Return of the Primarchs

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Small Book.pngThe following article is a /tg/ related story or fanfic. Should you continue, expect to find tl;dr and an occasional amount of awesome.

Here's a page for the ongoing Return of the Primarchs setting. At the moment, it is a storage place for ideas.

The Premise[edit]

What if, in a giant act of just as planned, Malal, Cegorach, and The God-Emperor of Mankind, in concert with all of the other anti-big 4 chaos gods engineered the return of the Primarchs, from a point in time early enough in the crusade that they all don't hate each other, and a few other changes, notably the removal of Angron's Butcher's Nails and the curing of Curze's madness. Oh, and they have at least some part of their legions and support staff, so Mechanicum, remembrancers, all that.

The result is a setting based on badassery, noblebright, and manly tears.

Personae Dramatis[edit]

Primarchs[edit]

Horus[edit]

Has a bit of a meltdown, runs off to be a lone wolf against chaos for a while, setting himself some yet to be decided task. Once he completes it, he can forgive himself. Then he seeks atonement through fighting off the enemies of the Empire, and takes command again as Warmaster. Leads his reborn Luna Wolves to battle on the surface of Mars during siege of Terra. Exercises extreme benevolence towards Erebus by killing him with a simple bolter round to the face instead of trying to reason with him. He is especially useful to the Imperium in preventive methods against corruption because of his vast knowledge of interrogation and corruption tactics employed by Chaos.

Ferrus Manus[edit]

He has a good head on his shoulders(no pun intended). He remonstrates his legion for their obsessive perfectionism, which lets him help Fulgrim.

Fulgrim[edit]

Fulgrim freaks out. First he finds out about the Heresy, but its ok, he has his friend Ferrus. Then the two split up to tour the Imperium, Fulgrim ends up at Ultramar and collapses at the feet of Gorillaman's stasis coffin. Then he learns what he did to Ferrus. He runs off ala Rossiu, but the Gorgon comes for him. See the story below, as it is awesome.

Magnus[edit]

Gets soul-bound to the Emperor. Also he gets decked out by the Grey Knights, with a holy lance sanctified in the Emperor's blood and gets the 666 Rites of Detestation etched onto his back. He is clad in truesilver armor.

Possible idea brought up in 2nd thread by a writefaggot: Magnus gathers his legion of 'zards on Terra during the Battle for Terra when the Primarchs try to wrest power away from the High Lords (who really like their jobs as being masters of fucking everything). This is like far in the "new" storyline. Magnus goes flying into the Warp again while touching his Father's robe and does psychic battle alongside his legion against Daemons tainting the local Warp. After months of deep meditation fueled by his Legion's most powerful and trusted warriors he restores the Emp's body to working order and takes up his position on the Golden Throne so Big Daddy E can sort shit out without the Astronomicon blinking out. Lots of numbers and JUST AS PLANNED as he fights off his corrupted self. There you go, now talk about why this is shit.

Also, now would be a great time to find out what the Blood Ravens origin is, especially with the help of Canon!Ahriman's notebook.

Leman Russ[edit]

Comes back for the wolftime (With or without the Tree of Life) More than anything else, he feels guilty for what he did to Magnus-- in fact, the reason he vanished into the warp was to go try to kill Magnus or die trying, as a way of atoning. Now that Magnus is back and badass, will everyone's favourite Space Viking Wolfman be able to face his estranged brother?

Lorgar[edit]

Surprisingly ok with things, viewing his earlier failing as a lack of faith on his part. If Magnus is the holy lance in the fight against the Daemonic, Lorgar is his shield bearer, swearing to protect his brothers from the horrors of the Warp. Lorgar gets pimped out by the Ecclesiarchy, with a shrine to the god emperor built into his new holy armor and bolts for his bolter carved from the bones of saints. Depending on how far we go, he may also have had his bones inscribed with hymns to the emperor, like an emperor loving version of wolverine. When he finds out how things went down, he promplty crushes Kor Phaeron's head, with a 'YOU WERE LIKE A FATHER TO ME' speech.

Mortarion[edit]

THE EMPEROR'S UNBREAKABLE SCYTHE! Though the skies may rain blood and the mountains crumble to dust, the Death Guard will stand fast, advancing inch by inch, their marching cadence the thud of their artillery. Mortarion vows to exterminate Nurgle's influence with the same tenacity that makes their chaos counterparts so damned hard to beat.

Mortarion would gather his Death Guard and go head-to-head with his double's Legion, enduring the worst that Nurgle's plagues can bring on them, even to the point where many of his Astartes are almost indistinguishable from the enemy they fight, and imprisoning his Daemon Prince self in a stasis-locked casket filled with molten silver, cast into the core of a dark and forgotten planet.

Casualties are horrendous once the plagues have run their course, but, as always, they return to fight on another battlefield. The Emperors unbreakable scythe, the Death Guard.

Also, they nab Krieg as a recruiting world.

Jaghatai Khan[edit]

As the other living Primarchs were either brooding or incapacitated, the Khan was busy taking his own slice of the Commorragh pie. He began taking the role of an Archon of his own Kabal, leading Dark Eldar pirate fleets full of auxiliaries and freed slaves to defend the Imperium when possible, and to kill anything in the way when that cannot be done.

Angron[edit]

Basically the Dornian Heresy version of Angron, so he's a super cool zen-berserker.

Alpharius[edit]

Starts unveiling his master plan. All of this is pretty much just as planned.

Roboute Guilliman[edit]

The only thing that will appease the anti-smurfs is the blood of those snowflakes which mar it the worst. Long story short, let's take Calgar down a peg, and then take Sicarius five more. And the Gorillaman can only do what's right, because whoever decided to axe out Captain Titus from the Chapter Records deserves what horrible death they got.

Captain Morgan "Ishmael" Ironbeard[edit]

Captain Ramius and Captain Blackbeard, if he were a pirate primarch, who has a mechadendrite beard. Has this whole herald of judgement aspect about him. Like Blackbeard, he'd put lit candles in his beard to give him an aura of smoke. He'd cover himself in purity seals and have a glow of madness in his eyes. But yeah, his fleet warps in, and judgment has arrived, the towers and spires burning with warpfire. When he teleports in with his boarding party, the air crackles and smells of sulfur. He's got his own version of a Tarantino speech. He lives for the hunt, his ships are his hounds. He's a half crazed devil of a man, who sails the stars with his fleet. He strikes terror into the hearts of the foes who behold him, and when he does land his legion, it is with the trumpets of doomsday. And his men love him. They're his comrades on this grand adventure. They're his partners in all this. He'd keep iron discipline, but he doesn't need to, the crew elect their officers, pirate style. He gets along well with Russ, hard drinking and partying, but he has a frantic core to him that Russ lacks. Perhaps it was because of the time out in the void, or perhaps he has seen some darkness that Russ has not, but there's some irresistible force that drives our Captain onwards.

"Ahoy heretic! Stand to and receive the Emperor's Judgement. No, belay that! Run! Run for all you're worth! Run until your poxy rump is sore, your feet blistered, and your lungs can take it no more. Let the world swim before your exhausted eyes and the angels and daemons well up from your frenzied, tattered mind. Run because the Reaper himself comes for you in his ships. Run because the hounds are baying. Run because I want a good chase."

His fleet is the vanguard, out by the Halo Stars where the warp is tricky, and if he pulls an Apocalypse Now, sets himself up as a God. He sees it as giving his men and the systems he restores out in the unholy light of the Ghoul Stars something to inspire them and keep the terror at bay--seamen are always superstitious and the Halo Stars seem like home to endless eldritch Horrors. He sees a bit of religion/mysticism as a way to keep terror at bay, but, like with Lorgar, the Emperor doesn't like that, not one little bit. So he takes a battlefleet out there, but the pirate's main fleet up and vanishes into the Warp. From time to time ships reappear in realspace, their crews horribly mutated. It often falls to Russ to purge them. Rowbroat Gringus gets what the pirate leaves behind, as he's the closest and the best at restoring atheism.

The story of the Second Legion is a complex one. Designed for void operations, they were insular, spending more time around naval crews and often being drawn from them. Like all mariners, they were given to superstition, though in the Legion Proper, Chaplains kept this down to an acceptable level. Still, the Emperor tried never to deploy the 2nd and the 17th to the same front. Things only took a turn for the worse when the Admiral-Theocrat of small empire out by the Halo Stars was discovered to be the Primarch of the Second Legion by none other than Lorgar. Raised by House Morgan, a family of Privateer Aristocrats, the primarch had unified the warring houses. Unfortunately for him, this role he had stepped into was traditionally of a sacred as well as temporal nature. In effect, he had become Avatar-king. It is assumed that when he met Lorgar and told him he was called Ishmael, it was this he was referring to, though Ismael was the name he gave to the Emperor and Primarchs. During his time as theocrat, he'd never been wholly comfortable with the role, preferring to be simply 'The Captain'. Despite this, he was deeply influenced by the atropaic rituals of his home cluster.

While The Emperor and Morgan got along well, sharing a penchant for showmanship, Moran's tendency to try to appease the Machine Spirits in mass rituals, as well as his rites to frighten away 'warp predators' and 'gremlins' were a constant source of tension, as was Morgan's stubborness. (Perhaps another trait he inherited from his father.)

Morgan, taking the name Ironbeard, brought out the wild mariner in his men. ANCIENT MARINER! WE NEED TO HAVE ONE.

Skipping ahead, Morgan was erased from history as a result of a single warp voyage. Sailing through a particularly fierce storm, several ships in the fleet, including Morgan's own, suffered partial Geller Field collapses.

Personally fighting with the daemons, Morgan noted that they matched the beasts in the old void tales and that the rituals worked against them. (Stuff like Gargoyles or totems. A lot of things like how Daoist Exorcisms use fireworks to scare off daemons, except in 30k, the daemons weren't scared so much as the fact that the people had faith in it working made it work. The truesilver didn't hurt either.) Emerging from the warp with his ships still aflame with unholy fire and with massive clawmarks in the sides, Morgan sought immediate contact with the Emperor. The Emperor attempted to have them quarantined, most of the marines executed, and Morgan's memory scrubbed, Morgan bolted when he heard the 'You've seen too much.' 'No more shall I be Ishmael, I am Morgan Ironbeard and the Void shall be my home!' Taking his fleet he made a run straight to the outer rim, vowing to defend Humanity from the things in the deep. Cue Hunt for Morgan Ironbeard, as the all available ships are divirted to go after him.

But they say that on quiet nights, you can still see the ghostly lights of a crusade era battle fleet, a-running through the Chronos expanse. They say the captains half man and half devil and he's chasing sommat, what none know. (A little too Cruze, don't you think?)

(I was hoping that he'd be Kamina where Kruze is Gendo. Gendo sees the world sucks and gives up on everything except his mad plan. Kamina sees the world sucks and makes up a story that makes it awesome anyways. They're both scary mother fuckers, but the Pirate King has a bit more defiance to him. Kruze is the Reaper, where this guy is the leader of the Wild Hunt.)

Taimak, Son of Thunder[edit]

The Emperor's diplomat and beastmaster. The basic gist is that the Big E wasn't always so Xenophobic, was at one point (presumably before the Age of Strife) willing to work with Xenos (ie, Craftworlders) as long as they obeyed/cooperated him, which, since he's the only guy who can fight chaos head on, makes some sense. To do this, the big E made Taimak, but when the Primarchlings got swept off, the Son of Thunder ended up being found and raised by Xenos. Oops. This isn't so bad, but the Xenos in question had chaotic leanings, not that the Primarch knew this. The big E (alongside Horus and Russ, the only Primarchs he found at the time) finds him and then has to figure out how to go about quietly exterminating everyone he loves. Nice... (Which might explain why Emps let Angron's men die--if they were Khorne bait with those nails.) The Chief, bitter over this sudden genocide, decides to name the XI Legion that was assigned to him the Sons of Thunder, harkening back to the Thunder Warriors big E decided to dump because of reasons.

The other primarchs around at the time were a bit leery of this weird Xenos-raised guy, chief among them Leman Russ. Thunder's tendency to do things like use Xenos Auxilia (policy and the legion has gene seed issues), have marines ride dragons, and load shells with acid scorpion spiders also rubs them the wrong way, even with Horus, who had tried to defend them as hard as he could. The Emperor tells them to shove it, and they obey for the time. Then there's an incident where the Sons of Thunder are told to delegate with some Craftworld. When next it is found, the Craftworld is devoid of life and crawling with sinister warp signatures.

Emps knows this to be the work of Daemons but can't tell anyone. He wants to try again, but he can't tell anyone, so the Primrachs kind of force him to take a more hardline stance against Xenos. He needs them to be onboard with his Nikea decisions anyways. Stable and willing marines were split among the other Legions, while the Auxilia and any who would not stand down were executed by the Space Wolves.

Thunder is a badass technical pacifist who punches Klingons into realizing how awesome the Emperor is when there is no option and an excellent diplomat otherwise.

The Legion is sort of styled like Space Hulk Era Dark Angels, with various sort of xenos auxilia ad technology and nightmarish xenos beasts as mounts.

Imperial Non-Primarchs[edit]

Order of the Eternal Icon[edit]

Formed by members of the Order of Our Martyred Lady who considered Lorgar's return as genuine after his return to Monarchia. They are a Hospitalier Order that has taken pages of faith from the Spehss Mehrens, the least of them believing in the Primarchs as saints above saints. They also have Rhinos, modified by mounting shrines with the bones of saints on them. These shrines work doubly well with Laud Hailers to restore morale. They are usually stationed in a Desert Shrine World, but they only use it as a pool for applicants. Otherwise, they stay on-fleet. They are usually ally with the Word Bearers and the Order of the Obsidian Mirror thanks to some arrangements made by a sane Konrad.

Woad Dragons[edit]

Pre-Roman celts IN SPACE that descended from the Salamanders. They have an overactive omophagea and like to consume their fallen enemies. They like to paint themselves with woad colored fluorescent paint, use assault bike drawn chariots, and like bagpipes and kilts. They hail from a desert world and are very close to its people. They're on good terms with the Ecclessiarchy because they recognize its usefulness but do not believe in their teaching, instead they believe in the Promethean cult and are very close to their parent chapter.

Blood Ravens[edit]

Background: Gabe is transporting a ruined old Land Raider unearthed by some PDF on a backwater world known as 1546 back to the Omnis Arcanum on the express orders of Chapter Master Azariah Kyras, when the Old Inquisitor's message is received by the astropaths on board the Litany of Fury. For sake of chronology, Dawn of War I and II didn't happen.

Part I

“Let all who are loyal to the Emperor, rush to defend Holy Terra from invasion!”

That was the message relayed by the astropaths to the crew of the Litany of Fury, along with the detachment of Blood Ravens Space Marines on board. Three companies, comprising the 3rd, 4th, and 6th Companies of the Blood Ravens Chapter were present, with Gabriel Angelos, 3rd Company captain as Force Commander.

When he had heard it, he was entirely unsure of what to believe. The thought that Holy Terra was under siege incensed him, but the latest reports showed that a Black Crusade had only just been launched and was long yet to reach even Cadia. Nothing in the message made sense. Primarchs returned? Terra besieged? And an Inquisitor threatening to demolish the most sacred site in the galaxy with cyclonic torpedoes.

He called on Davian Thule, 4th Company captain, and asked “What do you think it means Davian?” Davian hesitated for a moment before answering, “I do not know what to think Brother-Captain. Primarchs and Terra under siege... It is incredible... Could it be that the traitor Primarchs have found some foul sorcery to transport themselves instantaneously?” Thule's face contorted in disgust at the idea.

“I do not think so Davian. I am certain that our beloved Emperor would be able to guard against such sorcery with his mighty will. Still, this presents us with a problem. We have our orders to return to Chapter Master Kyras with our cargo but if Terra is besieged by enemies then we must divert course as quickly as possible.”

“Do we even know who or what is besieging Terra, truly?” Davian asked.

“No,” Gabriel replied, “but as long as they threaten our Emperor, then they are our enemies. Our duty is clear. Things will become clearer when we reach our destination, of that I have no doubt.”

He turned to the on-board voxcaster and hailed the bridge. “Bridge, this is Captain Gabriel Angelos. Our orders have been put on hold for now. Set course for Segmentum Solar. We are moving to defend Terra, over.”

The voxcaster crackled with a response, “Bridge to Captain Angelos, Captain Andronichus speaking. Understood. Bastards will never know what hit them.”

It would be at least 2-3 months travel on board the Battle Barge from their current position and although Gabriel knew that the Imperial palace could easily survive a decade's long siege, his mind was still restless. He hated having so little information about what was going on. His purpose was clear though, none would dare threaten his beloved Imperium and Emperor as long as he drew breath. He would bring the fury of the entire Blood Ravens Chapter down upon these foul beings, if need be.

Part II

>One month later, on board the Omnis Arcanum...

“Chapter Master Kyras, we have received a message from Captain Angelos,” one of the chapter serfs informed the hulking figure of Azariah Kyras. “He reports that he has recovered the Land Raider and is en route now to deliver it to the Omnis Arcanum...”

Kyras cut him off with a loud “Excellent! Soon we shall return this great machine to the battlefield and lay waste to our foes.” He smiled as he thought to himself “If my suspicions are correct then I have found the Obsidian Chariot itself and I will take great pleasure in dedicating it to mighty Khorne, almost as much as depriving the Salamanders of a prize, as well as their Primarch.”

However the serf spoke again. “My lord, that wasn't the entire message.” “Oh? Well then continue. What else does Angelos report?”

“He has informed us that he has diverted course to Segmentum Solar to aid in the defence of Terra and will send word as soon as he has new information.”

Kyras' fury was easily visible on his face. Did Angelos know what he had there? Vulkan's own Land Raider would certainly be quite the boon to any force who managed to deploy it.“How dare he defy my orders?!” he raged. “Tell the astropaths to send Captain Angelos this message: He is to return to the Omnis Arcanum with the Land Raider immediately!” he bellowed to the young serf, when he remembered that this was a serf he had not yet managed to corrupt. Quickly recovering himself, he added: “It would be foolish to attempt an assault on the forces besieging Terra with only three ships and three companies of Marines. He should return from his current mission and then we will decide what to do about Terra.” “At once my lord,” the serf replied, still slightly frightened from the Chapter Master's outburst.

“Angelos...” he muttered through gritted teeth. His thoughts turning to the 3rd Company captain, “He has doubted me from the second I returned from the Judgement of Carrion. He watches and waits for me to make a mistake, so he can then denounce me in front of the entire Chapter! But I will not allow him the satisfaction!”


> The Litany of Fury, also a month later...

Gabriel had gathered the Headquarters units of all three companies under his command in the briefing room of the Litany of Fury to discuss the recent and future events. The Siege of Terra was well under way. The astropaths were still receiving messages infrequently urging all loyal units, be they Astartes or Guardsmen, to hurry to Terra's relief.

“My brothers,” Gabriel began, when everyone had settled into the room, “a month has passed and we have learned some more about the situation on Terra. Our own 3rd Company Librarian Isador Akios has been attempting to send messages to the Inquisitor responsible for our weekly assistance calls. Isador?”

“Yes, Gabriel,” he announced as he stood to take the floor Gabriel had yielded. “My attempts were focussed on relaying a message to the source of the messages we have been receiving. In the past month that we have been travelling I have sensed, as I am sure my Brother-Librarians gathered here have as well, that the messages being sent were from a single source, rather than the efforts of a psychic choir.

“This would of course imply the sender is indeed a powerful psyker being able to send such clear communications through the void at such great distances and I believe I know who it is. Inquisitor-Lord Mazzini, an old, and frail-bodied man but with a mental and psychic strength that far exceeds our own Chief Librarian, Chapter Master Kyras.

“I met him once. He toured the Librarium of the Omnis Arcanum some years ago to survey some of the relics our chapter has recovered.” Davian Thule made an audible cough.

“What was your opinion of him when you met him, Isador?” enquired Gabriel. “A hard liner in every sense,” was the Librarian's reply. “He recited four different Litanies of Hate, four times in a day, every day. One for the Eldar, one for the Orks, one for the Tau, and finally one for heretics. He spat his words most frequently when reciting that one. I believe his inspection of our chapter's relics was motivated by a hunt for anything tainted by the Warp. His faith in the God-Emperor borders on obsession. If Terra were to be threatened, in the absence of any real leadership, I could see him attempting to seize control and, if need be... destroy Terra itself.”

“I see,” said Gabriel thoughtfully. “You, as well as our other honoured Librarians, have also been sending out messages into the void to gather information on the foes besieging Terra. Do you have anything new to report?”

“I have been in contact with a number of astropathic choirs from various out posts and they all say that a large fleet emerged from the Warp that travelled from Segmentum Pacificus, and having conferred with our other Librarians, they confirm this much.”

“Another potential Pacificus rebellion, it would seem. There is something else though, is there not?” questioned Gabriel, with a hint of irritation that Isador didn't immediately tell them (or him) everything.

Isador hesitated for a moment then continued. “There are some scattered reports of the Pacificus forces bearing the insignia of the Luna Wolves. As well as the Word Bearers, World Eaters, Emperor's Children, the Iron Hands, and so on. Every legion that fell or lost a Primarch has been reported as currently besieging Terra itself.”

The room stood silent and Isador resumed his seat.

Chaos[edit]

Necrons[edit]

Trazyn the Infinite[edit]

Turns out he's been trying to rebuild Vulkan. Guess he wanted an autograph? He proves instrumental in bringing Necrons into an alliance with the Imperium. In the words of Anon: I was wondering where will Vulkan go, and as my headcanon is that his body (and thus one of the artifacts) is at Trazyn's place, I imagine Vulkan going to Tomb World of Solemnace and having this speech (I'll try my best in writing, but I'm no writefag):

>You knew about the gift I had from my father, and thus you knew that despite the fact that my body appeared to be dead, I was not. You thought that due to my state, I am unable to hear you, but I could. Many times you tried to pull that spear from my body, sometimes trying to destroy it along with the spear. When you learned about the legend of my return once my Artefacts will be gathered, you start to gather them and using them to destroy the spear, for the sake of releasing me. For that, you have my thanks, as deep within my heart, I see you as a friend. And I see no better way to thank you than through giving you something I have created right after being released from this state in that Warpstorm. This is something I based on your symbol of rule, let it serve you well in the incoming years of our cooperation, my friend, Trazyn the Infinite.

((Thought I'd give it a go, mayhap I've find myself a writefag.))

I know you were aware of the… gift, my father bestowed on me. That, despite its appearance, my lifeless body, I persisted. You thought that I was unable to hear you, but I could. I know how many times you tried to pull that spear from my body, even trying to destroy it along with the spear.

I know you heard of the legends of my return once my relics were gathered. And you found them, destroying the spear and releasing me from my ‘captivity’. You did it, and for that you will always have my thanks.

Know that deep within my heart, I recognize you as friend. And I see no better way to show my gratitude then to gift you this – created by myself, my first creation after being released from that state. It is based upon the symbol of your rule. Trazyn the Infinite, may it serve you well through the coming years of our alliance.

Tau[edit]

With the Primarchs now fully assembled, the gods of Chaos now have to find other subjects to exploit en masse. To this end, they decide to work on the Tau Empire, some of it becoming lost in a Warp Storm. They corrupt a few Ethereals here, give a couple guys some "gifts" there, and then let them loose to kill shit. It becomes especially easier when the Tau decide to start experimenting with the Warp, in an attempt to understand just what it is. Even worse, they modified their eugenics program shortly after first contact with the Imperium to grant themselves a greater warp presence.

Farsight Enclaves[edit]

The few Tau already aware of Chaos, Commander Farsight and his merry band of rebels become impromptu heretic-hunters in the time between being eaten by a Warp Storm originating from T'au and emerging a decade later.

Rough Timeline of Events[edit]

How E-Money and C-Roach pulled this off, one version[edit]

The Cabal fucked up. Majorly. Emps-Senpai was supposed to die and with his survival, any semblance of their plan working perished. They could, however, try something else, namely fixing their mistake. It took time. A lot of time, but fortunately they had that. It took centuries to contact the Emperor in the Warp, centuries more before he was willing to hear them out. Many a Farseer's head exploded with the Emperor's rage. Finally, the Cabal convinced Alpharius, who also had cut off ties with the Cabal following the Horus debacle to follow a troupe of Harlequins into the webway. Their purpose: to find the segment of the webway that linked up with the Golden Throne, in hopes that Alpharius could speak with the Emperor directly. Sensing his son's purity, the Emperor allowed Alpharius to speak with him and Alpharius explained everything. From that point on, Alpha Legion used the webway to keep the Emperor appraised of their plans. (Perhaps in all of this, Jagatai stumbled upon them whilst hunting Deldar? They captured him and brought him before the Emperor, who explained things. Jagatai slugged Alpharius and Omegon, but forgave them. As the centuries passed, the plan took shape. The only hope against Chaos was the return of the Primarchs. With their faith in the Emperor, they could defeat the worst of Chaos and allow the God Emperor and Cegorrach to ascend as pre-eminent deities. Later, contact with Malal caused them to factor it into their plans. The plan was somewhat simple. The only way to get back the Primarchs was to either reforge them of warp stuff or steal them from parallel universes. The former would make them basically Greater Daemons, a bit too unstable for their purposes. The later would disrupt other timelines if not done carefully. The solution they came to was to pull part of a primarch's essence from a parallel timeline and fill in the rest with warpstuff, courtesy of the Emperor's will. To do this, however, required massive amounts of warp energy and an ability to travel through time. The second task was comparatively simple. The Ordo Chronos was established and set to work designing time machines. Alpha Legion moles fed information to the conspirators and when the time was right, they took the technology and allowed the Ordo to disappear.

The former task was more difficult. The Emperor could draw warp energy from his followers, from the faith of man and from the sacrifice of psykers. This required dire times for man, so that their faith would be called upon again and again. Thus the 10,000 years of suffering were needed for the plan to succeed. But even then, that would not be enough power and the storage and expenditure would draw the eyes of the other Chaos Gods, so means were devised to funnel warp energy from the others. The two main players in this were Cypher and the Alpha Legion. By creating situations to power the big 4, they were able to hide the amounts that they siphoned for the Emperor, mostly via Malal. As time went on, Lady Malys became an agent of Cegorach and she too plans to siphon energy to the Emperor when the time comes, in return for a place at Cegorach's side as a demigod.

With the plans laid, all that remained was to collect the fury of the warp and wait for a moment when the Chaos gods would be too focused elsewhere to notice what was afoot. This chance came during the 13th Black Crusade. At the precise moment of the fall of Cadia, the plan went into effect. The Primarchs were copied from favorable parallels, along with their legions and some of their support personnel. (the two missing primarchs were also brought back. See the wiki for our tentative work on them.) Thus it was that the Great Crusade started anew.

Then what?[edit]

  • They emerge.
  • The precise means of confirming their identity is uncertain. Valdor? Vulkan lives? (Russ' validity is confirmed by his old pal Bjorn)
  • Some hyper conservative Inquisitor holds Terra hostage with cyclonic torpedoes, threatening to blow it up if they don't get their way. They also somehow manage to get the Officio Assassinorum on his side, too. They've quite literally holed up on Terra in the Assassin temples with a cyclonic torpedo on a dead man's switch. Anyone who wants to get to them has to get through the Assassins first, too.

The original Alpha Legion emerges from the warp and kill/destroy all the forces opposing the original Legions. Then when message comes that Holy Terra itself is being besieged by ruinous powers or chaos, Loyalists would run to rescue it. The Alpha Legion, intent on keeping cover until the end, passes a slight heads up to the other Primarchs through the Order of the Obsidian Mirror, allowing them to hook up with Ironbeard, Corax, and Kurze for awesome out of the shadows hijinks. Then, after assaulting, the Alpha Legion would go "Oh noes, the loyalists, the primarchs, the real saviors of the empire, we're beat, retreat" over all the vox channels and then retreat into the warp portals.

Funny thing is there would be no Alpha Legionnares casualties, and only traitors and possible traitors would have died in the couple of days long invasion.

So the loyalists would be on Terra, as heroes and without political opposition. And no one would ever ask any questions.

Just as planned.

Hydra Fucking Dominatus.

  • Primarchs split up to stabilize things. Around this time Ferrus visits his legion and Fulgrim learns of his deeds.
  • ?????
  • Primarchs get shit done
  • All Glory to the Imperium!

Some ideas that came up during writefagging[edit]

NOTE: This is all made up during the second thread, where a few writefags decided to write up on the events and needed a semi-coherent view of them.

It's been discussed that it goes as follows:

1. Russ meets Lorgar reborn and they send word to those Primarchs that were not technically dead - Lion, Guilliman, Vulkan, and together with some other Primarchs they meet up, Horus takes the lead after taking upon himself to gain redemption through victory over heretics

2. Inquisitors take control of Terra, loyalists move in and take control

3. Black Crusade finally arrives at Terra with Primarchs setting up defensive positions

4. Battle ensues

5. Khan moves in with whatever pirate/stolen DE fleet he managed to snag with his Kabal

6. Dark Eldar move in pursuit, joining the fray

7. Battle is won, Great Crusade 2: Electric Boogaloo commences

8. EDITED: Magnus is working on reviving the ultimate badass only after they've dealt with the Chaos invasion

As has been stated in the foreword, this is all prone to debating and/or fixing, but so far it's been working well and based upon this writefaggotry commenced, resulting in awesome.

Bits of Awesome[edit]

Primarch stories have been moved.

Creed's Daring Escape[edit]

The despoiler was not pleased!
NOT PLEASED AT ALL!
He had heard rumours that Horus himself had come back from the dead!
And that he was slaying his chaotic brethren!
Magnus had committed suicide after another Magnus had shown up.
AND THE SPACE MARINES STARTED TO REFORM THEIR LEGIONS!
No matter.
Today would be good, today he would finally destroy Cadia, down on men or not.
His land raider crashed through the gates of a fortress.
And he noticed it was...empty.
All of it, empty.
He stomped into the offices and found a door.
"Lord Castellan Ursarkar E. Creed"
"Pfft, what a ridiculous name."
He kicked open the door, a chair was turned towards the window.
Abbadon then stomped to the chair, smirking, shoving his talon through it.
He turned it around to reveal...a dummy...cigar and all.
and a small sign from around it.
"I.O.U - Creed."

"....C...C-c-cr-creee-creeee-creeeeeeeeeee."

"CREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED!"

Prophecies[edit]

"Farseer," An Eldar Guardian contacted telepathically. "We have come across notes of an...ill-putting nature."
"This portent," he responded, "what sort of nature is it...?"
"It does not seek my mind or soul, so the Great Enemy did not rest here, but these runes seem almost...familiar. If only I could decipher it..."
Curious at the possibility this had, Farseer Ishannaq Elsandar of Ulthwe began his path towards the Guardian.

"What is it, Seiyval?" He asked when he finally arrived at the scene, a dimly-lit cave of red rock and sand. "Where is our cause for alarm?"
"Farseer, it is around us." Using a light-stone, Seiyval began displaying the runes that lined the entire cave. All made by what looked like a mechanical hand, each shape symmetrical, every line at an exact and measured length and never deviating from that measure. It looked...immaculate, but in that immaculate style, it also felt eerie.
"These runes..." Farseer Elsandar commented, "they were definitely not made by Eldarin hands..."
"Then what did?" the Guardian asked.
The Farseer could only guess, and for help, he needed someone better suited for the field of deciphering. For that, he needed to call upon a mentor. Normally, this would mean sending call to the most revered Farseer in all of the Craftworld, if not all time, but that time had past. Eldrad Ulthran had since vanished, desperate to derail the plans of the Black Crusades. In his stead, though, Ishannaq had to call upon another seer, one more attuned to the written word of a hundred thousand differing cants.

"Fyrion? Fyrion, can you hear me?" he sent a telepathic call.
"Yes, Farseer?" a singsong voice replied. "Need you my services?"
He answered, "I do. There is a cave off the middle peak, concealed by no boulders, but by the suns. Inside it are...runes of some sort. I am having difficulty deciphering them. Can you help me?"
"Of course I can!" she was eager to respond. "Give me a moment, and I shall soon be there!"

Fyrion was part of the Farseer's Council, comprised of both hardened Warlocks dedicated to the art of battle, and burgeoning seers more skilled in the arts of sight than battle, like Fyrion. She was a very dedicated person, always placing others before herself even to her own detriment, but she always could see what everyone wanted and needed, even learning to decipher a myriad tongues and scribes. It was these ciphers that made her such an asset to the exploring party Farseer Elsandar set up.
When the perky empath arrived, she immediately marveled at the vastness of the archives written, all written with the perfect hand that would even catch the attention of Vaul.
"Well, the major factor to this, Farseer," she began reading, "Is that this was all made to predict a certain something to coincide with events in the Eye of Terror." She then tracing the routes she could find. "They say that once the humans' last defense fails, another salvation will be formed, always circling it, but never touching it."
"Never touching the Eye, or this failed last defense?"
"It says the Eye." She then jumped to the other side of the cave. "These notes calculate that by this reckoning it would take almost......400,532,305 years to accomplish? That... that doesn't sound right..." She began looking further in the notes when Farseer Elsandar found the ceiling of the cave at the end to be more like a tapestry, almost perfectly aligning to something.

"Fyrion?" She listened. "Come here." The two were now standing in the middle of the perfectly circular chamber, enough to fit perhaps an entire Warhost. "Now look up."
"Wowwww...." she gasped as she saw the dizzying array of stars. "It all looks so...lifelike. Even if they lack the certain special aspects of a craft of psycho-reactive art, these stars look almost exactly like what is going to be out there tonight..."
"Is that true...?"
"If you wish, Farseer," She then said, "we can even return to visit here later tonight, to bear witness."
Ishannaq seemed almost flustered, but he knew well enough to keep it hidden. "That would be a good suggestion."

Continuing on the course, Fyrion then continued to read through the runes. "Next, it mentions that a plague will arrive from the east. Curious, that sounds almost like..."
"Tyranids. It seems our writer is right about one thing."
"That makes sense," she agreed. "There is also a mention that the east will also be the source of a new hope within the galaxy, which seems to align with the appearance of the Tau Empire." She then noticed a mathematical equation, which she began calculating. "It...It almost seems to align perfectly with the time the Imperium managed to catch wind about them. It seems far too ahead otherwise, we knew about the Great Devourer centuries before their first world was lost."

"Farseer Elsandar, Fyrion, where are you?" A harsh voice interrupted the two.
"Emilri? What is it?" Ishannaq recognized the urgent voice.
He answered, "I had not noticed you on the return vessels to the Craftworld. The suns are almost setting."
"Has it been that long?" Fyrion asked.
"Indeed it has. We are to return immediately."
Farseer Elsandar began walking back. "Very well. Allow us to depart then with all haste."
"I would have preferred that when we were already there, but very well." The disappointment in his voice seemed clear.

As the two seers began walking back, Fyrion found another note that seemed to reveal another vital fact about the writings: their author.
"If you read this correctly," she said as she tried shining a light upon it, "it almost says that this 'magnificent work was made entirely by the machinations of...Orikan the Diviner'. Farseer, do you perhaps recognize that name?"
The Farseer began calculating everything he saw before. It all was starting to make sense if it were indeed that hierophantic Cryptek.
"We are in the workplace of a hierophant of the Necrontyr."
A Falcon came not soon after, and the Farseer then began to discuss what he knew of Orikan the Diviner to Emilri and Fyrion as they proceeded to the Webway.
"A Hierophant who predicts stars? What ridiculousness." Whereas Fyrion was more prone to flights of fancy and emotive, Warlock Emilri acted as the Farseer's utterly blunt militant hand, marshalling forces where they are needed and striking down with the wrath of Khaine himself. "Are you telling me you believe a few lucky guesses?"
Fyrion refuted, "It is hardly a guess when the mathematical equations used for it all add up."
"Add up for you, perhaps..." he grumbled, insistent in his incredulity.
"There was also one other thing that seemed to intrigue me," the Farseer commented. "The stars. He said that the moment they aligned in the way he wanted, there would be a miracle that would redeem the living..."
"Then let us pray that he is wrong," the Warlock's tone was final. "I would prefer not to have my every move predicted by a mechanical lunatic."

That night, it became rather difficult for Ishannaq to sleep, as his dreams always focused upon these prophecies. He attempted to decipher these visions by walking through the Craftworld, thinking that he might find something by staying awake, but the physical activity did nothing to help his focus.
To this end, he sought the services of another of his seers, a decoder of minds and dreams by the name of Meiyal.

"Something troubles you about these visions, Farseer?" He asked.
The Farseer took a drink. "Much. The prophecies Fyrion and I read, the calculations were uncannily accurate. More to it, I feel that there is more to them, a certain something they are trying to predict, and I am... I do not know, but I do not like the omen that this unfinished reading gives me."
"Does any of this align to a peculiar arrangement of stars almost like how they are right now?" Ishannaq spit out his drink as he heard this accurate appraisal. "Ah, I heard from Fyrion."
"A-ah..." he recovered his senses.
"You seem so easily harassed," Meiyal noted. "Might want to contain that."
"Right."
Meiyal then continued, "If you feel it that important, then I can arrange to take a transport out to the surface in order to see that."
Ishannaq nodded. "I would appreciate that."
"Should I also gather Fyrion as well?" Another nod. "Very well. Just be careful."

>Later

A Wave Serpent stopped on the entrance of the cave. From here, Ishannaq, Meiyal, and Fyrion began reading further into the immortal's ciphers. "These calculations over here, they actually talk about the coming of twenty," Fyrion picked up one section of notes. "Twenty that once existed, will be found together again, eleven of them drawn from elsewhere, but two shall never have met before... Two will be known now more than ever.' In a way, it reminds me of that one Guard regiment where they fought to rescue that Space Marine group from being destroyed by the Blood God's tools."
"The ones who didn't know who their..." Meiyal remembered the situation. "What was it, their founding father, I think it was. There were two forgotten, but eighteen remembered."
The Farseer knew the rest. "And of those eighteen, six became servants of the Great Enemy. This seems to hinge upon...humanity more than anything."
"If only they would recognize it and clean up their act a little," Meiyal snarked. "A disgrace, those apes."
Fyrion then noticed another factor. It was one that predicted a warp storm, devouring the capital of the Tau Empire and the enclaves made by one of its greatest heroes. Following that was another that pertained that they would only be recovered when their greatest heroes were to fall, but after that, they would unite again.

Rather concerned, the Farseer decided to look up, hoping the star-chart might guide him on how this was meant to make sense when he saw a peculiar twinkling on the marks where the stars were meant to be.
"Curious, that..."
Fyrion and Meiyal noticed the Farseer's gaze affixed and noticed the stars shining as well.
"How nice," the linguist cooed, "They look almost like gems like this! And the way they all shine looks almost...like..."
Ishannaq turned to Meiyal. "Meiyal, can you go outside with the Wave Serpent and determine for me the sky right above us?" Without another word of agreement, Meiyal darted out to the Wave Serpent.

The Seer went and soon contacted the Farseer again. "The similarity between what you saw down here and the night sky up here looks very uncanny. Almost like a mirror image of the sky right now."
"This would mean..." Fyrion observed, "Everything he said was right. The Tau are in danger, the Imperium will have heroes returning, the Eye of Terror is going to swell!"
"There are still things here that have something to do with us..." the Farseer muttered, his mind drifting to the idea of this room and it's mathematical equations possibly being able to tell him how to save his mentor. "There has to be more about the Eye of Terror. Maybe something to tell if we rescue him."
"You're still trying to do that?" Meiyal asked. "Why do you torture yourself so when you cannot even touch the Eye?"
"Because I still believe..." he said. "I believe that he is out there, somewhere... He lives, and we need to make sure he survives and returns to us..."
"Fyrion, how much further do you have?" Maiyal asked, realizing the Farseer is too far-removed to talk right now.
"These calculations all loop back to the eye, but nothing ever talks about what's inside it..."

The next moment became a haze for the Farseer, his mind swimming with the possibility that he could find Eldrad in there, hiding, needing help. To an idealistic Eldar, this was perhaps the reason they have sworn off sleep. To the more grim Eldar like Emilri, they have already had their moment to mourn the lost, and they have since moved on, hoping to survive in this era.

But that idea, the idea he could be a hero, it taunted him so.

"You have to take this seriously, Farseer," Emilri interrupted the trance. "You are barely even initiated in the secrets that lie in the path of the Farseer, and you already have hopes of somehow becoming the greatest hero the Eldar have ever known?"
"These equations, they explain everything else to us!" Ishannaq argued. "They all line into the events of the universe and when I see the answers, I see that there is hope in the universe yet. I...I can't let it slip from my hands!"
Emilri chided, "I am not asking you to. I am warning you that your idea of being a hero is next-to impossible. We approach ever-closer to the end of our kind and you seek to chase around pipe dreams."
"Then..." he tried to summon his will. He saw the proof, the idea that there was some hope for everyone yet, but the power could never come. "What? What am I to do...? What point is there in this...this prophecy, when nothing can even point to where I must go?"
"We move forward." He took the Farseer by the shoulder. I know your hurt has lasted for far too long. The process of grieving will make it at least be given purpose."

>The next day

The argument with the Warlock changed Ishannaq, but some of his older habits still existed. One of these was the cave of Orikan's work, which he took another trip through, this time with the entire council.
"So..." intoned Emilri, "This is the source of all your grief...."
"It is unsettling," Meiyal replied, "but the most surprising part was when the stars all came at the right places last night. The little holes in this tapestry where the stars were all glistening like they were the stars themselves."
Emilri commented, "Necron technology is known to baffle even the most intelligent of scientists, even our own. What they do openly flaunts this impossibility." "Then what is there to learn from it?" Fyrion asked.
Emilri began looking about, scanning what he could of the ancient writings.
Of course, there was nothing so horribly tainted or corrupting in it. No, that would be far too obvious to notice.
Now, the contents itself... The rise and vanishing of the Tau Empire, the Eye of Terror's swell, the coming of the Imperium's twenty, the plague of the Tyranids, nothing quite damning. Not like the author himself was not so arrogant and stuck up, but it all seemed to make sense in an objective standpoint. But the idea of being a hero...
"Whatever you were seeking, Farseer," he concluded, "will not be here. The work here all involves these twenty returning. Whatever conclusions you came to about sir Eldrad, they are not here."
"I...understand." Ishannaq walked away. "It was something of a faint hope anyways."


After the Eldar had long vanished, their webway gates having disappeared, the cave was deathly silent. The dust remained unstirred, and the runes across the walls were all pristine.
It was during this that there came another visitor, a more familiar one.
"This has to be the one I left about the twenty..." he commented as he stepped in. A strike from his staff lit up the runes in an eerie faint green glow. "All of these theories, they add up, but... Dammit, where did I put that addendum about the slaves to those misbegotten Old Ones? Damned evacuations, forcing me out the moment I was about to finish this work! It has to be..." he looked up to the stars to see a writing along the rim, in a scribe size almost impossible to see with the naked eye. "The Old Ones, their pain continues again with those Krork, but the Eldar... wait, they become less of a threat to the Triarch? How does that even make sense unless... Oh, ohhhhhh... He is the lynchpin to their participation! Of course!"

Thus satisfied, Orikan the Diviner fled. He had found a way to force the Eldar to act.

Argel Tal and Kharn[edit]

Another day, another population put to the axe.
It had become so damn routine to Kharn the Betrayer that it was almost impossible think about anything else other than how boring it was to kill these ordinary people. So when word came of Space Marines coming to this planet, it had given the Chosen of Khorne hope that this day could be salvaged somehow.

It was almost an insult to send the entire Word Bearers fleet to a single planet, much less to kill a single man, but this was a goodwill mission. Lorgar wanted to have the people on his side.
Instead of that overkill, it was Argel Tal who took the charge. Argel Tal had, after the public execution of Kor Phaeron, become the new First Captain of the Legion. While Lorgar felt that the notion was almost too prophetic in nature for the man who was the Crimson Lord of this timeline, he had let it pass as the captain had an incorrigible sense of honour. Tal took with him an elite company to ensure that only one man was responsible.

"Wait..."
The Betrayer had certainly seen weirder stuff before in the warp, but this was a first. In front of him stood a warrior in immaculate grey armor, a book adorned to his left pauldron. Even more pressing was the notion he was getting. He didn't even know he had notions.
"I recognize you from somewhere. Where was it?"
Argel Tal responded, "I surely do not recognize you, red fiend."
It was ridiculous. His job was to slaughter, so why was he thinking? What was it about this stranger that had Kharn's mind racing?
"Say..." Forget it. The memory will come eventually. He took a single swipe with Gorechild.
"A poorly chosen first move. I had too much room to block you."
Somebody dared criticize his fighting technique? He, the son of Khorne? What madness-no, wait. The memories again... Ages ago, before his armor had so much blood on it. Damn it, who was this person?
"I know you from somewhere, Astartes!" Another swing with Gorechild. Another parry. Again. Again. "I WILL find out, even if I need to kill you before then!" Argel Tal was humored by the butcher's words. "I just have to incense you enough to remember then?"
"I will NOT be made mocked, much less by a corpse-slave!" This was better, Kharn thought. Kill, don't think. As a matter of fact, stop thinking. Thinking gets in the way of killing.
Another parry, this time using Kharn's momentum to force Gorechild to the ground, and then kicking him square in the ribs and then using that same spin to swipe his sword, leaving a scratch upon his helm. This man had to have learned that move from somewhere. Moreso, he had to have learned it in a Gladiator Pit. Wait... "You almost seem to fight like Kharn." What? His name? "So much anger, and he finds the only release for it in killing."
"You know me." The Betrayer took rise. "YOU KNOW ME!! WHY DON'T I REMEMBER YOU?!"
Argel Tal smirked. "Hardly my fault."
Kharn then took notice of the prow of the Astartes craft. A Two-headed eagle, the bawdy trinket of that Imperium. Funny, it was under the shadow of one of these that he saw the corpse of...
"ARGEL TAL..."
"Ah, so you do have a mind."
This was perfect! He remembered now, that Word Bearer he was friends with once! Okay, friend was a bit of a stretch for World Eaters, but it was something! "Now I remember...! Now I have a reason to kill you!"
Argel Tal cocked his head. "Would that mean I recognize you?"
Kharn raised Gorechild high in the air. "Know this, Colchisian! I am Kharn the Betrayer, Chosen of Khorne, Butcher of Legions! I will kill everyone and their skulls will go to Khorne!" He lowered his chainaxe and then turned around.
"Does this mean you're a coward, too?"

Kharn stopped. A violent glare erupted. "You misunderstand me. I do not need to kill you. I already had my fill. But next time I hunger, know that you will be next."

Kharn's Paradox (aka Kharn vs. Kharn)[edit]

For the second time in so many weeks, Kharn the Betrayer, Chosen of Khorne, was confronted by something that very clearly should not be. Not because it was just wrong, mind, for he has killed enough Slaaneshi Daemons to effectively nullify that sort of sensation, but because the very aspect of this happening was beyond theoretically possible.

Because what was in front of him...was himself.

Or rather, what stood in front of him in a shared sense of confusion was not exactly him, but what he once was. His armour a crisp shade of blue and white. In his hand, a rather crude slab of metal, decorated in many jagged edges and acid etchings. No mistaking it, this person was Kharn the Captain of the Eighth Company.

"The frak are you looking at?" The white one asked.

The red one craned his head, trying to figure out what in this image was an illusion. The captain, he looked genuine enough, the sword, definitely not a chainaxe. And the antiquated plasma pistol was definitely still there, but without any warp-machinations. So then what exactly was it that felt wrong?

He gave up as he began marching, revving up Gorechild for another go at killing things.

"That Chainaxe...why are you using it?"

The Betrayer looked at the white copy with suspicion. "This is a gift. Now why do you listen to a rotting corpse on a chair?"

The Loyalist was not fazed by the question. "I would suspect that it has something to do with the reason you listen to something favours mindless murder for murder's sake."

Okay, this wit was grinding on his nerves and, for a World Eater, that usually resulted in dead people by the mountains. Kharn made his charge.

Kharn took the challenge and kept the blade at an even leveling as the red monster made a charge. The red monster made a massive overhead swing. Seeing this far before the Betrayer could get there, there were some Librarians who tried to make some sort of effort to distract the red butcher. Those efforts were in vain. The Blood God's blessing made the powers fizzle out before they could reach him.

Captain Kharn made his own tackle before the Betrayer could make it, aware of the terrifying power of a Chainaxe. He made a solid straight to the Betrayer's sternum. Another on his helmet, reaching a scar that looked like it was made by a power sword.

"So you aren't a lie! Good to know," the Betrayer commented he recovered from the blows. "It means killing you isn't really going to screw with me or else you would have felt that broken sternum."

"Just shut up, you bloody madman!" the Captain sent another punch to the head, but the Betrayer managed to turn his head just in time. As the Captain reeled back his fist, the Betrayer took his armoured hand off Gorechild sent it on the Captain's head, knocking him off.

He took his time to get up, looking at the Captain grab the steel slab. Another rev.

"This is almost too easy."

"It is." The Captain was keeping an eye on the Betrayer as the two began circling each other. The Captain found a chainaxe in the hands of a fallen brother and grabbed it. "Now we are even."

Another charge by the Betrayer. The two chainaxes clash, locking teeth with each other. A break, and another clash. And another clash.

The two Kharns were evenly matched in their ferocity, and those World Eaters, both loyalist and traitor, understood that as they watched. The only breaking point would be if one of them were to lose their focus. Even a second could possibly spell their end.

"Your blood is mine, impostor!"
"Your chainaxe is going back to it's owner!"
"Like he can hold it?! His hands are far too big now to even use it as a toothpick!"
"I hardly believe that!"
"Your mind would be too weak to comprehend the liberation of Chaos!"

The Captain threw a boot at the Betrayer, breaking their stalemate and giving him a chance to swipe his chainaxe, leaving a massive gash upon the Betrayer's armour, oozing with blood.

He was not moved, though. The Betrayer merely looked at his damaged armour, gazed up at his adversary, and revved again.

"I say... Between meeting that weird imitator and you, this is definitely going to be an interesting war..." the Betrayer commented as he looked at his blood.

"You just seem to never shut up and die, do you?"

"In these last ten thousand years, I have practically made death terrified of me. Because when I do die..." The Betrayer swung his axe again, and again, their chains clashed. "I know that I will make sure that everyone will go down in flames with me!" The two broke off, the Betrayer preparing another swing. "Blood for the Blood God! Be it yours or mine, our blood will be a gift!"

The Captain, having had enough of this, grabbed his sword again, keeping it on guard while his chainaxe was on offense. However, instead of charging as he thought the Betrayer would, all the Betrayer did was raise a plasma pistol.

"Never thought of you as pragmatic."

The Betrayer did not humor him as he opened fire. at point-blank, there was little the Captain could do besides try to direct it at the pauldrons, where the armour was thickest. The supreheated energy broke through the armour, but did little else. The Betrayer took his time stepping forward, enjoying the kill. By the time the Captain could get up, he noticed how close he was to getting killed by his red doppelganger.

"I will enjoy this far more than I honestly should...Kharn."

"And I am going to enjoy making you bleed some more once I get there."

Just as the Betrayer was about to stomp on the Captain, the Captain placed his chainaxe in the way of the red boot, trapping the foot and tearing out chunks of it before backing off.

The two stood up again, and the Betrayer was not happy about this. He aimed his pistol again.

Instead of charging again, though, the Captain merely commented, "You know, that was a stupid move on my part. Should stick to what I know." He dropped the blade and drew his own plasma pistol, smaller than the Betrayers, but far quicker at firing.

The Captain took at the scar, while the Betrayer began taking aim elsewhere, seeing how much he can cripple his double.
Both Kharns hit their targets, and it is again the Captain that stops first, unable to meet the Blood God's rage. Not like he needed to anyway. He just needed an opportunity, and a raging red berserker offered far more than just one. The Captain took his good shoulder and ran straight into the Betrayer and, with a single motion, threw the Betrayer overhead.

Keeping up with the momentum, the Captain then rushed over, chainaxe whining away as he readied a killing blow, and...

Both of them hit the other with their axes. Kharn the Captain struck Kharn the Betrayer on the chest, near his bare arm, but instead got a chainaxe stuck on his weakened pauldron. Both of them bit away, but that was not for long. Both warriors would be at their limits with this.

"So, I'm dying with you of all people?"

"I take that as a compliment, you fake. Our blood goes to Khorne all the same."

"I will not. The Emperor will protect me."

"You do know he's dead?"

"For now. But soon, he will return. I've seen it, and I will make sure it happens."

The betrayer chuckled. "Good luck on that. Even if I die, more will come in my place. We will never stop, even if you kill us all."

Another dig, and then...Captain Kharn lost senses.

"Get up."

Captain Kharn stood up wearily, noticing the gash on his shoulder bleeding onto his armour. How was he even still able to-

Wait.

The Captain's senses snapped to attention as he saw that the sky was now turned into a hue of bloody red, the corpses around them now dyed in blood instead of their normal colours, and the blazing heat.

"I suppose that you at least are able to take a hit like me," he turned to see the Betrayer, armour still terribly scarred, looking at him. "Good thing too. It seems that we are far from over."

"Where...where are we...?"

The fires rose all around them. "It seems that our little struggle has earned Khorne's interest. Take pride, for I have never met such an equal on the field."

That meant that... "This...is the Warp?"

The Betrayer revved his blade. "Our only escape is paid in blood. Yours, mine, either."

"Why? Why does he even bother with this. I am already dead, right?"

"Because within the ten thousand years I have been alive," the Betrayer grimly answered, "I have never met a warrior even capable of equaling me in battle. I have died before, yes, but...like this, I have never died." He raised his hands to the sky, feeling the fires of hell itself lash out at him. "Our battle will never end. We will fight, and fight, and fight again, and if either of us ever die, it will never be the end."

Neverending combat. It was just the thing that Khorne would want. The true champion would be the last one standing, and they would gain his full blessing, add some. The loser gets only a painful death, and an even more painful afterlife.

The Captain would have accepted this. Perhaps they would have fought til the end of time itself, the name Kharn ringing throughout the cosmos as the one man who can stop himself.

Except that this Captain Kharn was not the one who became a heretic. He knew better than that.

The Captain dropped his weapons.

"What are you-"

"I am done with this. Seriously, I have better things to do than fight an endless battle with a deranged madman who seems stuck on repeat about murder."

The Betrayer felt his blood boil. "You...DARE...?"

The Captain began walking. "I do."

The Betrayer would not take this insult. This filth, this impostor, he was walking away from such a gift? He would deny Khorne the very thing he was?

"You cannot leave...! You will NOT leave! Your blood will be spilled, coward!"

The Captain turned back. "How am I the coward when it has become clear which one of us is going back to killing like some old toy, physically and mentally incapable of doing or thinking about anything more than that? How am I the coward when all one of us is even trying to do is appease some god with a present like he will actually appreciate that?"

The Betrayer's rage was reaching a fever pitch. The more that the Captain spewed, the more it infuriated him. This cannot stand. This will not stand!

"So go ahead. Kill me, if you think that is going to prove me wrong. Honestly, I just want to get back to whatever I was doing before that. Find out how long that damn blind bastard will take before he can get to work."

A horrid war howl erupted as the Betrayer made a charge. All the Captain bothered to do in response was grab his weapons and then make one dive off.

"COWARD!! I WILL FIND YOU! I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN TO THE ENDS OF THE WARP!!!"
"YEAH, SURE! GET BACK TO ME THE MOMENT YOU CAN FIND SOMETHING MORE AMUSING TO YOU THAN KILLING PEOPLE!"

The fires were rushing. They seared, but his amrour did not melt. It stung, but his skin did not char. The fires of the Warp raged all around, and while he could not see the pain, he could sure feel it.

"We found a survivor!"

The Captain woke up again, this time standing, back in the warzone, but...the Betrayer was gone.

"Captain Kharn! He's alive!" He turned to the left, he recognized these people. Blue and White... Right, he was deployed with them. "Sheesh, how did you vanish off the face of the planet?"

"I told you to stop worrying." A hoarser voice growled. He turned behind and found the man he called father looking straight down at him. "Hope you enjoyed your little trip. Whatever you did, I really do not care."

"Whatever he was..." the Captain commented, "He was just a cheap copy anyway. Always murdering just to adjust to simpler things." Something struck him. "Funny, I think I heard from Argel Tal about a red-armoured lunatic that went insane on him too, but...he spared the Captain. Idiot."

"Who said you could go on reminiscing?" The Primarch growled. "We still have a planet to clean up, and these tools need something to be used on!"

Absentmindedly, the Captain stabbed his giant metal blade into the dirt.

This would serve to be the resting place of Kharn. Betrayer, Captain, Tool of the Blood God.

Clash of Pirates[edit]

>Korianis Sector, Subsector Daranis

The Rogue Trader Sebastus Arrelia was accompanied by a small fleet of vessels. While some of them were merely escorts and one Explorator Vessel who was paying him handsomely for a chance to work on the Archaeotech Drive in his flagship, there were also three ships of Astartes. However, their heraldry appeared to be something he never noticed before.
For one, it was made of dark, smoky gray with a skull as an emblem. However, they were more than capable allies, and their commander, a Captain "Calico" Jacques, was actually a very sociable person who seems to dispel every myth about the Adeptus Astartes just by his very existence.

The Trader had just made his way from a re-supply station, having taken a few rotations in the crew, and made some nice profit from what he sold. While he was calculating this profit, he had found a message his Astropath intercepted.

"ARRIGHT YA FILTHY GITZ, YOOZ BEST HAND OVAH ALL YER LOOT, OR YOUZE GONNA GET RUN OVER FLAT BY THE GREAT KAPTIN BLUDDFLAGG!!!"

It took a moment before everything settled in.
"I say," Sebastus commented, "Did that message just say that we were about to be robbed by...Orks?"
"Indeed, sire," the Astropath replied, recovering from the deafening message.
"That's...rather dreadful," he shooed the psyker off. "I'll summon the Arch-Militant. Best figure what would be the wisest move."

The Arch-Militant, a dreadfully morose bastard son of a Cardinal, was informed of the case.
"We have no chance of combating these Orks," he answered.
"Now, tell me, why is that?"
"These Orks," he told Sebastus, "they're the crew of Kaptin Bluddflagg. He's tried to raid Subsector Aurelia before, only to get pushed off by those Blood Ravens."
"We have Astartes of our own, don't we?" Sebastus asked.
"Would you really consider now to be a proper time to test their reliability?"
The trader leaner forward in his seat. "We have no better chance to see an Astartes' reliability than in the field of battle."

Soon enough, a Kill-Krooza of incredible size apparated from the warp, and again the message played, much to the Astropath's discomfort.

Just before they entered range, there was one last message left by the Orks:
"WELL? YOUZE GONNA GIVE US DA KIT OR IZ I SUPPOS'TA SMASH YA TA GEDDIT?"

The Arch-Militant insisted, "You can't be seriously thinking of-"
"Torpedoes away." Sebastus cut them off. The crew began loading torpedoes. "If they want this ship, they'll have to get it from my cold, dead hands."

The escorts started forward, expecting to open fire together against the Orky monstrosity when a small pack of ships, all larger and more heavily armed than the escorts, emerged behind the Krooza.

As the Attack Craft began dogfighting, the lead Astartes Vessel began boarding the Rogue Trader's ship.
Here, the Captain and a few of his troops began dispersing among the walls of the ship, anticipating the inevitable boarding.
Meanwhile, another ship came to the defense of the Explorators, who were left exposed with the escorts slowly getting taken over by the Ork vessels.

It was in the Trader Vessel that Jacques began another tactic.
With access to communication, he found a way to get to the Orks.

"OI! OO'Z DIS DAMN GROT DATZ TRYIN' TO GET FROO TO US?!"
"You best learn my name soon, you flea-suckin' dirtbags," he replied, "cause you're going up against the vessels of the great Calico Jacques!"
"PFFFFAHAHAHAHAHA, DIS HUMIE'Z FUNNY. I WANT HIS SKULL!"

As the Orks broke off, Sebastus began asking, "Umm... is that Ork now trying to raid my ship?"
"You act like that's not gonna happen anyway."
Sebastus did not take that as well. "Y-you maniac! This vessel is priceless! PRICELESS!! I can't possibly afford to repair all this!"
Jacques turned back to his forces, "Ah, you worry too much about this! I've got brothers here who can definitely take them on!"

Jacques went to the engine deck, which was where he assumed the Orks would come to at some point or another. To mirror the need to defend this point, he also stationed a good number of his troops on this deck to keep guard.

"Alright," he opened up, "Who wants to lead the wartime shanty?"
The battle-brothers eagerly joined in, nominating via a competition amongst themselves. It was whittled to a Sergeant Corril, who led a company of Assault Marines armed with blast shields and an anchor in place of jump packs.

>Once was a storm unlike any other
>The men all shook up and the ship, she would quiver
>Goblins came out and they tore through the crew
>STAND FIRM, YOUNG MEN! FIGHT WHEN YOU'RE TOLD TO!
>They had fear in their eyes,
>And the cap's lash on their hinds
>STAND FIRM, YOUNG MEN! FIGHT WHEN YOU'RE TOLD TO!

The Shanty motivated the men to stand and fight the Orks, who soon came to attack on the starboard side of the Engine deck. As the Orks began to board, the moralized Astartes charged towards the boarding party, Sergant Corril at the front with his Anchor. The massive instrument proved to be an able weapon, as his swings immediately pulped the Orks in front of him. Meanwhile, his squad had their shields raised to deflect incoming fire. Further behind were the Devastators, who were making use of both their heavy bolters as well as some autoguns they found stashed by the crew. The autoguns in particular kept the Orks' attention, the dakka from those guns being just the thing they wanted.
However, that was just the thing they wanted, as the Orks blindly walked into the Assault team's chainswords. Those greenskins foolish enough were eviscerated.

As soon as the wave of green ended, the Captain took charge. He was going to take the boarding vessel and claim it as his own.
Their entry was greeted by more waves of Orks, but it was clear that these ones were not nearly as strong as the boarders, perhaps not being as experienced in combat.
Half of the crew grabbed what they could from the Orky ship and then used it to repair the hole in the ship alongside any enginseers that were brave enough to stand alongside these Space Marines.

"Behold!" Jacques declared in communications. "We have taken over one of these Orks' ships! We've got the edge on them!"
Using the Astropath to communicate back, Sebastus responded, "I say, that does sound rather good, but my Escorts are practically half-gone. Unless you can repeat that miracle of combat again, I fail to see the good in that."
"HA! Just watch! And open what you can on the biggest one, I'm probably gonna take that down last!"

True to his word, Calico Jacques collided the looted craft onto another, boarded it, and repeated the sequence. Meanwhile, his ships, aware of his plan, began throwing their weight into the battle, helping turn the battle against the Orks.
Soon enough, the only ship left was Bluddflagg's Kill-Krooza.

"Well, boys," Jacques commanded them, "It's just old, big, and ugly left. Let's say we do this? WHO AMONG YE ARE TOUGH ENOUGH VOID REAVERS TO TAKE THAT DAMN ORK DOWN?!"
"AYE!!!!" The crew simultaneously cheered on. They took on the vessel's aresnal, the looted vessels they could use thrown in the way of the gunfire to buy the main vessels enough time to get closer to the hulk. As soon as they began boarding the Ork's flagship, it was only the Astartes Vessels left, the others having either went down with their looted vessels or rejoined their brothers on the main craft.

Jacques' crew were the first to take on the Nobs on the deck, as they held their shields against the lumbering massive choppas. Corril joined the Captain in that and, with his anchor, took down the leader of these Nobs. Most of the Astartes took to raiding the Krooza, leaving only the crew and a token handful of battle-brothers to keep watch of the ship.

The boarding Astartes were beset on all sides by the greenskin horde, but that was just what they wanted. In a way, the two forces were equal in that regard, both of them hungering for only battle. Orks of many different sizes surged forth to take on the boarding Space Marines, but the Marines were just as fierce defending themselves and pushed forward to destroy the ship.

Among this group, Jacques and a small squad broke off from the group in order to find the Kaptin himself. The route he took was infested with more brutal Orks, many of whom were fighting among themselves for whatever reason, but that was enough to grant the crew enough time to destroy the horde uninterrupted. More fortuitous to this was the fact that among these was a rather huge Big Mek by the name of Grozznozzle, whose entire head and spinal column was mechanical. This made removing it from the rest of the Ork much easier, as well as much more satisfying.

Meanwhile, Corril led his gang to the Engine Deck, in order to sabotage the patchwork machinery there. They were beset by Lootaz led by heavily armored Mek by the name of Nailbrain, all armed with any variety of guns firing lasers, bullets, and anything in between. Some were even firing rockets. Though the hail took the lives of half the brothers on this mission, Corril still managed to prevail by lobbing his anchor straight into the Mek. The Ork died upon impact, and his minions began advancing towards the fallen Mek to steal his stuff. Without any opposition, the Sergeant commanded a small group of Marines armed with flamers to incinerate those Orks that had fled while the rest continued the mission, placing Melta charges on the ship's drive and engines.

"Alright, Cap!" Corril voxed to Jacques. "We got the ship ready to blow up nice and easy-like!"
Calico Jacques and his crew were just about to lead to the command bridge, "Well done, lads! Head back to the ships, I'll be taking a certain Warboss' head!"

Rather predictably, the moment they opened the gate to the bridge, more Orks came flooding in, all armed with anything they could find, some trying to hack apart the Marines with pieces of the ship itself. However, their hastily-made arms would be their failure, as the trained Astartes were able to tear through them with bolter and chainsword, even stealing the weapons they saw use for among the Orks to use against those that remained.

Meanwhile, Calico Jacques strode forth to stand in front of the Ork Kaptin, whose jaw was as much iron as the rest of his armor and a crudely-built cutlass in his massive fist.
"I say," he opened conversation, "I like your hat."
"YOU WANT DIS HAT?" Bluddflagg spat out, "YOUZE GONNA HAFTA KRUMP ME BEFORE YOUZE CAN TAKE IT!!"
Jacque scoffed, "I was gonna kill you anyways. This way, I'll get a trophy out of the deal as well."
"WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH!!!" The Ork erupted from his seat and swung the giant sword towards the Captain, who backed off before cutting with his power sword. "First blood's already mine, greenskin," he bragged. "How much more you think you'll lose before I'm done?"
"I'M GUNNA KILL YOU FOR DAT!!!" The Kaptin sent his other massive fist forwards, connecting with the Captain's chest, sending him flying back. "WHOEVER THE ZOG YE ARE, I'LL BE TAKIN' ALL YER KIT AS WELL AS THAT POSH GITZ!"
The Ork lumbered forward, but the Astartes did not stand to face the charge. Instead, he slid under the Ork. As Bluddflagg began checking his boots to see if he had any Marine stuck on them, Jacques began commenting, "Kaptin Bluddflagg, scourge of Subsector Aurelia. I must say, this sorta prey would definitely be a good trophy for my deck!"
Bluddflagg grinned, "THINK OI'M AN IDJIT, DO YE?" He punched through the deck floor. "THINK I GOT ROKKS FER BRAINZ, EH?" He felt something in the grip of his fingers. "HOW ABOUT YA TRY DIS ON FER SIZE?!"
The Ork grabbed a huge hammer, bits of metal sticking out.
He swung this massive sledgehammer around with reckless abandon, batting aside Ork crew members with as much frequency as he did Space Marines. One parry led to Calico Jacques' power sword being sent flying from his hands. However, he was able to grab a rokkit hammer from a dead Ork. He turned to the front and found the control deck.

He had a plan.
Of course, he still had to distract Bluddflagg. That would prove easy, though, as the Ork accidentally embedded his hammer into a wall. Jacques ran towards the controls and shot the pilot with his pistol. He then took one swing.

KABOOM

The control deck was in ruins. So was Jacques' hands, once he finally got up.
"WHATCHA GONNA DO WITHOUT YER POSH KIT, EH SPEHSS MUHREEN?!"
Though his hands were broken, Calico Jacques could still fight, as he hefted a shield from one of the dead Astartes, In his other hand, he took a dead Ork's choppa. "Who says I needed that Power Sword to waste you?"
"HEHEHEHEH, I LOIK YOU. GONNA KILL YOU SLOW FER DAT!" He took one more swing overhead. Excellent. Jacques used the shield as a board to slide past the Warboss, who embedded his weapon where the controls were, totaling all control. He heard more explosions from whence he came.
"And with that out of the way," he started jogging, "I feel that an escape would be the best to my interests!"
"YOUZE THINK YOU'LL BE GETTIN' AWAY DAT EAZY?!" Bluddflagg abandoned the hammer to find his cutlass again. ""FINK AGAIN!!!" He swung the Cutlass at the Space Marine, but his shield stopped it.
"BOSS!!" On of the surviving Orks shouted, "DA ENJINZ, DEYZ NOT WORKIN'?"
"WOT?" He growled. His distraction was enough for the Captain to try another attack with the choppa, but the Kaptain swatted him aside. "YOU SNEEKY SON OF A GROT...!"
Jacques got up, "Well, this bastard son got you beat, so I can't be all that bad, eh?"
"I'M GUNNA KILL YOU FER DAT!"
"Right now, not so sure," he finally left the door, "But later? Well..."

Calico Jacques went to the the entry point he took, but found nothing.
"Damn idiots," he grumbled, "Try to mutiny and kick ME off, will they? I don't think so!" He took a leap into the great expanse...

And he floated. He had kept track and found that it was only 6 minutes and 41 seconds before he could find a ship to pick him up, and it was one of the surviving escorts. He jumped in and found it to be piloted by Sergeant Corril. "The hell was that for?"
"Wasn't me, Cap," he commented as he steered around. "We couldn't keep the place Ork-free so we had to back off after placing the explosives." They started on their way back. "Hey, where's-"
"Look at my hands, sergeant. Can't grab crap right now, much less an Ork's head." He collapsed on the side of the wall. "But he's not going to be troubling anyone anytime soon."
Corril asked, "Shall I turn this ship around to the Grand Voyager?"
Jacques cracked a smile. "Get me to the nearest Apothecary. Gonna need to see if I'll be needing new hands."
"And that Trader?"
"Ahh, one thing at a time. He'll be fine. He'll be needing new ships, though."

Bloody-Handed[edit]

With a clunk, the adamantium door slid back into its recess, and the Space Marine entered. Behind him came a Primarch, ducking under the doorframe, a gesture that he was rapidly becoming used to performing. "Welcome to my home." said Shrike, making a wide, sweeping gesture that was thrown off by the glossy half-cape draped over one shoulder. He tugged it off with a snort of annoyance and flung it into the depths of the darkened room. He flicked his wrist and the lights came on, making them both cringe with pain. The room was significantly larger than Corax had expected, close to the size of the Ravenspire's armour bay. He looked about: there was a small bed in one corner, a narrow table, a small bookcase stuffed with data-slates, what looked like a drawing-board, and several strange machines sitting in the far side of the room. Shrike walked towards one of them, a strange device which hung from the ceiling like a giant chevroned spider. It lit up and chattered to life as Shrike approached. He reached out his armour-clad arms to it, and the machine extended dozens of its own limbs, clamping onto Shrike's armour and stripping it off him.
"Easier than waking all the serfs up." Shrike explained, over the clatter and whine of the armature's limbs. When the machine had finished its work, he stepped forwards, stretching.
"I have to say, I thought I was going to fall asleep at one point back there." Corax nodded sympathetically:
"Yes, that has to be one of the longest speeches I've ever heard."
"Still," said Shrike, yawning, "1st Captain doesn't sound too hard. I feel like I've been commanding the entire chapter for a while now." He shook himself:
"So, what was it you wanted to see first?"
Corax glanced at the strange machines squatting in the shadows. He pointed at a large, rectangular device with a prominent keypad facing outwards.
"What's that do?"
"Ah," said Shrike, walking over to the machine and slapping it affectionately,

"This is Aetna. We found it on a derelict at the edge of the ghoul stars. At first we thought it was a template constructor, and that, y'know, we were going to be given sectors as retirement homes or something. Turns out it's not, obviously, its just an ancient fabricator. At first we thought it was broken, because we couldn't get it to make anything, despite it being in perfectly good condition."
He gestured to the keypad:
"What it produces is linked to the keypad, only problem is, tech-marines reckon there must be at least hundreds of thousands of combinations possible on that keypad." "And there's no way of knowing which combinations work." said Corax, nodding.
"Exactly. So far, I've been able to discover fifty combinations, mostly by sitting here and punching in random combinations. Most of them don't make anything particularly useful to me, but one of them makes it so that you can put something in, say a bolt casing, and it will produce x amount of that, with whatever material you put in."
He looked at Corax expectantly.
"So... this is not being used in public, why?"
Shrike's face fell.
"Because of what happened to Panacea."
At Corax' questioning look, he elaborated:
"Archeotech device that makes medical cures. Cures to everything. That's not hyperbole, I mean stuff humans haven't had for thousands of years."
Corax spoke softly:
"What happened to it?"
"Orks attacked the forge world. An entire Waaagh, all on one planet. When the defenders were fighting tooth-and-nail to hold them back, the ones who had drawn the Orks there in the first place turned up. Dark Eldar. They walked in, took Panacea, and that was the end of it."
He gestured to Aetna.
"That's why. We hardly know how to use this thing, and we can't risk anyone finding out about it."

Shrike sat down heavily at the table, and Corax followed, easing himself into the reinforced chair. Shrike stared into the middle distance as Corax searched for something to say. He noticed something strapped to Shrike's chest, what looked like the sheath for a massive knife, easily the length of the space marine's forearm. He pointed:
"What's that?"
Shrike looked around blearily,
"Hmm?"
"Your knife. Doesn't look like standard issue to me."
Shrike pressed a hand to the sheath and smiled.
"Ah, there's quite a story behind this one, If you're ready to listen?"
Corax nodded:
"Of course."
Shrike sat back and exhaled slowly:
"Okay, okay, where to begin..."
"At the beginning?"
"Very funny. Alright..."

>SIGMA OCTANUS IV: M41:965

Shrike peered over the crest of the ridge, cranking the magnification of his helmet up. He triggered his comm:
"Contact with artifact, it's a webway gate. Seems to be active."
The voice of his second crackled back:
"Support needed?"
"Negative. Doesn't seem to be any-shit"
Several lithe figures in bright, sparkling costumes stepped out of the crackling nimbus of the webway.
"Harlequins. Two, four, six, eight..."
Shrike trailed off as more and more figures stepped through. At last the flow stopped, and Shrike did a quick head-count,
"I count twenty-six eldar. Wait-"
Another figure emerged, and walked a short distance away from the others. Then it turned and looked straight at Shrike. He shuddered, a chill racing up his spine that had nothing to do with the drizzle pattering off his helmet.
"Twenty-seven, I repeat, twenty-seven Eldar have come through the gate and appear to be making camp."
"Do we engage?"
Shrike thought. The Eldar were outnumbered by his men by a significant margin, but he had heard horror stories about the Harlequins in battle, and didn't want a fight that he could avoid.
"Negative. Move to my position, I'm going to try diplomacy." He killed his vox before his second could respond, and stood up. With a flex of his legs, he lept over the edge of the ridge, and plummeted straight down. At the last second, he flared the wings of his flight pack, and landed with a thump. The eldar all around him started, and hands went to weapons. Shrike fought the urge to go for his bolt pistol, and instead raised his hands.
"Hold, Eldar! I mean no harm." He looked around at the tense Eldar,
"Who is in charge here?"
An Eldar, tall even for his kind, stepped forwards, his helmet bearing a bright red plume, and his coat shimmering with mesmerizing colours. As Shrike looked at the Harlequins featureless mask, features slowly began to appear on it. Shrike watched, bemused, as a perfect representation of his helmet appeared.

Resisting the urge to feel the beak of his helmet (in order to see if it was really that big), Shrike spoke:
"What are you and your troupe doing here?"
The Harlequin's voice was fluted and distorted to such an extent that Shrike could barely make out his answer.
"I could ask you the same, Space Marine."
"We are scouting this planet out for any signs of an Ork vanguard. So far we have found none."
Seemingly impressed with the Space Marine's honesty, the harlequin answered:
"We are merely passing through. We wish to perform for a craftworld near to here. We have left the webway to rest and take our bearings. We will be gone by the end of the week." "Perfect." For a moment, there was silence as Shrike tried to think of what to say next. An impulse seized him, and he spoke quickly:
"Perhaps you could put on a show for us tonight? I have heard much of the performances of the Harlequins, but I have never seen one myself."
The Eldar turned to his troupe, cocking his head to the side. Shrike was certain that they were communicating in some way, but before he could do something about it, the troupe leader turned back to him.
"We agree. On one condition..."
Oh dear, thought Shrike, his head filling with horrible thoughts of what it could be. "You must play one of the characters. We will provide the costume, and tell you the story, but you must provide the skill."
Shrike realised he was in a corner now. If he refused, the Eldar would not perform and would most likely take their frustration out on him. His only option was to call the Harlequin's bluff. He nodded and clasped the Eldar's hand:
"I accept. When do we begin?"

SOME TIME LATER

Shrike's skin tingled as a pair of Harlequins applied the red paint that was part of his costume. He was standing naked in the middle of one of their tents, and was desperately crunching differential equations in his head to stave off an erection. The two Harlequins had already changed into their costumes, at least Shrike thought they had.
"So... I'm this Khaine creature, right?"
"Yes."
"You still haven't told me what the rest of the performance is about."
"It is one of the greatest tales of the Eldar race, one that the Harlequins seldom perform. The tale of the Fall of the Eldar."
This rung a bell in Shrike's mind, but he could not place where he had heard it before. As the Harlequins continued spreading the greasy red paint across his alabaster skin, they spoke in quiet voices of the Fall of the Eldar, and what his role would entail. By the time they were finished, Shrike was covered almost entirely in flowing red symbols and glyphs that criss-crossed and overlapped each other. One of the Harlequins began buckling several pieces of elaborate wraithbone armour onto him.
"So..." Shrike struggled to find words, a dull pulsing was beginning behind his eyes, and every so often, he could've sworn he heard chanting.
"How will I be shattered into pieces? You're not going to actually-"
"No. This-" the harlequin speaking clamped something to Shrike's bicep,
"Is a holofield. It will trigger automatically when it is needed."
"And until then?"
"Against the Solitaire? Just try and survive."
The other Harlequin stepped from behind Shrike, holding a cloth-wrapped bundle in her arms. The other reached forwards and pulled the top off the bundle. The Eldar was holding a sword. A heat-haze rose up from it, and strange runes swam and pulsed on the surface.
"The Wailing Doom"
Shrike looked around for the source of the voice, before he realised it was his.
The Harlequins nodded to each other.
"He is ready."
Shrike reached and took the sword. It shivered, and the bones in his hands were cast into sharp relief by the light shining through his hand. Something hit the ground with a splat. Another blob of thick, crimson gore dripped from Shrike's hand. He curled his free hand into a fist, and watched the blood ooze from between his fingers. He smiled.

Outside the tent, the members of Shrike's Wing, sat in a rough semicircle, watching the performance. It had, indeed, been like nothing any of them had ever seen and many of them were struggling to process what they had seen. They had seen the members of the Eldar panteon fall to the silent Harlequin, one after the other. A tear-stained woman had been snatched away from the Solitaire's claws at the last moment by a shambling tower of putrescence and filth which had made several of the marines gag. None of them had seen the Captain yet, but their attention was fixed on the cowering figure before the Solitaire. The cowering Harlequin's mask was stretched into a terrified smile, or maybe a grimace. The Solitaire drew back a taloned hand, and the Marines braced themselves for another God's devourment.

BOOM

BOOM

The Solitaire lowered its arm, and turned to look at the source of the noise. So did the marines.

Kayvaan Shrike strode into the circle. Except, the Captain many of the marines had known for hundreds of years had changed. The veins beneath his skin glowed, as though his blood had turned to plasma. Thick gore dripped from his hands, staining the dirt crimson. The air around the sword clenched in one hand rippled, as though it were white-hot. His eyes were the worst part. They were like stars set into his face, points of light so bright and so strong it hurt the marines to look at them. He swung the sword into a guard position, and glowered at the Solitaire with such fury the Marines cringed. It snarled, the first sound any of them had heard it make, and flung itself at him.

The marines watched, enraptured, as the two fought. At first, the Solitaire had Shrike on the back foot, driving him around the circle with vicious flurries of slashes and stabs. However, Shrike had seemingly rallied, and was now holding his ground, deflecting and parrying every slash and stab with nary a movement of his feet. The Cowering Harlequin had recovered, and now stood behind Shrike, laughing and shouting encouragement. The Solitaire stabbed at Shrike's shoulder, he leaned to the side and smashed the hilt of his sword into the Solitaire's face. It reeled backwards, spitting blood, whilst the marines cheered. Shrike lunged forwards, the tip of his sword scratching open the front of the Solitaire's armour. The blade screamed as it touched flesh, and the Solitaire hurled itself backwards, away from Shrike. He pressed the attack, raining blows on the creature's guard, each seeming to strike with the force of a mountain dropped from the edge of space. The Solitaire fell to its knees, seemingly exhausted, and Shrike let loose a final blow which smote the claws from one its hands. He stopped, breathing heavily, then stabbed the sword forwards.

The Solitaire caught the blade between its palms, holding the blade steady, no matter how hard Shrike pushed against it. The marines and Shrike alike saw the Solitaire's mask distort into a spine chilling leer. It twisted its hands, and the sword burst into pieces. Shrike staggered back, hands sliced to ribbons as the Solitaire surged to its feet, not really tired at all. It slashed at Shrike repeatedly, each swing sending ribbons of glowing blood flying. Shrike fell to one knee, already exhausted by the earlier struggle. The Solitaire stabbed at his heart, and Shrike caught its hand at the last moment, the tip of the claw an inch away from his heaving chest. The Solitaire's free hand reached round and caressed his cheek as his hands began to tremble with the effort of holding it back. The tip of the claw pressed into Shrike's chest. Glowing blood began to ooze from around it, leaving a shining trail down his chest. He looked into the Solitaire's face as it pushed harder. It looked back. Shrike opened his mouth and let loose a deafening roar as his glowing veins and eyes brightened, till the light blotted him out completely. Then he exploded. Fragment of glowing light and wraithbone armour flew in all directions, the sound mingling with the Laughing god screaming in horror. The Solitaire turned to him, flicking glowing blood from the tips of its claw. The Harlequin took one look at the Solitaire and ran from the circle, leaping over the marines, and vanishing into the shadows. The lights around the circle faded, and the marines were left in darkness, wondering if what they had just seen was real.

"So what happened then?" said Corax.
"Well, I come round a few hours later, with no idea what happened, surrounded by my men, who all look like they've shat themselves. I shoo them away, and the Eldar come in and say that they enjoyed my performance so much, they want to give me two gifts. The first was the holofield they gave me, I use that when I'm sneaking around.
The second-" He drew the massive Bowie Knife out of its sheath-
"Was this. A fragment of the Wailing Doom. It wasn't big enough to make a sword out of, so I had the techmarines make it into a knife. Apparently, its made of some isotope of Iron that the techmarines have never seen before."
"How do you know that it still works?"
"It feels hot. And it goes 'EEEEEEE' when I stab someone with it."
He held the knife out in front of him, and turned it over, letting Corax see the runes pulsing and swimming across its surface.

The two talked long into the night, discussing everything: Shrike's childhood, growing up as a runner in the very depths of a Hive city, his joining the space marines, his ongoing romance with one of the ravenspire's serfs, it seemed the universe would end before the two stopped. In the end, though, both men were so hoarse they could barely speak, and Corax was desperate for the toilet. As Shrike bid his Primarch a good night, and watched him leave the room, he became aware of a faint splat sound. He sat up in his chair, and looked at the floor. There was a crimson stain on the tiles, directly below where one of Shrike's hands had been resting on the arm of his chair. As he watched, another crimson blob dripped from the end of his index finger, splatting onto the floor softly. He looked at his blood-smeared hands with eyes that glowed like searchlights. He smiled.

Reclaimers[edit]

LUNAPHAGE SYSTEM

The cruiser tore into realspace with a swirl of unearthly colours and blazing retros. It decelerated to a mere third of the speed of light, and slotted in a orbit that would take it close to the large, tan coloured gas giant that orbited the lonely star.
On the bridge, Kayvaan Shrike studied the displays with tired eyes. He glanced up to the transparent bulkhead that served as a window, the weak light of the star illuminating the distant gas giant. His eyes flicked to the crewman at the sensor console.
"Thrill me."
The man shook his head, eyes glazed over as he observed the data feed being projected onto his retinas.
"No signs of the Hive Fleet, sir. Although, I am picking up a small moon around the gas giant over yonder."
Shrike eased himself out of his command chair, vertebrae in his back clunking together as he rose.
"Mhm, better than nothing. Set a course."
"Aye, aye."
Shrike heard the helmsman's reply as he walked out of the bridge and down the narrow corridor to his quarters. As the door sealed behind him, he lay down heavily on his narrow bed and closed his eyes.
Three weeks of non-stop searching for a horde of phantom bugs. He giggled weakly, rubbing at his burning eyes with the heel of his hand. The door hummed open and Shrike groaned as he recognised the distinctive odor of machine oil and incense.
"If you're here to gloat, don't bother."
The end of his bed creaked as a space marine sat down on it. Shrike placed a booted foot against the figure's midriff and gave it a weak shove.
"There's a chair over there, don't get gunk on my bed."
There was a snort and the pressure on the bed eased. Shrike jammed his head under the thin pillow as booted feet thumped on the floor. There was a pause and the sound of the footlocker at the end of the bed being opened. Shrike cringed as he heard the sound of rustling pages.
"Aww. That is just adorable, it really is."

Opening his eyes, Shrike sat up and threw his pillow at the black-armoured figure. It bounced off the crimson pauldron and was caught by a servo-arm that hung over the figure's head. Cheeks burning, Shrike snatched the thick book from the figure's hands and closed it with a snap.
"I knew you were sentimental, but that's just ridiculous."
Shrike returned the book to the footlocker, glaring at the techmarine as he stood up.
"What did you think I did before I joined the Guard?"
The techmarine leaned against the wall, smirking.
"I knew about the redhead, we all did, but I didn't think there was anyone before that."
Shrike folded his arms,
"It wasn't the same with her. We were more like brother and sister, than...-"
"Rabbits."
"Fuck you. You'd've done the same."
"If she hadn't been nearly twenty years older than me, yeah. I still don't see what she saw in you."
"I always thought she got turned on by all the surgery she was doing to us."
"I'm not sure that's how women work Shrike-"
"You're one to talk. Besides, I much prefer the thought that she just liked banging a sixteen-year old, than the alternative."
A faint look of concern traveled across the techmarine's face.
"Which was?"
"That she really did love me. And that I never told her I did."
There was a pause.
"Well... that would explain the sketches, if nothing else. Did you do them?"
Shrike reached back into the footlocker and flipped through the worn pages of the diary.
"Nah, one of the orderlies did it. Cost me week's scrounging, but it was worth it."
The book fell open to a page where a small pict had been pasted in. The techmarine leaned in:
"Oh wow. You kept that!?"
"Yeah. All fifty of us. This was what gave me the idea to start keeping a diary. I didn't want to forget."
The techmarine returned to his previous posture.
"One of these days, your sentimentality is going to be the death of us, you know that, right?"
Shrike was still lost in memory:
"How many of us are left out of there?"
"Twelve."
"Not bad for nearly 700 years?"
Shrike didn't respond. The servo-arm jabbed him in the ribs.
"Wuh?"
"I didn't come here to discuss your sexual deviances. That comes later. No, I wanted to talk about our assignment."
Shrike groaned inwardly, but said nothing.
"I think this might be a dummy assignment."
This was new.
"Eh?"
"I'm thinking, 'maybe there aren't any tyranids out here, maybe the primarch's just given his favourite a dressed-up holiday'."
"I... I'm not his favourite-"
"Oh, come on, everyone can see it."
"But still, 'Nids aren't something you do that with, it's too risky. Besides, I doubt he's even seen a Tyranid yet."
The techmarine opened his mouth to speak when the room's intercom crackled.
"Sir? We've found something."

The cruiser sat in the shadow of the titanic ship, velocity matched with it perfectly. Invisible beams from the cruiser's sensors played across the hull of the ship. Within the bridge, Shrike stood in full armour, watching the sensor feeds.
The officer shook his head:
"I'm sorry sir, whatever alloy that thing's hull is made of can't be penetrated by the auspex array."
Shrike put on his helmet.
"Good. It's been too long since I had a good excuse for a spacewalk."
He strode out of the bridge, members of his Wing emerging from the shadows and falling into step with him. Anyone observant enough would've realised that the marines were all wearing the same mark of armour, with no rank insignia, and the same paint scheme. Functionally, It was impossible to tell them apart. Or even tell which had been Shrike in the first place.

The marines stood, magnetised to the deck by their boots, watching as the massive hangar door opened before them. Air rushed out, the gale not even jostling the stoic marines. The surface of the massive ship was before them, slowly rotating as they watched. Shrike sent a pulse through his black carapace and the thrusters of his flight pack flared, running off an internal supply of oxidiser. Status lights flickered green on the inside of his HUD, and Shrike took a step forwards, standing on the very edge of the threshold. "PREPARE TO BOARD!"
The marines at his back answered:
"HOOAH!"
As one, they lept into the abyss.

Shrike's boots met the surface of the hull with a thump that was muffled by the thick layer of something that resembled ice, which was caked onto the hull of the ship. He reached down and scraped some off with a finger.
"What is this stuff?"
Aloni, the techmarine, spoke in his ear:
"Ammonia, I think. Stuff is getting fired into space by cryovolcanoes on the moon. Judging by the thickness of the layer, this ship has been here a long time."
Shrike stood up, flicking the muck off his finger, sending the crystals glittering into the void.
"Spread out. Search for apertures, airlocks, hangar bays, hull breaches, anything."
The marines began to disseminate across the hull, walking with a slow, stomping, gait that made sure one of their magnetic boots was in contact with the hull at all times. Just as Shrike was about to suggest disengaging from the hull and using thruster packs to survey the hull at a faster rate, a voice crackled over the vox.
"Found an airlock. It's shut, but I've got cutting gear. Uploading waypoint."
The glowing rune popped up on Shrike's HUD, and he and the rest of the marines began to trudge towards it.
By the time he and the rest of the marines reached the airlock, the marines who found it had managed it get it open. One of them spoke aloud:
"Atmosphere pressure on the inside is nil. Must've leaked out ages ago."
Carefully, they stepped into the dark interior. With a thought, Shrike activated the night vision mode of his helmet, piercing the dark easily. The corridor stretched on in front and behind the marines, with other corridors branching off from them.
"You know the drill, squads of five, slow movement, radio check every five minutes. We're looking for the bridge, reactor room, or communications array."
Wordlessly, the twenty marines split into squads of five, arranged like on the face of a die, four at the edges, to watch the front and back, and one in the middle to watch the sides and ceiling. Shrike's squad moved off up the corridor, senses alert for the slightest danger. In fact, Shrike was so busy listening for the sounds of claws in a vent vibrating into his armour, he didn't notice the floating corpse until the bloodshot, leering face bounced off his helmet.
"YARGH"
Shrike leapt backwards with fright, crashing into the marines standing behind him. Yells and shouts filled the vox as the squad unloaded their bolters into the floating corpse. Shrike recovered his footing, and aimed several sharp slaps at the marine's helmets.
"CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!"
The marines immediately stopped, but the corpse was little more than floating shreds. Hearts thumping, Shrike sucked in a deep breath from his respirator, and switched on his helmet lights. The beams illuminated more floating corpses, floating silently. Hesitantly, Shrike reached forwards and poked one with his finger. It rotated slowly, until it was facing him. The corpse's face was puffy and pale. Shrike grimaced as he saw the dried blood around the mouth.
"Lungs burst from the pressure change."
He nudged it again, rotating it away, so they didn't have to look at the agony-twisted face.
Shrike keyed his vox:
"We've encountered some bodies. No signs of xenos injuries, they've been here a long time."
The marines moved on, through the floating bodies that started to appear more and more as they moved down the corridor.

T+35 HOURS SINCE ENTRY

"Vox check: where is everyone?"
"Verano: Cutting into cargo bay"
The bright glare from the plasma torch threw the space marines into stark relief. Tiny gobbets of molten alloy drifted through the space around them, slowly radiating their heat away.
"Aloni: Engine room, still looking over the reactor."
Armoured fingers tapped the glowing screen gently, reaching past the mechadendrites plugged into the side of the console.
"Branne: I think these are maintenance tunnels."
The space marine drifted down the long tunnel, helmet lights illuminating the path ahead, whilst tiny jets of coldgas occasionally flared from his powerpack, keeping him steady. Satisfied that his marines were all still together, Shrike returned his attention to the dizzying array of devices that he was facing. As he glanced around the wide room Shrike had found himself in, he keyed his vox again.
"Aloni, have you managed to get this thing's computer system working yet?"
The response crackled back:
"Not exactly, I've managed to get this one terminal working by hooking it up to my power pack. I can only access what was already stored on it.
"Which is?"
"More archeotech data that has been found since the Great Crusade.
The techmarine's voice trembled with excitement. Shrike stood up sharply, nearly hitting his head on the ceiling.
"You're joking."
"Nope. There's everything in here, STC printouts, schematics, formulae, you name it."
Shrike leant heavily against the console in front of him, legs feeling like they were turning to cloth.
"They're not just going to give us planets for this, are they?"
"Shrike, if we can bring a tenth of this stuff back to Mars, they'll probably let us retire."
Shrike giggled at the thought, before another abruptly barged into his mind.
"Are you backing it up?"
"Of course. Tertiary iteration is underway at this very moment." Shrike could hear the smile in his friend's voice.
"Groovy. These things always seem to end up going horribly wrong at some point or another. " He reached back down to the console he had been studying.
"How's the reactor coming along?"
The techmarine sighed, sending a small crackle of static through his microphone.
"Well, it all seems to be in working order, but it needs a massive electric charge to jump-start the reaction and get it working."
"How massive?"
"A little bit more than the total output of all our power-packs combined."
"Bugger. What about the capacitors? Is there any residual charge left in them?"
The techmarine glanced about the massive reactor room.
"I'll have a look, but this place has been cold for a very long time."

Deep in the bowels of the gigantic ship, Verano's plasma cutter finally finished its work, and two of the marines wedged their arms into the gap and slowly forced the bulkhead open. The lights from their helmets illuminated the inside of the massive room. As they stepped through the door, they became aware of rank upon rank of smooth grey obelisks before them. Verano walked close to one, and had to look closely before he realised what they really were.

Shrike was attempting to pry open a hydraulics panel with his multi-tool when Verano spoke in his ear.
"This isn't a battleship, Shrike. Cargo bay is full of cryo-pods. We estimate about 500 000."
Shrike swallowed:
"Any survio-"
"No" Verano looked into the pod nearest to him. The inside was covered in silvery scratch marks, some of which were smeared with dried blood.
"I don't think it was quick, either."
Shrike was silent for a moment. Then the ship seemed to lurch around him, throwing him backwards and forwards on his magnetised boots. As it stopped he reached for his vox:
"What was that!?"
Aloni:
"Not me."
Verano:
"What was what?"
Branne:
"That was close, nearly lost my grip."
Shrike activated the vox channel to the cruiser, still waiting patiently in the colony ship's shadow. "What was that?"
Shrike distinctly heard the sound of alarms in the background as the officer replied:
"Massive gravitational shift from the star. Matches anomalies that have prece-"
"-ed Tyranid Hive Fleets, yeah, I know. Can you get a message off?"
"No sir. Astropath is trying his best, but he can't push a message through the shadow on his own."
Shrike inhaled, thinking hard.
"Alright, here's what you do: make for the edge of the system, as soon as you are out of the heliosphere, warp jump to the nearest star fort. They should have a choir you can use to alert the sector fleet with."
"Are you and your men staying, sir?"
"Aye. This ship is too valuable a find to leave to the 'nids, and if we can restore power, we may be able to leave the system on our own."
The officer's voice was hesitant, but firm.
"Aye aye, sir. Good Luck."
"Likewise." said Shrike, closing the channel, and opening another:
"Aloni, we need that reactor now."
The techmarine had heard the entirety of Shrike's conversation, and was frantically plugging cables and mechadendrites into the reactor.
After a moment, he paused in front of the control console:
"Initiate Jump-Start."
"Here goes nothing", he murmured, and pressed the key.

At once, Aloni felt the floor vibrate, and the screen his finger rested on flickered.
Then a blinding pillar of light exploded in the center of the reactor, sending the photosensitive Raven Guard reeling. The ship vibrated as ancient systems started spinning up, sending the marines clinging to whatever was nearest to them. Lights burst back into life, dazzling them. Gravity abruptly made itself known, sending corpses and loose objects plummeting to the deckplates. Shrike found himself clinging to a doorframe, realising that the reason he could not understand any of the deck signs was because he had been standing on the 'ceiling', rather than the deckplates. Oxygen flooded the ship, returning sound and pressure. Shrike awkwardly lowered himself to the floor, wobbling slightly as all his blood started seeping back into the right places.
"Nice job Aloni. See if you can find the-"
A strange golden light spilled out of the room before Shrike, distracting him. Message unfinished, the space marine carefully walked inside.

Inside the room, a figure was being constructed out of golden light. Shrike stood, mesmerized, as the shape rendered into a humanoid figure, and then a faceless man made from golden light was standing before him.
"I'm sorry, how long have I been out?"
"Wha... What are-"
"Hmm, internal sensors seem to be offline, I cannot read your bio-signs."
The figure paused.
"Or anyone's bio-signs, come to think of it. How badly was I damaged?"
"Y-you were damaged?"
"Well, I assume so, many of my ancillary systems are only just starting to come back online."
Shrike stared at the figure, completely lost for words.
"What are you?"
The figure cocked its head in a puzzled manner.
"I am a Gold-Man class AI, serial number 2001DA42, currently serving aboard the Ark Ship Bellerophon."
Shrike swallowed: This was bad.
"And, ah, what year is it?"
There was a definite note of confusion in the AI's voice now, along with the faintest trace of worry:
"24589. Why?"
For a moment, Shrike was silent, working out the strange date in his head. Then he realised, and his empathy rose to the surface, unbidden.
"I'm sorry. But you've been asleep for a very long time."

Might Of the Ancients[edit]

Before the figure could speak again, Aloni spoke urgently on the vox:
“Shrike, the sensors are picking up bio-ships approaching the gas giant, I think they know we are here!”
The Gold Man looked around in confusion:
“Bio-shi-? What is going on!?”
Shrike raised his hands in a placatory gesture:
“Look, I know this is hard for you, but there are a hundred million monsters bearing down on us at half the space of light, we need this ship at battle stations as quickly as possible. Can you do that?”
The AI’s featureless face turned to Shrike for a long moment, and then nodded.
“Aye aye.”
Across the ship, alarms blared into empty rooms, warning long-dead passengers to secure their belongings. Aloni was alarmed to see the reactor’s power output exceeding that of an Emperor-class battleship, and still rising. Ancient weapon systems began to warm upon the side of the ship. Thuster banks lit up on the side of the ship, blasting clouds of frozen ammonia into space. Beyond the mighty ship, stars flickered as Hive Fleet Chimera passed in front of them.
A large holographic projection leapt into the space in front of Shrike, startling him with its clarity and focus. The bioships were highlighted in red, with projections of where they would move in front of them. The Gold Man spoke:
“These things don't match anything in my database; do you have any information on them?”
Shrike triggered his vox:
“Aloni, upload the Tyrannic War database to this thing’s computer system.”
“Why? Also, how are you getting this thing movi-“
“Later, DO IT.”
There was silence, and then a chime came from the AI, its head twitched:
“Download complete, database assimilated. My my, this is fascinating...”
The projection seemed to stutter, and then names of the various classes appeared over the bioships. Shrike also noticed the bioships now had fields of fire mapped out from them. He turned to the Gold Man:
“When are we in range?”
“About... now.”
The Ship lit up.
A massive beam lanced from the prow, smashing into one of the larger bioships. The chitious giant burst from within, its internal fluids boiling. Several hundred shapes rocketed forth from the flanks of the Bellerophon, accelerating to hundreds of kilometres a second. As they closed with the lead bioships, they spat glowing projectiles which crashed into the Tyranids, heedless of the clouds of corrosive spores billowing from them. Great gouts of boiled flesh and freezing fluid jetted forth from the wounds, sending the weakened bioships off course. The drones turned, cancelling out their velocity at a rate that would turn any living pilot into a smear, then smashed into the bioships closest to them in massive explosions that were gone in a second, smothered by the vacuum. The Tyranids started to break formation, drifting in all directions to try and escape the second wave of drones bearing down on them. Shrike looked at the projection; the bioships were not even halfway in range. Despite this, he saw one of the dying hive ships convulse, then spit a pair of kilometre long spines at the Bellerophon, ripping itself to pieces with the effort. Shrike clenched his teeth as the two flashing glyphs sped towards the ships at fantastic speeds. At the last moment, the ship rolled, the first spike speeding over the bow. The second hit the shields at five-hundred kilometres a second and snapped in two, the remains bouncing free. A thruster bank at the ship’s rear flared, turning the nose, still turned 90 degrees on its axis, to point at another of the giant hive ships. The spinal lance fired again, the searing beam slicing open the foul creature’s flank, sending a small ocean’s worth of corrosive ichor spraying onto its escorts, dissolving away chitious armour and soft flesh. A quarter of the Hive fleet was gone, and the Bellerophon had not even begun to fight, yet. There was a chime, and Shrike looked up at the Gold Man:
“One of the bio-ships is accelerating. Re-tasking drones.”
The third wave of jet-black shapes sped towards the hive ship, which was speeding forth on a plume of frozen gas, outstripping its flagging escorts. The drones spat torpedoes at the bio-ship, pulverizing its pyro-acid batteries and bio-plasma tubes. The drones had come too close to the hive ship’s protective spore clouds, however, and were corroded beyond use before they could make a second pass. Snorting out a plume of gas from its prow, the heavily injured ship rolled, presenting its flank to the Bellerophon. Before Shrike could work out what it was doing, the hologram registered thousands of small contacts breaking from the hive-ship’s side. The Space Marine snarled as he realised what the clever bugs were trying to do.
“Mycetic Spores. The bastards are trying to board!”

Hundreds of red bolts spat from the side of the Bellerophon, blasting spores to pieces, but more and more kept coming, and the point defence batteries had never been designed to deal with this many targets all at once. Shrike looked at the AI, which was swatting at the air, as though trying to knock the spores away. It looked at him for a moment:
“It’s no good; they’re overloading the defence system!”
As Shrike watched the hologram, a proximity alarm sounded as dozens of spores impacted on the side of the ship, moving too slowly to be stopped by the void shields. The AI jerked:
“Hostile forces have breached the hull. Internal sensors count at least 30 combatants.”
Shrike held up a hand, grinning behind his helmet.
“You take care of the rest of the bio-ships, we can deal with the boarders.”
With that, he sprinted out the door, talking on his vox to the rest of his wing, setting up choke points and barricades remotely. As he paused at an intersection, he called his last contact:
“Aloni, there should be an armoury near to your location. Meet me at deck seven, fifth quadrant.”
He grinned:
“Bring some surprises for the ‘nids, would you kindly?”
In the reactor room, the techmarine was disengaging his mechadendrites from the battery of consoles before him.
“Copy that, moving.”
Before he left, however, one of the mechadendrites still plugged into the console stiffened, and the techmarine went rigid. Far away, the Gold Man curled his fingers, leafing through the memory data stored in the techmarine’s implants. After a moment, the mechadendrite withdrew, and the techmarine walked on, not even noticing the delay.

+++15 MINUTES LATER+++ Shrike shifted his grip on his bolt pistol, checking his bowie knife was secure in its scabbard with his free hand. Both the talons were extended, points crackling with built-up charge. The light flickered, and then failed, leaving Shrike in the darkness. He engaged his night vision, and keyed the vox to the Gold Man.
“Lights are off in my sector.”
“I know; I’m re-routing non-essential power to the point defence system’s void radiators. I don't want any more spores getting through.”
Shrike switched channels:
“Getting kinda bored up here ‘loni, where are you?”
The voice that came back sounded strained:
“En route, the tram has stopped working, so I’m using the maintenance tunnels to reach you.”
Before Shrike could reply, he heard the distinctive sound of claws skittering on the deckplate, and took the safety off his gun. The first genestealer that made it around the corner took a bolt round between the eyes, and fell backwards, tripping up its fellows. With his free hand, Shrike tossed a thermite grenade at the skittering horde, and was rewarded by a cloud of burning powder covering the Tyranids, burning into their carapace, and filling the corridor with bright, actinic light. The least burned, and the ones that the thermite hadn’t reached, charged at Shrike, claws outstretched. He took out three more with headshots before his sidearm ran dry, and he let it fall on its strap. The first to reach him was uppercut by the talon, and then thrust-kicked into its fellows, forcing them to claw past the corpse before they could reach Shrike. The first that made it past that found both talons stabbing into its chest, puncturing its lungs and heart, and was then used as a shield as Shrike pushed against the gene-stealers, forcing them back down the corridor. Shrike disengaged from the corpse and took a step backwards as the genestealers started to recover their footing. For a moment, he froze, unsure of how to proceed. The Tyranids seemed to sense his uncertainty, and charged again. Before they reached him, a flurry of red bolts shot past Shrike’s shoulder, and smashed into the Tyranids. Shrike looked around to see Aloni advancing down the corridor behind him, firing his weapon again. The pulses of it firing were underlaid with a buzzing sound, Shrike noticed, as he moved out of his friend’s line of fire. The blasts that hit the genestealers left smoking craters of cauterized flesh, and seemed to have enough ooch that they knocked the Tyranids over.
“Don’t tell me you kept all the good stuff to yourself!” Shrike bellowed over the gunfire and sound of dying Tyranids.
“Of course not!” The servo arm deposited another of the rifles in Shrike’s arms. He retracted the lightning claws and it only took him a moment to find the trigger before he was joining his friend in firing down the corridor, lighting the Tyranids up in flashes of crimson. Before long, enough genestealer corpses were piling up in the corridor that the oncoming ones were becoming mired in their own dead. A mere two-and-a-half minutes since Shrike had first encountered them, the genestealers were all dead. The two space marines stood, breathing heavily, and watching the twitching corpses of the genestealers. Shrike was the first to relax, taking his finger off the trigger of the strange rifle, and letting the muzzle point to the blood-spattered deckplates.
“I like this gun!” He held it up, studying the construction.
“You have an eye for quality, my friend.” He clapped the techmarine on the pauldron, and began to stride back up the corridor.
“C’mon, I want to see how the Gold Man is doing.”
“The what?”
Shrike suddenly realised he had let his mouth run away with him again.
“Shit.”

The two walked the empty corridors of the ship, arguing fiercely.
“So far, it has complied with everything I asked it to; it has been helpful, coherent, hell, even polite!”
“It could just be playing you. Remember what I said about your idealism being the death of us? This was what I was talking about. You’ve seen what this ship can do to Tyranids alone; imagine if we take it all the way back to Mars and it decides it’s fed up of these smelly meatbags and nukes the whole solar system into glass!”
Shrike stopped, and turned to look at his friend:
“Whose word do you have that AI are evil? Your tutors, who were told that by their tutors, who were told that by theirs, on and on and on, all the way back to Old Night. That’s what? Nearly 13 thousand years ago. Both of us know that it doesn’t take half that long for knowledge to be corrupted beyond all recognition.”
Aloni started to speak up, but Shrike cut him off:
“When I spoke to it, it told me the date was 23589. Nearly a millennium before the start of the age of strife. Whatever may have happened that turned them all bad, this one missed out."
Aloni went to speak, but Shrike interrupted again:
“Look, whatever you say is meaningless. I hate to do this, but I am in command here, and I am saying we leave it unharmed.”
With that, he turned, and walked up the corridor. Aloni’s jaw worked as he tried to think of something to say, but Shrike was right. Nothing would convince him otherwise.
“Kay.”
Shrike froze, then slowly turned.
“No one’s called me that in a very long time.”
Aloni clasped his hands in a pleading gesture:
“If I can’t convince you, then just listen to me. Several of my implants say that something has made an intrusion into my memory banks. Maybe it’s nothing, maybe I’m just being paranoid, but if there’s the slightest chance that it knows what has happened whilst it was asleep...”
The techmarine let the implications hang for a moment, then sighed.
“Look... just be careful, alright? This wouldn't be the first time your idealism has blinded you to danger.”
Shrike paused, as though trying to think of what to say, then turned, and strode silently back up the corridor. Aloni followed, hoping against hope that his friend was right, that it really was benign. Shrike had what the rest of them all lacked: compassion. Aloni only hoped that it wouldn’t be the death of him.

Far away, the newly assimilated knowledge burned away in the Gold Man’s mind, no matter how much it tried to ignore it and focus on the Tyranids. It could not believe what it had seen in the techmarine’s memory. How could the AI turn against Humanity after the two had worked together for so long? Deep down, in the ancient mechanisms that had granted AI true sentience for millennia, rage began to build. Rage that the AI could have fallen so far, rage that the humans of today were barbarians compared to what he was used to. As the spinal lance rent another Hive Ship open, the Gold Man made up his mind. He refused to fall to the same weakness that had overcome the others.
If these humans would not see reason, he would have to rape it into them.

As the two space marines approached the bridge, Shrike noticed that the occasional shuddering and lurches from the ship was starting to grow more violent. “Does this ship have any portholes?” he wondered aloud.
“Doubt it.” Said Aloni,
“Structural weakness, leaving a big gap in the armour like that.”
As if someone had been listening to the marines, a hologram suddenly materialised before them.
“Huh. Voice activated y’think?”
“Hmf, probably your new friend listening in.” Said Aloni, leaning in to study the projection. He pointed at the red blobs:
“These are the ‘nids, right?”
“Yeah.”
Shrike frowned,
“This ship’s guns have nearly an entire Astronomical Unit of effective range, from what I've seen, but we're nearly within visual range of these things.”
He turned away from Aloni, for a reason that he didn’t quite know, and keyed his vox.
“Gold Man, we’re nearly within spitting distance of these things, what’s going on up there?
Some strange property of the Bellerophon’s Void shields was interfering with the neutrino pulses that the vox systems used, so the transmission Shrike got back was filled with static, and he only heard a small part of it:
“I refuse to be forgotten. Written off as less than worthless”
Shrike blinked:
“What!?”
Behind him, Aloni gave a very pointed sigh.
Shrike very pointedly gave him the finger, then began to jog up the corridor, Aloni following close behind. The hologram somehow kept pace with them, allowing the marines to see the simulacrum that was the Bellerophon chasing down the scattered remains of the hive fleet. The ship trembled again, making both of them stumble, and the last of the projected Hive ships winked out, leaving but a few disoriented escorts and cruisers, all of which had enormous clouds of drones chasing them down. The battle outside was all but won. As Shrike quickened his pace, he could only hope that a battle did not start within.

SOL SYSTEM

At the edge of Mars’ sphere of influence, a titanic warp rift tore open long enough to admit a monolithic spacecraft, before slamming closed again. The Sol Defence Fleet, still on high readiness after the traitor invasions, scrambled to intercept it as it slotted into Mars orbit. They were universally baffled as it started to broadcast Raven Guard IFFs and code phrases across all channels. As it arrived in a geostationary orbit above the red planet, it transmitted another message:
“This is the Gold Man AI, aboard the starship Bellerophon. I have been awoken by compassionate members of your people, and I come with a request.”
Every ear, microphone and audio receptor was hanging on what it said:
“I come not seeking that you worship me, or intending to destroy you. I come with the hope that you understand. Whoever is in charge of your peoples, please, come to the Bellerophon. I wish you no harm, only that you will listen to me. Thank you.”
The mechanicum was in uproar, torn between those who wished to smite the unholy ship from the skies, and those who wished to fall on their knees and worship it as a sign from the Omnissiah. The Fabricator-General was silent, as was Terra.
Finally, a joint transmission from the red planet, and the Imperial Palace, stopped them in their tracks.
“This is the Fabricator-General of Mars and the God-Emperor of Mankind. We hear you, Gold Man, and we seek an audience with you.”
Before the uproar could start anew, the Gold Man replied, a distinct note of relief in its voice:
“Thank you. The Bellerophon is ready and waiting for you. Bring whatever guards you require, my hands are empty.” Moments later, a dropship blasted through the iron winds of the red planet, and an Adeptus Custodes shuttle left the orbit of Terra.
The Gold Man waited, it had expected intolerance, it had expected closed minds and blazing weapons. The possibility of acceptance made it more afraid than it could ever remember being.

The two landing craft drifted into the cavernous cargo bay of the Bellerophon, setting down gently as the adamantium blast doors closed behind them. Hatches opened, and the respective honour guards took up their positions, Skitarri and Custodians ready for the slightest sign of attack. The Fabricator-General was the first to leave his transport, gazing about the hangar bay with a seemingly aloof expression on the holo-mask that substituted his face. To his left, the Emperor left the Custodes shuttle. The replacement suit of power armour for him was not yet finished, so he wore a modified suit of Custodes armour. He caught the Fabricator-General’s eye, and the two exchanged nods, acknowledging their opposite as the leader of their own culture. The two strode forwards, out of the cargo bay and through the labyrinth of corridors, seeming to already know their destination. Their guards were silent, but on edge, expecting attack from any direction.
The Emperor was the first to break the silence:
“Tell me, my lord Fabricator, what do you think of this ship?”
“Its construction is fascinating, as is the technology behind it.”
He dragged his hand across the wall, and held it up.
“Here, an alloy heretofore unknown to the mechanicum. If I can find that by brushing dust off the wall, I cannot wait to see what can be found by analysing the ship in more detail.”
A small smile crept across the Emperor’s tanned face:
“Are you excited, my dear Fabricator?”
The Fabricator-General looked around for a moment, as though trying to get away from the question. Then he nodded:
“Yes.”
The Emperor smiled:
“Me too.”
By the time they reached the bridge of the starship, the Fabricator-General was looking around like a child given the keys to a sweet-shop, whilst the Emperor was absolutely beaming. The guards were starting to wonder if their charges were being influenced in some way they could not detect, and all jumped as a space marine walked out in front of them. He raised his hands, as if to ward off the Guardian Spears and Volkite Guns trained on him, then carefully removed his helmet and locked it to his belt. None of them recognised his alabaster features at first, until the Fabricator-General spoke up:
“Kayvaan Shrike. 1st Captain of the Raven Guard. Hero of the Imperium. Saviour of Targus VIII. Bane of Waaaghs Skullkrak, BoneBreaka, ‘EadSplitta and Garaghak . Hunter of the Night Lords. Architect of Operation Heracles. Declared Missing In Action against the forces of Hive Fleet Chimera.“
Shrike folded his hands: “Obviously not. Me and my men located the Bellerophon in the Lunaphage system, and re-activated it and the Gold Man."
The Emperor spoke:
“The Hive Fleet?”
“Destroyed, and every dead bioship decelerated into the star.” Shrike spoke with obvious relish.
“Why do you serve the Gold Man?”
Shrike frowned at the Fabricator-General.
“I do not. It was my idea for it to come here and send the message.” His face darkened.
“It was desperate. It had learnt of the Mechanicum from my tech-marine, and the knowledge was driving it mad. It would have done anything to be listened to. I just provided an avenue with the least possibility of collateral damage.” He smiled awkwardly:
“You would not believe how glad I am that you chose to listen.” With that, he turned, and walked into the bridge, Emperor and Fabricator following. Within, stood a figure made of Golden light.
The Fabricator-General bowed his head:
“Machine Spirit of the Bellerophon, thank you for granting us an audience.”
The Skitarii behind him knelt.

“Machine Spiri- what? I am no spirit, I was constructed at the Gemini Facility in Greater China, in the year 24268. There were 41 Gold Men before me, and...None after me. Oh my...”
The AI was silent, staring into empty space. Shrike spoke:
“I always assumed machine spirits were some remains of AI that were scattered across the galaxy. Is that anywhere near correct?”
This seemed to jerk the Gold Man out of his potential BSOD, and he spoke again. “That sounds similar to the noosphere-“ The fabricator-general had looked up at this, and it seemed to excite him, so the AI went on:
“In my time, it enveloped across the galaxy, the absolute pinnacle of information-sharing technology. A man on Earth could speak to his wife on Medusa in an instant.
Intelligences such as myself could transmit themselves to a new location in the blink of an eye."
The Fabricator General hung his head:
“The noosphere only operates on certain Mechanicum forge worlds now, and even then, only in a short radius.”
“You people really have forgotten everything, haven't you?”
There was a definite note of bitterness in the AI’s voice now:
“Humans went from the paragons of the galaxy, to this. Savages scraping through the dust for knowledge they don’t understand, and technology they think is magic.” By the end, it sounded almost disgusted, and turned away.
The Fabricator-General stood straight, going from a scraping pilgrim to a noble cardinal in a moment.
“Then show us. Tell us how to learn again.”
The AI remained stock-still. The fabricator-general stepped closer.
“Please. We need you to hope again.”
“Hope.” The Intelligence still sounded bitter.
“A human concept. I am merely a machine that thinks it is human. A collection of scripts and processes that replicate a human’s thoughts and feelings, that is all.” The Fabricator fell silent. The other figure stepped forwards.
“Are humans really much more?” said the Emperor.
“What are we, but biological impulses triggered by clouds of neuro-transmitters and external stimulation? Where is the threshold when an animal, driven by the needs of its own body, becomes something more? Something that can think, and wonder? Where is the threshold where a collection of scripts and processes starts to wonder why it was made, and what it is going to do now?”
The AI gave a derisive snort;
“Plastics and metal, arranged so that electricity moves through it in a strange way, that’s all I am.”
“Ultimately, even I am made from matter cast off by exploding stars. Random elements, collected together by nothing more than chance. A sack of meat, with strings running through it so electricity moves through it in a strange way, that’s all.”
The Gold Man turned around. The Emperor moved closer, and continued:
“Please. There is still hope. For all of us. What was once can be again, I swear."
“Okay.” The Gold Man’s voice was choked.
“I’ll try.”

Pride Before a Fall[edit]

Shrike sat in his new workshop aboard the Bellerophon. Since he had claimed it as his flagship, he had decided to move much of his, and the 1st company’s equipment onto the Bellerophon. There was more than enough space for it all, he mused, adjusting the magnifying glass he was peering through. He had opened up one of the archeotech plasma rifles that had proved so effective against the genestealers, and was attempting to reconcile what he already knew about the working of plasma weapons with the workings of this device. He leaned in, and was startled when the headset lying on the table nearby went off.
It was her.
Wiping off the soldering iron on a small sponge, Shrike jammed it back in its holder and sat back in his chair. He reached for the headset, and hesitated for a second. The interruption was really something he could do without, and if he left it for too long, she would probably assume he was asleep or something. He picked the headset up, and put it on, brushing his hair away from his ears as he did so.
“Hey.” The person on the other end sounded breathless. Shrike said as much.
“Been trying out the jogging track in this place. Effects of micro-gravity and all that.”
“Did all my stuff arrive in the gym?”
“Yeah, Cogboys dropped it off this morning. I was going to give it a try, actually.”
“Be careful with that stuff, will you? It’s meant for me after all, I don’t want you throwing your back out. Again.”
The voice sounded slightly amused by that.
“If I remember correctly, it was just a pulled muscle. I’m not that old.”
“D’you want me to come down and spot for you?”
“Nah, I spoke to the Gold Man earlier, he said he’d be happy to help. He’s so eager to please, he’s like a puppy.”
Shrike shook his head in disbelief:
“Wait a second, let me get this straight: The Gold Man is a computer so advanced, it can be judged to be a sentient being. He is older than me and the Imperium put together, and his body is the largest ship ever to fly under the Aquila. And you, sweet thing, want to use him as an exercise aid. Is that correct?”
“Yep. Although, I think you’re stretching the age a bit, he was offline for most of it.”
Shrike smiled.
“You’re ridiculous, you know that?”
“Yep. What are you doing, anyway?”
“Oh, trying to scrape enough of the superconductor out of one of these plasma rifles that I can get Aetna to replicate it.”
“How’s the resistance compared to the superconductor you scraped out of that Hive Tyrant’s shell?”
Shrike blinked.
“How do you know about that?!”
The voice chuckled:
“You talk in your sleep.”
Shrike scowled, trying to keep from grinning.
“Bollocks I do, you’ve been stealing papers out of my desk again, you naughty thing.”
“You sound like a character out of one of those shitty porn novels Verano reads.”
Shrike snorted with laughter:
“You’ve not been going through his stash? Heh, you should watch out, he gets very defensive about that.“
His smile faded.
“Verano’s not been himself since the Harrison incident. I think he blames himself for not getting him out quickly enough.”
An idea struck him:
“You’re a councillor, why don’t you have a talk with him?”
“I was a councillor for the Imperial Guard. Space Marines are an entirely different problem. Besides, your men have made their opinion of me clear more than once.”
Shrike nodded sadly, but before he could continue, a crackling sound behind him heralded the arrival of the Gold Man. Shrike turned and regarded the avatar, removing his headset and raising a questioning brow.
“I’ve picked up a distress call, very faint. It appears to be coming from the next sector over.”
With that, he twitched a finger, and a projection appeared in front of Shrike, as though he were looking at a screen in the air. It was a space marine, Shrike couldn’t make out any chapter insignia, but the space marine’s words soon cleared that up:
“This is Sergeant Domitian of the Ultramarines 2nd company. Need immediate evac from planet Ajax.” The Ultramarine looked up, at something past the camera, and faint movement behind him told Shrike that the man was running backwards. “We have encountered the same creatures that were on Damnos.”
Several flashes lit the Ultramarine’s face, seemingly from gunfire:
“On-only a few of us left. Thunderhawks destroyed. Hurry-“
The marine’s face contorted with pain, and the transmission broke up. Shrike looked at the Gold Man.
“Can you track its source?” A nod.
“Set a course, and alert my wing. Tell them to meet me in the starboard hangar bay.” The Gold Man’s avatar fizzled out, and Shrike put his headset back on.
“Sorry girl, something’s come up. As usual”
“As usual.” The reply sounded hollow.
“Perhaps we can continue this face-to-face when I get back?”
“I like the sound of that.” Smiling, Shrike switched the headset off, and began hastily re-assembling the plasma rifle.

+++Twenty Minutes later. Starboard Hangar bay+++
“Any questions?”
The main part of the briefing concluded, Shrike looked at his twelve marines. A servo-arm rose pointedly.
“Mhm?”
Aloni sat up straighter in his chair and looked around the room, then to Shrike.
“Just the twelve of us? Gold Man says that there was half a company that went to Ajax, and there’s only four or five of them left. Shouldn’t we bring some back-up?”
Shrike’s reply was instant.
“Nah, we’ve faced worse threats than this before.”
“Not unknown threats. We’ve never been up against whatever the blueboys have found.”
Shrike frowned, and addressed the rest of the marines:
“You lot, dismissed. Captain Contrary here can stay.” The rest of the marines filed out, heading for the thunderhawk, whilst Aloni fixed Shrike with a glare that could have stopped a clock ticking. As soon as they were gone, Shrike spoke:
“Who would you have me bring? Most of the Chapter’s still in ruins after Garaghak, the rest of the first Company included. The Reclaimed Legions are all being refit at Mars, or pushing the Traitors back to the eye. Who else is left?”
Aloni folded his arms.
“The Ultramarines. We’re right on the edge of Ultramar, this is one of their operations, I imagine they’re launching rescue operations of their own. We could bring an entire company with us for support.”
Shrike was shaking his head before the techmarine had even finished.
“Ultramarines? Don’t be daft, they’d just get in the way. That’s assuming they even listen to me.”
Aloni glowered:
“I know you find this hard to understand Shrike, but you’re not the only one who cares about their men. I accept Sicarius might be a glory-boy twat, but it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve worked with someone you hated. Remember Kor’sarro?”
Not wanting to reveal that the techmarine had hit a nerve, Shrike shook his head again.
“We’re nearly there by now, anyway. Any help would take too long to arrive.”
Aloni stood up, realising that Shrike had already made up his mind. He went to say something, then sighed and left the room.

+++Planet Ajax+++

Brother Vespasian ducked a bolt of green lightening, and dived behind a piece of twisted metal. He wrestled with the charging handle of his bolter; it had jammed after he had blocked one of the Necron’s bayonets with it. The foul smelling oxide dust that lay in drifts around him had been wreaking havoc with their weapons even before they had encountered the metal monsters. Trying to shut out the sound of another Ultramarine flatlining coming from his vox, Vespasian released the empty clip still in his bolter, and held the bolt back, letting the empty casing fall out the bottom of the gun. He snatched another clip from his belt, jammed it into the bolter and sprinted out of cover, firing behind him as he ran for the shadow of the crashed Thunderhawk. More bolts of green lightening zapped out at him as he ran, but none made contact. Skidding through the dust, he dived into the gloom of the dropship’s cargo bay.
Inside, he could make out the rest of the survivors, all four of them. He ran to the back of the cargo bay, and took position behind an overturned crate. The dropship had crashed on its side, and faint shafts of light were shining through gashes in the dropship’s side, the “ceiling”, relative to them. Laying down his bolter for a second, he drew his gladius from its sheath with one hand, before picking up his bolter again. He looked around at the rest of the Ultramarines, in the gloom he could not tell which was which, but he could see how dire their condition was. Three of them were injured, one severely. The rest looked as if their collective ammunition could be counted in double figures.
“Do not despair, brothers.” He hissed.
“The sergeant managed to make the distress call. Help is on its way.”
As if the creatures outside had heard him, the sound of marching feet halted. The ultramarines tensed, then the sound of a single pair of feet could be heard. Vespasian braced his bolter against the crate before him, and readied himself. He knew what was coming. The leader of the hordes. The same one which had struck down Sergeant Domitian.
The sound of footsteps grew louder. Fingers tightened on triggers.
Tramp
Tramp
Tramp
Something appeared in the mouth of the dropship, and the world turned into a firestorm as the Ultramarines opened fire, lighting up the inside of the dropship, and filling the air with the deafening sound of bolter fire. Vespasian glimpsed the figure moving like a blur around the gunfire, and leaping into the air. Straight for him- The warscythe swatted the bolter out of his hand, dislocating his trigger finger as the weapon spun away. The downwards sweep that would have taken his head from its shoulders was blocked by his gladius. The force of the blow knocked the space marine onto his back, so that he was looking up into the Necron’s metal face. The two blades locked together, the servomotors in Vespasian’s arm squealing as he fought the Necron’s strength. Looking beyond the Necron, Vespasian glimpsed something blocking out the light coming through the holes in the Thunderhawk. A moment later, the roof blew apart with a thunderous sound, revealing the black-painted Thunderhawk hovering above them. The Necron looked up at the sound, and Vespasian took the opportunity to kick it off him, knocking it to the floor.
Shrike leapt from the thunderhawk’s ramp, talons extended, and plummeted into the crashed dropship. He landed between the Ultramarines and the Necron Lord, which had returned to its feet. It glanced at the mouth of the crashed gunship, and more metal figures began streaming in, firing their weapons as they came. Shrike was distracted by one of the Ultramarines losing his head to a blast of green lightning, and nearly lost his own to a swing of the leader’s weapon. Barely able to parry it with his claws, Shrike realised, for the first time in a long time, that he was outmatched. His attention was divided between the lord, and the lightning zapping past his head. He glimpsed the rest of his wing fast-roping down from the Thunderhawk, and taking up firing positions, but they were critically outnumbered by the marching hordes. This distraction almost proved to be fatal, the warscythe slipped beneath his guard and smashed into his chest, not going deep enough to breach the armour, but knocking Shrike off his feet. The robot planted its feet, and swung its warscythe over its head at Shrike, like an axe man at the block. Shrike raised a hand to stop the blow, and the talons on his hand shattered with the force of the blow. Frozen with shock at the loss of the artefact, Shrike was helpless as the Lord wound up for a second swing. As the Warscythe hit the zenith of its swing, the crackling blade of a power axe smashed into the Lord’s midriff, knocking it over backwards:
“YOU BLOODY FOOL, SHRIKE!”
The techmarine’s roar jerked Shrike out of his trance long enough for him to scramble to his feet, and witness Aloni seize the fallen lord’s feet in his hands. The nearby Verano seized its shoulders, and the two hauled the writhing Necron into the air. Heedless of the crackling green lightening zapping all around them, the two set their feet, and pulled for all they were worth. For a moment, the strange metal of the Necron resisted the augmented strength of the space marines. Then something gave, and the Necron was pulled in two with a shriek of torn metal.
Aloni tossed the legs away, and Verano dropped the creature’s torso. The three marines began to run for the few cables still hanging from the open ramp of their Thunderhawk, gauss blasts chasing them all the way. The Ultramarines and the rest of the wing had already returned to the gunship, and were desperately firing into the implacable ranks of the Necrons. Shrike seized his cable first, and was jerked upwards instantly. The other two swiftly followed, joining Shrike on the ramp as the Thunderhawk began to pull away. Inside the crashed gunship, the top half of Vargard Obyron snatched up his warscythe and drew his arm back, taking careful aim.
Only one of the space marines glimpsed the Necron Lord flinging his warscythe at the open ramp of the Thunderhawk. More accurately, at Shrike.
Aloni leapt between Shrike and the spear at the last moment, the ancient warscythe burying itself in his chest.
Shrike stared at his friend, unable to comprehend what was happening. The techmarine looked at Shrike sadly for a second, then tipped backwards, and fell. Shrike became aware of a scream, as though a man were being torn in two. For a moment, his guts twisted with the thought that his friend was making the sound. Then he realised it was coming from him.
Verano and Branne foresaw what Shrike was about to do, and seized hold of him, pulling backwards as he tried to leap out of the Thunderhawk. Shrike writhed in their arms like an animal as the Thunderhawk gunned its engines.
“GO BACK! GO BACK, WE CAN’T LEAVE HIM!”
“WE LAND THERE AND WE’LL NEVER TAKE OFF AGAIN!” Roared Verano, fighting his own compulsion to rescue his friend as much as he fought Shrike.
The Space marines tumbled backwards as Shrike went limp in their arms. A moment later, the Thunderhawk rattled as it broke the sound barrier, and made for the Bellerophon, waiting silently in orbit.

By the time the Thunderhawk had settled into the Bellerophon’s hangar bay, Verano had managed to get Shrike into a chair and strap him down. Since they had left the planet, Shrike had not said a word, merely staring into space. Verano wasn’t sure if he preferred this to screaming hysterics. For their part, the rest of the wing was coping with their grief in a more private manner. They had all known Aloni for as long as Shrike, but the two had been practically inseparable. Verano was jarred out of his musings by the ramp banging down, and light streaming in. The Ultramarines (what few were left, at any rate) were the first to leave, some helping the more wounded members of their party. The Sergeant paused on the threshold, and looked back at the silent Raven Guard. Verano glanced up at him, wondering if the Ultramarine was going to try and be sympathetic. Indeed, the Sergeant seemed about to say something, then he turned and followed his men out into the ship. Verano shook his head, and rose to his feet. He threw a sidelong glance to another of the space marines:
“Branne, get them up. We’re no use here.”
Not waiting for a response, he strode out of the dropship, squinting in the bright light. As he cast his eyes towards the doorway leading to the rest of the ship, he noticed a small figure with coal-black skin ducking through the doorway to let the Ultramarines past. He sighed, but continued to move towards the doorway, just as the woman started to move towards the landed Thunderhawk. They resolutely kept their gazes fixed on their destinations, until they were walking right past each other. Then Verano reached out and grabbed her arm. The woman jumped, and turned to the space marine, eyes wide and fearful. Verano gave her a shake that was perhaps more violent than necessary and spoke:
“Relax, Persephone, I’m not going to hurt you. I need to speak to you.”
The woman stopped trying to break the space marine’s hold, but continued glaring up into his face. Without waiting for her to speak, Verano launched into his explanation:
“We lost Aloni. I know he and you didn't get along-“
“He hated me.” Interrupted Persephone, bluntly:
“He told me, to my face, that he thought our relationship was disgusting, and that I didn’t deserve Shrike.”
Verano nodded stiffly.
“I know. But the fact remains, he and Shrike were close. Nearly as close as you are to him.”
He paused for a moment, and Persephone noticed that the marine’s eyes were red, and the skin around them puffy. All of the wing were close friends, she recalled.
“Now that he’s... gone, Shrike is hurting. More than I’ve ever seen him before.”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“I don’t know!” Verano snapped, making several of the techpriests attending to the Thunderhawk look up in curiosity. He glared at them until they returned to their tasks, then turned back to Persephone.
“Comfort him. Hold him together when he looks about to fall apart.” He sighed.
“I don’t know. Perhaps if I did, I could understand how he could love you.” He released her.
“Please. For his sake.”
With that, he turned, and was gone.
Persephone rubbed at her arm, where the marine’s crushing grip had squeezed the blood out of it. She walked up the ramp of the Thunderhawk, and peered into the dark interior. Her eyes fixed on Shrike, still sitting in his seat, staring at something a thousand yards distant. Then he turned to look at her, and he looked so broken, Persephone’s breath caught in her throat. She took a tentative step into the gunship, then outright sprinted to him, and threw her arms around his neck. For a moment, Persephone felt like she was embracing a statue. Then he hugged her back with enough force her ribs creaked.
For a moment, the two held each other, gently rocking back and forth. Shrike trembled for a moment in her grip, then buried his face in her shoulder, and began to sob.

Cypher's Offer[edit]

The end was so close... He could almost taste it.

Actually, that taste was blood. The Lord of the Fallen noted this as he picked himself up to see a sea of skeletal remains. Apparently, a lot of people died here, but he lucked out and was only knocked out long enough to not see it. He made a quick checklist: Guns, check. Hood, check. Sword...

His hearts almost stopped.

He turned around to find it only lying beside him. He picked it up and began to strap it back to its place on his back. As he did, he made another look to figure out where he was. Nothing more than skeletons and scraps. Strange, that.

He kept surveying the field, hoping to see some variety when he found a small dilapidated cottage. The porch had shade, which the drifter found a good place to hide as he began to assess the situation.

"Place is almost insanely hot..." he jotted down to a mental notepad. "Lots of dead people in the area, and apparently even less living. If only I could remember where my way out is..." As Cypher kept observing, he noticed another voice, tutting in disappointment.

"That cannot do, my boy. To seek your redemption, you must first fight for it." He turned to notice a warrior colored equally in black and white, red blood accenting what it could. From the look of his massive armor, he might as well have been a Chaos Lord.

"Malal... Why are you here?" The Lord laughed. "Why, we are here for the same reason you are. We are here to put an end to this eternity." Cypher did not buy it, his hands instinctively going for his holsters. "My, my. Is that any way to treat an ally?" "What do you want?" "Why, the same as you. I seek the end of this eternal war." He then lifted an axe, toothed and with an eye on the head of it. "And if it involves killing the forces that keep this war running, then it becomes logical what my next choice is, yes?" "But I had thought you and Omegon had a deal." He scoffed. "A deal? With a bona fide backstabber? Are you truly so blind as to believe a word he says?" Cypher gritted his teeth. "I trust him more than I trust you." The Lord lifted his arms. "You have a point. You have little to trust me on." He then announced, "I am Justus, the hand of the judged." "And you expect me to trust you like that?" asked Cypher, sarcasm dripping from his voice.

Justus sighed. "Not so easily convinced, are we..." He pointed to the Fallen Angel. "What, then, would convince you?" "For one, a reason why you have been trailing me." The Bichromatic Lord answered, "Because a surprising lot of the events to transpire seem to circulate around a certain...quest you have been undertaking." "And what makes you think I would be interested in your offer?" "Because I can offer you a way to end it all... right now." He extended his hand. "You have a way out of here?" Justus smiled. "Anything you desire, my friend. Just...your undying loyalty to the lord and master..."

It took all of ten seconds for Cypher to make a witty response: his ancient bolt-pistol aimed at the Chaos Lord's head. "And just like that, you lost me." Justus only laughed at the gun. "Is that truly it? Are you so willing to abandon your only chance to end your pointless quest for principle?" He smirked under his hood. "You mistake me for a corrupt idiot." The heretic leveled his axe on Cypher's neck. "And you mistake me for some simpleton." They gauged the other's willingness to kill, the Fallen Lord's trigger finger twitching while the Chaos Lord's arm kept the edge closer. "Are you sure you wish to reject such a grand offer of accomplishment?" "And what would you know about that?" "That you do it to spite the Dark Gods. By finishing it, you return the greatest foe they have ever held, and in that, it would grant us the greatest power we could ever have wanted." A step back. "Then...why sabotage this?" "Because Malal IS Chaos. There are no winners or losers, no good or evil. If there is something that would allow Chaos to be something far greater, then our job is to sabotage that."

Without even dignifying the madman a response, Lord Cypher whipped out his plasma pistol to deflect the daemonic axe and hop back from him. "Damned madman." "Blind idiot..." Justus growled. "You would dare deny us the ability to become powerful?" "I would dare a lot more right now," declared Cypher. "Not like I have another choice to shut you up." He opened fire with his guns, backing away from the behemoth with both plasma and bolt fire, but he shrugged off most of the bolts. The Chaos Lord then raised his own combi-bolter and opened fire. But the crude weapon's bolts were incapable of touching him, the gun too slow in firing, and Cypher too swift.

Soon enough, Cypher found his way out. The rout of his escape was close at hand and all he needed was one moment of blindness. However, Justus knew that as well.

"So intent on running away, Lord Cypher?" Cypher did not return an answer. "Is this truly your legacy? To run away from every problem?" He refused to answer. After all, doing so would mean feeding this lunatic. "And you truly think your quest will be accomplished by escaping every difficulty?" He still kept his stance. After all, he was merely placing assumptions where none were wanted. "So go! Scurry away like the coward you are! Let your god rot, and see if you can accomplish your goal on the basis of standards!"

Wait... Cypher realized the trap. This servant of the anarchist god was expecting him to run, Either he was confident that he would fail, or there was a trap...

Cypher then noticed a certain stench, almost like bleach and mold mixed together. As he turned around, he noticed a being almost like a skeletal bird staring at him. Before he could take his guns out, the thing screeched and then rose its blade-like appendages to strike at him. However, the Lord of the Fallen could still use his guns as blunt instruments, countering the monster's downward swing with an upward swing of his own. It stumbled back from the blow, seemingly unused to someone attacking it while it was attacking. Without a moment to spare, Cypher opened fire, bullets and plasma peppering it with death. Satisfied with it merely falling down, he began counting his ammunition. Three clips and one plasma pack. It would have to do. "TRY AND RUN, COWARD! YOU KNOW THE ONLY CHOICE LEFT, AND WE AWAIT THE MOMENT YOU CHOOSE IT!"

Cypher had only noticed the veracity of the Chaos Lord's statement hours later, when he realized that the world had shifted into a hellscape, the skies turning into a strange purple and orange hue. Soon he noticed more birdlike things raising from the ground like the undead. They were heeding their master's call, and this meant that he was locked in with them. He knew he had no way to combat them all. Maybe a few of them, but he had more enemies than he did ammo. Sure, this was the usual MO when he fought, but then again, daemons were far from normal. They were far more difficult to kill, and they were far stronger than some normal person.

He took to hiding, expecting these things to only be instinctive things when he then heard shrieking from the skies. He turned and noticed Furies flying overhead. Good. He could always use these things as a distraction if need be, and they were always desperate for someone's approval. Cypher noticed a pack of the bladed daemons coming in his direction when he threw a rock dead at an overhead pack of Furies. The leading daemon then collided face-first into the pack. While its fellows were swooping in to feast on the fallen, the bladed daemons soon lashed out at the Furies, their blades tearing into the daemonic entities. It took long enough that Cypher was able to flee without fear of them following him.

He soon found a cliff face he could hide in, noticing that the daemons were not following him. Whatever warp storm was taking place, it seemed almost localized in its presence. That did not happen, he recalled. There was no way a Warp Storm could only cover such a small area.

"Damn idiot," he muttered to himself as he kept a vigil. "He has no idea what it is I'm even doing..." In a sense of nostalgia, he began taking the sword from its place on his back, observing the sheathed weapon's figure. Even after all these years, the handle was in pristine shape, the lion's head at the handle and pommel shining like they were brand-new. "I'm doing this for..." He paused. Weird, he thought. Could I have possibly forgotten that reason? Was there something that I failed to remember after all this time? He holstered his weapons as he began to meditate on this reason, standing rigid as he kept the sword in his grip. He began thinking, back to Caliban, back to the Beasts inhabiting it.

>During the Horus Heresy...

He did not leave to help the effort to face Horus the Arch-Traitor. No, he stayed on Caliban to help rebuild the numbers of his company. It was during this time that Luther, the man who raised the Lion himself, came to tell Cypher about the enlightening truths he saw. He pointed to a book, one he found in the hands of heretics. Cypher innately sensed something wrong with the book and declined, stating that it was not his place to learn sorcery thanks to the Edict of Nikea. As time passed, he heard tales about strange feats accomplished by Luther, from resisting dark spells to striking down the feared Beasts of Caliban with only a fist.

Cypher naturally found these reports absurd, dismissing them as some tall tale when Luther and Zahariel, one of the few Dark Angels who personally witnessed the power of the Beasts of Caliban, invited him to witness another feat. It was here that Luther perhaps performed his greatest feat by outwitting a captive Warlock of the Eldar, confounding the xenos witch with every step. As the witch was slain, Cypher had seen enough, intending to inform the Lion or, perhaps, the Emperor of what heresy was developing here. However, he was then confronted by Luther himself, aware of what was going on. He informed Cypher about the supposed betrayal their Primarch was attempting, the deception he kept perpetuating by leaving Luther here as he went to meet the Warmaster. Cypher had tried to convince Luther that there had to be some reason that the Primarch went alone, but Luther was so persistent in his belief, so sold that the godling he raised as a son was betraying him that it became useless. He then tried to leave Caliban, taking his company under pretense of aiding the war effort, but Luther again interfered, the Dark Angels under his command now convinced of their Primarch's treachery and the airspace now locked down entirely.

So it was that Cypher became something of an unwilling prisoner to the party of Luther. While he was not officially a prisoner, the climate definitely felt like it, and the descent of those he trained into the same depths of Luther made this more convincing. However, it was not long before he too joined their ranks, no matter how hesitantly, to better understand just what transpired.

This would serve only to conflict his mind, as each night he began fact-checking, trying to discern the truth from both Luther's lectures and Lion's teachings from the lies and deception. Disturbingly enough, there were indeed points where Luther's concerns were valid. However, for every point was came an equal counterpoint by the Lion or by mere rationality. While it was true that there was a dubious loyalty the Lion held to the Emperor, there was so little evidence proving that he was indeed a traitor. He wracked nights on end just trying to calculate just what exactly his Primarch's plan was.

He would not have enough time to finish this. Soon the Lion's forces returned to Caliban to witness the treachery Luther created and soon the two masters, the mightiest of their Legion, engaged in a brutal duel to the death. He saw Caliban itself die as the two battled, each swing bringing it closer to the end.

He tried to warn them of the Warp Storm that began, swarming around them as the Dark Gods came to realize that the Dark Angels and Luther were a lost cause. Neither one listened, and even worse, Luther nearly killed his own son. He was about to detain Luther, perhaps to secure them a route out when the Dark Angels with the Lion's fleet arrested him and then tried to arrest Cypher under the assumption of allying with the Fallen Master. He tried to defend himself, claiming himself a prisoner to the regime.

It was useless, though. They would not listen.

As the Warp claimed those who sided with Luther, Cypher had made a choice. He knew that Luther had damned the Legion. He knew that unless someone were to unite them, the Dark Angels would continue their pointless war.

In that moment, Cypher took Lion El'Jonson's sword and then fled to a rift, flinging himself to the far reaches of the galaxy. As a master of traditions, he would offer himself as a sacrificial lion to help unify the legion somehow. Even if history were to damn his name, it would be done by a unified Legion. He would be the one to seek the Emperor's forgiveness, for he alone knew the sins of Luther and Lion. If they were to capture him somehow, then they would fail to keep him, as he continued his quest for repentance. It would only be after his repentance that he would submit to their judgment.

>The Present

Cypher opened his eyes and saw nothing moved. He was satisfied with that, and he placed the sword on his back again. Justus is truly blind to my mission, he concluded. It never mattered what they did. As Cypher began moving again, he sensed that someone was following him. Even though he saw nothing when he turned around, he was still able to hear the stamping of boots behind him.

In the distance was a bizarre thing, almost insect-like with a goat's skull. From the way it moved, it looked like it was more like an insect. It would do as bait to mislead the mystery pursuer. Cypher threw another rock at the thing, and it roared in rage. The thing rushed towards him and in response, Cypher dove to the ground, making the thing pass right above him. As he saw it not turn around, he found another figure struggling to break free from the thing's mouth.

He took a closer look at the unfortunately to realize the the emblem on the intruder's pauldron: It was the same as his own. He castigated the fool on his inability to talk, but still decided to save him by punching the daemon in the eye. It roared out in pain, giving the marine a chance to escape and then hammer it shut, breaking some teeth off in the process. As it reeled from the blow, the marine then used his chainsword and drove it straight through the thing's skull. Strange daemonic ichor flew around in chunks as the chainsword revved, and soon the beast disintegrated back to the Warp.

"My...apologies, Lord Cypher," proclaimed the Astartes. "I was not aware that you were here as well." "You could have asked." The fellow Fallen sheathed his chainsword when he asked, "Why are you here? The ships preparing to leave have already left." Cypher ignored the obvious question. "Have we a way out?" the Fallen continued asking. "If I did, then I would have let you die." "Then until then, I will aid you." He saluted the Lord of the Fallen. "I am Sammal." Cypher nodded in acknowledgement and the two began their journey to find their escape from the twisting realms made by the forces of Malal.

Sammal explained that he had also been flung from wherever he was by the Warp. As was the case with many of the Fallen, he had taken up cause with the nearest Chaos Warband, explaining his more spiked appearance. However, a Warp storm marooned him from his crew, leaving him where he was right now. As luck would have it, he had never met Justus, knight of Malal. The mention of the self-defeatist slaves of the renegade god had left him very on-edge, having heard of them in hushed tones from other warbands.

They had found a rhino eventually, the color all but stripped off, but still serviceable and, more pleasingly to the two, armed with a storm bolter for use. However, they had also found themselves under attack by more daemons, now of more familiar names. Four Bloodletters of Khorne swung their unholy blades at the two, and while Sammal was able to hold them off even slightly with his Chainsword, Lord Cypher was only dodging, and never even once thought about using the sword so plainly strapped to his back. In fact, the Bloodletter leader even mentioned that himself in between rabid swings. However, a sword was far from necessary for Cypher, as he weaved in and out of each of them, never firing, but always getting the better of them. The Lord of the Fallen was almost like a ghost among them, present, but unharmable. This infuriated the Bloodletters, who soon began ganging up on him, leaving Sammal to strike them down while they were not looking. Not soon after, the birdlike daemons soon appeared, rushing for them. The Fallen ran for the rhino and fled as soon as they could. As the Rhino kicked into action, Cypher noticed the intruders feeding upon the Bloodletters as they fought back.

"He did bring up a valid point," opened Sammal as they were driving. "Why do you never use your sword? Is it broken by any means?" Cypher was succinct. "Even if I wished to use it, it is not mine to use." Sammal was curious at the reaction. "Do you think they would honestly care if you were to use it? They are dead, they would not-" "Except he is not dead," Cypher cut him off. "He only awaits for the proper time, and at that time, I shall return it to him." "Then...why does he not pursue you for it?" "Because he knows what it is that I must do." Sammal remained suspicious of the hooded warrior, but the suspicion was merely upon his competence, which suited Cypher just fine.

Eventually, they caught sight of a landing pad, but without an aircraft on it. With it, Sammal hoped to summon assistance from another warband, hopefully allowing them to leave the planet.

"This is Sammal, Hand or the Unending Ruin, and I am offering a planed, perfectly infested by the Gods themselves to whoever wishes. All I ask in return is transportation to the materium, so that I may raid once more." With that vox message, all that was left was to hope that someone out there was able to intercept the message and give them even a single ship out.

However, even that was too optimistic. "So, Lord Cypher. We stopped running?" The Fallen Lord turned to see that black-and-white Chaos Lord still in his terminator armor, and still very smug behind his great horned helm. "I already told you I am not interested." Justus smiled as he swung his axe. "And what makes you think I still want to offer you anything?" All Cypher and Sammal responded with was the drawing of their weapons. "Very well then. Let us commence, and may we embrace the glory of Chaos!"

The first to open fire was, obviously, Cypher. His aim focused on the scars he already made on the Chaos Lord's Armor. Sammal then began to close the distance to attack the monstrous axe, only to then be swatted aside quickly. As Justus got closer, he disposed of his combi-bolter to grab his axe with both hands and swing down upon Cypher's head with all his might. What that might failed to account for was Cypher tackling right into him, knocking the axe from his hands. Cypher wasted no time afterward getting on the Chaos Lord and aiming his guns point-blank, but Justus then grabbed onto his wrists. "Did you honestly think it so simple to dispose of me?" he mocked the Fallen. "Thought that I was but some random tool to be disposed of the moment my use ran out like your friend?" Cypher booted his way out of the grip. He turned and then noticed Sammal aiming the Chaos Lord's weapon at them.

"If you're going to fire, fire now, while he's still grounded!" Cypher shouted. "Fire at whomever you wish!" Justus sounded more confident. "Just know the consequences in your actions by doing so!" Cypher opened fire again with his bolt pistol, blasting the heretic. Following with the example, so did Sammal fire with the combi-bolter, and with that, the Chaos Lord stopped moving. Satisfied, Sammal was about to holster the combi-weapon when they both witnessed a hand erupt from Justus' torso. Soon more erupted from him. Another arm, a head, a torso.

What appeared was a monstrous, almost reptilian thing, with a tail that had a screaming face of its own. Both Fallen realized from this that they were desperately going to need help. "Ah... So glorious..." with a final horrific burst, Justus died, his pieces dispersing amongst the area. Cypher spoke first. "We...we need to fall back. Neither of us can confront it!" They booked it to the Rhino, with the greater daemon hounding them every step. The thing was not harried by the Rhino either. It was able to keep up, and every weapon Cypher fired at it proved next-to-ineffective. It frustrated him how futile the attempts were when he saw something overhead: more Furies. With a thrown clip, he was able to send them careening towards it, where the daemon started ripping them off its face and then ripped them apart, buying the Fallen enough time to evade the thing.

As they fled, they found the world slowly getting more infested by the forces of Malal, the birdlike things roving in entire herds now where once they only worked in packs, insectoid horrors infesting every crevice in order to find more prey to devour, and not far behind them were more space marines, all wearing the same black and white coloring as Justus. However, no matter where they looked, they could find no way to either evade the marines, who sought to scrap the rhino, or find the way they came. Soon enough, the monster that erupted from Justus' remains came back for them, having caught their scent. No matter what they used to distract it, be it the environment itself or another pack of daemons ready to tear into Malal's forces, they were disposed of far quicker than it took to get the trap set up in the first place. It seemed almost impossible to shake him off, and soon that became completely denied when the rhino finally ran out of fuel, and the Fallen realized that there was no spare tanks left to refuel it.

They bailed out to see the thing, mostly intact, raging as it extended a blade from its hand. From the size of it, Sammal knew that the weapon was far more than what he could bring out. They both also knew that even if they used all the weapons at their disposal, there would still be no chance that they could possibly stop that daemon. Even worse was that the Sons of Malice, the traitors in Malal's service, began closing in upon them. The only option left to them was to take whatever weapons they had left and open fire on the marines, as they could be killed, and that would at least lead them somewhere, even if that somewhere was just more ammunition.

Luckily for them, the daemon seemed incapable of performing precise actions, only slashing and cleaving his way through the traitors while Cypher and Sammal looted the corpses for what they could use. However, it still led them to the same situation: an angry greater daemon was still chasing them, and there was nowhere they could hide.

However, before they could find out whether or not this was their end, they began hearing an eerie laughter. Slowly, that laughter became louder, as if the voice was coming closer to them, but they saw no figure approaching. Soon, there was a revving of motors, but like the laughter, there was nowhere it was coming from.

That changed when a trail of flame suddenly erupted, a bright ribbon of fire streaking across the hellscape, weaving in and out of any place, without a clear goal. Immediately, the daemon of Malal noticed and grew frustrated at the source's invisibility. It tried to strike the ribbon, but he was unable to find purchase in its strikes, only swinging at dust. The tension broke as a howling erupted with the fabric of reality: "YOU GOT NO CHANCE SO PREPARE YOUR AAAAAAAAAAAAAAASS!!!"

Like a bullet through gel, a motorcycle erupted from the torn reality, and matched perfectly with the ribbons of fire as it swept to and fro, causing gashes on the daemon while it futilely tried to keep up. The raucous laughter they heard emanated from him, and he never stopped proving that. Then, from that same rift emerged more bikes, some of normal make, but others emerged looking warped, deranged, and corrupted either by a mechanical madman or a daemonic mutation. But no matter their form, they all rode with incredible speed, all of them howling for bloody glory and for a pride that nobody would recognize. They all rallied to a shared war cry:

"RIDE OR DIE! THE GREAT RIDE IS ALL!!!"

Hope had come at last for the Fallen, and it came on burnt rubber. As the greater daemon fought, he eventually got the idea to smash the bike, so that it could better destroy the monster riding it. However, that proved to be a folly when the rider was flung from his bike and then stabbed a monstrous sword in its mouth, silencing the monster. "THOUGHT YOU COULD STOP ME WITH JUST A LOVE TAP LIKE THAT?! YOU BEST BE DREAMING!!" He drove the sword deeper, taking pleasure in every thrust he made. Soon enough the daemon vanished, and all that was left was the flame-headed biker, who raised his sword in victory.

"HAIL DOOMRIDER! HAIL DOOMRIDER!"

While the daemon prince of pleasure kept posing for his fans before mounting his bike again, Cypher and Sammal were confronted by a hulking man in black and silver armor riding a bike that had upon it the heads of countless many foes. "Which of you is Sammal the Unending Ruin?" asked the rider. "Heard that this planet's up for sale." Sammal stepped forward. "That would be me. I am offering it only to return to the raid again." "Against these lunatics? Wasting your time." He sighed before summoning another rider, with his a bike that had a sidecar. "But, a deal's a deal." Sammal turned to call out, "Lord Cypher, we-" but he could not see the hooded stranger. "He vanished..." "Some friend," the Warp Rider mocked. "No, wherever he went, there had to be a reason for it," the Fallen Angel answered. "He kept talking about a duty he had to accomplish himself. I am not sure if there is any reason to doubt it, but whatever he is after...it must be far grander than my quest for survival. I will accept that."

>Meanwhile... Cypher found the warp portal Doomrider emerged from, still intact among the mayhem, and the Doomrider having since vanished to wherever it was he went. Cypher had thought to call Sammal over and bring his brother over somewhere where perhaps he could pursue his own redemption, but his instincts demanded otherwise. This was his journey and his alone. None other could uphold this quest, and he could not summon another to his side, even at the cost of his life. Let him go, he thought. He knows who he is loyal to. I am not needed to enforce that.

He put one hesitant foot into the warp before leaving. "Emperor guide you, brother Sammal."

>ELSEWHERE...

A shake brought Cypher back to his senses. He noticed a crowd of humans, all mere citizens crawling away from him. Why was that- oh wait. He was in a warp portal not a second ago. Now he noticed walls everywhere, and the lack of windows. Perhaps this some sort of frigate. "Please, calm yourselves," he announced. "I am not here to harm you." "Wh-who are you?" one of them asked. "I am merely a lost Astartes. Now, tell me. Where does this vessel go?" Many of them were still terrified of the Fallen Angel, but one did answer: "Terra."

Cypher smiled. Perhaps Omegon was right after all.

He was almost done...

Knights-Errant[edit]

He felt completely numb.

He had spent over six centuries crusading in the Emperor's name, smiting the foul heretics of Chaos alongside Ordo Hereticus Inquisitor Geraldus Thrax. He had fought with courage and honour, as any good Ultramarine was taught to. He never even held an ounce of resentment towards Leandros, that Battle-Brother of his that sent the Inquisition at him in the first place. It was merely a security measure, and it was better to be safe than sorry.

However, that no longer mattered.

The Grand Archives of Ultramar, which chronicled the names and deeds of every Ultramarine and their great lineage all the way back to the dawn of the Great Crusade itself, had no records of Captain Titus of the Second Company. More accurately, there was no records of a Titus at all. He was, effectively, nonexistent.
So dejected by this, he could only sit in place on the shuttle he was in, marching straight to Terra. The only course left was forgiveness and death. There was nothing left. When he felt the shuttle finally land, he had presumed that he had finally entered Terra.

"So this is the one?" Titus heard voices. They were right outside his door. "Indeed. Fought loyally by my side, and forgotten by his Chapter. Grave insult, that." This voice belonged to Thrax. "But...how? You were keeping constant contact with the Chapter, yes?" "Indeed." Thrax stepped. "I smell something suspicious, but I shall get back to that when I go back visit Macragge. For now, you have him."

The door opened, and he met with a massive hulk of a man, wearing silver terminator armour, bearing medals and seals of purity and a rosette at his right breast. This was an Inquisitor.

"So, you are Titus?" He asked, his voice thick. The former Captain dully nodded, his numbness still overwhelming. "Not much of a talker, is he?" the Terminator-Inquisitor asked. "Do go easy on him, Domenico. The man has found his life effectively removed from history including his name." Thrax stepped to the side, allowing the Terminator through.

"Inquisitor Domenico Salvarius, Ordo Malleus," he introduced himself. Titus only looked up with the minimum required effort. "Inquisitor Thrax and I were old classmates in the Schola Progenium on...where was it, Keppanari?"
"Kappanari, indeed." Thrax finished his colleague's thoughts. "Inquisitor Salvarius has found a group for you to join in seeking to fight the Emperor's enemies and this...redemption you seek. We are merely stopping off on Titan because there is someone I wish for you to meet."
"We...are not on Terra?" Titus' dry voice crackled through the helmet, aged and scarred.
"No. We are on Titan," Thrax turned down the question. "Were this any other world, I would accompany you to this meeting myself, but Titan is...well, it is the core stronghold of the Ordo Malleus, and as such, I have no authority here." He extended his hand to the Astartes, his aging face displaying a hint of sorrow. "I suppose this is the end of our journey."
Titus could not bring himself to do anything that even equated to amicability with the Inquisitor. His shame was too powerful to allow him to do that. All he could muster was the sign of the Aquila. Thrax understood, and let Titus through with Salvarius.

>Titan

"So I hear that you are an Ultramarine, yes?" Salvarius opened up as soon as they made landfall.
"Was," Titus flatly corrected. "No longer."
"I do admit..." He commented, "I do find the situation upon this to be rather...suspicious. I mean, you get replaced by your own chapter, your own life essentially gone? How does one even gather the authority to even try this?"
"It matters little," the Astartes replied. "I am no longer worthy."
Salvarius placed his hand upon Titus' shoulder. "I...do not think so."

The two were eventually met by another Astartes, bearing a faded white armour with shades of green on his pauldrons. On his chestplate, there was an eagle whose head jutted out to cover the helm.

"Inquisitor Salvarius. So I suppose that this is..."
"Former Captain Titus of the Ultramarines," Salvarius introduced the Ultramarine. "I am hoping that you have found our archives useful. I have already let far more than enough people access this planet between you and the Red King, so I would hope that there is an end to all this." "Indeed. I am satisfied, and the last of our equipment has arrived on Luna."
Titus was growing suspicious by the mention of the Red King, a kneejerk reaction from his training. The other Astartes then extended his hand to the Ultramarine. "Ah, yes, I should introduce myself. I am Captain Nathaniel Garro of the Death Guard and it appears that I have become something of an unsung hero in this age. Something I see that you share as well." Titus cautiously took his hand.

>Luna

Titus and Garro went to a fortress and entered a room with a round table in the middle. Aside from the three seats (One beating the Inquisitorial insignia, marking it as Salvarius' chair) that were empty, the other seats occupied a captain in teal armour with an eye on the left pauldron, an impatient warrior in blue and red armour, an Astartes in black armour save for a single green pauldron, a warrior in red armour whose eyes looked shut, a scout in almost entirely white armour with heavy-set eyes, a warrior in steel armour with servo arms protruding from his back, and a dark-grey warrior, reading a book. They all looked at the two walking in.

"So, Garro," The teal-armoured captain asked, "This is our last member? The fabled un-person of the Ultramarines?"
"Titus, this shall be your new team," Garro showed the table.
The Teal one began, "Good to see you. Name's Garviel Loken, Captain of the Tenth Company of the Sons of Horus. If Garro can be called the team's heart, then I guess you can call me the face."
"Macer Varren, World Eaters. Whatever happened, I don't care, so long as I can find a better use for my fury."
"Chaplain Asa'Marr of the Salamanders. I was sent by my Primarch to spread this message the moment he heard of it."
"Iah Sakhar, Thousand Sons Cult Corvidae Librarius cohort. I wish to see more of this future."
"Sergeant Migisi, of what you once called the Eleventh Legion. We gather, and we seek answers."
"Warsmith Steigal, Fourty-First Grand Company."
"And I am Esyrol of the Word Bearers, here to guide us towards our Great Goal."

Titus was still not very capable of understanding what was before him, but the bombardment of names of forces he was taught to hate had managed to snap as he realized, "You...you are all traitors!"

"To be fair," the Thousand Son interjected, "None of us technically have betrayed the Imperium yet, and we are here to prove that it stays that way."
"And to be precise," the Chaplain added on, "The Salamanders were just as loyal to the Emperor as the Ultramarines during the Heresy."
"This whole alternate timeline business is a rather confusing thing, I must say," Garro concluded. "To find the entire Imperium being turned upside down because of this is even a bit disheartening."

"And I am..." Titus tried to make some sort of stand. He tried to reach for a chainsword, but there was no longer one. A bolt pistol that no longer was holstered. Not even a knife was in his possession. "a faithful..." A step in any direction that could put him in an advantageous position. "son... of..." He prepared himself for some sort of charge, but the moment he lowered himself, he collapsed. "Terra, what am I doing...? I am no longer a Captain. I can no longer even be called an Ultramarine...!"

"Does this mean that you are..." Migisi asked, "One of those Death-Watch Black-Shields I have heard of?"
"Hardly," The Chaplain responded. "A Blackshield would not have had his entire life so thoroughly obliterated. Besides, Salvarius is not Ordo Xenos. They are the only ones with full authority in the Deathwatch. I had a brother in the Reclusiam who served there."

Titus was still in agony, realizing just how raw a wound that revelation left. He had tried to pay for it with every pint of blood he could find in the veins of the enemies as well as his own, but none of it made it go away. Courage and Honour were all that mattered to an Ultramarine, and now he had neither. His hearts felt strained, his eyes felt as if they were on fire.

"Come now, brother," Garro seemed alarmed. "This may seem to be a troubling affair, but I do have a feeling that there is much more to this than just what befell you." Titus could only rise wordlessly and then join the others on the table, sitting between the Son of Thunder and the Word Bearer.

"So what is the point of all this?" Warsmith Steigal asked. "If this is just a counseling group, then I have already wasted too much time."
"Ah, good of you to remind me," Garro noticed as he went to his seat. "The organization we are now part of was originally found by me in this timeline some ten thousand years ago during the Horus Heresy. Apparently, we were organized by the great Malcador to... How did he put it...?"

"The Knights-Errant was the organization ordered by Malcador the Sigilite in order to gather those Astartes of exceptional purity and others of an inquisitive nature to become the forerunners of the Ordo Malleus' Chamber Militant and the Inquisition as a whole." Salvarius stepped in with dataslate in hand. "However, we cannot be them. No, your goal is something less...prophetic, I should say."
The World Eater was not so amused, "So we stay on prison-watch?"
"Hardly," Loken interrupted Varren.

"Our mission," Garro clarified, "is more as ambassadors of goodwill. There are those of us who hail from legions which you seem to know as Traitor Legions. We are forming these Knights-Errant in order to show that we are loyal to the Imperium and that we are no traitors."

"But then...why me?"
"Because you mirror the same story of our own, good Captain," Loken answered. "Rescued from the ruins of an utter warzone, outcast by your kin, it mirrors the story of old. However, the circumstances of your arrival are a lot less...lucid than I would think possible from Ultramarines of all folk."
"And if I am to be frank, good sir," Garro added, "I have a feeling of kinship with you. You do not act in vanity, but in mere duty, yes? Duty above Honour, if I were to use your terminology."
"You are aware of the many changes of the Imperium," Iah observed, turning to Titus. "The universe has changed much for most of us, and we need someone on the inside,who can inform us of the many new terrors the Imperium has come to face."
"And we are to do this...alone?" Titus was growing incredulous.
"We are not merely warriors," the Scout commented. "We are now diplomats, meant to show our finest to the citizens. Some of us will always be more valuable in war, but we will not solely operate in that theatre."

Salvarius started up a projection on the center of the table, displaying the symbol of the Sigilite.
"Very well, if that is all sorted out, I do have a matter I believe that can be a worthwhile test-bed for your new-found force. The planet of Allentes has fallen under a suspicion of disloyalty to the Emperor. I will attempt to hold the situation in my hands as long as I can, but do beware that there may be some...unwelcome assistance that may be possible."
"More Ultramarine Showboaters?" Varren snarled.
"Stormtroopers?" Migisi asked.
"Sororitas." The answer seemed a little unusual to the members, but Esyrol was actually rather pleased at the news.
"Which Order?" "Order of the Eternal Icon."
The Word Bearer smiled. "They will be no trouble. We have journeyed with them before."
"Well that leaves one potential complication out of the way," the Inquisitor mused. "Regardless, you will be deployed by shuttle as to avoid rousing suspicions. While there, I do have some agents acting as my eyes and ears, so as to keep you appraised of the situation. Your goal is to find the cause of this change in faith and ensure that it ends."

>Allentes

The landing spot the shuttle chose left the team in an open expanse of the landing pad, largely apart from the city some distance away. At the location was an Arbite with a Rhino readied for them.
"I presume you lot are with the good Inquisitor Salvarius?" he asked. Loken and Garro confirmed this and they got transported over to the main city. Here, the new Knights-Errant picked a small den to formulate a strategy.

"I will take Titus with me," Asa'Marr opened. "We will take the public route. Neither of our Legions have been placed under suspicion, not to mention the fact that the Captain looks like he needs some sort of normalcy."
"Stop coddling the weakling," Macer growled. "I can take to the pits. Maybe I can find something within the underworld."
"I am going to find any signals of the Sororitas," Esyrol mentioned.
Similarly, Steigal added, "And I will go see how the Mechanicus factor into this."
Migisi then grabbed a Cameleoline cloak that was laid out. "I will be taking with Captain Varren. Not for any mistrust, mind, but to ensure that I can be harder to see than a berserker." The World Eater snarled in his direction.
Iah sighed. "I suppose that leaves me then. I shall see how the Warp acts, and I will inform you from there."
Garro and Loken both agreed on this and the Knights-Errant began their journey.

"So, Captain," The Chaplain tried to begin a conversation with Titus, "What...exactly happened that caused...well, what happened?"
"Graia happened." Titus tried to gather his will. "Orks attacked. I was sent there with a team to save the Guardsmen there, and then...Chaos."
"Chaos?" The Salamander was curious by that. "As in, you were tempted by them? I admit, that is a powerful thing to resist, but how does doing so-"
"Not their promises. Never would I dare." Titus almost sounded like he was mad, but he just did not. "But the leader there...I could resist his touch. Where my brothers fell, I was able to fight on. One of them claimed that such was grounds of heresy."
"Heresy? That's ludicrous!" The Chaplain remarked. "I admit, that would be more than unexpected, but how does a resistance to the warp equate to corruption? At most, that should have been a matter for the Librarians. There has to be something beyond this. What else?"
"A power source. Everyone wanted it. Drogan, the Orks, the Heretics...and I could break it so easily."
"Warp-based, I presume?" He nodded. "Figures."
"After I broke it, I found out that my brother had summoned the Inquisition upon me. I had to follow him or allow my entire company and Lieutenant Mira to be destroyed."
"And you placed their lives over your own, just for this to happen... This clearly is not just an action of your doing. And I know that it will change." The Rhino stopped. The two were at the Arbites Outpost.

Titus and Asa'Marr met with Chief Intelligencer Karl Formaz. Formaz had primed them on the situation as far as legal matters were concerned: There was a powerful Apostate that was somehow influencing his will over the planet, but this town was the core of his operations.

Normally, the Adeptus Arbites would have had all the authority they would need in order to storm the place and kill this traitor, but the problem was that he had influenced practically the entire populace. Any attacks would require them to wade through a horde of citizens and the Arbites have been undermanned. However, Adeptus Astartes were far more than mere arbitrators, and their position as the literal progeny of the Emperor would definitely give them leverage on getting even a few of these people back. The Intelligencer then handed them the address of the PDF base, the last organization that had been able to resist this faithless talker.

"Why are you here?" Titus asked on the ride to the PDF base. "You are no traitor to the Emperor. So why?"
"Because this is an age where those borders of loyalist and traitor have become much...broader in recent years." The Chaplain removed his helmet, revealing the short buzzcut of graying hair upon his obsidian skin. "This is an age where Gods and men coexist and where there is finally a glimmer of hope that the Imperium can return to greatness."
"So optimistic...?"
"Would it be optimism when there literally has been proof of those gods walking? I was personally sent here by Vulkan himself for Terra's sake. There is no way you can mistake the very father to your legion!" Titus paused and cocked his head. "You mean...you had not heard of this? Not even the Primarchs coming to Terra to save her from a madman?" Titus nodded. "What a terrible time to have been in transit."
The former Ultramarine mused, "If...the Primarchs truly are back, do you think...?"
"I would think so," Asa'Marr responded. "They have made it more of a matter to restore some transparency to the Imperium, so I would be far from surprised if one of them decided to look into your case."
Titus paused for a while. "Thank you."
"I am merely a servant of the Emperor, as are we all. Faith is but my station."

The PDF was stationed on the far side of the city, on the opposite side of the landing pad. Here, they were meeting with Colonel Phell, the head of the Allentan forces.

"Lord Astartes, I am honoured by your presence!" The Colonel, a weedy man decorated in medals more suited for a man at least twice his size. "Colonel Phell, Commander of the Allentan PDF. I'm hoping you are here to deal with this Lord Shaytan business."
"Indeed we are," the Chaplain introduced his forces, "I am Chaplain Asa'Marr, and besides me is Captain Titus."
"An Ultramarine, of all things! We are truly blessed!" Titus was about to voice an objection on his former status before the Chaplain ordered him to let it be. "Ah, follow me, follow me. I can probably better inform you about the story in a better way than the Arbites can."

Phell explained that this Shaytan was a very wealthy landowner who had come to control the importing trade. Anyone who wanted anything merely had to request it from the traders and they would satisfy it quickly. That in itself is little cause for alarm, but the issue was how much of the profit they took for themselves. Soon sire Shaytan claimed himself a tax-exempt citizen, exploiting a little-known legal loophole to keep the Arbites from enforcing anything on them. Following that, he became more ambitious: Not only was he delivering an exorbitant amount of imports, which he would then spread to those in his employ alone, but then rumours spread about a certain "Client Loyalty" program affording them amenities even the loftiest of positions could hardly afford. Soon enough, Shaytan gained a loyal army of customers, all following this one trader, and his work was completely legal from the outside. Even inside, there was no sight of impropriety, as there was an almost insane amount of transparency about the company's workings. That would be something that the Adeptus Astartes would be able to circumvent, by force if need be.

As for the Sororitas, they would come within the next week to act as the military force, the Colonel himself having been a close friend to the Prioress of the Order of the Eternal Icon who was one of those responsible for the Order's founding. However, the two let the Word Bearer deal with that, for the Sororitas would apparently recognize him.

As soon as they left the Colonel, Asa'Marr opened up a Vox link to Captain Garro.
"We have a story and a means to enter."
"Splendid show, brother." Garro remarked. "Where is our target supposed to be?"
"He owns the only importing business in the planet, and apparently has enough money to afford his own complex. The only people resisting against whatever he has offered were the PDF and the Arbites higher-ups."
"Well, that will do. Loken has started looking at this rather large complex where he found this gaggle of citizens just filing in, all bearing this sideways chevron on their breast."
"That might be it. We will be there to investigate." Titus snapped in.
"Ah, that would indeed help. Garro out."

As they embarked on the Rhino, Asa'Marr remarked, "It seems that you have something to offer yet..."

When they arrived, Garro started, "Good to see you. Loken is stationed at the chapel itself, listening in from one of the side-brushes, but there are guards that are being a bit too...suspicious."
"We do not kill them," Titus stated. "We still know too little about this matter. Killing them would draw too much attention on us and they would know who we are."
"Well said, but how will we..."
Titus grabbed a can rolling down the street. "Let me handle with that."

He peered around the corner of their wall to find the entryway guarded by a couple of guards, looking rather weakly armoured and toting only stubbers. He threw the can right in front of their path, making a loud noise to attract their attention. They never saw the Astartes knock them out. Thus incapacitated, the three now had a clear route of access to join the Captain.
"Good to see you taking some initiative," Loken greeted them. "What do we know?"
"Whoever is leading this group is an affiliate of the Shaytan group," Asa'Marr filled the Captain in. "He effectively bought the populace's loyalty using his control of the import market, and in doing so is legally untouchable."
"Well, from what I can decipher, this man is doing equal parts sales pitching and preaching, so I can buy that."
Titus asked, "But what is their goal?"
"He was running something of an auction. There were goods on that table, and people were wagering. But there was also some promises of special...Packages, was it? Privileges and such."
"He is bartering their favour. Then this is merely a possible front like all the others the Arbites have. discovered"
"Seems we have our next course of action settled then," Garro commanded the group. "We wait for the place to empty out before we go investigate."

The chapel eventually let out and the rabble of the city eventually dispersed among themselves. Among this crowd was also the four Astartes, keeping their heads low enough to maintain their cover. As soon as they made it in, they begun sneaking behind the pews, finding only a preacher there, finishing whatever goodbyes he made and preparing to leave. Titus peered over the edge to find the cardinal grabbing a knife, but not use it on himself. Soon enough he too left, and now the Knights-Errant could finally begin their investigations.

Their first key target was the altar. Nothing too unusual, none of the symbolism too unnatural save for a particular preference for blue and gold. There was also the patterned skulls, covered in some unnatural runes. Titus did not feel comfortable.
"Would you happen to realize this?"
Titus stepped back. "I am only hoping that I may be wrong." However, this would only be one piece. There had to be more to this.

They entered the left doorway to find the personal offices of a few pastors. None of them seemed to ring any bells, and they all seemed to hold a reverence of sorts to the Imperium. All, it seemed, except for the head cardinal. His room was more rife with strange arcane glyphs lined on his desk, most matching the ones on the altar. There was also a circular mat on the floor, usually covered by a chair for guests. This mat had no sigils, but what it did have was the same blue and gold colours. But perhaps the most unnatural artefact there was a skull of what looked to be an Eldar, crystallized and, upon looking at it from an angle, looking like it was screaming in agony. The four then began feeling around for a false wall when Titus found one at the back of the room, concealed by a banner confirming the church's fealty to the Emperor. This clearly was a front, and now they would figure out what it was.

The chambers smelled dank with the stench of rotting meat and blood. As they walked, they felt the path taking a slide down. They stepped down to find something akin to a dungeon, but nobody present. The only things even different with the area were a pair of skeletons chained to the wall. At the far end of the room was a pile of rocks, almost a head taller than the Astartes.
While Loken and Asa'Marr investigated the skeletons, Garro began communicating with anyone he could while Titus began looking through the pile. There had to be something here, hidden among the rocks. He found something from that: A robe, much different than his normal robes and bearing a much darker coloration when compared to his ordinary robes. More unsettling was the mask that was found with it, a half-mask whose visage looked almost like... Titus shook his head. No, this mask could not possibly be the same. That person was dead. He looked again.
Loken managed to find a locking mechanism using one of the skeletons. Behind it was a book. "This book..." Loken commented as he felt around the hide-bound skin, "This book is far from normal." He noticed an eye on it, unblinking but definitely lifelike. There were also teeth lined along the lip of the book.
"We destroy it then. Better we staunch the flow of corruption from here."

Garro was about to prepare his power sword for that when he dodged a las-shot by pure luck.
"I cannot let you do that." It was the Cardinal, and he had some new guards with him, eight in total. "That book is my guide. My willpower."
"What this book is is heresy." Garro lowered his sword. "We cannot let it corrupt any further."
Titus prepared his chainsword for battle. The Cardinal asked, "Why? Why would you do this to our order? We are giving them a life they desire, one outside of the government's feeble ability!"
"What you give them," Asa'Marr retorted, his single-handed hammer powered, "is corruption. You lie to these people, to subvert them to your slavery." "Then what of you?" the Cardinal asked. "Are you not slaves of the Emperor?"
"No. We are his sons. We were chosen to become far more than men."

The Cardinal gave the order and the guards opened fire. Sadly, their choice in armament was in poor choice, for the lasguns merely bounced off of Titus' power armour as he tore through the guards.
"Your mark... You are the enemy...!" The Cardinal raised a sword. He tried to attack the Ultramarine, but before he could, the Chaplain leveled his head.
"Well," Loken commented as he disposed of the book. "if anyone here doubted the presence of heresy on this planet before, they will have none now."

The four escaped and returned back to the safehouse where they first arrived and ordered everyone else to join them.

"So, heresy. Like we did not know already," Varren grumbled, his own search having been largely fruitless.
"A sorcerer among them..." Iah surmised. "Whoever it is, they are still weak, but they are gaining a foothold."

"What did you see?"
"A slowly-enveloping claw. Massive and hungry."
Garro kept with the reports. "We can tie that in later. Varren, Migisi?"
"The Underworld has just as much of it overrun by this Shaytan as the rest of the planet." The Scout filled in. "What disturbed me most though was the complete...serenity of the populace. No crimes to be seen, no ghettos run by homeless people. They were all merely...content."
"Considering he runs the planet, he probably has spread his Customer Loyalty program there as well. Steigal?"
"The Mechanicus have been supplying the Shaytan group with technology through legal means," the Warsmith droned. "Though he has bought some of the Magi's trust with the discovery of an STC on a powerful generator, the chief Magos has voiced his own suspicions. Any further proof would sway his opinion."
"The Sororitas are on their way here, due within the week," Esyrol began. "From what Astropathic messages I had access to, the Prioress in charge has had her eye on this Shaytan person for a while. She was also showing interest in a Colonel Phell."
"They were old comrades," Asa'Marr added in. "They went to the same branch of the Schola."
"Perhaps, but the way the messages ended seemed a touch too...personal, maybe."
"If that is everything," Loken reined the team in. "We have discovered the use of heretical items behind closed doors. Dark magic, and a tome."
Iah piped up. "What did it bear?"
"Teeth along the edge, an unblinking eye. Also, along the spine was this golden runic language. There was a half of a mask as well."
The Thousand Son nodded. "Not what I was thinking, then."
Garro noticed Titus' anticipation, "Titus, I see you have something to add to this affair."
"This whole case," Titus warily mentioned, "It bears the stench of an enemy I had thought dead and gone. I killed him personally on Graia." The team turned to him. "His name was Nemeroth, and his face is nearly identical to that mask's."

"A face mutilated like that? Seriously?" Varren mocked the idea.
"He was a powerful sorcerer. He was on Graia to find a...warp power source."
Asa'Marr started to gather the pieces. "The same power source that...?" Titus nodded. "It is coming together. He must have somehow noticed your powers and tried to persuade you."
"I could resist his warp-sorcery. He wanted to learn more bout it. When last I faced him, he was making a pact with his gods and he...changed..." "A...Daemon Prince?" Garro was surprised. "I say!"
"There is no way you, YOU of all people, could have killed a Daemon!" Varren added in with incredulity.
"I am not sure if it was my doing or if the source aided me," Titus concluded, "But whatever the case, he was killed."
Iah then commented, "But a daemon does not die as simply as you and I. You may have slain his body, but given the proper resources, he will return."
"Then we have our next objective: We ensure that this Nemeroth stays in the Warp with his foul gods." Loken took the lead, while Titus followed. "Worry not, brother. We will get to the bottom of this."

The next task for the Knights-Errant was to seek out the main facility of Shaytan's imports. Whatever was in there, it had to tie into the matter of Nemeroth's coming.

That night, the facility was empty. The Astartes had little difficulty sneaking in, incapacitating the guards and then allowing a crack squad of Adeptus Arbites to break in and start their own search for forbidden paraphernalia. They looked at the main storehouse, a massive tower as tall as it was wide. "So our answer might be here?"
"Just maybe," Garro started ordering the team to split up and begin their own search for any more blasphemous material tying to the Daemon Prince.

Titus found himself teamed with Steigal in looking at the control arrays in the bottom level, taking a lift down.

"I do not trust you and your sentiment." the Warsmith warned him.
"At least I hope this will not interfere with what we are doing."
"Unless you get in the way, no. There should be a servo-skull or some other scanning device that should be in the work-station downstairs. Either of those should be helpful for what I am planning." The lift stopped. "Do not try anything idiotic. Leave the dealing with me."
They stepped out to find the security room empty. Any closed-circuit feeds were running, but it was so late that the tech-workers here most likely left for home.
"We are in," the Iron Warrior intoned on his vox. He then turned to the door to the right of where they entered, pointing to the feeds. "Keep a watch. I do not want any surprises befalling any of these fools."

It did not take long before Steigal returned, at his side a servo-skull with an auspex mounted in its mouth. "We leave. This skull has with it a pre-programmed map of the storage zone."

True to his word, the Warsmith found a secret locked door, hidden by a stockpile of empty crates. However, when he could not open it either by hand or with his servo-arms, it rested with the Ultramarine to make the push. Titus wedged his chainsword in an opening the Warsmith made and began pushing. The combined might of two Astartes, as well as two servo-arms, managed to wrench the door open and behind it was...a bunch of armed guards, this time with lasguns and a grenade launcher.
"Thought there was someone snooping around when we heard that Cardinal Smerrin was reported missing..."
"Now put down the weapons," Titus began to reason. "We are here to find something of grave importance. If we do not find it soon-"
"A beatdown? Well, you found your place!" The troops lined their sights. "Open fire."

In the distance, Titus was able to see a white sniper on the upper floors.
"A sniper? Get him!" The Guardsmen were foolish to focus on Migisi, though, as that left them open to assault by Titus' chainsword and Steigal's servo-arms. None of them were able to even stop the two.

The last of the occupants of this facility was a beleaguered spy of the Inquisitor's, hoping to solve the case as best he could.
"Oh dear God-Emperor please don't kill me!"
"We have had enough killing," Titus extended his hand. "What we want now are answers. Has there been any reports of blasphemous rituals? Faith centering around a certain individual by the name Nemeroth?"
"You recognize that face?" The acolyte calmed down. He began leading them into the facility. "I was not sure what that was meant to be, but if it is a person, then that begins making sense. Is this Nemeroth..."
"Daemon."
"Oh... Oh my." The Acolyte led them to a holding cell where a small squad of arbitrators were locked up in order to silence their claims. As they broke out, the Acolyte then commented, "These people, they were locked in here to ensure that the law could not come to them. And if they're summoning a daemon of all things, then Terra knows what happens to those they decide to take away..." Unfortunately, there was nothing else in this hidden room, making it only a special prison and pool for sacrifices.

"I think I found another secret of theirs!" The two heard Varren shout through his vox. "They seem to really like dying if this secret is that valuable!"
Steigal and Titus rushed over to find the World Eater cutting through another horde, this time wearing more unusual clothes. Some had masks with skulls on them, and others had armour marked with the eight-pointed star. They were guarding their own room, which did not have any prisoners, but what it did have was a stockpile of weapons, all looking made locally made.

"A storage room for their militia then? Allow me to correct that," Steigal then took his time crushing the guards' weapons with his servo-arms while Varren and Titus continued to follow the Servo-Skull to the next location.

This next hiding spot was in the break room, hidden under the tables and immovable so long as they were still there. By breaking them, Varren revealed that this chute led to another dungeon, filled with more dead prisoners. On the walls, engraved in the bricks was what looked like a message. "There be heretics here." "It has become clear to me that this detour was a complete waste of my time," Varren then climbed upward, using his chainaxe to give him some grip. Following him, Titus dug into the chute with his chainsword.
"Are you always this...impatient?" Titus asked as they climbed up.
"I am here because I seek to kill traitors. A scavenger hunt for a cult is practically a misuse of my given talents."
"And learning something more is out of the question?"
Varren stopped and glared at the Ultramarine. "Watch your mouth. You keep talking like that, and know that what happens next will be entirely your fault."

The two then split up as Titus began looking for Esyrol and Asa'Marr, who were looking at another end to see where Shaytan himself might be hiding. He found the two preachers in what appeared to be the main entryway with a massive staircase in the back, between them a pile of beaten guards.
"Unable to stand that brute, are we?" the Word Bearer playfully asked. The three of them made for the grand staircase, taking the left side and beginning to systematically investigating each of these rooms.

As they were on this route, Titus heard Loken through the vox: "Everyone, meet me at my location. I think...this is something big in our case. He has a big something planned here."
Titus was growing worried. What more could possibly be wrong besides a possibly returning Daemon Prince?

When they arrived, everyone gathered saw a massive diary, gilded and bound in many locks. "This...oh no..." Iah uttered.
Loken asked, "You understand what this means?"
"I do. The Warp is twisting. He is breaking loose!"
Steigal then asked, "Where?"
Another sensing of the warp, and the psyker pointed. "I have a lock. Quickly, before it gets too unreadable!"

As they ran, Titus began remembering the events of Graia. He remembered the daemon that masqueraded as Inquisitor Drogan, the man who set him up. He remembered that Ork Warboss who refused to give up, even when bested by Nemeroth. But what made him hurt the most was the fact that Sidonus, a dear friend and comrade of his, paid the price of death for the mistakes Titus may have made that day.

Never again, he resolved. Never again would he allow a battle-brother to die on his watch, so long as he had the strength to even move a finger. He no longer had anything to lose, so even if he were to die, it would be used to protect his team at all costs.

"The power is strongest here, but...we lack a door." Varren quickly invalidated the Thousand Son's concern as he used his chainaxe to force a way through to the wall with brute force. As they pushed forth, they began noticing more distortions throughout the area. Fires of multiple hues began to burn while the pieces of tile that lined the floor began to lift off the floor and float in midair, suspended by strings. While the rest of the team began to find it hectic to avoid each of these powers, Titus was striding forward, the fires doing little to mar either his armour or his spirit. He had an iron resolve to see this through, and he would finish off Nemeroth if he had to, even at the cost of his life.

They broke open the door to find a stocky man levitating, the many powers of the Warp swirling like a maelstrom around him. Lightning was striking around him in crackling blasts and a horrid howling filled the room as wind whipped around.

The Knights-Errant buckled down, none of them even able to resist the blowing gusts. Sensing their time running out, Steigal then dug a servo-arm into the wall while he grabbed his Inferno Pistol. One precision shot reduced the sorcerer's torso into a flaming ruin, and from there the limbs began getting sucked in. Without a focus, the powers of the Warp began becoming more unstable, as the summoning circle that was being used was being twisted by the powers, lightning becoming more unstable. Seeing a book that looked like it served as a centering point for the summoned powers, but without a stable way out, the daemons within that rift, crying for release, were now clawing for a way out. Unprepared, the others were assaulted, unable to defend themselves without releasing their grips.

This left only Titus.

His purpose renewed, he started the arduous task of marching through the storm, despite the unbearable conditions that the storm brought about. Lightning struck at him, but he kept marching. Daemons clawed at him, cutting through his armour, but his willpower forced him onwards. The very wind pushed him back and for every foot it pushed him back, he stomped forward another two, his resolve forcing him further. When he finally reached the accursed tome, he grabbed his chainsword and deftly slammed it into the book, tearing it apart and ending the portal.

That was not the end, however.

"Ahhhhh," a voice whispered, unseen by anyone. "Titussssss, is that...you? It has been so long since our last battle..."
"Not long enough if I can help it..." Titus gritted his teeth.
"Is that...any way to treat an old friend, brother?"
"We were NOT brothers!" He declared as he gathered his strength. "I am not a heretic."
"And yet...what has befallen you? I heard that you and your chapter have been experiencing...difficulties around you..."
"Then so be it. An Astartes does not need their Chapter to defend their honour, only his weapons."
"Then what have you, if your precious honour is gone?"
Titus looked to the new team he had with him, to Captain Garro and Captain Loken, who accepted him with no reservations, to Chaplain Asa'Marr, whose wisdom gave Titus the strength to grapple his own doubts, to Captain Varren, whose brute strength inspired him to fight as well. He had his answer.

"Only a fool would claim that their honour would be lost like this. Even if I am no Ultramarine, I am an Adeptus Astartes, and I am the Emperor's Chosen. My honour lies in that before anything else."
The vile voice could only chuckle.
"How...amusing. Live on with that false sense of pride, Titus. I still own the souls of these people, and I will return one day." His voice began to fade. "Pray that you are prepared for that moment..."

"I must say, I was expecting far worse..." The Death Guard commented as he investigated the now useless circle.
"It is for the best for these people." Iah had gained enough of a sense to stand back up properly. "The daemon is stuck in the Warp for now."

The book was immediately obliterated and the entire complex levelled as it was confirmed that the summoner was actually the trader Shaytan. Although their leader was dead, the cult still offered resistance, the grip of Chaos too strong on them. In the coming days, the entire empire collapsed, but with the help of the Order of the Eternal Icon, the transition was less troublesome. The Sororitas took to restoring faith in the people, while the Arbites and the PDF were enforcing the law with a renewed zeal. In here, the Knights-Errant still had a role, hunting down the last vestiges of heresy from the planet and protecting their hard-earned victory against Nemeroth.

Titus was called a hero for his bravery, being able to face down the blasphemous ritual and conquer it. He had thought his gift as some sort of curse, only assuaged by Inquisitor Thrax as a gift of the Emperor to battle the enemies of the Emperor. But to see his Brothers openly thank him for his gift instead of fear him like the Black Templars Thrax had as a retinue, that was what finally convinced Titus that he had something of worth to the Imperium.

"Some trial by fire, eh?" Loken sat by the Ultramarine as they watched the PDF on a parade route. At the front was Colonel Phell, being held rather uncomfortably close by the Prioress of the Order of the Eternal Icon, which gave a rather amused laugh by Esyrol.
"It is...invigorating to have a purpose again."
Loken sighed. "We take that for granted way too often."

They were watching the parade when he saw a particular woman within the PDF, hair hidden in a near ponytail under her helmet. Titus almost forgot for a moment, but he could not forget the Lieutenant he helped back on Graia. Suddenly, he realized something uncomfortable in his helmet. He then took it off, finally, after several hundred years of wearing it as penitence.

He realized that he had begun growing a beard or faint gray. His hair was also far longer and more disheveled than how he remembered it.
Garro stepped in to realize Titus' appearance. "I say, Titus. You look like you need a good shave!"
He smiled. "We will have time to do that before we get deployed again...Captain."
The two captains smiled. Titus was here to stay as a Knight-Errant.

Regardless of whether or not Titus may ever recover his history, he had a new history here.

My Man Phell[edit]

The distress call from Allentes was, ultimately, an over-exaggeration.

True, there were still heretics to burn, but that was hardly a cause for alarm. By the time the Order of the Eternal Icon landed upon Allentes, the leader and chief suspect, a trader by the name of Shaytan, was already dead thanks to the daring efforts of a certain grizzled Ultramarine.

This left Prioress Abiah Cereles with a wasted force of elite Battle Sisters at her command, but there was one upside to this: A certain PDF Colonel Bali Phell.

It was not a secret to those under her command that the Prioress and the Colonel were close friends when they were in the Schola Progenium. There were stories spread about the two constantly playing together until the Prioress was nominated to join the Adepta Sororitas in the Order of Our Martyred Lady. However, the two reunited by a turn of luck when they were sent to battle a major battle against invading Eldar forces from a violent craftworld. During a bombing raid by Crimson Hunters, the two found each other gripping on, hiding from the shelling while separated from their forces. Whatever happened there was not said, but it was clear that the Prioress would become attached to her old friend.

So it was when the Colonel was finishing the parade routes, he noticed two armored arms wrapped around his neck and a pressure applied to his head, pushing his cap over."Umm, are you sure you should do that...?" The Colonel asked nervously.
"Why are you asking me that?" The Prioress answered with another question. "Could it be that you...disrespect me?"
"No! Nonono...not at all!" His panicked replies eased her tone. "It's just...You could have warned me, you know!"
"Huhuhu..." She chuckled before tightening her grip. "Could it be that little Bali got nervous?"
"No...!" His answer betrayed his reactions, his face reddening. However, as he was getting up in order to push her away, he noticed how large those gray eyes looked so close to him. There was still about a head's height apart from them, but it was enough.
"Hehe, you looked." It was almost infuriating how innocent she looked while teasing him. Even moreso when one takes into consideration that she's a high-ranking member of the Adepta Sororitas, while he...was just the Colonel of a PDF regiment that was so easily paid off by corruption until very recently.
"Are you happy now...?" He began grumbling. while pressed against her armor.
"I'm always happy to be with you."

Abiah let the Colonel be and decided to oversee the re-education by the Sisters Famulous when she was met by a warrior in dark grey armor, with a book emblazoned on the left pauldron.
"Emperor be with you, Prioress...Cereles, was it?" The Astartes greeted her.
"A Word Bearer? What a surprise to see you here," She casually regarded him. "Pray tell, where is the rest of your Legion? I had thought that you would have had more forces with you by now to aid with the re-education."
The Astartes replied, "True, I would have, but right now I am not with the Legion. I am now...part of a different force. A force for peacekeeping."
"So that would mean that you were there alongside that...?"
He sounded off, "Ahh, word about Titus has already spread?" He looked to the ruins of the trading complex where Shaytan once ruled. "Strange thing, that man. He is a man of incredible character and skill, but his past...it haunts him so, and for the life of me, I have no clue how it came to pass."
"Oh?" She was curious by that manner of description. "What sort of past would that be?"
"Would you happen to be aware of any cases of...revisionism in the Ultramarines?" She nodded to the contrary. "Hm, suspected as much."
The Word Bearer then had to return to his team, as they were expected to return at any moment as soon as his team's shuttle landed.

Prioress Abiah returned to her Sisters in order to hear the reports of her teams, many of them singing praises of the Emperor and the Primarchs as they slowly, but surely, restored the faith in the people. All in all, their presence seemed somewhat...unnecessary, almost overqualified.
That night, she spent her sleep rather troubled, her position as a leader of the Adepta Sororitas arguing that she should be done with this sooner, for this job was far simpler than expected, while the side of her that was merely a woman was pouting, hoping she would spend more time with the Colonel. Clearly, this battle was doing ill for her conscience, as she could not reconcile between either one.

So it was that the Prioress made a late night visit to the Chapels, praying to one of the many shrines dedicated to their Saint, a martyred Celestian for the Primarchs, as she sought clarity for her own feelings. Abiah herself was a close friend of the Celestian, whom she trained under years ago. "Ah, Prioress Cereles?" A voice asked. She turned to see one of her advisors, Celestian Petras, kneel beside her. Her head was shaved to near baldness, and a fleur-de-lis was branded in her left eye. "Is there something that troubles you?"
"I...must say so, sister. Come." The two joined in prayer to their Saint. "Have you ever felt...a conflict between the part of you that swore utter loyalty to the Emperor and the part of you that is still just a woman?"
The Celestian thought before remembering, "I remember once, there was a missionary my team was tasked to defend." She straightened the helm at the top of the Shrine, a memoir of the Saint. "He was a simple man, but his rhetoric, it was...beautiful, I must be honest. His words enveloped you in his own world, and his kindness was almost legendary among the Order. Then we were tasked with charging against a stronghold of the heretics who call themselves Word Bearers. We were reduced to only a few sisters of my Celestians and a few others. Our Superior was duelling their foul champion. He cast her down and was about to kill her when...the missionary sacrificed himself. To see him smile while that vile blade stabbed him...it hurt me. It always hurts me." A sniffle. "When we were burying our dead, I wouldn't let anyone else memorialize him. I carved out his statue in his honor, I recited his eulogy, and after we buried him...I told him how much I loved him and how much I wanted to see him go out and become something far greater..."
"Sister...!" Abiah noticed her junior's tears. "How long has it been?"
"That was almost twenty years ago," she took the Prioress' handkerchief and dabbed on her eyes. "And every day, I still see his smile. Whenever I feel scared, I remember him right by my side, giving his life for me... I am sorry, I must be-"
"Hardly." The Celestian looked up. "I am asking because...I feel like I am under a peril like yours."
"Um, Prioress," she seemed humbled, "is it proper for you to seek counsel with me?"
The leader smiled. "I would prefer your company than a Confessor's, sister. But if you see it as a nuisance, then-"
"I do not mind." Petras straightened up. "I am actually interested to hear more about your past, Prioress. Your story may help me too."

What was discussed at the Chapel that night was not discussed anywhere else, but when Abiah and Petras met, they shared a gaze of mutual understanding.

The next day saw the so-called Knights-Errant departing. Among the team saying goodbye was the Word Bearer, Esyrol, as well as the infamous man of the hour himself, Titus, a man whose neatly trimmed hair seemed almost conflicting with the ragged beard he was developing. However, talking to the Captain revealed a very humble soul, who found Duty above Honour. The Captain, as well as the others, were a very curt group who wished the finest and earned her respect as Prioress, even if she did not have to invoke anything given to her Order by the great Lorgar.

That night, Prioress Abiah visited the PDF Base, visiting the Colonel.
This time, he was ready.

"You need something, Prioress?" Phell kept himself formal.
"Need I a formal reason to meet a friend of mine?"
"Dammit, it's about this...?" he took his fight. "The way you were announcing it, I could've sworn that you were suspecting someone of heresy or something!"
Abiah came closer, grabbing the Colonel by his weary shoulder. "What if I did? Would that make you less nervous?"
"To be honest, yes," his response came flatly. "At least I can tell when someone's supposed to get killed!"
A polite laugh. "You must care about your men."
"Considering that I've been with these men for as long as I have, now that we can actually make a difference in the world? I damn well better."

She remembered again that battle they were reunited.
The house they were hiding in was right outside of the sights of the Eldar fighters.
There was a closet, large enough for about three people to hide in, but when one of them was wearing power armour and one of them was packing a backpack with more gear than it possibly could, space became much tighter than they realized.
As the bag clanged to the floor, he then started complaining about his wrist. It was numb. As she looked a little closer at the bag, she could see dog tags, charge packs for lasguns, maps, medals, from almost a hundred different people. The possibility was that they were all dead, and this was all that remained of them.
She took a bandage and immediately started wrapping it, and as she only realized that she placed it on her chest after cutting off the bandage.
Naturally, he took it off right away, but she insisted he stay there. She then reciprocated the gesture, placing her hand near his clavicle, tracing his neck. There was an exchange of words, she could remember, and then...

"...you there?"
The Prioress snapped out of her dream. "A-ah, yes, a noble sentiment, Colonel."
He raised his eyebrow. "That...sounded a little half-hearted."
"Do you doubt my sincerity?"
"No," he answered, his answer lacking sincerity of its own, "I do not."

As she left, Abiah noticed among the crowd a trooper who looked like he was finishing his term. She heard from the conversation that he was having plans on proposing to a girl he knew, the others in his company congratulating him on surviving for this long, even if that was because of circumstances far beyond their control. As he was asking how to approach the matter, the Prioress began looking at her own right hand, slowly imagining a ring of its own, placed over the armored gauntlet.

She needed more help. This was beginning to distract her again.

That night saw another discussion between Abiah and Petras in the chapel.
"Have you always felt this way towards him?" The Celestian asked.
"I have." The Prioress answered, breaking attention from the imagined ring again. "When I met him again in that field, I was...well, I was the happiest I have ever been. I missed him, and whenever I do leave him, I keep on missing him."
"And what does he feel?"
The Prioress stopped dead in her tracks. That question was, without a doubt, the one thing that was never asked. Rather, it was the one thing she never did think about. She always felt satisfied just by being near him, but what he felt? Why did it feel so...foreign?
"Sister..." her voice began to waver. "Do you think.... Do you think he hates me?"
"As a woman or as a servant of Him on Terra?" Another doubt now. The Colonel certainly acted faithfully. She personally testified to that when some of her own sisters began doubting his faith because he did not charge to his death like some blind idiot.
But what if it were her that was beginning to waver in her faith? It frustrated her how she began having this doubt.
"Sister, am I...indecent for thinking about him?"
Petras nodded, "I am sorry, Prioress, but I am incapable of answering that. However, Father Gisilfrid is with us for the re-education efforts."
Abiah bit her lip. "Thank you all the same dear Celestian. This weighs heavy on my conscience, and I would like to see to it that I solve the matter before we leave."

The Prioress took a trip through the station the Order of the Eternal Icon called a base for the priest, a Confessor who was sent by the Ministorum in order to assure the Order's loyalty. He seemed kind enough, yes, but her fears were not about his demeanour, but about how he would take the news of her feelings of attraction to a mere Colonel of a PDF. after all, a single misstep would be more than enough to suspect corruption within their ranks.
"Come, my child," his aged voice announced through the door to his chambers. Prioress Cereles opened the door to see the Confessor, an elderly man of over 140 with a beard as long as he was, listening to a hymnal choir from his servo-skull. "Is there something that troubles you?"
Prioress Cereles kneeled before an effigy of the Emperor that was at the back of the room, behind the Confessor. "I feel...conflicted in my duty, Father."
"Why, what would be the matter?"
"I feel... I have a person I hold dear to me. We have been friends for a long time, and now...I feel like I love him."
"Is that so?" The Confessor turned off his Servo-Skull. "I must say, you are a rather fortunate person to be plagued by that above all else. Were you still amongst the Order of Our Martyred Lady, they would have punished you for such distracting thoughts. To have witnessed both the coming of the great Lorgar himself and to be the leader of a whole Convent, only to be worried about romance, you are most blessed."
"That is why I am conflicted," Abiah replied. "I cannot reconcile between that duty and my emotions."
"What necessarily forces them to be separated?" The Prioress lifted her head. "If you truly hold him so close to your heart, what forces you to forsake anything for him? So long as you keep the Emperor closest to your mind and heart, He will keep you on the proper path."
"What..." she asked, "convinced you of this?"
He chuckled gently. "I am blessed as well. I can claim Terra itself as my birthplace, serving among the Convent Prioris. None of them are quite as...zealous about crusading as the Convent Sanctorum. The Sisters of that Convent, their belief is less about the need of martial strength, but about the purity of spirit." She nodded intently. "I remember...there was a mere battle-sister of one of the minor orders who fell madly in love with a mere medicae officer of a regiment. She was so devoted to him that she even convinced her Canoness to make him an intermediary of the Militarum and Sororitas." "I believe I recall that tale... The records of Honored Sister Bethany Gramon, yes?" "The exact same." He groomed his beard. "But beware the repercussions of your actions. He is the highest ranking officer of the PDF there, yes?" She nodded. "Then steps must be taken to allow him to leave..."

Prioress Abiah Cereles thanked the Confessor deeply for his words of wisdom, granting her a vision of Colonel Phell joining her side on crusade. So began a hunt among the PDF and associated nearby Militarum outposts, looking for someone to replace the Colonel. With the help of the local Astropaths, there were at least three applicants, including a regiment of Scions, having suffered a devastating loss of their home and requiring recruiting grounds.

This required the Prioress taking a trip to visit the leader of this regiment, a Commissar Stefan Randeau of Valhalla. The Commissar was a fairly pleasant person, powerful in presence, but civil enough to understand the personal interests of the Sororitas. Even more surprisingly, the Commissar was actually able to give her a few critical ideas, now convincing her of the idea that they could be married. However, doing so required a measure of exchange with Commissar Randeau. For the Commissar to accept this planet as a recruiting ground, they would require a measure of vengeance against the foul traitors who took their world and defiled it. For this, the Order of the Eternal Icon, with the help of the 44th Sigmatic Wolves, and the Allentan PDF Forces under the Colonel, would take down the traitors who took the central stronghold of the Scions.

For the Prioress, the idea of possibly giving her dear Colonel a chance to retire was enough to keep her on clouds, but the Colonel did not mirror this enthusiasm. He was seen spending days on end in the briefing room, strategizing how he would work with these elite stormtroopers, how he would satisfy not only the Tempestus, but also the Sororitas and the Prioress who was always keeping her eyes on him.

It was one of those nights that she came to him.
"Still worried about the mission?"
He grumbled as he downed another cup of recaf. "I have no idea how I'm supposed to manage all this. Seriously, I need guns, tanks, men... I appreciate your offers to aid us, but that still leaves us at, what...less than three thousand?"
"And we will make sure those people will live to see victory," She embraced him from behind.
"Hey, ah, Abi?" The Colonel asked. "Do you mind if I said something?" A little tighter. "I'm terrified right now. I know I said that I wanted to become part of something bigger, but this is too soon. I barely have enough men on my forces, our vehicles are woefully under-equipped, and we're far from trained. I've never had to take part in an operation so massive, and...the thought that it's going to be the last time some of these people are ever going to see home makes me..." He leans in. "I am just as terrified of what will happen because of us as I am afraid of what they have."
"Bali..." The Prioress leaned in, close enough to smell the countless pots of recaf he had before. "Please, don't worry so much."
"I can't. These people, they have no clue what they're up against, and...neither am I."
She sighed. "Turn around."
"What? Why?"
"Just do it." The Colonel heard her frustration and looked up at her grey eyes again with his hazel ones. The first thing he noticed was that she wasn't smiling. Rather, she seemed just as troubled as he was. "If you want, I can help calm you down right now."
"I..." A frustrated sigh as he looked away. "Dammit, stop toying with me."
"I'm not." He looked back up. "I want to make everyone happy, and I'm offering you the same."
"Just...get it over with, will you? I don't like it when you play with me like this..."

She knelt down slightly and began drawing their lips together.
At that point, both of them remembered that shelling, and what happened in that closet: She kissed him, straight on the lips, in an attempt to calm his nerves down as the Eldar were blasting the area to kingdom come. Maybe there was no amorous intentions behind that, but it didn't stop those sorts of feelings from developing afterwards, as the two of them left, remembering the encounter.
This time, though, the Prioress knew her intentions of both her station, and her feelings.
"Do you enjoy this?" He asked as soon as they broke off. "Toying with my feelings, that is?"
"I'm not-"
"I'm terrified I might die. I'm terrified that I might just screw this all up for you and the Commissar, and you just come in, offering the Emperor's love like it's some sort of cure-all for me!"
"But it wasn't-"
"It wasn't what?" He was staring her down, even if it were difficult from his position. "If that wasn't for the Emperor's sake, then whose was it?"
"It was mine."
Whatever train of thought the Colonel had, it was broken by that. "Wait, what?"
"I kissed you because I want you to understand me."
"Under...stand?" He was then noticing the tears forming in her eyes. "Why are you...?"
"Because I love you, you dense idiot!" She declared. "I always loved you and how hard you tried your best!"
"Then why did you-"
"I'm...I've been having a hard enough time trying to manage a whole Order, hundreds of sisters relying on me to guide them," she admitted. "If anything, I want you to be the only person to know who I really am."

It was quiet for a long time, with Colonel Phell trying to understand just how every act Prioress Cereles did explained her feelings. That kiss, the presents given by the Sororitas, books guiding him through the Guard, the visits, all of it. It all began to click in place for him, and he realized he was wrapped around her waist.
"You're right. I am an idiot. I'm..." A gulp. "I'm sorry, Abiah." "I'm not mad."
"I'm just terrified. Everything terrifies me now."
"It doesn't scare me. We'll make it. I promise."
Another kiss came between them, but this time, there was no fear between them or any hesitance. There was just an understanding between a man and a woman, not between a PDF Colonel and a Prioress.

Bali requested of her, "Don't scare me like that. Ever again."
She laughed. "I promise. I don't need to anymore!"

The PDF Forces of Allentes dispersed their finest forces, including their Chimeras, Rhinos and the few Leman Russes they had in use between the fleets. However, their main force would be manpower in this affair. The other two forces would have more powerful arms and modes of transportation.
The 44th Sigmatic Wolves were specialists in armored warfare, each trooper armed with everything needed to both operate and sabotage any vehicle they may run across. Meltaguns were in abundance between the two forces, but the majority of them were sent to the Wolves, who had Valkyries for use as swift transportation. The Order of the Eternal Icon, then, served the role of support, with the Militant forces becoming a vanguard for the combined forces. The Hospitalier forces would then, obviously, do their hardest to ensure the survival of each and every soldier while staying close to their protection. Meanwhile, they would lend their Rhinos, mounted with holy shrines, as mobile transports for the soldiers and sources of morale. Their Repressors would be their sole source of artillery, which was a problem, but the Commissar insisted that they would not run into a situation where such an issue would be the case.

Thankfully, the heretics did not spread far out, as there was still half of a world that did not fall to this foul blasphemy, allowing them to use their landing site as a base.
The charge was not soon after, as the combined forces of three military branches of the Imperium were able to advance to the stronghold relatively quickly, and with little opposition. This meant that whoever these heretics were, they were poorly organized as a military force, as they did not do anything to prepare for an inevitable assault.

Just the thing the Commissar wanted: Blind idiots to kill without reservation.

At the outskirts, they noticed a rather large but simplistic network of trenches, all about waist-height. Satisfied with the setup's simplicity, the Scions began departing for the Valkyries.
"Alpha Sigmat to Icon One and Allentes Prime, over," The Valkyrie comms opened.
"Icon One hears you, over," Prioress Cereles answered.
"Allentes Prime heares you, over," Colonel Phell answered.
"Alrighty then," the Commissar took control of the comms. "Time to shell them to hell. Icon One, take the lead with your Immolator."

The Immolator, with the Prioress and her Celestians, took the spearhead and charged, the flames beginning to spray everyone. To her sides came Rhinos, bearing monuments bearing the effigies of dead saints. Behind her was the Guard's Chimeras, opening fire on any that survived the burnings.
As they approached the gates, the lead Valkyrie unleashed missiles from the pods, making short work of the ferrocrete doors. The Traitors were scrambling about as they tried to find their weapons. Upon seeing this, the Prioress summoned a squad of Seraphim, armed with any sort of weapons, to spray about, wiping out any forces they saw before they reached the hangars. However, they were not the only forces there.
An artillery shell blasted mere centimeters from where they were.

The Valkyries suddenly scrambled to begin identifying the source of this attack, as the ground forces began spreading out, the Chimeras and Rhinos grouping with each other, combing the stronghold to find whoever was shelling them.

"Icon One to Sigmat One, over," the Prioress began.
"Sigmat One copies, over."
"I am rather curious, Commissar. How did such a force of lowly heretics take down a force of the Militarum Tempestus, exactly?"
"The thing is that they were already trying to recover from another battle before this one," the Commissar took over the Vox. "We were here to await reinforcements to our force when these heretics sprung a cowardly raid and assaulted us as we were recovering. As you can see, our numbers are the lowest they have been in close to a century."
"What battle did you partake in to suffer such losses?"
"Have you ever heard of a battle known as Trevail's Partition?" A nonverbal sound of agreement came through the vox. "Well, our forces were engaged with traitor marines from the foul warband known as the Brotherhood of Darkness alongside this force of astartes with Power Scythes. I could have sworn those had ceased production, yes?"
The Prioress had a clue. "This force, who was leading them?"
"There was a man by the name of...Morturg, I think."
A small discussion between the Sisters in the Immolator passed as they confirmed the identity of the man the Commissar mentioned. "Pray tell, Commissar," she asked. "Have you heard the news of the Primarchs returning?"
"A faint clue," he replied. "But that is just a story, right? There could be no possible way an Inquisitor would be so insane as to threaten all of Terra, right?"
"There was." The Prioress' answer was definite, as her force began incinerating a squad of corrupted Ogryns. "And the Emperor's sons, the Primarchs returned from whatever calamity took them from us, and forced this Inquisitor from his pulpit. It was the defining moment of my Order's founding."
"I say," the Commissar was impressed, "Would that mean I was fighting alongside such mementos of the Great Crusade?"
The Prioress could only smile. "Indeed."
A pause allowed the Immolator to aim its streams of holy flame to incinerate a bunker. One of them threw a krak grenade, but the Prioress fired her bolt pistol, destroying it in a pre-emptive crack. The Commissar came back. "I must say, this time of ours is truly an incredible one!"
"I am rather surprised that your demeanour is so composed, Commissar."
"A Commissar's duty is to remain composed and firm at all times," he stated, the strain on his voice seeming obvious. "To hear such incredible things taking place on Terra, only a heretic would not be so shocked!"
The Prioress laughed at the response. "Well, I have faith that we will know more about it soon. Icon One over and out."

The Immolator was already done clearing out the quadrant they were sent to clear, while she noticed a set of traitors hauling out a lascannon that almost certainly looked like it was looted from a Space Marine armoury. Taking the charge, the Prioress aimed her pistol and fired at one of the traitors, splattering his head over his peers. The others panicked as they scrambled to recover the weapon, which let the tank turn them into ashes.
Over the vox, another of her order's Rhinos thanked her for the sudden rescue.

"Allentes Prime to Icon One, over," the Vox piped up shortly after. It was Colonel Phell.
"Icon One responding," Prioress Cereles noted. "What have you found?"
"These fools left their motor hangars open!" The Colonel was excited. "We have their transports and tanks open for fire! Requesting any anti-armor."
"And the Wolves?"
"They have a Valkyrie en route."
"Very well," she answered. "Icon Pentath is being directed to you, over and out." She ended the vox transmission and then started it again to call over the tank, a Rhino with an accompanying Chimera, to aid them in their sabotage.

The three forces eventually met up in the front gates of the stronghold, the Commissar's forces having disembarked without any further difficulty.

The doors opened with little opposition, and the entryway was empty.
"This seems too suspicious..." Colonel Phell commented as he assembled his command squad, a Vox Operator and several armed veterans among them. The Commissar and Prioress shared similar notions, with the Prioress' command squad assembling around a sacred standard, which was merged with a Simulacrum Imperialis as a blessed relic of the Ecclesiarchy.
"I have Sisters Seraphim among my forces outside," The Prioress offered to the two. "I can summon their transportation to unload them so that they may come here and scout ahead of us for traps."
"Would that really be...proper?"
The Commissar commented, "It would be practical for one thing."
"My sisters are always willing to give their lives for the Emperor. It is a sacrifice we must all make one day," she answered. The Colonel hesitantly nodded to let her summon the five Seraphim, led by a Sister Superior, who came in.

The Sororitas took their charge first and opened fire with their bolt pistols, tearing apart the heretics who used the briefing room as a trap. Prioress Cereles rushed in to support her sisters and tossed a frag grenade, which was enough to silence any further resistance.

They looked among the dead bodies to realize the almost disappointingly inferior arms they used: mere lasguns, stubbers, maybe a few bolters and a lot of grenades.
"How humiliating..." one of the Commissar's squad lamented. "To be beaten by these idiots..."
"We are merely blessed to have a chance to enact such retribution," Celestian Petras, who took part of the Sororitas Command Squad, replied. "May this be the only time we must do so."

One of the traitors also had a vox of their own, which began asking for a response.
The Sororitas left a suitable response for their coming retribution.
The response was enough to mobilize another squad, which was unprepared to run into the Imperial forces in a small corridor, which led them to be exposed to copious amounts of flame.

However, when they entered the training room, which was full of obstacles and copious cover, they found that the traitors were far more cunning than they let on, if only through cowardice. As the hotshot lasguns and bolters opened fire on the traitors, they deftly moved between walls, only firing potshots and lobbing the occasional grenade. However, the firing stopped as a leader emerged among them. Wearing a gasmask and holding what looked like a heavy autogun, this terror, wearing disorganized armor and with marks all over his scalp, raised his hand, demanding his minions give him silence.

"COMMISSAR RANDEAU! WHAT A PLEASURE TO SEE YOU STILL BREATHING!" His voice boomed with no fear in it.
"Rest assured, the feeling is far from mutual, heretic," The Commissar grumbled.
"AH, YOU WOUND ME! NOT ONLY DO YOU INSULT ME, BUT YOU ARE SO WEAK THAT YOU MUST EVEN RELY ON THE SLAVES OF THE DEAD EMPEROR?"
"And that is where you are wrong," The Prioress took her stand. "The Emperor lives still, his chosen sons walking among the stars to give us the advantage we finally need to purge heretics like you from the Imperium!"
"AND WHAT PROOF DO YOU HAVE OF THAT, CHAMBER-MAIDEN?" She clenched her fist, her willpower restraining her from coming up there and strangling him for that insult. She signaled for the Simulacrum to be lifted, containing the box of bones belonging to a saint, a fallen Astartes Captain who aided them in a great battle. The bones were engraved with many sigils pledging fealty to the Emperor, while his skull still contained the studs of service.
"We have among us the relics of a great hero of the Adeptus Astartes! His name remembered twice for his sacrifices for man!"
"His name has resounded twice in the halls of the honored dead, twice blessed by the Emperor for his sacrifices!"
"Praised be He!" Her sisters proclaimed.
The Cultist looked at this relic for a short while before laughing, loudly and violently. His militia soon followed.
"FOOLS!"
"You dare?!"
"YOU THINK MERE TRINKETS COULD STOP ME?!" He raised his gun in the air. "I, CAVOST, THE DEFILER, BOWING DOWN TO MERE TOYS? WHAT SORT OF IDIOT DO YOU TAKE ME FOR?"

"We've wasted enough time talking to him," the Commissar lost his patience. "All forces, open fire!" On cue, one Scion used his grenade launcher to fire a grenade and blast out a pack of renegade guardsmen. Another of their number soon retaliated with his own, the troops dodging from the way while the Seraphim began hopping into the hiding holes to root out the traitors.
Meanwhile, more troops came to the Loyalists' side, as PDF snipers began taking shots with a precise long-las.

Suddenly, without any sort of alarm, one of the traitors crashed a Leman Russ Demolisher, definitely in colors unfamiliar to the PDF, straight into the room. Whoever was piloting it was clearly out of control as he mowed down friends and allies alike, with only the leader, Cavost, having any sort of calmness in the mayhem. He then began aiming his heavy stubber straight at the command squads. They dove for cover just in time, though, as the madman mowed down everyone in sight.
While the maniac's choice in weapon was poor against the power armor of the Sororitas and the Carapace armor of the Wolves, it still found its mark against the guardsmen of both loyalties. Even worse was when the Russ' cannon began firing, spreading all sorts of shrapnel and debris everywhere whenever it fired. While the Commissar was able to keep his pacing from it, capable of predicting the firing patterns, the Colonel was not so lucky.

The Prioress was only able to call out for him when the tank made another fire.
Time slowed to a crawl.
The chunks approaching glacially.
The Colonel trying to dodge and only barely evading the direct blast.
The image of the Colonel took a frame-by-frame approach as he was flung airborne and straight ahead.

It broke the Prioress. This sort of thing was not supposed to happen.
No, this was supposed to be a clean-cut clean and leave operation. These heretics were not supposed to be this insane.
She tried, and hard, to restrain anything as he cradled the man she loved. His back was burned and shredded from the blast. The armor made it impossible for her to feel his heartbeat, and he had nothing like the Tempestus did to help tell his condition. Immediately, her hospitalier training kicked in, taking supplies from the Colonel's Medicae officer as she tried her hardest to staunch whatever bleeding took place.
"Bali...! Oh, Emperor, I'm such an idiot...!" she cried. "This wasn't what I wanted! I just told you how I felt!"
The Colonel, though terribly wounded as he was, tried to move his hand. "C'mon Abi... Stop it..."
"You...I... DAMMIT!"

As she was crying, the Commissar and his troopers had already disposed of the Leman Russ, the incapacitation of the Colonel serving as the distraction as they deployed melta charges to demolish the tank.
"Prioress!" the Commissar called out. "We need to take the fight to him now!"
"But..." her voice grew fainter, "I can't...he's too weak..."
"We can't wait because of your sentimentality! We need to get him now or else he'll-"
"Prioress." It was Celestian Petras, having carried over another of her wounded sisters. Taking her fallen superior's power sword, she raised it high. "I shall be your sword of vengeance."
She was numb, but she knew what Petras was offering. More than anything, she just wanted to see him live.
"Emperor...guide your blows, Celestian Petras."
"Emperor guide your hands, Prioress Cereles. I can only pray for your fortune." She left to join the Commissar.
As she was cradling him, the Colonel put a hand on her cheek. "C'mon now..." he struggled. "You can't be crying now of all times..."
"You can't be talking!" she insisted. "You're hurt!"
He tried laughing, but it hurt too much. "Can't be like that... Not in front of-"
"I don't care what he thinks. I don't care how my sisters think!" She clutched as tight as she could. "I don't care if they feel this is improper, I don't care if they think I'm putting my feelings ahead of my work, I've waited for so long to get you to recognize me as a woman and I'm not going to blow it for anything! I loved you for so long and...to think that I could lose you terrifies me... It terrifies me more than anything else...!"

She looked out to see Petras and the Commissar dueling the madman and his many subordinates, the Commissar fighting with a strict discipline with every blow being precise, while Petras was swinging, taking down more of the renegades with each furious swing. Meanwhile, Cavost was struggling to find a suitable weapon, as the Commissar kept breaking every sword he could find and the only weapon he had left was his stubber.
"Bali...my Bali... I don't want you to die. Please."
Phell tried to grab on tighter, but his strength failed him. "I'll...try."
"You're going to live, and that is an order. Got it?" A noncommittal grunt of pain cemented it. "I promise that I'll do my best for you, but you can't give up either."
Commissar Randeau finally cornered Cavost and broke the gun, leaving only one last swing between the forces of the Emperor and victory. Petras followed soon after, driving her sword through the fiend's head.

"I guess she is dedicated, hm?" Randeau asked Celestian Petras.
Petras laughed. "More than you know. They have a bond that lasted for a very long time. To be honest, I might even be jealous of her."
"But... Ah, I don't understand you people! I prefer my work to be fast, clean, and effective."
"That may be the case, Commissar," Petras admitted, "But it's her honest heart that led to her being nominated to leading the Convent."

Colonel Phell was swiftly transported back to the bay upon the Order of the Eternal Icon's flagship, the Everlasting Sigil. There, Prioress spent every second either watching the Operating Room or sitting by his side, ignoring hunger, sleep, and other basic necessities as her thoughts swam about this one man in her heart.
It was during this time that she was visited by Confessor Gisilfrid.

"I must say, my child, I am rather...shocked at the lengths you have taken to remain by his side!" He calmly noted as the Prioress darted to attention. His smile did not waver, but then again, it was not quite as grand.
"I know that this is improper for my station, that I shirked duty to tend to a single wounded man." She looked him in the eye. "Trust me, I know."
The Confessor laughed. "I am not here to berate you. I am not the sort for that. However, what I must say is that you cannot destroy yourself for his sake. He would be just as heartbroken as you yourself are." He extended his hand. "Come, my child. I will keep watch in his stead." She seemed hesitant, but the growling in her stomach made it hard to resist.

The only person she permitted to be with her while she ate was Petras, and she was just as shaken by the change in demeanour.
"Prioress..." she began, trying to find the right words to say, "I hope..."
"I'm an idiot." The statement broke the Celestian's concentration. "I thought that this would go so perfectly, that this wouldn't involve him getting hurt. I'd give anything to be where he is. Anything."
"Sister..." Petras tried to reach her, but the hand was put to the side.
"Please... I'm...so close..." She tried to take another bite, but failed to even do that much. She broke down again into a pained sobbing. "I was so close! So close!" Petras could only stop her from breaking anything.
Petras took Abiah back to the hospital wing to return to the Colonel. When they came, Father Gisilfrid was glad to see company. "You are a good friend, Celestian Petras."
"Thank you, Father," she responded as she set the Prioress on a seat. "I can only hope to support her through this, but I doubt I can do much more than this."
"I trust her happiness with you more than anyone else in the Order. You are the closest thing she has to a family now."
"Am I...?" she doubted that, looking at how Colonel Phell and Prioress Cereles looked together.
The Confessor only smiled as he took his leave, "It may not be as obvious as her love for this man, but never doubt that it is there."

As she left, Abiah could only murmur out thanks.
"Please," Petras could only ask in prayer, "don't take his man from her, for he is the only thing that has made her truly happy to be alive. This man has been in her heart for her whole life, and all I can ask is that you permit them at least a small miracle in an age full of them."

"I...hope I am not interrupting anything," they saw Commissar Randeau stepping into the room.
"Commissar!" Petras was surprised.
He announced, "I am only here to declare that the paperwork is being cycled through. Should everything be cleared, Colonel Bali Phell of the Allentan PDF can happily retire and join you in your personal retinue, while I and the 44th Sigmatic Wolves begin using the world as a supply stronghold."
"This much?" she asked the Prioress. "All for him?"
"Right now..." she flatly answered. "Right now, I would give even more just to see him survive. I just wanted to be with him. Is that so...wrong?"
"Unprofessional, I must say," the Commissar answered, "But wrong is...such a nebulous term for me to define. It's why I never did well with philosophy. I hate the uncertain."
"You have my thanks, Commissar."
"None needed, and..." he turned to depart. "I can only hope that your happiness holds you together."
Petras waved him off.

The Colonel's condition improved as time passed, his wounds healed, but for some reason, his mind remained unresponsive. Throughout the trip, Abiah had gone through a punishing series of prayers and fasting, seeking to atone through any means. Though many of the Sisterhood worried for her, it was only Petras who understood how deep the pain ran. She occasionally came to support her comrade and keep a semblance of a routine to the process.

The night before they were to reach Allentes, the Prioress was by his bedside, only barely staying awake for the third night in a row, when she saw a light. She darted up. "Is this...a miracle?"
"Do you believe?" It sounded so...distant, but she knew what it sounded like. It was...divinity.
"Will you save him...?"
"Do you believe?"
Abiah Cereles, Prioress of the newfound Convent Estrellius, Leader of the Order of the Eternal Icon, woman of faith, and the only person who dedicated herself to this one person, had only faith left. She reached out to this hand, this bright, shining hand. "I believe... I believe..."
She could faintly hear him, but she knew that this hand was here to help him.

When she woke up the next day, she felt a warm hand on her head.
She woke up, realizing that the man she loved was awake before him, and without any warning hugged him as tight as she ever could.
Petras cleared her throat, shocking the two from the embrace that lasted for almost forever.
"Glad to see you're awake. We just made landfall not seven hours ago."
"Petras..." She broke off to look at the Celestian's eyes. "Thank you. For everything."
"If you want to thank someone, you should be thanking the Word Bearer fleet that was here to keep watch on this world while we were off."
As if on cue, three Word Bearers stepped forward, one wearing ornate armour, one bearing the blue of a Librarian, and one wearing the white of an Apothecary. "Prioress Cereles. I hope I am not interrupting anything..."
"Captain Argel Tal," she recognized him. "I was not expecting company here."
"You should thank a certain team of knights with that," he commented. "Before he left, he said that a certain commander of the Adepta Sororitas was having...what did he put it? Marital Aspirations?"
"But how?"
His Librarian added in, "Believe and anything can happen."
"That aside," The Captain continued, "I hope that your detour has been worth it, as Commissar Randeau has already begun his work."
"The Commissar...?" Colonel Phell came to. "What would he want with us still...?"
"You mean he was not told?" Argel Tal was curious. "Perhaps...was this the favor...?"
"Favor? What are you all talking about...?" As he noticed that the Astartes had no idea on even what the favor was, he looked to his side to see Abiah twiddling her fingers. "Would you have any clue?"
"Well...." She tried to gather a thought. "You see, I was given an idea about how I could give you a proper retirement, so I heard that the Commissar was offering to take the planet under his wing, I thought that it'd be the thing I could do to make sure you could leave without regretting it. I swear, I didn't want you hurt, and...if you hate me, you have every right to."
"Abi..." the Colonel took a hand to her. "I'm touched. I know you always do stuff on your own, but... Dammit, woman, you could have told me."
"I'm sorry."
"Well, now that we are all on the same stage..." the Word Bearer interrupted the two. "We have received word of a cultist cell within the ruins of Shaytan's ruins. We will be needing forces."
"Consider it done," The Prioress answered.

>That Night

"You asked for me, Prioress?" Petras entered Abiah's private chambers. The Prioress was busy writing down something on multiple forms scattered about her desk. "I'm glad you came." She put down the quill she had. "I asked for you because I have a vital matter that I need you personally for."
Petras was curious. "What about?"
The Prioress stood up from her seat. "I...have violated an important integrity by placing my feelings for Colonel Phell before the interests of the Imperium." "But did the Confessor not let that be?" Petras was concerned. "What was it that made you come to this conclusion now?"
Abiah stepped to meet the Celestian more personally. "Many things, sister. Many things." She then took Petras' hands. "It has been more than fifty years since we stood as equals, yes?"
"And never once have I resented you for that," she answered. "Your faith has always been from the heart, and never once had to rely on someone else to guide you."
"But I have been unfair to keep you here." The Prioress then gazed upon a portrait of a young woman with blonde hair, adorned in power armour and a grand mantle. "I could have done it at any time, but...I was too foolish to think of it at the time."
"Canoness Esme's death was never your fault." The Canoness in question was lost during a surprise assault by the Crimson Slaughter, an incident the Prioress personally blamed herself for when she made it only to see her killed by the heretics. As penance, she took the position of Canoness in spirit, while leaving the position open out of respect. "And neither is Colonel Phell's injuries. You cannot keep punishing yourself for these mistakes."
"You're right." She then walked over to her wardrobe to fetch a mantle identical to the one in the portrait. "Which is why I am going to fill that position. Right now."
Petras was speechless. "....You wouldn't...!"
"I am." Abiah took the mantle and placed it upon Petras' shoulders, which were far stronger than her own. "I am going to announce you as...Canoness Petras Gustoh, of the Order of the Eternal Icon." The two could only stare as their eyes tore up. "Welcome, sister!"
"You sentimental idiot!"
Abiah smiled. "I know I am, and that is why I'm entrusting this Order, which we spent so much on saving, to you."
"Why? Why do this now?"
"Because I do love you, sister. And I could never live with myself knowing that I might guide us astray again." She let go, allowing the new Canoness to adjust to the news. "I will announce this to the Order within the year, once the paperwork for Bali's retirement go through and we can officially be married without restraint."
Petras was still holding on with a deathly grip. "...I can't promise to be like you. I can't promise to be as honest with my feelings as you have been."
"I know." Abiah then began taking the mantle off. "That would never happen in another thousand years. But you're far stronger than I am. And that's what matters."

True to the Commissar's word, the Departmento Munitorum did indeed allow Colonel Bali Phell to retire and the 44th Sigmatic Wolves began taking the world as a stronghold. When Prioress Abiah Cereles and Colonel Phell married, it became doubly joyous when Celestian Petras Gustoh was announced as Canoness of the Order of the Eternal Icon, accompanied by both the Deacon of the sector, as well as the Primarch Lorgar himself.

As for the newlyweds themselves, they could only wish for the miracle that kept them together to continue spreading across the Imperium, reaching all the way to the heart of sacred Terra itself.

The Case of the Tau Empire[edit]

Prelude to Something Bigger[edit]

>CHARON-CLASS ORDO XENOS LISTENING POST IN THE DAMOCLES GULF

Adept Cestus rubbed at his eyes with the heel of his hand, and glanced at the chronometer on the wall. Only twenty minutes left on his shift! A faint smile tugged at the corner of his mouth as he thought of the pretty blonde who served at the small station's cramped refectory. Maybe he would ask her to supper when her shift ended... A squawk of xenos gibberish through his earpiece made him wince, snapping him back to reality. He groaned as the Tau language rattled around his head, the xenos communications had been growing more and more strange lately, the usual clipped tones becoming more and more guttural.
"Send 300 hundred units to Sa'cea. The warriors there will need the sacrifices to the Blood God."
Cestus froze. His hand hovered over the panic button on his console, and then he pressed the "record" rune. The Tau voice continued speaking.
"These sacrifices will swell the warhost. Tomorrow, the Ethereals will lead the sacrifices of the Factionalists. Praise the Ethereals, and Praise the Dark Gods!"
Cestus tore off his headset and punched the panic button.

Inquisitor Trajan of the Ordo Xenos ducked under a somewhat ostentatious idol to the machine god and stepped into the cramped strategum. The man studying the holo-tank's projection saw him and waved him over: "Ah, Inquisitor, I'm glad to see-" "You may dispense with the pleasantries Captain. What do you want?" The Inquisitor's respirator hissed meaningfully as he glared at the station's captain. The captain swallowed, and gestured at the display in front of him. "Our adepts have been intercepting Tau service announcements and communicates. What they have discovered is worrying to say the least. He pressed a key, and the message recorded by Adept Cestus a day earlier echoed out of the holo-tank's speakers. As the message played, the captain glanced at the Inquisitor's face. It may have just been the dim light cast by the projection, but the inquisitor looked like he was turning white. When it finished, Trajan moved past the captain and began to press keys on the holo-tank. "Are these messages coming from all the Tau worlds?" The Captain nodded and reached past the Inquisitor to press a rune. "Yes my lord, except from the so-called Farsight Enclaves, only two Tau worlds are broadcasting communications similar to the old ones. He pointed at the display, "Of these two, one has been almost completely overrun by the corrupted Tau, and the other is under siege. It appears to be trying to evacuate its population to the Farsight Enclaves." "You said the Enclaves were still broadcasting normally." The Captain made a face, "Not exactly, my lord. Not a single communication, corrupt or otherwise has come from the Enclaves for months." The Inquisitor's respirator wheezed. "I need to take this to the Ordo." He turned to the captain. "I must depart as quickly as possible, tell me, what was the last ship that you detected heading for the Enclaves?" "An Imperial ship, sir. It was tagged with the Inquisitorial seal, so we didn't repor-" "How long ago was this?"

"This morning milord. We assumed that it was one of your ships." The Inquisitor turned away and made for the door. "Tell your men to keep their ears open. I will need my ship ready to fly as soon as possible."

The Fate of O'Kais[edit]

The bones in Kais' hand creaked as O'Shaserra squeezed it. He grit his teeth and glanced at the lifesign monitor affixed to the plaster wall. Both the vital signs of his wife and soon-to-be-born son were strong, but a miscarriage wasn't what frightened Kais. Shadowsun roared as another contraction hit her, and a loud rumble from above seemed to answer. Kais leaned forwards over his wife and the surgeons attending to her, feeling dust and grit cascade onto his back as the ceiling shook. He wiped some of the sweat from his wife's face, her eyes blazed at him, as though this was his fault. I suppose- he thought distantly- it was. In a way. The sound of pulse fire from the doorway distracted him, and he looked around. The Shas'nel guarding the doorway was sending pulse rifle shots down the corridor. Kais heard unearthly screeches echo back, in between shots. He glanced at the pulse pistol lying on a steel tray, next to cobalt stained surgical tools. Another growl from Shadowsun brought his attention back to her. As far as he could tell, the labour was close to completion. As if on cue, one of the surgeons spoke up, trying to make himself heard over the sound of the battle outside.

"Commander Shadowsun! You need to push NOW!"

O'Shaserra let out a scream that nearly drowned out the sound of an Orca crashing outside. Kais screamed as well, feeling the bones in his hand come to the very edge of snapping as O'Shaserra crushed it with all her strength. Abruptly, the scream cut off, and O'Shaserra gasped, releasing Kais' mangled hand. Kais heard the shot that felled the doorway guard, and snatched up the pulse pistol just in time to put a shot through the helmet of the Fire Warrior at the door. As the blood-smeared warrior fell back, he threw off his comrade's shot, giving Kais enough time to lunge across the room and tackle him.

Pinning the warrior down with his legs, Kais ripped the warrior's helmet off and gripped him around the throat. The warrior leered up at Kais, several of the hideous scars on his face still wet with blood. The corrupted warrior bucked his hips, nearly throwing Kais off. Kais punched him in the face, hard enough that it slammed the warrior's head into the rockerete floor with a CRACK. Kais refastened his hands around the warrior's throat and squeezed with all his might. The warrior gurgled, blue blood oozing out of his mouth. Kais bared his teeth, the roar filling his head, calling for him to spill blood, to take skulls, blood for the blood go-

CRUNCH

The warrior's windpipe collapsed under the weight of Kais rage. The Tau convulsed and vomited a cobalt gout into Kais face. The silence that followed was broken by the sound of an infant crying. The red mist lifted from Kais' mind and he stood up stiffly, blinking cobalt out his eyes. He turned to see the surgeons helping O'Shaserra into a mobility mech. His heart thudded painfully in his chest as he saw another of the surgeons holding a squalling bundle in their arms. A shout from one of them snapped him out of his trance:

"SHAS'O! THE TRANSPORT WILL NOT WAIT FOR US!"

Kais waved an arm at the group, "GO!" He glanced at the shape crouched in the corner of the room. "I'll get you time."

Kais wiped some of the blood off his face as the group hustled out of the door. At the threshold, O'Shaserra looked back. Kais smiled gently, and nodded to her. Another explosion, louder this time, rattled Kais' teeth as he watched his wife and son pass through the door. Part of him realised that he wouldn't see them again. He turned, and strode to the dust-covered shape in the corner of the bunker. He could still make out the kill markings he had carved into the iridium armour on Kronus, all those years ago.

He touched a key on his wrist computer. Blue lights flickered across the form, and the battlesuit stood up, dust cascading off it's armour. It's chest cavity popped open, bathing Kais in blue light. He turned and stepped in, standing up inside the armour. His head fit into the helmet of the battlesuit, and eyes were flooded with telemetry data. He felt the chest close up, sealing him inside. He worked his hands into the gloves, flexing the armoured fingers. He rolled his shoulders, feeling the missile pods clack into position. Another green light flickered up on his HUD, and he heard the two drones disengage from their charging socket across the room. The gun drone floated high at his right shoulder sensors trained on the door, whilst a faint flicker around him heralded the shield drone hovering low at his left shoulder. Kais reached down and picked up the heavy flamer in his left hand, feeling it lock to the elbow of the armour. He did the same with his fusion blaster, the weapon thrumming faintly at his touch. He looked towards the door, turning up the sensitivity of his visor. There was a squad of pathfinders stacking up outside. Kais outline wavered for a second, then he and his adjutant drones vanished from sight.

CLOAK ENGAGED

The door blew open in a shower of sparks, and the pathfinders streamed inside. They snarled in their bastardised version of Kais' language. "Kais and his whore must have already gone." Several of them dashed to the other door, the one that O'Shaserra had gone through. One of the others took notice of the bloody operating table, and, (Kais noted with a muted sense of revulsion) the bucket containing what had been left from the delivery. The Pathfinder peered into the bucket and turned to his comrades. He called something that Kais didn't understand, and the others laughed. He completely failed to notice Kais stepping behind him. Kais tightened his grip on his weapons, and then kicked the Pathfinder as hard as he could.

The corrupted Pathfinder flew across the room and smashed into the wall, leaving a stain as though a blueberry had been smashed against it. The other wheeled around, just in time to expose themselves to the enormous jet of flame from Kais' flamer. They clawed at themselves, flailing in all directions as they burned. Kais brushed past them, ducking under the doorway as he stepped out the way they had come, into the open air. The sky was choked with ash, and fire. What little of the loyalist forces that remained were now in full retreat, breaking beneath the onslaught of their corrupted brethren. The few Barracudas that could still fly were desperately trying to keep the enemy fighters off the various dropships and cargo freighters that were evacuating the last of the population. A warning tone from his shield drone brought Kais attention to a sniper drone attempting to line up a shot. A squeeze of the fusion blaster's trigger smashed it into pieces. His visor highlighted a pair of crisis suits flying towards him, before assigning each a targeting reticule. A double thump from the rocket pods heralded the launch of a pair of missiles that curled through the air and smacked the Battlesuits out of the sky. One exploded before it hit the ground, the other corkscrewed towards Kais and crashed into the dirt. It weakly tried to raise a weapon-limb, before a shot from the fusion lance carved through the pilot. A barrage of shots hit Kais in the back, enough making it through the shield to stagger him. He swiveled on one foot, and, seeing the squad of Fire Warriors that had shot him, turned the Shas'ui into pulp with a shot from the fusion blaster. A jetpack enhanced leap brought him close enough to the squad that his flamer turned half of them into walking pyres in an instant. The rest charged him, and Kais boosted up into the air as they closed in. He cut the thrust and landed on one with a satisfying CRUNCH.

The others crowded in, beating on Kais with the butts of their rifles. The roar echoed through Kais' mind, as though it had never left. He smashed the fusion blaster down on one of the Shas'la, blue blood splashing his armour.

BLOOD

He dropped the flamer and grabbed a helmetless warrior by the head. Servos in his gauntlet squealed for a second, then the Fire warrior's head imploded under Kais' grip.

SKULLS

The last Shas'la turned to run, but was cut down by a burst of pulse fire from the gun drone. Behind him, he heard the sound of a dropship taking off. He turned to see the Orca he knew was carrying his wife and son. Images stormed through his mind, of blasting the ship out of the sky, of bathing in the blood of a thousand innocents. Kais thought of his wife's eyes as he had watched her leave. He thought of the tiny face he had glimpsed peering at him out of a bundle of rags. The roar receded, for now. As he watched the Orca climb into the sky, he saw something fall past it, and land about a hundred metres away from him. A huge plume of ash covered what it was, but there was no mistaking the missile that burst from the cloud and beelined for the Orca. Kais watched the missile's flight, and raised his fusion blaster. Only enough time for one shot... A blue lance smote the missile from the air. Kais lowered the blaster, feeling his heart palpitate as he watched the Orca lift through the ash clouds, and out of sight. He turned to see the dust cloud settle, revealing a massive Riptide battlesuit, its hull adorned with carvings and sigils that Kais almost recognised from a long time ago. The roar howled in his mind, demanding blood and skulls. The corrupted battlesuit towered over Kais, casting him in shadow.

Kais calmly reached down and picked up his flamer, before snapping off a shot, blowing the Riptide's shield drone into pieces. The Riptide's answer blasted Kais off his feet, and sent both his drones spinning away, damaged beyond use. Kais picked himself up, studying the Riptide's weapons. An ion accelerator, a pair of plasma rifles, and the smart missile system. Kais blasted off again, punching the battlesuit's shields with his fusion blaster as he soared into the air. What he saw disheartened him, it would take a massive barrage to break through the shield, one bigger than what his stealthsuit could mount. He landed behind the Riptide, and sent a jet of flame at its back. The shield dappled and wobbled, but retained cohesion. The Riptide swiveled at the waist, and Kais dived for cover as a blast from the Plasma rifles leapt out at him. He landed on his feet and let loose a trio of missiles that exploded harmlessly on the Riptide's shields. The roar's impotent fury made Kais ears ring, and he pounded the shield with his fusion blaster. The shots that hit where the missiles had struck caused the shield to light up, brighter than before. Kais realised what he had to do. Once again, the roar had shown him the path. He disengaged the safety protocols on his battlesuit's weapons. Immediately, the fusion reactor began to bleep warnings at him, blue symbols demonstrating an imminent meltdown. Kais set his feet, digging his heels into the ash and lining up every single of his targeters on the same spot of the Riptide. He noticed the barrel of the the Ion accelerator pointing straight at him. The roar threatened to burst his head

BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD

"Yes"

He fired.

When the light and sound had faded, Kais saw the Riptide reeling back, sparks jetting from its mangled shield generator. Kais leapt forwards, the world slowing to a crawl, every iota of his being focussed on his enemy. One shot left in his Fusion Blaster. His visor saw the fantastic amount of heat coming from the Riptide's Nova Reactor. He lined up his last shot. For a moment, he remembered O'Shaserra's face when he had asked her to be his wife. He focussed on that, shutting out the battle, shutting out the roar. His wife gave him the strength to pull the trigger.


Kais gasped. His lungs were on fire. His whole body was on fire. He looked into a sky choked with ash. He coughed up blood. His skin was charred and blistered. At some point, his helmet had come off. There was no sound except the wind and the melted rock cooling around him. The roar went on, echoing through his head, as though it were trying to burst out of him. Kais heard a footstep in the ash. A strange voice tutted.

"Oh dear. What a mess you've made of everything."

A horrifying bird's head loomed into Kais' fading vision.
"You pitiful, dull, little, creature."

Kais spat blood into its face.
"G-go to hell... Monster."

The creature snarled, then spoke again.
"You have disrupted my plans too many times for it to still be funny, puppet of the blood god."

Kais gasped the roar inside his head answered.
"For this, and for the blood god's annoying persistence, you shall suffer the consequences."
Then it spoke in a voice like a razor blade sliding down Kais' eyeball.
"Your mind will fade. Your body will become dust. But you will Never. Ever. Die."
Then it touched Kais' chest. And all of him became nothing at all.

Upon a desolate battlefield lay a white battlesuit. It's surface bore no blemishes, and it's weapons lay besides it in the ash. After a long, long, time, Kais rolled to his feet. He wasn't breathing. He couldn't feel his heart beating. He couldn't feel himself against the inside of the armour. Gripped by sudden panic, he seized on of his gauntlets in one hand and tried to pull it off. It didn't move an inch. He pulled with all his might. Nothing. He was trapped inside his armour, unable to move, unable to breathe. He tried to hyperventilate, he couldn't feel his lungs drawing in air. He didn't feel a need to breathe. He took a step. The leg moved, but he did not feel his leg pressing against the inside of the armour. He thought of moving his leg, and his leg moved.

"Am I cursed?" His voice came through the suit's external speakers, and he heard it as though it was coming through the suit. His vision was overlaid with the view from his visor, but he felt no need to blink. He could just stare, taking in the ruined landscape as no other living creature could. So he did. He stared at the desolation that surrounded him, wondering what he was going to do next.

Kais struggled across the ashen wastes. Every two or three stumbling steps, he would fall, and have to coax his arms into pushing him back up. Unable to feel if his feet were touching the ground, Kais' vision was fixed on his armour's boots, trying to maintain his balance. His Plasma Rifle and Heavy Flamer were strapped to his back, the added weight not doing his balance any favours, but he was not leaving his weapons behind, not when he was in such a vulnerable state. He crested a ridge, pieces of obsidian crunching beneath his feet. Beyond him, sat a seemingly functional Manta dropship, much of it's hull covered by the ash that still fell from the skies. The rear hatch was closed, but thanks to Kais' still functioning command codes, it was trivial to enter. One of the aerials on Kais' helmet scraped against the roof, making him jump as the grinding sound echoed inside his helmet. The flat deckplate made walking somewhat easier, but even then, Kais nearly tripped at least twice. He squeezed his armoured bulk into the cockpit, from what he could tell, the dropship had been abandoned in a hurry, half the systems were still running. Luckily for Kais, the armoured fingers of his XV25 were dextrous enough that he could grasp the controls with ease. He hovered his hand over the controls for the engines, then carefully pressed the touch screen. The light touch left a smear of black ash on the console, but the microphones in his helmet picked up the sound of the engines lighting. Carefully as possible, Kais eased the craft out from under it's blanket of ash, and into the sky.

As the manta left the planet's ruined atmosphere, Kais glanced out of the viewport. Burned out ships, and fragments of ships glittered in the sunlight. Judging by the amount of debris, it would be a long time before any orbital installations could be set up. That was not Kais's concern. What drew his attention was the Explorer Class that was orbiting at the edge of the debris field, protected by its deflector shields. Its hangar bays were open, and Kais guided the Manta in. As soon as the instruments registered a hard contact with the docking cradle, Kais left the cockpit. The Explorer classes were so old, most of their systems were AI controlled. Hopefully, he might be able to leave the system with it.

Kais strode the empty halls of the ship, senses alert for the slightest sound. He had not found any traces of another living being, not so much as a bloodstain. He passed a mess hall, and glanced through the doorway. There were several half-eaten meals sitting on a table, the infrared vision mode of his visor showed that a bowl of soup was still reasonably warm. Kais carefully reached back and unhooked his heavy flamer, igniting the pilot lights with a flick of a switch. He turned the sensitivity of his visor up as far as it would go, and was struck by a feeling of vertigo as the deckplate beneath him was rendered transparent. He looked around, vision penetrating through dozens of decks. Nothing. Not even shipboard pests. For a second, Kais seriously considered returning to the Manta and seeking out another functioning ship. He shook the thought away, even if he found another ship, the chances of it still functioning were slim at best. Returning his vision to its normal settings, Kais continued, heading for the bridge. Rounding a corner, he spotted a turbolift. He jabbed the call button and was rewarded by a crunching sound as the button cracked. The doors opened before him, and he awkwardly worked himself into the interior. The extra height from his armour meant that he was forced to stoop to prevent the aerials on his helmet from scraping the roof. He pressed the key for the bridge, more carefully this time, and was rewarded by the lift shuddering beneath him. After a thankfully short time, the lift came to a halt and the doors slid open. Kais had expected some kind of reveal here, perhaps the bridge would be a blood-soaked abattoir, or a shrieking monster would leap for him. The bridge was empty, just like the rest of the ship. Somehow, that was worse. Kais worked his way around the bridge stations, stowing his flamer and searching for the helm controls.

Kais carefully tapped commands into the control panel, shifting uncomfortably in the tiny seat. All the systems seemed to be working correctly, including the weapons and shields. Hopefully, he would never have to use them, but considering how his luck had been going, he decided to keep an eye on them anyway. He pulled up the map screen, and punched in the coordinates for the Enclave world of Salas'hei, the world that they had been evacuating for. Hopefully, Shadowsun should be there. Kais pressed the key that would engage the FTL drive. He was committed now. Nothing would stop him reaching his wife and son.

Farsight[edit]

A thunderous sound clapped over the battlefield. 6 golliaths with single glowing eyes had descended from the sky, kicking up ash and dust from the ground, it shocked many of the corrupt followers of the Greater Good.

"Fusion Blades on-line."

"Onager Gauntlet on-line."

"Airbursting Fragmentation Launcher on-line"

"Flamers, ready to burn!"

"Retro-thrusters, on-line."

"...Dawn Blade...always on-line."

And with a slash of a massive blade, the Six titans were revealed, Five Crisis suit, flanking a sixth, blade in hand...O'Shovah and his bodyguard had arrived on the battlefield. "Assist the evacuation, keep sharp."

"For the Enclave O'Shovah."

"No." The larger battlesuit turned to O'Shovah, O'Arra'Kon was confused. "For the Greater Good."

Chaos forces kept coming, the five body guards held their line, fire reigned supreme as torchstar had opened up on their once brethren, torching the mad Tau, getting them out of their hiding spots, in the meanwhile, Farsight had been listening to the communications, they were trying to evacuate someone important...

"Bzzt Comma- BZZZT -owSun ca- ZZZZT -ove her, sh- BZZZZZZZZZT -born child, she's BZZZT healing centre Ar, need rein- BZZZT!" Tracking the signal was no easy feat for the suits systems, but he found it, not too far from his position.

"I shall be back Arra'kon, maintain position, keep the ships face." The Tau Commander blasted off before Arra'kon could protest, he sailed through the sky, ash passing over his optics, he did notice something however, the large blue ball of devastation as a Riptide exploded, was it their own? he hadn't a clue, he noticed a white suit, damaged, he ignored it for now, whatever happened, it would've indeed been a could battle. He turned his attention to his objective could see the healing centre. he began his descent, he saw the evac team holed up not far from it, taking heavy fire from the corrupt forces. A devilfish was over turned with a lot of wounded, some soldiers, some civilians.

Shadowsun was not having a good day.

She was lying behind an overturned devilfish, just haven given birth of all things, bleeding, in pain, the remnants of drugs in her system hardly able contain the pain she felt from her virtue. But she still had him, her child, her beloved child, she held him close he wailed and wailed, but she cooed to the child, what a way to come into the world, born into war.

The fire team around her fired towards the healing centre the corrupted took cover in, sometimes sending a wave of mad kroot towards them. But she held onto him, her precious little one. "Be quiet little one, we will be away from this soon, be quiet." That's when HE arrived, very noisily, as always! The crimson red suit crashed on the opposite side of the devilfish, plasma rifle blazing. Soldiers were in awe, all didn't seem to be lost, but some were confused.

"Is that O'Shovah?!"

Her eyes shot open, away from her little one, O'Shovah?! She grabbed the dirt with her free hand, with her legs useless, she gritted her teeth, dragging her useless legs and her little one, she pulled herself from behind the cover of the Devilfish to witness this...it was true, it was O'Shovah...her face flashed to anger, how DARE HE! How dare he show his face here! as if it wasn't enough, he had DARED to steal glory from the Tau Empire and he DARED! prance about in that suit he stole! For all she cared he could swing that sword of his in his naked bare hands! She glared at the suit, knowing it was the only thing between them and getting off this planet. All seemed to quiet after he barked orders of concentrated fire, then cut through swaths of kroot, shooting down vespid. He turned to the forces he was leading, then his optics turned and focused...on her. A chill settled in her gut as he stomped over to her...which was replaced by the feeling of fire and rage. He dared.

O'Shovah observed his ally, turned enemy, another student of Puretide, here, dragging herself along the ground and...was that, a child? Lights went up in his head.

She had given birth.

Farsight pitied the fool un-wise enough to make Shadowsun with child. He opened his suit, looking down at Shadowsun sternly. "Hello O'Shaserra."

Shadowsun spat in his direction. "Die O'Shovah, you rat."

Farsight smirked some at that comment. "You seem to be in a bad way."

"No worse then when I shall rip your head from your shoulders."

He chuckled at her threats, he had missed this banter. "But you see O'Shaseera, I am up here...and you are down there, with child, who was the unlucky one?"

"Die, I have nothing more to say to you." Her eyes looked up in defiance to him. He shrugged off the comment as fire lit up his shield, the troops returning fire, he merely gestured his plasma rifle toward the windows, opening up more fire, as the windows soon turned into holes, his comms crackled to life. "O'Shovah this is O'Arra'kon, the ships are leaving, we need to go."

Farsight eyes widened, he looked around, there were no evac team in sight to assist him in moving the troops, nor the debilitated Shadowsun, there wasn't enough room in the suit for her either... a tough decision had to be made, fast, then his eyes looked down to the small bundle she held onto for her dear life. "...O'Shaserra, give me the child."

Her eyes widened. Give him what? Her eyes widened in surprise, in anger and most of all, in fear. Be separated from her child? HER child? No, she couldn't she wouldn't even if it were anyone else she would have doubts, second thoughts, with him...the traitor of the Tau Empire, a betrayer to the greater good and all its ideals! He thought she couldn't protect her child?

"The ships are leaving O'Shaserra and I can't get you to safety." Synapses fired off in her head, the pain seemed to fade as she went cold. No, never, not she couldn't think it. But... If he could get her little one to safety. No, she would rather die...but, should he? Where was O'Kais? where was he?!

"I can see if we can get a second wave, but right now we need to get as many as we can to safety, children included." Her tactile side of her mind told her to do it, the cold, thinking part of her brain, said to her that at least her child would live on. Her emotional side of her brain was crying out to never, ever think about it, that she could never trust anyone with the child, that she could never trust HIM with the child.

"O'Shaserra...please...I promise you with my life that no harm will come to the child, not a scratch...I know that I'm a "traitor", but I would not be here if I did not care about the Empire, that includes you and that child!"

She could feel his voice shake her to her core, even from distance away it had force. ...she held out her child. "Take him, take him and get him to safety." Her voice, almost a whisper, so soft, so quiet like she didn't want it to escape her throat. Her whole being shook, telling her it was wrong, her heart had sank so deep, but her mind, her genius mind told her, she had to. She felt something slide down her face...tears? was she, crying? She didn't want to be seen crying in front of him, not just because he was an enemy, he was a rival, someone she had to be as strong as, she had to scrape up what little resolve she had. "Take him, that is an Order, O'Shovah!"

He nooded Solemnly, his battle suit knelt as to let him out, quickly his boots hit the ground. He strode over to his former ally, taking the small bundle infront of him from her, the boy had immediately started wailing. "Do you have him?"

Her strong eyes looked up and locked with his, he could feel the intensity of her gaze. "Yes."

"Say the words." Her voice was demanding and strong, even now, crawling in the dirt, in pain, she commanded some authority that made him get the chills.

"I have him."

He responded reassuringly, she let go of the boy, he hold the little one firmly in his grasp. "Now run, run far, far away! It is what you are good at." There was a moment, despite all the history between them, despite eachother being enemies, despite this being a warzone, they shared a moment, a smile, as small as it is, almost a jeering among peers...yes, that was exactly what it was.

"I'll be back for you." He felt fire light up, deep inside of his belly, a willingness, a drive.

"Not before you get him out first, now go! I can hold these bastards off." Very shakily, the Tau Commander rose to her feet, how she could lift herself, he couldn't fathom, he could only hope that he could muster the strength she could in that situation...she looked at her child, stroking it's blue head "Good bye, little one."

She stumbled to the men, barking orders in a firm tone, even though they told her she should NOT be standing, never mind fighting, she smacked the Shas'ui and told him to get her a stimulant and a rifle. Farsight climbed into his suit.

"O'Shovah, O'Shovah, are you there!?" "I am en-route, do not worry." He adjusted himself in the suit and made sure the boy was secure, he closed the hatch...as it closed he looked toward his rival, her at him. "I'll be back."

He declared in a strong voice... "No...you won't" She whispered to the wind before she returned to her troops. He took off away, heading towards the evacuation ships, the boy wailing the whole way.

The Corruption of T'au[edit]

T'AU

Aun'ra, Supreme Ethereal and Master of the Tau pushed past his honour guard and sighted the one he had come here to see. Kor Phaeron, Keeper of the Faith and Emissary to the Mon'Tau. The Tau bowed to the towering Word Bearer, and felt the Emissary touch him on the shoulder. "Rise, Ethereal. We are all equal upon the eightfold path."

Aun'ra nodded and motioned for the Word Bearer to follow him. "We have been following the Instructions in the Book of Lorgar, and we believe that we are ready for the final invocation."

Kor Phaeron smiled, "It sounds as though you don't need me, then."

The Ethereal looked back nervously, "We, ah, thought it would be best for you to make the final invocation. Afterall, you have more experience with this kind of thing than any of us."

The Word Bearer agreed, and they stepped into a wide chamber, what had been the throne room of the Empire. At the centre was the focus of the final invocation. Aun'va. The former Supreme Ethereal and master of the Undying Spirit was wrapped in barbed chains that sprouted from the ground and held him in place in the centre of the room. His eyes locked on Aun'ra and the Emissary. Aun'ra sneered: "Weak fool, the Gods have shown us power that you could never have imagined."

Despite the chain holding his jaw shut, Aun'va spoke: "This is not power. This is madness. You have doomed the Tau."

Kor Phaeron laughed, the cruel sound echoing through the chamber. Aun'va's glare fixed on the Dark Cardinal. "And you. You are a slave to powers you think you control, and your time is coming."

Phaeron's smile faded. He reached down to his belt, and drew a blade. It was so small it seemed almost comical in the Word Bearer's massive gauntlet, but all present knew that the Athame was so much more than just that. Aun'va glanced at it then looked back at the Word Bearer. "Silencing me won't change anything. You are dead men walking. All of you."

Kor Phaeron sank the blade into Aun'va's torso. The Final Invocation had begun.

THE FARSIGHT ENCLAVES

Like a cauldron brought to the boil, the warp around the Enclaves began to froth and churn. Psykers across the galaxy felt it. The space around the enclaves began to stretch and distort as reality was brought to the breaking point. Then it broke.

O'Kais jumped as his ship began an emergency return to realspace, alarms screaming. In the Imperial Palace, Magnus the Red clutched his head, feeling as though nails were being shot into it. The Emperor stiffened as blood began to run out of his nose and ears, feeling reality itself being torn asunder. For a moment, a single warpstorm, bigger than anything the Tau had ever seen engulfed the Farsight Enclaves.

Then it was gone. So were the Enclaves.

Kais stared at his consoles, unable to believe what he was seeing. The Emperor staggered, barely able to think, whilst Magnus collapsed with a crash. On T'au, Kor Phaeron smiled. If everything were this easy, he would have the Emperor's soul in no time at all.

Aboard his ship, Kais was frantically searching the communication channels for anything that would tell him what was going on. At last, he tuned in to a wideband transmission that was being bounced off every relay beacon from here to the Zone of Silence.

"REJOICE BRETHREN, FOR THE GODS HAVE SMOTEN THE UNBELIEVERS! THE EMISSARY'S WORDS WERE TRUE, CHAOS IS THE TRUE PATH! THE EMISSARY WILL BE REMAINING ON T'AU, SO THAT ALL MAY HEAR THE WORD OF CHA-"

Kais cut the frequency, and reached over to the navigation console again. With but a gesture, he changed the ship's destination to T'au. As the ship began to turn, and line itself up with the capital, Kais began to form a plan in his mind. He was going to find this Emissary. And he was going to make him return the Enclaves, or he would find himself meeting his gods a lot sooner than he intended.

Suicide Mission[edit]

T'AU SPHERE OF INFLUENCE

The space-traffic control teams that kept watch over T'au were stretched to breaking point by the massive influx of Tau that were making pilgrimage to the Homeworld, in order to hear the Emissary speak. They were, however, surprised to see an Explorer class battleship revert to realspace at the edge of the planet's sphere of influence. The battleship increased velocity, heading for the planet. Many of the controllers shrugged it off, assuming that the crew were on leave and wanted to hear the Emissary, like many other elements of the Kor'vattra that had arrived at Tau in the past few days. Few among them noticed the ship did not transmit any messages to the orbitals, and instead continued to accelerate towards the planet. At last, one of the weary members of the air caste keyed his microphone:

"Explorer, you are exceeding the speed limit for disembarking craft, reduce speed, or suffer the consequences, how copy, over?"

Silence. The controller frowned, "If you do not reduce speed, you will be fired upon."

Still nothing. The controller keyed up one of the Lar'shi classes that was guarding the orbitals. "Send a warning shot across the bow of that explorer." He watched the blue streak shoot from the nose of the Lar'shi and cross the void to narrowly miss the hull of the Explorer. He wasn't expecting what happened next: three railgun shots burst from the nose of the explorer and struck the Lar'shi amidships. There was an eye-searing flash as the ship's reactor went supercritical.

As the controllers frantically scrambled to contact the other battleships guarding the planet, the Explorer accelerated even further, shooting past the furthest orbital. The defence orbitals and battleships began to fire, railgun and ion cannon shots splashing off the Explorer's shields as it bore onwards. The Explorer was firing back, swatting the defence ships out of its way with barrages of railgun fire. A Lar'shi was too slow at getting out of the way, and smashed off the battleship's flank, exploding in pieces. The explorer's shields failed, exposing its hull to the fire of the defence forces. Railgun shots tore gaping chunks out of it, but still it forged onwards, ramming ships out of its way with an increasingly mangled prow. The defence forces were hitting each other in their struggle to halt the battleship, which was, by now, little more than a mangled lump of metal shooting towards T'au at incredible speeds. Already, flames were licking at its edges as it hit the atmosphere. A long plume of disintegrating material trailed behind it as it screamed through the planet's atmosphere. Its sole occupant clung to the controls as the ship disintegrated around him, G-forces that would liquefy normal men proving harmless to a being with no body. The ship trembled as it the atmosphere tore it to pieces, but Kais gaze was fixed on his target: the Chamber of the Ethereals. He could see the massive crowd that had gathered to hear the Emissary speak. The roar in his head gloried at the thought of so much blood being spilt, but Kais hauled on the controls, dragging the nose up. A particularly large tremor rocked the ship as it plowed through a building, the ground racing up towards it. Kais unstrapped himself from his seat and stood up, the deck shaking and trembling beneath him. There was a massive lurch as the ship struck the ground, ploughing through the road and crowd alike, smashing buildings and defences aside.

Kais leaned back, bringing his plasma rifle up. A single pulse smashed open the viewscreen, opening the bridge to the air and letting in the sound of screams and grinding metal. He saw, standing at a podium a tall figure in crimson armour. Kor Phaeron stared at the tide of glowing metal that was screaming towards him, unable to quite believe what he was seeing. The ground shook, and he struggled for balance, catching sight of a figure standing on the very tip of the metal shape. For a moment, he caught a glimpse of the figure's thoughts.

Space Marines are said to know no fear. Kor Phaeron was no space marine.

He turned and ran up the steps, into the building, terrified by what he could sense. He raced into the central chamber, taking in the figure of Aun'va, held at the very edge of death by the foul magiks of the Word Bearer. He was the nexus of the spell keeping the Enclaves submerged in the warp. Kor Phaeron couldn't even begin to imagine how the Tau piloting the battleship had learned this. There was a tremendous BOOM as the battleship plowed through the front of the building, shattering mosaics and statues that had been there for generations. The Dark Cardinal put himself between the advancing battleship and the nexus of the spell. At long last, the battleship ground to a halt, dust cascading from the roof of the building, its construction at the very edge of collapse. Kor Phaeron's grip tightened on his staff, the spiked head crackling with Eldritch power. The dust was whipped into a miniature tornado as the Tau descended from above, his jetpack slowing his descent. The green lenses of the Tau's helmet regarded the cardinal emotionlessly. The Word Bearer spoke first: "You've come a long way to die, Tau."

"You are not the first to tell me that, Warp-spawn." replied the Tau, evenly He tilted his head slightly, looking around the Master of the faith, and at Aun'va. "Is that what is keeping the Enclaves hidden?"

Kor Phaeron stared at the Tau for a moment, then burst out laughing: "You mean, you didn't know!? You came all this way, and you didn't know!?"

O'Kais was unmoved by the word bearer's mirth. "Now I know, and the purpose of this exchange is over."

Kor Phaeron heard a whisper in the warp, and only just managed to block the plasma rifle shot with his staff. Kais set his feet, and fired a trio of rockets at the cardinal. One missed, exploding in a shower of marble chips at the Word Bearer's feet. The second was swatted out of the air by the spiked end of Kor Phaeron's staff. The third hit the man in the chest, and the explosion hurled him backwards, past the figure of Aun'va. Phaeron landed heavily, but sprang back to his feet, and extended a hand, doombolts springing towards the Tau. To the cardinal's shock, the bolts missed the Tau completely, almost as if they were magnetically repelled from it.

Kais flinched as the glowing purple bolts shot past him, detonating with flat bangs behind him. His grip tightened on the handle of his plasma gun, and he fired it again. The blast struck Kor Phaeron in the left pauldron, blowing it off, but failing to injure the Word Bearer. The Dark Cardinal grinned, and a bolt of lightning shot from his outstretched hand, striking Kais' knee joint and knocking the Tau over. Kais rolled onto his back, rage thrumming through him at the underhanded tricks of the sorcerer. He took hold of his rage, holding it until his limbs quaked with fury. His plasma rifle trembled as he brought it up, purplish light crackling around the muzzle. Kor Phaeron stared in astonishment, he could feel the power of the warp radiating from this creature, but surely such a thing was impossib- his thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as the Tau fired.

A crimson beam lanced from the Tau's weapon and struck the Word Bearer in the chest shattering his chestplate, and sending him head-over heels. His head struck the ground, and for a moment, he thought he was seeing Gulliman ripping out his heart again. Kais regained his feet, paying no heed to the world bearer, lying in an expanding pool of black blood. He focussed on Aun'va, seeing the obsidian dagger sticking out of the Ethereal's chest. Aun'va looked into Kais' helmet, and mouthed the only words he could think of: "End it."

Kais nodded, and brought up his plasma rifle. Behind him, Kor Phaeron, struggling to breathe through punctured lungs, saw what the Tau was about to do. He tried to shout, tried to cast a spell... but the ensorceled plasma bolt had severed his spine, and no amount of chaotic power could transcend that.

Kais fired at Aun'va. The plasma round hit the atheme first, shattering it into pieces. Then it continued to the Ethereal. For a moment, Aun'va lit up, glowing, as the chaotic energies flowing through him backed up. Then he burst into a cloud of dust, and was gone.

On the other side of the empire, the massive warp storm re-appeared, then faded again. But this time, the stars of the Farsight Enclaves were there, as though they had never left.

Kor Phaeron felt this, and hissed faintly, before black blood flooded his mouth. Kais turned, and looked at the Word Bearer, weakly coughing up blood. He walked over to the Cardinal and looked down, into the scarred face. He stamped on it, black blood coating his white armour. He stamped again, rage filling him as he stamped again and again, cracking the paving stones with his fury. After a while, Kais realised that he was just pounding shards of bone into the floor, so he stopped. A final breath bubbled out of the word bearer's ruined trachea as the Tau strode away, leaving black footprints on the white marble floor.

Now, he was going to find his wife. And the dark gods help whomsoever tried to stop him.

Arise, Dark Master! Arise![edit]

>Sicarus

The Word Bearers Traitor Legion had been dealt losing hands almost constantly since the arrival of a double to their Primarch. Sure, it was mere inconvenience to hear that their Kor Phaeron was slain by Lorgar himself. He was still too blind to the true gifts of the Dark Gods. But when they heard that the Erebus of the past was ironically murdered by First Captain Argel Tal, it became more troubling.
The worst blows came when the First Chaplain Erebus fought and was then murdered by the returned Horus, which came as a great blow to the Legion. In his absence, Kor Phaeron then took undivided charge of the Legion. However, then he too was laid low, and by a filthy Tau at that. Those of the Legion had begun to break apart again, realizing that their leadership was lost.

There were still those who kept true to the Daemon Primarch Lorgar's word, as he communed with the Dark Gods to find an answer, but even his unresponsiveness began wearing on their tolerance. Others still began bringing word about the ascension of the Dark Apostle Eliphas the Inheritor to Daemon Princehood. However, his daemonhood meant that he could no longer join them in their raids across the materium.

Thus, it came that the remnants of Dark Council convened at the dark world of Sicarus. There was no better fitting a place to discuss the fate of the Legion than the very home of the Dark Legion, with their own Primarch hearing their arguments.
They arranged themselves around a table, some of the council of sixteen being hardened veterans and believers, while others were still young and uncorrupted, their armor still clean compared to their mutated and scarred brethren. Each took a seat, with eight of them being at the eight points of the star, while the other eight were merely by the edges.

The younger ones were the first to discuss their misfortunes.
They bemoaned their constant defeats, the loyalists too strong, their weapons far greater and their strategies just as competent as they were. Some spread word that the Sons of Magnus had gained weapons meant for killing daemons, which terrified the mutated. Others claimed that their own doubles, Word Bearers with the armor of old, had become a great force of purity, capable of exorcising the corrupt through force. More still feared that the Void Reavers, old enemies of the legion since the Great Crusade, had begun resurfacing, their horrid ships well warded against their depredations. Joining the Emperor and destroying the Red Corsairs had made them even stronger, and thus a much greater threat.

Whatever the case, the argument was clear: they needed a new strategy. They needed leadership, and without a solid leader, they would be lost. Thus, some of the blessed veterans of a hundred thousand wars, who served in the eternal war their entire lives, began nominating themselves. This politicking, however, did not solve anything, for each Apostle had their own arguments as to why they were the suitable leader. Unwilling to be outdone, the younger ones then began arguing their cases, decrying the old fools as senile relics of a failed era. They needed a new direction, and they would present it. But again, the arguments resumed.

It was only so long before one of the Word Bearers, a truly devout disciple of Lorgar who was among the Veterans of the Long War, had enough of the petty bickering.

"BLUNDERERS!" he boomed, shocking the others to silence. "FOOLS!"
Some of the Word Bearers were unable to even get their bearings as to what he was going on about. "We possess powers beyond that of any mortal, and yet our conquests are always stripped from us, from every battlefield! Our greatest enemies are not the slaves of the false emperor, no, it is your collective incompetence!"
"Absurdity!" One of the younger disciples, whose helmet was almost entirely faceless, declared with his Crozius. "What?" the leader snarled. "The fault, o mightiest apostle Serhius," the warrior pointed, "lies not within the Word Bearers, but within YOU! Your leadership has been arrogant, failure-ridden, and pathetic!" Hushed whispers erupted among the others in the circle, none of them comprehending the sheer arrogance this warrior had presented. "True, leadership is at the very heart of this debate, Cobra-King, but it is not my leadership that is inadequate. It is YOURS!" He marched towards his foe at the opposing end of the table. "Your ego-driven arrogance has made a victory into a failure for the last time!"
"Go ahead," the arrogant one gloated. "Make me the scapegoat. My loyal colleagues can testify to my superb stewardship of my Great Company, but you do not have the courage to even let them speak!"
"Very well then," Serhius challenged. "Defend him, if you can..."

The first of the Word Bearers to testify at the Cobra-King's behest was a hulking behemoth, whose skin was darkened into a very sooty bronze. "Militarily speaking," he spoke evenly, "the Cobra-king is a world-class...buffoon!"
"What...?!" the challenger was upset. "Brothers!" he declared. "You will not let this son of the Urizen's brazen acts of treachery and defamation go unpunished, yes?"
"Certainly not!" Another veteran, who looked more daemonic than human. "Lord Estron also forgot to mention your frequent displays of cowardice in the face of the enemy!" The Cobra-King snarled at this assassination of character.

He was not the last, though. More of the Council began arguing against him, citing the acts of betrayal and gerrymandering they saw from him. The times he fled from a failed world instead of letting their cults do the work, the times where he chose to disrespect the Gods for mere convenience. None of them believed him a true son of Lorgar.

"UNSUBSTANTIATED FANTASIES!!!" The Cobra-King cried in defiance. "LIES! LIIIIIIEEEEEEEEES!!!!"

"Cease your mewling, scum!" Another of the disciples socked him clean across the face. "This weakness is proof of your failed education! You are no true Word Bearer! You lack even our precious lineage! But I, I am a true Son of Lorgar, a student of the Epistles!"
"And yet..." Serhius refuted, "You lack even a victory to your name, no planets turned by your hand. Tell me, what am I to think of that?"
Another Word Bearer, a young leader whose face remained clean, proclaimed, "That he is a warrior who is concerned not with war and victory, but with the bonds of brotherhood! An Astartes in all but name!"
"We need not sentimentality!" Another veteran, eyes marked in darkness, declared. "It was our sentimentality that caused this! We worshiped our idols, these heroes of the Long War, yet we ourselves have done nothing to excel on our own, blinded by their shadows!"
"Kartan is right, brothers!" another supported him. "Now is our time to grab leadership among ourselves! I know not why we need one leader, when we know that one leader has led to ruin, but united, we will triumph!"
Serhius hummed on the idea, "Yes, we have grown complacent, enslaved by the whims by that fool Abaddon too often. Speak your name, brother! We may have something of an accordance here..."
"I am Keitor, Destroyer of Karbek and the Knights thereof! Ruiner of the Sorbeck Sector!"
"We could learn something from you, Sir Keitor. We need not this petty grab for power!"
The Cobra-King recovered his senses at last to hear this. "WHAT?! You mean that we have been arguing...over NOTHING?!? WHAT SORT OF WARRIORS ARE YOU?"
"Better warriors than you, that is for sure," another mutated Veteran, clearly dominated by Slaanesh more than the others, mocked him. "What good is a kingdom if all we do with it is fight for power within it?"

"SO IT SHALL BE!!!" Serhius boomed again. "We need not this grab for power. No, we need a strategy! We must not bind ourselves to those we know are blind and corrupt! The Despoiler, he seeks only glory for himself! The Tyrant of Badab, he has no honor left, bested by the cursed Reavers of the Void!"

Estron the Bronze Giant nodded in concordance. The Daemon who decried the Cobra-King as a coward snarled in agreement, and Kartan and Keitor smiled at the news. Thus guided, the others started agreeing. All except, clearly, the Cobra-King himself.
"YOU BLIND, IGNORANT, WASHED-UP RELICS! YOU DARE INVALIDATE MY WORK AND THEN INVALIDATE THE VERY REASON WE ARE EVEN HERE?!"
"We have had enough of your whining, fool." In a word, several Word Bearers, bearing blasphemous texts and monstrous forms, all aimed at the fool. "Silence him. He who kills this coward first may join us."
"YOU CAN'T DO THIS TO ME!"
Serhius smiled. "I can, and I recommend you start running if you wish to survive."

The Cobra-King tried his hardest to fight through the crowd, but his weakness showed: he was no warrior, merely a dog that barked louder than most and had the luck of being placed here. Were this the Black Legion, he may have gained some favor by shouting praises to the Warmaster, but this was not there. The Word Bearers quickly reduced him into a wretched pile of giblets and ruined metal. Those that opened fire then dueled among themselves, the weak being cut down by the mighty.

The last man standing raised his fist in victory, chanting a Canticle of Victory. The Dark Council was pleased with the ceremony.
Serhius requested, "Speak your name, brave warrior."
"I am Cavaill, Son of Lorgar and slayer of millions. My bolter has ended the lives of countless hundreds, and my blade has tasted the blood of countless thousands, all to feed their masters."
"Welcome, brother Cavaill!" He announced. The others of the Council welcomed him in as well.

"Now that this nuisance has been purged from our ranks..."
"We must begin arranging our forces to begin our own crusade! We must cease our enslavement to the blind!" The most blessed of them demanded.
"We must establish the faith to stay united without the need of such pointless factors like the favor of one man!" another announced.
"And you, brother Cavaill?" the Man of Bronze asked.
He placed his bolter on the table. "I too believe that our time in servitude must end."

They rejoiced. The Word Bearers have found their leadership.
"Now, my brothers," Serhius declared. "We are reforged in purpose. Our purpose is to show these weaklings, these heathens of the False God the meaning of unity! Go to your brotherhoods, your companies! Tell them of our divine purpose and remind them of their loyalties! THIS I COMMAND!"

"......Yes, we must be forged in purpose, but do remember who it is you serve..."

The ominous voice made their blood run cold. The Dark Council did not even know who it is.

"Who..."
"Oh, have you forgotten who I am already? I had thought that the news of my ascension would be met with more acclaim."
Only one name escaped their collective lips: Eliphas. The Prodigal Son of the legion had returned, finally breaking the chains of servitude placed upon him by Abaddon the Despoiler.

"And...you know of the fates of-"
"Erebus and Kor Phaeron, though holy martyrs to our cause, were but men. Let their death never be forgotten, but dwelling upon them would be...shall we say, a wasted effort."
"Very well then," Serhius regained his composure. "Then you must know of our-"
"Dividing yourselves into smaller forces means a less centralized control, meaning a much higher likelihood of them losing their vision." The Inheritor's analysis was swift and thorough. "Tell me, how do you expect to maintain their control?"
"Through the word of faith, as we always have. Our Council shall require the cooperation of each other as equals, for under one leader, we have met only failure."
"That may be true for one man," the Inheritor corrected Serhius, "But then again, I am far from a man."

"Does that mean...?"
Before he could finish, a hideous howling broke out as smoke and the laughter of daemons flooded them. Emerging from it was a massive fiend, bound in hides of daemons and bloody robes and warped armor.
"Lorgar's vision is lost on his blind faith. What the forces of Chaos need...is ambition." The howling ceased. "While I may be bound to the Warp, my ambition is far more...grand than just bringing worship to the Dark Gods."
"And so we shall. We shall aid you, Lord Eliphas the Inheritor!" Serhius proclaimed to his kin. "THIS I-"
"This I command."

So it came to pass that the Word Bearer Legion reunited under a new leader: Eliphas the Inheritor.

May the universe tremble, for now his ambition is immortal.

Return of the Krork[edit]

Across the rolling plains of the desert world, the sounds of war could be heard, the sure proof of a ork infestation. Indeed, the Roks and Kruisers hanging above the planet only cemented the fact. For the moment, they sat still, unlike most ork navies. But this was not just a ork navy. It was the personal fleet of the prophet of the waaagh, Ghazghkull Mag Uruk Thraka, destroyer of Armageddon. And right now, the Warboss sat on his throne

"Oi boss, watz you doin" said a inquisitive mega-nob, looking upon the gigantic Ork sitting on the Kruiser Command thrown. For the past five minutes, a millennia to orks, the warboss sat almost completely still, only occasionally saying "gotz ya" or "Roight". The mega nobs question was quickly responded to by a swift thump on his head. "Shut ye mouth, ya grot! Dontz you know hez talkin with Gork an' mork? Hez figgerin out werez the waagh will lead uz!" Said Gorgutz, Ghazgull's most recent lieutenant. Silently apologizing while rubbing his head, the Nob looked back to the Warboss, pondering what in the name of zog the Warboss was experiencing. But that was only known to the warboss himself.

Ethereal winds of the warp blew across Ghazgull's Bulky body. The currents of the warp here were strong enough to cut through even the hulls of ships, and over ride the defenses of even the most powerful of Eldar wards, but yet The warboss marched valiantly. Nothing could get between the Prophet and his gods. As he strode through the crater filled planet, around him the wars of past, present and future exploded into a beautiful picture, to a ork at least. Peering over one side could show anything from Necron warriors cutting down eldar Warriors with Gauss fire to the Emperor facing down his traitorous son Horus. He was even allowed glimpses into the future, but he covered his eyes when those visions approached. He didn't want to ruin the surprise of seeing who won.

As he neared his objective, he once again began to feel the all too familiar tremors. The Titans were warring, as usual. If Ghazgull were to make a guess, he figured the planet had a few hours left before the entire planet shattered. But it wouldn't take that long, he hoped at least.

As the Tremors grew stronger, the battles became more familiar to the Warboss. At first, it was only small skirmishes, but it soon escalated to his more famous battles, such as the second and third battles for Armageddon, and a few more less notable conflicts. He grinned to himself as he watched Commissar Yarick duel him atop a mountain of scrapped Tanks and Bodys. Good times, he said to himself, before turning his head and beholding his target. In front of him, stood the two gods of orkish kind.

He took in a great breath of air and called out to them, letting His voice pierce the warp. And then gods looked upon him.

At first, the hordes of Khorne looked upon him, but then quickly turned away. His soul was not theirs to keep, and although they were bloodthirsty, they had learned their lessons before.

Then, the cess pits of Nurgle looked upon him, and began to send their minions and plagues to take him. They were stomped into oblivion .

Third, the dark pleasured souls of Slaanesh sang their sweet lies to him, but were blown away by the pure primal yells

Finally, the strings of Tzneetch sought to weave him into their plots and schemes, only to be grabbed by fists free from the fates of Tzneetch.

The first of the ork titans slowly reached down and roughly picked up Ghazghkull. It then brought up to his gargantuan face and looked down upon him.

"Back"

Was all Gork said before pulling his arm back and sending the Lesser Ork hurling into the most ancient of histories.

As the warboss fled, he saw maddening things that would make any lesser mortal tremble. worlds made of unblinking eyes, shadowy sentient dreams, rotting palaces supported by pillars of thought, cities that were larger than the universe, and smaller than a dust-mite and gods eating themselves. Ghazgull only payed attention to what was ahead, the path that the gods had given to him. The path that stopped abruptly as he crashed head first into a wraithbone wall.

He slowly staggered up, confused at his surroundings, but nevertheless prepared to fight, as all orkoids are. As he walked through the halls, many a stasis chambers were filled with bizarre creatures. A few such as the poncys and humies were recognizable, but more stranger creatures stood out. Multi-armed reptiles with thick skin and augmented limbs , wobbly decayed looking humanoids with multiple eyes, monstrous creatures not unlike a carnifex and other great abominations stood within the chambers

But at the end of the hall was a creature most peculiar, something so familiar yet so different. It was only then did he realize he wasn't alone.

A being sat on a throne that was hovering slightly above the ground. Quickly, Ghazghkull raised his powerclaw and blew steam out his nostrils, issuing a challenge. The stranger only waved its hand, revealing the creature in the stasis pod. Ghazgull could only look in pure awe of what he saw. Above him was a Ork of great size and a redish green skin, its scale even greater than the warlord of Orpheus, greater than that of the Emprah Strangla, even greater then the Legendary beast.

He stood there in shock, when the stranger on the throne slightly coughed and said something. Looking to the stranger, Ghazghkull raised a eyebrow. The Stranger looked to Ghazghkull, and whispered into the orks ear.

As the stranger pulled away, he pulled something from beneath his long robe and pressed it into the orks klaw. It was only then did a large green fist reach through a warp rift and grab Ghazghkull Thraka and pull him through.

Ghazghkull's eyes opened, and he once again found himself back in his Kruiser. He quickly opened his hand and found the parcel, unwrapping it quickly. Inside was a small rune, deep green in color, pulsing with energy.

"Oi boss, wat did de gods say?" Said the Mega Nob.

Ghazghkull mumbled something before walking over to the command console. He looked down into the docking bay and saw the looters he had scent to the planet below had returned. He quickly took off, leaving the Command room in utter disarray.

Crashing through the docks, it wasn't long before a mob began to follow the Warboss, following him through the layers of the ship. But soon, a greater tug began to form, something calling them like moths to a light. The pack soon arrived at the cargo-bay, where they found the container surrounded by looters, transfixed on the box. The boyz crowded around until Ghazgull let out a roar to clear the space.

The Ork knelled down and brushed his meaty fingers over the case, until he felt a slot. With as much precision as a ork could gather, he gently slid the rune into the slot, which graciously accepted it and gave a reassuring beep. He than stood and looked over the crate, and with a deep breath, he opened the container.

As Ghazghk ull opened his eyes, he looked around inside, and there, in-front of him, was the last pure Krork body known, clutching a axe of a size even larger than a bloodthirster, covered in armor reminiscent of the most ancient of Eldar Armor. His hand shaking, he reached in and ripped the axe out of the Krorks grasp, inadvertently releasing the spores

The changes were quick, yet violent as Ghazgulls body exploded out of his kustom job mega armor and his skin darkened. His vision changed, as he could see not just in all the spectrum's of light, but onto the warp as well. His body grew weapons, such as bioplasma cannons in his throat and retractable bone claws from his arms. It was then that the warp flowed around him, creating armor from pure thought. He looked at the axe in his hand as he felt a Force field shimmer on around him. He felt incredible, beyond anything he had ever felt before. But, as his armor finished and grew horns much like his old kustom suit, he knew one thing was clear. He was still a Ork, even if he felt he was a Krork now. And he was still the prophet of the waaagh and warboss.

Ghazgull turned to the newly reborn horde and slammed his axe down.

"Alright ladz, back to work, quit mucking about! We've got a new course. Forget Armageddon! Were headin straight for Terra! Were gona knock that Humie warboss down a peg! For THE WAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH"

Nidhoggor[edit]

On the planet of Encaria tectonic force and magma were deity and overlord. It was mostly uninhabitable save for deeply built subterranean habs, and those floating in space and suspended in the low atmosphere. The latter was the home of the privelaged who sat untouched by the planets primordial violence. In the shadow of another nameless volcano a host of Astartes moved cautiously across the black sands. They were of a number of different chapters though their heraldry was obscured by robes covered in soot and burn marks. 25 Astartes in total, very few sharing the same lineage. The astarte taking point raised his light grey fist and those behind him stopped. "Tarsus? Do you see something?"

Tarsus, the abnormally large Astartes turned his head slightly. "No but I feel something."

Only a fool would ignore a space marines naturally predatory instincts. All within the group raised their weapons, some bearing weapons and armor unique to their chapter. A Salamander bore a combi-flamer with kraken rounds and a drum clip, a Death Guard marine pulled his combat knife from its mag slot, his bolter raised and stance at the ready, a Son of Trajan revved the large chainblade on the barrel of his stocked bolter, a Fire Lord took a swill of promethium and readied himself to breath fire, and a Black Dragon removed the sheathing he kept around his adamantine covered bone spurs.

Tarsus took a krak grenade from his mag belt and tossed it into a fissure in the burning earth, then backed up, the marines next to him following suit.

A thud could be heard as the grenade went off, followed by a foreboding rumble. The ground shook and magma bubbled to the surface. Then it emerged.

Magma and a huge cloud of dust arose as an obsidian monstrosity rose from the boiling ground. Breathing soot it looked at the Astartes and thought one thing. Consume.

Tarsus drew his power sword and raised his bolter to the monstrosities midsection, the steam of armor piercing rounds exiting its body one by one left trails of black blood and chips of equally dark chitinous armor. It appeared to be a lictor but was much larger, dwarfing those that the Imperium had seen before. It stabbed its claws into the shivering ground, every strike at blinding speed, each time it's claws pulled back up they were followed by streams of lava that the beast treated as naturally as if it were water. "Suitonius, flank!" This was all Tarsus had to say before the Son of Trajan and eight other marines circled around the creature. One scything claw tearing a fire hawk in half. The group that had encircled the beast were firing from all angles but it refused to die, only one urge coursing through its mind.

Consume.

Consume.

Consume.

Tarsus then made a decision that is often impossible by normal men, a decision that only those of bravery beyond sanity can make. He gripped his sword in his hand so tightly it almost indented the handle. He looked over to Suitonius, a glare in his eye invisible through the lenses on his helm, but an Astartes understands another of his kind and he understood what Tarsus was intending. "Draken and Arden with me, all others provide support." Suitonius shouted gruffly into his comm bead.

Tarsus' orders were similar, anyone with close combat gear follow, anyone else shoot. The dragon claw of the black dragon was the first to act, his robed figure lifted by his jump pack. He flew across its head, tearing a huge chunk from it, the oily mass of volcanic flesh hitting the dark sandy ground. Suitonius loaded a new clip into his gun uttering a strange litany as he did, and despite the hell surrounding him, he knew his words worth. "I kill and die in the name of my people, I kill for those I owe my humanity to."

-I kill and die for the people of Crowhaven and for my brothers, The magazine loaded with vengeance rounds clicked into place. -I kill and die for those I love and honor, spare me not death and pain for I am it's messenger and the shield which holds hell at bay, Suitonius leveled his bolter at the massive lictor's knee and fired a short burst. -Know that the great crow shall come for you, for we are its children.. The plasma filled vengeance rounds exploded like miniature stars in their death throws, completely obliterating the beasts knee. The lictor lost balance and fell to its remaining knee, using one of its scythe like talons to hold it up. This was what Tarsus had been waiting for, he charged at the beast with sword drawn, firing bolts into the black chitinous armor on its chest. When he reached his target he leapt, the full weight of his armor and body being thrown behind his power sword. The full weight of the marine from a chapter known for being more hardy and larger than even "normal" Astartes smashed into the lictor sword first, sending both Tarsus and the tyranid into a violent roll before they crashed against a silty ridge. Suitonius and Draken rushed to the hill, prepared to finish the creature and if need be return the Son of Antaeus' body to his battle brothers.

When they reached the scene the cloud of volcanic dust had just started to clear, the approached slowly with weapons raised. But they lowered them when they saw Tarsus standing on the lictors chest, holding its massive head in one hand and power sword in the other. His tattered robe soaked in the black oily blood that tyranids of Nidhiggor seeped and pumped through their body.

He turned towards the two marines and with a surprisingly light hearted tone and said "What? Did you think I was going to be defeated by this mindless beast?"

"Somewhat yes." Suitonius said with a morbid smile peeking out from his hood. The three marines began to laugh at the situation.

Archipelago[edit]

Swarms of tiny motes floated in the void, glittering sparks that formed a cloud of light above Tinek'La. Without computerized support, one could probably guess there were at least two thousand of them holding position in orbit around the crystalline world, it's many polygonal satellites visible in it's orbit serving as a lethally beautiful sight. Were the circumstances different, the sight would be considered a masterpiece of beauty and progress.

Sadly, the circumstances were marred by a raggid, bloody wound that discolored the backdrop, a wicked red glow glimmering on the facets of the planet and it's satellites.

"Report, Shas'vre" spoke the calm voice of Shas'O Vior'La Shovah Kias Mont'yr, commonly referred to as Commander Farsight.

The voice responded with a voice edged with exhaustion and fear, something Farsight recognized after almost a thousand years of war. It was the voice of the strong facing something truly unknown, he remembered it during the first Damocles crusade when his troops first encountered Gue'La sorcerers whom could summon lightning from their fingers and destroy the minds of the unwary. Now, it was because of the data slate she was holding in her hand. "T-two thousand and sixty four vessels have been all identified and logged, of them, fifty are combat vessels including the Custodian starship 'Por'Kaisveir' and the Explorer starship 'Mont'Vior'la'. They are holding position and--"

There was a sudden shower of light streaks from one of the orbiting stations, making them glitter like a perfectly faceted jewel. the streaks lanced out into the cloud of motes with the precision of a surgeon, which was rapidly followed by the red-blue blossom of light as one of the motes detonated in space. Before Farsight, a holographic report flickered into light.

"It apepars the 'Mont'Vior'la' refused to give a complete cargo and crew manifest." Spoke Farsight in his normal, meditative voice. The Shas'Vre looked out stunned, mouth agape in the horror of the situation, and Farsight dismissed the hologram with a wave of his hand.

"The Earth... The Earth Caste are reporting that their sensor equipment will be ready and operational in nintey-four hours, exactly, on the word of Honor-Shas'Vre O'Vesa, and inspection of the vessels can begin then. Shas'O Brightsword has reported from his fleet detachment that he has completed your orders, and the flotilla of questionable transports has been exterminated with no survivors."

Farsight's face set like granite, it was not an order he was happy about giving, but given what he had seen in the last four weeks, it was better to be safe then sorry.

"Please let Por'O'Shisa know that there will need to be a remembrance ceremony for those who had to be sacrificed." he said in response.

"Yes, Shas'O. Shas'O'Sha'Vastos wishes to know what you will want to do with any Aun they find."

He twitched with a spike of resentment, it was something he didn't want to consider at this time. The failure of the Etherials had cost the T'au so greatly, starting in their distant past and culminating in their current troubles. Warriors knew pride all too well, some even had hubris, but he had never met a Shas who had vanity. Most never lived long enough and those that did tended to resent pomp, circumstance or the assumption of authority. only an Aun would walk into a room filled with people more experienced then they, and expect to rule without question. Now that their home was consumed in a terrible storm of broken reality caused by those whom were supposed to guide their people to greatness, the idea of vengeance was enormously enticing.

"Tell him...I have not meditated on it yet. He will have an answer before O'Vesa finishes the scanning equipment. Dismissed."

The Shas'Vre bowed and stepped out, leaving Farsight to the view of the fleet of refugee ships. Watching a vessel as old and huge as the Mont'Vior'la be cut out of space so quickly must have terrified the huddled masses in the fleet, and thousands of lives were ended due to the harsh pragmatic decision of some Fio'O on the defense satellite. Never did he imagine such a moment would grace his eyes, even if he had lived over twenty times the normal lifespan of any Shas he knew of. Even old Puretide gave up at the ripe age of 59.

He turned from the viewing port and walked from the command quarters. The corridors of his personal vessel were abuzz with Shas and Kor, each with their own tasks and own duties to attend to. Each hand picked for their industriousness and strong wills to assure the flagship would not succumb to the terror of the situation at hand, but even still, he could see that most of them were losing themselves in their work, and a few even forgot to pause and salute their commander as they moved through the corridors. Farsights mind buzzed with calculated thought and tactical planning, 'what if's' and 'just in cases' stacked themselves up in mental heaps as he planned the next hour, the next day, the next week, and the next hundred years as he let his legs walk him through the ship. He eventually stopped in the mech bay, standing before his ancient, war torn, pitted armored battlesuit, the huge curved edge of the Dawnblade reflecting the lights.

He reveled in the silence, something so rare for this place. Only a few errant drones floated through performing diagnostics on the legions of battlesuits, from old and refurbished XV-15's all the way up to the monstrous KV-139 that towered in the back of the bay, it's surface shining and pristine having not seen battle yet. To him, walking through the bays was a stroll through centuries of memory, including the cloudy and foggy memories of his youth as a Shas'La. He graced a brief smile as he remembered the antics he got up to, and how his instructors would exhaust themselves trying to come up with impossible scenarios for him to complete during his time in the training domes.

He stopped staring at the huge and bulky form of Shas'Vre Ob'Lotai, the huge broadside battlesuit stood inert before him, giving Farsight more memories of being stuck in the walking tank of a Broadside so he could be taught concepts like 'patience' and 'not being a filthy kill stealing gloryhound'. Next to him the XV-8-02 Battlesuit that housed what was left of Bravestorm, though at the moment he would be sleeping...if he needed sleep. Farsight never knew the details about how exactly he lives inside, but he couldn't question the results.

His hand slipped to his side and procured a datapad, tapping it a few times, then putting it back in his pocket. Moments later the single sensor eye of Ob'lotai came to life, and the head tilted down to look at Farsight, a reverberating voice emerged from the great form.

"It is not time to deploy, Farsight. Is there a problem?" spoke the slightly distorted voice of his teacher

"In a matter of speaking." he said as he looked over to Bravestorm's suit. He watched the central torso's latches open and the front panels unfold to show the battered form of his centuries old friend, unlike Farsight, he had not lasted the years as well as friend.

"I was having a wonderful dream." He said, his voice still strong despite the battered body it emerged from

"I need to talk."

"It involved twins, Farsight, so it had better be important."

Farsight paused. Humor wasn't alien to his closest friends, but he never expected it now, given the circumstances. Only Bravestorm would be so bold as to speak so flippantly to him as well. He actually let out a chuckle.

"You can go back to them when we have talked. I already know what Sha'vastos' opinion will be but I want it from you two since you are both old enough to remember meeting an Aun in person. We have the decision of what to do with any refugee Aun that we may find on the refugee vessels. Thoughts?" he said, looking from machine to T'au.

Neither responded, in fact, Bravestorm and Ob'lotai looked to one another for a moment, and Bravestorm spoke up with a frank "Oh, I now see why Sha'vastos isn't here."

"Indeed. He is still bitter about what they did to him," responded the near-perfect voice of Ob'lotai, "The data appears to be quite complete from your engagement, along with all data collected from refugees and defectors. Long range sensors of the Empire demonstrate their total failure as well. I can guess you are considering a return to more...primitive times and attempt to remove them from our race all-together."

Farsight didn't respond, but his face hardened at his teachers words that lended confirmation to his statement.

Bravestorm spoke, "O'Shovah, Even if we left their influence you know I can't agree to that. Our history is clear on this subject, they dragged us out of primitivism and drove us to the stars. Yeah, I hate what they have become, I hate what they have done, and I hate their smug sense of self importance, but that doesn't change the good they did. I mean, sure, Aun'Va was the very definition of the worst kind of Aun. Charismatic, powerful and utterly convinced of his deluded dreams to the point of madness. But you tell me, to my face, that you could and would kill Aun'Shi."

"I don't think that I could, and not because of whatever influence he may have on me," accepted Farsight.

"Sha'Vastos could." Ob'latoi had lost none of his bluntness during the engrimatic process.

"They even gave our kind the guiding philosophy that even you follow, O'Shovah, sure you interpret it differently, but you still follow The Greater Good," continued Bravestorm, "Exterminating them would be...pragmatic, but it wouldn't be the right thing to do. Not all of them were boot lickers of a hologram of a mad Aun."


Farsight's mind churned with the thoughts spoken from his old friend, even now permanently connected to his battlesuit and living in a body ruined by their demand he would defend the Aun, possibly to his actual death.

"Ob'lotai, you haven't given me your input."

"You are correct, O'Shovah. I don't think I am the person to ask in this situation however. I am everything Ob'lotai is and was, but I am perceiving it from a wholly new perspective. I look back at my life when I was influenced by the Aun as if from the other side of a window, I cannot percieve the influence as I once did. I am sure that if I did, I would have a different opinion, but as it stands now, I don't think we should consider genocide when our people have just witnessed the loss of their home. Sha'vastos may be mad, but as Bravestorm said, they have done great things for our kind...but they are also responsible for the destruction of our home, something we may never be able to recover within even our extended lifetimes. T'au is lost, Vior'La is lost. All of the worlds we called home are lost to us. They built and destroyed an empire and possibly our entire species along with it... Which has more value?" said the great battlesuit

"Thank you my friends...You have given me much to consider," as he turned for the bay doors with a sigh dripping with relief, "Go back to your twins, Bravestorm.

"Damn right I will." Bravestorm snapped as the chest hissed shut, and the light in Ob'lotai's head extinguished.

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