Warhammer 30K: Forward Into Darkness

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Warhammer 30K: Forward Into Darkness

Post by Kuja » 2014-02-23 12:42am

More Great Crusade-era fanfic, this time starring the men of the Imperial Fists.

The Horus Heresy

Forward Into Darkness

In 1519, the Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez landed his small force of 500 soldiers and 100 sailors on the shores of the Yucatan Peninsula in what is now Mexico. They arrived in 11 ships, and they were far, far from their homeland thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean. Their purpose was to conquer to Aztecs and seize their vast stores of gold.

Upon disembarking from the ships, Cortez announced a decision guaranteed to “motivate” his troops by putting them, quite literally, in a do-or-die position. He ordered all the ships burned, thereby cutting off any possible escape should events go poorly for them. They had no choice: Succeed or die.


Shouting erupted along the breadth of the room, followed immediately by a clatter of spilled cutlery and then the solid sound of a solid sound of a fist connecting with its target. More clatter followed, silencing all conversation in the officers' mess as men looked to see what had caused the sudden commotion.

Sigismund felt hands close around his arms. Instinctively he fought them, pulling against the grip of his fellow captains as they hauled him back from the man he'd struck. Like himself however, his captors were men of the Imperial Fists, Camba-Diaz at his right and Efried at his left, and the pair of them kept an iron grip on their fellow captain as they pulled him back first one step, then another, until a fair separation was gained between Sigismund and the object of his ire.

"YOU DARE!" the First Captain of the Fists was shouting, nearly insensate. "YOU DARE! YOU DARE!"

"Enough, First Captain," Efried growled in his ear.

"Sig! Enough! Get ahold of yourself!" Camba-Diaz snarled in the other, giving the man a shake. The warnings of the two men - Sigismund's closest comrades in the Legion, if truth were told - had their effect, and the First Captain soon ceased to pull against their grip. His features, however, remained twisted with fury, and there was little doubt that if looks could kill, his target would have been reduced to a smattering of ash upon the floor.

The man in question rose from the wreckage of his chair, accepting a hand up from the stone-faced Captain Polux. He turned towards Sigismund and lifted a hand to wipe a spot of blood from the corner of his mouth. The First Captain recognized a cold fury in his eyes and he shook his arms from the grip of Efried and Camba-Diaz. The two men released him, though they continued to hover nearby, plainly not trusting Sigismund's mastery of his temper.

At another time, Sigismund might have been insulted by their implied insult, but at the moment he had no mind for such things. Instead he lifted a hand and pointed an accusing finger at the captain of the 91st. "You," he said in a voice full of suppressed rage, "will recant that statement."

"I will not," growled the man.

Sigismund bristled once more. "You run dangerously close to the edge of treason, Captain Halbrecht!" he snarled.

"It is not treason to speak the truth, First Captain Sigismund," the other man replied, straightening and squaring his shoulders as if in challenge.

"Now you dare to insult me openly by insinuating I am blind?" Sigismund roared. He took a step forward and Efried and Camba-Diaz edged closer. "I say again, you will recant your remarks, and you will make apology to me."

Halbrecht reached behind himself to clasp his right wrist with his left hand, lifting his chin in defiance. "I will not, First Captain."

Sigismund took another step forward and reached out with a hand that trembled in repressed fury, poking a fingertip into Halbrecht's chest. "Then I call upon you to meet me in the ring, Captain Halbrecht," he said, his voice low and dangerous. "I demand the satisfaction of seeing you defend your accusations with your blade."

"Now that," Halbrecht replied, meeting the First Captain's accusatory gaze, "I will agree to."


The two men led the way from the mess with a large knot of the VII Legion's cadre of officers following in their wake, leaving the scuttling servitors to clean up the debris created by the violent outburst. Sigismund ground his teeth with every step of the journey, his fists clenched so that the veins stood out beneath his skin.

They threw open the doors to the training grounds, and just as had happened earlier, all movement came to a stop as eyes were drawn to the sight of the Legion's commanders entering, incongruously dressed in their service uniforms rather than the ceramite plate of the Astartes. Captain Demetrius spoke a few blunt words of Necromundan Van Saar hive-cant and without question the rank and file men dropped whatever occupied them and began to proceed out, leaving the hall to the officers.

"Choice of weaponry is yours, Halbrecht," Sigismund said, making for the closest ring. Halbrecht diverted just enough to retrieve a pair of shockblades from the racks, flinging one across to the First Captain who caught it neatly by the handle. As they entered the ring, Sigismund was struck by the notion that Legion Master Gheer of the XII would have enjoyed being present for this sight. The pit-fighting traditions of the War Hounds were a far cry from the practice duels of the VII Legion, and Sigismund had disapproved of the bloodthirstiness that characterized their usage. Now here he was, reenacting that very blood-hungry attitude.

For a moment his heart wavered, and he looked across the ring to see Halbrecht removing his tunic and handing the folded cloth off to Alexis Polux. The captain of the 91st was broad, even for a Space Marine, and his appearance typified that of the Legion recruits taken from the primarch's homeworld of Inwit. His skin was dark olive, his head cleanly shaved as was his blunt, boxy face. Although they might have been brother captains in the same Legion, Sigismund could see little echo of his own patrician features in the man's bulldoggish face. In that moment he was quite certain he'd never seen a man quite so ugly in the ranks of the VII Legion.

Sigismund likwise shed his tunic, handing it off to Efried as Camba-Diaz stepped into the center of the ring, glowering with disapproval at first Halbrecht and then Sigismund. The First Captain sense his comrade's silent urging for him to relent, but Sigismund only rolled his shoulders and depressed the rune of his shockblade to activate it. Camba-Diaz pressed his lips together and looked away before speaking. "You'll duel to first yield. You will respect that yield," he emphasized, looking back to Sigismund to ensure the words registered. Then he stepped back and chopped a hand.

Like an attack dog released from the leash, Sigismund charged forwards, crossing the distance between himself and his opponent in an eyeblink. Halbrecht brought his sword up just in time to deflect the First Captain's opening blow, shockblades sizzling with electric power. From the first moments of the fight Halbrecht was on the back foot, retreating from the ferocity of Sigismund's assault. The First Captain was the finest bladesman of the VII Legion, one of a small handful whose skills eclipsed the massed ranks of the Astartes, and he drove his fellow captain back and back, Halbrecht urgently parrying his attacks as he sought an opening to exploit.

Sigismund landed the first blow, laying the edge of his shockblade across Halbrecht's shoulder. Flesh sizzled and the captain of the 91st groaned, but even as he did so he stabbed the tip of his own sword into Sigismund's midsection in retaliation. The native of Inwit rallied then, and leaning into the agonizing touch of the shockblade pushed the First Captain back, stabbing Sigismund over and over until the Terran-born man threw him back and laid another harsh stroke across his chest.

Halbrecht fell back and in a moment Sigismund was upon him, striking at his chest and shoulders with a series of vicious blows that knocked Halbrecht to one knee. He managed to retaliate briefly, cracking his blade against Sigismund's knee, but as he fell the First Captain pushed Halbrecht down to the mat and there continued to rain blows upon him, battering down Halbrecht's attempt at a guard.

For the second time that evening, hands seized him and drew Sigismund off the fallen captain. He lost his grip on his shockblade as his wrist was seized and shouted in protestration - "we're not finished! This is not finished!"

"It is for now," Demetrius replied as he stepped in to take Halbrecht by the shoulder.

Once more Sigismund shook off the hands that held him. "Again, Captain Halbrecht, I call on you to recant your statement."

The Inwit native shook his head and rubbed idly at his collarbone before rolling his arm. "Again, First Captain, I refuse," he replied.

Sigismund seethed. "I had you dead to rights under my blade, Halbrecht-"

"But I did not yield," the man interrupted. "And whether I would have or not has no bearing of the veracity of my statement. Might does not make right, First Captain."

Sigismand was about to retort to this when a softly-spoken voice interrupted. "First Captain," Efried said, drawing his attention. The captain of the 3rd held his personal vox to his ear. "Lord Dorn wishes your presence in the briefing chamber."

Sigismund ground his teeth in frustration and departed without another word.


The doors of the lift sprang apart and Sigismund was confronted by the sight of two men bedecked in Astartes plate. Neither wore their helm, but even if they had Sigismund could have hardly failed to recognize Efried and Camba-Diaz. The two men were his oldest comrades and the closest thing a First Captain could have to friends, but neither of them were smiling.

"Am I being surrounded?" Sigismund questioned as he stepped from the lift.

"Your conduct last night was inexcusable," Camba-Diaz said bluntly.

Sigismund frowned. "I am entitled to defend-"

"Sig," the Second Captain interrupted, "what you did went far, far beyond defense, and you know it." Sigismund bristled at his friend's tone. Of all the men in the Legion, Camba-Diaz was the only Imperial Fist with the nerve to refer to Sigismund by the familiar shorthand, and at times when the First Captain's temper grew short - like now - the habit irked him to no end. "You were out of line."

Sigismund took a breath to cool his nerves and looked to Efried's frowning face. "And do you agree with this?" he asked. Efried simply stared him down, dark eyes unwavering, and it was Sigismund who looked away. How do you manage to say so much and yet nothing at all, he thought, his own mental tone uncharitable. "So then, what do you intend?" he asked.

The two men glanced at one another. "Nothing," Camba-Diaz replied.

The First Captain blinked in surprise. Of all the answers he had expected... "Nothing?" he echoed.

"This isn't supposed to be a confrontation, Sig," the Second Captain said. "Call it a reminder. A reminder that we're your brothers, and as such we trust you. On the battlefield we trust you to have our backs, and off it we trust you to uphold the honor of the Legion. So we trust that you'll do the right thing here. That's all."

With that, Camba-Diaz turned to leave. Efried moved to follow him, but stopped. "Men of the Legiones Astartes think of themselves as warriors," he said, his low voice bringing Camba-Diaz to a halt. "But that is not all we are. We do not seek battle for the sake of our own desire to do battle. We do so because battle must be sought in the name of a higher purpose. Though we may be warriors at heart, beyond that we are soldiers. We are trained, organized, and disciplined with the expectation that we will be professional in our duty, savage though it is. So be professional, First Captain."

With that, the Third Captain offered a brief salute and the pair departed, leaving Sigismund to his thoughts.


He found Halbrecht at one of the bastion's highest balconies, an open-air overlook that boasted a panoramic view of the Himalay in the distance. The captain of the 91st was in counsel with several of his men, and as Sigismund closed one of them noticed the approaching figure and warned Halbrecht with a tap at the captain's pauldron.

The First Captain stopped at a discreet distance as his opposite number turned to regard him and then dismissed his men with a wave of his hand. The pair of them stood in silence as the men of Halbrecht's company departed, and only once they were gone did the captain nod his head. "First Captain," he said in greeting, his tone guarded.

"Captain Halbrecht," Sigismund replied, stepping closer. He paused just beyond an arm's length from his fellow officer and, with a slow breath characteristic of a man steeling himself for a very unpleasant task, extended his open hand. "I came to make my apologies. I continue to disagree most virulently with your statements, however my reaction was not only unwarranted in the extreme, it was unbecoming of an officer of the VII Legion."

Halbrecht regarded Sigismund's hand for a moment before reaching out to clasp it, shaking firmly. "I accept your apology, First Captain," he said evenly, but before Sigismund could say more he continued, "not because I agree that it is necessary, but so that there may be no bad blood between us."

"Noted," Sigismund said as he let Halbrecht's hand drop. "But in that vein, I must ask..." He stepped forwards to join Halbrecht at the edge of the balcony, looking briefly out at the snow-capped mountains. "In the Emperor's name, Halbrecht, why would you say such a thing to begin with?"

Halbrecht pressed his lips together as he turned to stand beside the First Captain. "It is ironic now to think about it," he said slowly. "But in fact I only spoke so brazenly because I believed you might agree with me, First Captain."

Sigismund was left agog. "Throne of Terra, how?" he exclaimed.

Helbrecht stroked his chin in thought before replying. "Consider my thinking on the matter, First Captain. It begins with that scar upon your face."

Reminded of it, Sigismund reached up to touch the bottom of the scar that ran from just beneath his right eye to the level of his jaw. His thumb stroked the dark line and brought to mind the image of the man that had inflicted it. "And how does that relate to your theory?" he questioned.

"I had heard the story behind its making," Halbrecht said. "That in a practice bout Legion Master Gheer inflicted it so that the mark would serve as a reminder that no Astartes should ever consider his experience 'sufficient' for his tasks."

"And he was right," Sigismund agreed. The scarred flesh of his cheek crinkled slightly with a smile at the memory of Gheer's axe slashing at his face. "As guardians of humanity we must never permit ourselves to become complacent."

"I agree," Halbrecht said, nodding. "Pursuant to that philosophy, I have often heard you espouse the theory of the eternal crusade."

Sigismund was amused. "Is that what they're calling it now?" he asked.

"Informally, as such," Halbrecht replied with a brief hint of his own smile. "To summate, the Great Crusade will never experience a final 'end.' The nature of the universe we live in demands eternal vigiliance; the greater humanity will always need the Legiones Astartes for protection against the threats that lurk in the outer darkness."

"A fair summation, yes," Sigismund agreed with a slight nod.

"And from there, First Captain, we draw to the conclusion I espoused last night in the mess." He lifted a hand and gestured towards the distant mountains. "Terra is a dying world," he said, repeated the phrase that had seen him knocked from his chair.

Sigismund frowned deeply, fighting to restrain his urge to repeat that scenario. "Terra is a world that holds much value for our species," he said instead, his voice tight with repressed emotion. It is our birthplace, our cradle, and it is our link to millennia of history. It is the seat of governance for the entire Imperium, the home of the Astronomican by which every human ship finds its way amongst the stars. How could you consider it a 'dying' world, Captain Halbrecht?"

"The second time our Legion visited Terra, I was struck by how much had changed in just a few years," Halbrecht replied. "The Forbiddon Fortess had swollen to encompass a full third of the Himalay. The continent of Astralia had been entirely handed over to the Navigator Houses. The transformation of Nomerica into the conglomeration-hives was nearing completion, and the Mako Gulf had been entirely wiped from the maps by the process."

"The demands of progress," Sigismund said. "What is your point?"

"I was made curious of the details of these monumental changes," the other captain replied. "I found that in a few short years, the importation of foodstuffs from offworld had increased by nearly two hundred million tons. Manufactured goods from Mars demanded an increase of more than ten billion crowns. The Black Ships had upped their schedule by nearly sixty percent and were still building additional vessels to meet the demands of the Adeptus Astra Telepathica."

"Again, the demands of the Great Crusade," Sigismund said, his tone a bit curt. "What are you driving at, Halbrecht?"

"First Captain," Halbrecht said slowly, "imagine if all that were to halt."

Sigismund opened his mouth to reply, closed it, and opened it again as he found that he had no words with which to reply to the other man's statement. "Impossible," he finally managed. "The Imperium would never cut support to Terra."

"But I think you see my point, First Captain," Halbrecht pressed. "With each passing year, Terra becomes more and more a world on life support. It drains resources from elsewhere in the Imperium and produces nothing. Nothing tangible, I mean to say," he continued quickly as Sigismund prepared a reply. "History is an intangible, as is sentiment. Yes, Terra is the seat of government, but that could be replicated elsewhere if need be; it is not an intrinsic value of the world. Terra exists to be Terra, and nothing else. It contributes virtually nothing to the greater Imperium."

"The Legiones Astartes were born on Terra," Sigismund replied sharply. "Without Terran men and women to form the core of the Imperial Army, the Great Crusade would have never existed."

"But that, too, is becoming a thing of the past, First Captain," Halbrecht replied. "When I was inducted to the Legion, only one man in four came from a world other than Terra. Now that ratio is reversed. Only one in four Imperial Fists is Terran by birth, and we are an outlier amongst the Legiones Astartes. There are no Terrans left at all in the VI or XVII Legions, and they may be counted upon a hand or two in the XIV or VIII. It is perhaps a cruel thing to say, First Captain, but men like you are a dying breed."

Sigismund was silent for a long moment, the muscles of his jaw bunched as he clenched his teeth. "And so then, Captain Halbrecht," he said with carefully measured calm, "what do you see, when you look to the future of my homeworld?"

"In a way you are right," First Captain," Halbrecht said, his tone likewise cautious. "Humankind will never abandon Terra. It is too entrenched in our psyche, too firmly-placed as the foudation of the Imperium for us to even consider it. But it will become a weakness, rather than a strength. A target for our enemies, which they will strike at and force us to heel. To utilize the philosophy of the V Primarch for a moment, Terra is our center. But as Astartes, if we are to endure an endless crusade we must forsake the very idea of a center. We must move as the demands of war dictate, carry with us our arms and our supplies, and in doing so deny our enemies the chance to tie us down."

"You place the genius of another primarch above that of your own?" Sigismund questioned, only half in jest.

"Yes," Halbrecht said without hesitation. "And you do likewise, First Captain," he added at Sigismund's raised brow. "I know that Lord Dorn disagrees with your theory of the eternal crusade. Like Horus and Guilliman he anticipates a day when the Legiones Astartes will be allowed to rest."

Sigismund raised his hand to ward off the outburst, smiling slightly. "I consider myself rebuffed, Captain Halbrecht," he said.

Halbrecht took a breath and nodded. "My apologies, First Captain."

"Be at ease, Halbrecht," Sigismund replied, lowering his hand. "We still disagree on the fundamental nature of Terra and its significance to the Great Crusade, I think. That said, I understand your thoughts better now than I did last night. Again, I would like to apologize for my conduct. That we may stand here and hold this conversation shows that I was well and truly out of line."

"Accepted once more, First Captain," Halbrecht said with a nod. "Even given the nature of our fight it was an honor to step into the ring with you."

Sigismund chuckled. "Perhaps we'll speak again on this matter in the future. Until then, I will consider what you've said."

"I will look forward to it, First Captain," Halbrecht said with a nod.


Sigismund paused in the midst of his stride and cast his gaze upon the distant walls of the Palace. Their mighty faces remained scarred, blackened by the bombardment unleashed during the siege of the traitor Legions. The lands around the great walls had likewise been left scarred and torn from the devastating conflict. The thought struck him that it was like looking at the skeletal foundations of a home burned to the ground.

He turned to regard the man beside him. "A world on life support, you once said," he said grimly.

His friend scowled, an expression that twisted the scar tissue lining his face. "I never thought it would become so literal," replied Castellan Halbrecht.

Sigismund nodded in agreement and resumed his pace, walking past rank after rank of Astartes warriors. Their armor had been painted black, great Germanic crosses emblazoned on their pauldrons. Many also wore tabards that bore the same device in echo of Sigismund's own garment. Just over a thousand men; a full chapter of the Adeptus Astartes, the vast majority battle-hardened veterans of the Siege of Terra and survivors of the ferocious conflict at the Iron Cage.

"Look well upon it," the Lord Marshal called out as he and his retinue passed through the gathered columns. "It's the last chance you'll get in this lifetime."

Distantly, he thought of his absent comrades - Efried, and Camba-Diaz. He would miss them both, and Rogal Dorn himself most of all. Halbrecht's presence was his sole comfort.

Ahead of him, the shuttles idled upon the great landing pads, waiting for the Black Templars to embark and there carry them up to where the fleet division given to them by the Imperial Fists fleet stood by to break orbit.

And it was there that the Eternal Crusade would truly begin.

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