So, I May Be A Daemon (Warhammer High)
"There! Near Cadia a temporal anomaly. Unlike anything I've ever seen!” A Steel Legionnaire in black flak armour and red fatigues pointed to an indistinct blob on the terminal monitor to his right, displaying the results of numerous scans taken in and around points of conflict for the Imperium and its enemies.
“That’s just a Warp storm Jefferson. Remind me why I requisitioned you and not just your equipment?” Investigator Conroy van Vonvolkvan of the Ordo stared at his subordinate, resisting the urge to put Bolter round through his skull, to see the brains of the incompetent guardsman before him splattered over his equipment. "No, it’d be better to wait out the pain of his incompetence," he thought. He swiped dust off his pauldrons, unable to see what he was doing for they created a collar around his head. A slight click was all that would indicate a rail along the back of his cloak; it was the only thing that kept his armour together, else his pauldrons and cloak would fall to the ground and he’d be left in bare Inquisitorial Power Armour revealing it to be little more than the armour of a Neophyte.
“Milord, you requisitioned me because I designed this equipment.” Sergeant Jefferson of the First Mars, was a man in his early twenties, with a distinct lack of an organic right leg. He and his men clearly hadn’t slept for days, given the Chimera’s stench of black coffee. “You requisitioned the Phobos’ Fury me, and my men because of our expertise with machines. It is honestly surprising that the Dominus allowed this, given how the First-"
“I need someone to transmit something to any ship near the Cadian system now.”
An effeminate voice reached the Inquisitor from behind the Vox station, “What’s the message my lord?”
“Send a ship to Cadia, loaded with as much recording equipment as they can fit and at least three Techpriests.”
“Yes my lord.”
"Also inform them of our arrival within the month, accounting for Warp travel" he added as a side to the Commwoman He leaned towards Jeffersons station, and glared at the abnormalities upon the display; the Inquisitor slapped Jefferson on the back, “Congratulations Jefferson. You have just found the first temporal anomaly in a decade.”
Las-bolts hit the outer walls of the Cripple Corner, as high-explosive rounds flew out from shattered windows, taking chunks out of various storefront visages. This almost weekly exchange in the Underhive of Macharia featured, this week, the Saints of Sin attempting to siege the turf of the All Macharian Rejects. The former being the usual class of Chaos Cult that would rise to prominence, only to be shut down by a gang within days. The latter consisted of those who maintained the Hive’s Manufactorums.
“Jack, get your lamenting ass out from behind the bar, and burn these bitches, or start pouring pints!” barked Idrom Vacuous, the resident squat mechanic, as he replaced an empty HE magazine from his Kai pattern Autogun, with one etched with a small flame. “Your one to be cracking wise, squatting down like that” returned a vaguely distorted voice from behind the bar, “bear in mind that one precisely aimed lasbolt could send us all to the Warp and back. Who's idea was it to make booze out of promethium and that Fenrisian shit? Because they're getting the first pint if we survive this. Where in the Warp is that booze anyway?”
A metal mask fitted with a respirator and damaged voice modulator along with a stark white, red-trimmed trenchcoat hood, hid and protected his face as he looked over the counter and witnessed the destruction of the concourse leading away from the bar. “That's it! One tank will have to do” he frustratingly muttered under his breath, as he affixed a half-empty tank of Squats Breath beer to his wrist-mounted flamer, before reaching for his own Graia pattern Autogun. He slid over the bar, his trenchcoat opened to reveal the body armour beneath, as he unloaded an entire magazine into an unlucky trio of cultists. He dived under a window, having ejected the half-empty clip before he inserted one filled with a combination of hollow point and armour piercing rounds.
A bright white flash accompanied the sound of a storefront collapsing and screams of the heretics bringing a roar of approval from the besieged Rejects. A motorbike in Rejects colours careened around the corner screeching to a halt in front of the bar. A rather tall man in an armoured trenchcoat lept off the bike and ducked down behind it. "Where is everyone else?" He barked in disgust, seeing no one besides Idrom Vacuous and Jack Laments in the bar.
"Either dead or making a move to burn down their 'church', we're all that's left otherwise."
"Well, looks like I have to clean this shit up myse-" The biker was interrupted by a crackling in the air, causing it to heat up almost exponentially. A rogue las-bolt missed its intended target and struck a bottle of wine imported from Prospero. "That was a damned Millennium Twenty-Three vintage!" He screamed as he stood, drawing his antique double-barrelled shotgun from within his trench coat, taking shots at the source of the las-bolt with his plasma pistol. With one fell swoop, he burnt a hole through the chest of two cultists, before he unloaded one barrel of his shotgun one-handed, shredding the armour of three and then unleashing the single explosive round from the second barrel into the head of a three-armed, bird masked cultist with a heavy stubber. He ducked back down to reload his weapons, a faint glow of fire emanated from behind his bike. He swore under his breath; "I swear if they shot the tank..." Then aloud to the remainder of his crew: "Get ready to make a move up. Jack, get ready to burn em"
"Ya might want to turn around Giz."
"What, why?" As he peeked over his bike, he saw a column of flame rising, escalating this gang clash, into something worthy of the Arbites attention. "Oh shit. Gents, stash anything that ain't exactly legal. Literally any empty keg in the back. Shove this in there as well" Giz barks at his remaining men, as he tossed his plasma pistol through the window. As he turned back around, having loaded only solid slugs into his shotgun, he aimed back towards the cultists, his eyes drying up from the heat. And as suddenly as the flame ignited it died down, to reveal a teenager, dressed in a trenchcoat that faded from red at the bottom to yellow then to white, like a flame.
Cultists approach the flame-cloaked teenager, arms raised, some raising literal arms, covered in a blue flame. A guttural laugh came through a skull mask, as the teenager swung a punch at one of the cultists. A wave of black flashed up his left arm as he punched a hole through his target's clothing. A smell of singed flesh indicated the edges of the hole having been cauterised by, seemingly nothing. From nowhere, this masked teenager drew a pistol, unrecognised by everyone witnessing the situation.
Everyone, except Giz. "The kid just, pulled a plasma pistol, out of nowhere!" His usual composed and controlled thoughts had been cast aside, replaced by his attempts to comprehend the events unfolding ahead of him. Sirens grew ever deafening as the Arbites Land Speeders drew near. Giz, seeing this as his chance to finish off the cultists, vaulted his bike, and charged forwards towards the massacre. With a slide between the legs of one, he fired a solid slug into the eye socket of a heretic ahead of him, and before he fired directly upwards, through his targets chin and skull. He reloaded, wiping the sprayed blood from his eyes, to see the teenager, ("no he can't be, he's, as tall as a Neophyte...") punch through the stomach of a final cultist before he levelled his pistol at Giz's head. "Whoa whoa whoa! You can put- well, stow away the pistol, the Arbites are nearly here." he hurriedly stated, as he shoved his shotgun back into its holster, within his trenchcoat. "Ya might want to ditch the mask too kid. You going to put that thing away or not?"
The Land Speeders arrived at the blood-drenched scene. Seeing two individuals having a discussion, with one of them at gunpoint, an Arbitor barked "Lay your weapons down now!" with a booming voice and slight lisp.
"Situation normal, send a cleanup team. Authorisation Adeptus Astartes Legionem Damnatorum. Identification Araes Cassius"
A faint murmur sounded from the lead Land Speeder, as they ran the details through their systems. "Affirmative. Sending cleanup team. Sorry, sir."
“What the Warp is an Astartes doing in the underhive? Are they purging without informing us? Is this some kind of training exercise? Was it just a teleportarium malfunction that brought him here?” Thoughts akin to these ran through the heads of the desk Arbitrator and her co-workers around the entry hall, as they witnessed a teenager, what must’ve been an incredibly young transhuman akin to a Neophyte, and a young man enter the courthouse, followed by a nervous group of their co-workers. None of them wore manacles of handcuffs around their wrists. “Welcome to the courthouse my lord, though I must ask, what is the purpose of bringing this retinue of yours?” inquired the Regulator.
Regulator Velutarian was at the head of the group, now with his helmet in the crook of his arm, displaying an acid-scarred face, with a sensor array in place of a left eye. His right was a dark, almost black emerald green. His voice echoed throughout the atrium, which drew the attention of any Arbitor that had not yet noticed the collection that had entered the room.
“Well, we had to leave someone behind to clean up the bar. Who better to do so, than the man who brews the beer?” responded Araes, his mask now attached to the belt of his trench coat.
With his face now uncovered, he was almost an exemplar of physical perfection; he had a sharp jawline, smooth skin, strong cheekbones and a slightly turned-up nose. His eyes clearly burned with a passion; they faded out from his pupil to sky blue bordering the sclera, from a deep purple. In the bright light of the courthouse, his hair gave the impression of a dwindling fire, showing ember coloured locks of hair beneath an ashen black. He gave off an air of suspicion and alienation as if the world around him had changed in ways he couldn't yet determine.
“Yes my lord, but why a pair of hivers?” Velutarian wasn’t used to escorting their sort into the courthouse without handcuffs around their wrists, most criminal hivers were executed in the field unless theirs were the pettiest of crimes, and those were dealt with by the Orpo. He glanced back at the pair of hivers, either side of Araes.
The datafile identified the younger hiver as one Jack Lament, a rather ironic name given his generally good luck according to appended notes and witness statements.
In one hand, Jack carried a mask, with a deactivated HUD, that would detail everything from temperature, to the fuel level of something, “probably illegal” thought Velutarian, to the integrity of a pair of respirators.
On his back was slung an autogun of some description, and along his left sleeve lay a rail of sorts with a pair of pins attached to the ends of the rail, each by a small hinge.
His hair was an electric blue swept across his left eye, covering both ears and reaching the base of his neck at the back. His one visible eye had a trio of scars running across it, reminiscent of those left by a xenoform’s clawed hand on a hapless soldier, alongside a blood red colouration to his iris.
“It is doubtful that these two have ever even seen a sun.” Velutarian thought to himself.
“Is that a problem officer? Surely it wouldn’t mean much?” questioned the teenager, his open trench coat displayed a variation of the standard Macharian loadout: a set of flak armour worn beneath, and an array of laspistols, spare power packs and a hip flask in holsters and pockets along the inner lining of his trench coat.
“No, not at all," he said as sarcastically as possible, "it’s just strange how you aren’t in cuffs.”
"On a different, less passive aggressive note," Giz coughed through "Velutarian" before proceeding to ask "how exactly did you pull that magic, pull-shit-outta-midair, punch-through-people's-chests-and-cauterising-the-wound shit?" aiming this question towards Araes.
"What? Oh right, my Power Fist and Plasma Pistol. A little thing called Archaeotech my friend, allows me to do this," he said as a Power Fist materialised around his left arm, an energy field rippling up from his clenched fist.
"Right, well, please refrain from doing that in here my lord."
“Well, you’re going to have to put up with this Velutarian. Remembering I can do this at will. Can I just call you Vel?” asked Araes, as the Power Fist de-materialised, receding into the trench coat's cuff. Strange, the Emperor's light isn't as bright here... Could just be my imagination but nevertheless there's some kind of difference...
With a deep sigh, signifying his annoyance at dealing with a pair of teenagers, he said “If. You. Must.” through gritted teeth.
“Great! Now, I must ask, where exactly are we?” Araes asked, to the bemusement of his retinue.
“Hive Primus, Macharia, Cadian System, Segemetum Obscurus. But, I'm sure you already knew that my lord.” answered the Arbitrator on desk duty, eager to have something interesting occur. “Oh, where are my manners? Rhilia Bowerand, at your service my lord.”
Rhilia was perhaps the greenest of Arbites in the Hive Primus precinct, having been inducted a month prior. Her armour showed little to no signs of wear indicating either her lack of experience or her dedication to maintaining her equipment, Or both. thought Araes. The trooper’s lengthy, auburn hair was kept in a ponytail, to avoid any difficulties when removing or putting on her helmet. She had fairly soft features, covered by very little in the way of make-up. Her eyes shared their colour with the ceramite of her armour.
“Araes Cassius, at yours. Now, what's the fastest way to Terra?” he inquired with all the patience of someone with very little time on their hands.
“Well, a vessel bearing the markings of a branch of the Ordo Investigatorum is due to arrive within the week, so you could hitch a ride on that?” suggested Rhilia, trying desperately to hide the nervousness and awe in her voice. Even the men and women of the Adeptus Arbites know fear and awe when Astartes are concerned; they just hid it better than most, usually.
“Ordo Investigatorum. I guess that could work. Any idea as to the day they're due?” asked Araes, the impatience receding from his voice.
“Let's see here… Oh! You're in luck, their ship just arrived at Hive Secundus, followed by a second one? This can't be good…” Rhilia’s voice betrayed her, revealing to all those present her fear.
“Right… Well, my lord, you'll be getting your ship back to Terra soon enough.” Stuttered the Regulator. He cleared his throat, continuing “In the meantime, we need to sort out this business involving that bar of yours Mr... Garret Zekiel.”
“Yeah, and the payment for wiping out a cult! Don't forget that!” Giz added hurriedly.
“Of course, all in due time. Now, if you'd kindly follow Enforcer Ryt.” Velutarian said, acclimating to some sense of normality. Giz followed the Enforcer towards and down a corridor, tripping on his way out, until of sight of the others. With almost comedic timing, a Vox went off from behind the desk. Rhilia prepared to answer before it activated on its own, relaying its message through the Precinct’s PA system.
“Hive Primus Arbites Precinct, this is Investigator van Vonvolkvan of the Ordo Investigatorum. Prepare to receive me and my retinue within the next hour. Emperor protects”
“Well, this should be fun.” Araes muttered sarcastically, before asking "What in the name of the Emperor is the Ordo Investigatorum?". Why are they all looking at me funny?
“So, long story short, the Ordo Investi…. the Ordo is the watchmen for the watchmen and more”? summarised Araes, simplifying the answers provided by his current company. He leaned against the eastern wall, one foot flat against it, the other on the ground, arms folded in front of him. Jack sat perched on a staircase to Rhilia’s left, with Vel leaning against her desk, hands propping himself up on either side. It was clear that he was prepared to draw his Bolt Pistol, should the need arise.
Rhilia responded in a slightly more chipper fashion, having warmed up to the Legionnaire, “Pretty much. They themselves report directly to the Emperor, Malcador and the Primarchs,” she paused, recalling something from before.
“Actually Araes, you said “in the name of the Emperor” right? You do know that isn’t entirely… legal shall we say?” she inquired, trying to hide her unease at his choice of words.
“Well, no one knows his name right? So, if no one knows his name, why should something like that constitute a crime?” Areas responded almost dismissively. His mind began to wonder Is she suggesting… no, I'm just overthinking this… but that would explain... nope, shut it Araes. He shook his head, trying to dislodge the growing doubt in his mind.
“But in any case, what does this guy with the most pretentious name in the history of the Imperium want with some random Hive world?” he asked with a growing season of doubt in his mind.
“Well, besides the fact that this isn't some random hive world - we’re right at the edge of the Eye of Terror sir, - your guess is as good as mine,” she said with a mixture of emotion in her voice (one part distaste, to seven parts, amused confusion thought Araes). With a shrug, Rhilia tidied her desk to the sound of Arbitrators inspecting every nook and cranny for dust. An Investigator’s surprise visit warranted caution and the cleaning of the Courthouse. “Chances are they're here to collect soldiers caught tampering with their equipment to chuck into the Martian army regiments,”
What in the name of the Holy Emperor is going on…? Ordo Investigatorum, Investigators, Imperial Guard on Mars, and worship of Him being illegal? Araes had spent ten years of his life, serving the Emperor in his Legion of the Damned. I died - is that even the right word? - as some kind of Primarch rip-off before I was even born and this is the most confusing thing I've encountered. He took a second to take in the information and struggled to comprehend it. “So, don't suppose someone could enlighten me as to what the date is? Warp travel has a funny way of messing with my internal clock. You know how it is,” he began to walk towards the corridor Giz was led down a few minutes prior.
“It is 5.001-” began Rhilia, as Araes stumbled slightly over his own feet.
He turned to face her, some level of confidence returning. That's slightly reassuring. Was it just a day in the warp? I should be fine, right? Granted I came out in an entirely different sector than the one I was headed to. Then again, why is everything so different? thought Araes, his mind practically tripping over itself. He'd later question why his mind was so rushed that day.
“253.M32,” She finished.
That, however, is the COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF REASSURING! He took half a step back, before catching himself, he inhaled sharply in an attempt to better comprehend what he’d just been told. So I've somehow gone back in time? Wouldn't be the first time a Legionnaire's done that. Well… what the hell am I supposed to do… he thought as he tried to maintain his composure. He began to examine the room, glancing at the paradoxically featureless details adorning the walls, taking it all in with a different perspective. His hair seemingly darkened, the ember coloured locks appearing to recede.
After an uncomfortably long silence, Araes forced out a question, his voice wavering slightly “what… What is known about the Legionem Damnatorum?” He was desperate to take his mind off the ten millennia that seemingly undid itself.
Rhilia was the first to answer, somewhat pitying the Legionnaire. “Um, besides you being a part of it my lord, basically nothing.” She searched digital databases on her terminal but was constantly met by messages denying her access. “Well, nothing that I have clearance for. My best guess is that they're some special ops guys, like the ancient Sass of Britannie, - I think that's what they were called. Not sure though, that long ago is kinda lacking in the detail department -”
Velutarian interrupted the newest Arbitrator before she derailed the conversation entirely. “Frankly, it’s a surprise so little is known. There’s speculation that the Legionem Damnatorum are the remnants of the two lost Astartes Legions. It is even speculated that they are the result of a failed experiment by Archmagos Dominus Belisarius Cawl to try and improve the Astartes geneseed.” he was glad to finally make use of his vast yet useless knowledge gathered from the texts of madmen. Spending the good chunk of 20 years as an Arbitor, he’d ‘acquired’ texts that broke the Imperial Truth and detailed vast conspiracy theories, and read them extensively, to try and find what out why so many would defy the Emperor and question the very fabric of Imperial society. He often saw how some religious groups were still legal, within reason. Emperor worship is outlawed outside of the Cadian System, and Catherics are still legal across the galaxy, but he'd never understood why people worshipped anything. Nor would he understand what drove people to such levels of paranoia and insanity as to question everything accomplished since the Unification Wars. “But why do you ask? Surely you know what you’re own organisation is?” he asked, trying to pry information out of the Legionnaire.
“Of course I do Vel, it would do you vel to relax a bit.” quipped Araes, having somewhat regained his composure. His poor pun elicited a groan from the unamused Velutarian, whilst Araes still pondered about the state of the Imperium and thought about Vel's response. Of course, you’re partially correct. Just look at the Fire Hawks chapter. Wait, they don’t exist yet… and I guess they never will... Well, the point stands nonetheless. I'm talking to myself aren't I? He took a second to readjust his trench coat and tried to tidy his ever messy hair. But damn that was lame; seriously “it would do you vel”? What the hell was I thinking? This probably… His hair ‘brightened’ slightly, his mind still tripping over itself, albeit at a slower pace.
Vel continued, undeterred by the terrible use of his name. “No matter what the rest of your organisation is, we still don’t know why you are here. So, care to enlighten us?” he asked, wanting to get as many answers out of the teenage Legionnaire before he could offload him onto the Investigator.
Araes answered, and regretted every word as they left his lips. “I have no clue, I guess I miscalculated where’d I’d come out of the Warp.” His eyes brightened with fear, to the point that they might be visible in the dark.
Rhilia jumped onto his slip of the tongue, fast enough to give a White Scar whiplash; “If you came out of the Warp, where’s your ship?"
Jack piped up, having sat on the sidelines for most of the conversation. “He appeared in front of the bar in a pillar of fire. I mean seriously, a pillar of fire. Either he teleported into the hive from some Leginem Damna… LD ship that passed over or something and this was his training, to get back to Terra or wherever. Or he lives in the warp and that pillar was a rift he created to enter the hive to grab a pint. He still massacred muties and Cultists as if it was second nature.” He was content to sit out most of the conversation; the less attention the better was his personal motto. Unfortunately, as a bartender that rarely happens. And now, he wanted to save his saviour from having to answer questions he likely had no answer to.
“In any case,” Araes interjected, desperate to change the topic off of him, “is anything known about this Investigator? He seems to be a bit… odd, for lack of a better word”. He wanted to garner as much information as possible if he was to travel to Terra with the aficionado of wide pauldrons. Vel began answering the latest of the long list of questions from Araes. “Well, besides his apparent penchant for pauldrons rivalling those of Cypher-”
Areas smirked at the mention of the most wanted man on Terra, after his conversation with the Emperor. So I’m not the only one who noticed that. How old is that escape artist anyway?
Vel continued, unaware of the company approaching the precinct, and Araes’ mental conversation. “-He recently requisitioned a modified Chimera with a squad from the 1st Mars. Supposedly, he’s obsessed with Warp tides trying to find a way to utilise them to manipulate time-”
Araes grinned slightly wider, as he moved around Velutarian. Well, this will be an interesting trip. The sound of ceramite hitting concrete steadily increased in volume.
Vel’s hand drifted ever closer to his pistol, as the unfamiliar footsteps grew in number and volume. “Beyond that, he seems to be slightly obsessed with daemons and trying to find a correlation between them and time travel. So far he’s found nothing. By all accounts he’s a bit eccentric,” he finished.
Araes could hardly conceal his worries, given how his fiery features adjust themselves to express such a change of emotion. His irises died down to appear almost black in colour; the ‘embers’ in his hair followed suit. “So, any indication as to when that Inquisitor is to… Vel, why in the Warp are you saluting”? Velutarian stood to attention and saluted the second he recognised the figure now entering the room.
“That would be because of me, Mr Trench Coat,” a deep voice laced with authority interjected before Velutarian could even begin to respond.
Araes turned towards the source of the voice and saw an individual with large pauldrons, a red cloak, and black power armour beneath. He was flanked by a pair of Imperial Army Soldiers in red fatigues and black armour affixed with a tool belt filled with various tools and side arms. Both carried modified lasguns, that of the one on the left featured a grenade launcher affixed to the side and a triad of barrels. That of the one on the right featured a holo-scope with a variety of lenses that, Araes assumed, could be slotted into the sight to increase the magnification. The underside of the barrel had a small lighter welded to the end with a red pipe that leads to a small canister marked ‘flammable’ secured to the rifle stock.
“I am Investigator Conroy van Vonvolkvan. And you should show some respect to authority,” He announced with a level of distaste so unmistakable, it could only have come from someone of his position.
Araes swivelled around on his heels in order to face the newest arrivals. “Ah, if I was speaking to someone of a higher position than myself I probably would. Araes Cassius, not quite at your service,” he grinned, each sentence dripping with sarcasm. He bowed towards the Investigator in an over-the-top manner indicative of his opinion on the Pauldron King. As he rose, white teeth exposed in a grin that would put a Harlequin to shame, Conroy pulled a bolt pistol from its concealed holster, and pressed its barrel against Araes’ forehead.
Conroy gestured towards Araes with his free hand.
“Let this boy be a lesson to you all,” proclaimed the Inquisitor.
He pulled the trigger.
Araes felt the bolt hit his forehead; he almost felt it pass through the bone as if it were paper. He almost felt every fibre of his being be swept away with the bolt's explosion. He almost felt the embrace of death, as he hit the floor, cracking the back of his skull on the reinforced ceramite flooring. He almost felt his life ebb away.
Araes felt his skin and clothes heat up, waves of flame flowing down from the crowns in his hair. He felt the familiar lick of flame on the sides of his eye sockets, a pair of blue flames standing proudly beneath their impure counterparts. The barrel of the bolt pistol dropped to the ground in a pile of molten metal, joining the slag that remained of the single shell it fired.
Every Arbitrator who bore witness to these events drew their weapons and aimed them at the flaming teenager, unsure as to whether they'd actually be effective against him. Velutarian and Rhilia included.
“I am Araes Cassius of the Legionem Damnatorum. And you will listen to me. You speak of respect for authority, and yet you show none in the face of it? You are fortunate that I need a ship to Terra, and yours is the only one available,” Araes’ rage was made manifest with the growing magnitude of his flames. Vel, Jack, the two Soldiers, and every Arbitrator who bore witness to this display of sheer anger, each stepped back, away from the pillar of flame that was Araes.
As suddenly as the flames enveloped him, they died down; the embers in his hair vanished entirely, his eyes settled to a soft purple. Giz returned, his pockets visibly sagging with the weight of credits, and witnessed Araes collapsing scorch marks around his feet, and a small pool of molten metal in front of him. To the others, it was clear that the effort of sustaining the flames having drained him of all energy. Jack was the first to react, diving towards the man who had effectively saved his bar. (Legally it was in Giz's name, but its running was left to Jack most days). He caught the falling Legionnaire, and lay his body down on the scorched floor. The many Arbitrators lowered their weapons, some holstered theirs and pretended like the events of the last minute never happened, despite the scorch marks and molten metal on the ground.
“What. In the Warp. Just happened?” he asked, questioning the very nature of reality after having witnessed the unconscious teenager do what he previously never even needed to think was impossible. Wordlessly, the assortment of Soldiers, gangers and officials stood and knelt around the Legionnaire, clueless as to the role he had played throughout his existence, and what he is still to endure.
“Well, don't just stand there like a bunch of Catherics at a sermon, gimme a hand with this bastard would ya? He's heavier than he looks,” grunted Jack, as he tried to lift the unconscious Araes, after just kneeling by his side for longer than anyone would care to admit.
“Roight,” Giz muttered as he dropped down, and slid his arms under Araes’ body. “Where is the infirmary in this damned place?” groaned Giz through gritted teeth, straining under the weight of the Legionnaire.
“Down the corridor you just returned from, go left, and it's down there,” provided Rhilia, already filling out paperwork surrounding the scorch marks, and a requisition form for a maintenance servitor to be based in the foyer, in case of similar future incidents. The two gangers shifted Araes to better carry him between them.
Even still, Jack and Giz struggled to carry Araes at all; he was either deceptively light or the archaeotech he carried weighed him down. Giz feared what could happen if the latter were true, and Araes had encountered them in the same way as he had originally. “Vel, give us a hand or two would ya?” he said through gritted teeth.
“R-right” muttered Velutarian, now afraid of what this teenager was capable of. If he can just set himself alight, appear in pillars of flame, and has access to archeaotech like that, what can the rest of his organisation do? He jogged towards them and did what he could to help. As one, they carried Araes to the infirmary, cautious of what he might do. All in all, they were fairly proud of only dropping him once.
Conroy ran the back of a gloved hand across his forehead, wiping away sweat from his brow. He contemplated turning around and returning to his ship. He hoped this was just some insane dream. Sergeant (now Lieutenant) Jefferson stood to one side, jaw slack, lasgun gripped loosely, struggling to understand what just happened. He hefted his customised weapon onto his shoulder, produced a rag from one of the many pouches on his tool belt, and began polishing the three barrels of his lasgun. This was the weapon that got him drafted into the service of the First Mars, mere days after he joined the famed Steel Legion. It’s still dumb how attaching a small hydraulic piston with an empty tin can onto the side of this damned flashlight got me dragged away from home. At least I was able to refine it and integrate it fully into the rifle, and the machine spirit even relished it! Now, it’s just a simple flick of a switch, to charge the launcher and prime... He reminisced about his creation, every aspect of the mechanism and its refinement that made it the weapon it was today before he snapped back to his senses and continued polishing his prized possession. He continued as though the events he had just witnessed had never happened.
Conroy just stood there dumbfounded, unwilling to accept that his firearm of choice, was now just a melted puddle of metal, left to be scraped off the floor by a random servitor and discarded with other waste. “This is just a dream, this is just a dream, this is just a dream, this is just a dream…"
“Investigator, perhaps you require a drink?” Rhilia suggested, summoning a Servitor from the cafeteria with a press of a button. It came carrying a tray, filled with an assortment of drinks: a bottle of Scotch and a small tumbler, a glass bottle filled with Jack’s own beer branded as “Macharian Corner”, and a martini that had been stirred with a butter knife for 10 seconds whilst glancing at a 301 year old bottle of vodka, before having an olive inserted on the end of a cocktail stick. Or so the servitor claimed. Conroy immediately reached for the martini, drank it all and ate the olive in the first sip. He had the sense to catch the cocktail stick in his teeth. He opened the beer on the corner one of his pauldrons and drank it all in the space of thirty seconds, barely registering the sweet taste of the Fenrisian berries, and not at all noticing the surprisingly sour taste of the minuscule amount of promethium in the drink. Now that he was ‘only slightly’ inebriated, the Investigator calmed to an equal measure.
Conroy spun on his heels and began heading in the general direction of the infirmary. He only drifted and fell into the walls a grand total of three times.
So this is what it's like. To finally die in service of the Emperor. It really is true, that duty ends only in death. All Araes could see was a blinding white light, as he opened his eyes to the world after death. Only, it wasn't exactly that. Someone had certainly died there recently, at the very least.
“So, the bar’s favourite hothead is finally awake huh? Ya caused a bit of a stir back there. Well, if a stir is a melted Graia pattern Bolt Pistol, and a scorch mark shaped around your boots.” Jack Lament’s blue hair shielded Araes’ eyes from the white lights of the infirmary, as he leaned over the Legionnaire's head. Why's he pronouncing everything a bit more… prim and proper? Well, attempting to.
“Looks like your eyes are fine. I ain't-a professional, so ya might want an actual doctor taking a look but, looks like you're good.”
As Jack straightened up, he brushed the hair out of his eyes, revealing to Araes his usually covered eye. Araes was mildly surprised to find that it didn't match his other eye; it was a soft-ish amber in colour.
He sat and propped himself up before he found that he could not utter a single word. He rubbed his throat in a vain attempt to coax out anything that even somewhat resembled communication. If he could, he would probably say something along the lines of “God-Emperor damn it, just let me kick it if your gonna keep making me think I have, ya might as well follow through" Luckily for him, he couldn't. He nodded towards the occupied bed opposite.
“Ya may be happy to hear, you aren't the only poor sod in here. Your old pal Conroy's just across from you, currently sleeping off a lotta booze. Well, he's been in here for the same amount of time you have. You two’ve been out cold for like, two hours.”
Conroy lay across the bed opposite, in what was by no means any conventional manner. His head and arms hung limply over one side, his cloak had splayed out over him; a small string of spittle hung from the corner of his mouth. All in all, it was a very undignified sight for the Investigator.
Jack stood up and began to make his towards the closest of the two exits, Araes’ eyes following him out “Now, I'ma go join Giz and try to find out how these guys got hold of my beer. I've never once sold it to one of these guys, and Giz is probably shouting his lungs out right about now because of it. Have fun Hothead.”
As he reached the door, he turned to Araes, “By the way, don't call him an Inquisitor. These guys don't usually jump at any excuse to blow your brains out, but call them Inquisitors, and that'll probably happen to ya. Then again, he already tried…” With that, Jack left them to each other.
The door slammed back into place, waking the unconscious Investigator from his drunken stupor. Somewhat hungover, Conroy jerked his head up at the sound of the door. He wiped away the drool from his mouth, hoping that no one saw it and pushed himself off of the bed. He patted out creases in his cloak, swiped dust off of his pauldrons, ran a hand through his hair, and walked towards Araes’ bedside. The stench of alcohol coiled around the Investigator’s breath.
Conroy began talking to the barely lucid Araes, his speech slightly groggy from having just awoken. “I suppose that a proper introduction is in order. Investigator Conroy van Vonvolkvan. And you are?”
Araes cleared his throat and found his voice returning, ever so slightly. Little above a hoarse whisper, he answered “A… Araes Cassius, Captain of the Legionem Damna… Damna… damn it… The Legion of the Damned.” His frustration became ever the more evident, the more he spoke. He massaged his throat, trying to coax every word that he could out of his vocal cords.
Conroy handed Araes a cup of water from a nearby table, and read the doctors examination that lay alongside it. As Araes drank, his eyes warmed slightly and the Investigator began to question him. His voice was slow and calculated, thinking over every word, trying to avoid a repeat of that day's earlier events “Well young man, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. However, I must ask, what is the Legion of the Damned, exactly? Before now, I had never heard of you, nor your organisation. The only evidence for it existing is yourself, and the fact that it exists - somewhere - within the databases of the Adeptus Administratum.”
Conroy took a moment to examine the doctor's assessment. “According to this examination, you share your physiology with the Primarchs and the Daughters, more so than you do a normal human, let alone an Astartes. So, what is this Legion, and are your…” Conroy wafted his hand through the air, as he tried to think of a suitable word, “compatriots the same as you if they even exist?”
Araes hadn't stopped for air until his cup had been drained of every last drop. He cleared his throat once more and mentally prayed for his voice to return to him. Finally, he spoke as calmly as he possibly could, and answered the surprisingly reasonable Investigator’s questions “Well, technically, we're Daemons. But, some of us, are also time travellers, of sorts. In some ways, were technically a legion of ghosts. Should I explain?”. His hair brightened, and here I thought I'd be hung drawn and quartered before he even began asking questions.
Conroy was caught off guard, not just by what the boy had said, but also by how casually he said it all. Araes’ remark saying that they were Daemons, stuck in Conroy's mind. “M-most definitely. And kid, if you're a Daemon, how're you even remotely sentient? And just, what the feth are you going on about? Furthermore, if you were a Daemon, you wouldn't need that water, you wouldn't need to breathe, you wouldn't need to eat, you wouldn't even need to sleep. So, what are you?”
Araes wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead, before continuing. “No war was ever won without casualties. We are the casualties of the Ade- Legiones Astartes. Their souls have to go somewhere, right? You, do know what a soul is, right?”
Conroy almost scoffed at the very idea. His voice began to drip with condescension, but with some doubt sprinkled in. “They don't exist. Psykers claim to see them but that's just impossible.” A psyker years ago had tried to explain, but it was like trying to explain to a blind man the colour red.
This...this will be harder than I thought… Araes was almost entirely lost as to how to explain. “Every living being has a soul. The Aeldari understand this better than anyone since the Primordial Annihilator is literally after theirs. Daemons are made from souls to some extent. You may not believe it, but just entertain the idea Connie.”
Conroy chuckled at the shortening of his already shortened name. “Go on then kid. I'll, entertain this idea of yours. Souls exist, so what? That still doesn't explain your sentience, nor your somewhat human physiology. So again, what are you?”
Araes looked somewhat hopeful, “I was just getting to that. I was a failed clone of a collection of Primarchs, created by a version of Belisarius Cawl. One of them, I believe was Corvus Corax, due to his own limited psychic abilities. That is why I am sentient. I think.”
Conroy chuckled at this, finding this whole ordeal to be rather comedic. “You think? So, the-not-quite-a-Daemon, thinks he's the result of a hybridisation of several Primarchs genomes, having gone wrong? This is all rather far-fetched for my tastes kid.”
Araes was on the defensive. “Hey, you try explaining it. That's the best theory I can come up with.” He began to continue his explanation of the Legion. “But in any case, that's whe-” Araes coughed more violently than he thought possible for someone like himself too.
Once he finished, he continued explaining as best he could. “But that's where we come in. Each Damned Legionnaire is the soul of a dead Marine, serving the H- Imperium even in death. So, technically, we're ghosts, since we're the souls of the dead walking. We're Daemons because we're made from soul stuff and are technically an aspect of, and serve a god.”
The eyes of both men widened in shock as they realised what Araes' had said; one in the blatant heresy just uttered, the other, in sheer surprise as to his own stupidity. Araes, You are the dumbest bastard to have ever died and still fight in the name of the Emperor.
“Did you just…?”
“Are you sure?”
The Araes and the Investigator sat and stood in silence, respectively. Araes was the first to begin talking again. “I should probably explain that, right?”
Conroy shook himself back to reality. “Please do,” he replied, wishing more and more that he still had a sidearm to hand. He never carried anything larger, and rarely a sword.
Araes coughed once more and began to explain, his voice slightly hoarse “I'll explain the time travelling part as well… that'd probably help. And well... I am the living proof of your life's work. This… this is not the timeline I belong in, shall we say. I'm not entirely sure as to how different this one is, but I'll start with this: how many Primarchs live? And how many are loyal to the Emperor?” Araes continued to massage his throat, trying to think of the best way to explain.
Conroy raised an eyebrow at this, his curiosity piqued, and his mind wandering as to where Araes was going with this. “The mere notion of a Primarch not loyal to the Emperor is absolutely preposterous. All of the nineteen Primarchs are alive and loyal to the Emperor and the Imperium.”
Well, this is certainly gonna be fun... And without being on the throne, and those thousands of unlucky sods being sacrificed to Him every day, that explains why His light is so dim.
Araes prepared to potentially bring down the Investigator's entire worldview, and was prepared to be branded a heretic, a warp-spawn, and wished that any consequence would be swift. He paused though, confused as to the nature of the 19th. Wasn't Alpharius killed twice, reportedly? And twins… wait… Alpharius Omegon… his last name was his brother's name.
As he spoke, his voice remained steady, seemingly detached from the words that left his lips. "Where - no, when - I'm from, out of the original Primarchs, 10 turned traitor, and 7 total died, mostly at each other’s hands. The Arch-Traitor, Horus Lupercal was slain by the Emperor himself. Alpharius, by Rogal Dorn; Omegon, by Roboute Guilliman; Konrad Curze, by a Callidus Assassin; Sanguinius by Horus; Rogal Dorn, died on a Chaos Cruiser; Ferrus Manus, by Fulgrim.”
Conroy couldn't believe what he was hearing; he shook his head in disbelief, struggling to understand all of the information, but mildly comforted by the fact that this proved the entirety of his life’s work.
But Araes wasn't done. As he spoke of Guilliman, there was some level of reverence in his voice. “Of the loyalists, Guilliman was fatally wounded by Fulgrim; The Lion and Vulkan went missing; Leman Russ and Corvus Corax, to the Eye of Terror; The Great Khan, somewhere in the Webway; Ferrus Manus, dead; Rogal Dorn died, just his hand was found; Sanguinius was slain before the battle of Terra.” He paused, in part to assess the Investigator's reaction, in part too because he really needed to breathe, having spoken almost nonstop for the last few minutes.
The Investigator let beads of sweat run along his brow, conflicted as to the nature of the information.
“Do I continue? It gets mildly better.” Araes looked on. The Investigator just nodded his head. “Well, Guilliman promptly kicked ass and began to reform the Imperium. He sacked several of the High Lords of Terra, is the Regent of Terra, barely tolerates the Ecclesiarchy, had Cypher arrested - presumably due to his apparent theft of the Lion's sword - effectively cast aside the Regent of Ultramar and took direct control once again. Currently, Guilliman is the Regent of the entire Imperium. Well, I say currently… several millennia from now... in a different timeline.”
Araes sighed. “If you haven't guessed, this all means that the events that created me… Will never come to pass. In this timeline… It's too confusing in some parts and contradictory in others. But, that's kind of expected with the Legion.” Araes made to move off the bed, his strength and energy returning. “But how come there's so little known about the Legion here?”
Conroy chuckled softly and gestured for Areas to follow him. “Come, we have a lot to discuss, and I want to get away from that abominable stench. As to your question, I'm unsure. I imagine it's because you are all there is to it. That Regulator Velutarian really wants to get you and those hivers out of here, as fast as possible. And I've got some friends who may want a word with Mr Laments.”
“You sure your not that friend? Come on Connie ya lightweight, admit it.”
“Never speak of this again.”
If anyone were to stop and observe this scene for long enough, they would likely be perplexed by what unfolded before their eyes. A teenager in a fiery trench coat with ashen-black/ ember hair; another heavily armed blue-haired teen in a red-trimmed, white trench coat; a rather tall blonde gentleman in an armoured trench coat. Rather curiously, these three were joined by an Investigator with a cream coloured cloak, what was seemingly a variation on black carapace armour and pauldrons larger than his head. All four of these individuals bundled into an armoured hovercar marked with the sigil of the Ordo Investigatorum, whilst two Imperial Soldiers of the 1st Mars embarked a corresponding pair of Armoured Sentinels. As this small convoy began making its way towards the Orbital Transfer Yard, a clustered quartet of eyes vanished into the darkness of the sewers, as a nearby manhole cover was lowered back into place with unseen hands.
“All’s clear thus far milord, we shouldn't encounter any trouble between here and the OTY,” Jefferson's voice filled the back of the hovercar, the sound of the walking Sentinels weaving through the Lieutenant's words. There are no seatbelts in this thing… please let this armour be enough to stop us flying out of the windscreen.
“Excellent. Keep us updated, we may end up encountering some level of resistance soon, given this morning's events,” Conroy began the arduous task of unclasping his cloak, beginning with the removal of his pauldrons. The others were somewhat thankful that a third Soldier was driving, else they may have ended up in the side of someone's home or workplace. Little light entered the hovercar. Every window in the back had been replaced with ceramite, and those in the front let enough light through for the driver to see. “So Araes, to clarify, you are a captain in the Legionem Damnatorum. This Legion then, is some kind of elite force, created from the souls of dead Astartes, correct?”
“You just asking for the benefit of these three? Because we've already discussed this Connie, you know the answer,” Araes sat between the hivers, slightly annoyed by the Investigator's apparent forgetfulness.
“Just needed to clarify. As you are just a Captain, logic would suggest that there would be a higher ranking official of this Legion that you would report to -” as he spoke, Conroy set the pauldrons, the cloak and rail down by his feet. “- so the question you may already have predicted is, who do you report to? And where are they stationed?”
As with the Daughters he shared his physiology, Araes was quite tall for his age. But this did not stop him from shrinking in his seat, in a poor attempt to hide. “Well, you see even in my own timeline… I was the highest ranking guy there's only ever one captain of the Legion… and I'm it,”
The Investigator chuckled at the teenager's display of discomfort. “Sit up, you'll just hurt your neck doing that. Just one captain? It appears more likely to be a one-man legion, as it stands right now. Now, how do you make use of Warp Travel?” It became apparent to him that the Investigator hadn't finished asking questions back in the infirmary.
Araes had begun to rise again in his seat, but quickly found himself shrinking once more, “I… don't… know… I just kinda do… I can't just appear and disappear… I just hop through Warp Rifts as they appear when the Legion is needed… beyond that… it all somehow prevents the more literal daemons from coming through…” he glanced at the hivers beside him.
Giz was quick to pipe up, “Come now Connie, he's just a kid. You said it yourself, he shares his whatchamacallit with the Daughters, and by extension, he would the Primarchs. You really think he wouldn't be in command? And after the shit we've seen today, just accept that he can, and save the interrogation for another day, right?” he shuffled in his seat, the credits jingling within his trench coat. “Newsflash guys, leaning against something with a shotgun shoved up yer back, is a pain in said back. Literally, and figuratively,”
“Ya realise that Hothead here probably knows less about how he can do all of that than I know about brewing and jury-rigging shit?” Jack ran his hand through his hair, before reattaching the flamer to his wrist. He fiddled with the mechanism. “Besides, my booze is the best in the hive. Strong enough to put a man in a hospital bed, eh?”
“Never. Speak. Of that incident. With anyone. Again,” The quintet sat in an uninterrupted silence, save the soft rumbling of the engine. From what little of the interior Araes could make out, it was fairly ornate: the dark leather upholstery contrasted the chosen outfits of several occupants; the dashboard had been polished to perfection, leaving the black steel gleaming; from what Areas could see, the Investigator’s foot-well was lined with a deep purple velvet, and would normally give enough room for his legs whereas now, half of it was filled by his pauldrons and cloak. As for the trio in the back, they had room enough to fit their legs behind the front seats, but not enough to be comfortable.
Everything seemed to slow down, time stretching itself out until every second felt like an era. The three in the back felt themselves leave their seats, the hivers beginning to move their arms to protect their heads. Their heads thudded into the headrests of the front seats, their backs becoming parallel with the roof. The driver lurched forwards, his arms locked in position, knuckles white from clutching the steering wheel. His legs smashed into the underside of the dashboard, his femurs splintering, ejecting shards of bone through the muscle, tearing ligaments and slicing through veins and arteries. His helmet cracked as his head smashed against the steering wheel, his nose flattened into a crimson pulp, brow split and eyes wide. Conroy smacked his head off the roof of the hovercar before he crashed down and dented the dashboard with his forehead. Blood sprayed out from his cracked skull, reddening his hair and carseat.
It wasn't long until Areas got a closer look at the dashboard, nor did it take him that long to realise his foot was in the face of the driver. Why do I have to keep cleaning mixtures of blood and brain fluid off my foot? He looked around, and saw an upside down Conroy in a barely conscious and bloodied state, an upside down Jack with his head between his knees still breathing, Giz, in a similarly injured and upside down state and the driver, who would never walk nor breathe again was also upside down. Wait… I'm the one upside down…
Jack stirred back into consciousness, massaging his forehead, finding his palm to be covered with blood “Glad to see I'm not the only one still kicking, Hothead. Now, how the feth are we gonna get outta this mess? The damned doors have buckled…”
Well, here goes nothing. The Power Fist materialised up Araes’ arm, as he swung at the roof directly above his head. To his dismay, he punched straight through the roof sending molten ceramite flying out from the hole. “What in the Warp are ya doing!? You trying to finish us off!?” if Araes heard Jack's protests, he didn't pay attention.
That didn't work… and we're in a roof… amazing… wait a second… he shifted his arm a few centimetres to the left of the hole, and punched through again, repeating the process until he reached the unusable door.
Jack's eyes widened at the madness displayed before him. He shouted, fear weaved throughout his voice, “Screw this!” and began kicking at the door beside him.
Satisfied with his work, Araes started doing the same down the middle of the roof. Once he finished punching holes in the hovercar's roof, he grasped the edge of the hole directly above him, power field deactivated, and pushed. The roof began to bend as he pushed, the centimetres of metal left between the holes snapping under the strain placed upon them. Once there was sufficient room to clamber out, Araes pulled the Investigator with him.
A jet of flame erupted from one of the doors, leaving a molten puddle around the doorframe, scorching the astrogranite rooftop. Jack pulled himself and Giz out of the hole, the cuffs of his trench coat barely protecting his palms. The pair fell onto the rooftop, Giz landing on his back in the metallic puddle. “Shit, shit, shit! This is gonna leave a scar!” His cuffs fell back into place, blackened by the burnt metal. Jack pulled his unconscious boss up by the collar, trying not to let any part of either of them touch the molten metal, besides Giz’s armour. Jack lay him down beside the Investigator.
“Okay Hothead, what the hell happened?”
“Ambushed. Casualties minimal; three deceased, three wounded. Convoy, destroyed; Sentinels irreparable, transport salvageable. Confrontation, inevitable.” Araes donned his mask. His Power Fist still pulsing with energy, the Plasma Pistol formed in his offhand.
“Why in the fething Warp are you talking like that?” hands shaking, Jack donned and activated his own mask. The HUD displayed the worst possible diagnostic results for the situation; the filters were damaged, the tank at half capacity. “And I don't have any spare fething tanks… shit…”
The pair looked down the road, trying to find the point of origin for the crash. Instead, they witnessed as a four eyed figure emerged from a nearby manhole, a heavy stubber slung over his back. He was swiftly followed by two other similarly armed individuals, one with an extra arm, the other a Felinid. A fourth, much larger figure followed up, sealing the manhole behind them. One arm was little more than a malformed claw of sorts, the other chained into a large, underslung unidentifiable weapon, one Araes had never seen. This monstrosity of a man barked orders at his compatriots before letting loose a howling laugh. “We've go’ em trapped lads, wot sae we giv em a good ol’ heapen’ helpin’ o’ payback?”
With this declaration, dozens of Cultists began pouring out into the streets, from nearby buildings, manholes and alleyways. They began swarming towards the crash site, lasguns and clubs in hand (hands where more than a few were concerned). There was no way out for them, no way for Araes and Jack to kill every last Cultist themselves.
“Well, it's been fun Hothead, but looks like it's the end of the road,” Jack ejected and assessed the magazine he had loaded. “At least we can take a few of 'em down with us,” he muttered, reloading his Autogun and taking stock of spare magazines and Laspacks. “If this runs out, I've got a pair of pistols and a dozen spare batteries. Let's hope it doesn't come to that,” Jack took a step back, before realising that there was no way up to the roof. “They'll be climbing outta windows to get up here… we can use that to our advantage. Shoot 'em as they climb out and up,”
"Eradicate leaders, Cult falls to disarray. Spawn… Probable” Araes swung over the edge, and crashed through one of the windows. Three floors up.
“What the feth has gotten into him?” Jack remained on the roof, preparing for the worst.
Araes barrelled through the flat he landed in, smashing through doors, caring little for any occupants within. He ducked left, and kept running towards the staircase. Three hostiles. He leapt down, firing his pistol into the head of one and punching through the chest of another. Two neutralised. One remaining. The final Cultist in the staircase fired two shots, both going wide. Araes pressed his pistol into the mouth of the Cultist and pulled the trigger. Hostiles neutralised.
He continued down. Two floors up. The way down was blocked by debris, causing Araes to dive into the next corridor. He pressed himself flat into a door frame, in an attempt to avoid volley after volley of lasbolts sent his way. He dived across the corridor, firing off several shots as he went. Seven hostiles, two neutralised. He found himself crashing through the door of a second flat, splintered wood covering the floor. To his right stood an empty coat rack. His left, a bathroom. Four yards between doors, hostiles five down. Conclusion, draw hostiles in, neutralise.
Araes waited, and heard the creeping advance of the group of Cultists. Four doors.
“There's no sign off 'im,”
Three. He ducked into the bathroom.
“Keyb lookin, 'e’s 'ere some’her,”
Two. He moved to face the corridor, and prepared to repeat his rooftop antics.
“Did we ge’ 'im?”
One. He swung for the wall.
“Hang on jus’ a minit, where dide, go?”
His fist erupted from the wall, leaving a bloody pulp in place of the head of the nearest Cultist, and sending debris into the rest, crushing two of them. In a low augmented growl, Araes taunted them, “He's here.” Five Neutralised. Four remaining. He fired his pistol from the hip, capping two Heretics and missing the others. He dove through the hole, rolled into a crouch between the two remaining threats. One swift motion and both were left without an abdomen. He executed the two on the ground, and swiftly moved on. Hostiles neutralised.
He ducked around a bend in the corridor, and kept running. Five hostiles. Efficiency, not required. Time to have some fun. He'd caught them off guard. A blur of fire and plasma left four of the five dead where they stood, their bodies falling to the floor. The fifth wasn't so lucky, as he fell to the floor clinging on to his miserable existence. Araes extended a single finger from the Power Fist, and carved a message into the flesh of the screaming heretic.
Jack heard an ear piercing scream, loud enough to wake the dead. “Well, glad to see you're awake Connie, but it's kinda a bad time… what the hell is Hothead doing down there?”
Araes flung the corpse out of a window facing the street, before continuing on.
“Ye sae this lads? The bastard finks Oi’m next. Wot a fat load of bollocks. Ye kno wot? Le’ Rage 'n’ Love 'ave some fun. Actuallay, sen’ in all o’ the gifted! Stubbs, all tree o’ ye 'ead back, no poin wastin good quali-e stub rounds.”
Araes paused upon hearing this however. He turned back and lent besides the door frame with his pistol raised, gazing out of the window, waiting.
Large, tarped cages were loaded on the backs of a dozen Goliath trucks, some stolen, some purchased, all decorated with sigils of the Primordial Annihilator. Each cage had been chained to the railings with the strongest the cult could afford, yet they still shook viciously, their occupants flailing about, desperate to free themselves from their tortured lives.
“The baws wants ‘em freed lads, se’ ‘em loose! Le’ the Gif’ed serve our gloori-us gawds!”
As one, dozens of fanatical cultists pulled the tarps off each cage and opened them all. Each of these twisted beasts of Chaos was once a man or woman, corrupted in mind and body by the Ruinous Powers being Gifted additional limbs, flesh and growth at the cost of their already ruined minds. Each bore limbs that diverged into seething masses of knuckled tentacles giving some a slight limp. One bore a set of curled horns, another several forked tongues, a third with hundreds of vertebrae protruding through flesh across their warped form.
These monstrous and barely sentient masses of flesh crashed out of their confinement, barrelling forth with little care for what they destroy in their path. The trucks had been parked a block away from the ambush site, the Gifted given a taste for blood. These twisted creatures charged through buildings smashing every wall between them and the scent of gore. They emerged from one side in a plume of dust with the block of flats collapsing behind them. Threat level raised, Spawn present. Reinforcements probable; ETA unknown; cannot wait for what may not come.
Araes bolted towards the window and dived through it, into the street below. Several lasbolts narrowly missed, burning holes through his trench coat. One however, struck the mask above his eye and cracked it open, exposing his face to the open air. Damage inconsequential. Repairs advised. He landed on his shoulder, rolled and fired into the Gifted, doing little to their distorted forms. Several turned towards Araes, and charged at him
Jack cried out, firing down at the hordes of Cultists enter the building, “Congrats Hothead, ya just pissed them off!” he reloaded, noting his dwindling supply of ammunition.
The first of the Gifted to reach Araes smacked him aside, sending him sprawling towards the rest across the Astrogranite, mask broken entirely, forehead bleeding. His weapons dematerialised. The second, kicked him square in the chest, sending him into the swinging fists of the first. He scraped across the road, his left sleeve torn to shreds, arm bloodied and covered with loose pebbles. Likelihood of survival, minimal. Must… must minimise friendly casualties.
He screamed for Jack to grab the other two and run, as he was batted by the horned Gifted into the horde. He lay there, ribs broken, arm shredded and face bloody, as Cultists kicked him for what felt like an eternity.
More of the horde left the building unsatisfied with what they found, and began screaming obscenities at the broken Legionnaire. The Gifted were being restrained by their insane masters, their work complete, hunger now sated. Araes could only assume the worst. He laughed, blood dripping from his mouth. The Cultists immediately around him stepped back, unsure as to what was happening. He laughed still and stood up, his chest pained by every second he spent.
“Oi, whoi is yous laughin like a clown?”
Araes smiled at this, and answered truthfully “because, I've got nothing else to lose”.
He tapped into the Warp, drawing all the power he possibly could within himself, caring little if it burnt him out. He screamed out, as his body began to distort. His hair lit up in a plume of fire, his clothes enveloped by a fiery mass, gigantic wings as tall as the precinct formed from fire out of his shoulder blades. Cultists ran from the metamorphosing Legionnaire, as his entire body grew in size, until one foot dwarfed the area where he had lay mere seconds before. His entire body shone bright, blinding Cultists that fired uselessly into him. “Now for the fun part”.
A molten beam erupted from Araes’ outstretched palm, disintegrating Spawn, Cultists and buildings alike. He would never know what that strange weapon was, as he waved toward the ground, the beam evaporating the astrogranite and dozens unfortunate souls it passed over, including the clawed and chained Demagogue. Buildings collapsed as several stories melted either from their sheer proximity to Araes, or his weapon of choice. He stepped forward, crushing a small and relatively intact building.
From his unused hand, he conjured a ball of pure flame, and hurled it towards the fleeing convoy of Goliath trucks decorated in heretical iconography. He staggered forward as several large blasts impacted his back. He turned and hurled another towards the source; a group of Cultists armed with an assortment of missile and grenade launchers. As they evaporated, the gigantic figure fell to its hands and knees and began shrinking, until all that remained was an unharmed and healed Araes, his mask long since destroyed, and trench coat peppered with holes. His arms gave way, as he fell unconscious. Little remained intact in the Hab-block, save the building they had crashed into. Jack emerged from the doorway, Conroy in tow.
“What… what have you done?”
The Investigator drew a set of manacles from his belt, and closed them around Araes’ wrists. Several Chimera and Aurox Transports arrived upon the scene, each and every one of them filled with Soldiers, prepared to put down any hostiles, including the Legionnaire. “Why couldn't you have arrived a few minutes earlier?” were Investigator's only words for the hours that followed, as they were escorted under tighter security to the Orbital Transfer Yard and offworld, the comatose Giz under constant medical care the whole way.
Idrom Vacuous checked the old and battered clock on the wall, as the windows were refitted for the third time that month. He wondered when the man he had stood alongside for 20 years would return with the best bartender in the hive. Of course, he'd never say the latter to Jack's face, but it didn't make it any less true. He hoped they'd return by tomorrow, then they might actually turn a profit instead of the entire gang drinking half the supply at a reduced price.
Mathematics has been claimed to be the purest of all sciences. Rigorous, objective, precise. Little need to interpret or analyse. Just the application of calculations, no need to think. This all added up to a simple soothing balm for Isis Lupercal, daughter of the Warmaster, the First of the Daughters. It didn't require anything more than her innate knowledge, flying through the work at a rate of knots. Her mind wandered elsewhere as she worked, free to think of the myriad of other things which demanded her attention. There really are a lot of those.
There was the schoolwork, of course, that was the ever-present easy part. More demanding upon her was the task of ever managing the more difficult of her eighteen cousins. Trying to direct Furia's rage towards something more constructive, rather than her usually destructive ends; helping Petra find some level of confidence; the list went on. She had always been the leader, by birth and by expectation and as such, she had to work on fulfilling the part.
The Imperator High Ascension Day Bake Contest was upcoming, and after she inexplicably lost to Violet Munev she was determined not to have a repeat of the disappointment. Being beaten by one of her cousins was one thing, but a mere normal human? She stroked the wolf's head amulet that hung from her neck, focusing more upon her legendary Gyptian Rice Pudding Buns than the work that sat before her.
She was so lost in her thoughts, that only the sound of a deep booming voice jarred her out of her reverie.
"Slow down, you're speaking so fast even I cannot keep up," said the thunderclap voice of authority. Isis' ears pricked up instantly. Her father was rarely ever home, and she was not expecting him today. Isis moved to the door, putting her ear to it.
"So to clarify, an entire Hab-Block tower on one of the most strategically important in the entire Imperium was razed by a teenager who claims to reside in the immaterium and to be a hybrid of a marine and daemon, that utilised some unknown ability to grew to the size of a Knight Questor and threw a ball of Warpfire into the building? Is this correct?" there was a deep sigh "My work is never done… I'll meet with the Emperor to discuss our next steps. At the very least, the system will be put on lockdown." There was silence, punctuated by another sigh, as the soft sound of heavy footfalls indicated the Warmaster's parting, unaware of his daughter's eavesdropping.
Isis returned to her desk and ploughed through the entire chapter of the textbook they'd be given, ignoring the nagging feeling at the back of her mind. Once she finished, she heard the front door slam shut and the nagging feeling took over. The hells happened on Macharia? Is it some kind of Daemon outbreak?* She looked down and found herself stroking the amulet once more. She hit a button on the underside of her desk, turned around and fell face first onto her bed. She rolled over, mildly thankful that her's was a queen-sized bed, else she would have just fallen off and headbutted a bedside table on the way down. Why would Father leave without telling me he'd even arrived home? What's so important that he needed to leave for Macharia now? A teenager levelling a Hab-Block? That is what he said right?
A servitor knocked on the door, before entering Isis' room. It set a large mug down on her desk before leaving. The smell of the freshly brewed Tanna wafted over to Isis. Thank you, dad! Once Horus had learned of her favourite drink, he tried it, disliked it, and had a servitor programmed to bring her some with a single press of a button. She almost dove towards the desk and grabbed the mug. So much easier than drinking from a bowl. Seriously, Valhallans are weird, but they do have good taste. She drank heavily, savouring the distinctive taste, and the slight bitterness that sat on her tongue. Bet there's nothing like this on Macharia. Cadian System huh? Doesn't everyone and their grandmother carry a firearm at all times there? How didn't they take this guy down? Surely they would've at least tried? Didn't sound like it, but still. What's going on there?
Araes awoke, arms chained to the wall behind him, legs shackled to the floor. What in the is Warp going on? He looked around the chamber and saw through a small porthole, an orbital station, the size of a small Hive. Where am I? Wait… we're orbiting Macharia… Opposite Araes, a large ceramite door sealed him into this chamber. To the left of it, sat a metallic bench spattered with dried blood that someone had tried and failed to clean off.
He looked down, aware of a certain lack of weight on his body. They took the trench coat… well, hope they stitch it up. He was left kneeling there, still in his jeans, t-shirt and viscera covered boots. His arms weren't as bulky as his strength might suggest, most of it would likely come from his abilities to tap into the Warp, or what muscle he had, was enhanced by his transhuman physiology. Whatever the source of his strength, it mattered little for he had been drained by the events of the previous day. Wait, how long has it been? A day? Two?
The door slid into the wall, revealing the Investigator in somewhat normal clothes; he had exchanged the Scout Armour for an incomplete black suit, the jacket emblazoned with the sigil of the Ordo, a white shirt with the top button undone, cufflinks with a sigil of a noble house unknown to Araes engraved into the silver, and a pair of black Oxfords.
Conroy cautiously entered the room and took a seat on a relatively clean section of the bench. "Welcome aboard, I hope you find the accommodation to your liking," he said wearily. His head hung low, unwilling to meet Araes' gaze. The Legionnaire's eyes were illuminated, the embers in his hair almost non-existent. He tried to speak, but could only groan at his displeasure. This is happening way too often…
"What. Are. You?" Conroy's leg began to bounce. "You say you are this, this, this amalgamation of Daemon and Astartes, and yet you display more of the former than the latter. You are more akin to the Daughters than the Astartes, more akin to a Daemon than a mortal. You caused more devastation down there than the Orks at Armageddon! You slaughtered more innocents than Heretics, more civilians than a Drukharii raiding party!" Conroy could barely contain his rage as he moved towards Araes. "You destroyed an entire Hab-Block singlehandedly. You killed, hundreds of thousands of people whose only crimes were living!"
He swiftly kicked Araes in the chest, screaming at him all the while, "What are you!? Answer me damn it!" Again, and again he kicked, again and again, he screamed. Tears began to fall, as he screamed his throat raw. Each kick after the first struck him in the chest, each one kicking the breath out of Araes' lungs, cracking his ribs, bruising his sternum. Blood began dripping out from the bottom of his shirt, as Conroy finally stopped, breathlessly ending with a kick to Araes' temple. "What. Are. You?"
"I… I just don't know…" Araes shook his head, helplessly chained up and forced to endure the abuse. "How… how long has it been?"
Conroy returned to the bench and answered, his breathing heavy, "Two days. And in those two days, the Warmaster himself has heard about this, convened with the Emperor and is due to arrive within the next fortnight. In those two days, the body count has soared into the hundreds of thousands; we keep finding corpses from the people you've killed!” he wiped sweat from his forehead. Is this how he exercises?
"You're extremely lucky that half of them were worshipping either the Emperor or the Ruinous Powers. We can pass it off as a purge of heretics and anyone potentially touched by the Primordial Annihilator where the bureaucrats and tabloids are concerned. But explaining away what is seemingly a Daemonic entity? No level of paperwork and red tape can bury that.”
"What... what now? Are you going to kill me?"
"Good luck with that. I'm a Daemon-thing remember? I can't die even if I wanted to.”
“Whatever happens to you once you're out of my hands, it's not my problem. If I manage to kill you first, so be it. If you live, you won't be my problem for much longer. It's impossible for me to care less either way.” Conroy began to leave.
“When I'm the only piece of physical evidence for your life's work?”
This caused him to pause, hand on the doorway, his back to Araes. He looked over his shoulder, glaring at the chained Legionnaire.
“At this point, if the cost of proof is innumerable lives, my research can gather dust in the archives.”
“I'm not gonna go running around levelling Hab-blocks alright? You said it yourself, that place was filled with Heretics! That's why I did it!”
“I can't risk anything. Just… just wait until one of the Mournival arrives… they'll deal with you in his own way.” With that Conroy left the room, sealing Araes into the relative darkness. What the feth is the Mournival?
Five bullets tore through the peppered target before Jack, each one piercing as close to the bullseye as the remaining room would allow. He reached for one of the pouches on his belt, ejected the empty magazine, produced a full one and inserted it all within the space of three seconds. He fired four more five round bursts, before finally collecting the myriad of empty magazines scattered at his feet. He handed off his Autogun and the empty magazines to the servitor stood by the door with its arms outstretched.
He'd spent the last month doing little besides weapons practice and eating. A month aboard the ship of the eccentric Investigator, and all he could bring himself to do was train for the inevitable. He'd occasionally try his vox and call someone at the bar, but every signal appeared to be blocked on the ship. Either that, or it was broken once more. The Investigator had ordered him to stay aboard, with the alternative being a bolt in the brain, if Conroy could find a bolter that is. According to Conroy, it was a Dauntless-class Light Cruiser, but Jack only kept to the corridor connecting his quarters to the firing range. Beyond that, he had no idea where anything was. He didn't even know the location of the Hothead. As the Investigator's Acolyte, food was delivered to him by a Servitor that was likely once a Squat, his legs replaced with relatively small tank treads and motors.
This particular night, however, would prove to be more entertaining. As he stepped out, one of the soldiers of the First Mars bolted past, followed by four of his compatriots. Either the poor bastard's done something to annoy those buggers, or something serious is going down. Jack began charging towards them, slowing down as he drew level.
“What in the fething warp is going on?” he asked with an eyebrow raised, “did that poor sod nick something?” Jack was mildly surprised to find the person that answered him had pulled ahead of them all, and she wasn't going to stop to provide answers.
“You don't know? That thing in the hold, a bunch of its mates just turned up and started bashing on the door with some kind of bol’er. Five of 'em apparently: the lot of them in damaged power armour; two of them with enough literal firepower to roast the crew; a third with a massive, feth off axe and a strange plasma pistol; the other two've just got bol’ers,” her voice carried far enough that others had heard, and had fallen in, weapons in hand. Well, there's eleven of us and five of them… should be easy. Then again, what he did…
“Where the hells are we headin then?” Jack dropped behind slightly and began to drift right.
“The armoury, not bloody all of us keep weapons in their quarters. Most of us don't have the room you do, sir!”
That's right, I outrank them... fething brilliant! “Hold up a second!” he called, as he ducked into his quarters, and scrambled into his flak armour and his new greatcoat, emblazoned with the sigil of the Ordo just above his heart, and his flamer rigged up onto the sleeve, a three litre tank upon his back and his full assortment of bolt pistols along the inside. Conroy had left a gift for him on the desk; a Phobos Pattern Stalker Bolter, supposedly with enough firepower to punch through the hull of an Armoured Sentinel. He grabbed it, checked the magazine within finding it full, and rejoined the growing squad outside. He drew one pistol at a time, handing them to soldier after soldier until he had one left for himself, and each soldier was in some way armed.
“You may not need those buggers, but should end up engaged before we reach the armoury, it's better than nothing, now, let's move it, people! You,” he pointed at a soldier with an uncomfortable amount of coils on his plasma gun, “take point! I ain't got a fething clue as to where the armoury is, and I'm guessing you do!” Please please please for the love of all that is tangible let that have worked!
A short chorus of “Sir, yes sir”s put his fears to rest, as the soldier led them to the armoury. Evidently, Conroy had set up a locker for the small fraction of the arsenal he could bring with him, and within lay a strange sword within a scabbard the length of Jack's arm. Next to it, sat a dataslate detailing the weapons description, user manual, and name. Xenophase Blade, yada yada yada, can slice through practically any form of shielding. Question is, can it slice through those things?
“Hope he won't mind me borrowing this” Jack shouldered the blade, becoming acutely aware at his growing lack of room for weapons. The sheer weight, however, there was no way he would not notice that. It was easily heavier than the gifted Bolter. Turning to the soldiers behind him, he looked over their faces; these men and women, were under his command, for no reason other than he had a choice between death and this. Okay, this is it, here's a group of people who may die because of me. Well, this is one trial by fire. I'm not leading these guys into hell unless they want me to. This is gonna go so badly wrong...
“Alright, I haven't got a clue who any of you are. Chances are, not a single one of ya knows who I am. I'll be the first to say that I don't know what I'm doing. But what I do know, is that whatever is beneath us could make life hell for us. If whatever that thing is, could potentially replicate what it did down there and its friends are trying to set it free, we have to do something. It destroyed so much of my home, caused the deaths of so many people with friends and families, hopes and dreams. If it gets out, we can't stop it from doing all of that again. We haven't got the faintest idea as to what that thing can do, and now there's five more trying to break hi- it out. We cannot let it get free, else we may as well sign our own death certificates and plan our funerals. I don't know how to lead, but I do know how to fight alongside those I trust. I'm walking through that door, and I will be walking down in the direction of hell. You can stay here. Or, you can follow me. It's your choice. Again, this isn't an order, it's a choice. So, will anyone follow me? Or have ya still got all the screws left in your heads?”
He didn't wait for answers to leave their mouths. He strode through the door, moved to one side and waited to see if anyone would follow suit. At this moment, actions really did speak louder than words. Eight soldiers left the armoury and stood to attention before him, as sirens blared around them. “So, I don't suppose one of you knows the way to the cargo hold?”
The soldier who headed the group piped up first. Her rough, accented voice was barely audible above the sirens as she shouted her lungs out to try and be heard “Behind you, left a’ the first crossing, and then down into the pits of hell. After that, it's right left and then left again. Wouldn’ advise taking that last left though. That's where they are.” each of the final words was laced with threads of malice, fear, reverence and awe.
Jack checked the magazine in the Stalker Bolter and counted ten bolts that seemed lethal to the point of excessiveness, even by the standards of small explosive projectiles that could turn a man's head into nothing more than a pile of gore. They've got weaponry as lethal as this, more so with that Plasma Pistol… these guys really have an affinity for fire and weaponry that could outright kill them. Jack reinserted the magazine, as he began shouting orders above the siren. “You two,” he pointed at a pair of lads, not that much older than himself “cover the rear. Last thing we need is more of them taking us from behind. You,” he pointed at the young woman, “take point alongside me, you seem to know what the hell is going on better than any of us, and you can lead the way. As for the rest of you, form up in the middle. I need one of you to grab a nuncio-vox, the other four need to make sure the fifth keeps kicking long enough for us to get a grasp on the situation and relay said situation to everyone else. And would someone shut off these damned sirens!”
As if on cue, the sirens shut off. The absence of noise left the nine stood in the hallway, armed to the teeth and perplexed. “You have your orders. We advance once somebody has a damned nuncio-vox.” The man closest to the armoury dived in, returning moments later with the relatively plain looking set of equipment. “Right. Now then, let's delve down deep into the depths of hell. Let's just hope the sirens cutting out wasn't the ship's machine spirit saying that we're all gonna die.”
Jack took one last look over the eight that followed him, before turning and bolting down the corridor, the others keeping pace, their guide at his side, all with weapons in their hands. As they reached the crossing, they saw groups of soldiers attempting to coordinate with each other, setting up barricades across each corridor. They'll slow those things down slightly if nothing else. Bypassing these makeshift checkpoints, the nine delved down into the belly of the ship, turning right at the base of the staircase. They came to a halt, astounded by the signs of battle that scarred the corridor. Small craters had been left in the walls from Bolter fire. Remains of a myriad of soldiers indiscriminately lined the bases of walls, scorch marks abound. Many of the corpses had been decapitated, some cleanly, others leaving shreds of skin and chunks of sinewy tissue clinging to bloodied stumps. Others had been left smouldering, the acrid smell of scorched flesh burning the advancing soldiers' nostrils. Some had been left with a gaping hole in their torso, their clothing ragged and soaked as blood seeped through the cloth. A few stood out amongst the carnage, each one had been cleaved from one shoulder to the opposite hip, the open wounds cauterised.
“Alright. Last chance to turn around and rejoin those above. There's no shame in it.” No one turned tail on the group. “In that case, everyone behind me, keep those weapons up, and the corridor in your sights. In case I do kick it here, my name is Jack Laments, and a month ago, I was a bartender for a hive gang. Now, let's do this”.
As they approached the junction, the sound of metal crashing into metal became louder and louder, before it ceased in its entirety. They lined up along the wall, Jack at the head of the column, before indicating four across to the other side of the junction, the vox operator back down the corridor to report what they found. With a sharp intake of breath, he turned the corner and levelled the Stalker Bolter down at Araes’ friends. His finger slipped out of the trigger guard, as he laid eyes upon the intruders for the first time.
Four Astartes, clad in damaged, black power armour emblazoned with imagery of flame and skulls, a twisted icon of the third legion upon the pauldron of one. Their armour appeared to be cracked open; half the skull of one uncovered by flesh and armour, the arm of the Emperor's Child wreathed in flame stemming from torn flesh, the faceplate of one in MK VI Corvus armour had been replaced by bone.
These four souls levelled their weapons towards the stunned octet, either a lack of necessity for ammunition or their unwavering accuracy had been made evident in the lack of empty Bolter magazines but a myriad of casings. Jack raised the Stalker Bolter and aimed down the scope, lining up a shot with the remaining lens of the half-helm. The intrusion of an assisted Araes, stumbling through the ruined door drew everyone's attention. Jack spoke in hushed tones to his men, “Start broadcasting everything that's said from this point onward, everything that happens, could give the guys upstairs some kind of advantage.”
Jack raised his voice, attempting to focus all attention on himself. “Get back in there Hothead, before we're forced to open fire.” Jack realigned his shot, aiming for Araes’ forehead, flicking the safety off. “Before this becomes a repeat of down there.”
A small flame danced up Araes’ arm, as his barely audible voice escaped his lips. “This… this all could have been avoided. You've… you've just gotta trust me, kid.”
Jack glared at the Legionnaires. “Can't you see everything your friends have done here? Ya can't leave without bloodshed, without everyone on board this ship throwing everything they have at ya.”
Araes eyes dimmed as he faced the floor. “You think I wanted to kill all those people? If that had been my intention, I wouldn't be here now. I'd have left the second I woke up. Now, I'm just happy to stand. But, I have a chance to fix all of this. All of your little flashlights wouldn't do anything against these guys. Now just turn around and forget this ever happened.”
Jack spoke through clenched teeth, his knuckles white, shoulders raised, with the sound of his pulse in his ears. “What's yer plan then!? To just waltz outta here, and act like nothing happened!? To kill every witness!? Tell me damnit!”
“I can't do that.”
“Just get back in there. This is yer last chance Araes.”
Jack's shoulders relaxed, his grip loosened a look of resignation on his face, remorse in his eyes. “Fine then. You leave me no choice. Open fire!”
With the last two words, he fired the first and last shot from his gifted weapon, as the seven who followed him down fired at each target. Only sixteen shots were fired, the two Legionnaires fired four each, every round struck their intended target. Jack hadn't expected the sheer power of his gift, as it dislocated his shoulder, the shot going wide before his life flashed before his eyes. He felt the initial impact as his chest filled with searing pain, his lungs with blood. Soon he felt nothing, as the explosive round detonated and sent his innards across the hallway. The last he saw was the similar fate of each of his compatriots, their blood splattered against the cratered walls. The exchange of fire lasted less than three seconds, from the first shot, to the last death.
“I tried to warn you kid. But you brought it on yourself. Now, how about we just get the feth out now?”
Araes’ immediate rescuer handed him his archaeotech filled trenchcoat. The five surrounded him as he slipped it on. A pillar of flame twirled around them, scorching the entirety of the hall. Within a minute, the pillar had vanished, the Legionnaires with it.
Araes felt rejuvenated as he set foot upon the Raptorus Rex. The large auditorium he found himself in was decorated with the banners of eighteen legions, and millions more of Chapters, each banner as ornate as the ones besides. Nine hung separate from the rest, each one displayed the heraldry of a traitor Legion: The Emperor's Children, Night Lords, Sons of Horus, Alpha Legion, Thousand Sons, Death Guard. They hung on walls that rose above them all, the ceiling high enough, and floor wide enough to easily accommodate a Stormbird. He flicked his hand out and smiled as a flame roared up his arm before dissipating in a closed fist. His companions dispersed throughout the massed Legionnaires, as the crowd split to allow his passing. He embraced a bald, pale Legionnaire with a Servo Skull attached to his waist. “Attica Centurius, you old bastard, you couldn't have sent assistance a few months ago or anything?”
Heads turned as the guttural, rough voice of Centurius’ rumbled through the room of assembled Legionnaires as he scolded his teenage student. His voice remained monotone through every word, a small glint of rage in his eye. “You didn't exactly give us much time Cassius, when will you learn patience? Your impatience caused the deaths of innocents, even if the immaterium has given us a universe where the Warmaster never turned Traitor? Where the Primarchs have Daughters? And you make our presence known in the most violent, unsubtle way possible, to the point it presented us all as dangerous, Daemonic beasts, no better than those we fight daily?” Centurius slapped the back of his head with a gauntleted hand. “Your actions caused more deaths of innocents than any of our actions prior.”
Araes rubbed the back of his head, before taking a step back from his mentor. “We have a chance to fix this right? I can just go back to when I originally arrived, go through everything again and when that ambush comes along again, you send in a some of the guys, and everything's fixed, no excessive bloodshed and not a single unnecessary innocent death. Surely that's worth it?”
Centurius shook his head, “you understand, there's no guarantee that anything will change, that you would even arrive at the correct time. In the correct place. Or even in the correct timeline, and doing this would further complicate matters, as you would be creating a new timeline. But as you said, this would give us a chance to correct everything.” Centurius took a moment to contemplate and weighed the argument in his mind.
“This… leave this thought with me, and get some rest. I will call upon your cabin when I have reached my judgement.” Centurius put a hand on his protégé's shoulder and spoke before Araes could object. “Rest. You need it”. The veteran Sergeant turned and marched off, the crowd parting to let him pass through. His bone-white scalp vanishing in the sea of Legionnaires.
Araes glanced around the room, looking for nothing, and no one, in particular. He turned and made his way out of the entry hall. His five rescuers followed suit, not letting him out of sight until he dismissed them with a wave outside of his cabin. The vast spectrum of sentience amongst the Legionnaires still astounded him; Centurius and himself appeared to have the greatest “level” of sentience, then those five appeared to be towards the lower end of that spectrum, almost requiring instructions to breathe. Not that breathing was a necessity for most of them. He opened the blackened, metallic door to his cabin and hung his trenchcoat upon a coat rack just inside. It was spacious, even by the standards of a captain’s cabin. A double-bed took up a large amount of the space opposite the door, the closest to cotton sheets he could obtain were spread over the bed, a stark clean white contrasting the blackened, void-hardened walls. The port-side wall was adorned with a modified and intact suit of power armour; reminiscent of the MK X Tacticus armour sported by the Primaris Marines Araes saw so long ago -relatively speaking- and the MK IV Maximus worn by the Marines of his current time. A pitch, matte black against the metallic black walls, the armour was adorned with icons of fire, death, decay. The helm took a more skeletal look; the vox-grill built into the faceplate was designed to appear like gaps between the bleached teeth of an aged skull, bleached pipes leading into the faceplate hugged what can only be described as the jawline. An ornate axe hung beside, the profile of a skull engraved into the flat of the blade, a fiery pattern engraved around the long handle of the axe.
He piled the rest of his clothes in a corner, making a note to have them cleaned the next time he was planetside, and not the most wanted teenager in Imperial history. He collapsed on the bed, determined to sleep away the memories of the last few months.