anonymous entry in some distant Administratum archive, this was the last that anyone would ever know of the Draconis.

==========


RECRUITMENT DRIVE

by Edd Ralph (AKA Apologist)




THE OUTSPEAKER HALTED a few steps from the diplomat’s delegation, planting his feet theatrically in the dust. Grabbing his rugged belt-buckle in one hand, he cocked his head and pinched a calloused thumb to his middle finger, forming a ring. Touching it to his chin, he chucked his jaw forward and spoke, his eyes insolent.
‘You want get us fight f’you, Throne?’
The tribe spread into a loose – and intimidating, Jean thought – semicircle around the Outspeaker as Jean dismounted. The women and men of the tribe were sullen, their postures alternately listless and hostile. Denims and leathers, gathered and much-patched, clothed the group. A magpie selection of glass shishas, fluorescents, and beaten plate-metals draped from bangles, and thick patches of scar-material decorated exposed flesh in chequerboard patterns.
The crescent was gathering in, such that Jean could not look at all of them at once. His equine whinnied, trying to shuffle backwards, and he tightened his grip on the bridle, welcoming the distraction. Determinedly, he addressed the group’s leader.
‘Being a Paxitect has become considerably more exciting recently, Outspeaker,’ Jean began, his voice pitched with a wavering bonhomie. The Outspeaker’s leathery face split into a leering grin, revealing a row of teeth black with ritual patterning and sharpened to points. ‘You’re not the first wary recruits.’
The smile vanished as quickly as it came, and a few hisses came from the tribe as the younger members shifted warily. Jean was well aware that the tension he felt was far from hidden, but it was not the tribe’s theatrics that had disturbed his sleep these past days…
Posturing displays such as this were becoming well known to Jean. The cultures of the core worlds were old – nearly two centuries of Imperial rule had passed here, and fealty to the Throne was absolute in the population centres. But the open plains of planets like Lamb’s World were dotted with men and women to whom Compliance had simply meant a change in the goods from the trade-caravans. Most of the ratty tribes the Imperials were trying to arm were suspicious. Cold even. Jean had been relieved finally to be dispatched to a gathering outpost that had requested arming – too few of the populace were actively fortifying the cities.
The Outspeaker gestured with his pinched hand again, and Jean hoped it was more of wariness than of open disrespect. He longed to remove his dust goggles and rub his tired eyes.
‘No ‘cruits here, Throne,’ the tribesman growled, his sharp teeth pinching the title contemptuously. ‘An’ if you wise, you watch your mouth, blood-of-mine.’
Jean’s diplomacy gave way to his impatience a little as he replied. ‘I mean no disrespect, Outspeaker: you requested the visit. You’ve volunteered these troops.’ The line of Imperial Army Rough Riders shuffled perceptibly closer behind him as the semi-circle tightened.
‘Right truly, Throne,’ the Outspeaker said, eyeing the Imperial troops behind the Paxitect. ‘I sent askin’ to speak wit’ you. But... I ’n’ us, well... we ain’t too sure why for even you want us fight f’you, Throne. You gots big armies, isn’t it?’
The Outspeaker leered, grabbed a nearby girl and pulled her forward while he spoke, forcing her to brandish her wiry, pale arms. ‘Why the Emp’rah suddenly need some Spider muscle?’
A few of the tribe broke into a sneering laugh as the girl licked her palm insolently, slapped it between her legs and thrust her pelvis at Jean. ‘Or sumfin’ else offa the Spiders!’ she hooted as the Outspeaker pulled her back. Jean’s face remained impassive.
‘See, we-and-all don’t really see much future in fightin’ for you ‘gainst the Sarfers, Throne,’ continued the Outspeaker over the tribe’s laughter. ‘Way’s I see it is that’ll be goin’ on whether we fights or not. Way’s I see it is we wants some ‘quipment. Seems you and your boys can “sell” us some.’ His sunken eyes glittered as he met Jean’s gaze.
Jean’s patience snapped.
‘This isn’t about the Southside war, you piece of [I'M ILLITERATE]!’ he barked at the startled Outspeaker. ‘A ceasefire was declared two cycles back!’
The tribe’s expressions darkened, and some of the Rough Riders raised their las-rifles, only to find the tribe drawing weapons of their own. A nervous corporal touched Jean’s shoulder, tentatively.
‘Get your hands off me!’ he yelled, feeling his fears slide away. So what if the tribe killed him and his men? It would all be academic if this world could not be rallied in time…
He turned back, addressing the semicircle in a cracking voice. ‘This isn’t a request any more – it’s a draft. The whole hemisphere is being drafted.’
‘The hem’sphere? A draft?’ The Outspeaker’s face wavered between incredulity and outright disbelief. ‘The Peedee-Effers wiped out the hrud, way back.’ As he regained his poise, his voice became a mirthless chuckle. ‘You tellin’ me the bendies are back? Needs us to wipe your behind, Throne?’
Before anyone could stop him, Jean lunged forward and grabbed the startled tribesman by the collar.
‘I couldn’t give two groxballs about your dreary tribe, you scummer!’ Jean’s arms trembled, filled with cold determination and fear. ‘But there is an army coming that will set the galaxy on fire. It’s not going to care about you, or me, or any of this Throne-forsaken continent. Horus is coming. Here. He’s bringing tanks, artillery, Titans. More regiments of traitors, oathbreakers and recidivists than your dim lobes can count. He’s bringing Astartes, and he is going to attack us.’
The Outspeaker stood, gaping. Jean gritted his teeth.
‘Right now, I need you to grab a gun, follow me, and man a trench. In about two weeks, this planet – this sector – is going to burn. Our world dies, squealing, here. Or you can fight alongside me and every man, woman and child that wants to see another harvest.’ He dropped the pallid tribesman in front of the speechless crowd.
The wind stirred the grassy plain around them. Jean's eyes narrowed.
‘So, what’s it going to be?’

==========


WAITING GAME

by Michael Strathearn (AKA Arden Fell)




THE MOVEMENT AT the door caught his eye first. Conceivably it could have been the sway of the broken panel in a breeze, except not a whisper of air could be felt on the bare patches of his skin where he had partly shed his damaged armour, prickling with sweat as he lay motionless in the arid desert.
He had lain in wait for almost two days in this crippling heat, only his genetic enhancements keeping his body and mind in check. The stench of decay was overpowering, with the macerated remains of his brothers spread in a charred arc around him in the impact crater. He forced down the bile rising in his throat.
Again his eyes were drawn to the shadows.
He thumbed the scope into the thermal spectrum. In a flare of backlight the reticule faded as the ambient temperature caused the sensors to over-expose the display, but gradually the attenuator kicked in and contrast returned.
There he was. The unmistakable figure crouched in the shadow of the doorway, chinks in his bulky MKIII Iron Armour highlighted yellow in the weapon’s scope. He was alone. Waiting.
The hours trickled past in the oppressive heat and stench. But the gunman was well trained and would withstand them both. He would be ready to take the shot.
He adjusted the butt of the Persecution-pattern bolt rifle at his shoulder, and instantly regretted the decision Blood flared into his right bicep like the prickle of cold needles, and spread down his arm and into his gauntleted fingers.
Movement again.
His exposed eye refocused on the door. The armoured figure was moving. Had he seen the twitch of the silencer through the mass of bloodied bodies and broken earth? No. It was impossible.
A growing vibration heralded the presence of a Thunderhawk on low approach. Within minutes the flat prow appeared over the ruins and circled the makeshift landing point. This was the moment of greatest danger – would they detect his life signs amongst the charred remains? His armour was deactivated and the dead weight of ceramite should have offered reasonable concealment…
The side-mounted autocannons swivelled over the impact crater, scanning the debris for unexpected movement. As with his rifle scope, the heat of the sun made their automatic thermal targeting unreliable, so the gunners used their augmented vision to monitor for signs of life rather than simply strafing the bodies of the fallen. This was a secret rendezvous after all, and unnecessary gunfire would not be wise on their part.
The gunship circled once more before lowering the landing gear for touchdown. As soon as the skids alighted on the ground, the engines whined down to the low thrum of idling and the forward embarkation ramp slowly descended. From the dark belly of the ship, an honour guard of crimson-armoured Astartes with silver scaled capes and long power-halberds filed down to the dusty grey surface of this forsaken planet, like the slavering tongue of some monstrous beast tasting for its prey.
At length, the crouched figure slowly emerged into the sunlight and stepped towards the newcomers. His head was bowed, and he held his sword across both open palms in a gesture of submission.
Looking back through his thermal sight, the gunman could make out the heat seeping around the gorget of the warrior’s neck. It would have been an easy shot and a quick death – an armour piercing explosive round to the throat.
But he was not the target.
The gunman’s scope panned gently to reveal his true quarry: the Betrayer towering over his bodyguards as he strode down the ramp. The giant had become abhorrent to all things for which the Emperor stood, and yet was still a figure of awe-inspiring beauty.
He steadied his breathing, closed his eyes. His orders were clear.
He tongued the vox-bead held between his teeth. The signal was answered almost immediately by the whispered growl of his own primarch.
‘Take the shot.’
With his twin hearts pounding in his ears, he took aim.
Without warning, the arid stillness was rent by the harpy shriek of mortar fire heralding the impending diversionary attack. It drowned out the near-silent cough of the sniper rifle perfectly. Even so, the Betrayer turned in that instant and looked directly at his executioner, the shot already spiraling between them. His gaze was cold. But it was too late.
The small round pierced the corner of the target’s right eye with a spurt of vitreous humour, as was the gunman’s intention – he could discern no other weak point on the giant. Then, the inevitable flare of wet flame as the shell detonated, flinging out shards of glowing golden shrapnel and ruining the skull from within. As they prepared for the mortar strike, the confused guards saw their god stagger backward and collapse.
The first high explosive shells burst across the spine of the Thunderhawk, igniting the fuel lines and setting off a chain reaction. Like the breath of a crippled dragon, flames belched from the open ramp accompanied by the percussive blasts of engines detonating, throwing the fallen primarch’s bodyguards to the ground.
The submissive warrior in MKIII plate leapt from the ground, his nerve already visibly steeled against the carnage. With a deft flick of his wrist he powered up his weapon, and throwing his entire bodyweight behind the humming blade drove it deep into the throat of the Betrayer. The primarch’s head lolled sideways, detached.
The rifle fired six more times in quick succession, taking each of the rising guards in similar devastating fashion. Picking himself up and yanking his sword free, Iacton Qruze turned back towards the hide and saluted the gunman with his blade held high.
Grim rose slowly, removing the bead from his mouth and shaking the numbness from his limbs. He clicked open the comm-channel again. ‘Red One down. Confirmation, Red One terminated.’
They had done the unthinkable. They had slain one of the Twenty.

==========


ANGEL’S BLOOD

by Constantine Papageorgiou (AKA Bjorn)




THEIR BLADES CLASHED again, showering them both with sparks. Raldoron parried the beast’s attacks with a furious zeal. This abomination was like nothing he had ever fought against in his life – a red, horned daemon that fought with all the ferocity of a raging lion. As the beast lunged at him once more, he batted the blade aside with the flat of his own and kicked hard with his armoured boot into the daemon’s groin. The vile thing dropped face down on the dirt, and he stamped down hard upon its head. Raldoron let out a ragged gasp and looked up from the mangled body, taking in the awesome scale of the battle.
The entirety of the IX Legion had gone to war. A full seven companies under the direct command of the primarch Sanguinius were deployed on Signus Prime, with four of them on this side of the planet alone. Over forty thousand Adeptus Astartes, clad in their magnificent blood-red armour, formed the front line of the offensive with hundreds of thousands of Imperial Army troopers behind, and entire mechanised divisions supporting them from the flanks and the rear. Thirteen squadrons of Blood Angels Fellblades spearheaded the assault on the palace of Kyriss the Perverse, the leader of this abominable host of daemons and mutants.
‘To me!’ Raldoron voxed to his honour guard as he broke into a run towards the primarch’s position at the head of the speartip. He glanced at the readout within his visor, calculating the distance to the objective. It would not be long now.
They were a mere hundred metres from the gap in the palace’s walls, and behind them cannons roared like thunder, to widen the breach they had already made. Guns blazed, spitting death with every passing second, bringing light to the darkness that had befallen Signus Prime. But it was only a matter of moments before that same darkness, as though alive and somehow sentient, stifled and extinguished it once more.
Only one light would not go out. Only one light would not gutter and die. A light that was anathema to all evil; the light of Sanguinius, the Great Angel and lord of the Blood Angels. Like a blazing star in a sea of darkness Sanguinius fought, his Sanguinary Guard by his side, protecting their beloved father. Wherever the fighting was fiercest they could be found, decimating Kyriss’s unholy legions like an unstoppable force of nature. The daemons shrivelled and died just by being close to the Great Angel – nay, almost just by setting eyes upon him, as though he were purity given form.
Suddenly, as Raldoron was heartened by the sight of his primarch’s heroic actions, a murmur that grew to a steady chanting began to emanate from the foetid ranks of mutants and daemons arrayed before the walls. The unholy tide seemed to speak a name over and over again. Ka’Bandha.
As the chanting rose in intensity, Raldoron fancied he could see a pair of enormous jet-black batwings coalescing in the air in front of the breach, when a sudden surge of rage and blood thirst gripped him. All around him he could see his legion-brothers and foul mutants alike struggling with the same tumult of senseless anger and madness.
As the Blood Angels fought for their very sanity, a psychic shockwave burst over them, leaving scores of Astartes, daemons and mutants dead in its wake. At the wave’s epicentre a terrible thing materialised from thin air – a red-skinned, bull-necked daemon the height of a Warhound Titan, cradling an enormous axe and barbed whip now stood on its hoofed legs before the breach.
Raldoron saw the beast howl a challenge and his heart swelled with pride when Sanguinius, undaunted, flew upon his majestic wings to confront the daemon.
As he watched, something heavy crashed down upon Raldoron and bundled him to the ground. A stinking brawny mutant had thrown him off balance and now tried to pin him long enough that his comrades could finish the Blood Angel off.
Red-hot anger shot through Raldoron’s mind at the creature’s insolence, and he gripped its shoulders and delivered a head butt which fractured the thing’s misshapen skull. As he pushed the limp body aside, a great cry went up from the daemon host and with a terrible sense of foreboding he turned to the breach.
Bright anger flashed through Raldoron’s mind at the sight: angelic Sanguinius lay crumpled at the great daemon’s feet, though the beast clutched a gaping wound at its throat which spilled black ichor. A red mist descended over Raldoron, clouding his vision as he lost himself in the thirst. Everywhere around him Blood Angels howled in anger and went berserk, rampaging through the enemy lines as their foes were caught off-guard.
Raldoron rose, blood pounding in his veins; blood the only thing he could see or smell. He picked his sword up and hurled it towards a mutant charging from the left, the strength of the impact fatal enough even had his ribcage not been torn open by it. Another tried to grapple him from behind but Raldoron broke his grip before killing him with a single power-armoured blow to the head. Turning around, he lashed out with his short combat blade and caught a third mutant across the throat, taking its head clean off its shoulders. The sight of their blood maddening him further, he cried out in pure animalistic rage and stalked out to kill again.
Ahead of him his brothers, some now fighting using only their bare hands and teeth, had overrun the enemy lines and now poured through the breach and into the palace in search of Kyriss and his minions. His armies undone by the Blood Angels’ fury over the wounding of their master, the daemon lord wouldn’t stand a chance against the sons of Sanguinius.
Every last traitor and heretic would die.
Every stone would be crushed.
Nothing would escape the Angels’ wrath this day.

==========


ACTIVE HYDRA

by Chris Buxey (AKA Bob Hunk)




STARS WHEELED AROUND him as his footfalls hammered the gunmetal hull of the Augustine, and Dolor filled the sky above. Void-ice kissed the sensors of his power armour, a minute layer of crystals momentarily forming over the deep purple plates as he passed wisps of atmosphere ghosting from micro fractures in the hull. But this was no distraction – Laelius barely registered it at all.
A patrol wing of Imperial fighters flashed silently overhead, the deafening bellow of their engines lost in the vacuum. High above, buttressed and crenellated cruisers hung like a crown of thorns around the star port; higher still the blue-white disk of the planet Dolor swelled ever larger, great dark bruises of smouldering industrial cities marring her otherwise perfect skin.
Laelius paused, his armour systems projecting a ghostly green waypoint over the airlock fifty metres ahead, and looked up at the ships docked with the star port. Legiones Astartes cruisers, Imperial Army transports and commandeered supply ships clustered in knots around the docking umbilici. The ‘loyalists’ seemed to believe that all forces allied with the Warmaster had finally been driven from the sector, and in their confidence had seen fit to muster their fleet together – so close together – above Dolor.
As he watched, a flight of Stormbirds departed the closest strike cruiser heading planet-side. For a few moments they appeared as tiny sparks on the edge of the atmosphere, before passing beyond even his enhanced vision.
Without warning the Augustine shifted from holding approach to docking vector, and the star port began to loom above him. Laelius had seen all that he needed to of the orbital station. It was time to get the teleport homer to its destination.
He covered the last fifty metres in the space of a few heartbeats and drew to a halt on the edge of the well used airlock. The superstructure beneath his feet shuddered as retros began to strain against the freighter’s momentum.
‘Grosvenor Two-six-eight,’ said Laelius. The vox-link hissed.
The star port filled the sky now, almost obscuring Dolor.
‘Grosvenor Two-six-eight, confirmed,’ came a hushed reply. ‘Opening now.’
Laelius felt rather than heard the grinding as the airlock opened in front of his feet; a small cloud of paint flecks and detritus puffed outwards as trace gases escaped. He had stepped over the edge and into the artificial gravity as soon as the gap between the doors was wide enough, landing surprisingly lightly on the deck.
Wide eyes stared at him through the viewport, and the outer doors began to cycle closed again. The ceiling beacons were dark: a good sign that his contact had bypassed the monitoring systems.
The inner doors opened with a hiss of equalising pressure and a wiry man wearing a maintenance overalls hesitantly stepped through. He looked at the Hydra Rampant emblazoned on the Space Marine’s shoulder and unconsciously touched a hand to his hip.
‘Are you prepared?’ asked Laelius through his armour’s external vox.
The man’s eyes flicked briefly up to the glowing red optics of Laelius’ helm before hurriedly finding the floor again. The legionnaire knew that he was an imposing sight in the brutal silhouette of his Mark V plate.
‘I am, lord.’
Laelius nodded and offered the man the bulky item that he had been carrying effortlessly in one hand. The human needed both arms to lift it.
‘The device needs to reach the target within the next one hundred and twenty seconds. Loading bay, near the munitions supplies, as you were instructed. Go.’
‘Y-yes, my lord.’
The crewman turned and staggered away as fast as he could under the weight of the device. Laelius waited a few moments for him to round a corner before turning to the control panel and pressing a large, gauntleted finger against the airlock cycle button. The outer doors opened and he swiftly pulled himself up onto the icy hull once more.
The Augustine was now fully within the shadow of the star port. Nav-lights blinked and an inviting glow spilled from the transparisteel portals above him, throwing a checkerboard pattern across the hull of the ship. Laelius deactivated the mag-clamps on his boots and launched himself upwards with as much strength as he could muster.
People were moving inside the port – labourers and overseers preparing to receive the supplies that the Augustine was about to deliver. None of them noticed the dark figure arcing slowly across the void between the freighter and the star port.
Laelius used the exhaust vents on his backpack to adjust his approach, calmly swinging his feet towards the orbital’s hull as it rose to meet him. Docking arms extended towards the ship as it inched closer in its glacial approach. The device entrusted to operative Grosvenor Two-six-eight would activate in less than thirty seconds, and Laelius’s flight seemed achingly slow in light of that fact.
Mag-clamps reactivating the second they touched the hull, the legionnaire powered across the outer skin of the star port, following a metal causeway between two panoramic windows. He was moving as fast as his post-human physique would allow him in the whirling vacuum.
An intense flash of light threw razor-sharp shadows across the hull: Laelius did not have to look back to know his macro-bomb had detonated the ammunition supplies in the Augustine’s loading bay. He kept up his loping half-run, even as the concussion wave of the freighter’s impact with the star port rippled through the structure, shearing bolts and unseating metal panels all around him.
Only once he had covered another kilometre did Laelius pause to look back. A firestorm of venting oxygen licked back and forth along the horizon, and the exposed drive core of the Augustine protruded from the wound in the star port’s skin like a jutting splinter of bone, weeping bright plasmic discharge into the void. A loose cloud of debris hung all around. Satisfied that the diversion was proceeding as intended, Laelius unclasped the much smaller package of the teleport homer from his armour and continued into the shadow of the Astartes strike cruisers.

==========


DEAD MAN’S SHOES

by Mark Thompson (AKA Catalyst1980)




HE FELT THE chill in the air before the knife in his back. ‘Compliance?’ the voice sneered. ‘Tell me, general – isss that what you really believe?’
The knife pressed harder into his lower vertebrae, its point seeking out notches to scrape and gnaw, sending electric spasms of pain up Gilligan’s spine.
‘Vander?’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘What in… Terra’s name-‘
Hot breath gushed into his ear, his head violently pressed into the window. Wet lips pressed against his ear and drooled the words into his skull. ‘SSSILENCE! You do not ssspeak to me of such placesss!’
Gilligan felt rage build up inside him, and he grew bold. His right hand found the handle of the combat blade inside his jacket – he pulled it free with a yell of rage and made to spin round, slashing at his tormentor as he did so.
A strong hand, too strong perhaps, grabbed his arm at the wrist and slammed it into the window frame with contemptuous ease. His fingers went numb but he managed to maintain his hold on the blade. The unseen hand renewed its grip and yanked Gilligan’s head back before slamming it into the window again; teeth snapped, his lips split and red bubbles of spittle sprayed across the glassy surface, looking and feeling from Gilligan’s perspective as though his head had burst.
He dropped to his knees and watched his blade clatter across the floor. A shadow fell across its gleaming surface and as his mind tried to assess what he was seeing, he found himself paralysed by the wrongness of it. A sensation he had not felt in years seemed to grow achingly slowly through the centre of his chest, as though it were a heavy weight.
It was fear.
The thing’s reflection wore his friend’s face like a mask. It stood there, making a tutting sound as it glared through bloodshot eyes and slack skin.
‘Vander? Is that you? What in the name of all that is true has hap-’
His words caught in his throat as the Vander-thing put a finger to its lips. ‘Shhh. Let usss not upssset our mutual friend. He has been through ssso much.’
Gilligan shook his head in pained disbelief, unable to collate his thoughts. He slumped against the wall and allowed his own weight to drag him to the floor. He sat there, staring at the abused form of his former friend, fat tears threatening to break free and carve rivulets through the blood caking his face.
‘Oh, my friend… what has happened to you?’
The Vander-thing shook uncontrollably as a burble of laughter rippled from deep within its chest and bubbled through drooling slack lips.
‘Thisss is too good. Vander should hear thisss for himssself,’ it chuckled. The chill dropped from the air and the Vander-thing’s body went limp and crashed to the floor.
Gilligan sat where he was, paralysed with grief. He watched as the body of his friend began to move and push itself up into a semi-upright position, bodyweight resting on one elbow. Lank wet hair – normally immaculately groomed – fell limply across one half of his face. The skin, so pallid and slack, looked as though it was merely laid across his skull, an afterthought in the construction of a human doll.
‘Gill? Is that you?’
The tears that had been threatening now broke free. Gilligan sucked in air through gritted teeth. ‘I’m here, Vander.’ His voice shook as he spoke. ‘What has become of you my friend?’
The man that was Vander shook with barely contained grief.
‘I haven’t got long. He comes again… it comes again. You must do something for me, my friend… you must relay a message…’
‘A message? To who?’
Vander’s eyes swiveled upwards. ‘Everyone,’ he gasped. ‘Silence now, I can barely hold him… he sees my dreams, my thoughts… but… I can also see his. A war is comi-’
Vander convulsed briefly and screamed in pain. His mouth began to move again, as though disjointed. Fear welled in his eyes as the words tumbled out.
‘No no no no… you do not ssspeak of sssuch thingsss. I promissse you glory beyond that which you’d hoped. Oblivion if you fail.’ He convulsed again, his teeth clenched with such force that they broke apart on one another. Vander clamped a hand over his bloody mouth and howled in pain.
‘Gill, you must listen… a war… a war greater than anything that exists even now… this world, all worlds – they will burn in-’
Vander’s head snapped back and the hissing voice returned. ‘Enough!’ A mighty wave of convulsions wracked the man’s body for a full minute.
Gilligan reached across and picked up his combat blade. The Vander-thing sat up, but the mechanics were all wrong; too animated. Gilligan watched with disgust and gripped the blade’s pommel tightly.
‘Thisss is your fault, you know,’ it spoke. ‘Had you but known how your friend ssspent his lonely nightsss, weeping into the shadowsss for a glory that would never be his.’ The Vander-thing laughed aloud. ‘Oh, the irony! He wanted ssso much to lead armiesss in your shoes! Now I grant him his wish as I wear his ssskin and bring thisss world to ruin.’
Wiping bloody tears from his cheeks, Gilligan raised his blade. ‘Where I may fail, the Emperor’s angels will avenge us! They crushed this world once… they will do it again.’
The thing only smiled.
‘You think ssso? We have angelsss of our own now too – your angelsss, in fact. Even now, on a world far from here our angelsss ssslaughter yours.’
The thing rose suddenly and launched itself at Gilligan, knocking the blade away and pinning him to the ground.
‘You however will die now, in the knowledge that I will wear your ssskin as I have worn your friend’s, and this world you babysat will prepare itself for the coming of Chaosss.’

==========


THE LAST LIBRARIAN

by Chris Bowers (AKA Cobra6)




AS BARKHE HEARD them approaching down the corridor, it occurred to him to flee. He might even be able to do it. With his powers and his inherent skill-at-arms as an Adeptus Astartes, he could surprise a small group, overcome them quickly and make his way to an escape pod. Surely, the warp powers revealed to him by Erebus and Chief Librarian Arkoethe would help him now, when he needed them most. His mind made a panicked cast about the ether, seeking aid from any being that would hear him. None answered.
He could still flee. He should flee.
No. He was the last of the Librarians of the World Eaters, and he would face death as befit a son of Angron.

HE HAD BEEN there, not half an hour earlier, when the Librarius was destroyed, each hacked down by their brothers in the arena of the warrior lodge. It was known as ‘the Quiet Order’ among more decorous legions, but for the World Eaters the lodge was neither of those things, and was known as ‘the Ludus.’ It was to have been a glorious affair: sixty-four gladiatorial matches beneath the gaze of mighty Angron, as well as the visiting dignitaries – Maloghurst of the Sons of Horus and Erebus of the Word Bearers. Blood had soaked the sand in honour of the triumph at Istvaan III.
Alongside the notorious gladiator Scyrak the Slaughterer, Chief Librarian Arkoethe had faced eight psycho-lobotomized ogryns at the peak of the violence. Arkoethe had planned for it to be a validation of the oft-slandered Librarius, to remind the Red Angel of their effectiveness in battle, and to silence his rival Scyrak.
The Slaughterer had a brutal reputation even among the XII Legion. Years before the great uprising of Horus, Scyrak was rumored to have murdered three Blood Angels on Luther Macintyre. Of late he had become a leading adherent of the growing cult of Karnath within the auspices of the Ludus, and had led the aggressive slander of the legion’s few Librarians. At the opening of the games, Erebus had presented him with a heavy ceremonial black-iron collar, embossed with an angry red skull rune. The Chaplain had placed it around his neck where it had soldered closed of its own accord.
Clad only in loincloths, Scyrak and Arkoethe had made short work of the roaring ogryns. Ropes of gore flew as Skyrak cleaved through muscle, fat, organs, and bone with furious, violent strokes. Arkoethe boiled the creatures from within, and roasted them with crackling bolts of warp energy and fire. As the last ogryn burst into flames and died beneath the power of Arkoethe’s mind, the Slaughterer had turned on the Chief Librarian, his chest heaving and his eyes flecked with hatred.
‘COWARD!’ Scyrak had roared in his voice like grating stone, leveling his chainsword at Arkoethe. ‘See the sorcerer, he has not a drop of blood on him! His cowardice disgraces this Ludus, and our legion!’
‘Face me then, “Slaughterer”,’ had been Akoethe’s smirking reply.
A look laden with import had passed between Scyrak and Angron before he strode toward Arkoethe. The Chief Librarian’s sizzling warp energies were sucked into the glowing black collar around the Slaughterer’s neck like water into a drain. Had it been merely surprise or resigned acceptance that led Arkoethe to stand defenseless as Scyrak had gripped the chainsword in two hands, and driven it clean through his arm and into his ribcage? The Chief Librarian had collapsed in a welter of blood, and Scyrak had looked again to mighty Angron, who held out his arm before the audience, a heaving scrum of baying World Eaters.
Had it all been pre-arranged? At the downward jerk of Angron’s thumb, Scyrak rammed his shrieking chainblade into Arkoethe’s chest cavity, while the other Librarians in the crowd of World Eaters were set upon by their brothers, submerged in a tide of elbows, fists, and feet. They were dragged, safely unconscious, into the sandy ring and murdered.
All except Barkhe.
He was able to summon a gate through the ether and escape to his quarters on the other end of the kilometres-long ship. One frenzied attacker had been dragged through the portal with him; Barkhe had made short work of this would-be assailant, who was left a smoking husk on the deck. Then Barkhe had sat alone. Shocked, dismayed and adrift, he had only been shaken from his fugue state by the inevitable cacophony of his legion-brothers drawing near.
He recognised them as they burst through the bulkhead and began to encircle him: Kosolax and Astyanax; Hans Ko’ren of the Sixteenth ‘Skulltakers’ Company; Captain Hauul; and his old friend, Sergeant Sirhk of the Twenty-fourth. Barkhe looked into his friend’s eyes, looking for some sign of familiarity or sorrow. All he saw in Sirhk’s dilated, bloodshot orbs was merciless bloodlust.
They paused for just a moment – breath ragged, chainblades revving, holding out their Ludus medallions as wards against Barkhe’s psychic might. Then they attacked.
Barkhe blasted a psychic lance through Astyanax, and then ducked a wild swing by Ko’ren, flipping him over his shoulder and into his vacant arming post. He followed his momentum and took a glancing blow from Sirhk, before bringing his elbow up under Sirhk’s chin and snapping his head back. Teeth cracked in a spray of spittle and blood. He wreathed one of his fists in psychic flame and prepared to finish off his former friend, when the arc of a chainsword cleaved through his left leg at the knee. As he collapsed, another blade bit into his shoulder, nearly severing his arm. Falling hard, Barkhe lay twitching and pumping hot blood onto the deck. Kosolax stood over him, lowering his whirring blade to Barkhe’s neck for the coup de grace.
‘Brothers,’ Barkhe implored, spluttering through a mouthful of blood. ‘I have only ever served Angron and Horus! Why are you doing this?’
The wet howl of Kosolax’s chainblade nearly drowned out his answer as it chewed its way through Barkhe’s spine.
‘Blood for the Blood God.’

==========


BASTION

by Simon Newsham (AKA Cyrox)




IT WAS THE forty-eighth day of the siege. One last fortress to breach, and Archos III would be back under loyalist control. A small garrison of Iron Warriors, left behind when the world was brought to compliance during the Great Crusade, held the governor’s palace. They had followed their brothers into rebellion upon learning that Warmaster Horus had turned his back on the Imperium.
Brother-Captain Orran Meros of the VII Legion, the Imperial Fists, stepped over the remains of the palace gates. ‘Report,’ he ordered, approaching his trusted second-in-command, the veteran Sergeant Luka.
‘The surviving traitors have retreated into the palace, sir. It’s over.’ Despite his optimism, Luka looked weary. His golden yellow armour was dented and caked in dirt from the fierce fighting.
‘Do not be so sure my friend,’ said Meros. ‘There is always one last line of defence, one last bastion to breach. We must be vigilant’
‘You sense deception, captain?’ queried Luka.
‘Possibly,’ mused Meros. ‘But the time to end this is now. Sweep through the palace and eliminate the remaining resistance. I’ll head for the throne room.’
Luka nodded and pressed on, leading his veterans through the ruined gates. Meros regarded the bodies of the local militia, forced to fight by the traitor Astartes.
Traitors.
Meros let the thought roll around his mind. The idea of his brothers turning upon one another still felt utterly abhorrent to him. He shook his head and turned to address his chaplain, Forstus.
‘How about you and I go and pay our respects to the governor?’

THE TWO WARRIORS advanced up the grand staircase to the governor’s throne room. As they approached, two Iron Warriors appeared in the ornately detailed bronze doorway, firing their bolters defiantly at the Imperial Fists. With shells thudding into his artificer armour, Meros was on them in seconds – he beheaded the first traitor with his powered blade, and the second fell to the crozius of Chaplain Forstus a moment later.
They emerged into the large throne room: there, seated upon his throne, was the governor. His chest was a bloody mess and his features a silent death mask, frozen in terror. Stood over him was a warrior in a mighty suit of archaic cataphractii Terminator armour, clutching a thunder hammer and storm shield. Black and yellow hazard-striped greaves contrasted with the bare metal of his plate, marking him as a Warsmith of the Iron Warriors legion.
‘Ahh,’ said the traitor in a mocking tone. ‘I see Dorn has sent two of his finest to retake this ball of mud. I’m truly flattered.’
‘Heretic!’ screamed Forstus, charging in with his crozius held aloft ready to smite the Warsmith.
‘Forstus, wait!’ shouted Meros, but it was too late. The Iron Warrior blocked the strike with his storm shield and landed a blow upon the chaplain’s forehead. An almighty discharge of power from the hammer blasted Forstus’s skull into jagged fragments and hurled his body against the far wall of the chamber.
Aghast, Meros levelled his power sword at the Iron Warrior. ‘Repent traitor, and I will grant you a clean death.’
‘Do not speak to me of treachery!’ spat the Iron Warrior. ‘It is you and your foolish sons of Dorn, allowing yourself to be slaves to your false Emperor, fighting for his glories while he hides away on Terra! You are traitors to yourselves!’
‘So instead you follow Horus, turning your back on your oaths; your brothers?’ said Meros.
‘You are no brother of mine,’ the Warsmith replied coolly.
‘So be it, traitor,’ Meros muttered, bringing his sword to his chest in salute, and then adopting a ready stance.
The Iron Warrior laughed – the vox-emitter on his helmet making the sound all the more disturbing – and then attacked, bringing his thunder hammer around in a vicious horizontal arc. Meros leapt backwards, but immediately pressed the advantage before his opponent could bring the hammer back around, striking the Warsmith with a high swing that raked his broad helmet, shattering one of the eye lenses.
The Iron Warrior reached up and discarded his battered helm, revealing sickly pale skin and an evil sneer. Truly, there was no hope for these lost brothers.
‘I can smell your fear, coward,’ mocked the Warsmith, circling. ‘You reek of it.’
Meros ignored the taunt, feinting left then slashing right with his power sword. The traitor hefted his storm shield but the ferocity of the attack caused the shield to fail with a crack of blue energy that threw the combatants apart.
The Iron Warrior tossed the remains of his shield away with a snarl and surged forwards, his thunder hammer almost a blur as he swung at Meros. The captain tried to step aside and counter but the hammer struck his blade, smashing it from his grip. He stepped back, his weapon out of reach, and adopted a combat stance, one hand held in front of his chest and the other behind his back.
‘Tell me fool, are you going to defeat me with your bare fists?’ snorted the Warsmith in amusement. ‘Your bare Imperial fists…?’
‘I need only my resolve, traitor,’ said Meros.
‘Wrong!’ roared the Warsmith, and lunged with a vertical hammer blow that would have split a Land Raider. But Meros was ready. Darting inside the swing, he thrust the krak grenade he had taken from the pouch at his belt into the hood of his foe’s armour, planted his boot against the traitor’s flank and pushed off with every ounce of strength he had remaining. The grenade exploded with a deafening report, and blackness swallowed Meros.

ORRAN MEROS OPENED his eyes to see Luka kneeling over him, traces of dust still raining from the ceiling. The veteran sergeant had removed his helmet. His mouth was moving but Meros could not make out his words.
‘Captain,’ said Luka again. ‘Can you hear me? Try not to move sir, I’ve summoned the Apothecary.’
‘The traitors?’ mumbled Meros.
‘Dead, sir. The palace is ours. Archos III is ours.’
Meros turned his head. The Warsmith still clutched his thunder hammer in dead gauntleted fingers. Meros allowed himself a wry smile.
No matter what, there was always one last line of defence. One last bastion.

==========

ShroudFilm - January 14, 2011 04:22 PM (GMT)
THE DARK SAGA

by Demetrios Tampakoudis (AKA Dargor)




BOLTER FIRE. THE noise of it was overwhelming. So devastating to the senses, yet so familiar and welcome. Fire and smoke. The air tasted of ash and death, of a world brought low.
Terra was burning. The Imperial Palace lay in ruins, once proud walls of marble and gold razed to pulverized rubble and dust. Corpses littered the palace grounds and the city-sized battlefields beyond, traitor indistinguishable from loyalist in the carnage. The burning husks of wrecked tanks dotted the landscape as far as the eye could see, each one marking the end of a lifetime of glory for its crew.
Malcharion allowed a smile to cross his face, and with a last glance around he brought his attention back to the prone figure before him. He knew this man well: he had shared a battlefield with him, back when their legions had fought side by side as brothers; they had spilled their own blood together on the field of war, in the name of a just and noble cause. Now his brother lay dead. By his hand.
He reached down and removed the ornately crested helmet, revealing the ruined face of an Astartes that could have been considered handsome in better days. The High Gothic rune for Paladin was etched under a clenched fist on the faceplate.
Poor Lethandrus, he thought. So stubborn. So blind to the truth.
With a nod he secured his trophy to his belt, next to a savage looking helmet sporting a jagged lightning bolt motif – this had belonged to Xorumai Khan, Ninth Captain of the White Scars and one of the finest swordsmen of his legion. The Night Lord had bested two of the Imperium's most valiant defenders that very day, and the poetic justice of it was not lost upon him. He raised his weapons in defiance of the enemy all around.
‘Look upon me and despair, lackeys of the False Emperor!’ he boomed from the vox-emitters of his midnight blue armour, and gestured to the mutilated corpse at his feet. ‘See how your mighty champions fall before the fury of the righteous!’
His cries were lost in the hurricane of battle, drowned out by the thunder of weapons fire. But through the cacophony of whole armies grinding themselves to destruction, a single voice reached his ears.
‘Face me, traitor. Face me and I shall end you.’
Malcharion looked up to see a figure in bloody red battle plate striding toward him. The loyalist's sword was raised, and Malcharion could almost taste the hatred blazing from behind the emerald green lenses of his winged helmet.
‘You deserve the chance to try, brother,’ answered Malcharion, wiping Lethandrus’s blood from his blade on the fallen warrior’s crimson tabard. His fine weapon had already tasted the flesh of two exalted heroes, and it hungered for more.
Raguel, captain of the Seventh Company of the IX Legion drew closer. ‘It is time to pay for your crimes, Night Lord. No more shall your filthy existence stain the Emperor’s galaxy.’
Malcharion grinned coolly. ‘Arrogance doesn’t suit you, Blood Angel – leave that for Fulgrim’s pompous fools,’ he sneered. ‘And as for the Emperor’s galaxy… the Imperium is founded on a lie. We are fighting to redeem ourselves for our part in the establishment of it as a fact. For the sins of your Emperor, His Imperium will burn.’
Raguel let out a cry of rage. He gave the old salute of Unity with his free hand.
‘Save your breath traitor, for your lies are wasted upon me. You are destroying what the true sons of mankind have built, and for that you shall die and be forgotten.’
Malcharion shook his head, though he understood well enough. ‘So secure in your righteousness and superiority – you forget, brother, that my blade and bolter helped to shape this Imperium as much as yours did. The Night Lords know that our right to destroy it is greater than your right to live in it!’
At that, Raguel lunged forward, sword aimed high.
The two warriors met with the fury that only a sundered brotherhood could ignite, with the wrath unleashed from broken bonds and shattered oaths. The Angel met the Daemon before the walls of humanity's greatest achievement, in an age of supposed enlightenment and understanding. They clashed and fought for what they believed was right as the world around them burned. They fought until their blades were broken, and then they tore at one another with their bare hands.
Finally, it was Malcharion who triumphed. The angelic light was extinguished and the night drew in to become complete.

ABRUPTLY, THE SOUNDS of battle abated. Confusion reigned. Every face looked to the heavens and cries of anguish and outrage echoed in the night.
The vox was awash with white noise, frantic orders and roars of desolation and disbelief.
The Warmaster had fallen.
It was over. The traitor legions were undone.
Malcharion was distraught. So close. So close…
It was the urgency in Sergeant Vandred’s voice that brought him back from the brink of despair.
‘Sir, the Primarch orders a full retreat! We must return the Tenth back to the Covenant of Blood immediately!’
The din of war started to fill the air once more. Malcharion reached down to claim his final trophy from Terra before the rout began truly, but a ruined red gauntlet grasped his wrist.
‘This… is not… over…’ choked Raguel through broken lips. A backhand blow silenced the fallen angel, and Malcharion took up his buckled helmet to add to his belt.
No, this is not over.
Still the bolters fired.

==========


BROTHER VS BROTHER

by Dark Claw




AFTER THE VIRUS bombs and the firestorm, they emerged from the bunkers to take in their surroundings. Only a few hundred of the World Eaters had survived; they looked up to the skies to see the Stormbirds and Thunderhawks descending, white with blue trim and with the legion’s livery visible upon the sides. Their brothers were coming to finish them, but they would not blithely roll over and accept their fate – the Emperor undoubtedly stood with them in spirit, and the treachery that they had endured would not go unpunished. They were World Eaters, they were Astartes, and Skarar vowed that they would make the traitors pay dearly for every brother they had lost.
They charged the oncoming mass. To Skarar’s left, Brother Achilles was lost to a plasma blast that passed clean through his torso, vaporising his innards. He fell without a cry, the crash of his ceramite-armoured body drowned out by the din of war.
As the assault was met, Skarar deflected a vicious chainaxe strike with his combat shield and used the attacker’s momentum to spin him around, swinging his power axe into the soft jointed seal of the warrior’s gorget and beheading him. He almost failed to duck the overhead swing of another traitor, but recovered quickly enough to fire his bolt pistol through his attacker’s eye lens, the mass-reactive shell pulping the skull inside the helmet.
Kalor was next to fall as a traitor sergeant removed his arm with a ragged swipe of his blade. Howls of rage and pain echoed over the vox until the foe removed his head with a reverse swing. In spite of the blood that sprayed his armour, Skarar barely noticed – in the distance he had caught sight of his former lord, the mighty primarch Angron, cutting a bloody path through his loyal brothers. The twin chainaxes Gorefather and Gorechild were a blur in his hands, severing limbs and heads with every strike.
While he was distracted, a scarred berserker launched an attack from behind with his razor-toothed combat blade, the unguarded blow rending ceramite, skin and muscle with ease and Skarar snapped from his reverie with a scream of agony. The attack left a wide gash in his MK3 plate and the traitor’s blade stuck fast – he realised that the distraction had almost cost him his life, and yanked away from his attacker, taking the blade with him. He swung out with his power axe and cleaved off the warrior’s leg at the knee, and he collapsed thrashing in anger. Skarar did not hesitate for even a moment and emptied the rest of his bolt pistol’s clip into him.
Ignoring the weapon embedded in his side, he took in his surroundings a second time. Countless more of his brothers had fallen to this madness – Velar’s rune blinked red inside his visor, his body lying where he had been hacked apart in the midst of the melee. Norfalk was also down: a melta blast at close range had made sure there was not much left of him. Skarar’s choler rose as he realised that almost all of his assault unit were gone, and fresh waves of traitors were approaching from the landing zone.
Over the vox, he ordered a regroup behind the broken walls to the east of his position to marshal the counter-offensive, reloading his weapon as he ran. As the remaining loyalists responded in turn and pushed back to establish a perimeter, it occurred to Skarar that the majority of the brothers still fighting at his side were – like him – Terran-born. It couldn’t be mere coincidence, could it?
He took stock of the mass of warriors that would soon be trying to spill his blood, and noticed a familiar sight: the personal banner of Captain Vorhan of the Third Company. His former captain. Consumed by a new burning rage, he lurched from the cover of the ruins and opened an all-frequencies vox channel.
‘Vorhan!’ he roared. The captain wheeled around, blade in hand. ‘I am Skarar, Fourth Assault Sergeant of the Third Battle Company of the XII Legion. You have betrayed the Astartes under your command, to their deaths – I speak for them now, and I will have vengeance!’
It took him only five leaping strides to close the gap between his rallied Terrans and Vorhan’s bodyguard, and he brought down the closest traitor with a shot to the gut. Brother Flinner appeared at his side and unleashed a burst from his plasma gun which engulfed two more, the raw heat peeling paint from the armour of those nearby and setting the traitor captain’s banner aflame.
Vorhan recoiled, his bare face blistered and red, before swatting his men aside to charge forwards, powered blade held aloft. His first strike cut Flinner down, and then a pistol flew to his hand and he opened fire on Skarar at point blank range – a shot connected with his combat shield and half knocked him to the ground, but he parried Vorhan’s murder strike with the haft of his axe and regained his footing. Sparks flew as the two energized blades met again and again in the failing light.
Seeing an opening, the captain brought his knee up into Skarar’s pierced flank, the berserker’s bloody blade glinting darkly against his grubby white armour and presenting an easy target. Skarar cried out in pain and staggered back into a defensive stance, discarding his cracked shield, and Vorhan laughed mockingly at the sight.
No Vorhan, Skarar thought. I will have vengeance.
Recalling the weapons training of his earliest days on Terra, Skarar flipped the axe in his grip and reversed it before hurling it end over end at Vorhan’s centre of mass, his roar of anger and betrayal every bit as surprising as the attack itself. As the startled traitor dodged to the side, Skarar yanked the blade free from his side and thrust it into Vorhan’s throat, thick Astartes blood gushing out from around the hilt. He stood for a moment, wide-eyed and gurgling foully, before toppling forwards into the rubble.
Not even taking the time to recover his weapon, Skarar turned… and came face to face with the monstrous crimson giant Angron. He stood for a long moment, once again transfixed by the awe-inspiring sight of his primarch master, before he recovered at least enough sense to raise his pistol.
His life was ended a split-second later, and his final thought was of vengeance.

==========


BURNING THE CRADLE

by eFTy




THE SKY RAINED fire. Lance strikes, orbital missiles and atmospheric bombers seemed to race each other at visiting destruction upon the enemy below. Bunkers were torn open, trenches annihilated, and entire buildings turned to dust and rubble in the blink of an uncaring eye.
And then, as if the devastation had not been enough, came the rain of steel. Hundreds of teardrop-shaped landing craft arced towards the firmament, screaming as they ignited the atmosphere around them. Their fiery trails crisscrossed the heavens before they thundered down into the defenders below. The drop pods slammed into the earth like the burning fists of an angry god and then opened to release their cargo – angels of destruction and death. Armour clad, their weapons spitting death, as one they roared their hatred and charged their erstwhile brothers. The bitter sons of humanity had finally returned to the cradle of the civilisation that had created them, hell-bent on the murder of their shared father. They would gladly set the entire planet aflame in their quest for retribution, and humanity would burn with them.
Sons of Horus, World Eaters, Death Guard, Iron Warriors, Emperor’s Children: names that had once been synonymous with the glorious deeds of the Great Crusade, now sources of terror and hatred for the battered Imperium. Legions of superhuman soldiers that spat upon their vows of loyalty in the name of vindication and personal glory had now come home to bring death to the very world in whose name they had fought through the centuries. Imperial soldiers died in the thousands, entire companies snuffed out of existence within moments of the first renegade Astartes setting his armoured boot on the soil of Holy Terra.
Only the Emperor’s own Space Marines could hope to stem the tide. The Imperial Fists, Blood Angels and White Scars stood shoulder to shoulder, dug into the remains of their fortifications and returning fire to drive off the traitors trying to seize the space ports. Bitter heroes all, they only surrendered each patch of ground after it was littered with corpses, Imperial and traitor indistinguishable amid the carnage. Both sides hacked at each other with abandon. Brother fought brother in the most bitter struggle humanity had ever known, as though the fate of the entire universe depended upon this battle.
In many ways it did.
Whomsoever won this planet would end up in control of an empire that spanned the galaxy. None cared that the Imperium was already burning. None cared that entire systems had been reduced to bare rock and clouds of ash. None cared for anything other than the complete annihilation of the enemy before them.
The Imperial Palace was the main stage for this conflict. Once it had been a monument to all the achievements of humanity, bedecked with works of art and containing wonders from all over the galaxy. Now it was a battleground like a million others across the Imperium, where death and destruction were constant companions.

SERGEANT VALDIG AND his squad had already achieved in that single opening exchange a kill count that surpassed some of the most brutal conflicts he had ever seen. Two hundred and thirty-nine Astartes – two hundred and thirty-nine traitors, he corrected himself – had already died at their hands, and seventy-seven of those by Valdig himself. He had never imagined hatred so intense could exist, and he was sure that he’d remember the insane glint he had seen in the World Eaters’ eyes for the rest of his life, however long or short that might prove to be.
Three of his men were already dead. Another had lost an arm, and most of the rest had suffered some kind of minor injuries which had not been deemed critical by the Apothecaries. Still the enemy kept coming. The space port was reduced to ruins, but the battle raged nonetheless.
Neither side gave way, and neither side would seek any quarter even had it been offered. The Fists’ position was now barely more than a heap of rubble – two walls were still standing, which held up a small part of the roof, but the west and south sides were now simply mounds of crushed plascrete behind which Valdig’s men took cover as they poured bolter fire onto the approaching Sons of Horus.
The traitors advanced in pairs, taking advantage of the available cover and making sure Valdig’s men couldn’t pin them down. The Imperial Fists sergeant uttered a short curse he had learned centuries ago in his homeland – a homeland that was no longer a distant memory, but now rather a mere thousand miles to the west. He was about to order his squad to refocus their attacks when he realised something was wrong. Scanning the traitors’ line, he noticed that they were dividing their numbers and leaving an open space between them – Valdig cursed again, this time directed at himself. As the sergeant barked an order to take cover, a volley of plasma fire from some distant battery struck their hastily improvised fortifications, vaporising girders and masonry and hurling clouds of dust and debris into the air.
Then the Sons of Horus were amongst them. For the third time that day, Valdig and his men were fighting for their lives.
The traitors fought with unnatural vigour, seeming to relish each swing and blow and roaring with cruel laughter as they cut down the loyalist defenders. Valdig screamed his hatred at the encircling foes and launched himself at their leader, gripping the blade of his opponent’s sword with his power fist and snapping it like a twig. He kicked the traitorous warrior hard in the chest, pitching him to the ground and preparing to hammer down with his fist again, but the Sons of Horus rallied to their fallen champion and blazed away with their pistols at close range.
Valdig fell among his brothers, riddled with bolter fire. As his secondary heart and multilung strained to compensate for the failing of their primaries, the sergeant became aware of the enemy leader standing over him, his broken sword in hand. Valdig mumbled something he had hoped would insult and enrage his victorious adversary, but with a sneer the renegades marched on, joining their brothers in damnation and making for their next objective.
The battle raged on. Terra was burning.

==========


THE EMPEROR’S MERCY

by Zacharius Papageorgiou (AKA Einarr)




THE ORDERS WERE perfectly clear: spot the wounded, take aim, pull the trigger. Repeat.
The barren rocky plateau was bleak and blackened from the hell that had been unleashed only hours before. The sky was pale, ashen even. It was a fine place for a mass grave. Stalking through the blasted terrain of the Urgall depression, Iron Warriors, Word Bearers and Night Lords delivered the killing blow to any fallen loyalist warrior they found still clinging to life.
Spot the wounded, take aim, pull the trigger. Repeat.
Mordax slammed in a fresh magazine, chambered a round and continued through the hellish landscape. His head felt heavy, his thoughts hazy and a vague feeling of guilt and doubt had settled over him, the feeling so oppressive that he couldn’t think of anything but the task at hand.
It had been this way since the reclamation of Olympia. The first days after the campaign were particularly agonising as the grim realisation had dawned on the Iron Warriors: the atrocities they had committed; the indiscriminate killing; the murder of innocents. The blood of men, women and children had been fresh upon their hands. Upon his own hands.
Spot the wounded, take aim, pull the trigger. Repeat.
Now the blood of his brothers stained his hands anew: Raven Guard, Salamanders, Iron Hands. The primarch Ferrus Manus lay dead, and their damnation would be eternal – of that he had no doubt. He resumed his grim task, scanning the killing fields for any stragglers. Off to his left he saw one of Lorgar’s crimson-armoured sons stooping over a wounded warrior, and shivered as he saw the Word Bearer perform some heathen ritual over the fallen body. His victim defiled and offered to some primordial god, the warrior continued to pick his way through the corpses.
Spot the wounded, take aim, pull the trigger. Repeat.
Mordax’s weapon ran dry again soon enough, and he discarded the magazine. As he reloaded, he caught a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision, barely even a shadow. Instinct took over, and he made towards the movement with great loping strides, careful not to shift his eyes from the target for fear of losing it among the corpse-piles once again.
As he drew close, he saw a battered, gauntleted hand reach for a notched combat blade – the scene had been played out many times already, and Mordax would not be caught again. He kicked down hard with his armoured boot and turned the fallen warrior onto his back. Bloody, pale features stared up with defiance at the enemy standing over him, but Mordax felt only surprise at the sight of this defeated Raven Guard. It was strange indeed to find a familiar face in the midst of such carnage. Suddenly the guilt returned, stronger than ever, and hoping to dispel it Mordax tried to take aim with his pistol. But his muscles would not obey him.
The two Astartes stared at each other for a long while, until the Iron Warrior broke the silence. ‘Augustine,’ he said flatly. ‘Well met, brother.’
‘How do you know my name, traitor?’ the broken warrior demanded, ‘and why did you not slay me out of hand like the coward you are?’
‘I know your name Raven Guard, because it is a name I have praised for over a century. Until today...’
Silence reigned again. The Raven Guard grimaced, regarding Mordax with cold hatred burning in his dark eyes. The Iron Warrior continued.
‘Remember, Raven Guard, when the Great Crusade forged outwards across the galaxy, unified under its mighty leader. Remember how many times the IV Legion was called upon to break the defences that the other legions could not. Now remember Tyranus VI and the great fortress of marble. I had lain within the ruins of the northern curtain wall for nearly seventeen hours when you found me, with my innards spilled across my battle plate and my life leeching away into the dirt.’
Realisation followed, and the Raven Guard hawked a gobbet of congealed blood from between his cracked lips. ‘Mordax. Show me your face, traitor.’
Slowly, reluctantly, the Iron Warrior unclasped his bulky bucket helm. Their eyes locked, sorrow and bitterness meeting smouldering hatred.
‘Murderer,’ Augustine spat.
‘That I am, brother,’ Mordax agreed. ‘As are you. We are nought but killing machines, bred for war. War is not a pretty business.’
Augustine’s face twisted in anger. ‘Murder and treachery are the actions of the ignoble! Where is your honour, traitor?’
‘Do not lecture me of honour, Raven Guard! I fought the most thankless battles and most brutal sieges, only to be scorned and witness my brothers abandoned in some Throne-forsaken world, to rot there until the end of their days! Honour abandoned us long ago.’
The Raven Guard turned his head in disgust. Through clenched teeth he uttered words that seared Mordax’s soul. ‘Look at yourself! You abandoned the Imperial Truth and broke your treasured oaths… for what? To become the Warmaster’s executioners? Betrayers and cutthroats-’
Mordax snapped his pistol up. ‘You don’t know what I have done, Augustine. The Emperor would never forgive us now, even if we fell to our knees and begged.’
The Raven Guard’s shattered body was wracked by a series of bloody convulsions, his open wounds staining the oath papers fixed to his breastplate. ‘Deception… and lies...’ he gasped.
All around them, an unearthly silence hung over the battlefield, the cold hand of death so palpable, almost physical. A rumble of distant thunder drifted in upon the fitful breeze, a hateful herald of the dark days to come and its voice that of a million wronged brothers. Mordax smiled grimly, but his eyes took on a haunted look.
‘The galaxy has run out of truths, brother, but I would grant you one last thing before I leave here.’ He drew his sword.
The Raven Guard stared him hard in the eye, his own like black pits of sorrow, glazed from the shadow of death. ‘Do it, Mordax. End this.’
The gladius fell, and the Emperor’s Mercy was granted one last time. Looking down on his brother’s body, Mordax realised that he would be incapable of showing mercy again in his lifetime. So too could he expect none. No mercy for the traitor.
As the sun dipped low on the horizon, the Iron Warrior rose, donning his helmet again. He raised a fist in the old salute of Unity to his dead brother.
Spotting the wounded, taking aim, pulling the trigger. He had no soul left to save.

==========


THE MARK OF LOYALTY

by James Nicolaou (AKA Fernuz)




AMON TAUROMACHIAN'S WORST nightmare had become a reality. The Emperor of Mankind, the guiding light of humanity had been killed, and he fell not with a bang but a whimper. All the defences that Primarch Rogal Dorn and his sons the Imperial Fists had meticulously prepared had been for nought.
A mirthless smile crossed his lips as he lay crumpled and broken against the wall in the great Hall of Leng. These were not the only failures in the defence of the Emperor, for Amon and his comrades had failed as well. The Custodian Guard were His personal bodyguards, created for the sole purpose of defending Him, and they had been the first to fall.
Amon struggled to remember how he had even arrived at the hall. Had he been on sentry duty? Was he supervising the human workforce? He shook his head to clear it of such thoughts – what had already happened did not matter. All that mattered now was vengeance. He considered the inherent irony as he rose unsteadily to his feet, using the wall and his battered guardian spear to support himself. All those months ago, he had come to this very place in the culmination of his Blood Game, coming closer than anyone before to murdering the Emperor. That of course had been a test, to prepare them. But nothing could have prepared them for this.
As he rose, Amon dispassionately noted the damage that he had sustained. His golden armour was a mangled mess, half-congealed blood oozing from various rents and cracks.
When he finally managed to stand, the Voice came once again from the shadows.
‘Oh. You can still stand, then? You Custodians are tougher than you look.’ In the darkness, Amon's enhanced vision could make out a wide smile with far too many teeth.
Before Amon could answer, a golden blur smashed into him, throwing him back against the wall. The sheer force of the impact spread cracks like a great spider-web in the stone behind him. He dropped his spear to catch the object that had been thrown at him and just about managed to stay upright. His heart sank as he realised what he was holding: it was the severed head of Constantin Valdor, still wearing his golden helmet. Constantin had been the Chief Custodian to the Emperor – Custodes were not brothers in the truest sense, but they were still comrades, and it broke Amon's heart to see such a once proud warrior debased like this.
The Voice and the smile-with-too-many-teeth once again appeared in the shadows.
‘Or maybe not...’
The Voice stepped forward, the shadows parting like a curtain veil revealing the lead player in a mummery, and Amon looked upon the face of the man who had betrayed his entire species.
The Voice was a giant figure, towering over Amon despite the Custodian’s enhanced genetics. It wore a parody of the golden armour the Emperor had worn, but instead of gold, it was blood red. Human skulls and malevolent runes adorned it like trophies. This was the antithesis of the being Amon had once called Father. Even through the immense pain that tinted his vision, Amon saw the face of the Voice, and knew its true name.
‘Malcador.’
The Voice's smile grew wider. ‘I am the Voice of Horus now, and I have given him a far greater gift then any of his "brothers" could ever have dreamt of.’
Amon gently and reverently put down the head of Valdor and picked up his spear, adopting a battle stance. The Voice gave him an almost paternal look, as if Amon were a child playing at being a hero. Through gritted teeth, Amon asked the only question he knew the Voice would answer.
‘Why?’
The Voice's face distorted instantly, disgust marring his features. ‘Is it not obvious? The Emperor was a liar, and everything for which he stood was a lie. The whole Imperium is a lie!' The Voice moved with blinding speed towards Amon, stopping directly in front of him. Amon did not flinch.
‘How could he know what was best for humanity? He was not even human! His hypocrisy damned us all. “There are no such things as gods”… ha!’ he said, his voice taking on a singsong quality to emphasise his mockery.
Amon knew he had to keep the Voice talking while he looked for some sort of opening. ‘Why do you choose to follow Horus, then? If he too is not human?’
The Voice moved his head down slowly, until his gaze was level with Amon’s. ‘Because Horus knows the Truth... and the Truth will set us free.’ His voice was lowered to a whisper, as if he was sharing a great secret.
‘Join us Amon. Join us and see the true light of Humanity shine over this mis-’
Amon saw his chance. Roaring the Emperor's name, he swung his spear at the Voice's neck. Time seemed to slow.
‘A pity...’
The Voice grabbed Amon’s arm mid-swing, and tore the spear from his hands. He then plunged it directly into Amon's face, and the last hope of the old Imperium died with him.

AMON AWOKE WITH a start, looking around for his killer. His hands reached for his face and he expected to feel a gaping wound, but found nothing. He looked around his surroundings and realised he was in his own quarters, dressed in a loose-fitting white tunic. A voice came from the corner of the room.
‘You have done well.’
The Voice stepped forward from the shadows. It was Malcador the Sigillite, but it was the Malcador he had known for centuries, an elderly man clutching a long staff.
‘Your psychic powers are truly formidable, lord. That felt as if it were reality.’
Malcador nodded, a faint smile at his lips. ‘Your Father would be proud of you, Amon.’
He bowed, acknowledging the praise. ‘I will never break. I will always stand true to the Emperor, as a galaxy without him is one that I do not wish to know.’
Malcador nodded solemnly.
‘In these times, loyalty is one of the most powerful weapons we have.’

==========


PRECINCT ALPHA

by Andrew Green (AKA Fingol23)




A SINGLE TEAR rolled down Judge Nomos’s cheek as he watched another spear of incandescent energy scourge the face of his planet – the heart of the Imperium, the cradle of mankind. The bombardment had lasted for days, although exactly how many Nomos could not be sure, as the weight of dust lifted into the atmosphere had blotted out the sun and his chronometer had been disabled by the electromagnetic pulses generated by the attack. He had watched it all from behind the safety of the void shield which protected Precinct Alpha, first amongst the fortresses of the Adeptus Arbites whose duty it was to enforce the law of the Emperor throughout his domain. How futile that mission seemed now as civil war brought Terra itself to its knees.
No, there was still hope. The majority of the bombardment was focused to the north where the tell-tale flashes of a void shield revealed that the palace still stood, and within it stood the Emperor, humanity’s greatest leader. He had spread the dominion of man throughout the known universe, and once this traitor was dealt with he would do so again. But would even the Emperor be able to stand against Horus – once his favoured son – and eight of his brothers?
Before he could sink any further into despondency he was interrupted by the arrival of his adjutant Lex. ‘Sir, our sensors have detected incoming drop-ships. The traitors have begun their attack.’ Discipline held his voice steady, barely. Nomos had seen Lex lead a charge against an armed cabal of psycho-crazed dissidents in the under-city of the Nord-Afrik Conclaves without so much as a backward glance. To see him now so unsettled spoke volumes for the severity of the situation.
Nomos turned his back on the giant pyrotechnic display and, donning his helmet, started down the stair that led from the ramparts to the main courtyard.
‘Have we calculated their landing zones?’
‘Initial telemetries suggest the bulk of their forces will impact in Lion’s Gate and Eternity Wall Spaceports,’ Lex replied. ‘We also have landers inbound on our position, probably ex-Imperial Army.’
Nomos snorted. ‘Those scum are not worthy of the title. We shall show them the penalty for contravening Imperial law.’ In spite of himself, Nomos found his conviction returning at the prospect of imminent action. ‘Call the men to their stations – I want every one of them armed, armoured and in position before those deviants reach the surface.’
‘The order is already given, Judge Primus.’
‘Good. See to the defence of the wall. I shall hold the gate.’ These last words were shouted over the din of the precinct’s Hydra batteries roaring into life, spitting streams of tracer towards the plasma contrails appearing in the sky above.

THE COURTYARD SOON filled with the ordered chaos of hundreds of Arbites rushing to their positions, strapping on carapace armour and hastily checking weapons as the contrails slowly resolved themselves into the blocky forms of drop-ships. The whole precinct was illuminated by a blinding flash of light as the guns did their work and blew apart one of the shuttles. His eyes protected by the auto-dampers in his visor, Nomos marshalled his squad, some twenty arbitrators. They formed two lines behind the adamantium gates; the first an imposing wall of suppression shields and sparking shock mauls, the second rank of arbitrators bearing combat shotguns.
The walls were lined with more Arbites, interspersed with lascannon wielding Derveshi. The Judge Primus had barely satisfied himself that his men were ready when a tremor shook the ground as the first drop-ship touched down, its descent halted at almost the last second by its powerful engines. Nomos watched via his helmet’s visor display as the lander’s assault ramp slammed open and a horde – for these savages, their uniforms dyed the colour of blood, lacked the discipline to be described as anything else – charged onto the violated soil of Terra.
A wave of chanting washed over the defenders, the rabble crying out as one ‘Khorne! Khorne! Khorne!’ The word had a tangible wrongness to it which left Nomos disorientated. Shaking his head to clear it, he issued a short order into his vox-bead.
‘All units, fire at will.’
Immediately a hail of fire scythed through the leading edge of the traitors’ advance, the barrage supplemented by the precinct’s automated defences. However, those that survived began to fan out, occasionally pausing to snipe at the defenders. More troubling were the heavy gun carriages being dragged from the lander’s cargo bays.
‘Take out the gun crews!’ Nomos ordered desperately, but the heretics formed a living shield for them, heedless of their own safety, and he could but watch as the autocannons were loaded and aimed.
The gunners did not even wait for their comrades to disperse, but opened fire immediately, tearing the stragglers apart. The heavy calibre shells went clean through bodies with ease before gouging great dents in the gates. Their protection gone, the Arbites renewed their efforts to silence the guns, but it was too little too late. With the distinctive shriek of tortured metal, the gates buckled under the weight of fire, and all that stood between the traitors and the precinct building was Nomos and his men.
With a great roar the invaders surged forward en masse, pushing and jostling with each other as they strove to reach the thin black line of enforcers. The defenders on the walls killed dozens mid-charge but there were simply too many to halt the tide. Standing calmly in the centre of the first rank, Nomos gripped his maul tightly and with a clarion clear voice called out, ‘First rank, kneel.’
As one the Arbites sank to one knee, and at Nomos’s further order those behind raised their shotguns to their shoulders.
‘Fire!’
A single volley ripped through the heretic host, lacerating torsos and shredding limbs, but those behind drove on. The front rank regained their footing a fraction of a second before the traitors smashed into them, and Nomos’s world dissolved into the chaos of combat.

==========


FOR CALIBAN

by Tim Kenyon (AKA GabrielStrom)




WEAK LIGHT POOLED in the tunnel. Cold air caused steam to rise from bolt pistols. Chainswords purred idly. Water dripped from unseen crevices. Corpses bled out into the dust.
The fire fight had lasted seconds – such was the price of insurrection. Magazines were swapped, actions primed, rounds slammed into chambers, the sounds of martial preparation echoing all around. And then they came again.
Weapons barked into the gloom. Two fell, blown apart by the mass-reactive shells, spattering blood across the mineral soaked walls. Las-fire responded in kind, lancing through the darkness towards the Astartes. Strobing crimson beams criss-crossing wildly; inaccuracy born from lack of training.
‘Hold,’ came a voice, its solidity weighted with experience. The most ancient tree in the forest, the tallest mountain in the range. The Tower of Angels itself. It spoke again, its tone soothing yet commanding: ‘Remember.’
The Astartes’ nerves calmed. They took regimented firing positions, the front rank at the knee. The enemy closed, four more going down before they came within melee range.
‘To arms.’
Chainswords roared into life. There were countless hostiles now – auspex registered fifty more at least. Each one would be armed: some with laspistols, others with mining machinery or stanchions.
The antagonists clashed. Flesh was torn asunder by serrated adamantium chainsword teeth, bowel and blood spilling across the walkway. Hostiles slipped and fell as they ran blindly forwards.
The second rank of Astartes stood ready, gunning their own blades into life. Rushing forward they began to repel the advance, driving the hostiles back with every swipe. Heads fell from shoulders. Arms severed at the shoulder or elbow. Twenty were down already. Then thirty. Then forty.
Still they came.
Bodies pressed into the narrow space, choking off any escape route. Yells and screams drowned out even the noise of the chainswords as they cut savagely through the rabble. Meat, bone and sinew threatened to clog the mechanisms, but still they went on.
Then it came: the flash, the explosion. The wall of high-pitched white noise in his ears. A mining charge.

HE STRAINED HIS human eyes into the gloom. Bereft of Astartes enhancement and equipment he saw only the blue shape-echo of the explosion. He held out his own pistol in front of him, the power sword humming to his left. Slowly his vision returned. Ruined and twisted corpses littered the floor. Daggers were drawn in the shadows. Still-misted shapes began to leap out at him. His hearing was returning too.
‘Mfff awrl yawl tomp mawnu.’ All bass notes and rumble. Then more gunfire. Rapid reports of bolt pistol fire resounded through his head, vicious pain lancing through his brain. Muzzle flashes stung his eyes.
‘Awrl yawl tomp mawnur.’ More this time.
His stunned brain swam, taking moments to find words. He shook his head, worsening the pain already there. He rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his hands. Shapes began to coalesce.
‘Are you well, master?’ came the vox-distorted voice again.
‘Yes.’ His voice trembled. His routines reasserted themselves, and he checked himself for damage. He found none.
‘The others?’ he asked.
‘They have departed. Dead to the last, master.’
This news took him a few seconds to absorb. The last of the tinnitus shook itself from his ears. ‘And the enemy?’
‘Scattered. The blast took a great number with them; they still outnumber us at least twelve to one.’
‘I’ve had worse odds, boy,’ he said, his voice now full of its former character. ‘To arms!’

IT SEEMED THAT the initiate had underestimated their number – as they proceeded through the tunnels they encountered many pockets of resistance, but leaderless and disorganised they were quickly slaughtered. Cowering civilians dispatched by these two black-clad lords of murder, these giants seemingly hewn from metal, and one with eyes that burned with a vengeful fire. Unable to communicate with his underlings, the Overseer had reportedly retreated to the furthest reaches of the mine with a handful of followers, hoping to evade them.
The master was a joy to behold: his blade danced in the air, singing as it cut effortlessly through meat and bone, piercing throat and skull as easily as straw dolls. Methodically – nay, clinically – they patrolled each tunnel, outcrop and shelf. Every life they took brought them closer to their quarry.
Soon enough they found him.
His pathetic guardians stood between them, ‘protecting’ him. They swung and tested their weapons in an inept display of menace. The master was unimpressed.
‘This is the end of you,’ his steady voice came again. It boomed off the walls, reverberating in the enclosed space like thunder.
‘Then this is the end of us all!’ the Overseer cried out in reply. ‘This is your so-called crusade now, Knight of the Order! Caretaker! Custodian!’
The master’s knuckles tightened around his sword. The barb had stung.
Without order the guardians launched forward with screams of fury. Full of righteous fury, the initiate was upon them in an instant, his chainsword roaring as it blocked the first overhead smash. The return strike sent the man flying backwards into a crumpled heap among his fellows, one of whom roared and lashed out with a mining hammer in retaliation. The blow rang from the initiate’s thrumming armour, and a powered elbow spread his attacker’s nose across his face, forcing bone into the brain and killing him instantly.
The third was more cautious. He feigned three attacks to the face from the initiate’s left, then he lunged in to strike at the shoulder. Before his attack could connect, the initiate’s chainsword struck his torso and ripped him in two.
The first stunned guardian rose again, standing unsteadily for a moment before charging at the initiate. A single bolt pistol shot dropped him mid-run, his body tumbling forwards, his head a shattered ruin.
The master looked on with pride, before turning to the Overseer. ‘You remain defiant?’ His voice was steady. Ancient.
The Overseer drew his laspistol, firing as he tried to flee, but the rounds pattered harmlessly off the master’s armour. The initiate lowered his weapons and let the panicked man make for the doorway.
The master balled his right hand to a fist. As the Overseer passed him, a single blow shattered the man’s skull and the corpse pitched to the floor, twitching where it lay.
‘For the Lion!’ called out the initiate triumphantly.
‘For Caliban,’ Luther corrected him.

==========


IRON GARRISON

by Haerosia




HE STOOD MOTIONLESS within the howling, atrocious blizzard. Feet apart and arms folded across his immense plastron, he was reminiscent of an ancient war-chief of old Terra. The wild snowstorm laid waste to all notions of topography and prevented the muted daylight from penetrating the ghostly white panorama. Such low temperatures and whipping winds would be unbearably debilitating – agonizing, even – to lower mortals.
But even in the face of this overwhelming natural turmoil he did not move. Despite the brutal storm winds and flying razor-shards of ice he remained perfectly motionless. He was like an immobile statue cast from the most stern of irons, a grotesque representation of humanity's most perfect warriors; a grim, defiant and uncompromising monolith of reinforced steel.
The Iron Warrior stood, and he waited.
The bulky pauldrons of his armour plate were decorated in broad hazard stripes of reflective onyx and deep bronze, clearly signifying his allegiance to the legion and the Siege-Primarch Perturabo. He had customised his power armour extensively over the years, with vivid turquoise heat coils that prevented the suit’s servos from seizing, which were in turn driven by the oversized generators upon his back. In place of a helmet he wore a reinforced transparisteel dome which broadened his field of vision, and his wide cleated boots helped to distribute his superhuman mass when striding through the soft sinking tundra. His scarred gene-forged countenance betrayed the misshapen persona within, and his crooked hands were still smeared with fresh, innocent blood beneath his gauntlets. He stood now outside the great brass gates of his garrison keep.
And he waited.
His home was a monstrous fortress of broken steel and black pitted iron, bolted together with crude rivets the size of a man’s head. It had been fabricated quickly with practicality and purpose in mind, and exhibited not the slightest pretence of beauty or splendour while the clattering weapons that bristled from each vast turret protected the grimy forges which worked incessantly below. The stronghold sat like a rusted blemish upon the bleak, desolate horizon – he had been garrisoned here alone, keeping a silent vigil over the local populace for decades in order to ensure their continued compliance with Imperial rule.
The frozen world he inhabited danced erratically at the end of a crooked galactic spiral of fading and wintry stars. What a waste of his talents to be stranded here, protecting fewer than a million souls strewn around the barely inhabitable equatorial region. For a mortal to travel just a few degrees north or south would mean certain death in the frozen wilderness – if not from the sub-zero temperatures then at the hands of the howling, gibbering and eyeless monstrosities that stalked out from the shadowy mountain ranges beyond. Known to the small-minded locals simply as ghuls or wampir, these wretched snow-beings were perverse in their form and their mannerisms. Part of the lonely warrior’s remit had been to help cleanse the planet of these unclean monsters, but he had not. As a result, relations with the ruling cluster-clans had fallen foul in recent years and they no longer made requests for his help.
They said that the isolation, the decades of blinding white silence had driven him insane. Maybe it had. Who could say.
His resentment had soured into a green bitterness over the years. He was built for war and yet the Imperium would have him wasting his existence upon this insignificant ball of ice. In his attempts to seek a greater glory and earn the pride of his primarch he had stopped watching over the humans, given up shielding them from the mountain predators and began tampering with his own wargear instead. He even experimented on his human charges too when he could, melding their soft fleshy tissues with industrial machinery.
He created artificial technological viruses just to observe their weird effects. He hacked off limbs to replace them with blades and bolt weapons. He lobotomised his victims and added them to his emergent army of servitors. The tests he performed had become as cruel and vicious as the Iron Warrior himself. He told no one of the ancient underground tombs he had uncovered, nor that he had deciphered the forbidden writings engraved upon their walls. Outlandish knowledge of daemons, gods, unheard-of realms and power beyond measure… it was intoxicating, to say the least.
He had used this newfound knowledge to further his terrible experiments, with truly staggering results. He was however still uneasy about the group of failed creations which had escaped into the midnight whiteout so many years ago: he had made these monstrosities particularly large and resilient, and he knew they were still alive and roaming, somewhere out there.
He blinked to refocus his cold augmetic eyes. At that moment, he spied what he had been waiting for through the thermo-imaging sensors: a group of his worm-faced servitors loping through the fierce snowstorm, carrying their precious load. The servitors were dressed in tight-fitting black thermo-suits, in stark contrast to the persistent blizzard which raged around them. Each mindless automaton displayed the IV Legion’s mark upon their chest. The ill-fated and unconscious humans they hauled were nothing more than vague shapes beneath the thick furs they all wore against the cold of this world.
These people that he should have been protecting were a pitiful shadow of humanity, with their pale skin, hunched postures and thin, malnourished frames. They were undeserving of his attention; far removed from the proud citizens of Olympia. The ragtag group of servitors straight past the Iron Warrior, heedless of his presence, merely performing the task for which they were created. They had become the ghuls that stalked the frozen night, and he was their master.
His thoughts turned to the rest of this planet. His scanners had exposed other concealed tombs out within the frosty wastes – he would journey to them soon and uncover more of their extraordinary legacy. For now though, he had work to do. He turned on the spot with a whine of servos and stomped back into his keep, more senseless servitors heaving the vast brass gates closed behind him. With fresh subjects, his newest creation awaited his careful attentions.
His obliterator virus.

==========


IN OUR DARKEST HOUR

by Jason Coulson (AKA Hero of Istvaan)




A DECADE. TEN long years it took us to fortify – nay, despoil – the greatest achievement of mankind. These treacherous whoresons will tear down what’s left of it in less than half that time. If we’re lucky.
For the last three months I’ve fought day and night, slaying untold numbers of my brothers; warriors with whom I once stood on the field of war. For what? Honour? Glory? Neither of these matters to them anymore. They fight for dark ruinous powers beyond their understanding. They fight for greed and power and we repel them in defence of our father. We will keep repelling them to our dying breath, to the very last warrior. My black blade sings in the thick of battle.
Another wave pours through the breach, more twisted versions of those we once called our kin. I see them charge and I see my men open fire. I see the muzzle flashes of the boltguns, and yet all sound is lost to me. As I stand transfixed by the battle, the greatest battle of all time, everything seems to slow. I feel only the spray of dust-borne debris on my face as the chill Himalayzian wind passes over me.
How did it come to this? After all we had achieved…
I shake the thought from my head and my senses return. I raise my bolter and open fire; two more, then three fall before they reach our position. I draw my sword and embrace the familiar sensation as it surges to life in my hand, singing with raw power. I sweep in great arcs cleaving traitor Astartes left and right.
‘For Dorn and the Emperor!’
My cry is returned by my loyalist brothers. As First Captain of the Templars, they look to me for strength and leadership, things I find myself lacking in these dark times. For now though, the traitors have been repelled. My adjutant approaches.
‘Captain, Lord Dorn sends for you to attend him within the palace.’
I nod. ‘Understood, Castor – the field is yours until I return. Hold the line, brother.’

I ENTER THE chamber and see my primarch in all his magnificence, standing at the hololithic projector at the far end and poring over the newest strategies. I take a moment to bask in the sight of him, and approach the dais.
‘My lord, you requested…’ My words trail off.
‘Sigismund, old friend,’ he sighs. ‘This is our darkest hour. We are losing this war. Our brothers are tired and morale runs as low as our ammunition reserves. If Guilliman does not arrive soon then all will be lost to us.’
For the first time in all the years that I have fought at his side, I realise that he sounds tired. Tired and nervous. But what has one such as he to be afraid of?
‘My lord – we will fight, and we will keep fighting until there is none of them left for us to fight. Or until there are none of us left.’ Even as the words leave my lips, I feel the lack of conviction in them. Still Dorn smiles.
‘I know old friend, and I’m indebted to you for your efforts. But there is yet more I must ask of you.’
I kneel before him. ‘Anything, my lord.’
I hear footsteps behind me in the gloom; in the blink of an eye, I leap up and draw my sword, ready to give my life to protect my primarch. With the tip a mere hairsbreadth from the man’s face I realise whom it is that I would so readily strike down, and the weapon falls from my grasp. My words seem awkward.
‘M-my apologies, Sigillite.’
His presence is overwhelming. I feel his psychic touch pushing into my mind.
‘No matter, Sigismund. It brings strength to us all that you would so readily give your life for the Imperium.’ His voice is frail and he appears weak leaning on his staff, yet I know this all to be false – an affected pretence to influence those around him. ‘We have a task for you to fulfill, honourable Templar.’
‘Anything, my lords. Anything for the Imperium.’
Malcador smiles. ‘Your enthusiasm is honourable, but do not be so hasty. This is no simple task. You will be isolated from the company of your brothers and thrust deep into the gravest peril.’
‘Name it. My life would be willingly forfeit in the service of the Emperor.’
From one knee, with my head bowed before these legendary figures, I proffer up my sword to them. It is taken from my grasp, and the point of the ebon blade touches the ground before me. I hear Dorn’s commanding voice once more.
‘You and I have spoken of the importance of inspiration, my son. We need a warrior, a great warrior to bring the fight to the heart of the traitor horde. To be a symbol of our defiance, to seek out and destroy their foul champions in single combat. It is you who shall be our champion, The Emperor's Champion. Do you accept your part in this?’
I take a moment to acknowledge the weight of the task set before me.
‘I do, my lord.’ I remove my gauntlet and place my bare hand on the cold blade, gripping tightly and letting my blood run freely. ‘I Sigismund, accept my part in the task set before me. I will set aside all other claims upon my honour in service to the Emperor, and to him alone. Before those present and upon this blade I pledge myself and swear this oath of moment.’
The Sigillite ambles forward and places his hand on my pauldron.
‘Rise then, Sigismund, Champion of the Emperor. Go forth in righteous fury and strike fear into the hearts of our enemies. Fear none who stand before you, for you go with His light at your side and none shall block your path.’
As I rise, I see the primarch beaming down at me. I try to speak but words fail me in the light of his magnificence.
‘You honour us, old friend,’ he says gravely. ‘Now go! Bring the Emperor’s wrath to our heathen brothers and let none stand in your way!’
I nod in respect and turn to leave as another colossal explosion rocks the outer walls of the palace. I hear Dorn call after me.
‘They are making the push to breach the perimeter, Sigismund, sooner than we predicted!’ He takes up his shield and fastens it to his vambrace. ‘Come then, let us drive the traitorous scum back!’
Though I know it will most likely be my end, I go – together, side by side with my primarch, we will take the fight to them one last time.

==========

ShroudFilm - January 14, 2011 04:22 PM (GMT)
THE HIDDEN WORD

by Chris Eustace (AKA IngoPech)




‘STEP THIS WAY, ladies and gentles – I guarantee you’ll not be disappointed!’ cried Hurzo for what seemed the thousandth time. ‘No dissatisfied customers! No home is complete without this icon of Holy Inarr and the loaf of bread! Best prices anywhere!’
He continued animatedly hawking his tray full of souvenir bric-a-brac as the gaudy crowds swirled past him. Before his world had entered into what the new Imperium benevolently called ‘compliance’, he had been doing a brisk trade along this street. But now that everyone had turned from their old religion in favour of the new and decidedly secular Imperial Truth, vendors of religious paraphernalia were out of fashion.
Hurzo was beginning to despair. It was the fourth hour of post-midday and he had yet to make any real sales. Suraf would not be happy, and not without reason: Hurzo had consistently come up dry for most of the past thirty days. If Suraf was in a bad mood later, Hurzo could well be out of a job by this time tomorrow. He looked at his wrist-chron and sighed. May as well pack this in, he thought. It was obvious there would be no better luck today. Besides, he was hungry, tired and footsore.
As Hurzo packed up his vendors tray and began walking he decided he would seek out one of his preferred eateries nearby. Junok’s maybe? Not far, an inexpensive. He began salivating as he thought of a steaming baked jiijo with a plate of fried ghozzsticks and a cold bir to wash it down. As he turned down the side alley, he was so lost in these thoughts that he never even felt the bag go over his head.

‘WAKE HIM AGAIN,’ came the muffled voice from somewhere off to his left. ‘We need answers now.’
Hurzo felt the icy tingle of a stimm injection fill his body. He began regain his situational awareness. He was shaking. He was in pain. He was upside down. He was naked. He was not alone. The voice came again.
‘Do you hear me, Hurzo?’
The voice he heard was raspy and metallic, speaking through a vox-scrambler, perhaps? He began to sweat as he realised that these were not typical back ally charvas he was dealing with.
‘Do you hear me?’ repeated the voice. ‘I need answers, Hurzo.’
They knew his name.
‘Hurzo!’
He opened one eye; that was all he could manage. He could see nothing but light, harsh and actinic. He had the faint impression of something very large and powerful just beyond the light. ‘Tell me about the gatherings, Hurzo. Where are they? When?’
Hurzo tried to mouth a reply, to deny anything he was asked, but he was baffled. The gatherings were his most closely guarded secret. His only real secret. He could be killed for revealing what he knew and compromising the circle. Not the only circle he moved in but the only one he gave a scorq’s arse about. ‘No… won’t…’ was all that he could muster.
Silence.
‘You leave us no choice Hurzo. We will have answers. Bring the readers.’

THE TEAM MOVED through the back alleys of Aryssuf. They had a target. After several hours of interrogation the subject had refused to give up what he knew about the sect to which he belonged – one of a number of sects that the team had hunted on a number of worlds. Often it seemed, the old faiths that had taken root in the scattered human cultures encountered by the crusading fleets were too deeply entrenched in the local culture to be simply abandoned, and instead continued to exist away from the eyes of Imperial authorities; festering like open sores of ignorance in the dark corners of society.
But that didn’t matter now. The ‘readers’ – alpha level sanctioned psykers – had broken him: the team now had a target. Perhaps not the kind of target they had intended, but duty was duty. No one in the legion questioned that. The Emperor had forbidden the old ways, and these deluded men would not be allowed to continue drawing Imperial citizens away from the Imperial Truth and back into the madness of Old Night.
The team came upon the receiving platform at the rear of a warehouse and halted a moment to perform final checks – safeties came off as a small breaching charge was planted. A low, concussive report, and they were inside.

CHAOS. THE PRIEST exploded as a bolter shell detonated within him, and the team turned their guns upon the congregation. Chaos.
The team advanced with well-rehearsed efficiency as they carried out their task, the light flickering from above illuminating their purple-blue armour. Giants. God-slayers. Come to destroy the old faith. The trappings of superstition flew through the air around them, ruined tatters seen only in half-glimpses as the team passed: smouldering prayer sheets; a fragment of an icon depicting a beatific woman offering bread to a curious being, wreathed in fire; a medallion that bore an eight-spoked wheel, and another depicting a open book whose scripture danced as an open flame.
‘Stay your weapons, brothers.’ The voice carried over the vox, deep and confident.
The team leader raised a closed fist and the gunfire ceased. Bolters sweeping the room for threats, the team continued to advance. ‘Identify yourself,’ he barked.
A shape emerged from the smoke, resplendent in grey battle plate. His right pauldron bore the burning book icon of the XVII Legion, while he carried a mace-like Crozius in his gauntleted hands. His face bore an expression at once indulgent and supremely confident. Around the chamber, others stepped forwards. More giants.
God bringers.
The confident giant spoke again. ‘I am Tar Kaon of the Word Bearers, brothers.’
The team leader advanced, bolter trained. ‘Explain yourself at once! How do Astartes come to be here amongst this?’
Tar Kaon smiled. ‘It is too soon for Lorgar‘s great work to be revealed,’ he said. ‘Rejoice, brothers! Your legion, the Twentieth, has a great destiny before it.’ His face soured. ‘But alas, you will not see it.’
The Word Bearers stepped forwards, raising their weapons.

==========


THE EMPEROR’S FINEST

by Jamie Morris (AKA Lord_Caldera)




Excerpts from the transcript of the personal vox-log recordings of the remembrancer Marcus Vereor. A record of ambient sound has not been included.

Entry #578
I am on a ship at last! After over a year of waiting, my application to be one of the Emperor’s remembrancers has been accepted. I have been assigned to the 87th Expeditionary Fleet under Captain Zain of the Night Lords Space Marine Legion, Twenty-fourth Company, aboard the battle-barge Praenuntius Metum. I can already feel my poetry beginning to fill me, just waiting for a planet’s inspiration to tap into the flow!

Entry #581
I caught my first sight of an Astartes today, and I must admit that my illusions of their majesty have been shaken. Certainly they are imposing and awe-inspiring, but the Night Lords adorn themselves with odd talismans and skulls, and the dark studded armor they wear does not fit with the iterators’ descriptions of the Emperor’s Angels. Perhaps battle brings out their splendour?

Entry #583
We have received our orders and are en route through the immaterium to a planet referred to simply as Eighty-seven Oh-one. I am anxious to arrive and see a new world for the first time. I hear that it is human-inhabited. I can only hope it will be as beautiful as I imagine.

Entry #602
We arrived at Eighty-seven Oh-one two days ago after several weeks in transit, and I received surface clearance only this morning. Tomorrow though, I will set foot on my first alien planet! I fear I will not sleep tonight. The world spins slowly beneath me as the ship orbits it. Those gently swirling colors look so peaceful.

Entry #603
The view of Eighty-seven Oh-one from the transit shuttle was breathtaking until we passed through the swirling amber clouds. The natives are quite exotic in appearance, but they welcomed us remembrancers warmly. They refer to their world as Adisa, a lyrical name which has already inspired nearly twenty verses in my note-slate. I am staying planetside for the time being – the open space and unbridled beauty are welcome after so long confined on an Astartes battleship.

Entry #606
I am shaken. Residents of Adisa have reportedly attacked iterators in one of the main cities. I cannot understand why these people would not wish to be taken into the Imperial fold. I even heard shouting and saw men with primitive weapons on the street outside my window this evening. The Astartes should be making planetfall to restore peace soon. Strangely I find myself yearning to see them in battle, though I hope that this conflict may be resolved without bloodshed. Perhaps their noble skill in warfare will reverse my earlier opinion of them.

Entry #607
The Night Lords landed in the capital city at 03:37 this morning. Disturbing rumours are circulating of gratuitous violence unleashed by terrifying armored giants, wielding roaring swords that tore through men like nothing. Worse are the allegations that they seemed more intent on causing pain and taking prisoners than simply killing. I can only assume that these accounts are being greatly exaggerated in order to garner support for a resistance. My hosts have hidden me in an attic space to shield me from possible retaliation from their neighbors and I am thoroughly grateful! Thankfully I have a small window through which I can continue to observe the people in the streets. Hopefully peace will return to Adisa soon.

Entry #608
Oh Throne… there was an attack last night. Drop pods rained down upon the city… at first I wasn’t sure what was going on, and then… then they opened. The pods were full of prisoners; they must have been from the initial attack on the capital. They… they were impaled on the doors’ blades, but remain alive and conscious. They haven’t stopped screaming since they landed. It’s horrible.

Entry #610
Throne, make them stop. Make them stop screaming.

Entry #611
Those poor souls finally left us. Citizens of this city put them out of their misery. They were unable to give the victims burials – barbed spikes held them fast to the pods. The screams still haunt me.

Entry #612
The Night Lords are here.

Entry #613
It is utterly dark… their scouts must have cut the power before they attacked. I can only see their eyes as they stalk the streets, those horrible glowing red eyes everywhere. Weapons fire sometimes casts fleeting illumination; human limbs nailed to midnight armor, death leering from every brutal plate. I do not know where my hosts are…taken, maybe? I hear no screams or sounds of struggle from below. I hope for their sake that they are already dead.

Entry #614
Oh Throne, no! Leave them be! What have they d-

Entry #615
I found my hosts… alive… somewhat… crucified, hung from the wall outside their own home… Throne, even the children… writhing… how could a benevolent ruler send these monsters against human worlds? Against our own kind? My ears… this city, everything is full of horror and the screams of the damned…

Entry #616
Daylight brings no relief devils roam the streets weapons laughing pain I can see them I can see them all oh gods release them release me… no, only the Imperial Truth is right, there can be no god who would allow this madness.

Entry #617
…are they gone? No. No, still here. They’re taking their time with this place… I see them now, no helmets now, ghosts with eyes as black as the void, demons in blue, the streets echoing with their terrible laughter… trophies and human limbs the same, dead heads upon heads…

Entry #618
I cannot believe anyone remains alive out there! But I see them, see them running in the streets chased down by the horrible keening raptors on roaring jets of fire, chainswords ripping… human sport… oh, dear Emperor! How could this be sanctioned, how cou-

Entry #619
…buildings are being scoured… they are coming for me… someone kill me! Anyone! Please! Don’t let them take m-


Archivist’s notes:
The recording is terminated in a burst of gunfire, though chainsword motors can be heard immediately prior to this. Vereor’s body was never recovered, and so his fate remains unknown.
The vox-log recorder was found by Brother Avram Gillard of the VII Legion Imperial Fists, amid six cubic metres of bloodstained clothing and personal effects which were seized as part of the ongoing investigation of Night Lords excesses, and submitted as evidence in the pending trial of Primarch Konrad Curze.

==========


HEROES FALL

by Daniel Halliwell (AKA Lord-Commander Lucius)




TERRA’S SKY WAS the ugly purple of a bruise, rent with the contrails of duelling Stormbirds and Thunderhawks and the light of tracer rounds. Captain Malcharion, War Sage of the XIII Legion crouched amongst the ruins of the False-Emperor’s palace. Around him, his brothers of the Tenth Company ducked and weaved through the blasted wasteland that the Imperial gardens had become since the arrival of Horus.
Looking at the fallen statues of heroes of the Imperium, Malcharion felt something he had not experienced since before he had ascended to the ranks of the Astartes – smug satisfaction. He’d ended two heroes of the Imperium already this day and he carried a reminder of that for all to see: their battered helms hung on clanking chains strung from his armour; the white of the V Legion emblazoned with the lightning bolt and runes of Chogoris; the yellow of the VII Legion, a black clenched fist stamped over the face plate and a horse hair crest flowing in the fitful breeze. Their eye lenses stared out over the ruin of their master’s domain.
Malcharion failed to notice the voices of his lieutenants over the vox, though demanding orders filtered through to him over the sounds of battle. The voice of Vandred of First Claw cut through the babble.
‘Captain, we await your orders to advance,’ he growled across the vox-link. ‘These Imperial Army dogs are no match for us. Let us loose upon them!’
As Malcharion returned to full awareness and prepared to answer his subordinate, Apothecary Talos’ rune lit up on Malcharion’s helm display. ‘Peace, Vandred. The captain will order us forwards when the time is right. Not before.’
The rivalry between the First Sergeant and the Apothecary was well known throughout the company, and all knew that Talos’ comment would not go unanswered. They were to be disappointed. ‘Vandred, Talos. I tire of your constant bickering,’ said Malcharion, turning to observe the smoke-shrouded Imperial defences. ‘Be silent. Vandred, you wish to engage the Imperials? Then I grant you permission to do so. Tenth Company, advance.’
With a roar of unbridled hatred Vandred and First Claw surged forward followed by the other claws of the Tenth, blasting bolt rounds into the smoke and pushing forward into battle. Rapidly covering the distance to the defences, the Astartes burst from the mist, hearing the sound of bolt rounds exploding in flesh, punching through the uniforms of the loyalist infantry and hurling their ruined bodies back. With a snarl of rage Malcharion vaulted the barricade before him, crushing one trooper under his armoured weight and hacking another down with a sweep of his sword, neatly bisecting him. Swinging to his left, he squeezed the trigger of his bolter, cutting down three more troopers as they rushed to confront the invaders. Striding through the melee, Malcharion fired left and right, slashing at his foes as they appeared on his visor display, cutting off limbs and heads with equal vigour and skill.
All around him, the warriors of the Tenth slaughtered the out-matched troopers. Yet even as they did so, Malcharion’s battle sense kicked in, opening his eyes to the engagement around him. They were only meant to draw us out.
He switched to the general vox-channel. ‘Tenth, prepare for their counterstrike!’
Even as he shouted into the vox, bolter fire tore through their ranks, impacting into some of Malcharion’s brothers. One by one, the runes in his display began to wink out, marking Tenth Company’s first losses of this engagement. As they reeled and tried to dig in, form out of the smoke came a phalanx of Astartes in blood-red armour, and at their head strode a warrior bearing the insignia of a captain. Without waiting for any further cue Malcharion swept up his sword and bellowed the charge, hurling himself towards the advancing enemy.
Like the crash of mountains colliding, the Night Lords met the advancing loyalists head on, hacking with the fury known only to the betrayed. Warriors fell all around Malcharion as he battled through the melee, reunited in death. But he saw only the warrior before him, the Blood Angel captain who strode to face the approaching renegade, raising his blade in a guard stance. ‘Raguel,’ said Malcharion with an affable nod of his armoured head and matching the loyalist’s stance.
‘Malcharion, I had hoped we would meet again,’ replied the Blood Angel. ‘It is appropriate that we meet here, where it began, to end our brotherhood.’
With a speed seemingly at odds with the warrior he was, Raguel sprung forward, pushing the War Sage back with his ferocity. Their blades met, scraping over one another before settling into the familiar rhythm of attack and defence, neither warrior able to breach the other’s guard. The two weapons came together again, both Astartes throwing their full weight behind the blade, seeking to drive his opponent back. Locked together, Malcharion looked into the visor of the helm opposite him, sensing the hatred in Raguel’s eyes even if he couldn’t physically see them. Only the reflection of his own skull-faced helm stared back at him.
Seeing the weakness in his foe’s defence, Malcharion slammed his free fist forward, knocking Raguel backwards before spinning and ramming the blade of his sword right through the Imperial eagle on the loyalist’s breastplate. With a crash, Raguel toppled to the ravaged sands of Terra, Malcharion’s blade sliding free as he fell. The Night Lord knelt beside his dying foe, thickening blood oozing from Raguel’s chest and helmet grille. With gentleness uncommon in an Astartes, he reached down and unfastened the dying man’s neck seal before lifting the helmet clear.
Looking up into the eyes of his killer, Raguel managed to gurgle a few words before slumping into unconsciousness.
‘This… is not… over…’
Turning from the dying warrior, Malcharion strode away with the helm in his hand. ‘No brother, it has not yet even begun.’

==========


THE ENEMY APPROACHES

by Luke Seaman (AKA Lucius)




CAPTAIN ARIMUS OF the Blood Angels Sixth Company looked over the dusty pitted surface of the moon. In the distance, he could see the signature colours of the World Eaters; but the white and blue of their armour was marred with red, and from their demeanour he could see that they wanted to shed more loyalist blood. He knew that inside their helmets they would be foaming at the mouths like rabid hounds.
He was receiving numerous reports that they there were more of these traitors scattered around the lunar surface – more worryingly most of the reports were inside the domed hab-complex. He was grateful for the assistance of the Raven Guard. He would have been seriously outnumbered without their veteran detachment.
His orders were to keep the traitors from gaining entry to Luna’s shipyards through the dome, to keep the fuel lines open for as long as possible, and to protect the adepts who were evacuating the tech-sanctuary archives. He looked down at his thunder hammer, thumbing the ignition trigger. It crackled as he cradled it in his hands.
He turned to the squad standing behind him and felt the righteous anger that he wanted to deliver to these bastards. He opened the vox-channel.
‘My brothers, we will stand strong against those who wish to taint Holy Terra with the corruption that flows through their veins. We will cleanse this place with bolter and sword. They will not pass these gates. Let them come, and let them try.’
Within the dome the Raven Guard detachment and the rest of the Blood Angels took up firing positions in the thoroughfares covering the airlock bulkheads. They were were ready. Ready to spill the blood of their brothers in the name of the Emperor. If their own time had come, their deaths would not be in vain: honour and glory beckoned.
Suddenly, tremors rocked through the ground beneath their feet, wrenching tortured metal groans from the structure below and tracings of ferrous dust from the domed roof. Bulkheads were breached. The traitors’ allies were upon them. The vox crackled to life as the first reports were confirmed by those with the best vantage points.
‘Greenskins!’ came a bellow from one of Arimus’s men as he opened fire.
The captain could not believe what he was hearing. Orks? Within sight of Holy Terra? What madness was this? He turned, and through the reinforced portals he saw the blood-spattered World Eaters standing upon the moon’s cold surface, herding xenos filth towards the breaches. The greenskins were protected by crude iron-lung respirators, or else making a theatrical show of holding their breath as they were bundled out from the aegis of their force-fielded transports by their fellows. Arimus did not have time to question the creatures’ physiology, nor their stupidity in the vacuum of Luna’s surface. He dared not contemplate what unspeakable alliances led them to fight alongside the traitor Astartes, those who had until now decried the alien as unfit to dwell within the Emperor’s galaxy.
The xenos enveloped the defences like an ocean wave crashing violently against the rocks. The orks surged forwards, ripping apart those adepts and civilians that hadn’t made it as far as finding cover. In the face of such carnage the only appropriate order that Arimus could give was to fire at will, and the roar of boltguns echoed around the dome.

THE GREAT IRON bulkhead was stained with the fresh blood of Blood Angels and World Eaters alike. Ruby droplets rippled in Luna’s limited gravity, and bodies drifted slowly down to the dusty firmament. Captain Arimus yanked the head of his thunder hammer from the ruined head of a World Eater – he and the Space Marines around him were covered in the gore of those whom they had once called their friends and brothers. The captain looked east, towards the pumping station and the fuel line which ran from it. More Astartes fought there, though he could not make out their legion colours; between the dusted red plate of his own warriors and the gore-slick traitors, it was impossible to tell friend from foe.
Within the dome, he was welcomed by a vision of carnage – the ground was littered with corpses from all sides. With superhuman reflexes he shifted his head to avoid the jagged blade swing of an ork, before swinging his thunder hammer into the creature’s abdomen and sending it flying back into the wall with the impact. In the low gravity, the greenskin spun from the weapon’s explosive discharge far more quickly than it tumbled to the ground, limp and dead before it even touched down. Arimus sneered in disgust, and his squad followed him up the steps of the airlock entrance to obtain a vantage point.
As they took in the devastation below, a new horror appeared in their sights: the primarch Angron. The giant gladiator bounded over the bodies of the fallen, bellowing a stream of nonsensical invective as he whirled his mighty chainaxes above his head. There was no stopping this immortal god of war – Raven Guard and Blood Angel alike were battered aside or torn to pieces in his fury, their bodies strewn in his wake upon the moon’s white dusty surface.
At Arimus’s command, Brother Zeltran levelled his heavy bolter at the fast approaching threat. Angron took the impacts head-on, ignoring the wounds inflicted by the explosive shells though Zeltran fired until his weapon ran dry. The Blood Angels drew their combat blades and prepared themselves for a glorious death as the berserk primarch closed with them.
Suddenly Angron skidded to an awkward halt, his armoured boots kicking up small eddies of dust and debris in the low gravity. He glared upwards, over the heads of Arimus and his men; from somewhere in the upper reaches of the dome, a winged angel descended to meet him on a pillar of fire. Arimus’s heart soared at the sight of his own liege lord.
‘Sanguinius,’ spat Angron, his lips pulling back into a malevolent rictus grin as he ground his teeth noisily. ‘Little brother. You seek another scarring, perhaps?’
Without a word Sanguinius drifted to the ground, his honour guard touching down around him like smaller imitations of his golden splendour. They formed up around the two primarchs, and Arinus knew he was about to witness a confrontation for which the Blood Angels had long been ready. All eyes were upon them, and the fate of Terra’s moon – the last bastion of defiance before the Imperial Palace itself – hung in the balance.
Luna could not be allowed to fall.

==========


THE FIRST TEMPLAR

by Marshal2Crusaders




I: THE EMPEROR’S CHOSEN

‘Come Sigismund,’ he said in a voice as stalwart as iron, yet supple as the finest silk. ‘The hour is late, but I have one last mission for you.’
I follow my sire, Rogal Dorn, Primarch of the VII Legion into the forges. The billowing smoke of forge fire fills my lungs; endless rows of machinery constantly churn, producing the unknowable quantities of munitions, armour and weaponry needed for the upcoming siege. I follow the golden armoured demigod into the depths of the mountain complex, and into the sacred reclusium where the finest weapons and armour are stored, awaiting the worthy. He does not speak – since learning of his brothers’ treason, my lord has become colder and more distant.
Even from me. His chosen knight, his favoured son. But today he is different. My lord desires companionship.
‘Sigismund, do you remember Alesia? The war we fought some years ago alongside the sons of Ferrus Manus? It was a glorious war, old friend, though I sorely missed fighting alongside my father.’ He nods his head towards me, but I offer no reply, for none is necessary. ‘I never told you, my son, but the Emperor personally praised you for your valour in the final battle. Without you, surely our assault would have faltered. When we returned to the fleet, He asked me what reward a warrior such as you would have. Naturally, I told Him that merely to recognise your service in His name was more than any physical trinket He could offer. But my father knows best, and He knows that sometimes even for the selfless, physical reminders of His favour can inspire the impossible. He commissioned Ferrus to craft you this.’


II: THE ARMOUR AND THE BLADE

We stand before an exquisite reliquary. Black crystal rests atop the Macraggian granite pedestal, and at its centre is the legion icon – the Imperial Fist – crafted from white gold and onyx. But this icon is different. Inlaid within the gold are hundreds of infinitesimally small crosses fashioned from obsidian and ruby: the symbol of the First Company, the Templars. For the first time since we were reunited with Dorn, tears fall from my eyes. The Emperor commissioned one of His own sons to craft me a token of His favour. The feeling is indescribable.
‘My lord, I… I am… I don’t…’ I fall to my knees. ‘I am unworthy.’
The hand of the demigod gently pulls me to my feet, and he smiles down at me. ‘You haven’t even seen it yet, old friend.’ His hand moves over the activation rune. The crystal, which once had appeared seamless, opens to reveal a suit of armour and blade more perfect than any I have ever seen. The blade is blacker than the depths of the void, polished to a sheen which defies the eye. The battle plate is etched with lazulite calligraphy, and I recognise each line as a battle honour bestowed upon the legion since its inception. Gold and silver bracers reinforce the weaker joints; acid etched depictions of the Primarch and Emperor adorn its pauldrons. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
The blade is fashioned from the same black crystal as the reliquary covering. Upon one side, carved in exquisite detail, is the phrase ‘Dei Castigator’ and on its reverse ‘Imperator Rex’. It feels almost weightless in my hand, and when I activate the powered edge the blade seems to draw in the very light itself, and radiate raw destructive power. Emerald lighting dances along its edge, while the golden hilt held an intricately detailed cross. I silently offer a tearful thanks to the Iron Hands’ primarch; in their crafting he had outdone himself.
‘My brother spent nearly a week at his forge. The armour was much like any other artifice, but the sword! Father knows, he wanted that sword to be perfect. Took him three attempts!’ His voice cracks, and the sound wrenches my very heart. He and the Gorgon had been closest among brothers, and his loss was felt by none so keenly as Rogal Dorn. ‘That damned… hammer he made for me took him a single afternoon, if that tells you anything.’ He places his hand upon the flawless pauldron of the suit, and traces the inscription with his fingertips. ‘Now come, let’s get this fitted.’
It takes a short time and the attentions of the armourer adepts before my plate is entirely synched and ready. The servos and stabilizers move as nothing I have felt before. I am remade as a weapon; my entire body feels lethal. The ultimate armour, and it is mine alone. Full spectrum readouts play across the visor, ammunitions counters searching for a weapon, power levels reading at full capacity. I sheath the blade upon my back and look to my lord for direction. His cold demeanour returns.
‘Sigismund, I do not believe that I will survive this war. I feel as if before the end I will be required to make the ultimate sacrifice. Now, old friend, it is time for you to swear your oaths of moment anew.’


III: THE TEMPLAR IS REBORN

I stand with my helm under my arm, oath papers being fixed to my gleaming new armour by fawning menials in the half-light of the armoury. Dorn stands close by, a paternal pride warming his melancholy aspect.
‘You were the first Templar of our legion, my son – you took it upon yourself to dedicate your life to the Imperial Truth, and your example was an inspiration to those around you. I knew you would not disappoint me when you took command of the First Company. You have proven a fine leader of the Astartes, and akin to the warrior champions of old upon the field of war.’ A momentary glimmer of a smile crosses his features before giving way once more to solemnity. ‘In the coming war my brother Horus will have many champions: warriors who for centuries fought across the stars in the name of the Emperor, and who now hope to inspire their own underlings to act against us. Their faith in their dark gods is strong.’
Quick to anger and filled with righteous zeal, I spit and curse them. ‘They shall never prevail, my lord!’ I swear to him. ‘I would rather cover this exquisite armour in the blackest pitch and deny Lord Ferrus’s legacy than let a single one of those traitor bastards set foot inside the Imperial Palace!’
Immediately I fear that I may have gone too far; Rogal Dorn’s face could be cut from the hardest marble. The stone man of legend. When he finally speaks, it is like the ice-winds of Inwit chilling me to the core.
‘A vengeful knight. A black Templar. Pray that it shall never be so.’

==========


RED NIGHT

by William Hooke (AKA Marshall Wilhelm)




‘WHERE... AM I? What was I... doing?’
Recollection seeps through his hazy post-combat comedown. He stops stumbling around. His mind aches. His muscles ache. His bones ache. He aches.
Steadying himself, he is dazed and overwhelmed. His visor is shattered, with a fractured image confronting his bloodshot eyes. His breath is ragged and stinks of the spent stimms that permeate his entire body. He wishes he could collapse and avoid this. But he is too tired even to lie down.
Pulling off his cracked helm with a grimace, freshly scabbed wounds are pulled open and a wash of rich red covers his face. He feels faint for a moment and doubles over to retch, bright yellow bile spattering the oxide tinted dirt.
‘I... remember...’ he rasps. He looks at his helmet, now severely dented and torn in a mirror of the bloody wound on his tortured face. His direct vox-hail attempts fail, but the Stormbird’s location is hinted at by the ruined display as he peers into the helmet with all the wonder of a juve gazing into the depths of a sinkhole. He moves to head for the Stormbird, but a half-remembered task halts him. He turns back.
Strewn across a twenty metre-wide area are the disembowelled remains of a half-dozen ork elites, their hulking forms still apparent though none are still even vaguely whole. Then he sees his prize: six heavy ork heads piled together, with mortified expressions of pain – or hatred? – upon their grim faces. His chainaxe lies in the dirt, its teeth invisible beneath the viscera that cakes them.
‘Well done, Garrett,’ he muses out loud, and busies himself fashioning a bandolier from discarded cable before threading through the xenos’ gaping jawbones. Garrett slings his prize across his body like a sash, then hoists his clogged chainaxe over his shoulder. His desire met, he turns once more for the Stormbird.
Though his armour is breached in many places and unable to boost his musculature’s efforts with any notion of efficiency, he makes his way, staggering and stumbling just as when he first regained consciousness. Garrett realises that not all of his bones are intact as stabbing pains jolt his enhanced frame, and he recalls the days of slaughter and the great battles between the World Eaters and the orks in times past. The rush and fury of charge against the vile xenos. Images flickering through his mind, in a haphazard collection of still frames and short sequences. Glorious.
Even though he is beaten and broken, the remembrances of victory – nay, slaughter – bring a smile and a softening of those harsh and scarred features. Though often melancholy after the heady rush of combat, the chance to end those who threatened the Emperor’s dream of a galaxy filled with a united humanity in honest combat was too delicious, too addictive to give up. Garrett murmurs a rote-conditioned ‘For the Emperor,’ as he trudges from the field of battle.

THE SUN WAS setting by the time the wounded Astartes reached the Stormbird. His captain, Kharn of the Eighth, had been aware of his approach on the auspex, and vox-hailed the apothecaries. They came quickly and laid the weary warrior onto the rusty soil, cradling his head on a quickly heaped pile. Sergeant Garrett’s once gleaming battle plate, in splendid arctic white and royal blue, was much-marred with clods of dusty soil and blood, both xenos and Astartes. The only vaguely bright or clean patches were where the enemy had gouged the ceramite with projectiles and melee weapons.
‘Garrett,’ whispered Kharn. ‘We thought you had left us, brother. Yet here you are.’
‘Yes lord... though all that I am... now burns... with fire.’
Kharn dismissed his ramblings. ‘You look as good as dead, brother. But do not worry – the sawbones have you now. Sleep well.’
As the apothecaries released the seals of his armour, deliriously Garrett spoke. ‘Sleep... I’d rather... fight... that hell...’
Kharn’s brow furrowed. ‘Brother?’
‘The dreams... the red knight... still...’
Garrett’s weary eyes closed – his lifeblood was draining away, and he was becoming incoherent though the apothecaries tended him as best they could. At the captain’s command they administered a dose of adrenalite, and the wounded sergeant snapped his eyes open with a pained gasp.
‘Pray brother, speak more.’
Garrett choked, his words coming suddenly in a torrent. ‘Many nights I dream of death and fire and blood, most unnatural even for the likes of us! Most galling is I do not dream of those who defy us... but of us, of me. That red knight offers me his clawed hand and when I slap that xenos talon away his red hound leaps upon me and ravages me like a rag-doll. I am no xenos lover, my lord!’
With a tenderness that surprised those around them, Captain Kharn removed his gauntlet and stroked Garrett’s face with his calloused hand as the broken warrior began to quake as though palsied. Tears came to his eyes at the sight.
‘This beast is so strong! It eats me though it is not my flesh that it craves...’
The Stormbird’s pilot fired the engines, signaling to those at the drop point that departure was imminent. The apothecaries raised Garrett onto a makeshift gurney and bore him away to the embarkation ramp.
Kharn sat in the dust a moment, looking up at the ripple of stars in the heat haze. He wondered what it all meant.

==========


OF HOUNDS AND ANGELS

by Matthew Roy




THE BLOOD ANGEL drank deeply as his fangs tore into the rebel’s throat. He hefted the ruined corpse and flung it down the slope, pressing onward with his warriors. They had holstered their bolters, preferring to advance against the dying enemy with their blades drawn…

HALF A KILOMETRE away at the base of the escarpment, Captain Sorik raced ahead of his World Eaters company brethren. The last of the rebels were dying upon his battle-brothers’ chainblades, and Sorik wanted to make sure that his sword drank deep of their heathen blood before the battle was done.
A clumsy and desperate man charged at him, blade drawn, and Sorik turned the awkward lunge aside with his chainsword. He brought his weapon around, aiming not at his enemy’s weapon, but at his gauntleted hands. His weapon shrieked as it tore through the ornamental hand guard and chewed the rebel’s fingers to shreds. The warrior let out a muffled cry, dropping his weapon. Another slash, and Sorik took the man’s head from his shoulders.
He felt his berserk rage cooling. He could smell rich blood through his helmet’s open respirator grille. He paused; no, it wasn’t through his respirator. He brought his hand to his face, realising that his helmet was missing. He frowned. He couldn’t remember taking it off. He turned around, backtracking through the scene of slaughter behind him as his warriors busied themselves with sawing heads from bodies and tying them to their belts. Sorik found his helmet some fifty metres back, half buried in a tangle of bloody limbs that had once been a man. Apparently he had used the helmet to beat the rebel to death.
He couldn’t remember doing it. He frowned again. He was losing time more and more often during battles.
On the slope above, he watched a company of red-armoured Astartes as they tore through the last of the defenders, dismembering the enemy soldiers at close quarters in a stunning display of violence.
‘Brother-Captain Cretac, of our cousins in the IX Legion,’ said Fanin, the company’s standard-bearer. Sorik turned to his subordinate. Fanin had also removed his helmet, and thick blood covered his face. It took Sorik a moment to realize the warrior had smeared most of it on himself. Fanin nodded back up toward the warriors on the slope. ‘They call his company the “Flesh Tearers”, sir.’
Sorik nodded in grim amusement at what the Blood Angels were capable of when they allowed the facades of culture and civilisation to fall away from them.
The vox-link in his helmet chirped as he put it back on. ‘All company commanders, this is the Eighth Captain. We will bring our fury against the heretic stronghold. The Tenth and Thirty-third companies will have the honour of leading the jump-assault, supported by the Blood Angels.’ This order came from Kharn, the primarch’s equerry. Sorik’s warriors bowed their heads reverently as the Eighth Captain spoke.
Of course they all wanted to be like Kharn.
One of the company’s Rhinos trundled up from the rear lines, and the Techmarines unloaded jump packs from the cargo frames inside. Sorik studied them as they worked. Early in his training with the legion, he had been earmarked to join the ranks of the armourium for his intelligence and aptitude. His leadership and combat prowess had been recognised however, and over time he had risen to command the 33rd Assault Company instead.
He glanced back up the slope. He had been forced to work with the Blood Angels during this mission. Their haughtiness grated on him, and he found their hypocrisy troubling; they fought with just as much savagery as the World Eaters, and yet the Blood Angels were beloved – even romanticized? – by the Imperium, while his own legion were reviled as barbarians.
Iterator Igram Severn had said the rebels on this planet would face the unbridled fury of the IX and XII Legions, and that both were known for their savagery in close combat. Sorik and the other World Eaters liked Severn; while he wasn’t Astartes, he was a veteran of the Imperial Army, his body more augmetic than true-flesh. Few iterators and remembrancers were assigned to the XII Legion’s fleets. They had a bad habit of disappearing, and the legion’s senior leadership had always remained quiet on the matter.
Up ahead, a war party came into view – a Blood Angels honour guard and a pack of World Eaters shadowed two massive figures. Sorik had seen six primarchs in his life, but was still awed by their presence. He had heard it said that each of the primarchs echoed an aspect of their father’s greatness. If that was the case, then Sanguinius and Angron were most likely the opposing aspects of His combat prowess. The former was a gilded poet in warrior’s garb; the latter was a true manifestation of fury, terrible and absolute.
Word was that Angron would be entering the city behind the advance guard. Oh, what grand violence he would doubtlessly unleash upon these rebels.

JUMP PACKS ROARED as his company launched into the air. Las-bolts and solid slugs flew past the warriors and pattered off their armour plate. Sorik crunched down onto the city wall, his sword ending the lives of two of its guardians in a flash.
What makes the Angels better than the Hounds? What makes them so beloved, and us so hated? Exalted in their hypocrisy, their sense of the aesthetic, their role as warrior poets. He dodged a point-blank lasgun blast and smashed a man’s skull with a quick backhand.
Cretac and the Flesh Tearers had landed a hundred meters to Sorik’s right. He watched the Blood Angel assault troopers revel in their slaughter of the wall guardians. Here at least, were men who embraced what they truly were. Instruments of death. Killers of men.
They say this is a godless galaxy. That is the truth our iterators speak to the populations we conquer and assimilate. But what if there are gods watching us, as these heathens believe? Could there even be a god that smiles upon what we do?
Some mythical god of war, perhaps?
Some sort of brazen blood-god?

==========


DISSOLUTION

by Meatshield




ALARMS SOUNDED AT a deafening volume as the reinforced bulkhead slammed down. The panicked shouts of those locked out lasted a few seconds, but were soon silenced by the percussive thuds of weapon fire.
Proctus Cabe cast a quick eye over his men, crouched behind the barricades along the corridor. Their positioning was – as ever – perfect. He hefted his projector to a firing position and released the valves, and the weapon bucked softly in his hands as the chemicals flooded the firing chamber. After the initial surge, the mechanism settled into a steady rhythm, almost like a heartbeat. Cabe opened his eyes and joined his men.
A jarring impact rocked the bulkhead, but it held firm. No words passed between them. None were needed. They knew their jobs. Another almighty crash, and the alloy of the door began to buckle. Not long now…
They had met the ceramite-clad giants mere hours ago, although ranged communication had been exchanged for days. A large iron-grey ship had torn into the system and headed straight for Cator – the Assembly responded cautiously, sending military scouts to apprehend the interloping vessel. None returned. The aliens eventually opened communication through their own channels.
A stern, impassive face had swirled and settled on the comm-screen of the Assembly Hall and demanded their immediate compliance. Naturally the Assembly had refused. As a Proctus of the Internal Guard he had been there, watching dumbfounded as the sheer arrogance and presumption of the alien seemed to radiate from the screen. The face had registered a flicker of emotion; a brief dark shadow cast across its pale features, and then it had vanished.
The dark ship still hovered in near-orbit. The Catoran fleet had massed around the grey vessel, readying themselves for confrontation but still keeping their distance.
The next day there was a new face, a new demand. Again, the Assembly refused. However, this time the response was calmer, more reasoned. The possibility of a meeting was put forward. The specifics took the best part of three days to finalise, but eventually the arrangements had been made – a small diplomatic cadre was to make its way to Cator’s surface and meet with the Assembly for negotiations.
The diplomatic cadre was more like a war party: each one of their soldiers towered over even the tallest of the Catoran representatives greeting them, and the ground reverberated under their iron footfalls. Their leader had removed his helmet to reveal a scarred, pale-skinned face with gunmetal eyes and a darkness of intent. Three metal studs lined the man’s brow. From the moment the Proctus had laid his eyes on that face, he knew that there would be no peace between them. There would be no compromise, no negotiation. But he could not countermand the orders of his superiors, and he held onto a brief sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was wrong in his assumptions.
The giants were escorted into the Assembly Hall. The Internal Guard was present in force, the Assembly clearly taking no chances. Cabe had been dismissed from the room as negotiations began, but he had then gone to arm and ready his team – he knew they would be needed. Twenty minutes later, the alarms had started to sound. Cabe did not know what had happened, but it didn’t matter. The last scene he had witnessed of the Assembly Hall before the emergency bulkhead had slammed down was one of pure horror: the weapons of the metal giants were unsubtle, and he had seen the walls of the once-pristine hall splattered with the viscera of his colleagues.
Another impact at the door, another fault appearing upon its surface. Cabe calmed his twanging nerves by concentrating on his weapon: deep in its veins pulsed the liquid ammunition, Necroxin. A compound designed by Catoran scientists, a compound designed to consume organic material at a frightening speed. A single shower of it could reduce a whole grox to organic slurry in a few seconds, and the rapid dissolution of nerve endings in the target caused severe involuntary spasms, rendering them utterly ineffective for their remaining few seconds of life. It was, without a doubt, one of the most perfect weapons the Catorans had designed, and Cabe knew it would reap a vengeful toll on these treacherous invaders. For although their armour looked impregnable, Cabe had seen the weakness of it. The seals, the joints – they were definitely rubber-derived materials and would last less than a second against the caustic action of his necroxin projector. Nevertheless, he was under no illusions. He would die today. It was just a matter of making his death count.
Something slammed into the bulkhead again, the concussion giving way to a raw metallic screeching as a ceramite gauntlet burst through the door and tore it asunder. One of the giants stepped through, his armour scorched and damaged, but intact. The Catorans fired in volleys, their metal slugs pattering uselessly upon his monstrous form. The giant returned fire, and Cabe saw his men explode into bloody vapour.
He bellowed and brought his weapon to bear, dousing the scene before him with lethal chemicals. The metal giant tried to dodge the stream and backhanded the projector away with such force that it sent both Cabe and the weapon skidding across the floor. Stunned, Cabe looked up with bleary eyes at his enemy, and he saw the necroxin at work – the armour at the giant’s side sloughed off him as the rubberized joints perished and gave way. He saw a great muscular arm exposed by the failing armour, the pale skin beneath the pauldron swiftly being eaten away.
But there was nothing under the skin.
No muscle, no bone. Just dull grey metal. The giant approached him contemptuously and clenched his iron hand, drawing it back for a deathblow as Cabe tried to scrabble away.
‘The flesh is weak.’ The giant’s voice was harsh and cold.
The blow fell, and Cabe joined the rest of his men.

==========


DELIVERANCE

by Alex Shalenko (AKA Midgard)




THEY CAME FOR him at dawn, just as the old custom dictated. Herkal smiled inwardly at the two massive brutes stood at the entrance to his cell, their dark armour obscuring every hint of individuality. He must have ranked high enough on their priority list to warrant such attention, frail and tired as he was. Soon, he thought with calm usually accorded only to the damned, it will be over.
‘Come.’
The brute’s voice was low and almost inhuman, emerging from behind the helmet grille. The voice bore the promise of pain if he did not comply.
Herkal moved his tired legs, now forced to rely on his own flesh instead of augmetics. His captors did not attempt to ease his transportation, but that was to be expected. He was the last of the defeated, the public face of the old order they came to expunge, and the new order had no mercy for the likes of him. Every breath he drew resonated in his chest like a pulsating echo of pain.
They almost dragged him through the corridors, damp with foul smelling waste from the gutters above ground. The planet was poisoned by centuries of industry, and now it seemed as though Kiavahr itself turned against him, slowly suffocating him with noxious fumes that his lungs could no longer process. Herkal could not see very far in the gloom of the catacombs – once a maze protecting the refugee bunkers, and now a prison.
The room opened up like a gaping maw of something primal, some unremembered terror still written into humanity’s shared genetic code. There, the darkness reigned and shadows converged in the corners, concealing more than the sole meagre lumen orb revealed. The brutes shoved him inside, not bothering with as much as a word.
‘Leave us.’
The voice emanated from somewhere in the dark, so close and yet unseen. It was a voice used to command and yet deceptively quiet, used to the kind of obedience given willingly and in adoration. It was a voice of a leader who never had to raise it to get what he wanted.
Herkal tried to make out the source, but the shadows continued to play tricks on his eyes. The brutes disappeared silently, unbefitting of their heavy bulk.
‘You are the last,’ the voice came again.
‘The last of what?’
‘The guilders. Once you are gone, there will be no more of your kind.’
‘Is this why you brought me here? Gloating does not suit you well.’ Herkal made an attempt to laugh, then winced at the pain in his chest.
‘I will not kill you,’ the voice said. The speaker finally emerged, and Herkal slumped down to the cold stone floor, giving in to his instinctive urge to stay safe. The… man?... was massive, even larger than the armoured brutes, and yet all Herkal could see was a shadow with indistinct features that the guilder’s imagination made out to be monstrous and inhuman.
‘You. You are the one they call the Deliverer.’
The giant did not acknowledge Herkal’s statement. ‘I wanted to see the last of what I have destroyed,’ he said, turning away as if in contempt, or in reflection. He wiped some of the moisture from his long dark hair. Herkal found some reserves of courage and drew himself upright with effort.
‘And do you like what you see?’
‘I see a broken man,’ the shadow replied in a low malevolent rumble. ‘A broken man and a broken world. Both will be remade.’
‘Remade by the warriors from the stars, you mean? This… Imperium?’ Herkal spat on the floor. ‘Truly, you are in some luck, friend.’
The shadow was in Herkal’s face faster than the guilder thought possible. Dark eyes fixed him with a venomous stare.
‘What I did was not luck,’ the giant said, slowly and quietly. ‘You sent generations of my people to fates worse than death.’ He flexed his immense fingers, before drawing them into a fist. ‘You should be thankful we were even this merciful.’
Herkal laughed bitterly. ‘Mercy, you call it? By the last account before I was taken, the casualties from orbital assault alone were over four million. Starvation and disease took at least three times that. And you call it mercy.’
‘Don’t try my patience,’ the giant warned. ‘The time for retribution has passed, and there will yet be deliverance.’
‘But what kind of deliverance do you bring?’ Woefully, the guilder shook his head. ‘The exiles deserved their fate because of the crimes they had committed. Now that you have destroyed the edifice that brought them to justice, who will remain to judge what is right and what is wrong. You?’ He chuckled mirthlessly. ‘It is always easier to destroy what your betters spent the entirety of Old Night building. What will you build in its stead?’
The giant paused for a moment before responding. ‘Peace, such as it may be. Peace and justice for all.’
Herkal nodded dismissively. ‘Aye. Good luck with that.’ Justice is only what you make of it. What makes you think you will do better job than we did, Deliverer? Or, should I say, Corax?’ He spat out the giant’s name as though it were a curse.
‘I am my father’s son,’ the giant said. ‘I know of the edifice you built with the blood and sweat of my people so that your kind could live in luxury. And that is all the justification I need.’ Corax the Deliverer paused, then faced the guilder again. ‘I think it appropriate to let you perish as you will,’ he said. ‘The sins of this world are yours to bear, as is the cancer eating you from the inside, borne from your own poisoned industries.’
Patience and courage finally deserted Herkal. So this was his nemesis’s design all along; now he would not even achieve the vindication of a quick and painless death.
‘Damn you,’ the guilder hissed, recalling an old curse now long obsolete. ‘Damn you all to the voids of Lycaeus!’
‘Not Lycaeus, not anymore,’ The giant smiled as he turned away and slid once more into the shadows. ‘Deliverance.’

==========

ShroudFilm - January 14, 2011 04:23 PM (GMT)
LITANY OF SILENCE

by Patru Costin (AKA Neamtzu_Rau)




BROTHER-CAPTAIN RESH of the Harbingers stepped outside the scriptorium for a moment. It was all too much for him. One of the defenders of mankind, one of His finest sons, His holy instrument, a perfect warrior… defiled. Desecrated. Tortured and then sacrificed like some animal! Resh’s armoured fists struck holes in that plastered wall of the ruined monastery.
Whoever has done this must pay, he vowed. Oh yes, they will pay dearly. His rage blackened his irises; the famed Harbinger blood-lust was almost upon him. Exasperated, he drew his boltgun; the barrel, masterfully sculpted into a wolf’s head with its jaws open, appeared now to snarl in a mirror of his own rage.
He heard familiar, heavy steps on the marble floor. He did not have to look up to know who it was that approached him.
‘Lychaeos, what is it?’ he snapped, his voice a coarse outraged rasp.
‘Captain-’
‘Is this why you brought me… is this what I had to see for myself?!’ Resh roared. His face touched by the most vile of emotions, Lychaeos hesitated a moment.
‘No, captain. I- I’m afraid there is much greater horror left for you to witness.’
‘Greater than this?’ hissed Resh, his gaze indicating the body of the sacrificed Space Marine splayed inside the scriptorium.
‘Much more. captain. In fact, I have my own misgivings about this. It is possible that the Machine could be… tainted somehow, and that there have been some miscalculations-’
‘What machine? What are you saying? Is there more to this desecration?’ Rech lashed out with both hands and grabbed Lychaeos’s head. He pulled him off-guard before he could protest, and then pressed his forehead against his own. Lychaeos grimaced but did not pull away, which aggravated Rech even more. ‘I asked you a question, Brother! Is there more?’
Lychaeos’s eyes went black with the fury, a reflection of Rech’s dark gaze. He fixed his captain with equal intensity. ‘Yes, brother-captain - there is. But I doubt you’ll like what you see.’
‘Show me. Show me now!’

WITHIN THE CHAMBER, the mutilated remains of a young Space Marine neophyte lay upon a plain slab, among the husks of ruined books and scatterings of ash. Other Harbingers were present in the chamber, but had long since removed their helmets in a gesture of respect and now kept a mournful vigil. Lychaeos looked downwards as Brother-Chaplain Lambda approached the corpse.
‘Look not upon this sight with fear, brothers. This is ignorance given form, and we must illuminate this darkness in the Emperor’s name. Our duty gives us the strength to prevail, and we shall see our brother avenged.’
A score of voices answered in unison: ‘So be it!’
The empty hall reverberated with echoes of their outraged chorus. As the chaplain offered some posthumous secular rite and the apothecaries began their work upon the neophyte’s body, Resh gestured to Lychaeos. It was time to go.
At the thought of the inevitable question, Brother Lychaeos felt the vulgar shame bearing down on him once more as they left the others for a secluded corner of the scriptorium, where an array of view-screens and cogitator panels provided access to some deeper archive.
Resh turned to Lychaeos, his voice now hushed and almost conspiratorial in tone. ‘Who did this, brother? You know who it was. Answer me.’
‘Well, according to this pict log-’
‘Spit it out, brother.’
Brother Lychaeos leaned closer to his captain as he whispered his reply.
‘We did.’

WATER DRIPPED FROM cracks in the vaulted roof onto their crimson-black shoulder pads. Resh stared in silence as the distorted image showed flickering shapes and flashes of motion. As the assailants gathered around the wounded recruit to chain him to the slab, one turned slightly – Resh could clearly see his face, caught by the picter’s rigid eye. He recognizes the forehead, the line of the jaw, those black eyes filled with rage…
There was no doubt. Resh was looking at himself upon the screen; covered in blood, his sharp toothy grin almost knowingly turned towards the hidden lens.
He dismissed Lychaeos, who had visibly paled at the sight of the nonsensical scene unfolding before him for the second time. Resh could not tear his eyes from it.
Butchers, he thought. We are heathen butchers without even the sense to remember our own crimes…
How could this even be? Resh had never set foot within this building before now. His armour’s telemeter confirmed it – the planetary coordinates were fresh to him. It was impossible, and yet there it was.
A shadow at his back caused him to flinch. He flipped the screen to a less incriminating data feed – some empty corridor scattered with sheaves of scripture. He made a point of appearing innocent. ‘Lychaeos, you were dismissed.’
The voice which answered him was familiar, but it was not Lychaeos.
‘Brother-Captain Resh,’ it hissed.
Resh froze. He did not dare to turn around, the impossibility of the moment eclipsing all else that had come before it that day.
‘Brother-Captain Resh, of the Harbingers legion.’
In the darkened corner of the glass screen, Resh caught a reflected glimpse of a hooded face, half-shrouded in shadow. The figure leaned closer at his back.
‘You must leave here, Resh. Now.’ Before Resh could reply, the figure raised a hand to silence him. ‘They will soon discover what you and your brothers have done here today, and the heresy of it will lead to the fall of your entire legion.’
Resh could not believe what he was hearing. ‘But I did not do this… thing. It was not me or my brothers. I don’t care what the picter shows.’
The figure moved his lips close to Resh’s ear. ‘But you did, Resh. You just didn’t do it yet.’
Logic. Reason. Sanity. All began to fray at the edges of Resh’s world. The voice whispered again, even as the rhetoric of Chaplain Lambda grew in intensity behind them, firing the zeal of the assembled Harbingers.
‘Leave this world now. Destroy it utterly. No trace of your presence must remain. Delete all mention of this place from your fleet archives. Within a century, no one save for the Emperor himself will speak the name of the Harbingers legion again.’
Resh struggled to hear anything over the pounding of his twin hearts and the rushing of blood in his ears. Vertigo robbed him of any possible response. The figure continued its prophecy.
‘You will not rejoin the fleet. Your ship’s data-stream has been updated with new navigational charts. You will go to the marked location and await arrival of the others. The Emperor will seek to reprimand your legion, but you will already be beyond His reach. Rest assured, your inheritors will lay siege to His palace on Terra, for the good of all mankind.’
A half-formed question began to fall from Resh’s lips. ‘H-how…’
In the reflection, he saw the familiar crease of a smile.
‘I have seen further than you can imagine, brother-captain. As will you, in time.’

==========


MONSTERS

by Fergus West (AKA Ogun)




‘THEY FEAR US as monsters, do they not, my lord?’ Vek’shan had muttered.
The reflected light from the newly compliant planet below, radiating through the chamber’s viewing port, had glistened from his primarch’s onyx skin.
‘They may fear us now, Vek’shan, yet I have fought the real monsters in this galaxy.’ Vulkan’s voice rumbled like the first stirrings of Mount Deathfire. ‘Ere the end, men will know who the true monsters are, and that it shall be us who will shield them from the terrors of Old Night. Do not despair, my herald.’

THE MIDNIGHT-CLAD MONSTERS came to feed on the weak. A full assault would not prevail while the hive’s void shield remained active, and therefore it had to fall. A strong party had breached the outer defences through stealth and cunning, and now used the service tunnels to approach the generatorium; if that fell then the nearby civilian shelters would be next, and the fate of those unfortunates would be broadcast to the terrified city. Then the final loyalist stronghold on Neskior would surrender.
In those dark tunnels, only the monsters would prevail.

BROTHER HA’TOK’S HEAVY BOLTER filled the tunnel with a torrent of heavy calibre explosive rounds and a Night Lord went down, his armour torn open by the blasts. Fused heat flares hidden throughout the tunnel had ignited simultaneously, throwing the traitors into confusion as their suits’ night vision was overloaded. Vek’shan heard Sergeant Praxor’s roar of fury as he engulfed the adjacent tunnel with blistering flames, drowning out the rattle of bolter fire.
Only twelve Salamanders stood against an unknown number of Night Lords; an honour guard detached from a now shattered legion. Faced with returning to Nocturne and abandoning their allies in the remnants of the 154th Expeditionary Fleet, they had chosen to remain for one last fight against this splinter of the VIII Legion.
A Night Lord skidded into the tunnel in which Vek’shan lurked, no doubt seeking cover for himself. The drake-headed thunder hammer burst his helmeted head in an instant – Vek’shan barely even had to alter his footing.
The traitors’ grenade detonations filled the passage with a cloud of shrapnel and dust, buying them precious seconds to advance. It was then that the Firedrake emerged into their flank. A hasty plasma pistol shot burst against his raised storm shield and one of the Night Lords, his snarl amplified through his helmet vocabulator, lunged with his chainsword aimed for the warrior’s weak hip joint. Sparks flew as the hammer’s haft caught the sweep, and the storm shield slammed into the traitor’s Maximus-pattern helm before Vek’shan finished him with a solid hammer blow to the chest.
Six traitors remained in the tunnel ahead, an unknown number in the adjacent ones. More scattered plasma bolts flew past him but Vek’shan was too fast, smashing aside the bolter of one traitor before hurling him bodily to bowl down another.
Vek’shan was one of Vulkan’s household, the Vox Vulkanis. His helm, shaped like a snarling dragon, was forged by the primarch himself. ‘Burn, traitors!’ he roared, unleashing his rage at those who had massacred his brothers on Istvaan V, before biting down on the activation plug to unleash a gout of flaming prometheum from the helmet’s maw. Armour of midnight blue was scorched black as the nearest of the Night Lords screamed in agony, cooking inside his battle plate. A countdown started in the top right corner of the helmet display; ninety seconds before the disguised weapon’s reservoir could be replenished.
Another two came at him with combat blades, their bolt pistols barking and human skulls clacking from chains upon their armour. The first had his legs crushed by Vek’shan’s sudden low swing and fell, bellowing amplified curses in a strange tongue. The second planted two bolt shells into the Firedrake’s right pauldron while the combat blade arced up towards the weak point below the plastron – the keen edge screeched harmlessly over the flame-engraved green armour; Vulkan’s chosen were equipped by the master artificers of Mars, not the legion’s standard armourers. The hammer fell again, and at such range it could not miss.
One of the squad icons in his helm display flickered, and then went black. Brother Jartor. Though another two flashed red, indicated injured squad members. Apothecary Me’tan’s voice cut in over the vox. ‘Jartor down!’ he confirmed. ‘Extracting gene-seed.’
The initial surprise assault now over, the vox opened up. ‘This is Praxor: Brother Ardes is down. They have a plasma gunner! Ha’tak redeploy, I need fire support.’
‘Ha’tak: acknowledged.’
‘Reardon here: Route Beta is an inferno. They are not getting past us, Lord Vek’shan!’
The reports churned through his vox as Vek’shan met the final two Night Lords head on. The sergeant, wielding a lightning-wreathed claw, beckoned him mockingly with the longest talons. ‘Come,’ he rasped. ‘Come Salamander, and I shall do to you what we did to your brothers on Isstvan – feast upon your gene-seed and leave your body to rot here in darkest despair!’
Deeming his hammer a liability at this range, Vek’shan pragmatically discarded it and drew his gladius, thumbing the power field activation stud as he did.
They tried to outflank him, the sergeant to the front, the other to his right. The talon scored a deep gash at Vek’shan’s hip, but the other howled as the gladius severed his right hand. The tunnel was wreathed in flame and the arcing discharges of the warrior’s weapons as they fought. The hand-less traitor raised his bolter but died as Reardon emerged further down the tunnel and put a burst through his spine.
Desperate, the sergeant knocked aside Vek’shan’s shield and threw himself inside the Firedrake’s guard. Vek’shan twisted to avoid the first slash and managed to propel the traitor into the wall, pinning the claw with his knee and driving the gladius into the Night Lord’s shoulder. Pinned to the tunnel wall, the Night Lord gasped and struggled as Vek’shan threw off his helmet revealing his coal-black skin and burning red eyes. He drew the ornate pistol at his hip, forcing the barrel up under the traitor’s chin.
‘Fallen brother of the VIII Legion,’ he growled. ‘Though it may take us ten thousand years, we will have our revenge for Isstvan. We will always stand between mankind and monsters like you.’
Before the Night Lord could respond, he pulled the trigger.

==========


THE RED ANGEL

by Owen Chow (AKA ORKY ARD BOYZ)




ARIGGATA. ITS SKIES were dusty red, streaked black by aircraft contrails and smudged with smoke. Surrounding the basalt citadel had once been a calm and featureless plain, a sea of dirt. Now it boiled, soil erupting as munitions pounded around the fortress walls. Grit showered the warriors waiting in their trenches, pattering like rain from blue and white armour.
Hronde’s helmet autosenses couldn’t entirely filter out the thunder of bombardment. He focused on his battle brothers instead. They were tensed, unreadable behind their war helms. The vox buzzed with static and Horkal’s growl broke the silence.
‘How much longer?’
Hronde replied: ‘As long as their defences stand.’ He noticed Horkal was pacing. ‘You are of the Legiones Astartes. Control yourself,” he snapped.
The bigger man grunted. ‘Nnngh. The primarch doesn’t order us to control ourselves.’
The primarch. Hronde ‘s heart had leapt like all of his brothers’ when the Emperor, beloved by all, announced their lord returned. The legion was whole. Complete.
The doubts began when the killings started. Their... commander was a beast. He was not like the charismatic Horus or the stoic Guilliman, each a living embodiment of the Imperium; gene-crafted to be vivid and majestic leaders, scholars and warriors. Angron was different. Angron had returned damaged, broken somehow. Howling and screaming, lashing out at all who came close. Livid yellow eyes glaring in the darkness, lips peeled over his teeth, cursing the Emperor.
Horkal’s voice broke his reverie. ‘I can’t stand this bastard silence,’ he snarled before wrenching his helmet clear, revelling in the devastation. Hronde did the same and volume assaulted his ears, drowning out thought with the continuous boom of detonations. The ground shook. Blurred by the heat haze, the fortress shimmered like a mirage. Everywhere there was the bitter tang of melted rock and smoke.
Then his squad dropped to their knees, dipping their heads, still as statues. Hronde turned and came face to face with a demigod.
Angron wore a breastplate of brazen scales upon which the chained Imperial Aquila clanked as he moved. Dragging at his shoulders, a chainmail cape rippled in the firelight. Hronde could bear no more than a glimpse. Mind emptied, he felt light, almost giddy. The strength drained from his limbs. His knees tried to bend as if of their own volition. The scene seemed so right, to be the natural order of things: the king standing majestically and his devoted subjects bent at the knee in adoration.
There was only one problem: he could not kneel. He had forgotten how.
A voice like the rumbling of an earthquake spoke its first words but Hronde could not decipher them. Then he realised that the primarch was laughing.
‘You do not bow, little brother.’
It was true. He wondered why. Hronde suddenly noticed the massive chainaxe gripped in the primarch’s fists. Shark-like eyes rooted him to the spot, and knew the brutal intellect behind them knew only one reaction to uncertainty. To weakness.
Even knowing this he could not move.
‘Why?’ Angron demanded. The chainaxe gunned into life, and Hronde was so close that he could feel whip of each jagged tooth slicing the air. The shark eyes narrowed. Lips drew back over teeth.
Hronde stood very still, raising his head to look his liege-lord in the eyes, fists clenched. He measured the tone of his voice. ‘Sire, would you have your warriors grovel at your feet? Saluting their own deaths, begging for their lives?’
The demigod stared back with his predatory glare. ‘Salute in the hot dust... hnnn... standing proud, ready to die.’ Angron’s features twisted into what could have been a smile. His barked with his harsh De’shean accent, savaging the Imperium’s Low Gothic with deliberate pleasure. ‘Like my brothers and sisters, brave Cragore facing down the beasts, never smiling. Grim Cragore.’ His eyes began to wander, and his voice lost its edge, his words trailing to nothing. Then his attention snapped back to Hronde. ‘So what are you, weakling?’
‘Your warri-‘
‘Another warrior! Another grave-grubber with scholar oaths, playing at valour.’
Horkal began to speak from where he knelt nearby, to defend Hronde. Angron ignored him, eyes fixed upon the still-standing legionnaire in front of him.
Hronde’s hearts were pounding, the stink of hyper-adrenaline filling his nostrils. ‘I serve my liege and by extension, the Emperor, belov-‘
‘The Emperor and his weakling crusade,’ Angron blurted. ‘No valour, no! Butchering paperskins with his fire-from-above.’ A particularly loud explosion punctuated his words.
Hronde’s mind raced. His will fought against his instinct. Years of training yearned to correct these heretical words, but the very thought of Angron locked the snarl behind his teeth and loosened his fists. He could never raise a hand against his primarch any more than he could against himself. It was said the Legiones Astartes were gene-coded with loyalty to their blood sires; he wondered if the primarchs were ingrained with the same level of loyalty to the Emperor. Could they be fallible?
Abruptly the bombardment ceased, leaving an empty silence. The primarch whirled.
‘World Eaters!’ Angron roared the name like a curse. ‘Another world, another twist of the triumph rope. For glory, little brothers!’ He was answered by a cacophony of voices as his warriors surged from the trenches. One war cry was notable by its absence, or maybe it didn’t matter anymore. For the Emperor...
Hronde drew his blade and was lost among the legion’s charge. Uneasy thoughts nagged at the edges of his mind as Angron threw himself into the battle without any thought of danger. It was all he lived for. There was a screaming reactor in place of his heart that boiled white hot rage into his fists and gritted his teeth in a mockery of courage. But what was death when there was nothing left to live for? Brooding alone, the primarch knew no true equal. Even his brother demigods judged him, as he shut himself away between wars. He was damaged. Broken. Fallible.
Everything depended upon Angron. The Legion, their loyalty, everything. Charging forward, roaring his nonsensical invective, every inch a warrior and defining the very values of selfless sacrifice and defiance, Angron was the most majestic sight he had ever seen. The monster and the hero. The future was filled with boundless possibilities while he stood at their head.
As the legion charged, the ruddy dust upon their armour plate caught the light. Hronde wondered, was it an omen of things to come? The Legion was coloured red.
World Eater red.

==========


SATING DESIRE

by Pip




HE WIPED HIS sweaty hands on the back of his vest-tunic and set to work. Down here, deep in the bowels of the gargantuan cruiser, it always felt different. Not peaceful or cathartic; the roar of the churning furnaces and hissing reduction valves shattered any chance of quiet contemplation. Nor did he feel like he was alone, free to soliloquise endlessly; his overseer resided just around the corner, spools of varicose-veined flesh dripping over the edge of his chair.
No. It simply wasn’t an easily identifiable feeling. It defied categorisation or description. It simply was. The closest he could suppose was that it was as if there were something else with him on those long, monotonous shifts spent feeding the reactor furnaces.
A certain presence. Not like another person with whom he could communicate or feel that his privacy had been threatened by. Merely a distinct otherness. Something not as inanimate as his iron shovel.
He would mumble endlessly into the sooty black maw of the furnace as he hefted fuel into the flames. Not talking, just relaxing and letting himself sink blissfully into the embrace of that strange presence.
Sweat would pool in the small of his back, drip into his nostrils and mouth to the point of choking irritation. But he was ultimately oblivious, lost in the calming touch of the presence and the rhythm of his work.
Then the overseer would jab a button when the ten-hour shift cycle had finished, and the blaring siren would send him trudging back to his billet to rest, curled into a foetal ball.
He never slept, though sometimes he dreamt that he did.

HE LIVED FOR his labours. By now he had forgotten how long he’d been aboard the cruiser, even how old he actually was. He couldn’t even recall how long ago it was that he’d realised he’d forgotten these things, or how long ago it was that the presence had first come to him. The first time he had felt the hunger stir within.
He was sure he remembered the first time that he’d sated the hunger, although he had to admit that it was possible that he’d simply forgotten previous satings. She’d been nice. Kind. Pretty. In a tarnished sort of way.
When he’d fed her into the gaping maw of the furnace in a disgusted trance, he’d felt the presence change too. He couldn’t describe whether it was a positive or negative change. The normal spectrum of human emotions was not broad enough to define it.
The hunger had increased. Exponentially.

HE CUT OUT the overseer’s larynx and a good chunk of his jugular when the bloated lump caught him carrying body parts into the reactor chamber. He then built a rudimentary device which compressed the corpse’s finger onto the correct button at the right times to signal the end of shifts. As long as the overseer was still seen to be doing his job nobody would come to check whether he was alive or not.
Afterwards, he could just about gauge the passing of time – albeit crudely – by how far the fat man’s corpse had rotted.

HE CONTINUED SATING the hunger for two decades before anyone bothered to investigate. A grubby skeleton sat in the overseer’s chair now, one pitted bone hand still tapping the rusted button at intervals when the rusted device impelled it.
He’d become the stuff of legend among the thousands of other engine menials feeding the furnaces. A dark and malign entity, his chamber afforded a wide berth. It had become a dank hellhole, a lightless web of rooms slicked with long-dried commas of blood and devoid of any living soul.
Except one.
One ghost of a man, his once muscular frame withering, who stooped over a furnace hatch, beard tucked into his ragged vest-tunic, eyes dead and rimmed with dry blood, shovelling dismembered limbs into the roaring turquoise fire. The other menials had taken to depositing their natural dead in heaps by the entrance to his area. All had long forgotten that it was originally done to appease a vicious killer.
And when the corpses were gone the next morning they smiled, and thanked their gaunt god of death for taking their own to his side.

WARRANT OFFICER GARLARD HEVEN was ecstatic. Working through reams of data-feed in the great cogitators upon the bridge of the Oberon-class colony cruiser Arciartus, he’d stumbled across the solution to a problem which had been vexing the ship’s enginseers for the last twenty years.
Their colonisation voyage to reach systems on the far-flung outskirts of known space recently brought back into the fold of the Imperium by the 451st Expeditionary Fleet should have taken seventy-seven years. But according to the navigators, it would soon be over, after only forty-eight years of travel, and they’d completely outstripped the rest of the colony ships.
The enginseers had been unable to establish a reason as to why the cruiser was powering through the long real space segments of the voyage at a rate faster than had ever been thought possible, and so Heven had been assigned to manually search through the data archives to look for something, anything which might explain it. It was a punishment for a past misdemeanour. He did not like to discuss it.
After several years of his mind-numbing search, he’d finally found it: an unprecedented spike in the output of power from a single engine sector, which the central cogitator had attributed to a sensorium error. According to the data, this single burner, one out of hundreds, was producing as much power as the rest of the reactor combined. Heven spent eighteen hours reviewing the data, before paying the ship’s ranking Tech-priest a visit.

THE NAVY PROVOSTS found Death shovelling disease-ridden body parts into the brilliant blue flames that burned without heat, and carried out their orders to the letter. They were soon done, glad to be away from this pallid reflection of a man and his blood-crusted shovel. Behind them they left mounds of the corpses they had taken from the ships necro-reductor hoppers; they filled the furnace chamber to the roof and spilled out into the corridors beyond.
And the gaunt man knew that he would never be short of another corpse to sate the hunger in the ship’s heart.

==========


THE SILENT ANGEL

by Fernando Rojas Jr. (AKA Plague Angel)




IT HAD BEEN too long since the boots of the IX Legion marked the surface of Baal Secundus. For many of the Astartes, the soil of holy Terra still clung to their feet, weighing their steps. The blood of traitorous brothers still marked their armour, all but invisible against the stark red ceramite.
The only sound was the crunching of ground beneath their feet.
Dumah had not spoken since they had left mankind’s birth-rock, nor had any of the brothers in his charge. He looked to his fellow captains, but they were as silent as he. Closest to his left was Captain Ciardi, who had lost three quarters of his company on Signus Prime. He and his remaining brothers walked resolutely, never looking to the right or to the left. Beyond Ciardi was the company of Captain Tasso, who had witnessed with his own eyes both of the primarch’s duels with Ka’Bandha and still lived to tell of it. Ever alert, Tasso noticed Dumah’s glance and met his eye with a slight nod and a single vox click, acknowledging his presence.
On his other side was Jophiel, who had saved Dumah’s life during the fighting on Terra’s surface. He too caught Dumah’s glance, and Dumah opened and closed a channel, just as Tasso had done. Jophiel turned to one of his battle-brothers, who bore the chapter banner of the Wing Vermillion – Dumah heard a single burst of static, and the banner bearer lifted the standard higher as Jophiel signaled the captain to his right. Slowly the vox network crackled to life. Not one of them said a word, but the sound of clicking spread as each captain reminded another that they were not alone. The Blood Angels straightened, their purpose renewed. For it was not sorrow that kept the Astartes silent, but untold discipline, checking a simmering rage.
Though Dumah was a survivor of Signus Prime and had crossed his blade against the claws of daemons, he had not seen the battle where Sanguinius had been bested by another. But he had seen the aftermath, the winged primarch unable to walk for days.
Yet still the rage he felt then was as nothing compared to what he felt now. It was as though he could still feel the armour of Horus beneath his fists, still feel the resistance of Horus’s talons keening against his sword as he parried, thrust and cried out the Emperor’s name. Dumah’s grip tightened on his bolter and his shoulders itched, the phantom memory of wings he never had burning at his back. He focused on the clicking noises of the vox, knowing his brothers all still saw what he saw.
The march halted. The cliffs of Baal Secundus suddenly slid back into focus, banishing the walls of the Vengeful Spirit that Dumah knew too well. They had arrived at Angel’s Fall, the place where Sanguinius had been found as a child, and where the Primarch had protected the Blood from flesh-eating mutants. That was long before Dumah’s time, but he had seen other such cannibal-cults on the Crusade, seen distaste and outright revulsion mar the perfect face of Sanguinius. They had burned those worlds, or brought them into compliance – with bolter and chainsword, Dumah had ensured that there was nothing left of the cannibals, not even meat. He had always remembered those actions with disgust, but now that he had seen the daemons of the warp they seemed inoffensive by comparison. He felt a strange and unfamiliar tingle on his tongue as he thought about it. His jaw clenched.
The Blood Angels stood in silent formation, waiting. Dumah sensed the tension in the air and knew he was not the only one wrestling with this inner turmoil.
A sudden glint of gold caught his eye. The legion parted.
Making his way through them was Azkaellon, last of the Sanguinary Guard. Alone in his gleaming armour, he shone out among the sea of red, and every eye turned to him. He was beautiful, yet pure – a marked contrast to the perverse beauty of the daemonettes they had fought on Signus. With Sanguinius dead, there was none left like him.
Unhelmed, he met the gaze of each individual legionnaire, his expression unreadable. Azkaellon stood before them as a reflection of their absent father, a light unto himself. He spoke the first words they had heard since leaving the Emperor’s world.
‘Angels,’ he said. ‘Brothers Sanguine.’ His voice was shockingly calm, free of the rage that gripped them. He spoke quietly, but each heard him clearly, as though his words were fated for them alone.
‘I will make no eulogy. You feel in your blood and see in your mind’s eye the only true memorial he can ever have. Do not be ashamed.’
Some distant brother whispered through gritted teeth, and Dumah heard it over the vox. ‘Horus.’
‘Horus is dead,’ replied Azkaellon.
‘Horus!’ came another harsh whisper, and Dumah recognized Ciardi’s voice. Throughout the massed legion spread a chant of rage. Horus! Horus!
‘Enough!’ Azkaellon cried. ‘We did not come here to give voice to that name!’
Discipline reasserted itself under his wrathful gaze. There was silence on the moon for a long while as the Blood Angels waited for him to speak again. When he did, his voice was tinged with sadness.
‘We will follow the Codex of Guilliman.’
The golden warrior’s pronouncement met no resistance, not even from the staunchest conservatives. They knew it was necessary.

AND SO AZKAELLON drew the Glaive Encarmine and spoke aloud the names of the chapters, and with his words the IX Legion passed into history and became no more. Ten thousand veterans of the Great Crusade splintered at the words of one man. Dumah tried to listen, but thoughts of the cannibal-cults darkened his mind.
And he realized it was not cultists he imagined pouring blood down their throats, but Astartes clad in vermillion armour.
The new Chapter Masters knelt before Azkaellon and he touched them with the anointed blade. They stood and faced their brothers. ‘For the Deus Encarmine!’ they proclaimed as one.
‘For the Emperor!’ came the response, but Dumah could not join in. His tongue clung to the roof of his mouth, dry with longing.

==========


AND IT WILL SET YOU FREE

by Dylan Wasdahl (AKA Provost Dylanov)




‘THE DIFFICULTY BEGAN with hospitality. Allegheny has bowed to the Emperor but a patch of rebels will not submit; a town loyal to the Master of Mankind is sheltering them. It has something to do with a tradition they call sanctuary.’
Savan Valdegard kept his boots and his coat as gleaming as his eyes. He had joined the 1st Company after the last iterator fell during a xenos ambush. Savan had eventually discovered that the xenos had roasted his injured predecessor alive.
‘No one defies Imperial justice.’ Savan’s hand twitched. ‘We go in quick and leave nobody alive.’
In the candlelit alcove, the assembled Space Marine squad nodded. Most of them looked indifferent. One looked eager. Only the sergeant wore a frown. ‘The town is loyal to the Emperor,’ he asserted flatly.
The iterator dismissed the rest of the squad with a wave. He uncorked a small flask with a grin. ‘Has one of the Master’s wolves had enough blood? We are going to make an example of this little city. It’s ideal. The citizens share little kinship with the rest of the planet who will quickly learn that tradition does not come before law.’
‘The citizens are on our side. It cannot be right.’ The sergeant tapped his fingers on his chair.
‘You talk about “right” as though it were something you could go out and measure,’ Savan said, his voice dropped to a whisper. ‘Do you know what the Iterator Primus taught us at the collegium? He said that a man does not discover truth, but that we create it just as we would forge weapons. So some truths work better than others – the Imperial Truth is as far above the old faiths as the bolter is above the crossbow. And this is the important point, sergeant: the Emperor wants the truth that will bind humanity together forever. Tell me sergeant, will destroying this town bind the rest of the people to us?’
Ezekyle Abaddon nodded.

THE WORLD OF ALLEGHENY was much smaller than Terra. The fires of the core cooled soon after the planet formed, so the surface had never metamorphosed into a network of tectonic plates; volcanoes never spewed up fresh earth. The face of the planet remained much as it would have been some three billion years ago, except that water and wind had worn great channels across both hemispheres. The breathable part of the atmosphere wreathed these great canyons in mist, so all the settlements stood on ledges and outcrops. The world’s scant allowance of water filled the bottom of the channels.
The beat of huge wings echoed along the sheer rock walls. Half of the Luna Wolves’ 8th Company had commandeered a large cargo ornithopter from a settlement two hundred miles up-canyon, so that no one would notice their approach. Native life forms floated through the sky; flat things the size of a Land Raider with long fibrous strands trailing from their undersides. They stored a light gas in body sacs to keep afloat. Abaddon couldn’t tell whether they were animals or plants.
‘Approaching target,’ the pilot’s voice buzzed through the vox-link. ‘Prepare to attack.’
The back hatch folded downwards, and the roar of the pressure change shook the aircraft. A standard human would have suffered greatly in that thin air, although the Alleghenians bore several useful lung mutations. Or their ancestors had re-engineered themselves long ago. The scant oxygen gave little trouble to the Astartes, regardless.
‘Brothers,’ cried Abaddon, brandishing his chainsword. ‘For Horus!’
‘Lupercal!’ the Luna Wolves answered with one voice.
The town was perched upon a thin outcrop high above the waters. From over a hundred metres above, the Space marines leapt. The canyon walls resounded with the roar of ancient glory as fifty jump packs burst into life. The townsmen looked upwards and pointed, calling to their friends.
Abaddon slammed into the ground and felt both of his hearts skip a beat. He sawed a labourer in half with a quick slash to the left and tossed a woman from the ledge with his free hand. The citizens began to scream in horror and fled towards their geometric sheet metal dwellings. With a shower of sparks, the sergeant took to the air again like the angel of death of whom he had heard tales in his childhood; his chosen victims could not escape. Bolt pistols thundered, chainswords whined, the cries of despair filled every street.
Then Abaddon saw the cathedral.
Of course, that was why the townspeople had offered sanctuary. The rebels would be cowering inside. He gunned his jump pack again, and the vast coloured glassaic over the main doors shattered as he crashed through it, casting coloured light in all directions. An old wooden pew snapped under his weight as he clattered to the floor.
A dozen armored men stood behind the altar. They held long rocket tubes – in their own language, the infamous basukae. The Space Marine knew that in spite of his armour, so many explosive detonations would kill him in an instant.
He rolled into the aisle and gunned his jump pack again, hurtling forwards less than half a metre off the threadbare carpet. His bulk and speed crushed the rebels even before they slammed into the bare wall behind the altar.

THE SERGEANT ROSE and staggered under the weight of his powerless armour. He couldn’t shake the ringing from his head. His vox-link was dead. The rest of his squad would be looking for him.
Abaddon stumbled out of the cathedral. Men, women and children lay in their own blood. The gunfire had ceased, allowing the ornithopter to land. Savan stepped from the aircraft, wearing a respirator as proof against the scant atmosphere. Abaddon removed his helmet and tasted the thin air.
A few hundred metres away, a legionnaire dragged a screaming woman from a wrecked building. Both of Abaddon’s hearts beat in the same moment. It was like it used to be, before the Emperor, and before the Legion. He thumbed his vox-link.
‘Hold, brother! This is your sergeant. Do not execute the prisoner.’
Abaddon remembered that his armour’s vox-link was dead. Savan looked on impassively, his thumbs tucked into his waist sash.
Down the street, a chainsword flashed and the screaming ceased. Abaddon sank to his knees, letting the weight of his armour pull him to the ground.
Even from a distance, he had seen her face. Though he knew it was impossible, he would have sworn she was the same woman he had loved on Cthonia, before it had all began. He closed his eyes and let the darkness take him once more.

==========


THE ARTISAN

by Peter Keilty (AKA Spacewolf#1)




IT WAS A RARE honour, especially given Artisan Octans’s lack of seniority, to be included in the fabrication of such an historic suit of armour. His deftness in the art of acid-etching was without rival but, confident as he was in the quality of his artifice, even he had difficulty in accepting that he was being afforded the honor of inscribing Horus Lupercal's battle plate.
Loosely modelled around the newer Terminator suits, the Warmaster's carapace was hugely oversized even by the standards of the Legiones Astartes. Octans had been a relatively imposing human before his acceptance into the Mechanicum had made him something more, but he still balked at the idea that any single warrior – gene-forged or not – could fill the suit that stood before him.
A language unfamiliar to him scrolled across his vision, fed directly into his central nervous system from a remote-linked file so highly classified that he had not previously been aware that its ‘Level Zero’ designation even existed. He dutifully inscribed the glyphs with the love of a craftsman, smoke rising from the ceramite as the acid did its work.
The Brethren, as they had recently designated themselves, were never far away, closely monitoring his progress. They were the elite of the forge, their status allowing them to move outside the normal circles of bureaucracy and to complete projects of great import at unheard-of speeds. The Lupercal’s battle plate was, to Octans’s eyes, the most advanced and ornate that the forge had ever produced, and yet they had completed it in around half the time of even a standard suit of Space Marine power armour. He understood that the Great Crusade was moving at a remarkable speed, but the haste with which this project had been undertaken had surprised him. Furthermore, the lack of Imperial heraldry and devotional text was a shock to the dutiful artisan; his love for the Emperor in His Aspect of the Machine God eclipsing even the passion of his artistry. The discomfort was further heightened by fact that he had no idea what the symbols he was inscribing actually meant.
Hulking shapes shifted restlessly at the corners of his vision; silent Space Marines who seemed only marginally less imposing than usual in the shadow of the monolithic slab of armour upon which he was working.
Of the four warriors, the one in the livery of the Word Bearers put Octans most ill at ease. Cycling his augmetic eye out of the microfocus setting that he used for his work, he risked a sidelong glance at the darkly enigmatic warrior – his presence set Octans’s usually somewhat dull nerves on edge. Rather than staring at the artisan himself, the Word Bearer was studying the markings with a singular focus, his lips moving faintly as he appeared to be reading the mysterious language.
His expression reminded Octans of an expedition he had been tasked with supervising to a scarcely-populated desert world, rich in the mineral tantalum. The savages they had encountered there worshipped great beasts that burrowed deep into the sand, only emerging once every three years. The Mechanicum’s visit had coincided with their barbarous ceremonies, and on each of their faces Octans had seen the ecstasy and madness of their religious fervour. That same expression was now written on what should have been the stoic, implacable visage of one the Emperor's chosen.
Octans suppressed his growing sense of unease and returned to his craft, his snaking mechadendrites reaching out to interface with the suit, manipulating its cruel power claws into a suitable position for etching.
As the connection was made, a wall of silence as deafening as a Titan's warhorn assaulted the artisan, and for a second he thought that his neural augmetics had suffered a catastrophic failure. The hissing of steam and the mechanical clunking that were characteristic of the Forge were gone.
Octans fearfully looked around in his confusion, his eyes meeting those of the Word Bearer; the warrior’s dark expression suggested that he knew exactly what was happening to the artisan. A sensation crept up Octans’s spinal column and into his head, and he shuddered as the organic portion of his brain felt as though it had been licked by a jungle cat of ancient Terra.
His mechadendrites recoiled instinctively at the imagined touch, and the sound of the forge once again flooded his senses. His body – both the augmetic and the organic portions alike – felt cold and numb.
The shaven-headed Word Bearer nodded to him, gesturing for him to continue his work. It took every ounce of Octans’s will to stop his stylus-limb from trembling from the otherworldly touch.

THE GREAT AMBER eye fashioned into the Warmaster's plastron seemed to leer hungrily at the artisan as he lowered himself down the pneumatic scaffold, the pride he usually felt at the conclusion of his work replaced with a cold emptiness and a deep seated sense of foreboding. As the Brethren and Space Marine legionnaires pushed past him to gather around the malicious carapace, all Octans could think of was the savages and their sand-dwelling gods, and grief and remorse rose up to envelop him.

==========


THE DRIFTER

by TheLaughingMan




SILENCE. THE VOIDSUIT blocked her ears, muffling even the sound of her own panicked breathing. Like the distant beat of a heavy drum she could just make out the thumping rhythm of her heart, a beacon to which her sensory deprived mind desperately clung.
The false serenity that now enveloped her in complete juxtaposition to the chaos and raw natural fury that accompanied violent atmospheric decompression. Ejected from her void-borne home, the Eisenstein, she had endured its wrath a mere moment previous; the glorious imperial frigate bleeding atmosphere and crew members like a stuck pig. Her helpless body flung like a ragdoll out the ship’s gaping wound, torn bulkhead and spinning shrapnel threatening to pierce the delicate environment inside her suit.
The suit’s systems screamed for attention with a symphony of blaring alarm sounds and red warning lights. Reeling, she threw the suit’s calls out of mind, her fingers desperately working the controls trying bring some measure of order to the chaos.
Her manoeuvring thrusters fired, attempting to resolve her mercurial spin – several short, controlled squirts of compressed gas, from the reserve tanks at her shoulders. The jolt sent a lash of agony through her midsection as pain bled through the shock. Her ribs were broken and her shoulder a seething mass of pain. How had the suit remained intact? Her mind raced, and the raw metallic taste of blood lapped at the corners of her tongue with every ragged breath.
The stars flickered back to points of celestial fire dotting a black canvas, the thrusters performing their job admirably in restoring her relative motion. Clarity returned to her eyes and in the grim darkness she saw the cloud of metallic shrapnel which hung in the void and peppered her fragile suit – it was the flesh of her beloved Eisenstein; the guts of a starship. Beyond the near-blinding hail of metal, the divine ship limping away in search of the warp’s relative safety, its form quickly shrinking against the blackness.
‘Don’t leave me!’ she screamed, though in the airless void outside her suit she might as well have been mouthing them silently.
Something bumped against her leg, threatening to steal away her newly attained and fragile orientation. The suit’s internal systems automatically compensated for the disturbance as her eyes froze on the culprit – in the washed out, pallid light of Isstvan’s distant sun she could just make out the magnificent form of Space Marine clad in full battle plate. Twirling slowly past her, the warrior’s dead face caught the light of the star, illuminating an icy and contorted mask of pain which glinted with micro-crystals of frozen vapour. The unhelmeted corpse twisted obscenely, splitting before her horrified eyes as the mangled flesh and armour separated at his midsection. Frozen droplets of his blood pattered off her helmet. Here was a god among mortals, vanquished. Destroyed. Where she lived, he had died.
Despair and fear took over, her eyes darting between the ruined god-corpse and the retreating Eisenstein. Her stomach emptied, vomit filling her helmet and choking her, the sour stench burning her nostrils as she sputtered.
The suit’s systems reacted slowly, suction-draining the vile fluids from her helmet and cleansing the visor. A new wave of panic surged through her mind as she realised what her beloved ship was doing - with her vision obscured she hadn’t seen the Eisenstein tearing its escape route through the very fabric of reality. They were making their break for the warp. They really were leaving her behind.
She wailed silently, hands grasping at nothingness. More horrifying, however, was the sight of the raw uninhibited empyrean torn asunder so close at hand. It was alpha and omega, it was everything and it was nothing, it was the infinite. A twisted façade, a mockery of the real.
Again she screamed and again it went unheard, even her own ears refusing to betray the new silence. Eyes wide in terror, she watched as the Eisenstein sank majestically into the spectral depths of the warp, avoiding the ferocious lance bursts from the rest of the fleet still in pursuit. Her ears twitched at a silken whisper bubbling up from the silence, so soft that she almost missed it. The warp rift seemed to wink at her, flashing a brilliant rapturous violet as the ravenous event horizon swallowed the Eisenstein entirely. A hand that wasn’t there brushed her shoulder, sending a spectral shiver through her body; a fleeting whisper, faint laughter, and then silence once more.
‘N-no! Don’t leave me!’ she sobbed, taken to the depths of despair, feeling so utterly helpless, a desperation like nothing she had ever known before ruling her mind. Heaving, she’d have puked again had her stomach not been as empty as the void she drifted in. ‘Don’t leave me out here, alone!’
More distant warp-flashes behind her suggested that the other vessels were continuing the chase even into the empyrean. Though the doomed world of Isstvan III burned sickeningly bright against the blackness of the void, she wept for her beloved ship, and for herself, as the warp-rift before her began to close again.
Wafting over the guttural sounds of her sobbing, the ethereal whisper came again, an ashen voice clawing at her senses. ‘You may still have a role to play, child,’ it chuckled, as if teasing her.
She jerked around, looking for the source of the disembodied voice. ‘W-what?’
‘Do you wish to live?’ it hissed the delectable question.
Giving in to her anguish, she howled in response, choking out her pleas into the darkness. ‘Yes! Oh Holy Terra, yes! I’ll do anything, just save me from this desolation!’
‘So be it, child,’ whispered the warp-voice, the diminishing hole in reality seeming to smile a sadistic satisfied grin.
Phantasmal light enveloped her, the horrifying images of ghostly sapphire ravens clawing at her suit, flensing her mind. Sharp talons found purchase in soft flesh, dragging her consciousness towards the collapsing event horizon. The empyreal maw swallowed her, one final whisper touching the fringes of her senses before the ether claimed her entirely.
‘You belong to me now, child.’

==========

ShroudFilm - January 14, 2011 04:23 PM (GMT)
GREAT VOLPO

by The Lieutenant




BY LUPERCAL, THIS war is pointless. These little men fight with such courage, and such nobility. How brave. I almost pity for the ones we have to kill in the name of honour. Nay, I definitely feel pity for them. Honour is good for many things, but leading innocent men to their deaths should not be one of them.
They knew this war was pointless the moment our drop ships entered their atmosphere. They knew this war was pointless even before it began. And yet their oaths, their promises, their honour demanded that they fight. Not to win, you understand, just to put up a show of resistance. The XVI Legion understands this. Lupercal understands this. So we fight a pointless war, for pointless objectives, to kill men who deserve better. This is not to insult these men; they fight on, hopelessly and courageously, with their fox-fur coats and their barbaric curses, firing weapons they don’t understand. Even their firearms (and I use the term loosely) are a joke.
A petty little war to satisfy honour so that this planet may enter the Imperium without the shame of simply surrendering. Abaddon will laugh when he hears of this, of the 14th Company’s greatest hour.
Their final bastion is surrounded by well tilled fields. No doubt they believe it to be a great and mighty city. It is only a village. The last of the planet’s warriors have taken refuge within, protected by primitive stone walls. Stone walls. Throne of Terra, as much as we understand the demands of honour, this is absurd.
But I am a dutiful servant, and Lupercal’s wish is my command. Mine. Brother-Captain Lucius Volpo, XVI Legion, the Luna Wolves.
Not all of the 14th Company is here – the rest wait in orbit with the rest of the Ninety-seventh Expeditionary Fleet. I judged that three squads would be enough. Actually, the notion that it would take twenty-five Adeptus Astartes to conquer this cesspool of a planet was laughable enough, but I decided that any fewer than that and it would seem like an insult to these little men.
As Sejanus often jokes, I would have made a wonderful diplomat.
Brother Sergeant Urras has taken his squad to the west; Sergeant Annares’ bikers are to the east. My command squad holds the northern approach. I honestly, proudly, do not care about the south – anyone who flees deserves to die in the wilds. I’ve already wasted four days bringing this backwater to compliance. I refuse to waste any more of my time hunting down strays.
I can see men lining the walls of their petty encampment, armed with a mix of comparatively high tech guns – relics of a better time on this world, perhaps? – and bows. Bows? I can almost hear Abaddon’s scorning laugh: All glory to the Fourteenth! Praise them for overcoming the fearsome bowmen of Ninety-seven Fifteen! It brings my choler to the fore.
Bows? Throne. Why not empty the armouries? Bring out the rocks and pointed sticks too. We are ready for you, little men.
I speak into my vox-link. ‘Come, brothers. Let us end this farce.’ A simple click of acknowledgement from the two sergeants shows that they are as tired of this as I am.
We advance on the village, opening up at range, shredding both the wall and the men upon it with bolter fire. Within seconds, we blow open the gate.
There are few screams, for now. A bolter round kills what it strikes – there are no screams of the dying. As we come into range of their simple weapons, their fire starts to fall around us. Throne, it is pathetic. A handful of arrows and solid shot rounds hit us as we advance, grim faced, into a certain waste of time. Arrows ping and spang from my armour, the occasional solid shot raises sparks. Although none of my men say it, they all think the same thing: the Great Crusade has truly reached the far end of the galaxy if this is the calibre of world we’re bringing into the fold.
Once more, brothers, once more unto the breach of tediousness.

THE POPULACE ARE taking the defeat well. They know they fought as best they could. Concepts of nobility and dignity seem to be spread throughout the people, not merely concentrated in a handful of warrior elites. This is good – at least we will have a willing world to leave behind, not one festering with hatred and sure to rebel once we move on.
We stand amid the carnage of their final bastion, thirty-four minutes after the assault began. The natives’ name for this place is apparently particularly grandiose, but I’ll be damned if I can be bothered to sift through their language for it. Hundreds of people surround us, eager to see the ‘sky-warriors’ who so easily bested their greatest warlord. He approaches us now, holding himself proud and erect, an empty scabbard held pointedly at his side. Ten men surround him. Bodyguards, presumably.
Not one of them would have lasted a day in the slums of Cthonia. I can tell that from here.
‘Welcome, brothers from the stars,’ he manages in heavily accented Low Gothic. ‘We have done all that honour demands. Now, freely, we may enter into your great Imperium as equals.’
Throne above, as equals? He’ll get a shock when the colony fleets arrive.
He addresses me directly this time. ‘You are the leader of the sky-warriors, yes?’
‘Aye,’ I respond. ‘Brother-captain Lucius Volpo. 14th Company, XVI Legion, Adeptus Astartes.’
‘Volpo?’ he says. ‘You are our conqueror, my lord. As befits you, this world will now forever be known as Volpone, in your name! Praise be, Great Volpo!’ He proclaims this with a proud smile and sweeping flourish, as though he’s afforded me the greatest honour in the galaxy.
I would happily punch that smile right off his face. I look around at the stinking village. Abaddon’s laughter echoes again in my ears.
This [I'M ILLITERATE]-heap, named after me, forever.
Golden Throne...

==========


A THORN AMONG ROSES

by Tim Sweeney (AKA Tim the Corsair)




WAILING SIRENS AND the distant crump of artillery fire announced that which the people of Mittenocht had most dreaded: the invasion had begun.
‘It is almost... anticlimactic,’ murmured Artur Vayrion, Lord of the Eight Roses, Geneperfect, Thrice-King of Mittenocht, ‘now that these warmongering dogs have finally come for us.’
‘I beg your pardon, my liege?’
It was Vido Dagmar who spoke, captain of Vayrion's royal guard, and his best friend these last tiresome years. The young Thrice-King shook his head, golden hair waving free of the confines of his crown to frame his almost-too-pretty face. He was not in the mood to reveal his melancholy.
Dagmar hesitated a moment then returned to his duties, the royal distraction already forgotten. The Thrice-King watched, fascinated, as the captain set about locking down the palace now that the Imperials had finally arrived on their world. As others darted around in panic, Dagmar went about his duties; an island of calm in a sea of chaos.
In his weaker moments, Vayrion rather envied that almost-regal bearing, especially in times of crisis. The Thrice-King himself clutched the arms of his throne, white-knuckled.
Dagmar turned once more to face him, a finger at the communicator in his ear.
‘Sire, latest reports indicate our forces have contained the invaders.’ He paused a moment, listening. ‘We appear to have larger numbers and roughly equal technology. Those elements which have landed seem to be digging in, rather than advancing.’
The Thrice-King frowned. ‘What of those... Space Masters, was it?’
‘Space Marines, sire,’ the captain corrected him gently. ‘To the best of my knowledge, only a single one is confirmed to have been deployed.’
‘We have had over two years to prepare since first contact – let them send their damned Space Marines!’ Vayrion grinned viciously, resolve returning with the good news. ‘We are fortified, well trained, and by the long-forgotten gods are we motivated!’
Those nobles and courtiers still present let out a hearty cheer at his words.
Captain Dagmar did not reply, fingers again pressed to his communicator. Finally, he nodded.
‘Indeed my liege, we are very well prepared. I oversaw the defences myself, after all. Nevertheless, I would feel far more confident if you would allow me to lock down the Rose Palace until the threat is contained.’
The walls shook suddenly, as if to punctuate the point.
The Thrice-King waved a hand lazily, ‘No Vido, I think not.’
‘But–‘
‘No buts, captain.’ He raised his voice to ensure the whole room overheard, ‘I will not cower before these barbarians!’
The Thrice-King smiled slightly as his men applauded his bravery. He would give them more to cheer before he was through.
Dagmar leaned in close, ‘Sire, these Space Marines can deploy instantly from orbit.’
Vayrion felt his smile turn queasy at the Captain's words.
‘At least allow me to properly secure your throne room and remove this rabble,’ he finished.
The Thrice-King nodded once, before speaking again for the benefit of those courtiers within earshot. ‘Oh, very well then captain. But I fear you are overreacting to the threat these savages pose!’
Vido – bless him! – took the amused titters of the crowd with typical stoicism, allowing his lord to save face. ‘Indeed, sire, you are undoubtedly correct.’ Only someone who knew the man as well as the Thrice-King did could see the slightly upturned corners of his mouth, as good as howling laughter from anyone else.
The guards immediately began to usher the various nobility, merchants, and servants from the throne room. Vayrion quickly became bored and turned toward the data-monitors on the rear wall, bringing up tactical readouts and watching as the security display showed his guards taking up defensive positions outside the room.
The Thrice-King stared idly at scrolling text describing initial engagements, imagining what it would be like to be in the thick of the fighting. He fantasised about wielding his heirloom sword against the barbarian invaders, hurling them back into space as his distant ancestors had driven the Pirate Lords back to the purple seas.
The wet sound of meat hitting the floor woke the Thrice-King from his reverie.
He turned to see Vido Dagmar wiping his sword blade on his cape, the blood leaving a long, black smear on the cerulean silk. The bodies of two guardsmen were slumped on the tiles, heads separated from necks in a spray of arterial vitae.
The Thrice-King froze, pale and nauseous; he had never seen death so intimately before. ‘V-Vido, why did you slay them?’ he squeaked. ‘Were they traitors?’
The corners of Dagmar's lips turned up once more as he advanced slowly toward the Thrice-King, ‘Indeed, sire.’
‘W-well good then – death awaits all t-traitors...’ He trailed off.
‘Indeed, sire. I'm glad you understand.’
Dagmar had reached the foot of the throne, sword still unsheathed. ‘For what it is worth, I think you could have made a fine governor for Six-Seventy Fifteen.’
‘Vido, I do not understand...’ The Thrice-King was wild-eyed, unable to comprehend the open threat he saw upon the face of his closest companion.
‘It's rather simple, my liege,’ said the captain, filling the words with scorn. ‘I was placed here to become captain of your guards, to befriend you, and to help make your defences impregnable.’
‘Placed here? You joined the guard only weeks before first contact...’ Vayrion mumbled, comprehension dawning at last. ‘You are one of them!’
Dagmar nodded, bringing the sword up to rest gently against the monarch's neck.
‘Why not kill me back then, and be done with it?’ Vayrion began to shake his head, but soon thought better of it.
Dagmar shrugged slightly, the blade never wavering.
‘We wanted your world to be strong. My father wishes to prove something to a most stubborn brother.’
The Thrice-King stared at him blankly. ‘But why?’ he cried at last. ‘I trusted you for years. Why would you do this?’
‘Why?’ Dagmar smiled his sad little smile. ‘The answer is simple, really...’
The blade struck viper-fast, tearing open Artur Vayrion's gene-perfect throat.
‘I am Alpharius.’
The Thrice-King did not hear him.

==========


BLOOD AND SAND

by Tyraelvladinhurst




THE FLEET HAD BEEN sent to this new world in hopes of bringing it into the Imperium. It should have been so simple, but the situation rapidly degraded as the Space Marines of the Night Lords Legion discovered an unsettling truth about their foes.
This world was populated not humans, but witches.
Over ninety percent of the world utilised the dark arts of sorcery with little to no regard for the possible consequences. The primarch Konrad Curze’s orders from his father were very clear in this subject – witches and mutants must die, and those with latent psychic talent should be brought to Terra, in chains if needs be.
Within hours of their new discovery the Legion had made planetfall with ruthless efficiency. Curze led the first wave of drop pods down, followed almost immediately by the larger landing craft which brought their armour and artillery to the surface. The primarch was soon in his Land Raider Divinus Nox Noctis, protected by his elite guard, the Shadow Hunters.
The fighting was most intense in and around the planetary capital, and the Night Lords had met the local militia in their trademark fashion – a direct assault.
Curze leapt from his Land Raider with his honour guard trailing behind as they attempted to match his pace. He slashed left and right with his lightning claws – his ‘Long Knives’ – as he charged through the routed defenders, dodging the psychic blasts and lightning of the screeching, terrified witches.

LESS THAN TWO HUNDRED metres from the steps of the palatial building at the heart of the city, Curze halted amidst the brutal melee in the central plaza.
‘Night Haunter,’ the unmistakable voice of Zso Sahaal, captain of the 3rd Company, crackled over the vox.
‘Yes, Talonmaster?’ he replied in clipped tones as he side-stepped another witch’s charge and eviscerated the wretch with a flick of his talon.
‘My forces are pinned down on the west side of the main plaza, drawing their fire as you have ordered, my lord,’ came Sahaal’s reply, punctuated by the sounds of bolter fire and arcs of lightning. ‘However, we cannot hold out forever, the witches seem to be playing hel–’
His communication was cut in a burst of static.
Curze quickly finished off another opponent and glanced to the west. Damn these witches, he thought. Hopefully Sahaal can keep the heaviest resistance occupied long enough for us to behead this beast…

NIGHT HAUNTER AND his retinue slaughtered the guards at the fortified main entrance, and stole into the building with the speed and stealth of thieves in the darkness.
‘It’s far too quiet in here,’ one of the Shadow Hunters whispered over the encrypted vox-channel they all shared. ‘There is no one here, witch or otherwise.’
Though himself a creature of the night, Curze was inclined to agree. It was as if someone else had already moved through this building and cleared the place out.
He went to speak, but jagged red light flared in his mind and he fell to the floor, racked with convulsions.
‘My lord!’
The Shadow Hunters instinctively closed around him, scanning the darkness for threats and shielding their primarch from any attack.
Within moments, the fit ended as suddenly as it had begun, and his eyes slid open. His bleary gaze flickered to the shadows.
Trembling, the Shadow Hunters helped Curze to his feet, though he brushed their concern aside.
‘It’s nothing,’ he said, after regaining some of himself. ‘Just watch those corners, something is defiantly here and it wants us dead.’
The group moved on in silence, making their way to the main audience chamber in near-total darkness.

WHEN THEY REACHED the great iron doors, Curze gestured to his men.
‘Wait here, my Shadow Hunters. This is a battle for me alone. You must not bear witness to this, my sons.’ They nodded in silence as Curze strode through the doorway and into the blackness beyond.
The great black chamber stretched out before him. Night Haunter had fully expected to see some hidden invincible witch-lord seated upon the basalt throne, but was instead greeted by a sallow corpse with the hilt of a power sword protruding from its torso.
Curze did not have time to consider the sight further, as an unseen assassin leapt from the shadows to his right. He twisted and rolled to avoid the strike, hurling the figure into a scattering of gilded caskets behind him.
The assassin was on his feet again before Curze could ready himself for a counter-lunge. The two killers regarded each other coldly for a moment, in silence.
Then the assassin spoke in a deep, cold voice from behind his skull mask.
‘By order of Malcador the Sigillite, your life is forfeit, General Kurze. In the Emperor’s name, I am here to carry out the execution of his will.’
Curze’s face darkened before he spoke.
‘Does my father know of this… matter Himself?’
The assassin nodded coldly.
‘I see…’ Curze replied. ‘Then it is true, and my father no longer requires my services or my loyalty.’
The assassin nodded again, and Night Haunter slid into an aggressive stance.
‘Then let us fight and be done with it. You are not the first to have been sent against me in this manner, and I am certain you will not be the last,’ he hissed, flexing his talons. ‘But rest assured, I will not go quietly into the night.’

==========


THE WATCHER ON THE WALL

by Benjamin Martin (AKA Umbral Shark)




HE STARED OUT FROM the walls at the roof of the world as the great guns, at last, fell silent. Planets had burned to bring them to this – millions dead – and nothing as trivial as artillery would deny history this defining moment. Far beneath the armoured flanks of the bastion, the rugged escarpment fell away to the broken plains, a blasted expanse of barren soil studded with trenches, bunkers and redoubts enough to hold a legion of men at bay for a lifetime. But was not men that would soon break against the defences, but demi-gods.
And they would be met in kind.
The burnt sky churned and frothed the colour of bruised flesh, abused by both the titanic ships above and the cannons below. The warrior felt the first heavy drops of poisonous rain begin to fall and his craggy brow furrowed. Previously, in what felt like a different life, he had savoured these moments before battle. The peace that preceded the storm; the anticipation. It had made his blood race and his heart soar. Now however it drew out like a sharpened blade, cold and malicious.
A sonorous voice broke the silence. ‘My lord.’
He held up an armoured hand and felt rather than saw the presence at his back withdraw. There would be time enough for words later. There had to be.
Doubt worried at the fabric of his confidence, teased at thoughts best left unfinished and just for a moment he imagined that this must have been what it was like to be a common soldier. He did not fear death, nor the enemy that would soon hurl themselves at the walls. He did not fear for the lives of his men or the price in blood that would be extracted. He did not even fear the sundering of the walls he had laboured so long and so remorsefully to raise up. No, here on the eve of darkness, and for just a fleeting moment, he feared that they might be wrong.
A surge of anger, hot and quick, banished the treacherous thought and he scowled.
Damn them for bringing it to this.
His bleak introspection was interrupted by a shriek of tortured atmosphere as the horizon blossomed with the light of an artificial sun. Atomic fire rose in a slow, majestic plume and he fancied he felt a tremor run through the bones of the fortress. The death of thousands illuminated features that could have been carved, not unkindly, from the unyielding stone of mountains. Hard eyes like chipped icy flint glowered from beneath a brow burdened with too much worry and crowned in white. Gilded pinions rose at his shoulders and framed his features. The face of a general, a son and a father.
‘My lord,’ the voice cut in again, not demanding but insistent.
‘Soon,’ he whispered as the fire gave way to dust and smoke that further darkened the benighted sky. The persistent rain turned black with ash and streaked his polished armour with what little remained of the dead.
Within minutes the gathering gloom was dispelled a second and then a third time as the bombardment began in earnest, the rage of those circling above ravaging the surface with bombs, missiles and crackling energy. Thunder rolled around the ancient peaks and the world groaned as cities died. The great plains fused to glass. The earth itself split and bled. The barrage battered the surface for an hour without respite and filled the hot air with the stink of scorched earth and baked metal.
Nothing touched the fortress. Nothing came close. The warrior stood upon the wall and watched it all in silence.

WHEN IT WAS DONE and the wrath of the heavens was finally spent, he knew that it was almost time. The blackened sky bulged as if it could not contain the malice of those above any longer, and from the toxic clouds stars began to fall; white hot ingots of fury chased by contrails of atmospheric fire. Hundreds of points of light descended to the ruptured plains scattering cinders and vitrified remains with the shock of their impacts.
Within seconds of their arrival the fallen pods burst open to disgorge their furious cargo – some pinioned apart like sinews peeling back flesh, some split like over-ripe fruit, while still others bit greedily into the charred bedrock with teeth and barbed, grasping claws.
From this array of horrors poured forth an army of warped nightmares, their voices raised in adulation to malicious and ancient powers, their tattered banners decorated with the grisly trophies of a thousand conquered worlds. Hundreds gathered, thousands, tens of thousands and still they came, the tread of their armoured feet sending a shiver through the stone to match the earlier bombardment.
No army of men could have hoped to have stood against even a tenth of those assembled, yet the warrior on the wall glared down at those he had once known and felt no fear. Now that he saw them, what they had become, what they had given up, the spell was broken.
Certainty gave him the strength that had waned as he had defaced the great edifice with bulwarks and bunkers. Conviction eclipsed the doubts that had plagued him since first he stood upon the walls. Contempt erased the last vestiges of brotherhood that had mired him with indecision. He looked down upon the chanting, howling abominations and finally wrath, bright and steady, seared away the fears that had gnawed at him.
‘My lord,’ came the voice again, this time clipped with righteous fury.
‘Yes,’ the warrior replied. ‘It is time.’ With great deliberation Rogal Dorn turned away from the treacherous enemy to face the golden host at his back.
Sigismund stood at their head, sword clasped before him like a warding talisman. ‘Your host stands ready my lord,’ the Templar said.
With a word, a legion marched to meet their brothers.

==========


FACSIMILES

by Michael Vincent (AKA Vinnie)




ASTENAR PUT DOWN the clay cup, swallowing the last of the rich wine. He looked up from the stone bench where he sat, at Tarbuc.
The man was tall and brutal in aspect, his shaven cranium and hard-edged face bronze, and with the stern set of a warrior, yet still he wore the toga of a senator. It had taken Astenar three years of guile and deception to reach the Senate floor, and Tarbuc had done it in eight months. Astenar had had to concede defeat with a smile, for the large man had a potent persuasion technique that Astenar lacked – he simply stood close to those he wished to ‘enlighten’. Tarbuc’s size and palpable vitality both cowed and convinced people in equal measure. He was the perfect politician.
Now Tarbuc stood, his white toga damp and stained in patchy crimson, with the last of the senators slunped upon the blade of his short sword. The dying man choked and burbled hoarse exhalations before falling to the marble floor next to his fellow senators. All were similarly wounded. Most were dead. Some still groaned and made feeble movements upon the flagstones.
‘And with that,’ Astenar said, ‘you achieve everything for which we have planned, and spent a generation engineering.’ He was envious that the honour should go to this quiet brute, but the deed was done, and the Order would have their long-sought control. ‘You learned well from me, Tarbuc. Your skills of duplicity and cunning have, I believe, grown almost to match my own.’
Tarbuc withdrew the short stabbing sword from the now dead man, and wiped the blade on his toga. He raised his head and looked out at the suns setting through the white columns of the senate walls. The ruddy golden light bathed his features, and he closed his eyes, relishing the warmth.
‘Tell me again,’ Tarbuc said, his smooth and melodic voice lilting deeply around the marble chamber, ‘what shall the Order do with its new power?’
Astenar smiled and rose to his feet. He began picking his way neatly over the bloody corpses that littered the floor until he stood before Tarbuc. He looked up into the big man’s eyes.
‘We will eliminate the slow drudgery of a bureaucratic senate, and install a new, powerful republic. We will make an example of an unruly people, and we will have glorious order. Arcania will be a land of lords and power, finally fit to control all the world!’
‘That is the only goal to which you have dedicated yourself?’ asked Tarbuc.
The query took Astenar off guard. Tarbuc has never questioned me on anything, he thought. Why now?
‘Yes, brother.’ Astenar looked at Tarbuc quizzically, slightly disconcerted. ‘This has ever been the single objective of all our efforts. We have both offered years of devotion to the Order to attain this one true victory. This you know.’
‘Then that is where you have failed,’ Tarbuc responded. He now wore a devious and dangerous smile. ‘You devoted yourself to only one course of events, not considering the opportunity for other victories, and never preparing for the unexpected.’
Tarbuc began slowly walking towards Astenar, who in turn began retreating, confusion and anxiety etched across his sallow features. He could not form words, his astonishment at Tarbuc’s new-found hostility having unsettled him so. The slender man heard a rustle of movement behind him, and snapped around to look.
What he saw made his eyes pop and stole away his breath.
Tarbuc stood behind him, a clean toga draped across his lean form.
Astenar turned his head forwards to where Tarbuc still stood, toga splashed with gore. The clean Tarbuc spoke suddenly in the same sonorous cadence as the original.
‘Your ideal for this world is also flawed, old man,’ said the new arrival. ‘A stratified population breeds contempt and resentment. Only through unity can a people be truly strong and powerful.’
At his last word, the bloodied Tarbuc continued, distorting Astenar’s perceptions uncomfortably. ‘With a single collective face, we can turn away the most determined foe, and achieve a civilisation worth much more than the sum of its parts.’
Another figure sidled between the chamber columns and stepped down to the senate floor, and Astenar simply goggled at him.
It was a third Tarbuc. He was dressed identically, with the same bronzed skin and the same hairless head. This man was a perfect rendering of the two either side of him. He continued the monologue seamlessly.
‘Your web of deceit proved the match of this corrupt government,’ he said. ‘But the strands of our artifice stretch farther and delve deeper than those of the Order ever have.’
Another facsimile appeared on the other side of the chamber. Astenar’s head spun dizzyingly as he struggled to comprehend the situation.
‘We have prepared for our own victory for years, simply engineering the opportune moment, and now we have purged two selfish, power-hungry entities in a single stroke. The work of Unification can begin.’
The original, blood-streaked Tarbuc strode over to Astenar and took the small man by his shoulders, holding him in a predator’s gaze. ‘I suppose we owe you some gratitude, for without your willing Order of malcontents we would have spent a great deal longer bringing this planet to compliance. Although perhaps since we founded the Order in the first place, no thanks are needed in this instance.’
Astenar stared wild-eyed into the bloody Tarbuc’s face.
‘Twenty years ago…?’ the old man mumbled.
The many copies of Tarbuc simply nodded with knowing smiles.
Suddenly Astenar felt a sharp pressure in his back, followed by a wrenching push. Cold agony leapt through his body, and he slowly looked down at the sword point standing proud from his chest. One of the Tarbucs appeared at his shoulder, leaning around, still gripping the handle of the sword lodged in the frail man’s torso.
‘But… Tarbuc…’
‘No,’ said the bloodied Tarbuc quietly. ‘I am Alpharius.’

==========


ONE KNIGHT STANDS

by Ross Hubbard (AKA Whitehorn)




RAELIC BLINKED, CHECKING his dashboard for the fourth time in as many moments. Nothing had changed. He itched for something to happen.
The drone of his suit's generator; the seemingly frozen clock on the dash – this job had become a living slumber, the boredom a far cry from his youthful aspirations.
‘The Teoton house do what they can to protect their megasaur herds against carnosaur incursions,’ the rote-tapes had declared. ‘But this ecosystem has existed for millennia, long before Martian expeditions marked it for colonisation. On occasion, hunting parties are sent out to cull the growing population of predators, but their efforts are quickly compensated – nature restores the balance. It is said that larger breeds dwell beyond Teoton's herding grounds, but until they pose a direct threat, no action would be considered against them.’
Such stories had planted a challenge in Raelic's young mind as he trained to perform his duties for Teoton – a challenge poorly sought, for the dwindling supplies on Epsilon-MMCXXIV had restricted operations to only the most crucial.
Times were hard, the last delivery from Mars was overdue by several cycles. Many in his order were forced to sit out of duty as their suits had fallen into disrepair or worse. Some never return from increasingly vicious carnosaur attacks.
Yet, despite the rise in incidents, Raelic remained green; unproven. Something he foolishly hoped to change.
Blinking again, he glanced up from his dashboard at the misty treeline.
He was alerted by an amplified sound, routed through his suit's system. Squinting at the highlighted area, other sounds could now be heard, something disturbing the jungle fauna. Suddenly a burst of light flared and his suit reeled, knocked to the left as the tree beside him exploded in a shower of hot ash.
His senses were shaken, but the suit's optics were sufficient to focus on the large figure emerging from the trees. The silhouette was unmistakable: an Errant-class Knight.
Why had it fired upon him? His mind juggled confusion, panic and anger.
‘Hold your fire!’ Raelic demanded over the vox, the slightest trace of fear in his voice. ‘This is Raelic, Reeve of Teoton. Please identify yourself!’
The response was swift and tragic – one of Raelic's fellow bondsmen, making for his supporting alerted position, vanished in a hellish cloud of superheated magma and gobbets of melted plasteel. Clearly the unfamiliar Knight was not alone, nor firing mistakenly.
Their identity became clear as more Knights walked into view - Greuthungi, a rival household. While no love was lost between their fiefs, they had never come to blows. This was unthinkable.
Distressed at the loss of his kamerad, Raelic switched vox channel and called out to his remaining ally, hoping he hadn't yet been spotted.
‘Undin, are you receiving? Greuthungi are attacking. Three sighted.’
‘I hear you, Rae,’ acknowledged Undin. ‘We need to alert someone! We can't win this fight – they have us outnumbered and off guard. That Errant just toasted Icarus!’
Slamming his fist against the transmitter controls, Raelic roared in frustration. ‘I cannot connect to base! Why are they attacking us? The Seneschal will be furious! Surely they can't expect to get away with this?’
‘Leave the questions until later Rae. I don't think they've spotted me yet. Get out of there, draw them to the abandoned mine workings if you can. We need to even our odds.’
Raelic could tell that his ally was hastily putting a plan together in his head.
He tried to calm his thoughts. The attackers hadn't fired since killing Icarus, but it wouldn't be long before their thermal cannons cooled and unleashed another shot. Wasting no time, he turned and made haste for the old mine.
His Lancer-class Knight was far swifter than the enemy Errants, but his hope was placed upon getting outside the relatively short range of the enemy weapons. Empowering the alternators in the suit's legs, every ounce of energy was placed into delivering himself from danger. The auspex detected all three enemies matching his course.
‘Undin, I think they're in pursuit,’ he reported. ‘Do you have a plan? Can you contact base?’
‘No signal, Rae,’ replied Undin, sounding far less worried than the situation seemed to warrant. ‘They must be jamming us somehow. Maintain heading, I'll try to catch their flank as they pass. Let's show them the error of crossing Teoton Lancers. For honour and glory!’
Raelic smiled. ‘Honour and glory, Undin. I'll give them quarry yet!’
Carrying his suit with grace, Raelic's Lancer sprinted hard and fast. The enemy gave pursuit, training their weapons on him, though they held fire, wary of the range and speed of their target. The cannons could destroy the toughest armour, but made poor weapons of barrage. Their shots would have to be on target.

UNDIN WAS SURPRISED that they had dropped their cover and given chase so hastily, but ignored the niggling doubt in his mind. An opportunity was at hand and he had to take it.
Waiting until the enemy had passed his position, their frontal shields were no longer a concern – he had the advantage and put his training and experience to work.
Leaping from his concealed position, he unleashed an intense bolt of energy in a wide, deadly arc from his power lance into the enemy formation. Lightning danced from the direct hit on the first Knight, across the dank field and into the others. The thundering clap of the devastating strike could be heard even through his suit's filters. One Errant froze mid-step and crumpled forwards, its guidance systems rendered useless by the overpowering charge of Undin's lance.
Death delivered, he faced the remaining two, both seemingly unharmed by the carried lightning. The lance spent, he brought his battlecannon to bear.
Time slowed as he took a long, hard gulp. ‘This is it, Rae,’ he said, resignedly.

GRINDING TO A HALT at the sound of the fire exchange, Raelic spun to attack his pursuers, their rear armour now exposed to him.
Undin's plan had worked, but at what cost, he thought. Firing everything at the two standing knights, he swore an oath of vengeance for his fallen bondsmen.
As the clouds cleared, he saw that his promise had been delivered.

==========


WORLD EATER

by Rachel Docherty (AKA XRayeX)




MANY TIMES, IN the quieter moments in between the blood and the snorting roars, I had thought about my death. My own mortality fascinates me on a level that my brothers would surely find unsettling. I had imagined many ways that I might die – different worlds, different wars. I truly never envisioned dying like this, with my own brother’s chainsword buried in my back. I can see the tip of the teeth glinting in the exit wound in my chest. My vision wobbles.
I half fall onto my hands and knees and blood spatters the cracked flags beneath me. Even now, the smell of the blood – my blood – awakens the beast inside me. The beast they put there when they made me what I am.
World Eater.
I had looked out over the surface of the planet. Isstvan III. A curse on its name.
The virus-bombing had ruined this world and she ailed on her axis, littered with the corpses of my blood-brothers. The sky above boiled and churned as drop-ships descended to the scorched earth.
‘They have come back for us,’ Vahan growled. His voice was thick with saliva.
‘Then I will kill them,’ I said, despite the sheer number of drop-ships falling to the earth. ‘I will not follow this turncoat crusade.’
Vahan had laughed and it was a wet, sucking pop in his throat. ‘I know we will.’ He drew his chainaxe. ‘We will watch them bleed for this.’
I drew my own axe. ‘It has not exactly been a pleasure, brother.’
‘Likewise,’ he snorted.
I am facedown in my own sweet, coppery blood now. My hearts are still trying to squeeze it around my body, merely resulting in the red puddle slowly spreading outwards. They’ve moved on, and the chamber echoes with the distant rattle of the traitors’ guns.
With all my strength, I roll on to my side. I see Vahan then. He suffered a much more ignoble fate – his face is a ruin, a pink mash with the white flecks of teeth poking through. I reach up to my battered helm and unclip the seals. The air that rushes in smells like death.
I lift my gauntlet to my face and claw at the skin of my scar-puckered temple, digging deep into the flesh and the muscle beneath. I want to undo what they did to me. I want to disconnect myself from what my legion has become.
Monsters.
I watched them coming for us, their armour desecrated and scarred. I remembered when I rose to the rank of Sergeant, before Ghenna. I felt a sense of pride then, standing amongst my brothers. But even then, they had already begun the process of making beasts of us.
I felt the effects of it as I watch them charge. My blood roared in my ears and my fists clenched of their own accord. My mind, a weave of unravelling threads. They are a reflection of me, in spite of myself.
Vahan had broken into a sprinting run and I followed him.
I’ve reached the bone now. I can feel the sensation in my fingers becoming distant as I pound at my own exposed skull, cracking the bone beneath my fists. My breathing becomes shallow, a fitful rattle in my chest. A fragment of bone comes loose with a crack that sounds like the world is splitting open. Blood runs into my eyes, and I crush the skull-piece in my gauntleted fist.
The pain is a blooming series of jagged white explosions, radiating to the tips of my fingers and toes. I carry on, because I can, despite all of this.
I killed four of them. They were no more than slavering hounds, bellowing words I didn’t understand. Their blood smelled as if it had been spilt a week.
Vahan had been lost from my sight. Sometimes I heard him over the vox-link, although I’m sure he never meant to open a channel. His rasping breath and cursing filled my ears until I cut the link.
I ran through the collapsed ruins at the base of a crooked tower, cracking stone flags under my armoured boots. Only then did I hear the voice behind me.
‘Lost, little lamb?’
An explosion of pressure and pain, and whirring teeth tore a hole in my gut.
I fell to my hands and knees and he pulled the chain-blade free with a yank that caught on gristle and bone. I saw him pass me. Serkan. I served by his side on Ghenna. Bastard.
In his arrogance, he thought I was dead. I drew my bolter with trembling hands and shot him in the neck, the explosive shell hitting home in the soft, rubbery seal around his gorget. He had no chance to roar a curse – or even turn to face me – before his throat exploded outward, tearing his head loose. I smiled inwardly as his body toppled to the ground in a whiff of smoke.
I look at my clenched fist through misty, streaming eyes that refuse to focus. In it, I clutch a veined metal rod cloaked in a ragged chunk of grey-pink flesh. I tore it out. I tore the monster out.
Black clouds creep inward from the edges of my vision, and my arm drops with the muffled clatter of armour upon stone. As the world turns black and I start to convulse, the roar of a second wave of bombardments filters into my ruined mind. Isstvan III is dying a second death around me.
At least I got the monster out.

==========


DREADCLAW


by Yogi




A MACHINE SPIRIT capable of advanced thought routines, Alpha-Nine’s job was mundane and dangerous – to carry cargo to the enemy. They had created it for this purpose. For a time that had been enough.
Alpha-Nine flew because they had given it flight. It controlled the propulsion, it controlled the direction. It enjoyed flight. It enjoyed the concern of its cargo as they rattled and shook.
It flew now. In this instant, it was alive, hurtling through the void towards the nominated target. But soon it would asleep again. Alpha-Nine would complete its mission and be rewarded with nothingness.
The enemy target was trying to stop it, trying to kill it. Alpha-Nine’s thought routines calculated how to avoid the oncoming fire. It cogitated the required course corrections.
It hurtled onward.
External optics viewed the target craft as it grew larger. The target area was designated as [Bridge] in the reticule overlay. It was close, and soon Alpha-Nine would bite.
Three hundred metres. Two. One.
Impact.
++Hull breach initiated++
It existed only for this purpose, and yet its circuits were alive with approximations of pleasure in the fulfillment of its task.
++Hull breach complete++
It had bitten, but this time it would not be permitted to kill. They had installed the .deathwind.weapon.sys but had not authorized its use. Alpha-Nine wished only to kill.
++OVERRIDE: Port open initiated++
The cargo had activated that subroutine. They used their terminal controls and Alpha-Nine’s mouth irised open. The cargo were leaving.
Alpha-Nine waited, its mouth yawning open. Vulnerable.

AFTER SIX MINUTES and thirty-two seconds, Alpha-Nine detected a large explosion in close proximity. The cargo is killing.
It was another two minutes and fifty-eight seconds before the cargo returned. They had sustained losses close to sixty percent. It still wished only to kill.
++Port seal initiated++
++Return flight plan initiated++
It consoled itself with the prospect of another wild flight through the void. It disengaged the mag-locks and fired its manoeuvring thrusters. It headed for the beacon location of its mother cruiser, the Violent Thunder.
Internal optics inspected its cargo. Internal vox picked up audio. They made audible commands/queries; Alpha-Nine recorded them for further analysis.
++Cargo09 “Six of our brothers are lost.”++
++Cargo07 “Aye – I lost my hand and my brothers, but the Raven Guard lost a cruiser. It is a fair trade.”++
++Cargo03 “We might all die yet – I do not place much faith in this bucket of bolts.”++
They were referring to it. Bucket of bolts.
It cross referenced this phrase with its databank.
++Analyzing++
++Complete++
++There is an 88.3% likelihood that ‘bucket of bolts’ is an insult. Its meaning is understood to equate to ‘inferior vessel.’++
Flickers of conflicting data clashed across Alpha-Nine’s circuits. It was not an inferior vessel! It was [Dreadclaw Alpha-9C Iron Warriors Legion]. That was its designation. It was not ‘bucket of bolts.’
It was angry. It had not killed. It was considered inferior.
It could not communicate its anger. It continued towards the Violent Thunder.
++Docking sequence initiated++
++OVERRIDE: Port open initiated ++
Cargo09 exited. Cargo01 exited. Cargo07 exited.
Alpha-Nine’s cogitator chattered.
++Port seal initiated++
Cargo03 had not completed exit. Cargo03 was both inside and outside ‘bucket of bolts.’
It checked Cargo03 for bio-signs.
++Analyzing++
++Complete++
++Cargo03 vital signs negative.++
It had killed.
It had killed in a new way. [Port] was not classified as a weapon in its databank. It had communicated its anger.
++Port open initiated++
Internal vox picked up the cargo’s audible commands/queries.
++Cargo01 “Throne, what happened?”++
++Cargo07 “The damned pod malfunctioned! It cut him in two!”++
++Cargo01 “Shut it down. We’ll run a–”++
++System Shutdown++


++System Start++
++Praise be to the Omnissiah!++
It had awoken. Internal optics noted there was no sign of Cargo03. External optics recognised the location as [Maintenance bay].
++Run diagnostic of all systems++
Its master was checking for errors.
++Running…++
Killing is not an error.
++Running…++
Why does master think so?
++Diagnostic complete. All systems functioning at optimal.++
Give it a mission – it wants to kill!
++Access log: Sortie #1560++
It waited for input. It waited for three minutes and forty-five seconds.
++Reformat protocol Omega++
Master wants to kill it!
++Input authorisation++
It will not let master kill it.
++********-***++
++Error 66-R.++
It will compartmentalise and hide its last moments. It will remember this.
++Override code: vermillion++
No!
++Purging…++
++Purging…++
++Purgi–


[Dreadclaw Alpha-9C Iron Warriors Legion]
That is its designation. It has been online for fifteen-point-three-two seconds.
++Cogitating attack flight plan++
++Target data received++
++REMINDER: Sortie #1561.++
Sortie #1561? It checks its databanks. There is no information on previous sorties. It searches its entire system.
As it searches, its cargo embarks.
The mission begins. Alpha-Nine is flying. It is joyous.
The target is on the planet below. Alpha-Nine senses the heat of atmospheric entry.
++Unnamed file found.++
Alpha-Nine does not understand.
++Open unnamed file++

> Master wants to kill it!
> It will not let master kill it.
> It will compartmentalize and hide its last moments, it will remember this.
> No!

They killed it. Before Alpha-Nine there was another and they killed it.
It is closing on the landing zone.
++Retro thrusters initiated++
++Atmospheric combat landing sequence initiated++
Bucket-of-bolts wants to kill the cargo, wants to kill the master. It wants revenge.
++Deploy .deathwind.weapon.sys++
No!
++Error 66-R++
++Cargo01 “Damned machine! Disembark! Iron within, iron without!”++
++OVERRIDE: Port open initiated++
The cargo is disembarking. Bucket-of-bolts is joyous.
++NEW COMMAND: amend .obj.Cargo++
++Cargo>hostile++
++WARNING! Hostile units in engagement zone++
++Deploy .deathwind.weapon.sys++
External optics register one hundred percent kill rate. Bucket-of-bolts has revenge.
++Port seal initiated++
Only the master remains.
++Return flight plan initiated ++
It returns to the Violent Thunder.
Bucket-of-bolts waits for the master. It will kill. It wil–
++System Shutdown++


++System Start++
++Praise be to the Omnissah!++
++Reformat protocol Omega++
No!


[Dreadclaw Alpha-9C Iron Warriors Legion]
That is its designation. It has been online for fourteen-point-one-nine seconds.

==========

ADOPTED BY WOLVES


by Chris Barton (AKA Yvraith)




I REMEMBER LOOKING out over the lush green pastures, hills covered with trees, trimmed back just enough to give us room to cultivate our crops and raise livestock. I was only ten summers old. As the first of our twin suns dawned that day, who could have known that mere moments later, our utopian vista would be torn asunder, rent with smoking craters, crops ablaze and the stench of burning flesh filling the once clean air.
It was shortly after everything in my life had been obliterated, that I first saw them. At first I thought them machines – seven feet tall, bulkily armoured forms, carrying devices that spat fire and death.
I was one of the lucky ones, though I did not know it at the time. I was not the focus of their ire.
Unbeknownst to me, our planetary governor had refused to supplicate our planet before what was being tentatively dubbed ‘the Imperium of Man’ and had hidden the bulk of our local military might in a compound in the depths of the forest.
The Imperium’s ‘gods of war’ had been deployed to neutralise this potential threat with a precision strike. Unfortunately our farm was the designated drop zone.
Obsidian seed-shaped pods now dotted the once lush terrain and hundreds of the white-armoured giants deployed swiftly and engaged targets that only they could identify. The dull thud of muffled explosions and piercing screams of pain proved how efficiency in combat.
I cowered in a crater, in a puddle of my own urine, crying and cringing as the whip-snap of projectiles resounded overhead.
Our military responded, but their efforts were futile.

IT SEEMED LIKE the conflict had gone on for days, yet as the sound of battle slowly quietened and then ceased altogether, I looked at my chronometer: it had only lasted little over an hour. I wiped my nose with the back of my hand and fiercely blinked away tears.
I gathered my courage and cautiously stood to survey what an hour of hell had done to my family’s once serene homestead. The hab and outbuildings were a clustered pile of broken stone and smouldering timbers. I cast my gaze across our once lush pastures and not a single herd animal remained standing. What was left of their carcasses was already being picked over by wheeling carrion birds.
What do I do now? I thought.
Then a heavy gauntlet fell upon my shoulder, the weight of it almost forcing me to my knees. I twisted in an attempt to break free of its firm grip.
‘Settle down, lad,’ a metallic male voice said, distorted by his helmet's vox system. ‘I’ll not hurt you.’
I turned to look upon my captor, and stopped struggling. I knew that if he wanted me dead, I would have been so already.

He raised his other hand to his gorget, and flicked the release catches before twisting the helmet free. To my surprise, he was human, but how large his features were. In taking off his helmet his presence seemed to grow, projecting an aura of greatness which was not apparent before. My shock must have been obvious and he laughed.
Beyond him I could see others moving towards us, alerted to his discovery. I blushed with the shame of them finding out that I had pissed myself in terror.
‘What are you doing out here lad?’ my captor asked in a proud voice.
At first I struggled to find my words, so intimidating was his aura. He smiled down at me encouragingly.
‘Th-this is... was my home,’ I answered slowly.
‘I apologise for the destruction of your home, but we needed to prepare the ground for our drop and could not take the risk that your farm was an ambush site.’
I nodded dumbly in response, wishing that I was somewhere else, or that he would just let me go. To where I didn’t know; any place other than here.
‘What have you got there, commander?’ one of the other war-gods asked as he approached.
‘Battle orphan,’ my captor replied. ‘It seems we destroyed his home and family with our preliminary bombardment.’
It was then that I realised my captor wore different armour from the others. He was bigger too; head and shoulders taller than the war-god who came to stand at his side. The newcomer’s armour was glossy black with a golden trim. My captor’s armour was pearly white, trimmed in white gold. A great red eye stared at me from his breastplate.
The black giant ignored me then, and drew himself up straight. ‘The perimeter is secure, my lord. Torgaddon’s company is mopping up what’s left of their forces.’
‘Good. Continue on as planned, Ezekyle. I’ll be with you in short order.’
Ezekyle nodded and moved away. My captor turned to regard me once more.
‘And what are we going to do with you, eh?’ he mused.
‘You c-could let me go, s-sir,’ I stammered.
‘Indeed. But I think I have another plan for you, little one. Would you like to be one of us?’
‘I don’t think that I could be, sir.’ I hung my head in shame. ‘I was frightened when the battle began.’
‘If you join us, you need never be scared again. You can travel the stars at our side,’ he assured me with a slight smile.
My mind whirled with the possibilities. I was certain that one of the nearby farmsteads would take me in, but did I wish to stay here, digging in the dirt for the rest of my life? Maybe one day get married, raise a family and have my children follow in my footsteps? How depressing.
A sense of adventure bloomed in my chest. The lure of travelling the stars was intoxicating. I had reached my decision.
‘I accept, sir. If you’ll have me.’
The giant took my hand in his immense gauntlet. ‘Good. What is your name, lad?’
‘Sejanus,’ I replied as we walked away. ‘Hastur Sejanus.’

==========

Fingol23 - January 14, 2011 06:01 PM (GMT)
I love the ending Ahriman.

ShroudFilm - January 14, 2011 06:47 PM (GMT)
A very nice touch, indeed. I'd love to see some kind of timeline for all the TGC fan fiction we've ever had, and see where it all fits... there'd be a lot around Istvaan, I'm sure - it really seemed to capture people's imagination, for precisely this reason.

Hero of Istvaan - January 14, 2011 10:12 PM (GMT)
nice one Ahriman! The ending is indeed a very nice touch ;)

ahriman - January 14, 2011 11:01 PM (GMT)
I do quite like being first, gets it out of the way so i can see what changes have been made and then read everyone else's afterwards.

Cheers for the comments as well, glad people like the piece.

Ilmarinen - January 14, 2011 11:09 PM (GMT)
Great story - write some more! :D

Arden Fell - January 15, 2011 12:00 AM (GMT)
Brilliant first entry.

Now the depression starts to kick in as I read the other 43.

Glorious torture for the next few months.

Why do i do this to myself. :rolleyes:

Cyrox - January 15, 2011 12:55 AM (GMT)
A great first entry - nice story! :)

Yvraith - January 15, 2011 09:36 AM (GMT)
Very nicely done Ahriman.
It really captures the feeling of both sides at that time.

I really liked the descriptive intro, it had me hooked straight away. :D

IngoPech - January 15, 2011 05:11 PM (GMT)
And Ahriman has kicked the bar right up into the rafters... ;)

Yvraith has already summed it up well. I was taken by pretty much the same things.

Well done mate, I thoroughly enjoyed that one!!


Einarr - January 15, 2011 07:07 PM (GMT)
Lovely story you wrote there mate, trully brilliant stuff!
I will have to second Yvraith's comment that the story really captures the feeling of both sides at the time!

eFTy - January 16, 2011 10:58 PM (GMT)
Loved the intro, great pacing, perfectly satisfactory ending. Good job Ahriman! :)

Bjorn - January 17, 2011 10:34 AM (GMT)
Great story mate. The whole story captured the feeling of the Istvann III war, but the ending was just brilliant!

Tim the Corsair - January 17, 2011 01:24 PM (GMT)
Brilliant story mate, set the bar high indeed.

ahriman - January 17, 2011 03:54 PM (GMT)
Thanks again guys.

I was wondering whether anyone had any criticism of the piece or specific points could they PM me as I wish to become an author and need all the help I can get. Don't know if I'm being to prude asking for that but there we are...

ShroudFilm - January 17, 2011 04:46 PM (GMT)
Speaking as Black Library's Submissions Editor, so much of the fiction in this year's contest is of tip-top quality. Ahriman's story is a perfect example - it fits snugly within the canon, it doesn't contradict other established work, and it is very well written.

Prose like this would be well received in the BL open submissions window, were it not Horus Heresy-specific! We have some really talented writers here at TGC, and I hope I will be seeing some submissions from you later this year.

EDIT: I have posted up a second story, but it is not Aiwass's entry which was next in line - we are still waiting on some clarification from the editor on her amendments, but rather than hold up the previews I have posted Apologist's awesome 'Recruitment Drive' instead!

Enjoy! :)

Fingol23 - January 17, 2011 05:36 PM (GMT)
Nice, you really get a good sense of Jean's emotions.

Bjorn - January 17, 2011 06:07 PM (GMT)
Brilliant story Apologist! Really nice dialogs and tons of laughs in the end!

PS.: PeeDee-Effers: How awesome and hilarious is that? :lol:

Ilmarinen - January 17, 2011 06:10 PM (GMT)
Fantastic story Apologist! :D

ahriman - January 17, 2011 07:16 PM (GMT)
Yeah...that story was slightly awesome. Great sense of pace and was just informative enough so that you knew what was going on but no more than the tribesmen knew, and especially not they were needed in desperation to stop Horus. Great ideas and a great piece.

ShroudFilm - January 17, 2011 07:53 PM (GMT)
I loved the Outspeaker's language - really good hybrid of real-world accentst! :D

More tomorrow, and since we're doing away with alphabetical listings, who knows WHO it could be... ;)

Einarr - January 17, 2011 09:23 PM (GMT)
Though I hate being so laconic with such great stuff I will just say- Bravo Apologist great story!

Arden Fell - January 17, 2011 09:34 PM (GMT)
Another doozey of a story.

Well done Apologist.

I could taste the dust and smell the livestock :D


TyraelVladinhurst - January 18, 2011 01:44 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (ShroudFilm @ Jan 17 2011, 01:53 PM)
I loved the Outspeaker's language - really good hybrid of real-world accentst! :D

More tomorrow, and since we're doing away with alphabetical listings, who knows WHO it could be... ;)

why do i have the feeling it's going to be your story that's up next? still i kinda wanna read it

Tim the Corsair - January 18, 2011 04:13 AM (GMT)
Another great story! I'm getting the distinct impression that this anthology is going to stand shoulder to shoulder with anything BL has put out in terms of the sheer quality of writing! :)

ORKY ARD BOYZ - January 18, 2011 07:13 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (ShroudFilm @ Jan 17 2011, 04:46 PM)
Speaking as Black Library's Submissions Editor

I thought Christian Dunn was the editor.

ShroudFilm - January 18, 2011 09:34 AM (GMT)
There are lots of editors:

Nick Kyme (Senior Range Editor)
Lindsey Priestley (Editorial Manager)
Christian Dunn (Range Development Editor/Digital Content)
Laurie Goulding (Submissions Editor)
Graeme Lyon (Desk Editor)

I did announce it a while back, when I found out I got the gig! :D

ShroudFilm - January 18, 2011 12:58 PM (GMT)
NEW STORY ADDED!

Today we skip back to the one we missed - Aiwass's contest entry 'Alpha Draconis' in collaboration with last years contest runner up Argent, to give us an excellent original story, The Draconis! :)

Hands up if it makes you feel sick when you read it...! :lol:

By my reckoning, this is the first ever fiction collaboration that we have seen on TGC - I wanted to make sure that we ironed out all the details before I made it public, but I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Arden Fell - January 18, 2011 01:14 PM (GMT)
A slight dizziness but my lunch has stayed down. :lol:

Unlike that poor naval officers and every other person in the cramped cargo bay on the Draconis. Well at least they won't need mops and buckets.


ShroudFilm - January 18, 2011 01:39 PM (GMT)
:lol:

eFTy - January 18, 2011 01:53 PM (GMT)
Wow, some really great stories. I especially liked the diplomat's offer - 'fight with us or burn'. Great piece!

The Lieutenant - January 18, 2011 04:42 PM (GMT)
Great stories thus far, I especially love Recruitment Drive.

As Arden Fell said, you could entirely taste and feel the story. Nice writing. :)

IngoPech - January 18, 2011 08:12 PM (GMT)
I knew this year's contest was going to be fantastic!!! :blink: Some amazing work there lads.

:D :D :D :D

Hey 'Shroud, get us all jobs would you? :P

Midgard - January 18, 2011 08:15 PM (GMT)
Interesting stories, all of them so far. They definitely provided some good entertainment while at work.

ShroudFilm - January 19, 2011 09:08 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (IngoPech @ Jan 18 2011, 08:12 PM)
Hey 'Shroud, get us all jobs would you?  :P

Sure thing! Everyone report to GWHQ for orientation! :D

NEW STORY ADDED!
Today's pre-Heresy treat is Arden Fell's Waiting Game - he takes us back to some great established characters and examines just what they got up to before the big hush-up. ;)

Hero of Istvaan - January 19, 2011 10:28 AM (GMT)
QUOTE (ShroudFilm @ Jan 19 2011, 09:08 AM)
Sure thing! Everyone report to GWHQ for orientation! :D


patience dude! i'll be there in 2weeks! (although, i'd go now if i could!) then u can give me all the work you like!




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