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 UNKNOWNby 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:
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 DRACONISby 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 DRIVEby 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 GAMEby 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.
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 BLOODby 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 HYDRAby 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 SHOESby 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 LIBRARIANby 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.’
==========BASTIONby 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.
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.