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 Post subject: The Shadow War [40k]{ch8 begun} PostPosted: 2007-03-20 10:54am
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The Shadow War
by Feil



Prologue

“Damn.”

The little blasphemy cut the air of the situation room like a knife. Lord General Hasdrubal squeezed his eyes shut, disappointment and pain on his face. “Damn, damn, damn.”

Seven years, he thought bitterly. For seven long, bloody years, the forty worlds of Subsector Harkonne had suffered the ravages of 'holy' war. For seven years the Imperium had poured men and ships, tanks and artillery, even Titans and Space Marines into the war. But for all their efforts, for all their might, they were losing.

But Praven―he'd expected Praven to hold, by the Emperor! Praven had to hold.

How had everything gone so wrong?

Oh, it had been a contested system for years, now―the Enemy had corrupted the mining settlements and the crews of the in-system freighters near the beginning of the war; some of the first battles in the conflict that engulfed the subsector had been fought to keep that system from falling completely into Chaos hands. Within months, the Enemy had controlled over half the planet, and was working to establish the strategically-placed world as a staging point against the sector capitol itself.

But somehow, under the charismatic leadership of Lady Ecclesiarch Majora Jaavi, the loyalists on Praven had rallied to the Emperor's banner. They'd held the line, firm in the faith that the priest-politician had inspired in their hearts. They had dug themselves in for a long war, and for six brutal years attack after attack had broken against the void-shields and planetary lance batteries, against the sea-navy and the infantry.

And now, somehow, in a single week, the world had fallen. Hasdrubal looked down at the astropathic message he held crumpled in his hands. It was the last one received, dated as having been sent four days ago. A desperate cry for reinforcements. The continent had fallen, Emperor only knew how. Only one city held out. The Lady Ecclesiarch had been killed, gruesomely murdered in her quarters.

By now, the world would belong to the Enemy. And with Praven under Chaos control, the Enemy had their hands ready to throttle the life out of the entire subsector. The Imperium might hold out for a few more years, but Hasdrubal knew in his belly that the war was lost.

Pressing the fingers of one hand hard against his brow, he straightened, shrugging his uniform into place. He must present a firm image for the almost one billion men under his command. Cursing himself already for showing weakness before the score of officers of the situation room, he turned to a nearby officer clerical.

“What units do we have near the system?” he asked, tenor voice as bright and firm as if he had been asking the weather.

The officer straightened instinctively, pulling up the appropriate file on her station's dat-screen.

“The Cadian 492nd is on Karos... but the last report has them tied down, and their transports have been destroyed. And there's the cruiser squadron that's been raiding the enemy's shipping to Darius.”

And if the cruisers were transferred to Praven, then Darius would inevitably fall―and without the steady stream of munitions and vehicles turned out by the Darius forges, the Imperial war machine would grind to a halt in months.

“Nothing else?” he asked, trying―almost succeeding―to keep the disappointment from his voice.

“Nothing, sir,” she answered, her voice small. “Wait―here's something...” her voice had momentarily brightened; now it went flat. “Oh. Nevermi―”

“Out with it!” he demanded. Anything, no matter how slight... an escort cruiser? A regiment of Imperial Guard?

“A Thunderhawk, sir.”

He blinked.

“The Raven Guard asked Cruiser Squadron Theophorus to pick up a Thunderhawk gunship and its squad of Marines on its way through the Praven system. Astropathic message is dated seventeen days ago, and―”

“Thank you, captain,” he said, cutting her off. Theophorus had been ambushed and destroyed on its way into the system. The Thunderhawk would still be there, of course―low on fuel and provisions, and carrying a force that, while formidable, was only the estimated equivalent of a hundred-strong company of elite Guard.

Victoris aut Mortis, he intoned in his head, letting the words take on the fatalistic, sardonic tone he dared not give his speech. With emphasis on the latter.

---

Victoris aut Mortis. Victory or Death. The motto of the Raven Guard.

They are a brotherhood of the Adeptus Astartes―superhuman warrior-monks first created by the God Emperor of mankind ten thousand years ago.

They are a First Founding chapter: their Primarch Corax, from whom they draw their name and their symbol, was one of the twenty sons of the Emperor, created from his own genetic material.

They are not just superhuman―they are the grandchildren of a god.

They have served their Imperium for over ten thousand years. They have served through tragedy that drove their Primarch to despair, through catastrophic misjudgment that left them genetically scarred, through betrayals that have left them almost permanently under-strength.

Through it all, never once have they flinched from their duty.

They are a secretive brotherhood, masters of the art of rapid insertion behind enemy lines, humanity's experts at squad-level tactics and covert war, legendary for their skill at wreaking maximum havoc with minimum force. They are renowned across the galaxy for their ability to adapt to changing threats and alter their plans on the fly.

Most of all, they are Space Marines―the bringers of death.

The Lord General was right. It was impossible.

But in ten thousand years of glory and tragedy, honor and betrayal, victory and defeat, the fact that something was impossible has not once stopped a Space Marine.

Victoris aut Mortis. One or the other. No shades of gray, no middle ground, no third option.

Victory or Death.











Chapter 1

The armory was a place of peace. Here, with the lights dimmed to conserve energy, in the presence of the sacred weapons of the Astartes, a warrior could devote himself to contemplation and the prayers of wargear maintenance. The cold little room smelt of machine-unguent and the chrism oils used to treat moving parts and appease the machine-souls of weaponry; the air tasted of incense and clean sweat.

Here, kneeling before his pauldron, reposed a robed warrior. Tiny in his mighty hand, his paintbrush spread matte green armor-enamel over a nick in the green-colored rim. Green for Tactical, by the word of the Primarch himself―so many years ago.

No words stirred the lips of the warrior-monk. Labor is prayer enough. The careful, measured strokes of the paintbrush―held delicately, maneuvered from the wrist―those were prayer. Prayer to the machine-spirit of the armor. Prayer to the soul of Brother Issana, slain by the Orks one hundred and twenty-two years ago, whose armor this had been, and to the warrior whose it had been before Issana had taken up the bolter and chainsword. Prayer to the Primarch, by whose will and from whose blood the Raven Guard had been fathered―so many long years ago.

Prayer, too, to the Emperor, beloved by all, master of Mankind since time before time. For labor in His sake is prayer, and the maintenance of armor is but one task in the myriad labors of Holy War.
And so it was that the warrior was not angered when the door to the Thunderhawk's armory opened to display the form of Scout-Copilot Justinian, though it broke his revery―for the Scout would not disturb this holy place except to do the Emperor's work, and there could be no truer prayer.

“Lord Mellorus, we are on the heading. Current velocity will bring us to the target at 0443 hours with a relative vee of 5020 meters per second.”

“The target's acceleration remains constant?” Sergeant Ashe Mellorus' voice was a low, sonorous rumble like the sound of an upright bass; it filled the small armory as completely as did the scent of decades-old incense.

“Yes, my lord.”

“And our fuel reserves?”

“Four percent.”

The numbers spun in his head: fuel loss at optimum acceleration, velocity, reaction time, power requirements for the artificial gravity generators, the likely angle of weapons and the thrust provided by their discharge. Four percent would be enough―probably with a little to spare. The pilots and navigator had done well.

He said as much, smiling. Though he had not a trace of psychic power, he could imagine the grateful pride swelling in the novice's heart: he had felt the same, decades ago, when his own mentor had complimented him on a job well done.

Justinian bowed, and was about to leave when Ashe called his name.

“Scout Justinian―my left pauldron is out of reach. Bring it to me.”

Justinian answered, joy and sadness mingled in his voice: “Yes, my lord.” Seldom were the times a novice was granted to handle the armor of a Marine not his own mentor―and Justinian's mentor had fallen on Davin eight months before.

Ashe put a last finishing stroke on the right pauldron and set it aside. He accepted the left from the scout without a word, selected another brush and a pot of black enamel suited for the primary color of the armor of a Raven Guard, and turned back to his work.

He paused a moment as the door shut behind the scout, leaving him again alone with the holy instruments of war, and shut his eyes. Ashe Mellorus had been made Sergeant for a reason―he was a leader of men. Scout Justinian, like all his men, would follow him into the very gates of Hell. Unfortunately, that was exactly where he had to lead. And from those dark gates few men return.

Not even Space Marines.

Frowning darkly, he dipped the brush tip into the night-black enamel, and, with a measured delicacy that belied his immense size and strength, began again to paint.

---

A small vessel, some hundred and fifty meters from stem to stern, accelerated away from the distant light of planet Praven. Though her crew numbered over two hundred, most of those were little more than human automata, working because work was their lot in life, because they lacked the cohesion or the will or the might to rebel against their masters. Three were different. Two ruled over the heretic crew of the newly renamed Freedom. One was very different―for she, unlike all the others, was loyal.

---

The woman before them had never been beautiful. Her face was blunt and rectangular, her skin pallid and freckled, her body without feminine curves. Now, with exhaustion and terror and pain carved on the woman's features, she was downright disgusting. Stevi―that was her name―and an ugly name, at that!

Destroying a creature like this would be a service.

Vana leaned in closer―and the vile creature spat at her.

“You'll die,” the woman growled. Even her voice was ugly, taut with pain and rough with phlegm. “The Imperium will come, and it will destroy you.” She looked like she had more to say, but collapsed against her manacles in a fit of weak coughing.

“Mm? Jakk―” she leaned up to her husband, letting her supple body flow against his. “Should I be afraid?”

Jakk answered, but his words were directed at the wounded woman who was shackled hand and foot against the wall.

“Of course not, Vana. In the end, Chaos always wins.”

Vana smiled, leaning towards the soldier-woman on the wall. The remnants of her Planetary Defense Force uniform were torn and bloodstained around the autogun wound in her side that had facilitated her capture. Vana gripped the wide band of medi-tape that sealed the wound and ripped it away.

The prisoner screamed, convulsing against her restraints.

This is the essence of prayer.

But what was to come would be so much sweeter.

Ah, Chaos! Chaos was freedom itself, the freedom to do what you want, to whom you want, when you want―the freedom to worship as you please, whatever gods you desire. And real gods, not some corpse on a distant throne―gods who would answer prayers, whose power to save and destroy was palpable.

The gods of Chaos had shepherded them safe thus far. Nurgle, the prophets said―Grandfather Nurgle, who loves all his children, was the preserver and the deliverer. It was only right to thank him with a sacrifice.

And what a sacrifice it would be! They had cost her a small fortune from the Believer who had seized the secret armory, but they were worth it. Ah, they so very much worth the price.

They were a weapon, made for fighting against the towering war-beasts of alien enemies whose hides could absorb laser fire and shrug off the explosions of bolt shells.

Such a small instrument of death they were. And, as Nurgle himself would have wished, they were a living weapon. Once embedded in living flesh, they would feed and reproduce at phenomenal speed, spreading exponentially until the creature died and they turned on one another.

Donning a gauntlet of hardened armor-weave, Vana reached into the jar at her side and withdrew the three squirming bio-weapons―and checked the clock.

0434. She suppressed a wave of revulsion at the number―it was a number bound to the ship's cogitator, and the cogitator still kept the ship's time synchronized with that at the Emperor's Throne on Terra itself.

But only a slight wave of revulsion, because in one minute they would be out of range. The planetary defense lasers were still fired from time to time by the few loyalist guerrillas who continued to hold out against the might of the Believers; from time to time an unlucky transport was burned suddenly from the sky.

As the clock reached 0435, she felt a ripple of relief spread over her, and from the corner of her eye she saw Jakk relax. Out far enough, the laser beams were too diffuse to penetrate the light transport's void shields. Out past the magic number, they were safe.

It was time to give thanks to Nurgle for his deliverance.

Vana smiled beatifically at the quivering, palpitating wreck of humanity before her―and with a snarl jabbed her gloved hand forward, plunging her fingers and the weapon they held into the oozing gash on the woman's side.

And, screaming, screaming with more pain and horror than any moment should ever hold, Stevi decayed.

Vana broke into a giddy laugh as she pulled back her hand and peeled off the glove. She turned impulsively to her husband and kissed him savagely on the lips. Startled, Jakk froze for a moment, then returned the kiss with animal ferocity.

This was true freedom, granted by a real god.

This was true prayer.

---

The pain was all-consuming. She had known pain before, in her two years on the field of battle. But nothing like this. Never like this.

The prayer for deliverance cycling in Stevi's mind was cut off mid-word, crushed under by the cyclopean weight of anguish. Thought was lost to a raw scream; it tore from her lungs, through pale, parted lips.

She screamed until she could scream no more, until blood frothed from her nose and mouth. She convulsed and shook, trying desperately to rip free, but she was too weak, and the bonds were too strong.

But there is a thing about pain, a thing which she had learned long ago.

Between the pain and the darkness, there is a half-moment of rest.

And so, as her body turned to slime and her muscles ceased to respond, as the creatures within her spread and multiplied, devouring and reproducing, reducing the ordered form of humanity to a morass of squirming chaos―even as the darkness rushed in all around, her mind was able to find a single word, a single prayer, a single plea.

As her body died and her soul was swept away into the Warp, it carried with it a pleading, desperate, pain-wracked cry.

---

For a long, fragile moment, there was silence.

Light from Praven's distant star glinted off the hulls of the fast-closing space ships. The distance was twenty kilometers―now five, now―

Thunder roared from rocket engines, slamming the Thunderhawk into sudden deceleration.

Scout-Gunner Ytrus pictured the target in his mind's eye as he calculated the acceleration vectors instinctively; the weapon's machine-spirit aided him, making final, precise calculations to shift the cannon into perfect alignment.

The Thunderhawk flashed beneath the Freedom's keel, scarcely a kilometer below her, rockets still roaring with divine fervor. The target fell into Ytrus' sights. He fired.

A line of purple-white energy connected the two vessels as the Thunderhawk's turbolaser fired. Ytrus smiled savagely, checking his pict-screen to confirm what he already knew.

Green-gray lighting arced across the transport's hull for half a second as the void shields overloaded and collapsed.

“Target's shields are down. Commencing stage two.”

Nerve-impulses sent commands through wires connecting to the monocle bolted over his left eye; las-cannons and heavy bolters hummed to readiness at the speed of thought. He wrapped his hands around the control surfaces of two of the weapon mounts and thought the third into accord with his mind, making ready to manipulate all three cannons simultaneously.

The Thunderhawk completed its brutal deceleration and dove down through the vacuum like the bird of prey for which it was named. Even as the first scattered return fire began to spring from the transport's defensive weaponry, lasers and bolt-shells from the gunship ripped precise holes through power lines and portholes, sewing chaos through the starship below.

Had it been an attack run, this would have been the time to launch bombs and missiles, arc out of the dive, and come around to obliterate the stricken foe with another shot from the turbolaser.

But that death would be far too easy for those who dared to oppose the God Emperor. Instead, he plucked the wires from his monocle and slid out of the gunner's shrine. Already fully armed and armored for battle, the scout muttered a quick prayer for victory in the combat to come.

Ytrus tried not to smile with pleasure at the prospect.

---

The first principle of stealth, Ashe mused, is to know when to break it. The words of Guilliman, from the Codex Astartes.

With a final crunch, the Thunderhawk's boarding hatch ripped through the transport's cargo bay doors. Ten Space Marines and four novice Scouts poured through into the empty cargo bay, instantly splitting into groups and spreading apart. They knew their tasks. The Scouts would secure the shrine to the ship's machine-soul; in groups of three, Battle Brothers would eradicate the crew and seize key portions of the starship.

Ashe would go alone. His brothers were briefed and well trained. They knew to conserve ammunition and be wary of moral threats, and he would stay in vox contact.

But the command deck was his, and his alone.

Nothing on this ship could possibly hope to kill a Space Marine. But the threat of corruption was another matter―and it would be worst on the command deck.

He could feel it.

“From the darkness we strike, fast and lethal,” he intoned over the vox, quoting from the sacred writings of Corax. “And by the time our foes can react―darkness there and nothing more.”

The low thrum of his voice seemed only to accentuate the eerie silence that gripped the cargo bay as the Raven Guard moved through it with impossible speed and stealth.

He reached the doorway to the arterial corridor that spanned the distance from the cargo bay to the mess hall. If this vessel was not too heavily modified from its original hull, the command deck would be directly above the mess.

It would be defended. Heavily defended.

He smiled―and ripped the door from its hinges.

---

There was a whump of compressed gas as a krak grenade launcher fired. Ashe lunged forward, his power-armored bulk a black blur, and shoved the door ahead of him. The grenade struck the door and detonated, spraying shrapnel and ripping a head-sized hole in the thick steel. The heretic defenders had time enough to snap off a few shots: shotgun blasts and bullets flattened themselves against the remnants of the door.

Then, in a blur of night-black power-armor, he was upon them. He struck out with a fist, obliterating a heretic's face; a blow from his elbow caved in the ribcage of the grenadier. The litany of judgment sang through his mind and he let it roar forth from his powerful lungs, amplified by his helmet vox. He waded forward, striking down another with a lightning-fast backhand that snapped the heretic's spine; in the same motion, he drew his combat knife, disemboweling another opponent with its two-foot blade. More heretics flooded the hall―some charging or firing wildly with small arms, still others trying desperately to flee. Ashe launched himself into the fray.

By the time he was through the first stanza, he had massacred his way down the corridor and into the mess hall, his armor slick with the blood of heretics.

At the far end of the room, a door slammed open and a trio of armored soldiers swung a heavy autocannon into the room. Emperor knew where they had gotten it―but they were obviously not mere ship-slave crewmen.

As Ashe reached for the bolter on his back, his enhanced senses picked out a sound from behind him. He dove for the ground and rolled hard, smashing a light table as he fell.

It saved his life. A gout of fire speared over his head―behind him, another of the armored elites had burst out of an intersecting corridor and was wielding an industrial strength plasma torch. A primitive weapon, but it would burn through ceramite just as well as hull plating. Ashe rolled to his feet, pulling his bolter from its holster one-handed as 40-millimeter autocannon rounds splintered furniture and blasted holes in the back wall. He rose, vaulting over a table with his bolter outstretched.

The holy weapon fired thrice, walking bolt shells up the beetle-black armor of a heretic gunner and sending his soul to the Final Judgment. A glancing hit from the autocannon's return fire spanged off his pauldron, tearing a shallow trench through the ceramite surface.

“And guide me,” roared the Sergeant, decapitating a heretic with a bolt to the throat, “in thy righteous wrath!”

The bolter spoke again, slaying the last gunner. Ashe flipped the weapon over his shoulder and fired a single shot. The heretic with the plasma torch hadn't thought to change position, and the bolt shell spattered his brains across the wall. Ahead, the gunner collapsed onto his weapon with a gaping hole where his heart should have been. The autocannon spent the last of its chain of ammunition into the ceiling.

Ashe crossed the room quickly, holstering his bolter. Judgment was at hand.

---

Jakk's bolt-pistol never fired. The eight-foot-tall monstrosity that smashed the armored door like crepe paper threw its knife faster than Jakk could pull the trigger, with enough force and accuracy to lift him off his feet and pin him by the throat to the wall. Jakk squirmed for a moment, gurgling fragments of the words of power he had meant to use against the intruder, then went still.

Vana's heart was a sledgehammer in her chest. The Astartes are myth! Aren't they? Aren't they? This couldn't be happening! She backed away, raising shaking hands as if to ward off the Angel's wrath.

She watched, unable to tear her eyes away, as his blood-wet helmet turned, seeing the signs of Chaos Undivided etched in panels, daubed in blood on the walls. He looked for a long moment at the pile of dirty goo and uniform scraps that had once been a soldier of the Imperium―then he fixed his gaze on her.

The Angel stooped silently, never letting his gaze leave her face, and carefully―tenderly picked up a large scrap of skull, still covered with blood-matted hair. He closed his gauntlet gently around it, holding it to his chest.

Vana's stomach jumped as the Marine lunged forwards, crossing the distance between them in a heartbeat; he brushed aside her hands like twigs and caught her about the throat with a hand larger than her head. His face was scarcely inches from hers.

Staring panicked, wordless into the red-tinted eyeslits of his snarling black helmet, she saw―thought she saw―something she recognized.

Prayer.

“In the name of the Immortal God Emperor of Mankind,” he rumbled, “I name you diabolus. May you burn in Hell.”

The massive fist snapped shut like a trap, crushing vertebrae and ripping flesh. Pain overwhelmed Vana's senses as her head was torn from her shoulders.

For a brief moment Vana felt herself falling. She caught a half-glimpse of her body, spraying a fount of blood from the ragged stump of her neck. How ugly it was―how disgusting without a head!



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Last edited by Feil on 2014-07-24 09:00am, edited 24 times in total.
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-20 07:50pm
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Chapter 2


Broken bodies fell in Freedom's wake. One by one, the heretic dead were evacuated out of the airlock, whence they tumbled into the starship's exhaust cone and were obliterated. Soon, all that remained of the ill-fated crew were bloodstains and the inextricable stench of death: fear and feces and sour-copper blood.

They had transferred all they could from the Thunderhawk to the captured transport, then remotely activated its engines. It rocketed away. Scout-Navigator Vios had calculated the position, time, and velocity at which it would run out of fuel and go ballistic. If any of them survived long enough to see victory, those numbers would allow the ancient and holy war-machine to be recovered and returned to the chapter. If not―

Ashe's eyes flickered to the ventilation grate centered above the ruined cargo bay. The last wisps of the smoke that had once been Stevi curled away to nothing. The smell of burned meat lingered over the acerbic tang of prometheum.

The brief ceremony was the same for one as for a thousand. A body laid to rest. The soul commended to the Emperor, sped home by the prayers of the living. The death remembered, to inspire those who would follow.

“The fallen shall be forever remembered as the Emperor's finest,” he said, tapping his temple three times slowly.

“Unto Him this mortal flesh returns,” said Squad Mellorus. “So it was from His coming. So it is. So may it be.”

Marines moved wordlessly. The airlock cycled again. Then they departed, moving each to his duty. The sergeant stood a moment, nodded, and left.

---

The ship's small chapel had been burned once before, when it was profaned by the vessel's heretic crew. Ashe had ordered it burned again, despite the risks of fire aboardship, and the squad had reconsecrated the once-holy place to the Emperor and to Corax. Now the vaunted Adeptus Astartes made difficult pilgrimages to worship there, braving such dire dangers as aisles built too narrow for a Space Marine, and ceilings low enough to crack one's head upon if one forgot to crouch. Ashe smiled wryly at the image. It was absurd, of course―a Marine who forgot his surroundings was no Marine at all.

He squeezed through the doorway into the chapel, serenity washing over him as he entered the comparatively open space.

Brother Vaans was kneeling there, fully armored, head bowed in prayer. There were no other people or pieces of furniture in the room save for the unfurled banner of Squad Mellorus that was draped carefully over the stone steps before the makeshift altar. Nor were there places where weapons or traps could have been concealed: the ceiling arched smoothly to a low peak some four meters up, and the walls were of simple stone that had once been gray but now was turned shadow-black by smoke and soot.

Ashe made the sign of the aquila over his chest and approached his brother and the altar.

Vaans' face was visible in the mirror surface of the heavy double-headed eagle―the aquila, holy sign of the Emperor―which they had taken from the Thunderhawk. It was a face Ashe knew well; he had served alongside Vaans Heston for nearly a century. It was a face full of stories: the warrior-monk's surprisingly triangular face was crisscrossed with scars. He had been with the sergeant when he had gotten most of them―some of them Ashe had given him himself, in brutal practice sessions that would kill a man not graced with instantly-clotting blood and ceramite-reinforced bone. But all of them had stories, and all those stories had been told. Some of them were very good indeed, and had been told several times.

Ninety-four years is a long time to share the past.

Vaans' features shifted almost imperceptibly as Ashe entered the room. The mirror polish on the double eagle was necessary: an Astartes could never allow himself to lose his awareness of his surroundings, not even at prayer―and long tradition held that the altar, not the supplicant, should face the primary entrance.

Vaans was still speaking quietly, chanting from the Six-Hundred and Sixty-Six Prayers to Purification. Ashe nodded to him, acknowledging the silent greeting that had passed across his brothers' features.

Ninety-four years is a long time to learn mannerisms.

He knelt beside his brother in a single, silent, fluid motion, coming to both knees at once while keeping his hands crossed over his breastplate. His leg armor barely clicked as it touched the floor. Even in power-armor, the movement required exquisite balance and incredible leg strength. Ashe made it look easy.

Anyone else might have been showing off―but Vaans understood, Ashe knew. Here, in the place of worship, under the eyes of the Emperor and the ancestors, in the presence of a sacred banner of the Raven Guard, Ashe's dedication to perfection was, in itself, prayer.

Ashe joined his brother mid-word as he knelt. His face came into the mirror next to Vaans'―square jawed by his brother's angular visage, coal black eyes next to Vaans' pale blue, but both of them spiderwebbed and notched with a century of shared stories. The prayer, long-memorized, issued in tandem from their lips and from their souls.

The words of the Codex Astartes are holy to most of the Angels of Death, and the Raven Guard are no exception. “Consider the magnitude of your duty at your leisure,” it commanded, “but act without hesitation when action is required.”

Even though peace suffused this place and purity lifted up his soul―nay, because of these things, a thought surfaced around the Prayers of Purification as he shared them with his brother.

Ninety-four years is a short time.

---

Though it was rotten, Hoz loved the moon. He loved the deep mines that pitted its surface, bursting within the crust into arcades that crawled with foreign life, toiling in their sordid thousands to rob the mining moon of resources; he loved the puckered lips of the shafts that were choked by chemical refuse; the blisters of surface life that bulged over the asteroid-pocked surface; the tenebrous miasma of toxic fumes that clouded the surface for want of a true atmosphere, replenished as fast as solar wind could strip it away. In his most secret fantasies, he imagined that the moon loved him. It would only be fair. He had loved it for a long, long time.

Of late, however, his love was tinged with fear. Something not entirely within him whispered that change was coming. A light to pierce the comforting darkness, a poison to burn the deep invasions of twisted life. Something was coming, it whispered, something magnificent and terrifying: a man or the idea of a man, obscured by darkness, bringing death.

“Ashes,” he murmured. “Ashes. Ashes in the dark.”

Movement on the Great Screen caught his eye, and his vision sharpened, his visions momentarily dispelled. “What ship is that?”

“Freedom, Lord Governor” rasped the responsible deck-slave, his voice a rusty whistle through the vox unit bolted to his jaw. “Arriving on schedule.”

“Ahh.... Very good. Open communications. Yes, immediately. Vana will answer. Good.”

He leaned forward, lips brushing the stained receiver-grille with dry affection. “Vana, Jakk, you bring food for my children? Water for my flock?”

There was no reply.

“Vana... I have no patience for games today.” His face contorted into a crude parody of a smile. “Come in.”

“There is no response, Lord-”

“Vana and Jakk run a tight ship. They would not be... reticent... in responding to me. Telescope focus on the ship, now.”

Hoz' insides turned to dust as the Great Screen flickered and displayed the Freedom's hull. The signs were clear, to the experienced eye. The bridge windows were dark. Impact scoring and laser damage glinted under distant sunlight. Pirates. Pirates had taken the Freedom. Pirates had killed Vana. Pirates had killed Jakk.

“Vana!” he screamed. “Vana! Jakk! Vana!”

He seized the deckslave by his mechanical voicebox, hauling him to his feet in red, unthinking rage, and slammed him against the Great Screen, again and again, crying the names of the people he had loved even before the truth of Chaos had been revealed. Sutures tore and flesh ripped, leaving him with only a sordid scrap of machinery in his hands, but not before a wide spot of bloody red had obscured the bottom of the Screen.

“Ashes,” he whispered, dropping to his seat. After a long moment, he looked up. All present stood statue-still, waiting for his word.

“Give me Patrol Boat Despoiler on the vox,” he demanded, rage coloring his voice. The deck-slave hurried to comply. Despoiler's skipper was a tough bastard, with a healthy delight in pain and domination. If there was vengeance to be had against whomever had murdered Vana and Jakk....

He savored the thought.

---

Ashe knelt, prostrating himself on the cold steel like a priest saluting distant Sol. About him, the air was thick with dark silence. Far away was the insulated roar of the vessel's rockets; he could hear the subtle ticks and creaks of the vessel as she shifted minutely, tugged by gravity and nudged by solar wind. Beneath these sounds, his enhanced hearing detected the near-silent tread of the scouts as they made ready to counter-board the patrol craft when it arrived. Of the other Marines, Ashe could hear nothing. He smiled faintly within his helmet.

The Despoiler soared through the vacuum, trailing fire. It matched velocity and acceleration with the transport, and they drifted together with a heavy gentleness. The boarding tube met the airlock hatch below Ashe with a clang that echoed through both ships. Silence fell again. Their presence betrayed only by the subaudible throbbing of their hearts, Ashe and his brothers Mordred and Vaans peered through steel on the infrared band, waiting for their prey.

They arrived on schedule, moving through the doorway in precise pairs. Their heat emissions were muted except for a narrow band of face and neck, and a hot glow from their weapons―armor and lasguns, then. Elites. The jagged clatter of their boots continued as twenty such pairs entered. Ashe whispered their number and their paths into his vox, receiving curt responses from brothers Bellor and Corvidae. The muted sounds were inaudible beyond his helmet.

Scout Havacham's voice: “Now, Brother Sergeant?”

“Thirty seconds,” Ashe whispered. “Go with Corax, and my prayers.”

Ashe rose to his knees, briefly making the sign of the Aquila. He touched Mordred and Vaans in silent command: Let us go, brothers. Let us to war.

---

Under-barrel flashlights played long fingers of pale light over the bloodstained hallway, casting flitting circles of light through the darkness as the soldiers advanced.

Squad Delta will have the lights on any minute.

PFC Garret tried to relax. His heart was beating so loudly, it might be heard by―

He cut himself off. That's paranoia talking. It's just a bunch of pirates.

Something of unimaginable violence had smashed through Freedom's corridors―something of horrible strength and sanguine intent. It felt more like the low-budget horror vids he had watched as a kid, where people who turned against the Emperor were transformed into horrible ghouls that attacked their own kind with mindless violence, hacking them to―it's just pirates, he hissed, chaos take them!

Macey jumped and looked at him over the heavy plastic of her rebreather. Had he said that aloud? “Sorry,” he whispered. By the gods, he was a professional soldier. He had fought for the corrupt Imperium for four years before the prophets had shown him the truth, and he'd killed plenty of people. Besides―squad Delta will have the lights on any minute. Won't they?

“Come on boys and girls. Let's pick it up―there's nothing here, so let's just make our sweep and get the hell back to base, eh?”

Garret thought he heard an edge of strain in the sergeant's voice. It sounded like a real good idea, though. Delta was supposed to have the lights on four minutes ago, and Khorne but the ship was dark. If you lost your light in here....

They filed through the door into the mess with Macey bringing up the rear, sweeping flashlights around the devastated room. Benches and tables lay in splinters―all piled up against one wall. Garret didn't like it. He didn't like it one bit. When the hell would Delta get the lights up?

Something cold and wet rolled down his spine, and he spun, heart pounding―and realized that he was wearing body armor, that it had been sweat. Feeling foolish, he half-lowered his carbine, shaking his head at the eight other soldiers. “Jumping at shadows. Just jumping at―at...”

Eight soldiers.

---

The roving, erratic pattern of flashlight beams had a pattern nonetheless; Ashe had seen it, accounted for it and moved. His hands thrust forward, catching an armored shoulder and squashing the woman's rebreather against her face to stifle her cry. He swept her around with fluid grace; his arms turned; his shoulders tensed to snap her neck and snuff out her life―but as she came around, he saw her eyes widen with―awe? Her rifle was still gripped in one hand, and it was pressed against Ashe's breastplate; the glow of the flashlight had lit the silvered Imperialis on his breast.

“Where's Macey?” demanded a voice. Ashe had paused for too long.

Ashe's hands were already moving, but he commanded them different. The trooper soared through the air, hit a door, and tumbled through it with thump. The voice became panicked: “Where the fuck is Macy?”

Ashe thrust Macey from his mind as Vaans and Mordred appeared from side corridors to the left and right. Together, for a brief moment, they killed. The last trooper tried to run. Vaans was faster. The trooper thudded to the floor, and then silence fell again.

Ashe had expected sound from beyond the door, but what came surprised him. Vaans and Mordred were startled: Mordred reached instinctively for his bolter; Vaans looked instinctively to Ashe. Ashe stopped them with a glance.

He had expected panicked breathing, or footsteps, or moans. He had expected the sounds an enemy makes when she is cornered, helpless, wounded, pursued.

He had not expected singing.

---

He knew the song, or one like it. His mother had sung it to him, he thought, in a past he remembered only like the faded memory of a dream of a dream. It was a lullaby, or a lament.

“Musha me child and do not ye cry,” she whispered. There was pain in her voice, but also sorrow. He could smell her fear, but also something sweeter. He stepped forward silently, listening with increasing confusion. She sang:

“Your soul will to Terra whenever ye die.
The Emperor's angels will speed yer goodbye.”

When he was close enough to kill her with a single lunge, she noticed his presence. She looked up. Aye, she was afraid. But there was sorrow in her eyes.

“Vusha me child and do not ye wail,
I'll be here watchin' ye and if I fail
Still th'Emperor's angels will gard ye from hell.”

For a moment - just a fleeting moment - he questioned his duty. The Codex was clear. There can be no forgiveness. Not in this life, nor the next. There can be no forgiveness.

Somehow, through trembling lips, she whispered on. Perhaps she could not bring herself to pray. A prayer could have saved her soul, though her life was already forfeit. But this, Ashe knew, was a declaration of repentance. The Angels were real. The Emperor was real. Chaos was the lie.

For that, he granted her mercy.

“Susha me child and do not ye moan
E'en if all part ye and leave ye alone
Emperor's angels will carry ye home
Emperor's angels will carry ye home.”

Perhaps it was a prayer. Perhaps it was.

A second passed, and another. She bowed her head. The song was done. Ashe lunged, ramming one power-armored hand forward. He was a blur, a flickering shadow, faster than thought. She died with dignity.

Ashe walked back to his brothers, shaking Macey's blood from his hand.

“Clear,” he said.

Vaans met his gaze for a moment, and nodded.

---

“Pirates,” came the unfamiliar voice over the vox. “Ship was full of fucking pirates. Bastards counterboarded us, killed the captain before we defeated them.”

If the blood lust had faded faster, or if he had kept sorrow locked out of his mind, Hoz' considerable intellect might have seen through the ruse.

Even crippled by grief and quivering with barely-sated rage, his suspicion was piqued, though he could not fathom that a crew of his finest troopers had been overrun by mere pirates before they could even transmit a message. On the other end of the unlikely possibilities was that the enemy might, somehow, have taken the patrol boat in the fighting.

His voice still tight, Hoz ordered the moon's planetary missile batteries to lock onto the two craft, ready to blow them out of the sky if they attacked or attempted to flee.

But the possibility of pirate takeover of Despoiler was minuscule. When the Freedom suffered critical engine failure, he accepted the logical conclusion―that the pirates, knowing they were defeated, had scuttled the starship. Freedom's velocity was low enough; she would fall into an elliptical orbit from which she could be retrieved later. And Despoiler was still on course, decelerating smoothly and making slight course corrections as she arced along a path that would take her to a landing on the surface of the mining moon.

“Launch recovery craft,” he said to his lieutenant, forcing his mind to focus on the task at hand. “Bring Freedom in and claim it as a prize. Assess its value and the Despoiler's cut. Take care of my people―”

Lieutenant Beers cringed at the look of rage that flashed across Hoz' face, and saluted.

“Contact me if you must,” Hoz said, retrieving his coat from its position draped over his chair. “I'm going to find out how by the gods we're going to replace those crews. And go without Freedom's bloody food shipment.”

As he turned to go, Hoz cast a long, purposeful glance at the fallen slave, then turned his eyes on Beers.
“No more screwups today.”

Hoz left.

Beers shivered.

---

The indicator light shined purest red, confirming that atmosphere filled the landing bay. Scout Havacham pulled up the cowl of his robe, covering his face in shadow.

The magnetic bolts disengaged with a dead clank. The patrol boat's ramp opened like an adamantium jaw. Even as it hissed to flagstones of the baroque hangar's floor, Havacham strode forward.

It was sunset on the moon. Long, bright spears of light drove back the murk where the last sunlight slipped in through windows. High above, flickering fluorescent lights suspended from the vaulted stone ceiling gave off a half-hearted glow that illuminated nothing but themselves. Scattered candle-glimmers illuminated the laboring forms of slaves and deck hands.

Havacham stepped down to the flagstones. There was a small gaggle of men approaching him; the leader held a lantern, and all were eying him nervously.

A Scout Marine can pass for a regular human, if a human is expected―but Havacham was sure he was the largest man any of them had ever encountered. “The wounded are inside,” he said before any could address him. “As is the Lieutenant.”

One of them―the medic, by the look of it―looked at him slantwise. Havacham must have bungled the accent.

“Hurry,” he said. “They won't last long without help.”

They were all looking at him now. Havacham's heart began to pound. He fixed the leader with a glare from under his hood, making the most of his imposing physical presence. Twice, the leader opened his mouth as if to speak. Twice he closed it.

The leader broke Havacham's gaze. “Let's go,” he commanded, starting up the ramp.

The last of the group disappeared within, casting a long glance over his shoulder.

Only when he was again alone did Havacham relax, easing his finger off the trigger of the bolt-pistol hidden in the long sleeve of his robe. He set off at a steady, purposeful walk, slipped into a dark shadow, and became one with the night.

By the time the hangar crew discovered that the starship was empty―for the other three scouts had left surreptitiously from the aft―Havacham had vanished.

---

Freedom's engines flared back to life as the moon station disappeared over the horizon, burning away with pan-flash ferocity the first of a new trail of heretic corpses. The lamps of the command deck were still darkened to minimize the ship's emissions signature and conserve power, but visible by the reflected glows of control stations on power-armor were three of the Angels of Death.

Brother Krytoleus, kneeling at the pilot's station―his weight would have crushed the chair―guided the vessel as she tore a blazing trail around the gas giant, moving to interpose the planet's mass between her and unfriendly eyes.

Brother Mordred was bent over a chart, plotting the positions and velocities of potential prey.

Ashe stood, hands clasped behind his back, face down. Thinking. Frowning.

Havacham was a capable warrior, he knew. The young man would be ready to pass the final trials soon, and Ashe would welcome him gladly as a brother. Already Ashe had requested to be among the Brethren who girded Havacham with power-armor for the first time. And the scouts trusted him. He would do well, as he had done well in the past. But he lacked experience, and the might of a true Battle Brother, still―he still needed protection, the gauntleted guidance of an Astartes' hand. Ashe shook his head. If the Raven Guard were to be anything more than a temporary nuisance to the heretics who had taken this Emperor's system, they needed information.

The ten battle brothers of Squad Mellorus, and his four scouts―they were the wedge with which Ashe would break down the mountain―but first, first he must know where to strike.

The heresy had begun deep in the labyrinthine galleries and bottomless depths of the moon's mines. It was there where the rotted black roots of the Enemy sprouted. It was there, if anywhere, where the beginnings of truth might be found.

Until they had that strand of truth, Squad Mellorus could only wait.

Insomuch, Ashe smiled at last, as making war on the Enemy of Mankind can be called waiting.



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Last edited by Feil on 2008-07-24 04:43pm, edited 9 times in total.
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-20 09:30pm
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This is an interesting story so far, and it benifits from a good writing style. I just hope that one squad of marines doesn't take back Praven by themselves, as that woould be a little much. (I'm all for them organizing resistence, and generally being badass however.) Looking forward to more. :)



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-22 12:24am
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The style of writing is definitely excellent, and will echo Raj's sentiment in hopes that the Space Marines aren't overwanked. But considering the Prologue's characters, I could see a decent number coming to reinforce Squad Mellorus.

I'm looking forward to the next chapter!

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-22 01:09am
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Chapter 3

“We must,” insisted brother Mordred. “'Woe on thou who mayst fight evil, yet dost not, for thou art complicit in its doing.'”

Would that it was so simple. Ashe dared not believe that he would fail, for to admit defeat while hope still lived was to welcome the seeds of heresy into his heart. But neither did he deny that unless he chose his battles well, victory would be impossible. He longed―oh, how he longed―to attack the slave ship, to liberate the oppressed, to bring death to those who enslaved the holy thing that was mankind.

But it was not so simple.

“The risk is too much, brother,” Krytoleus replied, voicing Ashe's own thoughts. “We could get in, but not without wrecking our starship, and then who would return for the Scouts, or strike the weakness they discover. Unless, by the Emperor's grace, we took the slaver intact, with enough slaves to crew her, all will be lost.”

Victoris aut mortis, then,” snapped Mordred.

Krytoleus frowned, evidently wishing to speak on, but not wishing to argue against a Marine more than twenty years his senior. Ashe glanced at brother Vaans, the fourth Marine on the bridge. Vaans' narrow face was steady and certain―he might speak with Ashe in private, but he would support the sergeant's decision. Ashe thanked him with a faint nod.

“You may be right, Krytoleus. You may be right, though we all wish to deliver the Emperor's Justice.” Ashe looked towards Mordred briefly, hoping to have soothed his temper, but the Marine still glowered. Damn.

Ashe laid a hand briefly on Krytoleus' shoulder and one on Mordred's, letting physical contact repair bonds that might have been broken. He glanced at Vaans, who nodded. Ashe led the way out of the room; Vaans closed the door behind them.

“Brother,” Ashe said.

Vaans nodded solemnly, waiting―though a flame lurked behind his ice-blue eyes.

“I fear Krytoleus is right,” Ashe said. “The slaves will die for their Emperor, because we cannot help them―because we must dedicate our attentions to the greater work. If they are loyal, they would choose the same.”

“We can achieve victory.”

“Yes. If we do not waste our forces―”

“Here. We can do it. We are the Angels of Death, and none can stand before us.”

“If we lose even one brother, even if we are successful we may fail in the greater work. We will find other sources of manpower than these slaves. Space Marines are not replaceable. And their―your lives are on my shoulders.”

“'Never again.'”

The fire behind Vaans' eyes had risen; Vaans gripped Ashe's shoulder tightly; a quiet intensity filled his words.

“'Never again! Never again shall innocent men be slaves to the craven; toil shall be for the Emperor, and holy.'”

Ashe's breath caught in his throat as he recognized the words.

“Never shall our women labor under xeno claw. Never shall our children suffer under heretic yoke. Nevermore will our men serve the debased, the impure, the unjust. Never again, O people of Deliverance! For I shall lead ye! And I shall not forsake ye! I, Corax, shall be thy Raven Guard, and I shall lead you to victory. Shall ye be defeated? Shall ye be slaves? Never again!'”

“The Word of our Father,” Ashe breathed.

“May he find the solace he seeks.”

“Amen.”

Ashe forced himself to smile. “Krytoleus is still right. The risk is too great.”

Vaans closed his eyes, accepting his Sergeant's words―but Ashe spoke again.

“But the Emperor protects, and it is right. Alert our brethren. We go again to battle, with righteousness our armor and hate for our weapon.”

“What of you?”

“I need to pray.”

“For victory?”

Ashe didn't answer.

---

Even under Imperial rule, the mines had been hell. Criminal convicts, petty heretics, and political dissidents from the planet were transported there by the thousands, worked to death tearing iron and zinc from the moon's dead rock.

When the Enemy came, they found fertile soil here. In the deep, long-forgotten tunnels and twisting warrens of the mines they took up residence, offering the laborers freedom, or immortality, or revenge in return for their immortal souls.

Now those same laborers―and some new ones, fresh from Chaos' conquests on distant Praven―worked still, under new masters, more brutal still. The nature of Chaos is betrayal.

The four scouts were robed ghosts as they descended, barely illuminated by the distant ruddy glow of smelters, silent as death itself. From below, the distant clangor of heavy machinery mixed with the muted staccato clanks of pickaxes on stone; the high screech and squeal of poorly oiled wheels was audible above it. The scouts' keen ears could just make out the distant sound of screaming. Some poor wretches must have angered their overlords.

They continued their descent.

This level had been abandoned for years, it was clear. Dry-rotted wood threatened to crumble under the heavy feet of the Scouts, and cobwebs the size of tables spanned age-weakened beams. Where there was man, there was death; where death, scavengers; where scavengers, those things that prey on them.

Havacham's feet touched hard stone floor.

Darkness is often be empty, he remembered, but where there is light, there is shadow. And it is in shadow that one should seek that which wishes to see and not be seen.

The other scouts alighted silently, double-clicking the vox-beads implanted in their throats to signify readiness. Havacham detached himself from the darkness and led the way.

Before they'd gone ten paces, Vios' whisper broke the silence. “Light. Eleven o'clock.”

“Confirmed. Lantern. Coming this way.”

“Engage?”

“Wait.”

It was either a routine patrol or someone in the mine had an auspex. Neither one was good. The path was a narrow rim of stone carved into the wall of a deep, wide central shaft in a gently descending helix by some great machine centuries ago; there were no hiding places. But time was too important to waste in retreat: The scouts had already wasted three days gaining covert entry to the mines and finding a safe route of descent. They slipped into deepest shadows, nearly invisible against the walls.

Ten heretics with autoguns and truncheons were approaching. Each was naked except for a pouch-festooned belt and the piercings that covered their bodies with spikes and spines―and for the tattoos. They were tattooed from head to foot in signs and symbols that made Havacham's mind recoil and his stomach churn. The symbols seemed to twist and squirm before his eyes, beckoning, calling to him, burning over him with their impurity, getting inside his mind and squirming like living things―

Havacham covered his eyes with his arm, and was unable to suppress a shudder.

Ten meters away.

Five. Three. One of them glimpsed movement and turned, raising his weapon....

A single whispered “Now!” was all the warning the heretic-guard received.

One of them died as the shadow that was Justinian detached itself from the wall and snapped his neck with a single fluid motion.

Havacham threw his knife at the one with the lantern; six inches of adamantium sunk into the heretic's skull. To his left, Havacham glimpsed Vios at work, ending a heretic's crime of existence with a slash of his 2-foot combat knife―and then he was upon his second target, swinging the barrel of his pistol around and into the temple of an enemy. The mark tattooed on the heretic's face seared itself into his mind even as the weapon struck home with bone-shattering force, and Havacham reeled.

A second after it had begun, the fighting ended. Ytrus caught the lantern just before it hit the ground. There had been almost no sound.

Havacham coughed, trying to banish the glyph from his mind. The eight-pointed star that had marked the heretic's face danced in the corners of his vision, mocking him with its unholiness. He made the sign of the aquila, letting the hypno-taught prayer against evil flow naturally through his mind.

The star faded. Havacham straightened.

“Are you whole?” Justinian asked, appearing at his shoulder.

“Yes. Let's go.”

As they moved deeper into the pit towards the source of its red glow, Havacham tried without success to shake the feeling that he was being watched.

---

Explosions lit the vacuum, clawing at void shields and buffeting the starships. The slaver had Freedom out-gunned by a factor of ten to one, but Ashe wasn't interested in winning the fight with guns. The slaver knew it too, and was running. It wouldn't do any good.

A near miss smashed against the forward void shields, sending rivers of coruscating lightning flowing over the transport. The lights flickered.

Ashe gripped the rim of the lifeboat's bench tightly, armored fingers denting the plastic. Freedom continued to dive in on the slaver, guided by the ship's machine-spirit in a last noble defiance of Chaos. Ashe ran the numbers in his head: Twenty seconds now.

The slaver's engines roared at maximum, accelerating it back towards Praven with no regard to fuel consumption or engine damage. Freedom's, too, were well into the red. But the transport had come in ballistic with a high relative velocity; though the slaver had turned and ran the moment the captured vessel had appeared on its sensors, the relative vee was great enough.

Ten seconds to impact.

A macro-cannon found its mark, detonating scant meters above the hull. The lights went out with a crash as the brutal weapon ripped at the void shields, which overloaded and collapsed. Artificial gravity slewed wildly for a moment, then cut out entirely. A multilaser chewed its way across Freedom's hull, vaporizing subsystems and opening whole decks to space.

Ashe barely felt the lurch as the lifeboat carrying the squad and their supply of weapons and ammunition launched from the crumbling transport. Brother Corvidae swung the nose around and tapped the engines, setting the lifeboat on its final course.

Four.

Three.


Outside, the transport dove headfirst into the slaver's battered shields. The shields flashed pure white for a tenth of a second, then collapsed, leaving the ship crawling with green lightning. Freedom obliterated herself against its armored hull, opening a great wound in the slaver's dorsal surface. What remained of her hung for a moment, then began to topple aft as the slaver continued to accelerate.

One. Zero.

The lifeboat smashed into the gaping tear in the slaver's hull; the shriek of metal on metal filled the air. The ten battle brothers rocked and rattled against their restraints. A ten-meter spar slammed through the floor of the lifeboat, narrowly missing Mordred, who twisted out of the way just in time; ripping steel and armorplast, the spar tore its way back through the floor before it finally lodged against the engines.

The lifeboat stopped.

“Go,” Ashe said.

Bolters at the ready, Squad Mellorus smashed their way out of the lifeboat, dropping the two meters to the twisted, rubble-strewn deck. They fanned out instantly, checking all around for threats.

“Clear,” said Vaans.

“Advance.”

A normal man might have taken many minutes to pick his way safely through the wreckage. Squad Mellorus sprinted the distance in seconds.

A partition had been sealed closed against the vacuum. Ashe holstered his pistol and nodded at Krytoleus; both Marines slammed their fingers into the floor plating below the door, planted their feet wide apart, gripped the base of the door, and heaved upwards.

Restraints protested. Ashe gritted his teeth, pulling up with all his prodigious might. Steel cables strained, tightened, resisted―and snapped. The movable bulkhead swung upward; air rushed into the vacuum as the squad made their entrance. As the Marines released it, the unsupported bulkhead crashed again to the floor, and the wind died.

The corridor was empty so far, and they advanced quickly. Brother Icirus fired suddenly; the bolt punched through a wall and was rewarded with a scream of pain. He fired twice more, and there was silence. “The blood of the wicked,” he said.

“May it flow like a river,” Ashe answered.

A door opened at the far end of the hall; the Marines snapped their weapons to the ready. A platoon of heretic troopers, jogging three abreast and carrying combat shotguns, began to pour through. They were covered in the signs of Chaos from head to foot. Ashe overcame his revulsion with blessed hate and righteous wrath.

The first nine troopers died before they knew they were under fire. Bolts tore through them, exploding violently upon penetration. A gout of fire from Mordred's flamer washed over the heretics; the first rank died inadvertently shielding their comrades from the purifying flame.

“Cleanse!” Ashe roared, pumping shot after precise shot into the foe even as his long strides ate up the last of the distance. Every trigger pull spelled the end of a corrupt existence.

The Marines were upon them then; Ashe switched his pistol to his left hand and freed his chainsword.

“Purge!” He hacked one in half, sending blood and pulped viscera spraying in a wide arc. As his brothers killed around him, he spun the weapon around and down, decapitating another foe; glimpsing movement, he fired a snap shot at a wounded heretic struggling to rise.

The last foe fell, his legs reduced to a bloody ruin by Brother Virtus' bolter fire. The heretic, not yet in shock, tried in vain to drag himself away.

“Kill,” Ashe said. Virtus raised his boot and smashed it down on the heretic's head, crushing it to the deck.

As they moved on through the scene of their carnage, Ashe heard a faint tinny voice from behind him. He kept his eyes forward; Vaans was rearguard and would handle the threat.

But there was no threat―the voice emanated from a vox-set on one dead trooper's belt.

“Reinforcements are en route,” it said. “Repeat, reinforcements are en route.”

---

“Come on, Anna. Do as they say.” Jon cast a glance over his shoulder at the guards who were herding them into the main deck. There was fear in the heretics' eyes.

Anna―his beloved Anna―nodded. There was fear―no, stark terror on her face as she stooped to pick up Kenzi; he took her by the shoulders and shepherded his wife and child towards the mass of huddled, dirty, fearful people in the back of the high-ceilinged cargo bay.

Kenzi was crying weakly, and he saw tears in Anna's eyes too. His heart was pounding, his ears ringing, and he felt his eyes sting―his show of strength cracked and broke, and he held them tightly, as if for the last time.

Perhaps it was.

“Spiritus dominatus,” he whispered, just loud enough to be heard by the woman and child to whom he clung, “Domine, libra nos.”

Why had they been moved from their holding cells? To be exterminated? For safekeeping? Why were the guards afraid?

So many questions.

So many terrifying possibilities.

He gauged the distance from his position to the nearest guards. He had a sharpened pencil in his pocket that the heretic-guards had missed; he let his hand form a fist around it.

“From the lightning and the tempest,” he continued, trying to keep his voice steady, “Our Emperor deliver us.” His wife's lips moved, thin and white with fear, but forming the words that were a tiny flame of hope in this long night of despair. “From plague, deceit, temptation and war, Our Emperor deliver us.”

If he lunged fast enough, was lucky enough, he might bury his pencil in an eye or a neck. Oh, Emperor, that he would be considering such a thing―to attack men with guns with a sharpened stick. But nothing would happen to Anna and Kenzi. Not while he lived.

Deliver them, he thought―prayed―begged. Oh Emperor, deliver them.

---

One word had been transmitted before the vox operator died. One panicked, terrified word that coursed through the kilometer-long slaver at the breakneck speed that only bad news can attain. One word that merited the arming of the crew, the withdrawal of personnel away from nonessential areas; one word that induced fear in every corrupted heretic heart.

Just one word.

Astartes!”

When the reinforcements arrived―a hundred men with high-powered las carbines and grenade launchers and tripod-mounted heavy bolters―they found only the dead.

A moment later, they began to die.

---

Ashe aimed and fired, launching another Metal Storm bolt into the chaos below. The .75 caliber round sacrificed velocity and penetration for a formidable explosive charge and ring upon ring of stacked ball bearings.

A deck below, through the holes hacked in the ceiling through which Squad Mellorus had ascended, there was only screaming and death. Even as his first shell detonated, ripping into the unarmored heretics' bodies with deadly effect, he fired again, aimed, fired again.

The troopers returned fire wildly, clawing against their killers even as they died. A lucky las shot slashed over Ashe's helmet, flash-vaporizing part of the metal and slamming his head to the side. He continued to fire: if they failed to fragment the troopers below, their massed firepower would kill the Marines in seconds. It was over in seven. Ashe stripped out the Metal Storm magazine and fastened it again to his belt, then reloaded with standard shells.

“Descend,” he commanded.

The squad dropped to the floor and checked quickly among the fallen for survivors. There were none.

“You know your targets,” Ashe said over the closed combat vox. “For Corax. For the Emperor.”

“For Corax.” they replied in solemn chorus. “For the Emperor.”

Brother Corvidae nodded to his team, Ashe to his, and the squad divided in two.

Corvidae led Icirus, Bellor, Mordred, and Virtus left down the body-strewn corridor, towards the reactor templum.

Krytoleus, Vaans, Alvigol and Tasman followed Ashe towards the bottom of the starship, where the slaves would be held. Ashe had considered placing Vaans at the head of the second fireteam―but Corvidae was a capable leader and a fearsome warrior, and the two eldest marines fought almost as one being after so many years fighting side by side.

They parted at a swift run, silent and sure-footed despite their heavy power-armor. Where they had been the only sound was silence; the only sight was death.



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Last edited by Feil on 2008-07-24 04:43pm, edited 12 times in total.
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Chapter 3 is complete.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-24 09:49pm
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Impressive. Frankly, I generally avoid non-crossover WH40k fics like THE PLAUGE because they are, in 99% of cases, written in disjointed, Stream of Conciousness or Scene Jumping styles that makes it impossible for me to puzzle out what the feth is going on.

Your work on the other hand, reads like a novel, flowing from one scene to the next with clear and logical transitions.

Excellent work, keep going

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-25 02:32am
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I like this story, especially the whole role reversal, what with those on the side of Chaos now being the ones cowering in terror of what lurks in the night instead of some poor guardsmen sweeping a space hulk of genestealers or worse. Keep up the good work.



I love learning. Teach me. I will listen.
You know, if Christian dogma included a ten-foot tall Jesus walking around in battle armor and smashing retarded cultists with a gaint mace, I might just convert - Noble Ire on Jesus smashing Scientologists

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-26 09:16pm
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An excellent fanfic, Feil, truly. This may sound rather ineloquent, but I like your writing style -- it, well, reads like some of the better Black Library fluff I've encountered. You certainly have the "voice" and tone of the 40,000 universe down to a science; I could swear that this reminds me of some of Ian Watson's better work...

As others have said, keep up the magnificent work.



"There is a high statistical probability of death by gunshot. A punch to the face is also likely." - Legion

"The machine is strong. We must purge the weak, hated flesh and replace it with the blessed purity of metal. Only through permanence can we truly triumph, only though the Machine can we find victory. Punish the flesh. Iron in mind and body. Hail the machine!" - Paullian Blantar, Iron Father of the Kaargul Clan, Iron Hands Chapter

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Thank you.

More is coming, but I don't know how soon. University isn't being so kind to me of late. I'll update this weekend at the latest, but I don't know if I'll get anything written before then.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-28 09:08pm
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Chapter 4

Havacham washed the nutri-capsule down with a sip from his canteen. The scouts lacked the blessing of power-armor, which supplied a Marine intravenously with carbohydrates and nutrients―though the scouts' carapace armor did provide efficient reclamation of water. For the scouts, the difficult task of fueling a Space Marine's prodigious metabolism was accomplished by hand.

Despite the pills―or perhaps because of them―Havacham felt the cold hand of hunger in his gut. He accepted the discomfort and put it out of his mind: to suffer for His sake is a blessing. A Marine―even a Scout―can go for days or weeks without eating, and remain combat effective, although powering such a metabolism comes at great cost: stored energy is sapped; muscles grow weak; stamina fades. The pills could hold these off and keep a Marine at almost full effectiveness.

Havacham sensed that they would want all their strength for whatever was to come.

The mine had been bad from a distance; it was a nightmare up close. From their concealment in the shadows, the scouts could see clearly by the oppressive red glare of the wide, open smelting pits, even through the soot-clogged air. The atmosphere was hot and arid and metallic and reeked of fear and sweat. Centuries-old recycler units squeaked and grumbled, but stirred no wind down from the temperate upper levels.

Sound assaulted the ears, violated the integrity of mind and body, vibrated up from the floor. Machinery roared and clattered, cacophonous. Laborers smashed stones or chipped ore from the walls. People breathed raggedly, or moaned. Whip-cracks were followed by screams.

The slaves were everywhere. Some―the new ones―wore the tattered remnants of the garments they had been wearing when they were captured. Most were naked save for rags rapped around their feet and loins. All showed signs of hunger, exhaustion, and torture. All were at work, scourged into frenzied nonstop labor by their tattooed guards. Havacham forced his eyes to flick over those, letting the prayer against evil tumble through his mind. He resisted the urge to glance over his shoulder. Vios had his back.

All at work? No. There were too many shadows, too many slaves, too few masters. The light from the smelting-pits had dulled Havacham's night vision, but―

Ytrus stirred, a shadow moving against a shadow. His preysight monocle had seen something. Havacham followed his finger to a distant patch of darkness, then closed his eyes and waited.

After a ten-count, he opened them again. Before his night-vision faded, he saw what Ytrus had seen. Havacham nodded.

Four shadows detached themselves from the wall, faded from darkness to darkness as swift and silent as specters.

The slave's back―aged, bent, crisscrossed with myriad scars and some fresh welts, was turned to them: they had slipped past him, into the shallow corridor at his back. Havacham drew his knife, careful to keep the black-painted blade from scraping on the scabbard. The slave half-turned, apparently having seen all he hoped to see―and Havacham darted forward, his heavily muscled bulk fast as a striking snake.

His fingers closed over the slave's mouth and he yanked the desiccated being back. The man's muffled yelp was inaudible over the tumult in the chamber.

“Shhh. Easy now.”

He―for the creature had been a man once, Havacham could tell―quivered with fear, but the adamantine blade at the slave's throat cowed him into quietude.

Still not letting the slave see him, Havacham whispered in his ear. “You have worked here for a long time, yes?” His hand was still pressed firmly over the slave's mouth. “Nod.”

He did.

“You know the back ways? The ways down? You know what lies beneath?”

The slave stiffened. Havacham pressed the knife a hair's breadth closer; the monomolecular edge penetrated the first layers of skin. The slave nodded.

“Good. Lead us.”

---

The reports kept coming―fragments of screams across the vox, growing ever-nearer―here and there panicked requests for reinforcements that ended in sprays of static―contact lost with group after group... drawing ever nearer to the slave hold. In the distance, the harsh clatter of bolter fire could be heard, and screams of death and pain.

Then, suddenly, silence.

Tripod-mounted heavy bolters glared down corridors from behind hastily erected barricades. Crewmen fortified entrances. The laspistols and shotguns issued to every crewman were trained on the doors. The heretic men and women of the slaver's crew waited in trembling anticipation for the avenging angels of the god they had despised. They waited for them to smash through the door―hoping, praying to the dark gods that their weapons would be enough.

But they had all of them forgotten the simplest of child-logic―

When expecting Angels, look to the sky.

---

“Detonate,” Ashe said.

A flash like a dozen suns illuminated the slave hold. The melta bomb blasted through deck plating and wiring, floor joists and insulation and armored deck-partitions, burned through the ceiling in a retina-searing roar of pure white light. Those unfortunates who had happened to be looking up reeled away, temporarily blinded. The roar of the explosion was deafening.

As Ashe sprinted towards the gaping, smoking hole, he drew in a great lungful of air.

The other four Marines were mere meters behind him. He leaped.

“FOR DELIVERANCE!” they roared. The name of the home world of the Raven Guard resounded through the room, a second wave of ear-ringing thunder foretelling judgment and retribution.

It was twelve meters to the deck. In one standard gravity, twelve meters means one and a half seconds of falling time.

In one and a half seconds, one can aim and fire a boltgun three times.

When the five Marines smashed to the deck, landing in hard crouches with enough force to deeply dent the corrugated steel of the floor, fifteen heretics had already died.

The roar of boltguns filled the air: a third and final roar of righteous wrath. Vaans had landed near a heavy bolter; he had killed its crew as he fell. He seized up the weapon, firing from the hip. Mass-reactive 1.50 caliber rounds tore through heretics with unerring accuracy, blasting bodies to shreds, separating limbs from torsos in explosions of gore.

Precision fire from the other Marines accounted for those heretics located between Vaans and the prisoners, at whom Vaans dared not fire.

“Clear,” said brother Tasman. It had been four seconds.

The tinkling of spent brass on the deck was unnaturally loud in the silence that followed.

Ashe looked across the huddled mass of slaves. There were about five hundred―mostly men and women, but a few children. All the children he could see were female. Ashe frowned.

Every eye was open wide, staring incredulous at the death-wielding apparitions that had fallen from above. Ashe saw the terror in their eyes. A younger Marine might not have understood.

Ashe was not a younger Marine.

These people had been afraid for a long time. Every change they had witnessed had been a change for the worse. Many had already lost hope.

Ashe stripped out his magazine and reloaded it from a pouch of shells at his belt.

It was Krytoleus who spoke, to Ashe's surprise. Perhaps it was out of his youth―the forty-one year old Marine was the youngest in the squad. But his words seemed to Ashe to emanate from a deep and ageless wisdom.

“Fear not,” he said. “For your prayers have been heard.”

---

Jon felt sudden movement and looked down, wrenching his eyes away from the midnight-armored monsters before him. He saw―and his heart leaped to his throat. Kenzi had tugged away from them and was tottering towards the nearest of the giants, the one who had spoken.

The giant gazed at her, fixing the glaring scowl of his helmet on her tiny body as if she might somehow pose a threat. Discarding all thought of safety, Jon stepped forward, moving to catch up his daughter and bring her back to the crowd―but Anna grabbed his shoulders and held him back. He looked at her, surprise and betrayal in his eyes, then back at Kenzi. Why would she....

The little girl reached up, standing on her tiptoes, and grasped a little finger wider than her whole arm. She turned back to the huddled masses, a proud smile on her tear-stained features.

“Angel!” she proclaimed―and for the first time Jon recognized the silver-edged ebony aquila that covered the giant's breastplate, the gold-chased wings swept back along the casings of the still smoking boltguns―and the mighty armor of the Astartes whose statues and stained glass representations had decorated temples and shrines on Praven, before the dark times.

“Angel!” she said again.

And she was right.

---

Momentum was behind them now. Many of the captives had been soldiers, though few had served in battle, and among them were sergeants and corporals―even a lieutenant or two. They had rallied quickly, forming a half-organized mob with little encouragement. The slaver's crew was reeling, too: two major concentrations of troops had been annihilated already. Corvidae reported success thus far in securing engineering decks.

The enemy was wounded. Time to go for the head.

Ashe fired and a heretic died. The corpse tumbled down the shaft; Ashe pressed close to the ladder to let it past. It landed with a wet thump several meters below. Ashe continued to climb.

Ashe thought his HUD on. Krytoleus' and Tasman's beacons shone brightly, already halfway down the port gun deck. Led by the two Angels of Death, the captives were wreaking a bloody vengeance against their oppressors. Just below, Alvigol was fighting a desperate holding action against the mob of troopers that had dogged them for the last three decks, buying Ashe time.

Two meters below the command deck, now. A gleaming orb appeared overhead, projected down towards the Marines: grenade. Ashe's pistol tracked it, but not fast enough. It would hit―

But Vaans' bolter roared behind him, and the Krak grenade exploded. As burning fragments plinked off Ashe's armor, he glimpsed a shadow falling across the hatch above.

“Now!”

Ashe heaved upwards with his left hand while thrusting his right foot back and down. Vaans was right below him on the ladder. His foot met Vaans' hand, and Ashe was propelled upwards. His head cleared the rim.

There was a face in the corner of his vision. Ashe lashed out with his left fist, smashing the heretic's skull. He slammed his left foot down on a ladder rung, maintaining his momentum upward. Movement behind him. He twisted midair to face it, and found the source of the shadow crashing down on him.

Right heel to a ladder rung, left foot to the wall. A presence in the corner of his vision―no time―ignore it. Right foot to the wall, shove with both feet. Then he was skidding on his backpack against the floor, almost clear of the shaft. The two-tonne slab of hull plating slammed down on his left foot, denting the ceramite and whipping him around as the foot was forced to turn. Pain seared through his body as he felt something tear in his ankle, and a dark shadow loomed above him as he struggled to free himself.

Something―it must have been Vaans―struck the plate from below, lifting it just enough. Ashe jerked his foot clear, rolled to face his attacker-and was hurled across the room by the force of its next blow. His bolter roared as it was torn from his hand, and the pain in his ankle faded to a faint accent as the metal wall tore under his impact. He dragged himself to consciousness and fought to his feet as combat stims flooded his bloodstream.

The thing he faced in the small room was a servitor, a chimaera of corpses and machine. It stood nine feet tall on a tracked chassis supporting an armored amalgam of cadaverous muscles and six piston-driven claws. The noses and mouths of its three heads had been sutured shut, and glowing visual sensors replaced its eyes: it was an external maintenance servitor, designed for conducting repairs on warship hulls in the harsh vacuum of space, amidst the shrapnel and radiation of battle. It trundled about, interposing itself between Ashe and the door to its master's bridge, exposing its true purpose aboard this ship.

Ashe drew his chainsword and thumbed the activator rune. The servitor's glowing eyes tracked him as he circled. When it struck, even Ashe could barely follow the blur. It lunged low over its chassis, two claws lashing out in tandem with speed sufficient to snag whipping cables or hull plates tumbling from the force of nuclear explosions. He dove, rolling back and striking with his sword; the teeth ground and sparked on hardened steel. They fought in close-quarters, each moving with blinding speed, each countering or evading every attack. Again and again the servitor struck, cutting the air within inches of Ashe's armor as the sergeant fought with all his skill.

As he parried a strike, Ashe's foot struck something heavy and soft. It was the body of the grenadier he had killed in his ascent. Another claw-arm scythed through the air; Ashe let himself fall, grabbing the body as he landed. He twisted, barely avoiding a hammer-blow that dented the deck where his head had been, and the exposed pipe-work of the high ceiling caught his eye. He breathed a prayer to the machine-spirit of his chainsword and rolled to his feet.

Ashe hurled the corpse at his foe. One of the servitor's heads―that of an old man, with clumps of white hair still lingering on the sutured scalp―tracked its motion, and a pair of grotesquely muscled limbs lashed up to dismember it. They struck low by a meter, impeded by their own bulk. Ashe smiled savagely. He ducked a wide sweep and deflected a jab with the flat of his sword, then twisted his grip to catch the servitor's flickering backhand point-first. The chainblade screamed and sputtered as it punched through metal and flesh, and Ashe was lifted into the air by his grip on the hilt. Its speed was incredible. The world was a blur. Servos fired at the speed of thought as the sergeant pushed his armor to its breaking point, forcing it to react faster than even his augmented flesh. His heart beat once.

Another arm flashed out to grab him. He twisted, kicking off a nearby wall and striking it away with the side of his forearm. The kick spun him up above the arm lifting him; he pivoted, planted his wounded left foot on the arm and kicked down. The chainsword came free in a spray of dark blood.

His heart beat twice.

He tossed the sword and snagged a pipe with both hands, letting momentum twist him about. The pipe broke; he scrabbled for a handhold and found nothing. He was falling, he thought frantically. He would go too far, he had missed the leap. A claw slashed towards his face―and clanged shut an inch from his visor, unable to elevate beyond the overmuscled shoulder that bound it to the servitor's armored torso.

Ashe's heart beat a third time. The torso.

Ashe snatched at his enemy's armor. Two fingers caught the raised lip behind its triple neck. His arm jerked to full extension and would have wrenched out of the socket but for the armor around it. He caught a glimpse of motion above him and recognized the shape as his chainsword, tumbling through the air.

He snagged the hilt with his free hand. The servitor battered at him, pummeling him through his armor, but he was tight to its back and it could not make a killing strike. He held the chainsword like a dagger, hauled himself up by his tenuous grip, and forced the weapon through rubber and ceramite, through skin and flesh and bone, through wires and circuits, tubes and gears. It's saw-toothed edge screamed as it churned within the servitor's mammoth torso, rending organs and machinery alike. Gore spattered from the widening wound; the servitor's heads screamed in unison, remembering, in death, that there was such thing as pain. The sutures that bound their lips tore and smoke vented from their throats. The cyborg spasmed like a dying spider, finally throwing Ashe to the wall. After many heartbeats, it was still.

Ashe retrieved his sword and found his bolter where it had fallen behind the now-dead guardian.

Coordinating their efforts by helmet vox, he and Vaans were able to remove the hull plating from the access hatch, and his brother joined him on the bloody deck.

The bridge was dead ahead.

---

The narrow doorway indicated a tight hallway beyond it. Ashe wished he had a flamer. He went for his remaining Metal Storm rounds in stead, swiftly exchanging the magazines and readying his chainsword in his off-hand. He raised a power-armored boot and kicked down the door.

No man alive can fire faster than a Space Marine. Ashe pulled the trigger; three bolts roared out in close succession and exploded, filling the last bastion of the heretics' defense with lethal shrapnel. Shotguns and lascarbines fell from dead mens' fingers. The first rank of heretics were dead, their perforated bodies crude shields for those behind.

Vaans opened fire as soon as Ashe cleared the doorway; precise shots hammered into heads and torsos. Ashe swung the roaring chainsword up in a powerful arc, bisecting a heretic from groin to shoulder. One of them had a chainsword of his own and lunged; Ashe fired a burst of Metal Storm bolts into his chest. The heretic came apart messily. Another sweep of the chainsword sawed a head in two; a low slash carved a woman's legs in half at the knees. Ashe stomped down on her as she fell and felt bones crunch under his boot.

The captain of the ship stood defiantly at the far end of the bridge, a blazing sword held confidently in her hand. Ashe felt his mind recoil as his eyes passed over the tainted blade.

The captain smiled, beckoning to Ashe with one hand. The sword in her grip keened with anticipation.

Ashe selected single fire and shot the captain in the head.

“Clear,” he rumbled, and reloaded.

---

Resistance was dying down. Several freedmen had been killed, and others were wounded, but the heretics had been reduced to isolated pockets of resistance―which pairs of Space Marines attacked and destroyed.

Ashe and Vaans and a gray-haired woman in red were leaning over the controls of the slaver.

“I've seen this before, honored Astartes, though the mysteries of cogitator maintenance have not been revealed to me,” the aging Mechanicus initiate said. “They have caused the machine-spirit to despise our instructions. It will take time to coax its spirit... perhaps if I knew more of the holy Machine, I could do―”

But what she could do would never be known. The ship lurched. Lights failed. The ship groaned. Suddenly, with a jolt, the ship heaved hard to starboard. The woman stumbled; Vaans snatched for her, but Ashe had been thrown off his feet and slammed into his brother.

Her head struck the corner of a console with a dull thud. She didn't scream.

Ashe hauled himself upright, activating his vox implant.

“Damage report!”

As he said it, there was a backwash of static from the vox.

Radiation leak.

Sabotage.


The Marines could survive it: power-armor was protection against more than bullets. But the others....

The others might survive a minute. Two would be a lethal dose for most. After five, the Marines would be alone with the dead.

Ashe glanced at the view-port: Praven loomed large on the screen. Landing might be possible.

Vaans saw his gaze and read his thoughts.

“We'll make it.”

Alvigol was at work at the command station. His gauntleted hands flew over the bloodstained keyboard.

“The Machine-spirit is angered, brother-sergeant. It won't shut down.”

“Manual?”

“On the far end of the ship.”

Too far.

“It falls to Corvidae, then,” said Vaans. “We can't help him.”

Ashe made the sign of the aquila and shook his head.

“We can pray.”

---

“For the Emperor! Go!”

The running Marines broke away from one another, each sprinting towards his own objective. The vox was down: radiation leak. There could be no contact across long distances. Each Marine would succeed or fail on his own. If any failed, so would they all.

Mordred approached his door. Pausing to open it would cost a precious half-second that none of them had. He tucked his shoulder and smashed through it, into the room beyond. The lights were out. Sparks from sheared wiring spattered and crackled. A fallen crossbar blocked his way; he tossed it aside, never pausing. It must have weighed half a tonne. He leaped over a smashed desk, ducked under a low-hanging clump of wires, and was at the door.

He smashed through, into the next room. The temperature was noticeably hotter here. Darkness still reigned, and the heat was intense enough to make the helmet's night vision useless, but Mordred could make out corpses on the floor and the scars of weapons-fire on the walls. The corpses were smoldering.
He leaned into the turn, sure-footed as he sprinted right. Another door, this one open.

He ran through a rubble-strewn corridor, turned left into a half-collapsed antechamber―and for a long, long half second he paused. The final door was just ahead―the heavy, bolted-shut doorway to the reactor control chamber. His helmet's infrared told him the door was spectacularly hot, but he had expected that. And it told him nothing he needed to know.

If any one of his brothers had failed―if the flow had not been shut off, if the superheated plasma coolant that had filled the room after the explosion was still flowing in―if just one of his brothers found his path impassible, or was even a few seconds slow, he would walk through that door and be burned alive. And fail.

For a moment, Mordred saw an image of himself burned to ashes, of the sacred armor he bore reduced to unrecognizable slag, never again to serve the Chapter. He saw the people―the frail, weak five hundred loyal men and women and children whose lives depended on his success―saw them horribly dead because he failed. Then he cleared his mind, and saw only what lay ahead.

I know no fear, he lied, and ripped open the door.

Incandescent fire washed over him, ignited into blazing brilliance by the sudden presence of oxygen and low pressure in the antechamber. Plasma coolant burned hot as hellfire against his armor. He pushed forward, even as his skin burned in thin lines under the joints of his armor―neck and waist, elbows and knees. Mordred made his mind ready for death, prepared his soul to be taken to the Emperor―but never let his eyes stray from the heavy lever that was his objective, and never let his feet stop pushing him forward.

The fire burned, and swirled―and then it faded, as suddenly as it had come, spent with no source of resupply.

The others had succeeded.

He was alive.

He saw his target clearly now: the manual shutoff lever that would disengage the reactor if thrown. It was glowing white-hot. There were puddles of molten metal on the floor. Mordred planted his feet, gripped the lever―instantly, he felt the heat through his gauntlets―bent his back, and shoved upward with all his might.

Nothing. The lever had fused itself in place. He felt his hands begin to blister and burn. His armor noted the damage and pumped local anesthetics and combat stims into his bloodstream. He crouched again, and shoved upward.

Nothing. Again, he crouched, slammed up. The lever would not move. He felt his burned palms sticking to the gauntlets as he crouched again, slammed upward again with all his might. The painkillers had already reached their maximum dosage.

Mordred realized he was screaming, and let his shouts become words. “Through the darkness may I serve thee,” he bellowed, shouting over the sounds of complaining steel, drowning out the pain in his hands. He lunged upwards against the noncompliant bar.

“Guide my hand in this, thy fight!” Again, he tried with all his strength; again, failure. He felt the burned, blistered skin of his left hand tear off as he struck up again: a white-hot spear of agony through his body.

“That my will and honor true be!” he howled over the pain, battering upwards against the bar―

“Grant me strength in this dark night,” shouted two voices―and then strong hands gripped the lever around Mordred's, and another Marine bent his might against the fused machine. It moved―hardly an inch, but it moved! They pushed upwards again, the lever moved, and the switch was thrown. With a hollow boom the reactor-feed cut out, and the massive thermonuclear furnace at the heart of the starship began slowly to shut down.

Mordred pried his hands free from the bar and staggered back. Brother Corvidae was standing beside him, his armor pitted and scorched and scarred. Corvidae laid a hand on Mordred's shoulder, steadying him. For a second the two Marines stood silent, listening as the ship's great heart beat its last.

Already, Mordred could feel his hands begin to mend as Larraman cells flooded to the wounds, forming fresh new scar tissue over the raw flesh. Slowly, strength began to return.

“You I serve with all you gave me,” Corvidae finished with him. His voice, too, was raw from shouting, a harsh smoke-burned whisper. “You, mankind, with all my might.”



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Last edited by Feil on 2008-07-24 04:34pm, edited 13 times in total.
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-29 02:48pm
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You know, with this being the second time in a month where a kid has done that, I think your story now makes SDN the home of the largest collection of the least-grim WH40K stories, that are actually good, on the Internet. Keep up the good work Feil!



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-29 03:14pm
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Ah, 4-year-olds: for all your light-hearted responses to the sudden violent death of dozens of people before your very eyes :D.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-29 03:55pm
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I feel as though I'm merely echoing Academia Nut, but that scene at the end was especially touching. Even in the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, it seems, there is still innocence to be found. You'd never read this sort of thing in a Black Library novel -- but then again, most of them seem bent on perpetuating the myth of "everlasting doom and gloom" in the 40k universe. It's nice to see a more human outlook on 40k for a change...

On another note, I really enjoy the way you write these little action scenes -- the writing style is very tense and short, exactly as it should be when Astartes are performing a decapitation strike. :wink:

I did, however, notice a small typo here:

Quote:
In one and a half seconds, one can aim and fair a boltgun three times.


Did you perhaps mean "fire" a boltgun? It doesn't detract from the excellent writing, of course, but I thought I'd point it out for the appropriate quashing.



"There is a high statistical probability of death by gunshot. A punch to the face is also likely." - Legion

"The machine is strong. We must purge the weak, hated flesh and replace it with the blessed purity of metal. Only through permanence can we truly triumph, only though the Machine can we find victory. Punish the flesh. Iron in mind and body. Hail the machine!" - Paullian Blantar, Iron Father of the Kaargul Clan, Iron Hands Chapter

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-29 08:49pm
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I can just picture this scene on the movie screen. Huge explosions, blurs, blood, guts, screaming, then all of a sudden, deathly silence. Then the little girl approaches the Space Marine that probably weighs about 100 times more than she does, says "angel", and I realize that was a brilliant scene.

Can't wait for more!

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-30 03:31am
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Dominus wrote:
Did you perhaps mean "fire" a boltgun?


Fixed that and other errors. Thanks.

Updated.

Chapter 4 is complete (in the same post as it was begun).



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-30 12:28pm
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There is something especially chilling about that scene with the child. I mean, it was touching of course, but reading it really makes you shiver.

Anyhow, good chapter. I'll be honest, getting a grasp of all the named characters has taken a while, but at least four of the marines are burned into my memory. Now I wonder what those scouts are up to... *coughMOARcough*

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-03-30 07:01pm
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The writing in this segment was absolutely fantastic; truly, this is first-rate material. Also, it's good to see that these Astartes aren't the Blood Angels, at least, who would have most likely just left the civilians there to die.

Kudos to you for the excellent finale on chapter four -- that scene alone would make a better action film than many a movie I have seen. :wink:



"There is a high statistical probability of death by gunshot. A punch to the face is also likely." - Legion

"The machine is strong. We must purge the weak, hated flesh and replace it with the blessed purity of metal. Only through permanence can we truly triumph, only though the Machine can we find victory. Punish the flesh. Iron in mind and body. Hail the machine!" - Paullian Blantar, Iron Father of the Kaargul Clan, Iron Hands Chapter

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-01 01:10am
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Thank you.







Chapter 5

Ashe felt the silence more than he heard it. The engines had stopped.

Twenty-seven seconds after the explosion, a voice rang clear over the vox―rough, raw with shouting, short with strain, but untouched by static. “The Emperor protects,” Corvidae said.

“He guides us all,” Ashe whispered back.

Ashe looked at the planet, looming ever larger on the screen―and his momentary elation faded.

They were moving too slowly.

Ashe glanced at Alvigol. “Do we have attitude control?”

“By the grace of the Ancestors, brother-sergeant. We have a little.”

“Good. Vaans?”

“Brother?”

“Get the freedmen strapped down. We're going to land.”

Vaans made the sign of the aquila and strode out.

---

Cool air wafted over Vaans' sweat-damp face as he removed his helmet for the first time since the battle began. Krytoleus and Tasman, who were with him, had faces streaked with sweat. Red lines stood out on their pale faces around their eyes and necks, where the helmet met the skin. The shadow of half a day's hair and beard darkened their bare heads and jaws. Vaans knew his face must look much the same.

They were hard faces, heavily muscled, strong boned, many-scarred. But they were human faces, and that was what he needed. The scowling helmets of the Astartes were designed to inspire fear. The civilians were already afraid. Vaans sought to inspire trust.

Clipping his helmet to his belt, Vaans approached a tall woman with gray-streaked hair. He could see in the group's dynamic that she was something of a leader.

Krytoleus and Tasman had moved away to separate the freedmen into groups. Vaans let his eyes flick over each one momentarily as he walked.

Tasman exuded confidence; his confidence would lend strength to the fearful.

Krytoleus' scar was doubly visible after so long under the helmet. He had received it a year ago, in the fighting on Davin. In time, other scars would cross it, and it would become just another line in the tapestry of wounds every Marine wore. For now, it was imposing.

Vaans let softness into his face. He stopped five feet away, so that the woman wouldn't have to crane her neck to look at him.

“These are your people?”

“Yes, honored Astartes.” Her accent was strange, with sharp consonants and soft vowels.

“You were military,” he said.

“A sergeant. Lot of these people looked to me when you told us to fight.”

“The ship is wounded. We will crash. I need to get these people to a safe place. Will you help me?”

To her credit, the sergeant didn't pause. “Of course, honored Astartes,” she said.

Vaans could see why her people followed her. She would do well. He left her with instructions and moved on.

Tasman was gathering the wounded and those who tended to them or seemed to be their friends. His group would be going to the aft mess hall. The residual radiation from the near-disaster was strongest there. It would be senseless to irradiate those who were still healthy.

Krytoleus' charges were families. It had been he whom one of the children had approached; Vaans hoped the parents and little ones would be more willing to trust him. He seemed to be doing well in gathering them: at the moment, he was speaking quietly to one of the men. There was a smile in his brother's eyes. Wise. An Marine's ability to kill was never absent. When not in battle, it could be seen, carefully repressed, but nevertheless lurking just below the surface. A smile would help, a little.

Vaans had expected Krytoleus to object to placing the families in the officers' mess. The hardened room was the safest place on the ship, safer even than the two enlisted mess halls which would hold the other, larger groups. The tactical choice would have been to place the best fighters there, to ensure their continued ability to fight in support of Squad Mellorus. But Krytoleus seemed pleased with Vaans' decision. It was puzzling. Perhaps in another decade, if both still lived, Vaans would understand his younger brother well enough to anticipate such things.

Krytoleus felt Vaans' eyes on him, and turned. He signaled that his group was ready.

A glance over his shoulder told Vaans that his sergeant-woman had marshaled her group and was ready to go. He had half turned to begin the exodus when something caught his attention. It took him a moment to realize what it was.

Krytoleus kept glancing at one of the children―the one who had approached him at the moment of liberation.

Children are one of many things a man forgoes by setting foot on the path of the Astartes. It had been years now since last Vaans had wondered what life might have been had he remained human, though he had never regretted what he had given up humanity to become. Krytoleus was wondering that now, Vaans could see.

Vaans decided that it was good. He smiled.

---

The tunnels felt different. Narrower, though his mind told him they were wider, that they were wide enough for ten men to march abreast. Warmer, though they were moving away from the fire. Darker, with a darkness that was more than the absence of light.

Their guide ahead could feel it too. If it was possible, he was even more on edge.

Ytrus had chosen well. The slave was quiet―though he made more noise than all four scouts together. And he seemed to know these passageways. Havacham wondered why. Though the little man could be no threat, and the scouts' well trained memories made becoming lost in the warren impossible, the question troubled him.

There was a scent in the air that he couldn't quite place. Vios' nostrils flared as he breathed in. It wasn't just his imagination, then.

Havacham heard footsteps and raised his hand. The scouts stopped, fading instantly into the shadows. Havacham pulled the slave with him, covering the slave's mouth with his hand and casting his cloak over the filthy quivering body.

It made him almost ill to have the slave so close. Not because of the dirt. Dirt can only make one dirty. It was the eight-pointed star branded in scar tissue on the slave's back that made him feel unclean.

For several minutes there was nothing―only footsteps growing ever nearer, ever louder.

A ruddy glow appeared from around a downward-sloping turn in the abandoned mining tunnel. Havacham withdrew deeper into the shadow as the light shoved the darkness before it, casting long jagged shadows on the walls.

The light was brighter, the footsteps louder. Havacham weighed risks, and opted to expose his eyes enough to see.

Two of the pierced, tattooed guards led the way, bearing torches and autoguns. Two more formed the rearguard. Havacham forced his eyes to pass over them.

A small troupe of slaves were carrying nets. Each net was full of corpses. At the center of the group were four more heretic-guards bearing a small enclosed litter.

The group passed. They had their eyes fixed straight ahead, not suspecting the presence of their enemies so close to their―their what?

A thin, weak, muffled sound seemed to seep from behind the litter's curtains. It took Havacham a moment to place it―to associate the muffled fragments of sound with a sound buried deep in his memory.

It had been a long time since the Raven Guard had chosen him as a child of eleven, since they had inducted him into the first, lowest levels of their ancient brotherhood. Twelve years it had been. The years had been hard ones: years of trials and modification, brutal training and more-brutal war. It had been many years since last he had been among children.

It had been many years since last he heard the sound of a girl-child weeping.

---

The slaver hung star-like in the sky, illuminated by rays of brilliant setting sunlight. For a moment, the ungainly, battle-scarred instrument of bondage and suffering was beautiful.

Then the ship struck atmosphere, and the moment shattered.

The slaver had never been meant for atmospheric flight. A bow wave of white-hot fire preceded it into Praven's sky; cometary trails of metal debris tumbled blazing in its smoky wake. The vessel shuddered and groaned as its pilots fought to keep it level.

Distant watchers saw in silence as it fell.

The wound in the dorsal surface from Freedom's impact caught the thickening air. Air spun in and out, turbulent and devastating. With a metallic shriek―barely audible over the thunderous wind―a long swath of armor plating tore loose, tumbling away from the falling starship.

Watchers from the ground would see the slaver as a blazing meteor, showering radiant debris into the late evening sky. The ship dove westward; sunlight reflected off its trail, turning the long cloud of debris blood-red against the sky.

The fiery bow wave faded as the ship lost velocity, though the starship still burned. It ripped through a spiderweb of gossamer clouds, sending half-shapes dancing and swirling in its still-fiery wake. It outran the sunset, roaring westward into moonlit darkness.

The kilometer-long space ship's passing bore with it the sound of a million thunderbolts. A gale-wind preceded it; whirlwinds spun in its wake. It passed too low over a mountaintop; granite shattered, scarring the slaver's belly. It passed lower, blasting the tops off hills. Lower, and leafless trees were uprooted by its wind. Lower, and forests were turned to matchwood as the starship carved a miles-long trench of destruction into the landscape.

Finally, finally, it crunched to a halt. The roaring died. Silence reigned.

Inside the burning starship, battered but living, people stirred, dared to breathe again, thanked the Emperor for their lives. The Angels gave a brief prayer, then turned immediately to their tasks. The ship creaked and clunked and moaned.

Outside, the night smiled.

The trees leered.

The air nodded.

The darkness laughed.

---

The slave froze. Havacham was almost glad. For the past twenty minutes of painstaking descent, every scuff of the miserable being's foot on the steeply descending floor, every swish of his filthy garment against ladders and stairways―even the sound of his frightened breathing―had threatened to betray the scouts' presence to whatever inhabited this hole.

But only almost glad―because of why.

The slave turned to face them, wringing his hands together. His eyes rolled madly. He shook his head back and forth, ever casting glances behind him down the crumbling stone stairs.

Havacham tensed to spring. The little man seemed no threat, but in a place like this....

“No further,” the slave whispered. Havacham suppressed a cringe at the sound.

“We must,” he answered.

“No... no...” the slave shook his head as if trying to rattle out something stuck in it, backing away from the scouts, holding up his cringing hands to shelter himself. “No, no, no, no, no―” the slave's voice grew louder, more frantic― “no, no, no, no!―”

Havacham's knife flashed and the slave's head left his body. He sheathed the blade and caught both head and body before they could fall. He hid them quickly in a crevice along the wall.

The sound had been too much. Far too much. Already he could imagine orders being shouted into vox-casters, hundreds of guards being deployed to this corridor, to protect the dark secret heart of this debased mine.

“Onward,” he hissed. “The Emperor protects.”

Down.

Down.

Down.

It was warmer. Sweat had formed on Havacham's forehead, and his cloak felt hot and oppressive. The air was close and humid, and extremely dark. They were all wearing night-vision equipment now, for there was no light at all by which to see. Havacham had drawn his pistol.

Havacham felt air move. He held up a hand and the scouts stopped, raising pistols at the darkness. He strained his vision, but could see little through the fuzzy green of the night-vision goggles. Was that a door ahead?

There was no sound.

The air was still.

The darkness was complete.

He raised his hand again―but wait. Was that a sound?

“Down!”

An unexpected gleam of light lit the darkness as the scouts dove, seeking cover that was not there. But when Havacham looked up, he saw no-one. Far ahead there was a line of jade light, glimmering like a jewel in the dark. He felt a faint wind caress his sweat-damp lips and, looking away from the light to let his night-vision goggles do their work, saw that the light was coming from a doorway, partially open. Had the wind opened the door? Or had the opening door caused the wind?

The door was one of dozens―perhaps hundreds―that lined the descending corridor, from the first one Havacham had glimpsed through the dark to the faint outlines of more fading into the deep blackness perhaps twenty or thirty beyond the open door. Havacham motioned the scouts forward: this was doubtless what the slave had feared. What secrets lingered in that viridian light? And would he be able to face them when he found them? He shook his head; they moved silently, barely breathing. Havacham pulled open the door while the others covered him with their pistols. Something squirmed under his gloved fingers as he was bathed in sickly green radiance, but when he jerked his fingers away, he saw nothing but the cold metal of the door.

They removed their goggles.

Libera nos a malo,” he breathed. The air smelled impossibly like sea-water, overlayed with that other, darker scent that he had almost forgotten, stronger now, oppressive. Green shadows danced in the corners of the hall in defiance of the steady, overpowering radiance, which seemed to come from the walls themselves. The scouts hurried on, closing the door behind them. Havacham imagined that he could feel the innocent terror of untold hundreds mingling with his own fear. From the expressions on Justinian's and Vios' face, he was not alone. Even Ytrus, usually fearless to the point of recklessness, looked deeply troubled. By the time Havacham reached the end of the hall and lifted his left hand to draw aside the heavy cloth draping, his hand was shaking.

Help me. No voice had spoken, but all four scouts stiffened. They fanned out as they had been trained, seeking cover in the room beyond. There was plenty to be had: the room was ringed with a host of rough-carved pillars that seemed to writhe with lives of their own under the steady, unnatural light. Havacham looked up at the one he crouched behind, wondering at its haunting beauty. He recognized symbols, followed them, feeling understanding ooze into his mind, sensuous and terrible. Almost too late, his mind screamed a warning. He tried to avert his gaze. He failed. He gathered his will, tried harder, and ripped his eyes away.

Please. Please, don't! It was a girl's voice, pained and panicked, but it came from within his head. Havacham ignored it, glancing to his brothers. Ytrus looked slowly away from him. His pistol had been aimed at Havacham's head.

At the center of the room was an altar, encircled by a moat of dark brine, murky with aquatic plants, explained in part the stench of the sea. And on the altar lay a mangled corpse, its blood black under the green light. Something twisted unpleasantly in Havacham's mind, but he felt no threat, no vile seduction, and he did not look away.

I want to go home. I want to go home.

The 'corpse' breathed, shuddering, rasping, weak. Small hands twitched, and Havacham saw with horror that the moat twitched with them.

Don't leave me here. I didn't do anything, I don't want to be here. It hurts, it hurts, don't, please, don't. No! No! Havacham tried to shut her out, to think. He caught what he thought was movement in the corner of his eye, but when he looked he saw nothing. No! Please! HELP ME! HELP ME! HELP! Was that a sound from the left? A hiss of servos, a clink of metal? Go away! Leave me alone! GO AWAY! LEAVE ME! He looked to Ytrus, to Justinian, to Vios: each were fixed on the slowly-breathing child on the jade-colored altar. He looked around for the source of the sound. Was someone―

Run.

The lights went out.

The scouts dove. From across the chamber, muzzle flashes blazed intolerably bright against the sudden dark. The distinctive howl of Mars-Pattern bolter fire shattered the silence. A round smashed into Havacham's shoulder and exploded, shattering armor and damaging flesh. He fired one shot, then ducked back as more shells tore into the pillar that sheltered him. Bolt fire streaked back and forth through the darkness, searing bright white trails against the murk.

“Back! Back! To the surface!”

The scouts ran. Havacham activated the flashlight under his bolt pistol.

Behind, he could hear heavy footsteps in pursuit.

The scouts made the now-dark hallway dead sprint, battering aside the door without hesitation or thought and slamming it behind them. They rounded the turn even as more bolter shells blew the door from its hinges and blasted smoldering craters in the corridor wall. Havacham's light illuminated a score of the heretic-guards running towards them. He opened fire.

“For the Throne!”―it was Justinian's voice shouting. Precise pistol fire shredded heads and torsos as they ran; the scouts dared not slow. Autogun slugs hammered back, flattening themselves against ceramite or tearing wounds in unarmored flesh.

One of the guards shouted words in a language Havacham didn't know, and he felt pain flash behind his eyes. The star was there, the eight-pointed glyph of infinite horror. It burned in his vision, overcoming his mind. He searched in vain for the words of the prayer against evil, but they wouldn't come. Havacham's grip on his bolter loosened. He screamed, closed his eyes, but it was there. A low laughing filled his ears. Then an autogun round slashed across the side of his head, rebounding off his skull and leaving a bloody trail over his left eye.

He found the words.

His pistol spoke as he shouted, and enemies died. They were through, up the stairs. He thought he could hear quiet footsteps behind. A sinister whisper drifted from the darkness.

We are coming.

What was behind them? What had it to do with the child on the altar―or the child on the litter? Havacham's mind recoiled from the questions, yet they lingered in his mind as they ran. His wounds were already clotting over, and he thanked the Emperor for the gift of Larraman's Organ, which produced cells to seal wounds and repair broken skin.

They encountered another party of the heretic guards and annihilated it, leaving screams and broken bodies in their wake. The elusive scent of the corridors was almost covered by the acrid stench of gunsmoke and blood. Almost. Havacham's legs burned with effort; the wounds in his arm and head did not stop hurting. Something was wrong.

We are coming for you,” the whisperer said.

Light appeared in the distance, the red glow of the smelting pits. There would be an elevator there, a way up to the surface.

Considering retreat? Before the mission was accomplished? Was he mad?

Then, in a swirl of blackness from above, the Enemy was upon them and the scouts knew all they needed to know. A brass-armored fist smashed Justinian to the ground. A Mars-Pattern bolter howled, and Havacham's leg erupted in pain. Impossibly-fast dark-blue power armor, etched with crawling, squirming shapes of horror and pain, spun and whirled as the Scouts reacted. Havacham's bolt pistol roared on automatic, blasting craters in the monster's breastplate and pauldron, and two words filled his mind.

Traitor Astartes!

Havacham felt death fluttering in the dark, waiting to take its prey. He clung to faith, desperate lest he give in to fear, to doubt―to damnation. He fired and missed; the bolt cratered the ceiling. The Traitor's bolter turned on him, and―

And Justinian's bolt pistol roared from where the scout had fallen; bolts shattered the traitor Marine's weapon, punched into his side. The traitor staggered.

“To the surface!” cried Justinian, pushing to his feet. Vios took Havacham by the shoulder and the scouts ran. Behind them, Havacham could hear power-armored feet ringing on the stone and the roar of a chainsword spinning to life. More bolter shots howled from behind them; the lone traitor had been joined by others.

The scouts burst from the tunnel into the light. Slaves scattered before them; heretic-guards attempted to raise weapons but were put down by lightning-quick shots from the scouts. Screams and shouts filled the room. The elevator was in sight.

Another of the blue-and-brass armored Astartes appeared from the shadows. The runes on his armor drove instinctual terror into Havacham's mind. The Marine fired; the scouts fired back.

A bolt hit Vios in the chest. He staggered, losing his grip on Havacham. The elevator was nearby.

Havacham had crawled two meters when another bolt hit him in the lower back. He felt it smash through armor and explode. His legs stopped responding.

Ytrus turned, as if to go for him.

“To the surface!” Havacham hissed over the pain. “For the mission! The Emperor protects!”

Ytrus continued to fire as he retreated backwards towards the elevator. “He guides us all,” he said.

Then the elevator soared skyward, and the scouts were gone.

Havacham fired again, and again, and again―and clicked empty. He reached for a fresh magazine, but a power-armored boot kicked the pistol from his hand. He grabbed his knife and thrust up into the gap between the Chaos Marine's groin armor and the armor of his leg. The unholy warrior jerked back, tugging the knife from Havacham's grip.

He looked up at the most hated of all creatures ever to have blighted Man's holy work―the unrepentant traitor.

Havacham forced himself to ignore the vile imagery that covered every inch of the traitor's armor, overcoming the magics of the Enemy with the righteous armor of hate.

We have come for you, slave of the false Emperor,” whispered the traitor through lips as thin and pale as death. The twisted faces covering his armor echoed his words in sibilant chorus.

The traitor's bolter turned on him. The muzzle was carved in the shape of a screaming woman's face.

Havacham's hand was inside his cloak. He freed a blood-covered krak grenade, removed the pin one-handed. If only he had a little more time, he was sure he could place that ....

The traitor's finger tightened on the trigger. The other Chaos Marines had gathered round; each pointed his weapon at the fallen scout.

The eight-pointed star began to dance again in the corners of Havacham's vision. A low laughing filled his ears.

“Ave Imperator,” Havacham spat.

The Chaos Marine smiled hideously.

Ave Dominus Nox.



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Last edited by Feil on 2008-07-24 04:35pm, edited 5 times in total.
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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-02 05:43pm
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Chapter 5 is complete above.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-02 07:14pm
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*draws a line through the entry on the Force Organization chart labeled Havacham* The fallen will be forever remembered as the Emperor's finest. The Night Lords are going to regret this.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-02 09:32pm
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Ave Imperator, morituri te salutant, Havacham. :cry:

Another excellent chapter, Feil. The writing is more than up to your usual exacting standards, and the "chase sequence was, to use a modern colloquialism, awesome.

Here's to hoping that the other marines avenge his honorable death in a suitably painful fashion, as befitting those who sell their very souls to runaway emotional echoes. They shall live to regret their transgression. Purge the heretics! :evil:



"There is a high statistical probability of death by gunshot. A punch to the face is also likely." - Legion

"The machine is strong. We must purge the weak, hated flesh and replace it with the blessed purity of metal. Only through permanence can we truly triumph, only though the Machine can we find victory. Punish the flesh. Iron in mind and body. Hail the machine!" - Paullian Blantar, Iron Father of the Kaargul Clan, Iron Hands Chapter

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-03 11:30am
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absolutely amazing. This is the best Warhammer 40K fanfiction I have ever read. In fact, it is easily as good as Horus Rising in my humble opinion.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-03 01:52pm
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Well, I appreciate the praise, but I have to say--you ain't seen much if this is the best you've seen. Check out this guy's stuff for starters. http://www.incunabulum.co.uk/ There's also plenty of good stuff on this site to check out. Kuja, Imperial Overlord, NecronLord, and Stravo are names to look for.

Thank you, though, all three.



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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2007-04-04 09:16am
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I like it. You're very good at capturing the 40K atmosphere, possibly better than a number of actual Black Library authors. It's nice to read something and right away feel plunged into the grim darkness of the far future.



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