End Times (Warhammer 40,000)
For the official WHFB end times, see The End Times.
End Times is a story from Wat, currently in its fourth thread.
The God-Emperor of Mankind has finally died at the end of M40, paving the way for Horus to reassemble his shattered soul and be reborn. However, the Star Child prophecies are true and The Emperor has also been reborn in a new body - a woman's. Surprisingly, the writer has stated that this is not for nefarious purposes, and could have a serious bearing on the plot. Other events include the return of all the missing primarchs from their crusade into the Eye of Terror, and the subsequent ass-kicking of a chaos cruiser. Not much else has been written so far. /tg/ is waiting for moar.
- Thread 1: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/20692914/
- Thread 2: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/20724270/
- Thread 3:
http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/20753341/[Due to shenanigans the archive is incomplete. Full part 3 in a pastebin: http://pastebin.com/fD4xVVE8]
- Thread 4: http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/20766705/
The Story So Far
When the rumors came from Cadia of the 14th Black Crusade, everyone assumed Abaddon would be stopped once again. When the messages from Cadia stopped completely, everyone started to worry. When the Golden Throne broke down, everyone started to panic.
'Everyone,' of course, could be a surprisingly small number of people. In this case, only the High Lords of Terra and the Adeptus Custodes understood the full gravity of the terror facing them. Thankfully the Astronomican still functioned, although it flickered and wavered as though obscured by a powerful warp storm; which was, indeed, the cover story. How long it would hold, however, was anyone's guess; and when it went out, so would any chance for survival of humanity.
“It's happened, then. He's... passed,” said the Master of the Administratum, his mouth dry and his voice trembling. “Throne, what can we do?”
His fellow Lords flinched; seeing powerful a man to be reduced to near gibbering terror in the face of this catastrophe only reminded them of the horror and despair welling within their own hearts. The final report from the Custodes had arrived, and with it the knowledge that no life signs could be detected in what was left of the Emperor of Mankind.
“I... that is, we... we aren't sure He's....” the Mistress of the Astra Telepathica couldn't bring herself to say “dead.”
“Gone,” said the Master of the Astronomicon, finishing what his fellow Lord could not. “We believe that if He were truly gone, the Astronomican wouldn't function at all. Envoy, could you elaborate?”
The Paternoval Envoy cleared his throat. The third and final Psyker within the ranks of the rulers of the Imperium, he was simply an ambassador from the true master of the Navis Nobilitas. “Without the Emperor's presence, my Lord believes, the beacon could not work. Where he is, or rather where his soul is, we simply do not know. But we do not think he's gone.”
After some minutes of heavy silence at these words of faint, impossible hope, an agent of the Inquisition entered the room and proceeded to the Lord High Inquisitor's side, wielding a dataslate. She handed it to her master, bowed, and left without saying a word. Entering his personal cypher key, the Lord Inquisitor read the dataslate and paled, looking as if he would pass out. He rallied, however, and set the dataslate down with a sharp rap against the metal desk in front of him.
“My fellow High Lords, I have grave news, news which has been verified to the fourth degree by the Inquisition. Given the gravity of events here on Terra, we cannot wait for a fifth degree of verification, and I do not think we could get it, in any case; not for this. The leader of the newest Black Crusade is not, as we suspected, Abaddon the Despoiler. Instead, this last and greatest Crusade is led by Horus Lupercal, and the other Traitor Primarchs follow him.”
There are over fifty billion humans on Terra, and census takers had long since given up obtaining an accurate count. At any given second, hundreds of newborns were taking their first breath, and hundreds of others losing their last. The sheer psychic brilliance of all those souls living and dying made Terra shine like a sun within the maelstrom of the warp, and the Astronomican focused that brightness into a beacon that the Navigators used to fly all FTL-capable Imperial ships through the dreadful Warp. For something to outshine that brightness would be inconceivable to most every Psyker in the Galaxy, who all felt the gentle light even if they could not see into the Warp itself. And yet this was a time of inconceivable events; roughly one hour after the last life-signs faded from the broken corpse of the God-Emperor of Mankind, Holy Terra shone with a brilliance greater than it had for tens of thousands of years, a supernova within the Warp, for one brief moment clearing all but the densest Warp storms within hundreds of thousands of light years. On worlds throughout the Imperium latent Psykers experienced a brief and terrifying moment of pure potency, yet none lost their souls to the denizens of the Warp. Navigators became insensate and their ships had to drop out of Warp-space or drift. In the meeting chamber of the High Lords of Terra, the three psykers present were flung from their chairs and fell, unconscious. And yet, despite this flair of power, despite all it caused and disrupted, no one died from it directly. Only where other lethal circumstances occurred did a single human perish as a result of this immense Psychic event.
Across the Galaxy, on the planet known as Cadia, gateway to the Eye of Terror, Abaddon the Despoiler strode toward the appointed meeting place, a broken yet living body in his fist. He paused, tensing – a bloody moan of pain escaping from the body in his hand – and then stepped forward. Even he, Leader of the Black Legion, Terror of the Imperium, would admit the sheer power collected in this space was frightening.
In what remained of a city center, the largest gathering of Primarchs since the Heresy ten millennia ago began. Six Daemon Princes, once post-human, now so much more: Perturabo and Lorgar, Lords of Chaos Undivided; Fulgrim, Lord of Slaanesh; Angron, Lord of Khorne; Magnus the Red, Lord of Tzeentch; and Mortarion, Lord of Nurgle. They barely resembled humans any longer, these Daemon Princes. They could level whole worlds in their fury.
And yet Abaddon entered their company as an equal, or so he felt, and he would be damned again if he cared what the others here thought. Throwing down the bloody bundle in the center of their gathering, he noticed at last the representative of the Alpha Legion, whose presence was as much an afterthought as anything else. Compared to the powers here, what was the Alpha Legion but a pitiful collection of spies and saboteurs?
“So this is the mortal who gave you such trouble? Doesn't look like much,” said Fulgrim.
“Mortals never do, until Father Nurgle shapes them,” said Mortarion. Abaddon tried to ignore the green spittle flying from the Primarch's lips.
“Creed,” seethed Angron. The World Eaters had suffered quite badly from the tactician's plans and traps.
The body stirred at its name, though it could not hope to rise. “The Emperor... protects,” he whispered, blood pooling out of his mouth. Abaddon stepped forward and stomped on Ursarkar E. Creed's torso, crushing it into paste, and then did the same to the Lord Castellan's head as his eyes bulged for the last time. A faint bloody pop, and the deed was done.
“Not anymore. Your soul is my Master's now,” said Abaddon. A cruel smile spread across his scarred face.
“And just who is your Master, Abaddon? Have you finally chosen a patron God after all these years?” said Magnus, his red skin shimmering in the oily light of his immense sorcerous skill.
“Surely not you, Abaddon? You're too stubborn to bow to anyone else but yourself,” said Perturabo.
“Rather he recognizes that all true Gods are worth worshipping,” said the ever-pious Lorgar, glaring at Perturabo. Their reasons for not aligning with one of the four major Chaos Gods could not be more different. Lorgar bowed to all while Perturabo held all at bay.
“I have chosen, my Lords. Here comes my God now.” Abaddon was staring upwards as a blackness, like a shadow-light, descended. The Primarchs were for once silent, recognizing a power far greater than their own.
“My Lord Horus, I bow to you,” said Abaddon, The shadows tightened to form a being half as tall again as the largest of the other traitor Primarchs. A giant of a man, if it could even be called a man, without armor or artifice to mar the perfection of this form. It – he – reached out and touched Abaddon's shoulder, bidding him to rise.
Angron broke the silence. “Horus died! You look like him, you feel like him, but he died! I felt his soul disintegrate!” he roared.
Fulgrim glared at Magnus. “Is this your trickery, Sorceror-King? Have you fooled Abaddon into following your commands?”
Magnus blanched at the accusation. “I assure you, brother, to create THIS is far beyond even me... only Tzeentch could possibly...”
“The Lord of Change is not responsible for my re-existance, my brothers. Nor is the Blood God, the Prince of Pleasure, or Master of Pestilence,” said the being resembling Horus. At his voice the planet beneath them trembled. “I was far beyond their reach after Father struck me down, and I am even further beyond them now.” Horus smiled. “And I am pleased to see all of you alive and well.” He turned towards the Alpha Legionnaire, who was obviously debating running for his life. “Fear not, little nephew, I look forward to seeing Alpharius again too.”
A row broke out among the other Primarchs, although it soon escalated into accusations and oaths of vengeance at this perceived trick.
“Silence,” said Horus softly, although his voice drowned out even the roars of Angron. “You need proof. Know me now, brothers, and know what I have become!” He spread his arms and the head off everyone present snapped back, eyes glowing, as they received a vision – a vision into the birth of a new Chaos God.
They saw the Emperor strike down Horus and perish, and the fragments of Horus' soul scattered like dust on the winds of the Warp. They saw the Chaos Gods themselves reel away from the fury of the blow. They saw the tiny shards of his soul swirl in the Warp, bringing rebellion and ambition wherever they interacted with the materium. After thousands of years of flying through the Galaxy's dark reflection, they saw a mere fraction of the pieces begin to pool and merge in a spot of relative calm in the warp, only to be swept apart as a storm raged through. Yet this time the pieces did not scatter, but stayed close, ignored by the denizens of the warp due to the lingering taint of the Emperor's blow. Ironically, that which destroyed Horus preserved him, kept him from being truly unmade, although he was yet little more than a shadow compared to even the meanest human soul in the Warp. As they flowed along Warp currents, the pieces which held together now like a raft of debris in a hurricane grew as they encountered other pieces, scattered throughout the Immaterium. Now enough to swim rather than be swept, a sense of unthinking instinct made the remnants of Horus gather in ever greater numbers. A shade without thought, without purpose other than the impulse to collect. Time passed. In early M36 the shade grew large enough to think, although without a directing consciousness it was quite mad, and drove everything it touched mad as well, including an unfortunate Prefectus of the Administratum named Vandire.
They saw the ripples from this chance meeting shake the Imperium, and still they saw nothing that could truly be called Horus, only an echo of his ambition or his defiance. By now the pieces had gathered in large enough numbers to take the form of a chaos spawn, deadly and dangerous to an unprepared Psyker perhaps, but still unthinking and nothing compared to what Horus had been at his height. By M40 nearly all the fragments were gathered again in the form of this Warp creature, which Lesser Daemons avoided and Greater ones ignored, yet still the spark of self that was Horus was not there. They saw the Horus-shade drift mindlessly for nearly two millenia, until by chance it drifted into a warp current threading to the past, all the way back to the Heresy.
At last here was something more than mere fragment-gathering. The Horus of the thirty-first millennium left a wake in the warp as he traveled, and the warp creature hurried along it, swelling as it passed the events of Davin even as the Horus of the past planned the first assault on the Sol system. By the time the creature reached the aftershocks from Isstvan V it resembled a humanoid, and hurried onward faster even as the Siege of Terra began to stall. It reached the fringes of the battle of Terra even as Horus lowered the void shields of the Vengeful Spirit in order to draw out the Emperor. It reached the battle between Horus and the Emperor, just as the Emperor prepared his fateful blow.
They saw the shade, looking like a statue of Horus hewed from smoke, reach out to Horus at the height of his power just before the blow landed and steal something precious, something it protected as it vanished from M31 and returned to the first hints of the current which had swept it back in time. But it was no longer an it. They beheld Horus, newly born Chaos God, God of Defiance, of Ambition, of Pride, of all the things that made humans strive ever onwards in the face of impossible odds. The Chaos God of Humanity was born not in a violent eruption like that which had accompanied Slaanesh and created the Eye of Terror but in the way of Khorne; for war had existed before Khorne, just as humanity was older than Horus, and so Khorne took up an empty throne waiting for a King just as Horus did.
They saw the first act of this God, before even the other Gods of Chaos could notice him, as Horus struck at the distant presence of the God-Emperor and caused irreparable damage to the Golden Throne. To strike past the shade of the God-Emperor took nearly all his early strength, so Horus curled in on himself and hid in a way only possible in the warp. If Khorne noticed his presence, he did not care, for what was another rival? If Nurgle noticed his presence, he did not object, because he was too absorbed in his own dominion to act. If Slaanesh noticed, he did not strike out, for the Prince of Pleasure was growing bored of the endless struggle with the other three. Only Tzeentch, master of plots and sorcery, could have possibly objected as Horus' domain overlapped somewhat with his own, but who could say this isn't what the change master had planned?
As for the God-Emperor, he was too busy being nearly dead to do anything about Horus' return, and if the Chaos Gods changed their mind about his existence then Horus was prepared to demonstrate just why they never truly controlled him in the past once again. And Horus smiled, for the God-Emperor would soon be truly dead, and the Chaos God of Humanity would be the only God it had left.
They saw all this and reeled back as if struck, staring at Horus like the dreadful wonder he was, the dark miracle of his presence at once staggering and invigorating. One buy one, the champions of Chaos bowed to Horus in the ruins of Cadia, and pledged loyalty to him once again. Some, Horus knew, were lying and hoped to over-throw him, but it did not matter. He was so far beyond them now. Horus smiled, because he had returned. Soon, the Galaxy would burn and the Age of Horus would begin.
On the other side of the Eye of Terror, a motley band of warriors fought their way through the Arx gap. Clad in mismatched power armor, no two warriors looked alike. Some wielded power swords, others bolters, and others with whatever they could find that would work. They had been fighting in a place where time had little meaning, yet they had fought for thousands of years. Standing over these warriors were four martial lords unmatched in all the galaxy, save for their kin. They stared at the stars – real stars, the like of which they hadn't seen since.... none could remember when they had last seen real stars.
“Right,” said Leman Russ, “Does anyone know where we are?”
In the void between the galaxies a hungry malevolence observed the psychic ripples of these events and hurried onward. Soon it would reach the Light, and then it would feast.
Back on Terra, in the lower core of a hivespire, a child was being born to humble, pious parents who worked for the Administratum. Conceiving had taken longer than either of them expected, and only the advice of a local doctor had finally allowed them to become parents.
“You can do it, Maria, just push!” said Iosephus. He held her hand tightly, love in his eyes.
“Aaaaaargh!” screamed Maria with a final push, and as the child entered the world the doctor caught and swaddled the babe, and snipped the umbilical cord.
“We did it...” she panted. “We did,” he replied.
“Congratulations,” said the doctor. “It's a girl.”
“I am going to strangle Cegorach,” thought the God-Emperor of Mankind, as his avatar cried and suckled at her mother's breast.
Within the Webway, the Laughing God's cackle grew to new heights as his greatest trick unfolded. He – although such a concept as gender had little meaning to the Laughing God – bid his harlequins to dance, and on every craftworld in the galaxy Farseers awoke with a screaming headache.
Months passed. The galaxy turned.
On Terra, a girl child, newly born, blazed with the light of the Emperor and grew into a young woman even as she led her devoted followers to the gates of the Imperial Palace itself. They swung open as the Adeptus Custodes marched out in force.
“My Custodes, do you not recognize your Emperor?” she said, and even those at the rear of the massive crowd could hear, though not with their ears. Only a few at the very front, such as the holy couple Iosephus and Maria, heard the reply.
“We do, my lord. We welcome you back home.” As one, they bowed. A cheer went up. Terra celebrated for days, even as the darkness grew.
“I think we're in the Gothic sector, my Lords. The stars seem to match what I remember,” said a Space Marine, one of the – what were they called? The Blood Ravens.
“When were you in the Gothic Sector, Sargent Tarkus?” said the young Force Commander who led his small band of penitent crusaders.
“I served briefly alongside the Angels of Redemption chapter there,” said the veteran Sargent.
“And you returned with a squad's worth of heavy bolters, if I recall,” rumbled an ancient Dreadnaught that served alongside them.
“The Angels of Redemption are quite generous with gifts, Captain Thule,” Tarkus replied.
Corax smiled. He knew they weren't a successor chapter from his Legion, but they had attached themselves to him nevertheless. He wondered who's they were – they said they had no idea, although the Dreadnought appeared to know something. “That's all well and good, but how are we going to get off this half-cursed planet?”
His brother, the Khan, raised an armored fist to the sky. “That's how.”
Above them in the void a battle raged. The Imperial Gothic Fleet kept close watch over the Arx Gate – after all, this unreliable entrance into the Eye of Terror was one of the possible launching points for a Black Crusade. As such, when the world they were on had transitioned to the Materium, along with the Chaos Fleet in orbit, the Imperium was ready for them.
Getting to the Arx gate had been no easy task, and had sapped their numbers badly. The Primarchs formed the nucleus of an ever-shifting band of Adeptus Astartes, most of them on some form of penitent crusade, some few captives of Chaos that had not yet been turned. When they learned of the Arx gate, about five hundred years earlier, they had set out to find it. Getting through the traitor legions near Cadia was simply impossible, so they needed another exit.
“I'm picking up their vox signal,” said another Astartes, this one a member of a Dark Angels successor chapter, who had one of the few functioning long range vox units left. “My Lord Primarchs, I can patch you through.”
“I'll take care of it,” said Vulkan. Without him, they all would have run out of equipment and perished long ago. It was he who managed to take what little they could scavenge and recover from within the Eye and make it safe to use again, as well as maintain what precious little they already had. He began conversing with the Admiral in charge of the action above, and after a short while convinced him of their sincerity.
Soon enough, the battle above became a rout, and as the Chaos fleet fled back into the Eye, shuttles descended to recover the long-lost Space Marines.
The Emperor paced in front of the Golden Throne. No one had dared touch his – her? - the Emperor wasn't sure which pronoun to use – previous body, despite it being nothing more than an empty shell. She knew why that was – it was a relic to the people of the 42nd millennium. What she didn't know was what Horus was up to. Why was he not launching a full assault upon the Imperium? He had to some idea of how thin their defenses were – indeed, when the Emperor was informed of precisely how thin they were she – the Emperor decided on she, for simplicities sake and to differentiate this body from the previous – had realized a fast strike could have quickly sealed near certain victory for her traitorous son.
The Emperor knew true fear for the first time in her existence. Horus had done what she long suspected he could do, if he ever returned: Ascend beyond the machinations of the Chaos Gods to become one himself. They had poured too much power into him, distrusting each other as they did, each trying to gain total control and prevent the other three from doing the same. He was a god now, just as the Emperor was forced to acknowledge she was and had always been.
Lorgar. Poor, wise Lorgar. The Emperor had hoped to stamp out belief and thereby stamp out the temptations of Chaos in the Imperium, but Lorgar knew what the Emperor had fooled herself into denying back then: Humanity was a species that needed something to believe in, because without it they would surely fall into despair and Chaos in the grim futility of existence in this age. Humanity believed in her, and she owed it to them to reward their faith.
She could feel the immense weight of Horus' god-hood in the Warp. He required no belief to be a god, just as she did not. They simply were, and to understand what that meant was to understand the magnitude of the struggle ahead.
“WHY IN THE HELL HAVEN'T WE LEFT YET?” Angron demanded at his usual volume.
“Could you do that again, brother? I haven't heard anything that loud in quite some time,” said Fulgrim.
“Go fuck yourself, nancy bitch,” said Angron.
“Already did that today,” said Fulgrim.
They were still on Cadia. The sky was filled with hundreds of warships, each of them filled with hundreds of marines, dozens of titans, and untold thousands of traitor guardsmen.
Angron had finally gotten bored slaughtering the Cadian civilians one by one in new and creative ways, and was itching for another fight. If they didn't get one soon, he'd likely assault the rest of them out of principle.
“Where is Lord Horus?” said Lorgar.
Abaddon, whom Horus had confirmed as the leader of the Black Legion despite his return, simply shrugged. “He hasn't told me anything.”
“He may be a god now, but I think we deserve to be kept in the loop more, don't you?” said Magnus, who hated being kept out of the loop more than almost anything.
The litany of complaints and objections was interrupted by a blinding flash of dark as Horus re-appeared among them. “Return to your ships and make ready. We leave in one hour.”
No one moved. Instead they all glared at Horus. “Where have you been?” said Mortarion.
“I've been observing the Emperor. He's back,” said Horus, looking perfectly at ease with this knowledge. Everyone started yelling at once, until Horus held his hands up for calm. “We have no reason to fear him. Or her, as it may be.”
“That's insanity. He blasted you to – what do you mean, her?” said Magnus.
“He reincarnated. He's a woman now.”
“....So why'd Tzeentch do it?” said Mortarion. Magnus glared at him for using his Lord's name so casually.
“Tzeentch didn't. Other than that, I don't know why it happened.”
They all stood in silence for a moment as they digested this information.
“Who cares. It doesn't matter. Let's get going,” said Angron eventually. “I've got planets to kill.”
“One moment. How can you say we don't have any reason to fear the Emperor?” said Fulgrim.
Horus smiled. “Because she fears me.”
The Emperor repressed a sigh as she entered the meeting chamber. Great works of art covered the walls, including a magnificent picture of the Sigillite. If only half these people were as competent as Malcador, there would be no need for this. She saluted her old, long dead friend, and nodded, the sign to begin.
The head of the Administratum stood up. “My God-Emperor, production has been increased to max possible output with the Segementums Solar, Tempestus, and half of Ultimum. I understand recruiting into the Guard has increased likewise. I offer thanks to my fellow Lords of the Guard, Navy, and the Adeptus Mechanicus for their efforts in achieving success in this endeavor.”
The Emperor smiled and nodded. Short and to the point. She could have pulled the information from the brains of all present with but a thought, but allowing each Lord to speak increased cooperation and coordination within the council, crucial in this great crisis.
“Have the production restrictions been lifted?” she asked the Fabricator-General.
“Yes, oh Omnissiah. Production limits are law no longer on Mars and all Forgeworlds we've been able to contact,” said the Fabricator-General. He – was it a he? The answer was probably irrelevant, the Emperor decided – was far more machine than human, and displayed this fact proudly.
“Good. Lord Inquisitor, is this the Supreme Grand Master of the Grey Knights?” the Emperor's voice no longer held any warmth in it.
“Yes, my God-Emperor. As you requested,” he said. He hid his nervousness well. It had not been so much a request as -
“As I ordered,” said the Emperor, switching her focus to the Space Marine in heavily adorned grey armor. “Kaldor Draigo, do you know why I've summoned you?”
“No, my Emperor,” he said. There was no nervousness here.
“Because you've failed in your mission.”
Now Draigo's eyes widened and he gasped softly, stunned by this rebuke. “My Emperor -”
“DO NOT THINK TO INTERRUPT ME AGAIN,” intoned the Emperor, adding the dreadful weight of her psychic might to her words. “IF YOU DO, YOU WILL DIE.” Everyone present blanched at her words, but she continued. “You have failed – the Grey Knights have failed! - since the very beginning. Do you think the existence of Daemons could be so easily hidden? Do you think the truth of Horus' betrayal could be buried? What arrogance! Look at the founder of your Chapter!” All eyes followed her gesture towards the Sigillite. “His last orders came before the final battle ten thousand years ago. Your Knights sat out the Battle of Terra, hidden in the Warp, yet you assumed circumstances had not changed? Malcador was dead. I was dead – or close enough. Roboute had changed so much – yet you thought to follow your original orders? Every guardsman who survives an attack by daemons and lives to retire brings knowledge you kill whole worlds for with them. Do you think they forget the horrors they've seen? Do you think every soul privileged enough to know of daemons before hand never lets anything slip? Much of the Imperium knows the secrets you think to keep from them. And yet you continue to murder innocents to protect this secret.” she paused. “Speak! Explain!”
“My God-Emperor – My God – I....” the Supreme Grand Master of the Grey Knights, who had defeated greater demons, even a Demon Prince Traitor Primarch himself – hung his head in absolute shame. “I cannot. I follow only the traditions of those who came before me. We have always done these things.” He met the Emperor's eyes with tears in his own. “How could we have known otherwise?”
“You could have thought. You could have ignored orders far out of date,” the Emperor released the long held sigh at last. “But the fault lies with you only in the smallest sense. Ten thousand years of tradition are hard to ignore. Know this: Your orders now are to follow me in all things, to fight daemons wherever I direct you, and leave when you have defeated your foe. As for you, Lord Inquisitor,” she turned to face the pale-faced Inquisitor without pausing - “Knowledge of daemons will no longer be grounds for death or memory modification, do you understand? In the coming conflict, such knowledge will spread throughout the Imperium. Trying to contain it will only weaken us at our most desperate hour.”
The Emperor relaxed, and the tension in the room bled out as she did so. The meeting continued for another thirty minutes, as reports were given, orders made, and strategies planned. “Now I will lead my Custodians, the Grey Knights, and all militant orders of the Sisters available to Macragge. You know your duties. The Imperium will not fall if you do your duty. My blessing goes with you all.”
“You called for me, Farseer?”
“Autarch, thank you for coming. I have a seeing you will be most interested in hearing.”
“Please continue. You have my full attention.”
“I have seen how to find Commorragh.”
Autarch Kayleth gave a rare smile. “These are indeed portentous times, my dear Elenwe. I shall call a Great Council immediately.”
“Captain, scans indicate a ship in this system,” said Third Lieutenant Picus.
“Identity of the vessel?”
“Working... one moment,” she replied. “Battle cruiser. Overlord class. Identity unknown.”
“Is it one of the enemy's?”
“It may be. Preliminary scans match the recorded output of the Red Corsair vessel Aquiline,” she said. “Sir! They may not know we're here. They seem to be in the midst of repairs. Secondary scans indicate coolant leakage, which appears to reduce their effective scan range ten-fold.”
Captain Numitor of the Justus Dominatus, an Oberon-class Battleship of the Gothic Battlefleet, was not known for his caution in battle. He pressed a single button on his command chair. “My Lord Primarchs, I request your presence on the bridge to discuss a possible attack plan.”
A few minutes later, the four Primarchs were assembled. “What are we looking at here, Captain?” said the Wolf-King of Fenris.
Captain Numitor desperately tried not to bow. Lord Russ had already lectured him on how a captain should never bow onboard his own ship save to his superiors. When he tried to protest that they were Primarchs, the sons of the God-Emperor himself, and surely superior to a mere mortal such as he, Russ had replied they were not HIS superiors; they were of the Adeptus Astartes, not the Imperial Navy.
“My Lord, tertiary scans have confirmed what we suspected: This is a Battle Cruiser of the Red Corsair fleet, known as the Aquiline. They are a traitor chapter. Their instruments are blinded by the coolant leaking from their engines. We spotted them as soon as we dropped out of warp to recalibrate our position, but they still don't know we're here.”
The Khan spoke next. “Blind, eh? Captain, does this vessel have boarding torpedoes?”
“No my Lord. We do, however, have a number of shark assault boats,” he said, then realized what he had said. “My Lords, my orders are to take you to Terra at all speed. I cannot risk -”
“We've spent ten millennia fighting things that shouldn't exist. I think we can risk fighting something that obeys the laws of reality for a change,” said Lord Corax. “Vulkan?”
“Tell me about this shark assault boat. I don't know of them,” said the Salamander Lord.
Captain Numitor described the vessel in question: small, heavily defended, and fast, designed to latch on an enemy craft and allow assault troops to board and capture enemy vessels. As he did so, Jaghatai Khan smiled widely. “Wonderful things, these Sharks. I've got a plan, my brothers. I think we can take that ship.”
Leman Russ laughed. “I thought you'd say something like that. Don't keep us waiting brother, I'm as anxious to get into it as a neophyte before their first battle.”
“We'll launch about one hour out from their sensor range and go in fast and hot with a fighter escort. Before we reach the edge of their sensor sweeps, we'll disengage engines and rely on the ambient coolant to mask our heat signature long enough for us to close to point blank. Then we do an emergency burn to kill our forward momentum, latch on, and board, while the fighters engage and keep them from retaliating effectively,” said the Khan.
“I like it.”
“But you won't like this part: one of us has to stay here in case things go horribly wrong.”
“You're right, I don't like that part,” growled the Wolf-King. “So... who's the unlucky one?”
In the end they drew lots and Russ lost. Grumbling, but resigned to the necessity of it, Russ bid his fellow Primarchs farewell as they boarded the Assault Boats. Russ was not alone in being left behind – the two Dreadnaughts in their motley band were too large to take part in the boarding action. One was Captain Thule of the Blood Ravens. The other was a Deathwatch veteran named Gygas. Thule had twin power claws as his armament, while Gygas had a twin-linked heavy bolter and a single power claw.
On board the assault boats, the space marines checked their weapons while they could; they'd be within enemy sensor range in less than twenty minutes, and boarding shortly after. Corax looked at the Blood Ravens accompanying him in his assault boat – the Force Commander, who claimed to have no name at all, carried a daemonhammer which had served him well in the Eye of Terror. He claimed it was a gift from a Blood Ravens company captain. The Scout-Sargent Cyrus had a raven-pattern assault shotgun and was exhorting his fellow scouts on the necessity of stealth in boarding actions. Tarkus held a heavy bolter, and led a small group of tactical marines from various chapters. Corax turned to his left and found Thaddeus, a young assault marine of no small ability, checking his pair of lightning claws. “Good choice, lad,” said Corvus Corax.
Thaddeus smiled at the Primarch. Years of battle in the Eye of Terror had brought all barriers between the Primarchs and the marines in their command down, and an easy familiarity had developed. “Thank you, sir. I see you feel the same way I do.”
Corax chuckled. “Yes, although mine were meant for a Terminator.” The sheer size of the Primarchs meant they had to search for weapons that wouldn't appear tiny in their hands. Corax favored a pair of Terminator Lightning Claws. “Can't beat them for close combat, can you?”
The vox crackled three times – to any outside observer, it would be interference from the white dwarf star in the center of the system, but to the marines on the assault boats it meant “entering enemy sensor range in one minute.”
The boat shivered as the engines shut off. Their fate was in the hand of the Emperor now.
Oneius Prayd was not having a good day. As Captain of the Aquiline, one of the proudest ships in the Red Corsair fleet, it was his responsibility to keep his ship in good order, ready to strike out at targets of opportunity when they presented themselves. But today he had learned that the coolant system for the engines was almost totally scrap-metal after the attack on a convoy a few days earlier. It seems the Imperials were catching on to his strategy, and had started attaching fighter squadrons to their more versatile freighters, and he had been caught off guard. The fighters hadn't made a difference in the outcome of the battle, but they certainly had caused him a massive headache. The repair work left them nearly blind and quite vulnerable – the only comfort being the remoteness of the system and the reinforcements en route.
“What's the status on the coolant system?” asked Prayd.
“Repairs are approximately seventy-two percent complete. Estimated time to completion is twelve hours,” said one of the many servitors that monitored ship status on the command deck.
Prayd nodded and sat back. Nothing to do but wait, it seemed.
A few minutes later a fellow Space Marine spoke up. “Captain I've got... no, that's odd... it disappeared,” he said.
“I picked up what appeared to be a single fighter on the sensors. It vanished almost immediately, sir.”
“Hmm... could it be an echo from our last engagement? Or maybe our brothers in arms have arrived early?”
“I'd say a false echo is most likely sir. We'd have been hailed by the strike cruiser before we sensed it in our current state.”
“Very well. Keep an eye out nevertheless,” said Prayd. He drummed his armored fingers on the armrest of his command chair. Something about the situation didn't sit well with him, but he couldn't figure out what it was.
More waiting. Eventually Prayd realized what had been bothering him. “What class did that fighter appear to be?” he asked.
“The sensor ghost? Checking now,” said the Space Marine, pressing a series of buttons on his station. “While the reading didn't last long enough to be sure, I'd say it was a Fury-class fighter.”
A cold chill ran down Oneius Prayd's spine. “But we only fought Faustus-class ships,” he said slowly. His mind reeled, suddenly calculating a hundred different possibilities, none of them at all pleasant. “All sensors to max sensitivity. I don't care how many false positives we get –”
“Sir, I've got proximity warnings. Something out there is closing fast,” said another Marine before Prayd had even finished. “It looks like Shark Assault Boats!”
“All hands to battle stations. Sound the alarm and prepare to repel boarders. I want that coolant leak stopped now – engines be damned, we need to see!”
The scream of the engines reverberated throughout the Assault Boat. They had to match speeds with the Aquiline in all of thirty seconds; if they hadn't approached the Aquiline from behind. Around the boats, their fighter escort broke off to harass the enemy vessel and keep them from getting a lock on any of the boarding craft.
Five assault boats closed on the enemy vessel, carrying sixty space marines with them. While this many marines would by called overkill in any other circumstance, the men had grown used to attacking with overwhelming force whenever possible, and if the enemy refused to surrender then the marines would act as a skeleton crew for the battle cruiser.
Vulkan watched the battle in space from his armored viewport. A fighter wing attacked along the spine of the blind battlecruiser, blowing up a pair of turrets and blasting away at the thick hull. “Pilot. Make contact there,” said the Primarch, indicating a spot just beyond a blasted turret recess.
“Aye, sir,” said the pilot. They were skimming slowly along the hull of the battle cruiser now, ready to latch onto and breach through the hull. The magnetic clamps engaged and latched with a loud “thunk!” as the hull of the assault boat stuck to that of the battle cruiser. The melta-charges ignited with the burning hiss of molten and vaporized metal. A series of sensor lights lit up one by one – the first for the presence of atmosphere on the other side of the door, the second for the residual heat of the breach fading enough to be survivable, and the last showing no enemies in the immediate vicinity of the breach. The door keeping the two vessels separate creaked open.
“Marines, with me!” cried Vulkan, leaping into the darkness past the airlock, into the confines of an enemy vessel. The marines with him let loose a terrifying war cry – part howl, part scream, part oath – and followed swiftly.
Jaghatai Khan stalked the halls of the Battle Cruiser with some twenty other marines. He held a long power lance like a spear, the point held a few feet in front of him as he advanced footstep by footstep. They had breached the hull close to the cargo holds, and were making their way towards them. If the enemy had any significant forces besides the ship's crew, that's where they'd be. They approached an open bulkhead and the Khan signaled to halt.
“Move you maggots! We've been boarded,” said a deep voice laced with a guttural growl that identified the speaker as a space marine. “You head up that hallway and scream if you find anything.” The thumping of dozens of boots on a metal floor approached the bulkhead.
The Khan turned to his followers and nodded. “Now,” he whispered. He swung around the frame of the bulkhead and launched himself forward.
“For the Khan!” bellowed his marines as they imitated their liege.
The forces of Chaos flew aside under the Khan's assault. He split a cultist in half with a swipe of his power lance, and broke another's neck with the shaft. Behind him, two devastator marines rained surpressing fire upon the open cargo deck from their position next to the bulkhead, causing those unlucky enough to be caught too far from cover to explode messily. Between them, the rest of the Khan's forces entered the room, firing their bolt pistols as they closed upon their foe.
“Rally, you cowards! Turn and fire!” a Chaos marine yelled to his panicking allies as he charged his loyalist foes. He seemed to be a captain and devotee of Khorne, carrying a brutal-looking massive chainsword which had modified by the corrupting forces of the warp into something far worse: A daemon weapon. This was a Chaos champion, one of Khorne's favored and one of the most feared enemies of the Imperium. His first swipe bit deep into the ceramite pauldron of a loyalist armed with a power axe and bolt pistol. Blood burst from the wound briefly as the marine staggered. The Chaos Champion drew back his sword to take the marine's head, but the Khan slammed into him before he could strike. Recovering quickly, he assessed this new threat and assumed a dueling position. The Khan did the same.
Jaghatai Khan struck first, just as he taught all who followed him to do, with a lunge right for his foe's hearts. But this particular Champion of Khorne was not so easily bested as the others he had fought, and twirled aside, bringing his sword up to chop the power lance in two. Khan anticipated this and raised his weapon above the strike and brought it down in a vicious stroke that would have bisected his foe, had he not moved, and buried the blade of his lance into the cargo deck.
Now the Chaos marine struck out with a thrust that turned into a swipe as the Khan dodged and pulled at his own weapon. He moved back even as the Chaos Champion moved forwards, seeking first blood. With a powerful upward kick, the Khan knocked the wind out of his foe's lungs and suffered a gash along his leg armor for his trouble as his enemy swung his sword at the offending foot.
But the Khan, Primarch of the White Scars and consummate warrior had his weapon ready, and smote his foe with a thrust straight through his enemy's chest. Blood dribbled from the Chaos Champion's mouth as he tried to bellow in rage. He raised his sword for a final strike, knowing he was dead but unwilling to die without taking the Khan's head. The Khan swung his lance upward, cutting through his foe's stomach to his shoulder, splitting his spine and bursting both his hearts. The raging fire behind the Khornate's eyes died at last, and the Khan destroyed the sword with another swing.
As the vanquished Chaos marine dropped to the floor, the battle around the Primarch and the Champion finished. All of their foes were dead, wiped out by the ferocity and speed of the loyalist attack. “Cargo hold cleared,” said a warrior of the Black Consuls.
“Well done,” said the Khan, and activated his vox. “Cargo hold secured. Do you need reinforcements, brothers?”
“Negative, the bridge is secure,” said the crackling voice of Vulkan through the vox.
“Enginarium also secure,” said Corax. “Wait, hold it...” something in his brother's voice made the Khan tense. “Get back to the Assault Boats! The bastards are trying to force a Warp transition, and they've destroyed the controls!”
Jaghatai's eyes widened. This close to the gravitational influence of the system's star, not to mention the planet they orbited, engaging the Warp engines would tear the ship and anyone on it apart. “Move it, marines!” he yelled.
Oneius Prayd couldn't think of a worse day in his life. He had lost his ship to a foe that appeared out of nowhere and struck with overwhelming force, and had only the cold comfort of taking them with him when the Aquiline tried to transition to the Warp inside the star's gravity well to keep his spirits up.
He had withdrawn from the bridge when he heard the enemy approaching, knowing that the servitors and few marines on the bridge couldn't hope to fight a boarding force. He fled through a secret passageway into his personal chambers, where he could monitor the entirety of the ship. He didn't like anything he saw – nearly sixty loyalist marines were running loose on his ship, his precious ship, and he couldn't do a damn thing about them because of the repairs he'd begun days ago. Cursing his luck, he ordered the crew in the Enginarium to prepare for a Warp jump. He'd watched, fascinated, as the loyalists slaughtered the crew in the cargo hold, on the bridge, and in the Enginarium, annihilating his crew and fellow Chaos marines with little effort.
And now, he watched, horrified, as one of the boarders turned out to be a tech marine. The tech marine accessed the cogitator that controlled the Warp engines and broke the encryption within in no time. They knew his plan. They would get away, without losing a single life in the process.
His heart hardened. No, this would not do. He'd stop some of them from reaching their ships, even if it meant dying with them. Better that than dying alone in an escape pod to the fighters which continued to pepper his hull with their guns.
He moved out through another secret passage to a hall between the bridge and the boarders. The thunder of power armor on the floor plating grew louder. “Your doom is at hand, corpse-worshippers! I am blessed by the Gods of Chaos themselves, and nothing you can mmph mmf -”
His head was suddenly in the grip of a massive power fist. Where had it come from? His last memories were of a dark shape emerging from the shadowy corridor in front of him. “Mmmf -”
Vulkan squeezed hard, bursting the helmet and skull of his enemy. “Not blessed enough, I think,” he said, ushering his men back to their assault boat.
We do believe in Creed, we do, we do! We do believe in Creed, we do, we do!