Trip Into Hell (Warhammer High)
|This article contains PROMOTIONS! Don't say we didn't warn you.|
The Grimdark version of Someone else.‘s Warhammer High story, Road Trip. In fact one of the most grimdark Warhammer High story ever, blowing even Bleeding Out out of the water and only topped by the Appraisal Trilogy. If you hate Grimderpness, proceed no further.
This story is dedicated to ILikeCommas.
- 1 Prologue
- 2 Part 1. Invasion
- 3 Part 2: Occupation
- 3.1 The War Room on Terra
- 3.2 Fire from the Sky
- 3.3 The Walls Fall
- 3.4 War is Hell
- 3.5 Into the Underground
- 3.6 Strike Back
- 3.7 Terran Interlude
- 3.8 28 Days Later
- 3.9 Tales of Home
- 3.10 Sundered Oaths
- 3.11 The Monster of Seadelant
- 3.12 The Secret Weapon
- 3.13 The Clash of Fates
- 3.14 Time's Ticking
- 3.15 T-Minus Five Minutes to Launch...and counting
- 4 Part Three: Liberation
- 4.1 Salvation from the Stars
- 4.2 Time for the Truth
- 4.3 Tales of the Daughters
- 4.4 We Will Meet Them Head On
- 4.5 The War in the Air
- 4.6 Driver, Advance!
- 4.7 Death Ride
- 4.8 Hell comes to Seadelant
- 4.9 The Lair of the Beast
- 4.10 The Mouth of Hell
- 4.11 The Aftermath
- 4.12 The Iron Tide
- 4.13 Calth
- 4.14 You Can't Go Home Again
- 4.15 Confronting the Lantsfalle's
- 4.16 A Final Confession
- 5 Alternate Ending
The lone planet sat suspended amid the turbulent ocean of the Warp, a beautiful blue and white globe floating against the mirror universe flowing behind and beneath it. It glowed with the light of the millions of souls that called the world home, a blaze of light that shone like a beacon in the Great Ocean. The eddies and flows of the Warp rippled unusually softly around the lone planet, as if unwilling to disturb its peaceful solitude. Suddenly an object, a massive object appeared within the warp, cast up from the unknown depths. It did not sail through the empyrean the way other ships did, so much as push its way through like an angry bull Grox. The bow wave of the object flushed out the many void predators which infested the Great Ocean, fleeing from the object’s approach. From some unknown depth, a mighty intelligence turned a shard of its attention to the object and the serene planet nearby. The intelligence was always planning, always scheming, and always looking for another opportunity to play out with the mortal realm. It had done so recently, the schemes of a servant of the Prince of Pleasure who had ultimately failed and an unforeseen opportunity which had itself come close to failure due to the intervention of its great enemy. But that enemy wasn’t here now, wasn’t able to interfere with this new scheme. Here was a chance to wound his foe, spread his taint, and secure a new pawn in the eternal game he played. Here was no ordinary pawn; here was a pawn with the blood of a god and very, very good connections, connections which if used right could bring the enemy to his knees. With a faint nudge, the tides of the Warp were shifted, and the object’s path was diverted towards the nearby planet. Another nudge and the dwellers within that object noticed the planet, and began to make preparations. Let the mortals deal with this new threat, while he worked the strings unseen. And so it was that a world was pushed into war…
Part 1. Invasion
‘…Port Huron is a beautiful city, and I wish you and your cousins could see it, though Nocturne sounds like a blast. I still aim to meet up with you all at the specified location at the end of our respective tours, and look forward to seeing you all then. Give my best wishes to Rem, Alex, Freya and especially Jake. Make sure you treat him well! I look forward to your next E-letter.’ Julius Pius paused, looked over his E-letter to Venus on his Dataslate, and frowned. The timestamp on his letter read 2 227 347 M34. It had been several months since scholam had finished and his time at Imperator High had come to an end, several months since the daughters scattered across the Imperium and he had joined them in their exodus. He was now already nearly halfway across the Imperium, and was now outbound to the thousand worlds of Ultramar. His birthplace. He was sitting outside the Portside Café, a pretty little establishment looking over both the water port and the space port parts of Port Huron, the capital city of the planet Seadelant. On one side was the sparkling sea, on the other the vast shapes of Starships anchored at the Spaceport, like a chain of metal mountains looming over the inner city. The café was almost the mirror image of a certain café on Terra, where he and his friends had gone several times before school ended, and where, a few months ago…no, better not to think about it. He would have to live with his mistakes, but he didn’t want to be reminded of them every few minutes.
He sipped on his Caf, checked his letter several times, smiling to himself at his more, interesting comments. ‘Treat him well’, Venus would smack him one with a comment like that if she was here to read it. He was never one to pry, but those ‘laid vibes’ always got to him, and anyway if any one couple in the ‘royals’ deserved happiness, it was those two, even above his own relationship. He was one of the few who had never judged Jake for his humble roots, as his roots were every bit as humble were his famous father not taken into account, and Jake in turn treated him as a friend. Satisfied with his letter, he finally hit the ‘send’ button. It would be forwarded to the nearby Astropath Guild HQ, where it would be beamed offworld within an hour or two. That was done, now he could finish his drink in peace. He only had another two days here before he would board a transport for Ultramar, and his long lost Mother. What would he do there, what would he think when he finally beheld her final resting place? He didn’t want to think about it, any more than he wanted to think about the circumstances which had led him from Terra, the events which saw him miss graduation and have to stand before a civilian tribunal.
His train of thought was cut short as the Vox in the corner crackled, something cutting over the classical music wafting through the café.
“An unidentified object has dropped out of the Warp approx 240,000,000 Miles from the Planet, twenty-seven minutes ago. Long ranged probes have been dispatched, and system ships have been mobilised to investigate. We do not, I repeat we do not, know if this is friendly or hostile, and as a precaution we are issuing a blue alert. All citizens should make preparations in the event of further alerts, but there is no need to panic. That is all.”
The Vox returned to its normal music, but it was now drowned out by the murmur of voices. Julius continued to sip on his Caf, but now he didn’t feel up for it. He had a queasy feeling in his gut, that this was no mere accidental translation, something bad was coming, and was once again about to be thrust into something he’d rather avoid. News like that was an unwelcome distraction for him. He had had enough of bad events affecting him and those he considered family, he wanted it all to be over, that damn gunman would be the last time something like that would ever happen. Crushing the empty hardfoam cup in his hand, he left. Hopefully, all things willing, it would be nothing and he could continue his trip in peace.
The Great Ocean was always unnaturally calm around Seadelant, which not only made it into one of the most important waystations between Segmentum Solar and Ultima Segmentum, astride the largest and most stable warp route between the two Segmentums, but also made it into a perfect location to meditate, to drift through the great ocean and clear one’s head, the reason Ahzek Ahriman was there. It helped that it was close to Prospero, and had been brought into compliance by the XVth Legion during the Crusade shortly after Magnus had reclaimed his Legion. The locals, awed by the civility of the Thousand Sons after compliance was achieved and they were liberated from their tyrannical overlords, gladly accepted aid from Prospero in rebuilding their war damaged cities. The city reminded him greatly of Tizca,"The City of Light", perfectly designed, every building aesthetically pleasing and perfectly fitting into the urban environment. An inner wall separated the more ugly new construction from the remnants of the old city and the Spaceport, and an outer wall in turn separated that from the countryside. The clifflike edifices of docked starships loomed far above the city, though cleverly the city plan meant the vast shadows cast by them did not keep Port Huron permanently wreathed in shadow. Most of the starships were passenger or cargo ships, with a single pair of Sword class Frigates being the only Military ships currently docked there.
The locals were very happy to be hosting the Chief Librarian of the Thousand Sons legion, and in the time he had been here, he had been invited to feasts and meetings, where his every word was treated as sacred gospel, irritating him. He was here to relax, to get away from Prospero and the duties of the head of the Corvidae. He’d already completely rearranged and catalogued the Corvidae Library, explored the hinterlands of Prospero and meditated in the Reflecting Caves beneath the Pyramid of Photep, and yet his mood hadn’t lightened. Finally he had accepted an invitation to travel with the Gladius-class Frigate Hapi to deliver some crystals to the Seadelant Astropathic guild, and when the Frigate had left he had stayed behind.
The big news currently filling the airwaves, and the minds of everyone in the city was this mystery object which only a few hours earlier had debarked from the Great Ocean. He had felt the ripples as it emerged into the material plane, waves of psychic energy gently washing over him, soaking him in excess power. He would have to shed that as soon as he could. Probes had been dispatched to find out what it was, but he could also find out, far more thoroughly and subtly than the devices of the Mechanicum ever could. He needed some sort of distraction, and a way of testing his aetheric connection.
He closed his eyes, recited the Enumerations and freed his body of light from his flesh. He could scout out the orbital intruder far better than the probes and ships, and without any potential inhabitants ever noticing him. Ahriman also hoped to catch a glimpse of things to come as well, even now after all this time he still hadn’t repaired his link to the future, and his powers of scrying were still at their lowest ebb since Aghoru. The lack of connection bothered him, was the Primordial Annihilator still haunting him, even now long after the shooting was done and its plan foiled?
Onwards and upwards he flew. His subtle body soared, effortlessly breaking free of the planet’s gravity and departing into the inky night of space, heading straight towards the distant space object slowly plummeting towards the planet.
The sun was a fading disc of light above him, and he flew ever upwards, spreading his arms like wings as he bathed in the warmth of the invisible currents of energy that permeated every corner of this world. The world below was a faint blue dot, a jewel set against the black curtain of space, at once so fragile and yet so precious.
The space object now loomed before him. As he had expected, it was a Space Hulk, the remnants of asteroids and ships sucked into the Great Ocean and fused together over millennia. There might be old tech from the dark age of technology on board that Hulk, objects the Adeptus Mechanicus would kill to obtain. Unusually, the Space Hulk was blazing with etheric Energy, far more than it normally should do, and it took a few seconds for it to hit Ahriman what that energy was. It was as crude and powerful as a flamethrower, and every bit as potent, setting the Hulk ablaze aetherically. He had seen that energy before, on many hundreds of battlefields, and as lingering traces on Ullanor. Only one race had that seemingly mindless potency. The Greenskins, the Orks. The galactic plague which could never be totally erased, not matter what the Emperor did. Millions of individual Orks infested the hulk, some manning semi-concealed weapons turrets studding the bow and flanks of the Hulk, others brawling with each other in cavern sized room or marching up and down the kilometres long network of tunnels worming their way through the Hulk. In what appeared to be the Hulk’s command centre, a bevy of massive Nobs and Warbosses poured around a crude screen, showing an image of Seadelant. Unseen, Ahriman looked on in Horror. This was a full on invasion force, the sort rarely seen in Imperial Space since the Crusade ended. The unmanned Navy probes speeding towards the Hulk were dead things, though the operators on the planet’s surface didn’t know it yet.
Before his aetheric eyes, the very moment the probes entered the range of the Hulk’s prow Gun batteries, those guns blazed, and one by one the probes were torn apart by the flurry of large calibre shells sent their way. If they didn’t know the hulk was hostile before, they certainly knew it now.
He returned to his physical body so hard several bruises blossomed upon his body. He groaned as his flesh ached with the stress of his body of light’s rushed reintegration. Ahriman used his heqa staff to push himself to his feet. The vox set on the windowsill of his hab crackled into life.
“This is an Urgent update. Our probes have scanned the target; however they were destroyed before the scan could be completed. Enough data was recovered before the probes were destroyed to ascertain the identity of the assailants, and we now regret to inform the identity of the unknown Object as an Ork Space Hulk, which will reach our orbit within a day and a half. Distress calls have been sent, and System Ships and Defence Monitors mobilised. We are upgrading our alert status to Amber, effective immediately.”
Ahriman could barely believe what he had just heard. They expected to take the monster out before it reached the planet! They hadn’t seen the monster with their own two eyes; they had no idea of the storm about to break upon them. The only way they could stop that hulk while it was still in space would be with an entire squadron of Battleships with a few Battle Barges in support, something that was very much absent from Seadelant’s orbit. The planetary defences would be swept aside within a few hours and the Orks would land, in the tens of millions. He had been taken on a tour of the cities defences, and while they were carefully laid out and capable of defending against a limited drop, they were woefully underequipped for dealing with an invasion of this magnitude. They would need him and his special gifts if they were to survive the onslaught until relief arrived. Ahriman stared at his armour, resting nearby. The last time he’d donned it, it was to hunt a supposed Chaos taint with the Night Haunter. And look where that got him! Was he about to make another such mistake? Even if so, without his insight this planet would fall, and a vital link in the chain holding the Imperium together would be severed. That would aid the Primordial Annihilator far more than anything he could do here. His mind made up, he began to don his battleplate. Once again, Ahzek Ahriman was going to war.
Taking Command and Signing Up
The Seadelant military command building was located beside the Governor’s palace at the very top of the hill the city was built upon. Like most of the buildings, it resembled a rounded pyramid with an observation dome on the top. Ahriman all but crashed through the door, briefly acknowledging the existence of the sentries before barging past them, ignoring their admittedly half hearted protests. What mortal would argue with a Marine in Battleplate, who obviously meant business? He reached the main room, patterned on a starship’s command deck with rows of screens above security consoles along the walls and a single massive window overlooking the Spaceport. An image of the Space Hulk was projected on the large Holodesk situated in the centre of the room, with several aides pouring over the fragmentary data the probes recovered. Graf Trakeria, supreme commander of the Seadelant PDF stood there flanked by the Planet’s Senior Astropath and Governor Shroe. Instead of talking about potential invasion scenarios or plans for defending the planet, they were talking about the last load of messages sent out before the distress call, with the Astropath apparently concerned about one outbound for Nocturne of all places. He had no time for that sort of thing; he needed to force some sense into them before they made a mistake which would cost the Imperium dearly.
“Lord Ahriman, we’ve been hoping you would join us. Of all the things that could happen, we had to get a full on Ork Space Hulk bearing down on our planet. What were the chances of that?”
Ahriman needed to cut to the chase, but as gently as possible. He didn’t want to offend them, or simply cut over them and take over. He was no arrogant Word Bearer or Emperor’s Child. “Believe me, there are many worse things that Hulk could have been. A Hellship for one, but that’s beside the point. The point is there’s 50 million Greenskins on that hulk, heading straight for this planet with one aim in mind: conquering and looting this world.”
“50 Million? How do you know exactly?”
“Because I saw them with my own eyes.”
“What do you mean, you…oh. Oh.” He hadn’t advertised his psychic potential to them, but they all had heard of his reputation. They just hadn’t expected it to be demonstrated in such circumstances.
“Yes. I’d like to hear what your plan is for dealing with this invasion. You’re sending the Defence Monitors out at the Hulk?”
“Yes, as well as every system ship we can muster. We would have the two Frigates up there with them, but both are not yet fully refurbished. A blasted shame the Mars Class Battlecruiser Thunder’s Fury left yesterday, else we would get the use of its Nova Cannon against the Green Menace. We don’t want the green scum setting foot upon our world, not in a thousand years. Why, do you have something with that plan?”
“My apologies Madam, but yes I do. Being honest, your plan is stupid. Foolhardy and stupid both.” He ignored the shocked expressions on their faces, and the looks he was getting from those personnel elsewhere in the room. They had to know. “That hulk is several kilometres across and studded in hundreds of guns, and you think your Defence Monitors can hope to destroy it? A great admiral once said that shooting Nova cannons at a Hulk was like ‘Like throwing eggs at a stone wall.’ You have no ability to damage the hulk before it reaches orbit, it’s just too big and powerful. And though the Orbital Defence network is stronger, even that will do little but slow it down. You’d need the combined fire of several Battleships and Battle Barges to destroy it, and I don’t see any around. Fortunately it has no escorting ships with it, so I’d suggest you withdraw the Defence Monitors until relief arrives. No sense in having them destroy themselves and doing little to stop the Hulk. No, the Greenskins can’t be stopped in orbit; they will have to be held here, on the ground, until a real military force can arrive to assist us.” He let that sink in. this was a time for harsh truths, nothing else would suffice.
Governor Shroe glared up at him, or at least tried to. “How can we stop an Ork Invasion on the ground? The total PDF numbers only 100,000, and that’s spread across the entire planet. They’ll get overwhelmed within days!”
“What Guard Regiments are currently here?”
“We have the Caorst XVI Charxers headed to Cadia, and the Belladon fifteenth, Perdix Hunters thirty-ninth and Tanith fifth ‘Larisels’ all headed to the Sabbat Worlds.”
“A Tanith Regiment, eh?” Tanith had supplied very few Regiments, but every one of them was worth its weight in gold. It was said the Emperor Himself intervened with the commander of the celebrated first regiment, the ‘Ghosts’ was court marshalled for disobeying an order which would have seen most of his regiment destroyed for no gain.
“Lord Ahriman? What would you do if you were in my place?”
Ahriman thought about it for a few seconds, each second stretching to minutes in his mind as he calculated feverishly. With the limited troops they could not hope to fight outside the city, and with those defensive walls… “We hold the outer walls for as long as possible, and when it becomes untenable to hold them any longer we withdraw to the inner walls, and there hold them off until relief forces arrive. Given the importance of Seadelant as the main hub between Segmentum Solar and Ultima Segmentum, I expect relief will arrive within two weeks or so, warp travel time permitting. We only need to hold that long, and with careful force positioning and maximum use of every available resource, I am quite confident we could do that.”
“And what about the civilian population?”
“Evacuate as many as possible on the docked civilian and cargo ships. Have them sent a safe distance away. Everyone else, pull them into the central city. If the outer walls should fall…”
Graf Trakeria and the Governor stared at each other for a few seconds. He could clearly read their auras, fear at the foe bearing down upon them, uncertainty as to what they were to do, and a growing sense of apprehension. This was a situation neither of them had ever expected to be in. Finally Graf Trakeria addressed him.
“Lord Ahriman, we know little of war, or our greenskin foes, but you do. Though this goes against tradition, I wish for you to take my place as supreme commander of the Seadelant defence forces.”
Externally, Ahriman stood impassively. Within, he was conflicted. Though he had wanted them to see sense, he didn’t want them to give him the job of defending the planet…or did he? Pride was something he had removed long ago, reaching that moment of full ego-extinction which allowed him to fight as impassively as a robot. But since the crusade ended, that pride had re-manifested itself, and try as he might; he could not fully remove it. And now he was being offered this, command of an entire world’s defence. What would Lord Magnus say to him? He imagined the crimson king; a supernova made flesh, the very essence of the great ocean coursing through him. He would take the reins; bend every fibre of his being to doing his duty, and saving this world. That made up his mind for him.
“If that is what you wish, fine, I will take command. I’ll need you both though; your troops may be a bit reluctant to take orders from me, and the civilians will need to follow my instructions. Together, we will save this world!”
He could notice the almost imperceptible twitch in his right hand. The fate of this world now rested on his shoulders. A small part of him rejoiced, but that feeling was submerged beneath a tide of grim resolve. He had work to do, if this world was not to fall under the green tide.
The skyscraper sized barrels of defence lasers poked their iron snouts out of massive underground bunkers, the shadows they cast lying long and heavy over Port Huron. That seemed a fitting allegory to Julius as he made his way through the now deserted streets of the Old City. A once shining city of light and colour was now under a shadow, the shadow of the approaching Space Hulk, and the millions of Orks within, all lusting after the planet. All day civilian transports had departed from the Spaceport and the Seaport, carrying thousands away from the planet and the city respectively. Once again he wondered why he wasn’t on board one of those transports, leaving the planet with the rest of the civilian population, and why he was about to do something which many would construe as ‘stupid’, and which could easily get him killed.
Because, like it or not, he felt he could make a difference, by doing this he could atone for his sins, for nearly having the girl he loved killed and for seemingly ruining his relationship with her. He didn’t even know if they would stay together after this, they hadn’t spoken since that torturous grilling in the Emperor’s office and Julius didn’t know if she had forgiven him or not. For a long time, once he had finally stripped away the mask she wore in public and beheld her true face for the first time, he had felt that they would remain together. She may have found his beliefs kind of weird, and could never quite grasp why he chose to remain celibate, but they had got beyond that, they knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and each acted as an anchor for the other one. And now he was cut loose from that anchor, and he was drifting with no idea where he was going, apart from the office building a short distance up the road. He had been brought up with the full knowledge of what war truly was like, and had no illusions about the hell he was about to descend into. There was every chance he wouldn’t make it.
The queue outside the offices was relatively long but fast moving, and it wasn’t long at all before he was inside and standing before a short, plump man in a PDF Officer’s uniform. “Name.” he said without looking up.
“Parsson. Oll Parsson, Ser.” Julius used the last name of an old friend of his mothers, and his father’s long standing nickname. Better not to be known, for if he was doubtless he would be refused and forcibly evacuated. His father’s name was famous across the Imperium, doubtless people would make the connection if it was known.
“Ser? You’re from the Thousand Worlds?”
“Yes Ser. I was on my way back, but the damn Greenskins have interfered.”
“All standard patterns of Lasgun and Autogun, as well as Hellguns, Bolt weapons and Needlers.” He was actually trained in far more than these simple weapons, but best to keep that to himself.
“It’s the Thousand worlds of Ultramar, Ser. The XIII trains us well.” What Julius didn’t mention was Vulkan’s Hellpistol, concealed beneath his Greatcoat. Though that weapon now had several bad memories attached, it was still a perfectly crafted and deadly firearm, and would serve him well in the unlikely event an Ork came at him.
The PDF officer rapidly scribbled on a sheet of paper, before handing it to him for his signature. Julius paused, pen held over the paper. He could still back out, get on a transport and flee to safety. What would Isis say, were she here with him? They were each other’s moral compasses; every time Isis had to do something on the student council she would seek him out first, to get his opinion on the matter. Throughout all her struggles with Roberta, it was he who had stood by her, and never let her down. She wouldn’t back down then, and neither would he now, even if it was over between them. He signed his name.
“Congratulations.” the Officer said in a less than congratulatory tone. “You have just been enrolled in the Civilian Defence Auxilia, for the duration of the Emergency. You are assigned to Munitions Escort, please report to outer wall gate 1-5.” He handed Julius an armband with ‘CDA” monogrammed in gothic script. And just like that, Julius was a soldier.
Welcome to the Team
The outer walls of Port Huron were abuzz with activity. Normally, apart from a few PDF patrols and sightseeing tourists, the walls were deserted. But now the walls were abuzz with the sound of soldiers making ready. This particular section was being held by the PDF and their troopers stood upon the walls, some resting and awaiting the coming storm, others scanning the silent sky with spyglasses and Magnoculars, or tending to wall mounted Autocannons and Heavy Bolters as well as their own personal weapons. Heavy weapons were being manhandled into position, and several troopers were excavating Mortar Pits with Jackhammers, digging into the Rockcrete surface. In the midst of all this, Julius looked around for the CDA team he had been assigned to. He was sure he was at the right place, just east of outer wall gate 1-5.
“Are you Parsson?” an attractive young woman with long blonde hair, a pixie-ish face and a short, turned-up nose wearing a CDA armband and a black bodyglove gestured at him, beckoning him over. She was standing beside a C-80 Cargo Hovertruck, several others offloading crates of ammunition behind her. He noted she was slightly shorter then he was, about 5' 3¼" high, though she looked older. He threw her a snappy salute.
She chuckled. “We’re not professional army, no need to do that. Certainly not for me, though our section leader will definitely want one. I’m Summer. You must be the offworlder, welcome to 4th section, Munitions Escort Brigade. We ferry the ammunition from the bunkers to the walls, freeing up the PDF to fully man the walls. Guys, this is Oll Parsson, the offworlder recruit we were informed about.”
He swiftly learnt the names of his fellow CDA Troopers. The broad one with the thick Tanith accent and the blue tattoo over his eye was Flynn; the son of a Nalwood trader who’d set up shop on Seadelant. The dark skinned one was Scvott, the troop leader. The first thing he did was throw a salute at Julius who took a few seconds to realise he had to return it. Scvott didn’t seem impressed by the delay, but was very welcoming to Julius. Finally the tall, bulky and rugged one was Dyllion, a dock worker who nearly crushed Julius’s hand in a vice like handshake, pointedly ignoring military protocol and Scvott’s disapproving looks. They were all curious about the stranger who had joined them.
“Oll? Is that short for Ollanius, like the great war hero?” Flynn asked.
Julius admitted it was, leading to the others all talking about his heroics, or rather Scvott talking about them and Dyllion shaking his head. Julius concealed his blush as best he could, even now he still couldn’t shake off his father’s influence. He convinced them to ‘call me Oll’, which set his mind at ease.
“Come on you lazy sods, back to work.” A voice came down from the walls, and the group returned to shifting crates from the C-80, Julius immediately joining in. As they worked, they conversed, most of them directing questions at Julius.
“So, Oll, you come from the Thousand Worlds of Ultramar. Have you seen real Ultramarines?” Scvott asked.
‘I have seen far more than Ultramarines’, he thought to himself. ‘Roberta Guilliman the heir to Ultramar herself was my nursery mate and I schooled with her sister-cousins, they are practically family to me’. But instead he made up seeing them a few times, but always at a distance. He had come out to get away from that life, and he would keep it under wraps. They were all awed by his tale, Flynn commenting he’d have made a good Space Marine, to which Scvott replied with an assumption about Flynn which made them all laugh, and Flynn responded with a string of colourful insults. These people were growing on Julius.
Suddenly the sky was lit up by a new sun, a bright glow cutting through the azure dome of the heavens. The glow continued for a few seconds, before it began to fade and the sky returned to its natural colour.
“Some poor, brave bastards up there just bought it.” Flynn sniffed. Later Julius would learn of the brave crew of the station who let the Orks board them, drew over a million of them into the station before overloading the station’s reactors, taking the Orks with them and earning every crewmember a posthumous Iron Star.
“That only means one thing.” Julius said as the glow died away. “The Orks have reached our orbit, and most likely will start landing within a day or two, they’ll only hang around long enough to locate where our troops are positioned, so they can get to the fight straight away.”
“Do they teach you these things in the Thousand Worlds?” Scvott sounded slightly jealous.
“We have the Ork Empire of Charadon on our doorstep; there are always border clashes and the threat of a Waaagh! We take precautions.”
The last crate of munitions was offloaded and stacked beside the Ammo lifts on the wall. Scvott called up. “Truck’s empty sir, what next?”
“We need another three cases of LG-04, two of HEFG 09, four cases of AAAFSDS, and one DVD-V LD12-0223. Then we should be done, at least until the Greenskins land and the bullets start flying.”
“What the fuck?” asked Dyllion.
“Lasgun powerpacks, Frag Grenades, Anti-air Autocannon sabot rounds for the Hydra emplacements and a holodisk on standard defensive Anti-Ork tactics so the men can brush up and know what to do. I know the Munitorium use the most stupid numerational systems designed by man, but we have to live with it and you’d better get used to these terminologies, they’ll be ruling your lives for Emperor-knows how long. Now hustle up, the greenskins won’t wait around for you.”
As fourth section clambered aboard the hovertruck, Julius thought about Venus, Remalia, Freya and their beaus, and what they must be getting up to. They only had another two days on Nocturne before they would be heading off for Fenris. Would he have a story of two to tell them if he survived this.
“They’d better be having a better time than I am.” He murmured to himself.
“Who are you talking about?” Julius realised his murmur came out a little bit too loud.
“Just some friends of mine, they’re on their own trip, but unlike me they weren’t lucky enough to have an Ork Hulk show up on their doorstep.”
“Luck is a curious thing.” Summer commented. “Just when you think you’re out of it, it comes back to you. With luck, this will all be over soon, and we can all get on with our lives. Now come on, let’s get that last shipment up here.”
The Sky is Falling
The Sky was falling. Explosions painted the sky, burning wrecks plummeted to their destruction, and streaking blasts of anti-aircraft fire stitched bright traceries across the heavens. Ahriman felt them all moments before they happened, felt the air part as Roks plummeted through the atmosphere, felt the heat as Plasma Missiles flew up towards the descending Roks, felt the crunch as Defence Laser beams smashed those Roks into pebbles. He was in the command centre, or more accurately his body was in the command centre, wearing an archaic helmet he’d cobbled together using materials from the Astropathic Guild, allowing him to share his precognitional abilities with the Astropaths he’d had stationed at each Defence Laser battery and the Plasma Missile silo command centre, as well as sending small snippets to individual Pilots and AA gunners should the need arise. He’s practiced with them all for several hours yesterday, and while the experience hadn’t been entirely pleasant, it was now paying off. His spirit, his body of light, his ‘mistflesh’ as the Wolves called it was flitting across the battlespace, seemingly everywhere and nowhere at the same time. As he stood there facing the invasion, jerking images of the future blazed in his mind. Those images he used, bending and changing them to his benefit. Once, this had been simple enough to do, but now he was ever mindful of the Primordial Annihilator, one aspect of which had mastered the manipulation of the future thousands of years before man had even contemplated there being such a thing as the future. Now he had to be careful, keeping feather-light touch, and ever mindful for any sudden shifts in the currents of the future, which could suggest external influence. But his main focus was manipulating the strands of fate to his, and the planets advantage. This close to the present, such sudden changes would be easy to find, and it was a simple matter for the Master of the Corvidae to pluck them from the aether. Every time he did, he sent a pulse of warning to the Astropaths, who in turn sent it to the gun crews, who used this priceless information to ensure every shot counted. Under his guidance, not a single Defence Laser beam, Plasma Missile or AA flak burst was wasted, every shot bringing a target down. That alone couldn’t stop the invasion, but it thinned the ranks of the enemy nicely and ensured no Roks went through the shield and flanked the city walls, upsetting his complex defence plan.
Ahriman saw a flickering image of a Dakkajet shell punch through the belly of a Thunderbolt Fighter, and sent a pulse of warning into the matrix. No sooner had his warning been sent than Thunderbolt banked sharply. Mere seconds later, a stream of shells tore empty air and exploded harmlessly above it, and the Thunderbolt responded with its chattering Autocannons, sending the Dakkajet down in flames.
The last few hours had been hectic, ever since he had felt the shift in the aetheric currents which betrayed the Roks and Landa’s leaving the Hulk, bound for the planet’s surface. Everything had to be in place, everything had to be right. Many people had cursed his name, but better that then them getting killed. He had always been a bit of a perfectionist, something which had not made him popular with many of his students, but in war that perfection achieved Victory. Fulgrim and his warriors may endlessly quest for perfection, but the Thousand Sons embodied it.
This was something entirely new for him. There were occasions during the Crusade where Astartes took command of Imperial Army forces, usually during long campaigns far from support, but never had an Astartes taken command of the defence forces of an entire planet. He knew there would be an inquiry and a reckoning, but he could deal with that when it happened. As his Space Wolf friend Ohthere Wyrdmake once told him ‘burn those bridges when you come to them’. He’d heard from Wyrdmake just a few days previously, he’d been making preparations for when the Lady Freya returned to Fenris as part of that little trip she was going on with some of the other Daughters. Unbidden, the old saying, ‘There are no wolves on Fenris’ entered into his mind, and his body snorted, alarming the Vox operators clustered around him.
His heightened sensitivity to the immediate future gave him an unmatched situational awareness. He could see every aircraft and every Rok in the clear blue skies, and feel the fears of the PDF Troopers and the Guard manning the walls and watching the unfolding spectacle. When the ancients talked about omnipotent gods, they had no idea how right they were. He flew with the lone squadron of Thunderbolts stationed planetside as they busily played cat and mouse with the heavy Ork Landas, knocking down as many as possible while keeping the Ork Fightas and Dakkajets at bay. He stood with the PDF troopers as they stared up at the sky, or mentally prepared themselves for the upcoming battle. He skimmed over the shield as shells from orbit and shards of Rok clanged and bounced off of it. What on the outside seemed like total chaos, to him was a graceful ballet, every piece of the defence moving in harmony. It was a dance of potential futures, an endlessly shifting current of the possible and the real, blending, separating and combining in a tempest of time. It was as close as Ahriman ever felt to total perfection.
War is hell. A saying as old as war itself. Julius had read that saying many thousands of times, in many thousands of ancient works. But one thing you never read, that the ancients never said was that war was beautiful, even if that beauty was dark, harsh and inhuman, repulsive and yet attractive at the same time. These thoughts passed through Julius’s mind as he watched the fireworks blaze far above him. Shells, debris and other flotsam and jetsam of battle smacked and bounced off Port Huron’s voids, the endless flickers and flashes of energy emanating from them lighting up the sky like a stormy aurora. The contrails of Imperial and Ork aircraft formed vivid patterns high above the city as they duelled in the autumn sky. He couldn’t see much more, where the Orks were landing or what they were doing was a mystery to him, and being honest he didn’t much want to know. He had his duty, keep the troops supplied, and that would be what he would do, when the time came. There was nothing for them to do now until the bullets started flying, and so he sat there, watching the world ripping itself apart. Around him his section similarly stared open mouthed at the sky like awestruck babes, mirroring his own expression. He’d lived on Terra, seen the Emperor Himself, had tea with the Primarchs and gone on trips with all their daughters, and yet this sight, this sight which could herald his own death still filled him with awe.
“This is shit I’ll tell my Grandchildren about.” Dyllion murmured as a Rok was vaporised by a direct hit far above them.
“Yeah, if you live long enough to have grandchildren.” Julius added. He’d swiftly warmed to his squadmates, and they to him. They’d spent the night swapping stories around a Promethium burner, as the shields continued to bear the brunt of the enemy’s inaccurate planetary bombardment. Flynn was Tanith born and bred, his father a Nalwood trader who had set up shop here to take advantage of traffic on the Void Walks and the Terra-Ultramar road. He also proved to be a genius with machines, spending a lot of time tinkering with the C-80s engine trying to remove the speed governors, someone who on a different world would have been swiftly indoctrinated into the Mechanicum and trained as a Tech-Priest. He and Farah would get on like a house on fire, were they ever to meet.
Scvott was a pilot cadet in the Seadelant PDF, who hoped to join the Imperial Navy and see the Galaxy. He had aspirations for command, though his commanding antics did little to impress Julius, he wanted to be firm but kind and couldn’t quite manage either.
From what little they could wheedle out of him, Dyllion was the son of a dockworker at the spaceport. He spoke little, cursed often and had seemingly no respect for Scvott as a leader, but behind the colourful insults was a strangely reassuring presence, and of all of them he was the strongest physically.
Summer though, she spoke little and didn’t speak about her past. She always seemed slightly distant, but as the only woman among them Julius could hardly fault her for that. In fact, he kind of knew how she felt, for so much of his life he’d been the minority, outnumbered by the Imperial Daughters, who he’d been brought up with. In fact, this was the first time he’d been with a bunch of peers who were not the sons of nobility or the upper classes, these people were more like Jake than anyone he’d met before. He idly wondered what Jake’s reaction would be when he told him about this.
He noticed with interest the camera crew standing on the wall nearby, filming the spectacle for the planetary news services. They finished and headed down the wall and towards where they were lounging. Noticing the CDA bands on their arms, they detoured over towards them. “Excuse me, we’re with the Seadelant Broadcasting Corporation, the SBC, and we’re looking for people to interview. Keep up morale and all that.”
They exchanged a few questions with an enthusiastic Scvott and more down to earth Flynn, while Summer politely declined and Dyllion’s comment was not fit for broadcast. As they turned to Julius, Scvott mentioned to them that he wasn’t from Seadelant, he was an offworlder.
“Oh, you are? Who are you then, and where are you from son?”
“Parsson. Oll Parsson Ser, from Calth in the Thousand Worlds.”
“Ultramar? What’s an Ultramar boy doing here on Seadelant?”
Before his mind could fully process the question and connect with his fictional back-story, he said “I was on my home from a trip to Terra.”
There were audible gasps from his squadmates. He’d clean forgot he’d deliberately not made mention of Terra at all, only that he was a native of the Thousand Worlds, and he’d been visiting relatives elsewhere. Now he was up for it.
“So, you were on Terra when that awful shooting incident happened to the Lady Morticia. Is that comparable to what’s happening now?”
Julius winced. That was the one think he had been hoping to avoid.
“They are two very different things Ser. The assassination attempt on the lady Morticia was a tragedy for the entire Imperium, and she could easily have died. This though, if the worst comes to the worst many thousands, maybe millions could die. Does her life count for more than those lives, is her importance greater than all those who are willing to lay down their lives to defend our Imperium?” Julius didn’t quite know where that came from, but he spoke it with such passion that he saw the film crew were moved.
“I’m not trying to lessen her ordeal, or make it sound frivolous, I’m not. But that is a rather stupid question to ask right here, right now. The Daughters are important, but they’re not here now standing shoulder to shoulder with the brave men and women who are about to face the Greenskins on the battlements yonder. Leave them out of it, and focus on the men and women who count those who will die for your world. I’m an offworlder who volunteered to stand with this planet’s native sons and daughters in the defence of their world, your world, and I honestly couldn’t be more proud.”
All of this poured out of Julius without him quite realising what he was saying. All his frustration at the last few months poured out.
“Thank you very much for that, Oll. Your story will be an inspiration all over Seadelant.” And with that, the film crew departed, somewhat hastily as a shell landed against the shield close by.
When they were gone, Julius found his squadmates clustered around him, demanding answers. “You’ve been to Terra? Why didn’t you tell any of us?” Summer demanded. “I didn’t think it was important. I know I’ve caused a stir already, I didn’t want make a bigger one.”
“Well you failed on that count, Oll. Your face is going to be plastered all over the SBC now, the brave offworlder standing in defence of our world alongside its native sons. Good propaganda, very stirring.” Flynn dodged Julius’s throw, laughing.
“You’re an offworlder too Flynn.” He retorted.
“Yeah, well I’ve been living here for nearly five years. Whereas you were just passing through.”
“So, you’ve seen Terra? What was it like?” Summer added.
Julius had to think of that one for a while. “A mixed bag. Some parts, like Startseite and the Merican hives were nice, but there’s still poverty, even on the very doorstep of the Emperor’s Palace, and the atmosphere is still heavily polluted despite the years of Geo-Engineering. It’s not the perfect place everyone thinks it to be, in fact I’d rather live here than on Terra any day.”
“And Calth? What’s that like?”
Julius smiled vaguely, while trying to remember from the Holos what Calth was actually like. “A lot like here. Your world reminds me of Calth, the clean air and bright sky, which is one reason I’m glad I’m able to help you protect it. I can imagine what it would be like if Calth came under attack, and was ravaged by some enemy set on slaughter and despoilment. I’d rather die than see that day, for either of our worlds. Now come on, we’ve had our time in the spotlight, didn’t Flynn have that joke about the Eldar…”
To the Walls
The plains outside the city were on fire. Not a physical fire, but a fire of Aetheric energy, and to Ahriman standing on the walls it felt like he was standing in the doorway of a furnace, feeling its raw elemental heat blasting against his body. Outside the walls, beyond the reach of the Imperial Artillery, even beyond the range of the Caorst Bombards, the heaviest siege guns on the Planet, the Ork host was assembling. All night he’d felt the mass of Greenskins grouping together, their leaders mustering them. As they came together, the fire grew, fed and fanned by the proximity of so many Greenskins to one another, until it became an uncontrollable firestorm, whipping the Orks into a furious frenzy. They knew where their enemy was, their enemy couldn’t escape, and they would stomp them flat. The sound of machinery had kept half the city awake as the Orks assembled Siege machines for breaking the outer walls down and the acridic stink of the exhaust fumes from their engines could be clearly smelt from the walls. The reality of what was happening to then was now fully sinking in, and he’d heard reports of small scale riots from the inner city, and even a suicide or two, which didn’t make Ahriman’s mood any better.
Ahriman was among the Seadelant PDF on the western wall sector, raising morale by his mere presence. He had detached himself from the psychic matrix which had allowed them to destroy so much of the initial landings, but some twenty million Orks and many thousands of tanks and war engines were now planetside, and those defences would no longer be of any use in stopping them. No, he would set an inspiration and lead them from the walls, examine the strings of fate and reshape them at the source, alter the battle as it raged around him.
Though he’d requested his name not be broadcast or mentioned, news had spread by word of mouth. A Space Marine leading them was something which could not be hushed up, and they had heard so many stories of the Great Crusade, and how they had been liberated from the Xenos which had enslaved Seadelant during Old Night. Wherever he went, he was greeted with cheers, and a forest of salutes. As he strode along the walls, the troops stood in solid ranks, each trying to outdo his or her peers and look good before the Marine.
“Sir?” Ahriman turned to face the man who addressed him. It was a trooper of the Planetary Defence Force. “Speak, trooper,” Ahriman replied.
“Sir. If we survive this, my lord, what will become of us?”
‘What will become of us?’ Ahriman considered the man’s question for a second. He could see the fear clouding him, clouding all of them despite seeing him before them, and knew that he had to banish that cloud, give the man some hope. “That I do not know. Time is fluid, and no future is set in stone. There is no inevitability that the Orks will win here, and by your very being here you change the future course of this battle. Do you hear that?” he amplified his voice so the other troopers could also hear him. “Even the smallest pebble can change the course of a rushing river, and by the same measure any one of you can change the entire course of this war. Never doubt your importance to the final victory here, one man or woman, one bullet or lasbeam can make all the difference. With men and women like yourselves at my side, how can we ever lose?” the man smiled, the fear dissipating from his aura and some of his fellow cheered. That feeling carried with Ahriman as he left the walls and headed for the old city and the command centre. He was not one for inspirational speeches, he didn’t have the talent for it like the Word Bearers, Sons of Horus or Imperial Fists did. He would stand with them, and by his actions be an inspiration.
He would have ample warning when the Orks decided to make their move, he would feel it aetherically long before any reports reached him, and he needed to check with Graf Trakeria and Governor Shroe about the evacuation plans and any replies to the distress signals sent, if they had burned through the Aetheric ECM the Ork Hulk was broadcasting. Quite how the Greenskins were able to perform such a feat he had no idea, even after many years of research how their collective Psychic field actually worked was something which still stumped the Imperium’s top Psychomancers. Lord Magnus could work it out, if he wasn’t always busy elsewhere.
The city was a ghost town, the streets deserted. A few days earlier, this city was full of life, and its Warp Signature was bright and vibrant, glorious to behold. Not anymore. The ghostly echoes of how it used to be still lingered, a faint hint of life in an otherwise dead city.
The Command Centre within the inner city was an inversion of the rest of the city, bustling with hectic activity. Several Hydra Flak tanks in the Gunship Green colour of the Caorst Charxers were parked outside to provide air cover, while runners dashed out the doors every few minutes, sending classified messages from place to place, to command bunkers within the outer city and the Spaceport. Ahriman knew every order even before it was sent, he had drafted most of them himself and every one was telepathically sent to him for approval. Every head turned when he entered the room, a giant in crimson armour. Removing his helmet, he addressed Graf Trakeria. “Morale is satisfactory down on the walls. A fair amount of apprehension, but that will evaporate when the fighting begins. Is everything in order back here?”
“Yes Lord Ahriman. You know my lord; I may have had my doubts at first, but the show you put on for us when the Greenskin scum were landing has convinced me. We destroyed nearly a third of the initial landings, and suffered comparatively few losses ourselves. With you leading us, I am almost supremely confident we will be able to hold out until relief arrives!” “Never be confident of anything. The tides of the Great Ocean can shift and change at any moment, and we must be ready for that. Speaking of that, has there been any word on the relief? The Astropaths sent distress calls for nearly half a day before the Orks shut them down.”
“We caught a snippet of something shortly before the curtain came down. Very fragmentary, mentioned ‘delay’, ‘available troops’ and ‘Salamanders’, which did not install much confidence in us save mention of the XVII Legion. We hoped you would shed light on it my Lord.”
Ahriman took those words into his mind, reached into the Great Ocean and began to unravel them. Though much was lost, he pieced together a very rough picture, and it wasn’t a pretty one.
“It seems there are not many active troops available near us, and they’re scrambling to assemble a relief force. That means we may have to hold out for longer than I anticipated.” He heard a few curses around the room, and almost all of the auras flamed red with frustration.
“Don’t worry, my plan is sound and with it we should be able to hold out for several months to a year, ample time for relief to arrive. Any delay is inconvenient, but this is war and we have to make do.”
The flares subsided, but there was still an air of discontent in the building. Nothing Ahriman could do about that though, he could change many things but not these circumstances. He spent the next few minutes checking the reports on the food stockpile, the power grid, the integrity of the Voids, and other minute but important details so often overlooked by supreme commanders. He began to feel more at peace with the world, until as he was discussing De-Salinisation of sea water in the event of a long siege, a report rang out across the room.
“Movement! The Orks are on the move!”
Ahriman cursed. He hadn’t felt the Orks leave their encampments. He extended his mind out beyond the walls, and was hit by another revelation. They were only a few kilometres out, half the distance he had expected to detect them at. The inferno of the Ork Psy Field suddenly hit him full force, sending his body of light straight back to his flesh. Everyone noticed him shudder, and at the same time the scanner operators detected the oncoming horde, and their reaction mirrored his own.
“Shit! How did they get so close without us noticing it?”
“Where is the damn artillery?”
“Attention, attention, we have incoming all across the line, respond over!”
“Enemy artillery hitting the Voids!”
There was no need to use his precognition abilities to tell what the Orks were doing. They would only move in one direction, straight towards the walls. In behaviour, Greenskins were nothing if not predictable.
“My Ladies, Gentlemen, I leave overall command in your capable hands. Follow my plan, and all should go well. The troops on the wall need inspiration, and I just about qualify.” He paused long enough to jam his helmet back on his head, and then he was gone.
“Here they come!”
The call was echoed across the walls, as the storm broke before them. Troopers rushed into positions, screaming commands or encouragement at each other. The ‘click’ and ‘chink’ sound of weapons being readied and the rattle of ammunition being loaded rose in intensity. Julius sat in the rear of the C-80, knowing that any time soon they would be sent on their first supply run. This really was it; he was in the middle of a war. Andrew would be so jealous. Let him be, when he gets his first taste of real war we’ll see how jealous he feels when there’s things out to kill him, he’s scared stiff as a board and feels like he’s about to vomit.
As the chaos raged around him, he tried to detach his mind from the troubles at hand and focus on something which had been bugging him immensely. His surprise interview with the SBC had left him feeling cold, after he had seen it broadcast the next day. Had he been a tad too harsh? He didn’t quite realize what he had been saying until it was too late, all that rage and frustration spilling out like a breached dam. He would have a lot of explaining to do if he got out of this alive, to Lord Mortarion first. He could explain it was meant to raise morale at the local level, and was in no way indicative of his true feelings, even when deep down it may have been a bit too close to those for comfort. What had happened to Morticia affected them all, himself included, and though most of the others were now over it he wasn’t, all thanks to the Petitioner’s City. Because of his stupid idea, he’d damn near got Isis killed, and he couldn’t get over that. He’d hoped leaving Terra and going to Calth would sort things out, but instead he had got caught up in this.
He wondered if they knew where he was, what was happening to him. Venus at least knew where he was, and her group might have an inkling what was happening to him, but would Isis and her cousins back on Terra know what was happening to him? He had grown up with them; they all considered him family, even cold Petra and spoilt Victoria had a soft spot for Pius, though by now that spot was buried deep. He had been the lone boy among them, until Imperator High when they discovered the wonders of boyfriends, and more and more often he’d found himself acting as chaperone to the other ‘royal consorts’, teaching them about etiquette and so on. He tried to stay on good terms with the consorts, but other than Jake and Andrew, he didn’t count any of them as close friends.
There was a deep rolling chain of booms behind him, and then a whistling sound overhead as the Basilisks opened up, spitting death at the oncoming horde. The shrieking roar of Storm Eagle rockets from the Manticores and the throaty whine of massive Bombard shells added to the din. Other Munitions groups would be supplying them with shells; he didn’t have to worry about that. Keeping the troops on the wall, as well as the wall mounted Hydras and Battlecannons supplied, that would be his problem.
The others came up to him. “Soon be in the shite offworlder, ready for it?” Flynn asked. Julius nodded half-heartedly. His stomach felt queasy, his breakfast disagreed with him.
“Of course. Giant green fungus monsters are about to attack this city. Aren’t you scared?”
“Hell no! What’s there to fear?”
“I’m scared.” Dyllion murmured abruptly. All the others looked at him in shock. Dyllion seemed the most fearless of all of them, to have him admit that he was scared, then again all of them must be scared, Julius thought. He remembered something his father once told when, when recounting a story about Ullanor. Taking his father’s words as his own, he said. “I doubt there’s anyone here who’s not scared, even you Flynn must be scared somewhere within, even if you don’t want to admit it. I know I am, scared out of my wits. It’s a natural reaction, we’re all only human. Now come on, we have a job to do, and every little thing counts.”
Ahriman raced through the old city at transhuman speed, past batteries of Basilisks throwing shells downrange and Manticores sending missiles shrieking over the walls, past the single battery of Bombards parked in Liberators Square, past the Caorst Charxers lone Baneblade platoon, firing their massive cannons indirectly, past squadrons of Leman Russ and Malcadors waiting for orders and Chimeras with Caorst troopers lounging around them, until he finally reached the walls. The main gate and the surrounding wall area was guarded by troops from the Tanith Fifth ‘Larisels’, who despite being light infantry with few heavy weapons, and a junior regiment to the Belladon, Perdix and Caorst regiments, had been chosen for that position because they could be counted on to hold at all costs, and if by some disaster the falls fell they were well proven cityfighters.
Ahriman strode up the wall stairs four at a time, thoughts racing through his mind. He hadn’t felt the Ork horde move, somehow it had closed with the walls without him realising it. After his success during the initial landings he had dared hope he was free of the fog which had blinded him to the manipulations of the Primordial Annihilator, but it seems he was back at square one all over again. Was this to be his curse, no longer in complete control of his abilities? The most powerful Astartes psyker in the Galaxy, humbled?
Unlike the heavily fortified walls of cities bordering places such as the Eye of Terror, the Maelestrom or the various static Ork Empires, where the walls mounted massive artillery pieces for destroying Titans and the like, the heaviest guns on Seadelant’s walls were Battle Cannons, which while deadly were not heavy enough to face heavy war engines like Gargants. Fortunately he couldn’t detect any Gargants among the Ork forces, or anything heavier than a few scattered Battlefortresses and Stompas near the back of the horde. Black clad Tanith troopers were clustered tightly against the walls, checking and re-checking lasguns, watching the enemy approach through field glasses and quietly chatting with colleagues. They seemed remarkably calm and composed, but Ahriman could see the fear clouding their auras.
“Who’s in command here?” Ahriman called out to the nearest trooper, ever so subtly manipulating his aura to make himself appear more imposing, a tried and tested tactic to ensure orders are obeyed.
“That would be me.” A figure detached itself from a nearby knot of troops and headed towards Ahriman. It was a Commissar, the political officers which sometimes were attached to untested regiments. To his credit, the Commissar did not flinch from the eyeless gaze of Ahriman’s helm, throwing a snappy salute at the towering Astartes warrior.
“I am Günter Wilhelm Victor Eberhardt Von Eisenstein, Lord Commissar, Tanith Fifth. The troopers call me Günter; it’s a lot easier that way.”
“A pleasure to meet you.” Ahriman said, noting the way his men deferred to him. This was no ordinary Commissar, who ruled through fear and didn’t care for the lives of his men. The Tanith seemed to have a miraculous ability to get assigned only the most reasonable Commissars, as well as near supernatural luck in battle. Another reason why they were the rising stars of the Imperial Army.
“Commissar… Günter. My precognition tells me the Orks will concentrate their push here, that this is the vital sector on the line. The Greenskins will throw everything they’ve got at your troops, and I need to know if they can hold. Are your troops up to facing this?” Ahriman gestured at the tide coming in towards them. “They may look scruffy and unkempt, but there are few finer troops in the entire Imperium. The Tanith first have won more Battle Honours in the Sabbat worlds than most regiments did during the entire Crusade. Their Commissar, to be correct their Colonel-Commissar looks set to be the next Ollanius Pius. My Lord, if anyone can hold off the Green Tide, it will be these men and women.”
Ahriman turned to face out at the approaching Orks, reciting the enumerations as he did so he could distance himself from emotions and achieve perfect clarity. The Ork host was advancing, a solid wall of green stretching from one horizon to the next, an ocean of bodies advancing on the walls. Trukks, Battlewagons and Battle Fortresses rode above the horde like metal icebergs in the sea of green, partially concealed by the smog from engines and clouds of spore fog floating before them.
Among the host, towering over them were eight massive engines. Each was slightly higher than the curtain wall, and Ahriman recognised the basic design almost at once, an Orky rendition of an ancient siege weapon used on Terra, and later on places like Olympia, homeworld of the Iron Warriors. Belfries, or Siege Towers as they were more commonly termed, a way of scaling walls too high for ladders or grappling hooks. Some rolled along on wheels or track systems, thick black exhaust clouds billowing behind them. Others had thousands of chains attached, and were being pulled and pushed along by the Orks around them. Harsh bellows came from behind one, and Ahriman started when he saw it was being pushed by a pair of immature Squiggoths. Were there more of those foul tempered flesh mountains out there?
Flashes of fire erupted among the horde as the Basilisks, Manticores and Bombards of the Caorst Charxers shelled them. However the weight of fire seemed to be doing very little to slow down the foe, the Ork horde rolling on despite the weight of fire sent against them. Were the troops here in the open, they would stand no chance once the horde reached close combat. But here they had high walls to shelter behind, and as long as the Orks didn’t get a foothold on the walls, they would be safe. Those towers would give them that foothold, if they reached the walls.
“Have the wall Battle Cannons target those towers. Knock them down, and the horde will be stranded beneath our walls in the very teeth of our guns. The Artillery and Charxers can keep thinning the hordes ranks. Now!"
The Battle Cannon nearest to him zeroed in on the closest Siege Tower, and fired, swiftly followed by the others all along the walls. The shells screamed towards the towers, but as the leading shell neared its victim, an arc of energy leapt off the tower, detonating the Battle cannon shell before it could strike the tower. More energy arcs leapt from the towers, detonating the shells in wave after wave.
“Those damn Towers have Power Fields!”
Detached from the chaos and emotion around him, Ahriman coolly remembered how power Fields worked. “Power fields don’t regenerate like Titan Voids. Keep firing, and sooner or later they will fail. Don’t let up, or we die.”
Shell after shell sped at the towers, and time and time again the Power Fields arced out to stop the shells before they could reach them. Every so often, a flare from one of the towers signified a Power field had failed.
Suddenly there was a bright flash from one of the towers as its final power field failed, and a few seconds later the top of it disintegrated under a volley of shells, scattering wreckage and bodies all around it. It continued to move forward for a few seconds, before grinding to a halt. Ragged cheers rose up from the troops on the walls. One down, seven to go. Slowly and inexorably the towers ground their way towards the walls, one metre at a time, shells still fired at them, power fields still absorbing shot after shot. A few minutes after the first, another tower’s fields blew and it was swiftly topped by a hail of shells. There were still five towers and now they were too close to be engaged by the wall guns. Now the heavy weapons troopers began to fire their weapons. Missiles, called Tread Fethers by the Tanith blazed towards the towers, Lascannon beams stabbed straight through their armour, and Autocannons stitched lines of shells across their skin. Bodies of Orks fell out from the holes gouged by the weight of fire. Yet still they rolled on.
First Taste of Combat
Julius was sitting with Flynn, listening to him wax lyrical about the Vulcanor 16 Twin-Coupled Multi-Burn engine mounted in the Chimera, wondering how anyone could find Tank Engines so interesting in a situation of literal life and death. It must have been his way of coping, of forgetting what could all too easily happen to him, to both of them.
The Orks were now close enough to be engaged with Lasguns, and the constant bellows of “First rank, fire! Second rank, fire!” was accompanied by the ‘crack’ of Lasgun volleys, and the ‘whizz’ of Ork Big Shoota rounds flying overhead as the Orks returned fire. It was loud, hectic and chaotic. Julius had no idea what was going on in the wider battle, or whether the Orks were winning, or the Imperials.
Above the roar of weapons and scream of soldiers a voice came down from the wall, loud and clear above the din.
“All right civilians, time to earn your keep. We need six crates of M-K 214 Krak Missiles, eighteen Lascannon Powerpacks and four crates of Battlecannon APHE shells, on the double.”
“Right everybody, this is what we signed up for, lets to it!” Scvott yelled.
They all bundled into the C-80, and with a loud hum it took off and headed for the nearest Ammo Bunker. Flynn was a wild driver, roaring through the deserted streets of the outer city with reckless abandon. If it was a conventional ground car, Julius suspected they would have had an accident, and he felt sick for the entire trip, added to the sick feeling brought upon by the war raging around him. Flynn’s speed notably slackened when they reached the inner walls, and were waved through the inner gates by several PDF troopers. The Bunker was hectic, surrounded by C-80s being loaded with ammo and soldiers standing guard, and the silhouette of a Hydra providing cover. Every few seconds, a C-80 sped off for the walls with another load of bullets and shells.
The wide passageways of the bunker were full of CDA volunteers and some PDF and Army troopers carrying weapons and ammo back and forth.
“Six crates of M-K 214 Krak Missiles, eighteen Lascannon Powerpacks and four crates of Battlecannon APHE shells!” Scvott yelled at the Munitions officer. He typed into a Holopad, and half an agonising minute later several Servitors rolled up, each carrying a crate or box of Ammunition.
It took three trips to get it all into the C-80, Julius paired with Dyllion as usual. Dyllion was relentless, no sooner had he dropped of one crate then he’d headed back for another, and Julius found himself hard-pressed to keep up, let alone hold the heavy boxes off the ground. As a dock worker, he must have handled worse before, though not under these circumstances. No sooner was the munitions in the Truck, then Flynn kick-started the engine and took off, Julius hanging on for dear life.
Julius and Dyllion sat in the back, trying to keep the ammunition steady as Flynn cut every corner and broke every speed limit getting the ammo to the walls. From what he could see, Flynn wasn’t the only one cutting corners to get his cargo into the fight.
By the time they reached the walls the widening battle’s effects were being felt, there were several bodies lying upon the walls, and the sounds of battle were augmented by the screams of the wounded, a sound which thoroughly innerved Julius. With practiced efficiency, they swiftly unloaded the crates from the hovertruck and carried them over to the wall mounted ammo elevators. Once the platform was fully loaded, it took the crates up to the walls where the solders could distribute it themselves.
One of the PDF Troopers on the walls suddenly fell back and landed with a ‘thump’ beside Julius. Julius stared at him for a second, long enough to notice the ruin where his face was, the empty cavity splashed with blood and brain matter, before he started to retch. He may have felt bad when Flynn was driving, but now he really was sick. If he hadn’t forgone eating that morning, he would have vomited his guts out. Even so, he was heaving and retching. The stories his father had told him never mentioned this, never mentioned retching your guts out over a man with his face blown off, never mentioned the screams of the wounded and moans of the dying. He felt a hand on his shoulder, and it was Scvott.
“Come on Oll, we all feel the same, but we have a job to do, a duty to perform.” Duty. The constant in Julius’s life, and even now its grip upon him was still as tight as ever. As he retched, that face, the face of Isis Lupercal entered his mind, and with her in his thoughts, he steeled himself. She would have stood, regardless of what was happening around her, and so would he. She had always been his inspiration, the steel in his backbone even now when she was cut off from him, and maybe no longer with him anymore.
He staggered to his feet, paused to try and catch his breath, and with Scvott helping him, he returned to the C-80. He would make many more runs that day, but he’d survived his first taste of real war, and seen the horror.
The assault had begun barely an hour ago, and despite everything the Imperium had thrown at them, the Orks had reached the walls. Now up and down the walls sheets of Lasgun fire was being directed at the horde, and the Orks were firing back as the real battle begun. Close range fire had toppled and gutted two more towers, but three of the Siege Towers were going to reach the walls, and the Orks would spill from them like water from a burst dam. Fortunately Ahriman always had a backup plan, and with a few code words spoken into his Vox, it was implemented. Barely fifty metres north, one of the siege towers loomed over the walls, so close you could almost touch it, its shadow lying heavy across the walls. The troopers on the walls were blazing away at it with their Lasguns, Plasma Guns and more, to little effect apart from some scorching on the armoured boarding ramp. The tower mounted big shootas were providing covering fire, and already there were several bodes splayed out on the wall, the blood oozing away in red rivers while their comrades fought for their lives.
“Commissar, who holds that section of the wall?” Ahriman gestured at the tower.
“Captain McCollum’s D Company my Lord.”
“Come with me, they will need our assistance. Bring as many troops as possible with us, they will be needed.”
The troops stopped firing madly the moment they saw the towering Astartes standing before them, ignoring the Big Shoota shells whizzing past him. “Don’t waste your ammo shooting at the tower; it can’t be destroyed this way. We will have to blow it up from the inside, once the ramp lowers. Form a perimeter, and when the Orks try to disembark we cut them down. Then a few demolition charges into the tower and the tower is destroyed.”
The troops swiftly gathered around the tower, carefully concealing themselves for the Big Shootas mounted on it. The tower creaked forwards, until it was leaning against the wall. From inside, the guttural chants of the Orks could clearly be heard.
With a creaking smash, the tower’s ramp dropped onto the battlements. “WAAAGH!” came the cry from within, raw and primal, and the Orks emerged, weapons held high. The Aetheric blaze of their energy came with them, buffeting the auras of the troops on the walls, sapping their will. Not for long.
Ahriman raised his bolt pistol and opened fire, followed by Commissar Günter’s plasma pistol and the Lasguns of the Tanith in a sheet of las-fire. The leading Orks were cut down, and as more and more stormed out of the Tower, they were cut to shreds. Soon the ramp was slick with blood. One lucky Ork made it through, and cut an unlucky Tanith Trooper in half with its Choppa before it took a frag grenade to the face. But for every Ork killed, two more took its place, and soon more and more reached the Tanith lines before being killed. The toll began to mount.
Ahriman’s Bolt Pistol clicked empty, and he realised that was his last magazine. He was empty, out of rounds. Holstering his pistol, he took up his heqa staff and reached for the Great Ocean. A pulse of destructive energy channelled along the length of his heqa staff tore into the leading Orks, tearing them to shreds. He began to throw blast after blast into them, but even that could do little to stop the torrent now pouring from the tower.
“Troopers, fix bayonets!” Commissar Günter bellowed. He activated his Chainsword and leapt at the nearest Ork. The Tanith troops around him also charged into the fray. Were they trying to get themselves killed? No Prosperine Spireguard would ever do something so rash. Ahriman had to help them, save them from themselves.
The first swing of his heqa staff took three Orks to pieces and his second blow tore another from skull to crotch in one fluid move. He threw himself into the thick of the fighting, a whirlwind of Aetheric fury. A Nob, one of the Ork minor warleaders tore a Tanith trooper in two with its Power Claw, and turned towards the Commissar. Ahriman’s heqa staff swept out, its copper and gold bands rippling with fire, and cleaved the Ork in two with a single blow, his return thrust taking the arm off another Ork about to kill a Tanith. He tore through the Orks with blazing swipes of his staff and bursts of aether-fire from his gauntlets, his crimson armour now splattered with gore. The Tanith troopers had never seen its like before, and they fought even more fiercely beside him, stabbing with their ‘straight silver’ bayonets and clubbing with the butts of their Lasguns. Though they were slight compared to the Orks, they fought with a strength and fury which made Ahriman proud.
As he fought, struggling to maintain the Enumerations and keep himself detached, he imagined what Magnus would say if he could see him now. ‘Very subtle Ahzek, very subtle’ he would say in that wisely amused voice of his. Of course, if he was he he’d have torn that Hulk to pieces in orbit, long before it could land troops. No point thinking of might-has-beens, not now.
Ahriman fought with rigidly controlled discipline, each blow precisely measured and weighted to cause the maximum amount of damage for the minimum effort and exertion. That was the secret to the Thousand Sons, they did not waste energy the way the Wolves or World Eaters did. Everything was done with perfect focus, and precise effort. Ahriman swung his staff in a two-handed grip, laying about himself with crushing strokes, tearing the Orks asunder. There seemed no end to them, no stopping the horde pouring forth. Ahriman normally fought divorced from the concerns of emotion that compromised his clarity of combat, but that hadn’t been the case for a long time, and right now his mind was swamped with the competing fires of anger and hate. Anger at his weakness, and hate for the foes despoiling this world.
The fight wore on, and Ahriman began to slacken. His every movement was leaden, his thoughts dull and slow, his armour now covered in gashes where he had been too slow to avoid a blow. The Great Ocean was a potent force in combat, but the toll it took upon a warrior was equally potent, and that toll was weakening him the longer the battle continued. His focus was now on simple survival, his consciousness stretching no further than the next enemy to be slain.
Ahriman’s concentration slipped, and a blow from an Ork boy knocked him down, throwing his heqa staff aside. He barely dodged a blow from the Ork’s axe, and struggled to regain his staff. He grimly realised that he could die here. He had hoped that the Tower would act as a bottleneck, allowing them to hold off the Orks long enough to destroy it, but he had been mistaken. Too many times these last few months he had been mistaken, ever since the vision of a cackling god and a fateful bullet came into his mind. An Ork jumped onto him, and he struggled to free himself from the green brute’s grip.
Suddenly a massive explosion knocked him flat, threw the Ork off of him. As the smoke cleared, he struggled to his feet, trying to make sense of what had just happened. Was it a Bomb Squig? An Artillery shell gone wrong? When the smoke finally faded, he saw for himself. The Tower was gone, twisted metal girders all that were left of it. It slowly sank onto his battered mind. It was gone! Someone had blown it has he had planned!
The few Orks left on the walls were swiftly dispatched by the vengeful Tanith. Commissar Günter came over to him; his longcoat tattered, face bleeding from a cut to his jaw and smoke emitting from his Chainsword’s motor.
“My Lord, the Tower is down. Trooper MacIntyre sacrificed himself to blow it sky high. I intend to request he get a Posthumous Honourifica Imperialis, and I hope you will countersign that. Permission to give the men some rest?”
“Permission granted. The Orks can’t climb the walls; they can’t get in here now. They’ve earned that rest.”
Of the other two towers Ahriman learned when he reviewed the after action reports that evening. The southern tower hit the wall in the Belladon Sector, and after nearly an hour of back and forth fighting, finally the Belladon troops succeeded in demolishing the upper tower section with Demo Charges. The northern tower hit an area manned by the PDF, where after a bloody fight the Orks succeeded in carving a foothold. If it wasn’t for the intervention of a company of dismounted Caorst Charxergrenadieres, the walls could nearly have been lost. Over four thousand Imperial troops were killed that day, a drop in the bucket compared to the losses on other worlds and in other campaigns, but Ahriman felt every loss. It was men and women like MacIntyre who saved the city that day, those who were willing to sacrifice everything to deny the Orks their victory. They were the ones the Imperium was built for, they were the ones he was fighting for, and they were the ones who would win or lose this war.
The night was dark and cool, a refreshing contrast from the chaos of the previous day. The Orks had been held off, thanks to some hot shot who was leading the defence, and who had held off an entire Siege Tower’s worth of Orks almost singlehandedly. There was a plethora of rumours about him, every one more ludicrous than the last, from a reincarnation of Ollanius Pius, to some visiting Space Marine. The most ludicrous of all was that it was Professor Ahriman, or Lord Ahriman as they called him, who had come here from Prospero for some reason and was active in the defence of the city. Though Prospero was very close to Seadelant, Julius would have heard if Ahriman was here, and Ahriman would have sought him out likewise.
Whatever the reason, the Orks had now fallen back to their encampment outside the city, out of the range of conventional artillery, and now their own super heavy artillery were busy throwing shells at the city’s shields in a pointless exercise which nevertheless was having a psychological effect on the defenders, the endless ‘crump’ of the shells impacting on the shields keeping the troops awake, and sending flickers of energy running across the shields from where each shell landed.
Julius sat in the small garden outside a former residential hab, abandoned by its owners and pressed into service as a Barracks for the CDA. The others were asleep within, but try as he might he could not get any shut-eye. There was too much in his head, to many thoughts and feeling he could not exorcise which were robbing him of his sleep, leaving him tossing and turning in his PDF issue sleeping bag. By sitting outside, watching the shells fall and the stars wheel overhead, he felt he might be able to clear his head.
By now, Venus and co would be on a ship bound for Fenris. Lucky them. Though being fair, Fenris had some nasty beasts of its own, Thunderwolves, Ice Fiends and worse. At least they’d be staying around the Fang, and not heading for the world ocean where Kraken and Sea Dragons prowled. He’d read about Fenris, and his father had visited there once with Lord Russ. When he’d asked about it, and also asked naively about the whole ‘there are no wolves on Fenris’ thing, his father only said ‘a hard world breeds hard people, and Fenris is the hardest of all,’ and he’d left it at that.
Suddenly a flicker of light caught Julius’s eye, a faint light in the gloom coming from the building across from the Hab. Later on he couldn’t explain what motivated him to get up, go and investigate, but investigate he did.
Julius tip-toed into the building, thankful he wasn’t wearing his heavy combat boots, so he wouldn’t betray a sound. He followed the faint light through the building, until it came to a partially closed door, with the muffled sound of a voice coming from within. Alarm bells rang in Julius’s mind, and for a brief second he thought about turning and heading straight back out, but his courage overcame his doubt, and he opened the door.
Inside single lit candle resting on an empty ammo crate illuminated the room, a sweet scent coming from it. Julius wondered how that candle was able to shine such a bright light. Summer was crouching before it, the light seemingly catching in her long golden hair. She was saying something aloud, reading from something. In her other hand she held an icon, a small figurine of the Emperor. Now that he was closer, Julius could clearly hear what she was saying, “The Emperor of Mankind is the Light and the Way, and all his actions are for the benefit of mankind, which is his people. The Emperor is God and God is the Emperor, so it is taught in the Lectio Divinitatus, and above all things, the Emperor will protect...” she stopped abruptly, sensing something behind her.
She turned and stared at Julius, her surprise swiftly masked behind a hardened face. She knew exactly what he was thinking, could see every though as it crossed his face.
”Summer, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“You’re…one of them. One like Keiter. A…a…”
“An Emperor worshipper. Is that what you’re trying to spit out?” Julius had no reply to that. She carefully placed her Icon and copy of the Lectio Divinitatus down, stood up and walked over to Julius, staring him down the whole time. There was fire in her eyes, and even her walk was different. It was like she was suddenly replaced by a totally different person, someone who was more forceful, full of spunk, full of fire.
Several things flashed through Julius’s mind as he saw her approach. First, how dangerous she now seemed. If she had a weapon with her, Julius had no doubt she would use it, and with her physique, she could most easily kick his arse without using any weapons at all. Secondly the air of authority she seemed to exude, pinning him down by her mere presence. And finally, how attractive she was, well built, well muscled, her long golden hair and eyes afire. He hoped Isis would forgive him for that final thought.
Face to face, Julius forced himself to speak. “You know how many laws you’re breaking, going against the very Imperial Establishment, being part of an underground wellspring that wishes to establish the Cult of the Emperor, against His will.”
“Said the Viper to the Mamba. You may ridicule my faith, but you neglect to mention your own beliefs.”
In a single deft move, she reached over and pulled out the object which hung around Julius’s neck. Julius started, but Summer was too fast for him, snatching his Crux from around his neck.
“I saw you reaching for that when you saw that body. You’re a Catheric. You believe in a God, the same way I do.”
“Well at least my God isn’t on Terra telling people he isn’t a God, and persecuting anyone who believes otherwise. You know you’re breaking the Imperial Creed.”
“And you’re not? He hates any worship, if your namesake Ollanius Pius hadn’t stood up to him, you would be in the same boat as me. Stop acting so high and mighty.”
With a few words, Summer had cut right to the bone. His faith wavered every so often, and was never as strong as his father’s, but he still considered himself a Catheric. He was eternally proud of what his Father did, making a stand and convincing the Emperor to allow them to worship openly. Isis never intruded upon his faith, and sometimes met him after services for study or other activities. But no matter what, he always knew that he was a deviant, and even his closest friends like Jake still found him odd because of his beliefs. She noticed his changing expression as realisation sunk in.
“We’re not so different, are we?”
“No, I suppose we’re not.” Julius had to admit. Her fierce look softened, but she was still more animated and alive than he’d ever seen her before. This was the real her, unchained and unleashed, and Julius pitied anyone standing in her way.
“Tell you what, I won‘t mention your Cathericism to anyone if you don’t mention my Emperor Worship. Deal, offworlder?”
Julius had no choice but to agree. “Deal.” He shook her hand, amazed by how warm it was, and without another word he turned and left her. That touch would stay with him as he tried to sleep, and he spent another night tossing and turning in his sleeping bag, even more thoughts added to the maelstrom roaring in his mind.
Part 2: Occupation
The War Room on Terra
Buried deep with the Imperial Palace on Terra, the War Room of the palace was the central hub of the entire Imperial War Machine, a massive open space full of Logic-Engines, scanners, operators, analysts and strategists, and even with its own specialist team of astropaths to send coded messages to warfleets and armies far away. One wall was dominated by ‘the board’ a huge flatscreen rendition of the entire Imperium with small red lights for active warzones. There were a few too many of those on there now. It had been constructed after the Crusade ended, in order to centralise military command, which before had been disjointed between the hundreds of Crusade Fleets reconquering the galaxy in the name of the Emperor.
Warmaster Horus Lupercal stood before the massive round Holo-Desk which occupied the centre of the room, staring intently at the images displayed upon it, analysing vast amounts of tactical data sent from conflicts waged all across the galaxy. One particular area had almost his full attention, one lone planet which now held the centre of attention, for all the wrong reasons.
A figure in golden armour entered the room flanked by two of the Custodes, and Horus did not need to look up to know who it was.
“What is the situation?” The Emperor asked as he came closer.
“No doubt about it, this is a potential catastrophe. We should have seen that Seadelant wasn’t fortified enough, wouldn’t be able to stand against an invasion of this magnitude. And we can’t establish contact thanks to the psychic ECM the Hulk is producing.”
“I should have seen this coming.” The Emperor mused. “The recent rise in Ork raids on our shipping; this was a natural outgrowth of that.”
“It’s horribly ironic. We sent the final order, mobilizing nearly a third of the Navy and several Legion Fleets in order to burn the Orks off of the Imperium’s lanes of trade, and no sooner do we do that than an Ork hulk drops out of the warp astride the single most important warp-lane in the entire Imperium, the Terra-Ultramar Road. Forget about the void walks, now that the road is cut, all traffic between Terra and Ultramar has to take an alternate and more treacherous route which adds weeks if not months to the travel time and drastically increases the risk of losing ships to the warp. Already I’m hearing complaints from the Chartists and the trade unions about disruptions.”
“I’ll speak with them on that one. Let’s see how much they complain after that.” Horus nodded. “And all this on top of those Ork pirates we’re trying to destroy in the void walks, those sightings of Daemonships near Cadia and now the Dark Eldar have begin raiding around the Armando Cluster. Conquering the Galaxy was one thing, holding it something else.”
The Emperor walked around the table, examining the data Himself. Horus had no doubt that if he’d missed anything, the Emperor would point it out. It was a skill which had saved them many times in the past, on Gorro and other places when the Crusade was new and he was the Emperors only son.
“These delays are unacceptable, we can’t give the Orks a chance to dig in and consolidate. The Thousand Sons are closest to Seadelant, have they sent word?”
“Brother Magnus has promised the third and fifth Fellowships, they are being mustered and trained on Prospero as we speak. Most of the other legions are occupied with various duties, I’ve sent out messages to then all to see what troops can be spared, but I hold out little hope. I need to enquire with brother Vulkan about the Salamanders troops stationed on Nocturne; we need every soldier we can get to respond to this.”
“I’m seeing him later this afternoon about his daughter’s trip; I’ll bring it up then myself. What about your own legion?”
“I’m sending the first, second, fifth and tenth companies, the ones stationed here on Terra as an honour guard. I don’t need them here, and the others are too far away to respond in time.”
“Giving the Mournival a break?”
Horus smiled. “I fear I may have worn them out, they need some time away from me.”
“And what about the other matter, the one Angela brought up?”
“I inquired with the astropaths around Ultramar, but no sign. Unless he got off the planet in time, he’s still on Seadelant.”
“Does Isis know?”
“She does, though she and Julius haven’t spoken much since the incident in the Petitioner’s City she did receive a copy of his itinerary from Oll. Unless I receive actual news, I see no need to fill her with false hope or false fear regarding his survival. She’ll understand. You know I told her I would never stick my neck out for him again, and now it seems I’ll have to. How things turn out.” Horus remembered the look on her face when he told her the news, the look of shock mixed with horror. He’d tried his best to reassure her he would be in no danger, though he knew that was a lie, and she knew it too.
“About the petitioner’s city, have you spoken with Kurze about hunting down this ‘Babuk’? I can’t have someone experimenting with forbidden gene-tech on my very doorstep.”
“I have mentioned it, but Kurze wants to wait for Ahriman to return, says he’d rather do it with someone he knows, and who knows the foe. As close to sentimentality as I’ve ever seen the Night Haunter.”
“And speaking of Ahriman, he’s commanding the defence of this planet in person, isn’t he?”
“Yes. I was startled when I found his identification rune on the transmission. Seems like he was there to get away from Prospero. The way he’s going, I expect he’ll end up on Angelus before long, as far away from Terra as it is possible to get.”
The Emperor had been very angry with his sojourn through the Hive Tops and the Petitioner’s City; Horus could almost see the anger that day. No wonder Ahriman wanted to get as far away from that as possible. However he being on Seadelant was a lucky stroke, with his psychic mastery and strategic genius, Horus couldn’t think of any Astarte more suited to leading the defence of a Planet.
An analyst dashed up to Horus with a data-slate in her hand. Horus took it, scanned it and handed it back with a frown.
“So, none of the Alpha Legion can be spared either. This just isn’t getting any better. We’re scraping the barrel to find troops to respond to this threat, and even with the troops I can currently drag up, it will be at least a month before the force can be fully mobilised to reach Seadelant. We’d better hope they can hold out that long.”
There was a pause, before Horus added. “I feel at least one of us should command this in person.”
The Emperor didn’t have to ask what ‘one of us’ meant. It had been a while since many of the Primarchs had held field command, only Angron and Russ still did it regularly, because those two were ill suited to much else.
“Mortarion is still angry, still full of rage after what happened to Morticia, and he’s sitting at home doing nothing. I would suggest him.”
“You know how much he hates sorcery; he and Ahriman won’t get on.”
“I’ll speak to him on that one myself. No matter how much he might disagree about Magnus and his Legion’s methods, he’ll do what I tell him.”
Horus decided to change the topic. “How’s Remalia, Venus, Freya and their friends little excursion going?”
“They are on their way to Fenris even as we speak.”
“Good, very few of the Greenskin scum around there; they’ll be safe, or at least as safe as you can be on Fenris.”
The Emperor snorted, a sound which startled many of the analysts.
“When this is over, I intend to get Dorn or Peturabo to refortify the planet to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen again. We were sloppy, the fact it was far from any potential threat made us lax, and now we’re paying the price. But first we need to liberate that world.” The Emperor left without another word, while Horus turned his attention back to the escalating situation.
Fire from the Sky
Day seven of the Ork Invasion. Four days since they had tried to take the walls by storm, and had been repulsed by the brave actions of the Imperial defenders. In all that time since, apart from the constant, irregular shelling, the Orks had done nothing, just stayed in their encampments. Ahriman could afford for them to do that, with the vast bulk of the population either lifted offworld of shipped to other cities, they had enough food to last for a year or more of siege. The Orks trying to storm the city, that was what he was concerned about. He had spent the last few days visited the sections of the wall where the towers had connected, and spoke with the surviving troops there, raising their morale and lifting spirits. If only his own spirits could be so easily raised.
Right now he was at the Astropathic Guild HQ, on the other side of the main Autoway from the PDF HQ. He was once again trying to enquire about whether any news of the Relief force had arrived, and so far the answer seemed to be the same one it was every other time, no. The Orks by their mere presence were interdicting the most important tradeway between Solar and Ultima, and that was hurting the entire Imperium, not just Seadelant. The Emperor Himself would deem this one top priority. And yet the Astropaths could get no word on when the relief would arrive. Ahriman was almost tempted to go out himself, to send his body of light out there to find out, but he knew that would be suicide. He was not as strong as Magnus, and even he had difficulties sometimes. The great Ocean was no-longer as safe anymore, not with the knowledge of what lurked within its depths.
For a Corvidae, lack of knowledge was the worst curse, and he was the head of the entire Corvidae Cult, by extension the greatest master of scrying the future outside Magnus, the Emperor and the Eldar. And all that power counted for little here, could not dispel the fog clouding his foresight nor shake off the doubts flitting through his mind.
There was a bang on the door, and a PDF runner burst in.
“Lord Ahriman, Graf Trakeria requests your presence immediately. There has been a development.”
“A development?” Ahriman immediately cast his mind outwards, towards the PDF building. The control room was afire with the auras of those within panic, fear and apprehension not seen since the invasion began. They were all concerned about movement detected coming from the Hulk in orbit. His mind them soared skywards, to the source of the commotion. The atmosphere vanished and the eternal night of space enveloped him. There was the Hulk, an evil wedge of space rock and ancient ships fused together by the power of the Great Ocean. Several Space Roks, hollowed out asteroids fitted with drives, guns and crew quarters and turned into mobile gun platforms provided escort for the hulk, and even a squadron of Brute Ramships constructed from the space debris left after the Hulk’s arrival shoaled beside the Hulk. This was all perfectly normal, what were they worried about?
Suddenly something flickered at the edge of his aethersight, almost hidden by the psy-inferno emanating from the Hulk. He approached closer, risking the fire in order to get a better view.
It was then that he saw it.
Roks. Four small asteroids plummeting towards the planet, towards the city they matched the rock structure of the Hulk clearly. The Orks were trying to bombard the city into submission. With a snap he returned to his mortal flesh and without a word of explanation left the building to the questions of the Astropaths.
“They’re throwing Roks at the city!” Governor Shroe lamented when he entered the room.
“I know. The lack of progress must be frustrating them, and when Orks get frustrated they bring out the big guns.”
“You know Ork Accuracy; if they’re trying to knock down the walls with Roks then their warlord must be stupid. The chances of one getting a direct hit are billions to one, and Lord Ahriman can vector the Plasma Missiles and Defence Lasers to shoot them down long before that anyway.” Graf Trakeria was more cocky, more self confident thanks to Ahriman. She hoped to capitalise on his successes, get some glory off his coattails. He couldn’t care less with local politics, he had more pressing issues.
“Deploy the defence lasers and notify the astropaths. I’ll link my mind with theirs, and we’ll shoot down these Roks.”
He could feel the blast doors opening and the guns emerging from their silos across the city. He removed his Astartes helmet and placed the archaic psy-helmet onto his head. Swiftly he linked his mind into the Matrix and began to track the strings of fate, finding the one he needed. When he found the Roks on the strings of fate, he smiled. Two of them were going to land many miles away, the usual Ork shoddy accuracy meaning those two could be ignored. The third would hit the bay, causing a massive tidal wave if it couldn’t be vaporised in time. The final one would land closest to the walls, if not inside them altogether. That would level half the city within a few seconds, and he would take priority in its destruction. In his mind’s eye he watched them start to burn as they entered the atmosphere, rushing faster and faster as gravity took its iron hold. Their courses ran true, and under his direction the defence lasers locked onto empty sky. Tracing the strings of fate, he could see the Roks impacting into the ground, see the devastation they would cause, and he began to follow the strand of fate backwards, pulling it back, pulling it back…fire. He could not see the beam, but he could feel it as it lanced upwards into the sky. Its aim was straight and true, and with barely any effort it vaporised the rok into so much dust. A few seconds later the other rok met the same fate.
“Stand down. You’ve done it again my lord. You’ve saved the city three times now. When this is over, you will be hailed as the savour of Seadelant.” Her good mood was cut short when one of the vox operators yelled out.
“Contact! Another incoming object bearing 7-14.”
Graf Trakeria scanned the readout. “7-14? That’s nearly the horizon line. Where the fuck did that one come from?”
Cold fear drenched Ahriman, as if a sudden revelation had been made to him and him alone. He was an Astartes, and he was supposed to know no fear. It had all felt too simple, too easy. The new Rok was coming in at too low a trajectory for a Defence Laser to get a lock, and it was too close for a Plasma Missile to hit it. He began to track the strings of fate to find out where it would impact, only to be struck cold when he hit its strand. He had followed all the strings of fate, and he’d missed this one, missed it cold. He didn’t realise what just happened to him until he noticed everyone in the room staring at him with shock. They had never seen an Astartes fall to his knees before.
“Evacuate the walls.” He said in a dry whisper as he climbed to his feet.
“Pardon my lord?”
“I said evacuate the walls!” Ahriman’s voice rose to booming pitch. “That Rok is about to rip a hole a mile wide in the outer walls, and nothing we can do will be able to plug the gap once it’s opened. We have to order a general retreat to the inner walls, or else lose everything.”
“Can’t we do anything? Why didn’t you see this?” Trakeria insisted.
“I failed. I…failed.” Those words hurt Ahriman to say, but say them he did. Again. “In just over two minutes the walls will fall. If you do not order the evacuation now, the city falls, the planet falls and the trade route is cut. The whole Imperium will suffer if you do not act now.”
“Surely you overestimate. These are Orks you’re talking about, they couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a…”
“Order the evacuation NOW!” his heqa staff burst into flames as he drew deep from the Great Ocean and bloated up his aura, and everyone in the room cowered before him. His anger was swiftly snuffed out as he realised what he was doing. He had never lost his temper quite like this before, not since Ohrmuzd had…no, he would not think about it. He jammed his helmet back on and turned to go.
“Where are you going?” Trakeria demanded.
“To put my finger in the dyke and hold back the sea.” And Ahriman was gone.
The Walls Fall
Julius once again found himself sitting in the back of the C-80, just shy of the walls. There would be a worn patch in the back by the time this was over, given how often he sat there. They had aided in the cleanup after the battle, an unpleasant experience Julius had no wish to repeat or even think about and which even now sent occasional shudders down his spine, and since then done little apart from lounge around and occasionally ship a load of shells to the artillery, who were busy trying to shell any enemy artillery spotters to little effect. His father once told him army life was ninety percent boredom and ten percent terror, and now he understood.
As he sat there, he saw Summer walking along with Scvott, listening to him talking about something. They nodded at him as they passed, and Julius could swear he saw Summer gesturing at him, though in greeting or something else he could not make out. As she left he realised he was holding his breath, and sheepishly he let it go.
Summer, always Summer, she had damn well got under his skin, and not entirely in a good way. Ever since that Keiter had done his deed, a renewed crackdown on Emperor Worship had begun across the Imperium, a new wave of violence directed against anyone who seemed to be too enthusiastic in their veneration of the Emperor. And now he was privy to her secret, and she to one of his. Thinking back to that moment in the Hab, he had to admit she bluffed her way out of it very well. Had he let it go a bit too easily? Cathericism was one thing, venerating the Emperor something completely different. Emperor Worship was illegal across most of the Galaxy, the only reason it wasn’t illegal at the Eye was because it stopped worship of the Darker Powers, something not even the Emperor was willing to tamper with. She was treading on dangerous ground, and could easily get herself into a lot of trouble, and him with her now that he was privy to her beliefs.
Why should he care? When this was all over he would leave this place and never see her again, and no-one would be looking too hard for an Emperor Worship with several million Orks banging on the front door. All he had to worry about was coming through this unscathed, surviving something which had already killed thousands. Any one of those could have been him; any of those could become him, death was all too easy around here, a stray shot, a stray shell, an Ork with an axe, any of those would bring him down with no effort. Still, he couldn’t get her out of his head. She had moved in and set up shop, and no matter how hard he tried to expel her she wouldn’t leave his thoughts. Maybe she was a response to the horrors he was seeing all around him, focusing on her meant he wasn’t thinking about the possibility of his own demise. That thought comforted him, and he almost laughed at how absurd this all was. He then hushed up as he remembered the last time he’d felt like this, travelling through the Palace with Isis on the way to ask Horus about Keiter. That had set off an avalanche which even now he still couldn’t dig himself out of. So many thoughts, he felt his head would explode from them shortly if something didn’t happen. Such a bad choice of words.
Suddenly, the world blew up. There was a bright flash which while initially obscured by the walls grew brighter and brighter until it outshone all else, and as Julius rose to his feet to investigate its source, a massive explosion and shockwave picked Julius up and threw him out the truck, down the road and into the side of a building. Almost all the air was driven out of his lungs, and his sight vanished behind a black shroud. He vaguely felt things hitting him, and he wondered if this was it. Was this how it was to end, with him having no idea about what had just done him in?
Through the haze he heard someone shout his name, his fake name. Blindly he reached out his arm and felt someone grab it and haul him to his feet. He staggered, but the mystery person kept him upright as he rubbed his eyes and his vision slowly returned to him. Summer was the one holding him steady, and there was concern on her face. Beside her, Scvott rubbed his eyes and tried to peer through the cloud of dust and pulverised rockcrete. Julius’s battered mind tried to process what was happening, why Summer seemed so concerned about what had happened to him, but that processing went out of the window when the smoke cleared enough for him to see what had just happened.
There was now a gaping hole in the outer wall, the adamantine cladding reduced to so much twisted metal, and most of the buildings closest to the walls pulverised by the blast effect. The shield crackled as it tried to reconnect to the missing wall pylons, and Julius could almost make out the gaping hole above mirroring the hole in the wall. As his mind tried to process what was just about to happen, he gave out a four letter word echoed across the length of the perimeter wall.
The Orks now had a literal open doorway into the city, a route straight into the heart of Port Huron. All the blood shed to defend the walls had just been rendered moot in a few fell seconds, all the effort to hold the city from the green tide, pointless.
“What the hell just happened?” Scvott sounded as shocked as Julius felt, his veneer of command slipping.
“The Orks broke through. As simple as that.” Julius could barely make out his own words.
“We should fall back, find someone with a vox and find out what our orders are.” Summer seemed the only one to have kept a clear head. As they watched, PDF troopers started to fall back past them, some in a near panic, others more coolly. That seemed to argue in Summer’s favour.
“Looks like we’re in the shite now.” That was Flynn, his usual attitude gone. Beside him was Dyllion, who seemed even more grim than usual as he stared at the gaping hole, a few choice curses slipping from his lips. For a few minutes all they could do was stare at that hole and watch as more and more panicked PDF troopers streamed past them.
“They’re not going to abandon the outer city; they’ll fortify the approaches and turn that hole into a killing ground, like with the Siege Towers. They’ll need us to keep them supplied with ammo. We should stay here and do what we can for them.” Scvott seemed to have finally found his voice, but his proposal stung Julius, who had to respond.
“Stay? Here? Look at that breach, it’s wide enough to drive a ‘Steel Fury’ Baneblade squadron through. No way will they be able to hold it indefinitely; the Orks will flood it with troops, tanks and worse. I want to fight, I don’t want to throw my life away needlessly, and if we stay here that’s exactly what we will be doing.” Scvott turned to face Julius, hands on his hips. “Am I, or am I not in command of this section?”
“You are ser.”
“And does that not mean that I give the orders?”
“No buts. We’re staying right here until we receive orders telling us otherwise.” Julius was stunned by that decision. Was Scvott trying to get them killed? He’d read plenty of books, been instructed by Horus and Guilliman themselves on the ways of war, and here he was, his advice being ignored out of hand by someone just because he was an offworlder. Hell, Flynn was also an offworder, born on Tanith, but they listened to him often enough. Couldn’t he see that no matter what, eventually the outer city would fall to the Orks and they would be better off getting behind the inner walls now rather than trying in the chaos of a fighting withdrawal?
“The offworlder does have a good point, and he is from Ultramar, they do have the best military academies there…” Summer again. What had changed her attitude towards him? “Look, as team leader my authority must be respected, that is the only way we’ll be able to operate. I’m sorry, but my order stands.”
Ahriman thought it would be bad by the time he got down there, but he was wrong. It was worse. The blast had sent him reeling as he ran down the main road, but he had been expecting it and so it didn’t slow him down. He wouldn’t head straight to the breach, he needed back up if he was to hold it long enough for the troops to evacuate the outer city, and he knew exactly who to ask.
Commissar Lord Günter was issuing orders to the Tanith troops when Ahriman reached him, Plasma Pistol in hand. He seemed remarkably calm given what had just crashed into the wall. “Lord Ahriman, what the fug just happened? A fireball just came over the horizon and slammed into wall sector B-2. No-one can contact the PDF Commander in that sector, and now it seems there are orders for a general retreat to the inner walls. Can you please give me some concrete answers?”
“The Orks have used a Rok to break down the outer wall. Very soon the Ork horde will pour into the outer city, and there is nothing we can do to stop them. However if the whole city isn’t to fall, we need to hold them off long enough for the troops to fall back to the inner wall.”
“And let me guess, you want the Larisels to take part in this glorious last stand, am I correct?”
“Only those who volunteer for it, and it will not be a last stand, more of a fighting withdrawal. We simply have to hold the breach long enough to allow the troops to get behind the outer walls, the artillery especially. Those Bombards must be allowed the time to pack up and get behind the walls, else our heaviest guns are lost.”
“My Lord, I’ll ask around, but I know the Tanith, and this sort of insanity appeals to them.” Before too long, Günter had nearly two companies worth of Tanith troops ready to hold the breach. Ahriman led them towards the breach, trying to rope in as many men as possible to join them along the way. He was more successful than he thought he would be, several platoons of Belladon troops, a heavy weapons company from the Perdix Hunters and even a Charxergrenadiere platoon from the Caorst Charxers with two Malcador Tanks in support all joined him. The others under his instruction headed for the inner walls and safety. They reached the breach to find it abandoned the PDF troopers all gone. Ahriman knew it wasn’t their fault, they weren’t used to war the way the Army troopers were and something so shocking shattered their morale. The Commissars would have a field day. However Ahriman did note several CDA troopers near a C-80 Hovertruck on the other side of the breach. He couldn’t see them clearly thanks to the lingering smoke, and the aetheric interference from the impact was clouding their auras, but the fact they were brave or stupid enough to stay put spoke volumes.
“Get those CDA auxiliaries to ferry us some ammo, we may as well make some use of them. Priority on Heavy Bolter rounds, we simply have to keep the Orks from reaching close combat. If that happens, the breach is lost.” A Belladon runner set off towards the CDA members, while the troops took up positions around the breach. Being able to see it with his own eyes for the first time, Ahriman was taken aback at how big the breach was, and why there was so little damage to the ground before it, making passage through it easy. No Ork could ever make a shot with that much accuracy, it was simply impossible. Something else had to be at work here. Ahriman cursed himself; he was letting his paranoia get the better of him again. This was Orks, only Orks, nothing more. As if knowing what he was thinking about, the scanner operator called out, “The Orks are on the move! ETA half an hour.”
“Let’s give them a welcome they won’t soon forget.” Ahriman rose through the Enumerations, and soon was detached from the seriousness of their situation, able to clearly and logically see what had to be done. He gave his orders, and watched as the troops rushed to fulfil them.
Heavy weapons troopers from the Perdix Hunters ran to cover the breach, while troopers constructed makeshift barricades and the two Malcadors moved into position covering the breach. The Panzergrenadiers deployed their Chimeras to provide heavy weapons support to the dismounted infantry, and the Tanith Snipers set up hides all around, a few deploying on the walls themselves. Every little piece moved into place, and Ahriman almost smiled as he saw the strings of fate moving into position, his position. Once again the smell of exhaust fumes and the low growl of the Ork horde wafted over the walls as the green tide approached. They were moving slower this time, but what need did they have to run? They had a great big hole inviting them into the city. The Orks weren’t even bothering to throw artillery shells through the breach in the shield, so confident were they. Well, he would make them pay for that confidence.
Closer and closer the horde came, as the troops laboured to make sure they would pay. Several Perdix Engineers set up mines and remote explosives concealed among the rubble, some razor wire was strung before the Tanith positions an everyone laboured to ensure their foxholes were deep and comfy enough. Now the horde was close enough to see the individual Trukks, Battlewagons and even the hazy form of a Stompa pounding its way towards the breach. The troops held film, but he could feel the tension and fear. This wasn’t like holding the walls; here they would have vehicles and War Engines coming at them as well as normal Orks.
Suddenly the ground started to tremble, catching Ahriman off guard. Were the Orks trying to tunnel in as well? As the rumbling grew closer, Ahriman breathed a sigh of relief as he saw one of the three Caorst Baneblades coming down the street towards them.
“Baneblade Furious Thunder here sir. We figured you would need our eleven barrels of hell if you hope to hold this breach.”
“Much appreciated Lieutenant, we’d be delighted to have the best Caorst has to offer fighting beside us.”
The Baneblade nestled itself in between the Malcadors, forming the centre of the defensive position, a perfect counter to the incoming Orks. Ahriman began to breathe a little easier, maybe they would be able to hold long enough for the lower city to be evacuated and the lower Defence Laser to be disarmed so the Orks couldn’t use it. Now the Orks were almost at the breach, so close you could pick out the Nobs leading them, and their rhythmic chanting filled the air, guttural words in an almost incomprehensible tongue. The aetheric fire they emitted wafted in through the breach, and Ahriman could feel it the way someone could feel the heat from sitting too close to an open fire. The troops locked and loaded, but he could still feel the fear coming off them as they saw clearly the horror facing them.
Ahriman recalled a quote from a leader of Old Earth and lifted his voice so every army soldier could hear him. “The patriot volunteer, fighting for his country and his rights, makes the most reliable soldier on Earth,” he cried, lifting his Bolt Pistol and aiming it square at the leading Ork as it entered the breach, and with a single shot putting it down. The storm broke once again.
War is Hell
The whizz of a bullet sang past Julius’s ear as he carried a fresh belt of Heavy Bolter ammo to a Perdix Heavy Weapons Section. He no longer ducked anymore every time a bullet came near him as he had done when the battle first begun, he just kept on pushing forwards, the only thing on his mind doing the job he was required to do. If he stopped to think about what was happening around him, what could happen to him, he knew he would curl into a foetal ball and never get up, and what use would he be to anyone them?
He still thought Scvott’s decision was foolish, but at least now it was justified, and they were actually doing something to help. They had only made one supply run, the roads were choked with troopers and tanks making their way to the safety of the inner walls, and Flynn steamed as they got caught in traffic jam after traffic jam. It had taken them nearly an hour to get a single supply load from the inner city ammo bunkers to the breach, and there wouldn’t be the time for another run. Now all they could do was try to make that one load count. Flynn and Dyllion carried Battle Cannon ammo to the pair of Malcadors and Mortar bombs to the Mortars, who all used the ammo up faster than they could resupply it, while Scvott, Summer and himself kept the troops fuelled with small arms, dashing from the C-80 to the troops as fast as possible, dodging bullets to get the goods to the troops.
Julius had expected many things when the army arrived at the breach, but there’d been one big surprise waiting for him. The rumours he’d discounted out of hand were true, it was indeed professor Ahriman who was leading the defence, but not as he’d ever seen him before. When professor Ahriman had saved them in the Petitioner’s City, he’d found it amazing how he’d taken out all those thugs so quickly without killing a single one, but that was nothing next to what he was doing right now.
When they had left for their first supply run, Ahriman had summoned a massive wall of warpfire covering the entire breach, keeping the Orks at bay in a spectacular display which forced Flynn to drag him onto the C-80 as he was to engrossed in what was happening before him, and now an hour later he was in the thick of it. Between the blows from his staff and bursts of warp-fire from his gauntlets he was laying waste to the Orks, moving extremely gracefully for his size and armour, a painter painting in crimson. When this was over, Julius would have to seek out Ahriman, find out when relief would arrive, try and message Isis or Venus. He wondered what Ahriman would think of him being there, of them both being here at the exact time a Hulk arrived. Ahriman once said in class that there was no such thing as coincidence, and now Julius almost believed him.
Dashing the final few yards, Julius reached a Perdix Heavy Bolter team, and handed over the ammo belt. No sooner did they have it then the Heavy Bolter ran out of bullets. Swiftly they loaded the new belt in, and resumed firing. Julius dashed back for the truck, and the next load, bullets following him as he ran.
Summer was at the C-80 when he got there, her face smudged with soot and several tears in her uniform. And yet despite all that, Julius had never seen her more alive. She’d gone right into the thick of the firing, defying the heaviest fire in order to deliver her load. She’d even tossed a grenade into a Trukk as she ran past it, killing some of the Orks riding within. That fire which Julius had seen as she prayed in that Hab now filled her, and despite all the blood and sweat which stained her, she had never looked more beautiful.
Julius cursed himself. This was a warzone; he could die any minute, stop thinking about her that way.
“Oll, glad to see you’re still with us. The Tanith need some more Tread Fether rounds, which I assume means more missiles. I’ve got to get these Bolt Pistol rounds to that astartes warrior, what was his name again?”
“Ahriman. Ahzek Ahriman, chief librarian of the XVth Legion.”
“Wow Oll, you are full of useless knowledge. Might have to ask you a few questions about all this when the battle is done. Well, time waits on man or woman.” She turned to go, and then stopped and turned her head back to Julius. “And Oll? Stay alive out there. For me.” and with that, she dashed away once again.
He resolved that if he survived this, he would apologise to her for comparing her with Keiter. Keiter would never have selflessly risked his life the way she did, or spoken to him that way. Emperor Worshiper or no, she was insanely brave and dedicated to her job, and seemed to care enough to reassure him in the midst of the heat of the battle. If only the Imperium had more people like her…
Julius snapped out of it when a bullet flew close by. This wasn’t the time to daydream! He took up a crate of frag missiles and set off once again. A pair of black clad Tanith troopers crouched behind a section of ruined wall close to the Malcadors and Baneblade. One of them looked over Julius as he handed over the missiles. “I’ve got to hand it to you boy, you may be a civilian but you move and act like a soldier. Your CDA section should get medals when this is all over for doing such a fine…” he trailed off as the loud sound of something heavy stomping towards the breach pushed its way over the roar of guns and the chanting of the Orks. The massive hulking form of an Ork Stompa pushed its way into the breach, shoving aside the growing wall of corpses. The metal giant spat death from the many Big Shootas mounted all over it, while return fire sparked off its armour. The Stompa has what looked like a cannon mounted in the centre of the hull, and the Tanith troopers noticed it the same time he did.
“Belly Gun! Get the fuck down!”
Julius had no idea what they were talking about, but he followed suit. As he did so, he heard a flat hollow ‘boom’ as the belly gun fired. The massive belly gun shell serenely flew towards them, seemingly in slow motion. How the big, fat shell could even fly seemed a mystery to Julius. A hand grabbed him and pulled him further down.
“You idiot! Are you trying to get yourself killed?” one of the troopers hissed at him. Before Julius could apologise or answer, there was an ear-splitting bang and the air was filled with the shriek of shrapnel hissing through the air. The section of wall kept Julius safe, though he felt the wall reverberate with the impact of debris, and the whistle of more shrapnel keened over his head. When he was convinced the damage was done, he poked his head back up again.
The Imperial positions were devastated, much of the cover blasted apart by the massive explosion and the bodies of many Imperial troops scattered everywhere. Though he was by now inured to the sight of death, the sight of such carnage caused so swiftly left him with a sick feeling inside. The Stompa continued to move forwards like a victorious god, and Julius could almost imagine that the bestial face mounted on the head was smiling. There was a whoosh close to his ear, and the face vanished seconds later. The Tanith missile team reloaded with grim urgency, as scattered fire from the imperial remnants hit the metal colossus. The two Malcadors fired their battle cannons, the shells gouging holes in the stompas armour. The stompas arm mounted cannon fired, the shell missing the Malcador and smashing a nearby building to dust, along with the Perdix heavy weapons troopers sheltering within.
There was an answering ‘boom’ as the baneblade fired its huge cannon at the stompa. At that range it was nearly point blank, and the shell tore into the stompa before exploding, blowing the monster open. The imperial troops gave out ragged cheers, but they knew that the breach could no longer be held, and more and more Orks were pouring through. The soldier’s vox crackled, and he muttered something to his fellow before addressing Julius.
“A general retreat has been ordered, we’ve held the breach for over two hours and the army and PDF are now safe behind the inner walls. Find your squadmates and get to safety.”
“What about you two?”
“We’re staying. No Orks will pass us as long as we draw breath, and maybe we can buy you all some more time to escape. Now go. GO!”
Julius took one last look back before he started to run. As he did, other troops all over broke cover and began to run for safety. Strangely, very few of them were wearing Tanith black. Were all Tanith troopers this balls out insane? He’d have to ask Professor Ahriman about that one once they got to safety. But he’d have to get to safety first, and ensure those brave troopers didn’t throw their lives away in vain.
Summer and Flynn were already at the C-80 when Julius got there, sorting through what was left in the cargo bay.
“You came through offworlder, and hardly the worse for wear. Here, take this.” Flynn tossed an object to Julius, who grabbed it out of the air and automatically checked it. It was an Autogun, Agripinaa Pattern, 8.25 with a twenty round box magazine. Julius was reminded of the immensely more deadly weapon concealed under his coat, and shuddered.
“Have we finally reached this point, when we need weapons ourselves? I thought as CDA we signed up because we wanted to help without bearing arms?”
“Look all around you. The army’s pulling back, and the fething Orks are pushing forward. We may run into a few roadblocks on the way to the inner wall gate, and I’d rather be safe than sorry. Even Summer has a weapon.” Summer responded with a gesture from her PDF issue Lasgun. “Now where the hell are Scvott and Dyllion?”
“They were delivering those shells to the baneblade last I met them.” Flynn said.
“We can’t wait too long for them, another few minutes and we leave, with them or without them.” Summer said with an air of finality which startled both of them. Every second dragged out as they waited for Scvott and Dyllion to arrive. The sounds of Imperial weapons fire slackened and faded, and the sound of the Orks grew and grew. Julius sat in his usual position in the back, Autogun resting on his lap. If any Orks tried to pursue them, it would be his job to keep them at bay. He wasn’t happy with being assigned that role, but he would do it anyway, and hoped the Autogun would be enough if it came to that. “Fire up that engine! Get us the hell out of here!” it was Scvott and Dyllion, running as fast as their legs could carry them. Dyllion had a cut in his forehead, and Scvott was clutching one arm in obvious pain.
“What happened to you two?” Summer asked as they bundled into the C-80.
“Fucking Orks. They blew one of the Malcadors just after we’d restocked the baneblade, and because of that idiot,” he growled, gesturing at Scvott, “We were too close.”
“They’re well and truly into the outer city now, we’d best make tracks before they cut us off.” Scvott ignoring Dyllion and trying to re-establish his authority.
The C-80 sped away, and swiftly they were enveloped by the buildings of the lower city as Flynn navigated them towards the inner wall gate. In the distance there was a massive explosion, loud enough to be heard above the din of battle.
“That must have been the Baneblade. Brave bastards, they drove straight into the heart of the horde, crushing Orks beneath their treads as they poured it on with their cannons. Those Caorst boys have balls.” So do the Tanith, Julius thought, and the Belladon, and the Perdix. Every soldier who willingly stayed behind there to die had balls. There was a roaring sound and several objects dropped out of the sky before them, forcing Flynn to hit the brakes. It took a split second for Julius to recognise what they were, and a shiver went down his spine.
“Stormboyz!” Julius yelled. Insane Orks who strapped rockets onto their backs in a parody of the Assault Marines of the Astartes, Stormboyz had a habit of exploding in flight, but were deadly assault troops all the same. And now they were in the way. Flynn spun the C-80 around as the Orks started running towards them, firing their pistols enthusiastically. Up close, the Orks were ugly muscle bound monstrosities, death in green skin, their close combat weapons seemingly to large and heavy for anyone to carry, yet they held them high. “Waaagh!” they screamed as Flynn hit the gas. As the C-80 began to pick up speed, they fired their rocket packs and began to speed after them. So much for leaving them in the dust. They sped down the street, the Stormboyz in hot pursuit. Julius had seen so many chase scenes in holo-films, but he had never expected to actually BE in one.
“Oll! Don’t just sit there, shoot at them!” Scvott yelled back.
Julius had almost forgotten the reason he was in the back, the reason he had that Autogun. He lifted said Autogun into position, aimed it as best he could at the pursuing Orks and thumbed the trigger. ‘Ratatatatat’ the gun sang as it kicked against Julius’s shoulder and spat out a burst of bullets at the stormboys. None of them seemed to hit, which was hardly surprising given how fast they were travelling, but it felt good to be firing back. He fired burst after burst at the Orks, and once saw one of the stormboyz falling back. Killed, injured or out of fuel? Julius didn’t know, but at least that was one less Ork out to kill them.
“Dammit, are we even heading for the inner wall gate?” Julius growled as they turned another corner.
“Ah’m trying to keep these fething green skinned bastards off our backs! Stop distracting me!” Flynn grunted as he sent the C-80 on yet another hairpin turn. One of the stormboyz missed the turn and crashed into the side of a building, but the rest kept on coming. Flynn was pushing the C-80 to the limit, treating it like a sports hovercar as he pushed it around corners and acted like he was in an episode of High Gear.
“Are we going to be doing this all bloody day?” Dyllion asked Flynn as they turned into yet another street.
“Given the fuel gauge, ah’d say we’ve got another hour in us.”
“But by then the Orks would hold the outer city, and we’d have no way of getting to the inner city.” Summer said. “We have to head for the gate, and hope that there are troops there who can help us.”
“She’s right; I’m damn near out of ammo for the Autogun and the Orks are coming closer. We have to make our way there, and trust the gates are still open.” Julius loaded in his penultimate clip for the Autogun, and loosened off another burst at the stormboyz. Bullets from the stormboyz pistols continued to whip past, but none of them ever connected. As the seconds wore on and they began to draw ahead of the pursuers, Julius began to feel a small sense of optimism. They would escape from this one, and live to fight another day. Julius had no idea what happened next. One second they were speeding along as normal, the next the floor fell away from Julius, throwing him out of the C-80. He fell hard, knocking the wind out of him. As he rolled over, he saw the C-80 was lying nearby, smoke billowing from its crumpled engine. Flynn, Scvott and Summer were running from it towards him. Then the C-80 went up in a blast of flame, throwing the others to the floor. Their method of escape was no more.
As they got up, the Stormboyz roared up and landed before them. There were only three now, but those three were more than a match for five confused CDA troopers. Summer, as brave and reckless as ever began firing at them with her Lasgun. The angry Orks ran towards her, weapons raised.
Julius could not, would not see her killed. His Autogun might be empty, but he had another weapon literally up his sleeve. He fumbled for a second, before drawing Vulkan’s Hellpistol and locking it on the leading Stormboy just as it was about to strike her a blow. Julius had been training with firearms since he was seven, when his father had brought him an air rifle. No-one could match him for accuracy; he had won every shooting competition since he was fourteen.
The Hellpistol beam made a shrieking noise as it lanced straight through the Stormboy, before its rocket pack exploded and destroyed what was left of it. The other two Orks turned to face him, but he had the upper hand now. Another shot dealt with the second Ork, and Dyllion put down the third one with a burst from his own Autogun. As they came over to Julius, he found the hand holding the Hellpistol was shaking like a leaf. He’d killed a sentient being like himself, actually killed it, even if it was only an Ork. He expected to feel something, joy or relief, but all he felt was empty inside, hollow.
“Where did you get that fancy weapon offworlder?” Scvott asked, or rather demanded.
“An heirloom from my Grandfather. He fought alongside the XVIII Legion during the last years of the crusade, and was granted this before the Angelus Triumph. It still works perfectly.” A half-lie, hopefully one they would swallow.
“It seems you have many secrets offworlder.” Summer smiled knowingly. Julius tried to smile back, but all he could do was grimace. That fall had hurt. He knew he would be black and blue with bruises come the next day.
“We can’t stick around; the commotion will likely attract more greenskins, and we’re in no fit condition to fight them.” Scvott said.
“But where will we go? We can’t walk to the gate now; the Orks will have cut us off long before we reach there. I don’t even know where we are.” Julius said.
“The lower city, close to the southern climbs. I know this place well, and I know exactly where we can go to hide.” Flynn started off, followed by the rest of them. As they went, Julius took one last look back at the burning C-80. There would be no worn section in the back anymore, just another hunk of burnt out wreckage. The analogy seemed apt for his entire experience on this once peaceful world.
Into the Underground
The sound of Orks filtered through the streets, hounding the rag-tag bunch of CDA volunteers as they followed Flynn through the winding streets. Julius had the feeling that Flynn had no idea where they were going, but he trusted that the Tanith native would see them through. He knew the famed reputation of the Tanith, and besides he had no other choice in the matter.
“Ah, here we are.” Flynn had stopped near a deserted alleyway, with a sewer entrance at one end. What did he mean, they were there?
“Here, follow me.” Flynn lifted up the manhole cover, and slid into it. Was he serious, would they hide in the sewers? The Orks would be into them like a shot, and he knew common protocol was to blow them if the outer city fell so the Orks couldn’t outflank the walls.
“You’re first offworlder.” Scvott pushed Julius towards Flynn and the sewer. Julius scowled, but he followed Flynn down into the abyss, lit only by the faint light of Flynn’s Lamp-Pack. Halfway down the ladder, Flynn simply disappeared. Julius blinked, and blinked again before a hand popped out of the wall.
“In here.” Flynn whispered as he came closer. It was a passageway concealed beside the ladder, almost impossible to notice unless you actually knew it was there. Julius swung himself into the passage, waved at Dyllion who was next in line behind him to follow, and then followed Flynn down the passage. He had to crawl, but it fortunately wasn’t too cramped. For what seemed an age he crawled along, Flynn’s lamp-pack lighting the way. Julius saw light at the end of the tunnel, a small amount of it. He emerged into an open space the size of a rugby field. There were lights in the ceiling, and a large board showing a faded map of the city on one wall, though on closer inspection that map had to be several centuries old, the Port Huron there was barely recognisable as the city above them. A steel door at the other end of the room led out.
“What is this?” Summer asked once all of them were inside.
“When the Xenos Overlords ruled Seadelant, the human resistance build dozens of underground bunkers where they would live and rest under the very noses of the Overlords. Most of them lie forgotten, but not this one. This one I found while exploring a year or so ago, and I’ve more or less turned it into my man cave, more or less.” He laughed as his own lame joke. “There’s still a lot of stuff in here left over from the resistance movement, so we can make the most of it. This is the planning room, where the resistance would have planned their attacks. Follow me.”
The Bunker complex proved to a lot more, well, complex than Julius had expected. There were separate rooms for resistance fighters to sleep, nearly 30 of them all up, a command room dominated by a metal table, and even a garage which Flynn had filled with tools, parts and the disassembled chassis of a Hovercar. The stores room still had a fair number of cans of food, which Flynn predicted would last them several weeks or more. The armoury was the biggest surprise, with two locally made heavy stubbers and several ammo drums, as well as several PDF issue lasguns and a Lasgun powerpack recharger. Scvott summed it all up.
“We’re stuck behind enemy lines, and there’s no way we can reach the safety of the inner walls now. The PDF will have blocked off the sewer access points as well, keep the Orks out. But at least we have all this, food, water, weapons and a place to sleep. We can safely stay here until the relief force arrives.”
A couple of hours later once they had all settled in and he had finished offloading his gear into his room and exploring the base, Julius knocked on the door of Summer’s room a few over from his own. He had said to himself that if he survived the breach, he would apologise to her for comparing her to a madman like Keiter, and now he was fulfilling that promise. She opened the door to him, and let him in. all of the rooms were quite small, and yet her one was very tidy. The cot was made, the shelves set with neat piles of musty old books that must have dated back decades, and the large scented candle from before resting on an empty ammo crate. Julius felt slightly uncomfortable, and resolved to get straight to the point.
“Look Summer, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently, with all that is going on. We could have died so many times out there, and it makes you think.”
“I’m so sorry about what I’ve said earlier, about comparing you to Keiter. I tarred all Emperor Worshippers with the same brush. Now I can see now you’re nothing like him, and I feel like a fool. Can you forgive me?” Summer patted her bed, and Julius sat down on it. “The Emperor protects, Oll. He protected me during that battle, he protects me now. And he protects you, though why I can’t tell.”
“I don’t know if I need his protection, and he has many more problems on his plate than worrying about me.” A memory of his anger when he had confronted Isis and himself over the Petitioner’s City incident crossed his mind, and he shuddered. Summer didn’t seem to notice, and she continued.
“You’re lucky, in a way. You’ve never had that void inside your soul, that feeling that there must be something more to life than all this.” She gestured at his Catheric Crux. “Before, I had it all. I wanted for nothing, and yet I never felt more alone, more lost. And then I found the truth, found the Emperor. Of course when my parents found out, they disowned me. Not in public mind you, too focused on their public image to have it stained by the revelation that their daughter was a follower of the Lectio Divinitatus. No, the quietly cut me off and said that I had been sent away, when in reality they had simply turfed me out. No matter where I go, I can’t practice my faith openly. I feel like I’m persecuted for it.”
“You ARE persecuted for it. Imperial law has the Lectio Divinitatus as illegal, and all who follow its teachings.”
Summer simply looked at Julius and replied. “You should be in the same boat as me. Honestly, I find it almost hypocritical that you Catherics escape persecution, whereas we don’t. We both believe in religion, ergo we are both opposed to the Imperial Truth, and we are both breaking the Imperial creed. The only difference is my god is alive and well on Terra, I could actually see him. Have you seen your god Oll?” There was no hostility in her voice; no sense that she was ridiculing his faith; it was simply a question, nothing more.
Julius thought for a moment, and began, slowly at first, but soon he spoke with earnest fervour. “No, no I have not. But sometimes I feel Him. He’s been there for me for as long as I can remember, and though I may neglect Him sometimes, He’s never neglected me. My friends all find it strange that I believe, but I don’t let that get to me. I have faith that He’s there, that He has a plan for me, and that when my time comes He will welcome me with open arms.”
Summer smiled at him, a smile full of warmth. “I feel the same way about the Emperor. We’re not that different, are we? We both have faith in a higher power, and we both know others don’t like our beliefs.”
“Yeah, we are. We are.” Julius could say no more, there was nothing else he could say. He politely took his leave, returned to his room, and sat down hard on his cot. Summer was so far removed from Keiter; Julius could hardly believe they held the same beliefs. She didn’t act holier than thou, she didn’t use her beliefs as an excuse the way Keiter did, she didn’t consider herself better than other people because of her faith, and what to Julius was the most important of all, she didn’t ridicule his own faith, she accepted it. And she didn’t accept it with that air of distaste he had come to expect from his days at Imperator High. Even Isis found his beliefs unusual. She’d never accepted them as gracefully as Summer did; it had taken time for her to come to terms with his faith. He’d never had to think about his faith this way before, as the only other person who could be compared to him in that regard was Faith Aurelian, and she hadn’t been a shining example for faith, no pun intended. For the first time since he arrived on Seadelant, he took out his Crux, knelt down at the foot of his cot, and began to pray.
“So that’s it?”
“It would seem so my lord. Thanks to your efforts, we got over ninety percent of the PDF and eighty-seven percent of the Army out before the Orks broke in. Even in defeat you still saved the day.”
Ahriman didn’t feel like he had saved anything. The outer city was now infested with Orks, occupied by the foe. The inner walls were heavily garrisoned by the Army and PDF, and the repositioned artillery had just begun to throw shells into the occupied sections to deny the Orks cover and kill as many of them as possible, but the inner walls were also shorter and less steep, making it possible for the Orks to climb them with grappling claws. The task of defending what was left of the city had just got a whole lot harder.
Ahriman stood in Huron’s square, where the artillery was setting up and beginning to fire once again, and weary soldiers were trying to catch some rest. The aide had presented him with the complete casualty report from the Ork breakthrough, and though the news sounded good, nearly two thousand troopers had been killed in the defence of the breach, and during the desperate rearguard action as they fell back to the inner wall gate. Most of the Tanith troopers had elected to stay behind when he had given the retreat order, and buy some more time with their lives. For so many years he’d heard about the reputation of the new Tanith regiments, but only now was he truly appreciating it. If only there had been some regiments of them during the Crusade, maybe it wouldn’t have dragged on for so long. He’d already approved the list for posthumous medals, and it was getting longer by the day. Nearby, Commissar Lord Günter cursed loudly as several medics treated him. His arm had nearly been cut off when he had gone one on one with a Meganob, the Ork equivalent of a Terminator. Amazingly despite his injury he had bested the Meganob, felling it with a Plasma Pistol shot to the head, although the blow had cut all the way to the bone, and Günter wouldn’t be fighting fit for a week or more. He hoped Tanith morale wouldn’t suffer because of it.
“Heads up my lord, the Graf approaches.” Graf Trakeria was heading towards him, escorted by a pair of bodyguards with Hellguns. He could see the anger smouldering in her aura, though whether that was directed against the Orks, or him, he couldn’t tell. Either way it didn’t bode well. Trakeria came up to him, nodded very briefly, not very convincingly, before coming straight to the point. “Well my lord, thanks to you the loss of the outer city wasn’t a complete catastrophe. We salvaged something from that mess.” Emphasis on the We, she obviously didn’t like the direction his command was taking and wanted to remind him that she nominally commanded the cities defence alone. “The Governor isn’t happy though. Your artillery is now reducing her city to rubble, the city you pledged to protect.”
“And the Orks are pillaging it as well. You don’t think I know? My sight was blinded, and this was the result.” There was bitterness in Ahriman’s voice, after the glorious chaos of the battle he felt empty inside and the full weight of his failure. In battle he was the master of his destiny, outside of it he felt his failures keenly. He should have seen that Rok coming, seen it long before it did its damage. But once again his sight had failed him, as it had been failing him ever since that vision, what seemed like years ago. Since then he had exchanged his teacher’s uniform for his crimson armour, fought the dark side of Terra with the Night Haunter, saved two brave but foolish teens from certain death, and left Terra in disgrace as a result of all that. The greatest astartes psyker ever, disgraced before the Emperor Himself. How the mighty have fallen.
Trakeria pressed home her advantage. “Lord Ahriman, are you sure you’re up for leading the defence now? You’ve done all you can, and done a damn good job of it. You hit the landing force hard, and were a great help in destroying the towers. But it seems your powers are no longer working as well as you wanted; given you let that Rok slip past your sight. It might be time you gave command back to me. I’d be glad to keep you on in an advisory role, but I’m human, and from what I hear I understand the stresses of command better than you seem to do.”
“If I hand over the defence to you, the city will fall in less than a week.” Trakeria stared at him, open mouthed at his snub, but he wasn’t finished. “You have no experience of real battle; you’ve spent this whole time commanding from that bunker, not facing death alongside the men and women. I respect your authority, and have consulted you before every decision I have made, but I alone have seen all the Greenskins are capable of, and I know what they’re likely to do now that they hold the outer city. What do you know of war, beyond the books you’ve read?”
She took a step back, then another one, her mouth opening and closing but no words coming out. Ahriman was sick and tired of people questioning him because they thought they knew better, and this woman was only the latest in a long line stretching back many years. She had to face the hard truth, they were on a knife edge, and one false move would see the fall of the city, and the planet with it.
“We’re in for a long siege now, and as before our only hope is holding until relief arrives. I can ensure we hold, but only if you let me have freedom of action. I will keep you informed as before, but you won’t try to meddle. Is that quite understood?”
“Yes my lord.” Trakeria visibly deflated, and she turned and slunk back towards the PDF building, her guards following. Ahriman had enough on his hands already, without political intrigue to add to the burden. He didn’t want to have to watch his back as well as his front, one enemy was enough. If he damn well survived this, he would head out somewhere where no-one could disturb his meditation. Angelus sounded good at this time of year.
“What was that all about?” Günter asked, his injured arm now in a sling.
“Just the Graf needing a few reminders.”
“Oh? That bad eh?” Günter looked uncomfortable in bandages, and Ahriman could see him grimace every time he moved his arm. “Technically a Commissar is a Political rank, but I have never been one for politics, too much mess and confusion. Give me a foe I can face, a weapon in my hand and I’m as happy as a Grox in the mud.”
“The same here. We never had to worry much about politics during the Crusade. Everything was so much simpler back then.” Ahriman turned to go, and then stopped as a thought entered his mind.
“By the by, those CDA troopers who were helping us at the breach. Do we know if they made it?”
“I can check my lord, but it doesn’t seem likely. I never saw them after you gave the retreat order, and they would have been mentioned in the reports.”
“That’s ok. It was only a thought.” Another five lives sacrificed to the Green Menace. He didn’t know why, but there was something about those five civilian volunteers which had interested him. The woman in particular, she had run past a bevy of angry Meganobz to resupply him with shells for his Bolt Pistol, and he had even seen her take out a Trukk full of Orks with a frag grenade while supplying ammunition to the Belladon troops. Back then as the war raged around him he felt like there was something deeper to these mad civilians, something which might tie in to the fate of this world, another string of fate gently tugging at him, reminding him of futures to come. Now that too was gone, and all he had left were those endless, nagging doubts.
Julius crossed off the days on the makeshift calendar he had scratched into the concrete of the briefing room. Nine days. Nine days since the skies fell and the Orks invaded, nine days he had been stuck on this world. By now he would have been over halfway to Calth, and wouldn’t have had to worry about his life, and Venus and her friends would be just a day out from Fenris. But on the other hand he wouldn’t have met Summer either, or Flynn, or the others, and he wouldn’t have been reminded about how important his faith was to him. Some small good had come out of the crisis after all, though the bad far outweighed it. Would he even get out of this alive? And if he didn’t, how would the others feel? His father would mourn him he knew, but would Isis? Would the other Daughters be saddened by his demise? And what would his life have meant to any of them? So many questions, he was almost drowning in them. He didn’t want to think about any of them, didn’t want to have to face the fact that his life was hanging on by a thread now, and any time that thread could be cut. That was an old saying the Space Wolf Skjalds sang, to the Wolves all lives were threads in the tapestry of fate and sometimes those threads had to be cut, or were cut. His rather morbid thought train was thankfully interrupted by the sound of voices coming down the corridor.
“We’ve been in this hellhole for four fucking days. How much longer are you going to subject us to this farce?”
“There’s nothing I can do Dyllion. We can’t face the whole Ork horde singlehandedly, and there’s no way we can get into the inner city. At least here we have food, water and shelter.” The two entered the room, Scvott calling out greetings to Julius.
“What do you think of all this Oll? Dyllion here is bitching about our ‘confinement’, and blames me as usual. But what else can we do?”
“You don’t need to be claustrophobic to feel ill at ease around here. I believe the old terran term for this is ‘cabin fever’. We’re all stuck here together in the dark, for g…who knows how long.” He’d nearly let his tongue slip, and apart from Summer no-one knew his real beliefs, a situation he intended to maintain. “We’ll need time to adjust to this life underground, if we are to last it out…”
Julius turned to see Flynn entering the room, wearing full gear and with his Lasgun on his back. He seemed excited or at least animated by some thought or idea. “Sir?” Flynn rarely used ‘sir’ unless he wanted something, or had something up his sleeve. “I want to go up there, to the surface, see for myself what the Greenskins are doing and find out how safe we actually are down here.”
Scvott’s reaction was swift. “But you’ll get caught, and then we’ll all be doomed. Down here we are safe, whereas you are willing to go out there and risk that safety.” Scvott spoke with obvious conviction, but while Julius admired that, he also knew that it was misplaced. Professor Ahriman had once told him ‘knowledge is half the battle’, and now that analogy seemed more apt than ever. He had to speak.
“I hear your point Scvott, but I agree with Flynn. We can’t stay passively down here waiting for salvation that, for all we know, will take months to arrive. Flynn is Tanith, and there are none who can better the Tanith at stealth. At the very least, he can find out what our chances are if we ever venture topside.”
“If his actions endanger all of us, then we all suffer. This is not about what he wants, or what I want, this is about all of us. I sympathise, but I am your commander, and my orders stand.”
“Look, I can’t see what harm it can do. Flynn knows this area well, or so he says.” Flynn gave him a cheeky grin at that. “He can avoid any Ork patrols, and find out what the situation is up above. I for one would rather know if we are the only humans left in this city.” Both Scvott and Dyllion winced at that, and even Julius silently chastised himself. If that were true, than their lives would be getting a whole lot harder. Would it even be worth staying alive down here, knowing everyone above was dead or enslaved?
“What are you all talking about?” Summer walked into the room, completing the quintet.
“Flynn wants to go topside to scout, and Oll agrees with him. But I don’t like it; he could bring a whole warband of Orks right down on top of us. We have food, water, beds and space down here; we don’t need to throw away our lives on a fool’s errand.”
Summer pursed her lips as she thought for a moment. “Honestly, I agree with Oll here. We have been four days in the dark, though it is safe and secure in here, it is cramped, dank and dingy. How did the human resistance survive like this, for all those centuries while our ancestors toiled under the xenos who had enslaved them?”
With all four of them behind Flynn’s proposal, Scvott found himself outmanoeuvred. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and struggled to find words before finally grunting out. “Fine, fine. Flynn. Go out there and conduct a tactical reconnaissance of the local vicinity. At the first sign of trouble, disengage and return back here.”
Flynn could barely keep the grin off his face as he saluted, and all but dashed for the secret exit. The sound of Flynn faded away as he crawled off down the tunnel. Once all trace of him faded, Scvott turned to Julius and said. “I hope, for all our sakes, that you are right here. All our lives depend upon it.”
“You can’t be too cautious; the best commanders take risks, even calculated ones. After all, would Horus have won on Ullanor if he hadn’t risked it all with his drop on the Ork Warlord’s fortress?” The others trooped out now that Flynn was gone, leaving Scvott and Julius alone. Scvott reached for his hip flask, offered it to Julius who shook his head, and took a quick sip.
“Oll, let’s get this straight. This is my first ever command and I’m learning on the job. I wanted to be a fighter commander, not a ground commander, but as fate would have it I find myself here commanding a ragtag bunch of civilians, hiding in a secret bunker, and I can’t even guarantee my orders will be carried out. I’m not a very good leader if I can let you all override my commands like that. Do you see where I’m coming from?”
Julius nodded. “You just need time, time to get used to the burdens of command and get to know your charges. They teach us something on Macragge, in the military academies there. To lead, you first have to follow. I’ll keep watch until he returns, or until the Greenskins find us, whatever way it turns out.”
“Oll, you are all right, for an offworlder. But next time, try to see things from my perspective as well, and don’t undermine what little authority I have.” Scvott took another sip, replaced his hip flask, and turned and walked off. He was no friend, but there was a growing respect between them, and Julius gave himself a small smile as he sat back to keep watch.
After nearly two hours of silence, Julius was startled by the sound of something coming down the tunnel. He went over and called the others in, before drawing Vulkan’s Hellpistol and covering the exit in case it wasn’t Flynn. The sound came closer, and Flynn powered up the pistol. The intruder crawled out of the hole, straight into the muzzle of the Hellpistol.
“Oy! Watch where you’re pointing that fething thing!” Flynn blurted as he felt the pistol against his head. Julius sheathed it apologetically, and called the others. They all crowded round him, eager for news from above.
“We’re lucky, no Orks above us, we’re too far from the walls, and the real fighting. I only saw one patrol, four blocks due east, and some graffiti on various buildings all around the place. No Gretchin either, which seems a little odd. However I did find one thing interesting.”
“There’s an Ork supply route three blocks west of our position. I saw two convoys of three trucks, with four bike mounted escorts carrying supplies to the camps before the inner wall while I was there. You could hear them coming from a mile off, they were so loud. They must have a fair few of those to keep the Orks fed and fuelled up at the walls.”
As Flynn talked, the nugget of an idea formed in Julius’s mind. As he talked it grew and grew, as ideas flooded into it. Summer noticed, and asked. “Oll? What is going on in that head of yours?”
“A plan. A good plan, a way for us to help the poor troops defending the inner city. We have weapons and explosives. We can hit the convoy, destroy it, and deny valuable supplies to the Orks at the wall, help the troops defending it!”
“What are you smoking Oll? Going out there to scout is one thing, fighting against the Orks directly something else. We’d be outnumbered and outgunned. Do you really want us to throw our lives away like this?” Scvott clamped down hard on Julius’s idea.
Summer chimed in. “Oll is right. If we can help the troops out there, then in our own little way we can affect the outcome of this war. The Astartes commander said himself, ‘Even the smallest pebble can change the course of a rushing river’, and any one of us can change the entire course of this war. Who’s to say this one act won’t save the city?”
“All right, who the fuck are you? And what the hell have you done with Summer?” Dyllion growled. Julius realised they had never seen this side of her, the fiery, impassioned side where her natural spunk shined. He knew her better than they did.
“This is me, the real me. And I would be glad to get a chance to do my part for the war effort, even from back here. We are not out of the fight; in fact we have a priceless opportunity on our hands. We are behind enemy lines, and they don’t know we’re here. We can do what the builders of this bunker did, fight the foe from the shadows and make a difference.” Her voice was full of fire, her body seemed to glow, and Julius didn’t have to look to see the expressions on the faces of the others. He’d had the same expression once, but now he was used to it, even if seeing her like this still brought a hot flush to his face.
“I can’t argue with that.” Scvott murmured, reaching once again for his hip flask. “Hell, I can’t seem to argue with anything you say. It’s almost as if I’m not even in command here. I know what you think Dyllion, but Flynn? What say you?” Flynn grinned, patting his Lasgun.
“Ok, we do this. Dyllion, go to the armoury; gather as much explosives as you can carry, and some backup Lasgun powerpacks. Flynn, come with me, we’ll chart out where the best place is to spring an ambush. Oll, Summer, go into the stores and fetch some canvas sacks we can turn into satchel charges. We meet back here in half an hour.” Scvott sounded more confident, more in charge now he had an actual task to perform, and as he went off with Flynn he was already discussing tactics.
“Well Oll, you’ve got us going again. You seem to have a knack at that. Now come on, let’s see what we can find.” As Julius followed Summer away, he could barely keep the smile off his face, or mask the fear rising within him.
“How much longer until it arrives?” Summer whispered at Flynn.
“Ahboot eight minutes, but it could be anytime. The Orks are nothing if not unpredictable.”
“Oh joy.” Julius was lying flat on the partially wrecked roof of a hab building overlooking one of the feeder roads, Lasgun poking out past a damaged crossbeam and satchel charge at his side. He had been lying there for over an hour now in the autumn sun, and he wished he had brought some sun block, though being in the open again was bliss. When they had first emerged into the light, Scvott mentioned that he felt he was drunk on sunlight, and Julius had to agree. Mankind was born in the light, and the darkness was alien to him. Summer and Flynn shared his rooftop, while across the road Scvott and Dyllion were set up as well, Dyllion wielding the Heavy Stubber from the armoury while the others had their Lasguns or Autoguns.
Now that his idea, his off the cuff battle plan was being turned into reality around him, reasons to doubt it had crept in. What if there were more Orks than he’d anticipated and they were swamped by sheer weight of numbers, or if this was a route barely used, and thus no convoy would come and this whole effort would be for naught?
Stupid Julius, stop doubting yourself, he thought to himself. He had to have faith that this plan would work, and give the team something to live for, something to fight for. This world had grown on him, and its inhabitants had grown on him as well. He was now willing to risk it all for them, and he hoped this little action would make a difference, even if only for the morale of the squad.
Summer tapped her comm-link and swiftly whispered to them. “Dyllion’s spotted the convoy. Eight kliks out and closing fast.”
This was it. Now they were in for a real fight. He settled himself down and mouthed a prayer to slow his beating heart, while he rested his finger on the trigger of his Lasgun, and rested his other hand on his Satchel Charge, ready to grab it the moment the enemy drew close enough. Now he could hear them clearly, the loud roar of their engines clearly audible and the clouds of smoke coming from their exhausts visible as a growing smudge above the buildings. Julius heard the scraping sound as Summer and Flynn readied their Satchel Charges. Julius would have preferred Landmines, but they didn’t have the time to make any. That would be a job for next time, if there was a next time. Now he could faintly see the Orks roaring towards where they were concealed. He could make out the shape of several warbikes and a trukk, but they were still too far off, and by now Dyllion would have set down his Magnoculars and taken up the Heavy Stubber. The waiting came continued, but for how much longer?
They were close enough so he could make out clearly what the enemies numbers were. Four Trukks, eight warbikes and a buggy were powering down that road. Their strength was above what Flynn had told them, but nothing so major they would have to cancel the operation, though Julius was mindful of the increased risks. One Trukk was full of howling Orks, the other three full to near bursting point with crudely marked crates. Food or ammo? It didn’t matter, either way it was a target worthy of destruction. He could hear Summer informing Flynn about the enemy, and then the now familiar sound of lasguns being readied.
Every second seemed to become an hour, time itself slowed to a crawl. His father once commented how action seemed to make time slow down or speed up, how a half hour battle could feel like it lasted a whole day, or a day of struggle mutate into a blur which felt like only minutes. He had never known that experience before, but now it was happening to him all too frequently. Julius felt a tap on his leg, and knew the time was now. Do or die this was it. Julius lit the fuse on his Satchel Charge. Twenty seconds. He hefted it back, pulled all his weight into his arms and threw it as hard as he physically could, his action mirrored by Summer, Flynn and Scvott. The Charges arced through the air and landed upon the road as the convoy sped towards. Shouts came from the Orks, who had just noticed the figures on the rooftops above them. Ten seconds. Several of the Orks on the trucks began turning their Big Shootas towards the newcomers, looking to get some shots off. Five seconds. The lead trukk crossed the first Satchel Charge and powered onwards. Three. Two. One.
A chain of explosions now rocked the convoy as the charges exploded among them. The lead trukk was blown into the air, the Ork riders scattered like the seeds of a wind-flower, and within a few seconds the others went up with it. Several of the Bikes were rent asunder by the force of the blast, and a chain of secondary explosions roared up as the ammo crates the trucks were carrying went up in the inferno.
“Wolverines!” Flynn yelled exuberantly as the explosions continued. Why Flynn called out such an unusual name Julius could not tell, he had his own problems to deal with. He lifted his Lasgun to bear, picked an Ork who was hastening away, and dropped it with a shot to the head. More shots came from Summer, Scvott and Flynn, while Dyllion began to strafe any survivors with his heavy stubber. The surviving Orks struggled to disentangle themselves from the wreckage, and were easy targets. Too easy, a nagging voice said in the back of Julius’s mind. Nothing was ever this easy, certainly not ambushes.
“Oh hell.” That was Summer, and she never spoke like that unless something truly was wrong. The Warbuggy was still active, and the Orks on board now had the building with Julius on it in their sights.
Julius ducked as the large calibre shells from the Buggy’s twin Big Shootas smacked into the plascrete all around him. He laid as low as possible, feeling the shots whizz over his head, some barely above him. ‘Dammit Dyllion, we’re distracting it, use that heavy stubber and shoot the bastard’ Flynn growled as the Buggy continued to strafe them. The higher pitched yammer of Dyllion’s heavy stubber cut over the throaty growl of the big shootas, which went silent.
“He heard us. That brooding bugger heard us!” Flynn smiled as he got up and once again began taking potshots with his Autogun. By now there were barely any Orks left, one or two with more courage then sense wildly shooting at the buildings with small arms or running at them with choppas held high, while being picked off by the humans. One in particular seemed to have an idea how to get at the pesky humans shooting at it.
The Ork climbed onto one of the destroyed Trukks, and with a bounding leap threw itself up towards the rooftop where Julius was sheltering. By some freak of fate it made it, and scrambled up onto the roof before Dyllion could target it with his Heavy Stubber. Julius had never been this close to an Ork, close enough to smell the sweat and musk of it, close enough to see the saliva coming from its bucket jaw.
“Green! Over here!” Summer stood up and fired near point blank with her Lasgun, but the beam seemed to do no damage. The Ork growled at her, and lumbered towards her, unsheathing an axe from its back.
“Summer!” Julius yelled as the Ork slashed at her with its crude weapon, blood seeping from a cut on her arm. The sight of her blood stunned Julius, it seemed unnaturally red, but she didn’t seem to notice. She dodged, and dodged again, but the brute was too big and strong, she couldn’t evade it for long. Finally a blow from the flat of the axe sent her flying, and the Ork prepared for the coup de grace. Seeing her lying there battered and bloody filled Julius with a burning hate for the Ork. She would be dead in just a few seconds, if nothing was done to distract the brute. She couldn’t die, not here, not now, he wouldn’t, couldn’t let it happen, not while he could still breathe. Julius reached to the Sword Bayonet hanging from his hip, drew it out and screamed. “Over here!”
The Ork turned away from Summer, noticed the weapon in his hands, left her alone and lumbered towards him bellowing a challenge. Julius suddenly realised he might have made a colossal mistake, but he had to save her. The Ork hacked and slashed at him, but its blows were sluggish and clumsy, and he found that he could easily dodge them.
As Julius dodged the Orks brutal swings and tried to find an opening for his own attacks, he remembered how his father had taught him how to use a Bayonet, and how Ollanius had learnt the skills fighting at a place called ‘Verdun’, though where that was Julius didn’t know. Finally the Ork made a big mistake, embedding its axe into the plascrete roof. Now was his chance. He ran up and buried it into the Ork’s throat, gagging as the blood sprayed into his face.
Finally the sound of the Orks was snuffed out, leaving the crackling of the flames, the ‘pop pop pop’ of small arms ammo cooking off in the heat and the hiss of the Buggy’s engine as fuel leaked out of it from bullet holes. Julius ran over to Summer, and helped her up, checking to see how serious her injuries were. She was lucky, nothing more than cuts and bruises. Had he been a few seconds longer, she might have been dead. Summer smiled wearily at him as he dressed her wounds, and laughed as he tried to avoid touching any ‘sensitive’ spots. She offered to clean the blood off his face, and delicately she wiped his face clean with a torn section of her uniform. As she did so Julius checked his watch, and was amazed. From beginning to end, the entire event had taken only a few minutes. Over an hour of waiting for a few brief minutes of action.
The group met up outside, and after a few handshakes and smiles Scvott went straight to the point.
“We have to get out of here, and quick. The Orks will investigate this quickly enough, and I for one would like to be a long way away from here when that happens. We take the sewers, less chance of being detected as a result.” Julius agreed, and so they slipped away like thieves in the night.
They didn’t stop running until they had reached the safety of the sewers, but once within they were consumed by feelings of victory. They had hit back, they had struck a blow against the Orks from under their very noses. Despite the stench and the filth, they cheered, whooped and even shared a few embraces. And all of them had a few words for Julius, who came up with the scheme.
“Your hair brained scheme worked Oll. Guess that fancy Macragge education you got did you some good after all.” Flynn said. Dyllion just crushed his hand again, and Scvott downed another sip from his hip flask and offered it to Julius, who this time took it. The liquor was cheap and nasty, and it burnt his throat, but it felt better than a hundred medals. Summer gave Julius one of her radiant smiles which lit up her face despite the blood and soot, and he felt his own face burn as he tried to return it. He’d saved her life back there, but he still felt like a little boy around her.
For a few minutes they wandered down the sewer, ignoring the scum soaking their boots, awash in the glow of victory and a job well done. They would soon be home, and they would have a chance to relax and unwind.
The sound of voices wafted down the sewer. Non-human voices. They all froze. “Quick! In here!” Flynn hissed, gesturing to a large pipe several meters off the floor. Dyllion, the tallest, clambered up into it and helped the rest of them scramble in. Just in time as it turned out. The voices were now close enough to hear what they were saying.
“Ere? Whay we down here?”
“Da boss wanted us to search the sewers, sed the ‘Umies had just hit a convoy, and that dey was hiding down here.”
“Dat’s silly. Da Kommandos tried to use da sewers earlier, and found dem blocked. ‘Ere’s no way any stinkin’ ‘Umies could be down ‘ere.”
“Still, da Boss will hit us again if we don’t at least look around all sneaky like.”
Gretchin. Small Orkoid creatures, vaguely resembling the Goblins of old Terran folklore. Absurd as it seemed, Julius had to wonder how they could speak Imperial Gothic, even with such a thick accent.
Inside the pipe, they all huddled together in fear. They were all still a bunch of young adults, who had been thrust into a war none of them could have expected, and none of them were trained for. Julius felt someone’s hand grab his own, and he held it tight as the Gretchin crept past, barely even daring to breathe. He turned to see whose hand he was holding, and with a growing flush he saw it was Summers. She looked from his hand to him, and she smiled at his flustering. Mercifully, Scvott posed a whispered question before he or any of the others could see.
“Why is this pipe dried up? None of the others are.”
“I think it must have supplied the east end of the inner city. You know, where the Lantsfalle’s plan to build the Tsiolkovsky towers to speed up loading and unloading at the spaceport. Turfed out the people without a care, and would have begun demolition work immediately had the Orks not come.” Summer couldn’t hide the bitterness in her voice as she spoke. Julius wondered what beef she had against the wealthy Lantsfalle family, who owned majority stakes in both the Terra Ultramar Road and the Void Walks, but chose to remain silent.
“We’ll have to stay here until the Gretchin are gone. We can’t risk walking into them.” For several minutes they remained silent, with only the dripping of moisture and the gurgle of the sewers. Finally Flynn posed another whispered question to break the monotony.
“Why did you sign up for this? What was your motivation in becoming a part of the CDA?” There was further silence, before Dyllion muttered something about ‘work experience’, and ‘a break from shifting crates,’ and refused to elaborate further. Scvott was next.
“Command experience. I thought commanding troops on the ground would be good experience for when I command pilots in the air. How wrong I was.” Julius waited to hear him unscrewing his hip flask, but it never came. Dyllion murmured something inaudible at Scvott, who simply shrugged.
“I wanted to help.” Summer said. “Do my part for the Emperor and for Seadelant. I felt I could make a difference. Well, it seems even now I still can make a difference.” Her simple but eloquent words stirred Julius, who tried to ignore the fact that his face felt like it was burning up again. Why did she have this affect on him? It was his turn, and he hoped his story would stick.
“My fa…grandfather told me stories, stories about the Great Crusade. He made it sound so exciting. Now I feel those stories were never quite real, for they never mentioned the fear, the anxiety or the rage.”
“We were all told stories, of the Angelus Triumph and the great homecoming. All made it sound so glorious, so noble. If this is war, real war, then how noble could it have been?” Flynn’s pointed question touched Julius, and he thought about it for a moment before replying.
“The Crusade was supposed to last two hundred years, give or take. A blitzkrieg campaign, to use the old Jermanic word, swift, merciless, a complete and total victory. That was the plan, but thanks to the Eldar it never turned out that way. Instead it dragged on and on and on. Instead of taking a planet as quickly as possible and moving on, they stayed behind for a few years to oversee its transition to Imperial Rule. This slowed everything down, as now the Legions were spending more time as a garrison force and less time in conquest. Of course, this did not apply to all the Legions, the Wolves and the World Eaters were utterly unsuited to garrison work. Plus the long campaigns at Ullanor, 63-19 and elsewhere which further slowed the pace of conquest. War weariness crept in, so it was a good thing when the Emperor declared victory and held the Angelus Triumph.”
“You must learn a lot at the academies Oll, to have such a grasp of impractical but interesting bullshit. You thinking of becoming a Remembrancer?” Dyllion asked. Julius muttered a ‘maybe’ before shutting up again.
“Well, Ah just wanted a chance to earn some more money, maybe score myself an Army C-80. So much better than the civilian models and so fun to tinker with.” Flynn cackled for a second, before someone kicked him. They stayed silent for a few minutes longer. Dyllion cautiously peered out, and confident the coast was clear leapt down before helping the others down as well. Now the crept silently along, wincing every time there was a splash or other loud noise. But there was no sign of the Gretchin or anything else living, and they made it back to the bunker unseen.
Once back, they all breathed a collective sigh of relief, and then euphoria kicked in. they’d done it. They’d hit back at the Orks, and all escaped with their lives. Now they could celebrate without the fear of attracting the Orks. They all disappeared down towards the mess hall, chatting and joking. Scvott called back. “Oll, you may have just turned us into a guerrilla outfit, fighting the occupying Orks from the shadows. Flynn will scout them out, and we will destroy them, help the troops on the walls. We have a purpose down here.” They all vanished, all save Summer. She waited for Julius, smiled at him almost shyly before asking him. “Julius, would you mind praying with me, before we join the others?”
“But my god isn’t the E…your god.”
“You have a god. You can pray to your one, and I’ll pray to mine. It beats praying alone. And besides, I’ve never discussed theology before; no-one else has ever believed the way I have. It could be fun.”
Smiling, he followed Summer into her quarters, and closed the door behind him.
Johor Tull peered up nervously at the façade of the Manus residence. He had been here many times before, but always he had this reaction to the brooding building made of Medusan Granite. He had spent much of that void between graduation and his imminent return to Xenobia here, and he should have known better by now. Trying his best to ignore the tracking Auto-Turrets, he unsteadily walked up to the immense front door and banged on it as heavily as he dared.
The door flew open with a speed unusual for its size, and Farah Manus all but dragged him in. Johor immediately noticed that she was fidgety, even more so than usual, and her normally bright eyes were overcast. A frown split her face, and she appeared more like her stone hearted father than he had ever seen her, and this scared Johor, deep down.
She wheeled him into the living room, and he sat down before the holovid. Farah flipped it on, where news anchors were debating over what could happen if Seadelant were lost for good, and the Orks able to establish a foothold along the Terra-Ultramar road, cutting the Imperium in two.
“When did you hear the news?” She asked, adjusting her bandana. She only did that if she was fidgety, or nervous.
“It was leaked this morning. As you can see, the Press are having a field day. The single most important link between Terra and Ultramar severed? The Chartists are bitching like mad, and there are already reports an entire trade fleet has been lost in the Warp. Let me guess, you’ve known about this for some time.”
Farah hung her head. “Grandpa told us not to tell anyone. He’s been busy night and day dealing with this crisis.”
“How is the Imperium going to respond to all this? The Interex would have sent a fleet out right away to liberate the planet, and yet twenty-eight days later, you have done nothing!”
“We have not done nothing.” Farah huffed in that cute way of hers, though she half-smiled at the howl of his aria. “All these Ork attacks on the trade routes have already caused disruptions, and now this. The Legions are stretched thin covering every inch of Imperial space against Ork, Hrud, Dark Eldar and Warp Beasts, sometimes things slip through the cracks. This was one of those times. This is as bad as when Jake got stabbed on Nocturne, you remember that right…”
“Yeah, I remember.” Jake had occupied her thoughts for several days until Johor, despite liking the Hiver immensely, was almost sick to death of hearing his name. Farah had a habit of babbling on when she was fidgety or upset, which Johor found endearing, up to a point. Now he would have to go through all of that again, but with a different person.
“Julius. That rumour’s everywhere, that he was on that planet when the Orks invaded. Can you tell me anything? Is he dead, or what?” the aria wailed under his voice, a mournful, plaintive wail. Julius had been one of the few to take Johor in, to show the strange Interexan kindness and teach him about Imperial culture. The rumours that he was on Seadelant when the Orks invaded, that he might be among the dead filled him with woe.
“Nothing. Nothing at all, even Uncle Magnus can’t penetrate the aetheric interference to find out what’s going on. We know he was there when the Hulk came down; we know that for a certainty. Venus received that message just hours before the news of the Invasion reached Nocturne. Isis hides it well, but she has been having sleepless nights, and Angela’s been spending a lot of time with her. I think she fears he may be dead. We can’t know for certain until the liberation fleet arrives. We’ve been forced to gather ships and troops from everywhere, and cobble it together into the Liberation fleet. From what I hear representatives from all of the Legions will be present. I wish they would have a large contingent of Iron Hands, we know a trick or two about dealing with Orks. I’ve seen all the maps of Seadelant, and the capital Port Huron, and I know how the Hands would liberate the city. They would…”
“Farah, we’ll be here all day if you continue.”
Farah blushed. “You know me well Johor, much better than most.” The two of them had never been anything like a couple, Farah had her own boyfriend, but the two damn well did almost everything else together. They went to films, studied and hung out together. In fact, they had spent so much time together many wagging tongues and fellow friends considered them together. Farah was the only one who totally accepted Johor for what he was, a diverged human from the Interex.
“We shouldn’t panic. You Imperials may be uncouth and borderline barbaric, but you get shit done, you really do. Julius will be fine; he’s the only one of us who could survive an Ork invasion, look at his father.”
A short pause, before Johor added. “I have nowhere to go. You mind if I stay with you here?”
“You know you don’t have to ask Johor.” Her smile was back again, the frown burned away like morning mist. He had that effect on her. “You’re my best friend, and I can do with the company. Come on, there’s an episode of MST40k on the other channel.”
28 Days Later
Twenty-eight days later. Twenty-eight days of war and siege, since the Hulk came down and the skies ran with fire. Ahriman stood upon the inner walls, watching the smog clouding the lower city, and knew another attack was imminent. He could feel the psychic tempest generated by the Orks being whipped into a renewed frenzy, a sure sign the Orks were up to something. After nearly a month of constant conflict, he had grown used to how the Ork Psy-Field worked, and had learned a myriad of ways to use it to his advantage. He could tell when the Orks were massing for an assault, fighting amongst themselves, or trying to sneak up on the walls, and react appropriately.
The outer city before him was in ruins, pounded by Ork and now Imperial Artillery. Any buildings too close to the inner wall had been levelled to deny the Orks cover, leaving twisted piles of metal and plascrete where they had once stood. Were Ahriman human, he could have wept at how the once beautiful city had fallen. But he wasn’t. He was Astartes; his only goal was holding out and killing as many Orks as possible.
Imperial casualties had been light considering the constant state of siege, but another five thousand had died in the twenty-three days since the outer walls had come tumbling down under the fury of the Rok. Since the Orks had come, twelve thousand Imperial Soldiers and PDF Troopers had given their lives to defend the planet. And still there was no word of the impending relief, no clue yet as to their salvation.
“They on the way?” Commissar Lord Günter asked laconically, resting on the haft of his Chainsword. He’d healed of his injury defending the breach, and had been in the thick of it for the past few weeks. There was a nasty burn on his left arm from when his Plasma Pistol had overheated and damn near exploded during one engagement, and a scar across his ankle where a sneaky Grot had tried to hamstring him. Ahriman had fought alongside humans before, but none had won his respect like this one. He was fearless, devoted to his men, and had not yet executed a single soldier for cowardice, for none of his men had ever let him down.
Ahriman nodded, and gestured with his heqa staff. In the distance they could see shapes as Orks tried to creep as close to the walls as possible. They could try, but none could escape Ahriman’s aethersight.
“Before we get in the thick of it, there was another explosion in the outer city yesterday afternoon my lord. Sector G this time.” Ahriman had noticed the first explosion twelve days into the siege, a small blast on one of the side roads. It was only later he learned that an Ork Convoy carrying war material had been destroyed in that blast. Since then there had been fourteen further incidents in the outer city, of Ork convoys being attacked and destroyed behind Ork lines. There was no doubting it; there were humans out there, a resistance movement operating behind Ork lines. How they had been left behind Ahriman didn’t know, he’d checked the casualty reports thoroughly, and there were none reported missing, but they were there, and trying to help the troops on the wall. There was nothing he could do for them here; he had tried to make contact to no avail, and the Orks had thwarted their attempts to make a supply drop. All he could do was hope that whoever the poor, brave bastards were, they were safe and well. There would be plenty of medals for them, if they survived of course. Fat chance of that.
“Here they come again!” the yell echoed across the walls, and the weary defenders prepared for another blistering moment of bloodshed. Artillery and Mortar bombs began to fall in a shrieking rain of steel as the Orks poured forth, some carrying rickety ladders, others with grappling claws and ropes. They were met by a torrent of las-fire, Heavy Bolter rounds, Missiles and Autocannon shells as the defenders poured it upon them. However as they had now learnt, not even that much fire could keep the Orks at bay for long. There was a faint shriek growing steadily stronger as Ork Aircraft swooped in for the kill. With the outer walls and their AA Autocannons silenced, enemy aircraft were free to raid the city, which they did infrequently. The Caorstian Hydras which supplied the only air cover opened up, and several of the Ork aircraft came down in flames. The others dropped their loads haphazardly, some missing by miles, while a few met their mark and chipped at the walls and the men upon them. As fast as they appeared they were gone, roaring off pursued by the chatter of Autocannon fire.
All across the walls, rappelling lines were flung up and Orks began yet another attempt to storm the walls. The inner walls were low enough and sloped enough to allow the Orks the chance to scale them, a foolish design flaw the Imperials were now paying for. All over the walls scaling parties swarmed up them, towards the bayonets of the Imperial Defenders. Several grappling hooks clattered onto the battlements where Ahriman was standing, and the Tanith troopers around him drew their ‘Straight Silver’ bayonets in unison. Commissar Günter drew and prepped his Plasma Pistol, and Ahriman did likewise with his Bolt Pistol.
Ahriman incinerated the first two to come over with balls of aether fire from his gauntlets, blew the third one’s head off with his bolt pistol, and cut the fourth in half with his heqa staff. After that it all blurred into one, the fluidity of combat flowing like a river, with himself as the pebble which altered the rivers flow. He could feel every Ork as the climbed up, know their every move before they made it, and kill them before they realised who they were fighting.
As he flew and slew, gliding across the battlements like a force of nature leaving nothing but dead Orks in his wake, a new Ork clambered up to meet him. This one was immense, one arm encased in a power claw, the other clutching a big shoota with a chainblade attachment. A Warboss, one of the Warlord’s many Lieutenants, overseeing the effort in person. It levelled the big shoota and unleashed a fusillade of fat stubby bullets, cutting several Tanith Troopers down and throwing Ahriman off his feet.
As Ahriman struggled to get up the warboss swung at him with its claw, missing him by inches. Again and again it tried to strike him, and again and again he dodged them. He couldn’t find a space to strike back, and the flow of time was too twisted for him to do anything about it aetherically. Finally he was smashed flat by a well placed blow, and the Ork raised its claw for a final strike.
Before Ahriman could do anything, Commissar Günter put himself between Ahriman and the Warboss, pistol raised. The Plasma Pistol shot sank into the beast’s shoulder, melting the armoured plate with a loud hiss and throwing it off balance. But the Ork shrugged off the shot and slashed at him with the claw.
He should have seen it coming, see the strands of fate twisting, weaving themselves out towards this end. The Power Claw fell, its edge crackling with energy, and with a single blow it split Günter’s side off, literally. Ahriman could hear the ribs shatter and the collar bone split, and see the torrent of blood spill forth as the Commissar fell.
His control of the Enumerations was lost, his concentration broken in the face of the mortal blow to the Commissar. Roaring with rage, he threw himself at the Warboss the way a Space Wolf or World Eater would. He hacked and slashed at it with not a thought given to tactics or strategies, only that it should die, and die fast. His furious assault told, as blow after blow was rained down upon the Warboss. Soon it was bleeding from half a hundred wounds, trying to hit him back but missing every time.
Finally Ahriman sliced its claw arm off with a single blow, and it fell to its knees before him, blood streaming from a thousand cuts. And yet Ahriman wasn’t finished with it, not yet. Ahriman rammed the bladed end of his heqa staff into the burn hole where Günter’s Plasma Pistol had hit, poured aether energy into it, and discharged it into the Warboss. The result was spectacular, the warboss exploding in a shower of gore which repainted Ahriman’s already crimson armour. Ahriman’s senses returned to him, pushing through the angry red mist which had enveloped him, and he was appalled at what he had done. He was a Thousand Son, a scion of Magnus, not some wild wolf-kin or lobotomised berserker. The Orks were retreating, falling back as fast as their legs could carry them, harried by weapons fire. Another storming attempt failed, another few hundred Imperial trooper’s dead. They could not keep this up indefinitely.
Ahriman went straight over to Günter, and even though he wasn’t a Pavoni he could see that the Commissar was in a bad way. The Tanith troopers backed away from him, some gesturing at the gore which still coated his armour. They had seen an angel of death, and they had known fear.
“Lord Commissar, Günter, please lie still. Your injuries are grave, but not necessarily life threatening. The one they call ‘Iron Hand’ suffered worse, and lived to tell the tale.”
“My Lord...I am not…” He coughed great wads of blood and mucus, before spluttering on. “I am not Iron Hand. He might have been able to walk away from a wound like this, but I cannot. I’m done for, I’ve brought the farm.” He reached for his cap, and slowly pulled it onto his head. “The city…can’t fall. Enough of us have given our lives for it. Hold it my lord, hold it…” The last word turned into a bloody gurgle as he finally gave out.
Around him the Tanith troopers removed their helmets or forage caps, and recognising the old Terran mourning ritual, Ahriman reached up and unclasped his own helmet, tucking it under his arm. Feelings he hadn’t felt in millennia came back to him, memories of his twin brother flitted at the edge of his mind. He stood there, a silent vigil, as the rains began to softly fall. This was a loss they could ill afford.
Another day, another mission, another chance to get killed. Such was life on Seadelant, invasion day twenty-seven. Julius crouched beside the open window of someone’s house, Hellpistol in one hand and Satchel charge in the other, waiting for another few minutes of adrenalin and hectic action. On the other side of the same window crouched Dyllion and his Heavy Stubber, methodically checking the belt feed system like a Mechanicus automaton.
Even after all this time spent among his squadmates he still didn’t know much about Dyllion, he rarely spoke and never seemed to open himself up, unlike the others. Though most surprisingly of all was the change that had come between Dyllion and Scvott. Dyllion no longer pointedly ignored Scvott’s every command, and Scvott’s enthusiasm had simmered down, and he was actually proving himself to be a good commander. Julius had never expected those two to become friendly towards one another; it seemed another example of how the world had turned upside down. Over the many long weeks they had been fighting the Orks, they had grown canny. The Orks knew they were out here, and often tried to bait them with seemingly unguarded convoys. But they had learned how to identify these traps, and turn the tables on the Orks. This was one of those times. Five Trukks were about to roll down this road, with two buggies riding shotgun. But secretly a further three Trukks full of Orks were driving behind, ready to pile in the moment the ambush was sprung. However they had been expecting that, and Flynn and Summer were going to be giving them a little surprise of their own.
Once again he heard the Orks long before he saw them, and having been doing this for so long he could clearly differentiate the growl of Trukk engines from the yammer of buggies, and the clatter of Half Trakks. A skill he could have done without. It all seemed like routine now, lighting the fuse, waiting for the right moment, throwing it as hard as possible, counting the seconds. The roadside bomb Scvott hand planted earlier threw the lead buggy high into the air, the blast turning the lead Trukk onto its side. Seconds later the Satchel Charges and pipe bombs detonated amidst the convoy in a chain of fire and destruction. Homemade roadside bombs and mines had become an important part of their arsenal, and a vital way of ensuring as much destruction as possible, though they only had a few remote detonators left for the bombs.
Once again Julius began to pick off the Ork crew with his Hellpistol, while Dyllion filled the air with lead from his Heavy Stubber. On the other side of the road the sharp crack sound of Scvott’s Lasgun was barely audible. In the distance another explosion marked the relief convoy, as Flynn and Summer took care of it. It was a dangerous idea, splitting their already low numbers like this, but it was the only way to ensure they weren’t swamped by a hundred or more Orks. Julius coolly picked and killed his targets, noting the numbers one by one as he put them down. He no longer felt anything every time he killed something, he no longer cared. If he survived, he would have to ask his father is this was natural, was this how you were supposed to feel? Dyllion fiddled with his comm-link, muttering into it.
“What is it?”
“Bad news. Flynn and Summer are pinned down, there were far more Orks than they’d expected and the bombs didn’t take out all of them. Poor sods, I hope…” he noticed Julius stripping much of his spare equipment off.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“Going to help the others.”
“They are only a distraction, the real work is here.”
“I can’t leave them to die!”
“They chose to be the distraction, they knew the risks. We have a job to do here Oll. Oll? Oll!” Julius didn’t wait for any more; he leapt out of the building and dashed down the street, ignoring the yells from Scvott and Dyllion and the confused grunts from the remaining Orks. Nothing mattered but getting to them, to her, before the Orks did. He passed the tail Trukk, finishing a few Orks as he ran, and he set off down the ruined road. His heart pounded within his chest, and his muscles ached as he pushed them to their limit.
The building they were sheltering in was surrounded by nearly forty Orks, howling as they tried to break in. A Buggy with a pair of twin Shootas was hammering the building, and a few black scorch-marks marked where the Orks had thrown Stick Bombs at the building, and missed. But Orks didn’t always miss, and it would take only one to finish them. They would be dead in a few minutes, if he didn’t do something now.
Julius didn’t hesitate; he put the Buggy gunner down with a shot to the back, and set about blasting at the Orks from close range, ignoring the Slugga and Shoota shells fired back at him by the surprised greenskins. He shot and dodged, drew his bayonet and rammed it into the chest of a charging Slugga Boy, before pulling it out and impaling another. He couldn’t see beyond his next target, a red fog of rage clouding his senses. All he could see was his next target, his next victim. His bodyglove was soon wet from blood, both Ork and his own. Abruptly he heard a faint voice calling to him, and blinking he felt the fog dissipate. He was alone, stabbing repeatedly at the corpse of one of the Orks. Summer stood behind him, her hand on his shoulder.
“Oll, are you alright? What just happened to you?”
Julius shuddered as he realised what had happened to him, he could have all too easily died acting like such a fool, it was a miracle he hadn’t been. He found he couldn’t stop shaking. She helped him up and embraced him, and that simple act helped calm him down and stopped his shaking. They stayed that way until the footsteps of the others reached their ears and they broke off. The other two were running down the street towards them. They stopped, and straight away Dyllion laid into Julius.
“You bloody dick Oll.” Dyllion growled. “Were you were trying to get yourself killed?”
“Dyllion is right.” Scvott added. “You cut and ran to ‘help’ them, leaving us to face the fugging Orks alone.”
Julius tried to keep the air in his lungs. “I…drew their fire away from you, and…saved their lives. Surely that counts for something?”
“Did they even need saving?”
“Scvott.” Summer interjected. “We were outnumbered at least ten to one when he came in. I don’t know if we needed saving or not, but he helped us in a big way. Right, Flynn.”
Flynn took a deep breath. “I see what you mean, but we can debate this another time.”
As they headed back for the sewers, Scvott took Julius aside. “Oll, we aren’t deaf, dumb, blind or stupid. We can all see how you look at her; we all know you go to her room every night. There’s nothing wrong with that, hell I could almost be jealous of you. Summer is a strong and beautiful woman, and any man would be lucky to have her. But when you let your feelings for her overcome your judgement in the middle of a mission, that’s when there is a problem. You’re the one who removed my doubts about command, so I feel I owe you this. When we’re in battle, forget about her. Forget about everything. Focus only on the mission. Hell, you’re the one who taught me that in the first place, how can you forget your own lesson?” his words carried with Julius the rest of the way back.
Tales of Home
When they got back it was night on the surface. Scvott, Dyllion and Flynn went their separate ways, Flynn smiling at Julius and Summer knowingly. He didn’t know what they did in there, but he had an idea, even if it was the wrong one. After they were gone Summer and Julius went together into her room, Summer lighting her candle and together they crouched before it side by side, Julius with his Crux and Summer with her statuette. In silence he offered thanks for their victory, thanks that he had been able to save her from death yet again and thanks for another day of life, and as he crouched there he could feel her presence clearly, like a warm flame keeping the cold away. This had become a nightly ritual; they would pray together and afterwards spend an hour or two together talking about theology, history, music, topics in general. Sometimes he would play the Harmonica for her; other times listen to her recite old hymns.
It was a way of escaping from the madness around them, even for only a short time, and he had grown to love the time they spent together, love the pleasure of her company.
As he sat there, something struck him. They had never spoken of each other. She had never once asked him about his family or his home, and likewise. He didn’t know her, not really, and this bugged him.
“Summer?” He asked softly. She turned to him.
“We’ve been doing this for nearly a month, and yet I still know nothing about you. Back at the ambush, I threw myself at the Orks because I thought you might have been killed or injured, but I don’t know why I care so much for you, given you haven’t told me anything. What did you do before this? What will you do if we survive? Why won’t you tell me anything?” he stopped, realising his voice had grown harsher as he piled on the questions.
“I can say the same Oll. I don’t know you either.”
“That’s true.” Julius held his head in his hands, thinking of how to reply. Suddenly he knew what to say, and he cleared his throat and began.
“My name is Ollanius Parsson, and I was born on Calth seventeen years ago. My father owns forty hectares of land on the estuary at Neride. I was christened at the little chapel on the edge of the swartgrass fields there. Some of our neighbours, who have been our neighbours ever since father settled there twenty years ago, whose children he employs, laugh at our faith. They call us ‘pious’.” He wasn’t lying, that was the first few months of his life, the life his parents had planned to live with him until Guilliman had come calling. Only the names were different. From there though, his fictional history took shape, the history he would have lived had his father not taken Guilliman up on his father’s offer, and he felt a guilty pang lying to her as he continued, which he hoped she couldn’t see reflected on his face.
“I went to the scholum at Numinus City, the capital of Calth. We were young and confident for the future of Ultramar, the future we would build. Did you know our manufacturing output rivals that of Macragge itself? We felt we were the future of the Imperium. I graduated top of my class, and was invited to attend one of the famed Military Academies of Ultramar in Macragge City itself.” Julius continued in this vein for several minutes, taking about military training, visiting Iax and Espandor, and finally going to Terra after graduation. The large scented candle slowly dipped as it burned, and the wafting fumes of incense grew stronger and stronger. She silently listened to him with interest on her face, nodding every so often to show she was listening, though when he started speaking of Terra, her eyes lit up. She questioned him about every aspect of Terra, the cities and the people, and he answered her as honestly as he dared. She couldn’t believe him when he told her about the Petitioner’s City. “The Emperor would never allow such a thing, least of all on the doorstep of His palace!”
“Sad but true, I’m sorry to say. The Emperor may be the most powerful human ever; he may even be a god, but he has an Imperium to run, and things get overlooked. That is probably why relief hasn’t arrived here yet.” He was going to stop there, but something stirred within him and he continued, watching her.
“I’ll tell you something honest about the Emperor, and you can take this as you will. He rammed the Imperial Truth down the throats of the entire Imperium without caring for what people wanted. He didn’t give anyone a choice in the matter; it was ‘believe this or die’, no better than religious fundamentalists in times past. He thinks he does everything for the good of mankind, but I have to disagree with that.” He could see anger on her face, but he couldn’t stop now.
“You should get a choice; you should be allowed to believe what you want, so long as it doesn’t interfere with the lives of others. The Emperor thinks that faith fuels the dark ones, but that’s not true. Its everyday emotions that keep them sustained, and that is something the Emperor can never hope to regulate, god or not. People going about their daily lives experience their normal emotions still empower the Dark Ones. What’s needed is an alternative to direct the belief at, faith in something regardless of whether people believe it’s true or not. If the Emperor ever listened to someone like me, the Imperium would become a better place. Of course that will never happen, but a man can dream.” When he was done, she stared at him with a mix of admiration and surprise, the former anger seemingly gone despite the fact he had just criticized her god to her face. “That’s quite something Oll. Gives a girl a lot to think about.” She smiled at him, and his heart soared. “If I may ask, how do you know so much, the Primordial Annihilator isn’t usually taught about at schools?”
“You learn things from the strangest of places. In my case, books.” Again, close to the truth, though Ahriman and Magnus had shown him hints of the horrors lurking below, the eternal enemies of mankind. Books were a lot safer than seeing for yourself the horrors beyond.
“When I return to Calth, I aim to help my father with the harvest, and then enlist in the Ultramar Auxilia. After this, it can’t be too bad, and they have the XIII Legion backing them up. As for me personally, I love MST40k, but please don’t ask me who I prefer as host, it never ends well.” That was the truth, the endless debates between him and Venus over whether Myke or Jull was the better host were well known across Imperator High. “My favourite book is ‘Call of the Lion’, and my favourite of Shakespire’s plays is ‘Henri V’, so stirring.” He continued in that vein for a few minutes more, telling the truth once again and hoping it would drown the earlier lies.
“And that’s me.” He concluded, looking to see if she had swallowed his story, half true and half elaborate lies which filled him with shame. She didn’t respond, sitting there in total silence listening to the almost invisible hiss of the candle burning, the incense fumes from it filled the air with a sweet scent. Finally she ran her fingers through her long hair and abruptly asked Julius a question.
“Oll, have you heard of the Lantsfalle family?”
He was taken aback. “Who hasn’t heard of them? They’re one of the richest family businesses in the entire Imperium, they own a majority stake in the Void Lanes and the Terra-Ultramar road don’t they? They have the ear of the Speaker for the Chartist Captains, and were involved in that matter with Rogue Trader Carlin a few years back...”
“Yes, all that and more besides. The Lantsfalle’s have made themselves wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most people, by shamelessly exploiting every loophole and taking advantage of their market control of the trade lanes to bump up tariffs and reap the profits, while backwater planets are crushed by trade debt and income tax. They are cold, caring only for money and status, with no shame and no loyalty beyond the almighty throne, and I mean the currency, not the God-Emperor. And they were never there for their children, who were brought up by maids, nurses and butlers with everything at their disposal and wanting for nothing, save that which we all need, love.” Her words were filled with passion, and Julius’s eyes widened as he realised what she was saying. “So, you are…”
“Summer Lantsfalle, once heir to the mighty Lantsfalle trade empire. That’s my name. Listen now to how I fell in the eyes of my parents.” There was the faintest hint of something in her voice. Sadness, bitterness? Julius couldn’t tell.
“My younger brother and I were brought up alone, moving from place to place aboard our parent’s ships, spending a few months, maybe even a year at one of their many palaces and estates dotted all over the Imperium. I grew up wanting for nothing, waited on hand and foot. Anything that money could buy was brought for me. But I didn’t have any love in my life. My parents weren’t there when I said my first word; they weren’t there when I started home-scholum. They weren’t there for any of my birthdays since I was three. My servants were kind enough, but I always knew the only reason they were was because they were being paid to, and otherwise they couldn’t care less what happened to me. I had a void in my soul, an emptiness which nothing material could fill, no matter where I went and no matter what I did.” Julius wanted to say something, but common sense got the better of him and he kept silent. She carried on.
“Then came the day everything changed, when I found my faith. I was on Dagonet, a planet famous for one of the Warmaster’s early victories, and I had heard of a hidden place at the edge of the city where people who worshipped the Emperor as a god went to pray. Like most people back then I thought of them as stupid, ignorant. I still don’t know why I ended up going; He must have been speaking to me even then. The meeting house was just a small barn; from outside you could barely tell what it was used for. There were only twenty or so people inside the empty space, huddled together before a wooden box being used as a pulpit. At first I thought it was all a farce, until the priest began speaking to us all.” The fire was back, her eyes aglow with it.
“He told of the Emperor, of how his love for Humanity was all encompassing, and how much he had sacrificed for our victory. He told how the Emperor was eternal, and how he had always been there for humanity, doing what he could for his chosen people. And he told that the God-Emperor protects, he protects humanity from all manner of foul things, and he protects every person, you and me. As I stood there at the far back, I swore the priest was speaking to me personally. I felt something that day Oll. I could feel the presence of the Emperor there, in that squalid little shack, feel his light shining upon me, and I felt that empty void fill, that hurt fade away. I went to the priest after the service and was given this.” She gestured to her copy of the Lectio Divinitatus with obvious pride.
“For the next few months I went there every sevday, learnt about the God-Emperor. I found myself among like minded people, and for the first time I felt I belonged. Every day my faith grew, every day I felt more and more at peace with myself and the universe. Hell, I began to forgive my parents for their years of absence.” Her voice dropped as she began the next part, and more and more emotion choked her voice.
“I don’t know how my parents found out; someone must have tipped them off, one of my servants perhaps. All I know is that no sooner had they arrived in system then an Arbites taskforce destroyed the temple and had the entire congregation arrested, including me. I didn’t know at the time, of course, all I knew was that I had been swept up and locked away with all the others. It was nearly a week before my parents even bothered to come see me.
“They tried to make me disown my faith; reject it as so much nonsense. But I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, it was now a part of me, and I couldn’t part from it any more than I could part with my heart or head. They hated that, told me time and again that faith was for the narrow minded, that people didn’t need it anymore thanks to the new lights of science and reason. Since when did they have a monopoly on reason? Finally I could stand it no more and I told them that my faith was my own, and they could never make me reject it or give it up, and that I would rather die than lose my new identity. So they gave me a one way ticket to Seadelant and disowned me. They couldn’t castigate me publically as they cared too much for their precious image, the prestige of the Lantsfalle name could not be soiled by some grubby revelations of Emperor-Worship within the family, but they cut me off, made my brother the new heir to the Lantsfalle fortune, and once again forgot I existed. I have a nice house here, and enough money to live on for at least another few years, until I decide what to do with my life, they gave me that much at least.” Julius had no idea she had gone through this, he wanted to say something, but she carried on relentlessly, her story consuming her like fire consumes paper.
“I don’t hate them, they are how they are and I can’t change that. I still miss my brother though; they have barred him from ever trying to contact me. To them, I don’t exist anymore, and if I die here, they won’t mourn me.” Try as she might, she couldn’t keep the hurt off her face, and Julius felt hurt seeing it.
“So that’s it Oll. I have no more secrets. You know who I am, and how I came to be here. A spoilt rich girl, thrown out for believing in something more powerful than her, for seeking to fill the void in her soul her parents wouldn’t fill.” He could see the hurt in her eyes; though she had forgiven them or at least tried to the memory still pained her. Several tears painted streaks down her cheeks. He knew that feeling as he had been harbouring it himself the past few weeks, and he didn’t like seeing it repeated before him. He didn’t want her to feel like that. He had to do something. He reached over and embraced her, and as he did he felt her softly sobbing. That hurt him even more, he had seen her face a dozen Orks armed only with a Lasgun and laugh it off afterwards. The smell of incense was almost overpowering, a thick fog seeping into his skull. He only knew one thing he could do.
One kiss couldn’t do any harm.
He gently broke the embrace, looked deep into her large hazel eyes, and leant over and kissed her, trying to keep it as chaste as possible and knowing he was failing at it. When they were done she turned towards him, her hazel eyes shining in the candlelight and her golden hair glowing, and before he knew what was happening they were kissing again, this time passionately, deeply. Julius wanted to say no, wanted to stop, but his body wouldn’t obey him, even his mind wouldn’t obey him. A lifetime of denial was swept away in moments. His lips eagerly clasped against hers, his hands helping her strip out of her soiled uniform, his arms hauling them both up onto her small cot. He let her strip him out of his own uniform, and he was struck dumb at her natural beauty, laid bare before him. Her breasts were for lack of a better word average, her nipples tight pink circles. Between her legs was a net of spun gold, the curly hair gleaming in the low light. For Julius, who had never seen a woman nude before, the sight was intoxicating. Part of him recoiled from what he was doing, as his lips instinctively took one of her nipples in and sucked eagerly; nibbling the hard peak, sucking gently then firmly, making her emit a sensuous moan so loud he feared the others would hear her and see his shame. She reached out for his hand and brought it between her legs, where she was already wet. Without prompting he stroked her, feeling her reaction as she reached for him, took his hardness and gently rubbed it in time with his stroking of her.
After a few minutes, as the sensations within them both grew and strained, she let go and pulled him down towards her, wordlessly offering herself to him. Not one word passed either of their lips. No words were needed.
As he entered her he felt a brief feeling of resistance and she moaned, burying her face in his shoulder. At that moment he realised that like him she too was a virgin. Was, not anymore. Neither of them were anymore.
His oaths, his beliefs, the girlfriend back on Terra he may or may not still be with and the way he’d felt towards her before all hell had come in the form of a bullet, none of it mattered anymore. All that mattered was the heat of Summer’s body against his, the silky feel of her skin, how wet she was down there. He’d never thought it could get so wet down there. He knew how awkward he felt, how awkward he was, but she helped him overcome that.
She came first, clutching him tightly, her back arching, moaning loudly, her body shaking with the release. Her reaction pushed him over the edge, and for a brief moment the two were locked in a feeling of sublime pleasure, warmth spilling from him into her as all was lost in the moment.
After the deed was done and his conscience returned with a vengeance he all but fled from her room ignoring her hoarse protests, and sat on his own bed trying to come to terms with what he had done. He had violated his own beliefs, given up his most sacred gift, and not to the one he’d pledged it to. That night was one of the longest of his entire life.
Ever since Julius had re-connected with his faith, he’d noticed certain metaphors which now applied to his life. The last 28 days of total war had been one of those, heaven, hell and purgatory for Julius all rolled into one. Hell in the constant war and the eternal threat of defeat and death, heaven because of the person he’d met due to that war, and purgatory because of the implications of what had happened between them only a few hours earlier.
Julius was a Catheric, and most Catherics believed in purity before wedlock. Julius had a looser definition of that, but he had been saving himself for the one he had considered his soulmate, even if that was no longer as certain as before. Not anymore. He hadn’t expected it to happen, but it happened anyway, and now he was torn up inside.
Julius sat in his room, softly playing on the harmonica he’d found in the broken remnants of somebody’s house while tramping back from another mission against the occupying Orks. He had always had a passion for music, and the sound of his harmonica soothed him, allowed him to reflect on himself without feeling all consumed by what he had done. He could also play the bugle, but his one was back on Terra, and the Guitar, of which he had found none around the outer city.
It was several hours before dawn; the others were all fast asleep while he had spent the night torturing himself over and over again in his mind. He had already asked his god to forgive him many, many times over the course of the night, but forgiving himself was another matter. Checking his watch, he decided he could no longer remain cooped up down here; he had to get out and see the sky. He got up and pulled several items from the steel box at the foot of his bed. He pulled on his boots, checked the charge in Vulkan’s hellpistol, and adjusted his cap before turning to the door.
She stood in the doorway, already in full uniform. Julius had no idea how she had got there without alerting him, or how she had even known that he was going at all, and for a second he did nothing but stare uncomfortably.
“I’m going out to see the sunrise.” He finally admitted.
“I know. And I’m coming with you. You always said you would take me with you one time, well that time is now.” Julius couldn’t argue, so he pulled his cap on and together they set off.
They slipped out into the inky night, and made their way parallel to the southern climbs, the near vertical hills which flanked the southern half of the city. Because it was so far from the walls, the Orks hardly ever went down there, making it a perfect route to take to escape after a raid, or slip past Ork patrols. His chosen lookout stood between the abandoned outer city Defence Laser compound and the bay, an abandoned water tower. He’d found it before the invasion began, the day he’d first arrived on Seadelant, and amazingly it still stood despite all the devastation wrought upon the city. It was high but sheltered and offered amazing views of the bay, the perfect place to sit alone and reflect. Only this time he wouldn’t be alone. Together they clambered up and sat there on top of it, listening to the faint call of distant seabats and the crash of the waves upon the shoreline, strangely loud in the pre-dawn gloom. As the first faint fingers of light pushed up above the quietly lapping waters, Summer abruptly spoke to him.
“Look, I can guess how you must feel about last night, and I know Catherics frown on that sort of thing, but you’ve told me you’re no fundamentalist, you don’t let doctrine make your choices for you. You can’t hold yourself solely responsible either, we were both at fault. We nearly died out there Oll, you saved my life yet again, and then you opened yourself up to me and vice versa. We repaid the death we’ve seen all too regularly with life, the most beautiful celebration of life there is.”
“I swore I would save myself for the one I loved, and now I have broken that vow. Is there any wonder I’m acting like this? It is my fault; I was overcome by my own weakness. I could have said no.” He said bitterly.
“You weren’t weak when you confronted that Ork armed only with a bayonet. You weren’t weak when you took on near forty enemies on your own. You’re the strongest man I’ve ever met, and I’ve met my fair share. You have a strong heart, you accept people regardless of what they think of your beliefs, and you’re willing to take the blame for your mistakes and try to fix them. By anyone’s standards you are a better man than most.”
“That doesn’t save me.” Julius picked up a shard of rock and threw it off the lookout. “I made a vow before God, my God, and I have broken my vow. Can He forgive me?”
“I don’t think so, I know so. He sees all, remember? He saw your need, saw your heart and your desire to comfort me and saw what you went through out there. He’d be no true god if he didn’t forgive you for this one mistake. You’ve made other, far worse ones before right?” The Petitioner’s City. That was his worst one. But he couldn’t tell her, no matter how much he wanted to.
“Before I found my faith, I did many things trying to get my parent’s attention.” She added. “Bad things I’d rather forget about. Yet though I considered promiscuity, I never could go through with it. There is no law in the Lectio Divinitatus about sex in or out of wedlock, I could have lost mine many times over both before and after my salvation on Dagonet, and yet I did not. And now you’ve come into my life, and made me feel things I haven’t felt since my banishment. I feel something for you Oll, something strong, and I know you must feel something similar for me, else wise you wouldn’t have given me that gift last night.”
She hit too close to home with that one. He couldn’t deny the attraction he felt for her, which had grown over the weeks together until it had finally burst last night. But there was another, the first in more ways than one. He had to tell her, had to set the record straight. He awkwardly cleared his throat.
“Look, Summer, I have not been entirely honest with you. Back home on T…Calth, there’s someone. Someone I cared deeply for.”
“You used cared. Past tense. Do you still care for her?” Julius was taken aback at her question. He didn’t know what the status of his relationship with Isis was. They hadn’t parted well; he had left before he could explain to her how he felt regarding the Petitioner’s City, and how he had laid the full blame upon himself. His father had convinced the Warmaster to speak on his behalf at the trial over his shooting of those gangers, allowing him the chance to leave Terra, head to Calth to see his past, pay tribute to his deceased mother and decide where to go to from here. She hadn’t lifted a finger on his behalf.
“What is she like, this girl of yours?”
That question caught Julius off guard. He had never spoken to anyone who didn’t know Isis either personally or by reputation. He struggled to find the right words. “She…she is a strong woman. Driven. She knows what she wants, and knows how to get it, and once she’s set on a course it is hard to make her change her mind or see reason. She’s proud of what she can do, knows her talents and how to excel in any field demanded of her. Unfortunately this attitude affected her relationships with others somewhat, as you were either her friend of her foe, and heaven help you if you were her foe. She also used to believe that a man was not worth her time unless he could become her equal.” “And did you? Become her equal?” Julius could see the interest on Summer’s face, the fascination she seemed to have about what Isis was like. “No, I never could. No-one could. I became something far more, her moral compass, her naysmith to use the old Terran term. I was, am one of the few who can sway her, apart from her father and grandfather. She would always turn to me for advice or if she felt she was doing something wrong or going too far, and if any others feared for her or for what she was doing it would be me they would come to. You know she has an amulet of lunar metal, her ‘lucky charm’, never goes anywhere without it. She once joked she had another, but she never could take that one with her as easily, as he couldn’t fit into her pocket.” Julius couldn’t hide the tone of regret in his voice, and Summer jumped on it. “What? So you regret what happened between us?” Julius shook his head. “Summer, I can’t regret what we did, but all the same I feel bad for what just happened. She’s always known about my beliefs, and though she’s never shared them she’s always respected the fact that I do, defended me from those more zealous in their dislike for faith.” Words now poured from him like a breached dam, all his pent up feelings rushing out.
“When we first started getting serious, there was an incident when she wanted something from me that I couldn’t give, and I had to refuse her. You have no idea how bad I felt that day, how I wanted to please her but at the same time wanted to stay true to my vows. I seriously though our budding relationship would die that day and I said as much to her, told her to find someone who could satisfy her the way I couldn’t.” He remembered that day well, it was the day he and Andrew had gone down to the Startseite War memorial to commemorate the death of Andrew’s grandfather.
“But it didn’t. It grew stronger; we came together in a relationship that despite there being no physical intimacy was considered one of the bedrocks of our scholum. You want to know something Summer, I was planning on giving myself to her when we graduated, I felt in my heart that God meant us to be together, but…something came up and I failed her. God, how I failed her.” Memories of the gene-modded gangers, the cursed symbol on the wall and how heavy his hand felt after he’d shot the ones threatening her bloomed anew in his mind, every one a monument to his foolish idea. “I promised myself to her, but I gave myself to you, and now I feel I have failed her. Again.” His body shuddered with a sob, and he could feel his eyes water, tears beginning to form. He’d laid his shame almost completely bare before Summer, and it felt liberating and heartbreaking at the same time. She moved over and took him in her arms, held him close.
“Oll, I can see how much this woman means to you, and how you must feel because of me. And you shouldn’t regret what came between us. There’s nothing to be gained by beating yourself up over this. If this girl truly loves you the way you love her, she will understand and forgive you. I know I do. No matter what happens, if you patch this relationship up or not, I am glad you were my first, Ollanius Parsson.” As she spoke the first rays of sunlight caught in her hair, making it glow with golden light. Julius had never seen a more beautiful sight. This time he willingly bent over and thrilled at the feeling of her lips against his. Throwing his doubts to the wind, he threw his heart and soul into the kiss, and thrilled at it. Summer broke off the kiss, smiling at him deeply. They just sat there, enjoying each other’s presence in silence as the sunshine grew brighter and the light glittered off the sea. Just as Julius was thinking of calling it a day and taking them both back to the Bunker, Summer’s expression changed to one of surprise and concern, and she gently tapped Julius on the shoulder, pointing to the Defence Laser bunker behind them.
“Oll, I just saw an Ork down there. A lone one. Orks don’t usually go off by themselves, and there was something strange about it, about how it was moving and acting. Should we check it out?”
The Monster of Seadelant
The Defence Laser bunker compound was an empty shell, abandoned and sealed off before Imperial Forces finished evacuating the outer city. Because everything had been either destroyed or sealed off, the Orks had found nothing worth looting and had left it alone. However there was one thing they had both leant after fighting Orks for nearly a month, if there’s one Ork around there’s bound to be more.
Julius led the way, Hellpistol in hand and finger on the trigger ready at the slightest movement, while Summer covered the rear with her Lasgun. They were both on edge, eyes scanning every nook and cranny in case a foe was hiding before them. The sea breeze moaned as it passed between the buildings and over the walls, an eerie, empty sound which didn’t make things any better. Swiftly and silently they made their way across the compound towards the main entrance bunker, following the trail of Summer’s mystery Ork. The sun was rising, and soon it would be dangerous to be in the open, in case of Ork spotters.
When Julius spotted a shadow behind one of the buildings, and got close enough to get a look, Summer was proved right. There was a lone Ork making its way across the compound. It wasn’t walking with the normal, vaguely simian loping gait an Ork had, its movements were unnaturally smooth and fluid, even more so than the Eldar. It was heading towards the main entrance bunker, the barricades in front of the door torn down by the Orks and the sentry guns looted, but the reinforced blast doors still shut. “What is it thinking?” Summer whispered to Julius, who could only shrug. There was no way it could open those doors, not on its own, especially if they had been sealed shut.
It ended up standing directly outside the door, and as he watched it banged on the door with the back of its axe. Nine times. Afterwards, Julius would swear the axe head glowed as it was doing so. With a harsh moan the armoured blast doors began to open. Julius recoiled at the loudness of the grating sound of the doors opening, and he felt Summer behind him, her presence holding him steady. Every Ork for miles would be attracted by that sound, they didn’t have long.
When the doors were open it disappeared inside. Julius suddenly felt like he didn’t want to follow it, but Summer was already halfway there, and he wouldn’t leave her.
“Oll, look!” She whispered harshly, gesturing at the doors as they reached them. The doors had been welded shut, and yet it had opened anyway. That ‘something is not right’ feeling Julius had from the moment he had first seen the Ork was only growing stronger. The mouth of the bunker yawned like some entrance into hell, and Julius hesitated to enter. Summer looked back at him. “Come on Oll, you’re not one to back down. You’re the one who turned us from a scared bunch of civilians into guerrilla fighters. Don’t let a lone Ork scare you.”
It’s not just a lone Ork, Julius wanted to yell. But that was just a gut feeling, and it could all too easily be wrong. He’d been wrong before, and this time he hoped he was wrong, overreacting over something as mundane as a single Ork scout they could easily dispatch. They crept through the empty corridors, trying to keep the sound of their footsteps to a minimum. They followed the Ork through every twist and turn of the labyrinth of corridors, Julius trying to remember where they were so they could escape afterwards. The last thing he wanted was to be trapped down here in the claustrophobic depths.
They emerged into a massive space, filled by the gargantuan form of the Defence laser itself. Cables and conduits covered the floors while the massive chains and hoists used to move the weapon into firing position lined the walls. Emergency lighting gave the place a gloomy air, the air of failure and defeat. The Ork was powering its way to where all the cables met, the door separating the main weapon from its power source, an integral Plasma Reactor, now shut down and decored so the Orks couldn’t reactivate it. They crouched down behind a power box, watching as the Ork reached the reactor entrance doorway. Julius was about to ask Summer what she thought it was doing, when it started to straighten up, like a crouching human.
The Ork rose to an impossible height, and as it did its skin split like an over-ripe fruit and fell to the floor with a wet ‘splat’ sound, gore splashing the floor. Bile rose in Julius’s throat, a flood of disgust at what he had just witnessed, something totally unnatural. A creature from the darkest nightmares of man now floated amidst the wreck of the body it had stolen, like a poisonous jellyfish shifting in invisible winds. It was clad in a blue cloak, which covered its body like a shroud. The robes were covered in runes which hurt Julius’s eyes to look at, while a pendant in the shape of a curling rune with an eye in the centre hung from what passed as its hip. The axe was now a tall staff tipped with the skull of some great bird long dead held in one arm; with on the other side of its body another three arms traced symbols into the air with fire which lingered like some mad sparkler.
His body convulsed with fear. Not the normal fear, the primal, inner fear, the fear of the dark and the unknown, a fear known to man since the earliest days on ancient Terra. He wanted to puke; he could barely keep himself from retching. Julius reached down and grasped the Crux around his neck tightly, an instinctive gesture of protection as he struggled to keep his composure. Beside him, Summer had gone as white as a sheet, and she was mirroring his action with the Aquila around her neck.
Julius had never seen such a thing before, but he had heard of it, in the darkest depths of Warp Studies class, when even Professor Ahriman had been reduced to a dry whisper as he spoke about the darkest things hiding in the void, and the powers that commanded them. He had hoped he would never have to see such a thing, but his wish was now dust. He wanted to run, to get as far away from that thing as possible, but he couldn’t stop looking. His eyes hurt, his mind was blank, his conscience screaming into the void as his sanity tried to flee. Part of him wanted to pull out his pistol and destroy it, part of him wanted to run and run and not look back. And most sinister of all, part of him wanted to be like it, to have all that power at his command. Power that could so easily be his, if only he wished for it… Finally by a supreme force of will he drove those polluted thoughts from his mind and broke free from the sight of the thing, and urgently he tugged at Summer.
‘We have to go’ he whispered to her. She did not respond, she was silently murmuring a prayer. ‘Come on, we have to go, before it notices us!’ he tried to impart as much urgency into his voice, as he continued to tug at her. Finally she too broke free of the creature’s strange spell, stared at him wide eyed, and together they crept out of the cavernous space as fast as they dared. Julius’s heart was in his mouth, he felt that any second the thing would notice them, and they would die. But it seemed luck was on their side, as they got out safely. Once they were far enough away, they broke into a run.
They didn’t stop until they were nearly at the surface, whereupon they collapsed from exhaustion, slumped against the walls. “By the Throne, what in the God-Emperor’s name was that thing?” Summer forced out. She was clearly shocked; she would normally never be so open about her view of the Emperor. Julius knew, but he didn’t want to say, for if he said it he would have to confront the unpleasant truth that hell was literally about to descend upon Seadelant, and once again he would be in the middle of it.
“Something bad. Something really bad.” He ended up saying.
“Worse than the Orks?” she pressed.
“Millions of times worse. Summer, what we saw was a nightmare, something from the blackest depths of the warp.” He took a deep breath. “A Daemon.” That word tumbled from his lips; bring with it all the horrors such a word entailed.
“A…Daemon? A creature of the…Primordial Annihilator?” She struggled to form words as she came to terms with the revelation. Julius couldn’t blame her; he felt the same way himself. At least he had the greatest Psykers in the Galaxy explain the powers and the dangers of Daemons to him, and he knew what he was dealing with. None of that made him feel any better though.
“Summer, we have to get back to the bunker. We need to inform the others, and decide what to do next. Having a Daemon here changes everything.” “How so?” She asked. Julius knew a few scenarios, each worse than the last. And there were doubtless even worse ones he was not privy to. “You don’t want to know, but knowing you you’ll ask anyway.” She smiled at his statement. The last thing he wanted was to put her in peril.
“I’ll tell you all once we get back to the bunker. God willing, we’ll get there fast.”
“The Emperor protects.” She said.
“The Emperor protects those who protect themselves; though I hope you are right. Now come on, let’s get out of here.”
They made good time heading for the Bunker, carefully negotiating the winding streets, eyes ever alert for Orks, or worse. That fact they had to keep their eyes open for worse made Julius distinctly uneasy. He though he’d known what he was dealing with, he thought it was nothing more than Orks out to find another fight, but now that had gone out of the window. Now there was all matter of sinister implications that came with having a Daemon or maybe more than one Daemon loose on Seadelant. “Oll, watch where you’re going.” Too late, Julius walked smack into a lightpost and fell to the ground, dazed. As Summer helped him up, he cursed his lack of attention.
Too many worst case scenarios were now pulsing through Julius’s mind, too many theories about what the Daemon meant, what it was doing on Seadelant, what it wanted to achieve. There were only two beings on this planet who could properly appreciate what it meant to have a Daemon around. And they were separated by a wall and several million angry Orks. The still air was split by the scream of falling shells and the distant howl of Orks. They had been fighting long enough to know what that meant: the Orks were making another push on the walls, and Imperial Artillery was now falling upon them in a rain of explosive death. Useful cover, they could sneak back to the bunker with the Orks distracted by the goings on at the Walls. They turned the next corner and were confronted by over a hundred Orks, making their way to the walls. Julius didn’t know who was more surprised, them or the Orks. For a few seconds they just stood staring at each other. But it was the Orks who recovered first, and weapons raised they threw themselves at the pair of Humans who had blundered into them.
“Run!” Julius shouted as he turned and fled, Summer right behind him. From the pounding of boots coming from behind him, the Orks were not about to let them escape. Of all the things that could have happened to them, walking into a mob of Orks was one of the worst. “We…can’t…run…forever.” Summer panted as they belted down yet another side road. Julius agreed. There was no way they could outrun a hundred Orks, and fighting them would be suicide. There had to be a third option and glancing at the Habs flanking the road and their shape and spacing in particular as he ran past, he saw one. A reckless one, a dangerous one, but a way they could give the Orks the slip and get back safely.
“Quick, in here.” He gestured to an abandoned Hab, the door hanging off its hinges. She gave him a questioning look but followed him inside. He led her up through the building, kicking down shelves and moving chairs to create as many barricades as possible, until they reached the exterior landings which circled the pyramid roof, where people grew pot plants and rested in happier times. “Um, Oll?” she asked as the Orks followed them into the building. “What do we do now? The Orks are right behind us, and they’ll be on top of us before long. Do we fight them?”
“No, we Jump.” With that, he turned, ran and leapt off the building. For a second he fell through the air before impacting on the sloped roof of the next-door building, rolling to ensure he took the landing without breaking any bones. He’d been taught that skill at one of the youth military camps when they were teaching urban warfare strategies, where he and Andrew had competed to see who could jump the furthest. He never thought back then that he would be using that skill to evade Orks on a faraway planet. He slid down to the landing, got up and gestured at Summer, beaconing her to follow him. Summer looked at him like he was insane, but a second later she leapt after him. She landed safely, and he helped her up as the first Orks exited onto the landing. They gestured angrily as the Humans disappeared into the adjacent Hab, some of them firing randomly with Sluggas and Shootas. They powered through the Hab as fast as possible to the other side, and with another leap they jumped over to yet another house lining the street. Julius wondered if kids used to do this in peacetime, jumping from Hab to Hab, going up and down the streets without once touching the ground. By the time they reached the forth Hab, they’d left the Orks well behind. Julius could hear them howling in frustration somewhere behind him. They nipped out of the Hab and crept away.
“Once again Oll, you save the day. Where would I be without you?” Summer beamed as they stopped. Julius returned the smile, thankful that they had got away. Yet another close shave. Too close this one. It was getting harder and harder to get around in the occupied outer city, and before long they would be confined to the bunker.
Now all they needed to do was get their bearings, find a sewer entrance, and make their way back. Nearly half an hour later, they returned to the Bunker. They found the others waiting for them in the entrance space. Flynn as always started off. “Seriously, if you two wanted some alone time, you could have simply asked us. You don’t need to leave the bunker, exposing yourself to the Orks.”
Julius scowled at Flynn’s grin, before bringing up the important point. “Scvott, Flynn, Dyllion. Something has come up, something bad. Really bad. We need to discuss it right away.”
They peered at him quizzically, turned to Summer to see her expression matching Julius’s, and then Scvott nodded. They all turned and headed for the briefing room.
The Secret Weapon
Ahriman trooped slowly back to the PDF command centre, Helmet still tucked under his arm, feeling the rain splash upon his face and patter off his armour. The rain was an apt reflection of his thoughts, his feelings. He hadn’t felt this way in several thousand years, not since the incident on Aghoru when he had thought the Primarch had been killed by the Daemon beneath the mountain. That man had touched him with his honest and fearlessness in the face of adversity, and now he was dead, his spirit lost to the warp. He was one of thousands who had died, and their sacrifice more and more seemed to be in vain. Things were not looking good.
The PDF command centre was as busy as ever, casualty reports coming in and fresh orders being sent out. Ahriman noticed several steaming bomb craters nearby and the tail section of an Ork Fighta-Bommer sticking out of the side of a nearby building. The Orks had tried hitting here too. He strode in, pools of water mixed with blood left behind from every bootstep. Everyone could see how angry he was, see the glossy crimson coating his armour and feel the force of his aura upon them, and they all kept well away.
All heads turned as he strode into the command room, and several of the aides auras flickered fearfully as they saw the gore splattered Astartes warrior, looking more like a World Eater than a Thousand Son.
“Lord Ahriman, I…”
“Spare me. Casualty report?”
An aide ran over and swiftly handed him a note, which he snatched from the poor man’s hand. Three hundred and seventeen killed, a further hundred injured. This was the worst raid in weeks. The Orks were getting bolder; they knew their victory would come soon.
The Governor tried to talk with him. “My Lord, things are becoming desperate. Morale is sinking fast, we’ve had to cut the artillery expenditure again by half, and there is still no word of any relief effort. If things don’t change, I fear the inner city will fall within a month, and the whole planet soon after.”
“Seadelant is one of the top twenty trade route hubs in the entire Imperium. They will not leave us to die here, they can’t. Not unless the Emperor wants to have half of Segmentum Solar rebel for want of food and raw materials.” Ahriman was gruff, blunt. He didn’t want to have to think about the alternative, that the Imperium would arrive too late and it would have to be an invasion, not liberation.
“There is more, my lord. Lyleith, our chief astropath has felt something in the warp.” She moved aside and the Astropath stepped forward. Ahriman briefly wondered why the entire ruling body of Seadelant was female, but her words knocked that thought out of his head.
“You can feel it, can’t you? Your power is greater than mine. The warp is stirring, something big is about to happen.” She spoke true, too damned true. Recently he had felt the normally still surface of the Great Ocean start to ripple, like a storm was brewing, something stirring in the depths. None of this made Ahriman feel any better. Trakeria saw his gloomy expression, and capitalized on it.
“My Lord, we do have one ace up our sleeve, which if properly employed, will change the course of this war.” Ahriman turned to face her, projecting fire into his aura to cow her. She quailed at his invisible show of force, but pressed on.
“The Caorst Charxers came with two more pieces of heavy artillery, which have not been deployed due to their importance and rarity. I myself only found out about them this morning. But given the situation, I feel we have no other choice but to deploy them.”
“What have the Caorstians been holding back from us?” Ahriman demanded.
“Deathstrikes.” Ahriman saw a flare of savage joy in her aura, and it was well justified. The Deathstrike was a mobile ICBM launcher capable of carrying the most powerful warheads in existence from one side of a planet to the other, or even between planets in some circumstances. Life Eater bio-toxins, Nuclear, Warp Missiles for killing Titans, even reality tearing Vortex Warheads could all be deployed by the Deathstrike. And now Ahriman had two of these monsters at his disposal. Part of him recoiled at the potential devastation, but another part revelled in the destruction he could visit upon the Orks. Used right, and with his guidance, they could rip the life from the Ork onslaught in one fell blast, destroy the invaders and expunge them from the surface of Seadelant.
“Why wasn’t I informed earlier?” he pressed, his anger seeping from his rigid control. If he had been able to use them before the outer walls had fallen…
“They were destined for the Cadian Gate, and were deemed to important for general deployment. I promise you the Caorst Master of Ordinance will be thoroughly disciplined for this when the battle is over.” Trakeria was almost gloating, the chance to lord it over regular Army troopers dancing in her mind. Before Ahriman would have come down on her for it, but now he was too tired and unsure to worry. To hell with her, he had a war to win.
“What Warheads do we have at our disposal?”
“Boosted Plasma Fusion Warheads. All the power of an Atomic Warhead with none of the radiation or fallout. Each is dialled to one hundred kilotons. Between them we could break the back of the Ork Siege, kill tens of millions of the Greenskin scum, and throw them back.” Ahriman brought up the schematics for the planned warhead strikes, and stared at them with concern. “The entire outer city would be levelled in the blast, and we know there are survivors in there.”
“If we don’t do this, there will be no survivors regardless. You are Astartes; surely you see that the needs of the many have to outweigh the needs of the few?”
They did, but Ahriman couldn’t shake off the feeling that those survivors, whoever they were, were important in some way to the future of this war. Something was linking them and their efforts in the occupied outer city to the overall fate of Seadelant, but he couldn’t find the connection. He couldn’t find any connection, his future sight was almost totally gone. It even felt like his own fate was no longer under his control.
“My Lord? What are your orders? Do we deploy the Deathstrikes or not?” he didn’t want to have to answer that question, hell he didn’t want to have to weigh the fate of an entire planet and all its inhabitants. All he wanted to do was to get away, re-connect with himself and expunge his failure back on Terra. Now it seemed he was bringing his failure with him. He had to succeed; he had to show them he was no has-been and beat these Greenskin Invaders.
Ahriman spat out two words.
The Clash of Fates
“Oll, I don’t know what you and Summer were up to out there, but you must have been smoking something. Daemons don’t exist. They’re just the creation of the religious and superstitious, trying to justify their insane beliefs. Surely you’ve read your Sindermann?”
Julius was appalled by how Scvott was taking their revelation, how he was dismissing out of hand what he had seen, what they had seen. He’d long grown used to people insulting religion around him, but someone claiming he was delusional out of hand, even when he had a fellow witness was something he couldn’t cope with. They were all in the command room, sitting around the metal table. Tersely he had told them of what he had seen, without any mention of last night and what had happened with Summer. They already thought the two of them had been going at it for weeks, no sense in revealing the truth.
Julius was fast losing his temper with Scvott. This was the most serious situation they could find themselves in, and Scvott couldn’t seem to realise what was so urgent. Even Flynn and Dyllion could sense that they had seen something bad. “Scvott, I wish you’d get this through your thick head: there is a Daemon loose on Seadelant, and it changes everything.”
“And I wish you’d get this through your thick head Oll: there are no such things as Daemons. All you saw was some Ork psyker, and confused it for a Daemon. Would you even know a daemon from an Ork psyker if you saw one?”
Yes I would. Yes I do. I’ve been told by the most powerful psykers in the galaxy what a Daemon is like. He wanted to say these things, but he couldn’t. They all knew him as Oll, not Julius, and he couldn’t reveal his true self to them now, least of all to Summer. It would be a betrayal, and he cared too deeply for her to want to inflict that on her. His shame at lying to them mixed with his anger at Scvott’s reluctance to believe him, provoking an outburst of rage. Julius lunged, grabbed Scvott’s shirtfront and pulling him forwards, screamed into his face. “Why the hell would we lie to you?! Have the last twenty-eight days meant nothing? If you don’t damn well listen to me, we are all dead. Do you hear me? We will be all dead!”
Scvott started in shock at Julius’s outburst, but he wasn’t finished. “They obviously haven’t taught you about the warp here. Daemons are real; they exist in the Warp as the servants of the Primordial Annihilator. Surely you know about Chaos, right?” Scvott nodded weakly. “If one is here on Seadelant, then it means the darker powers have an interest in this planet. That means any number of scenarios could be occurring. The Daemon could be here to harvest souls, or it could be here to corrupt people into worshipping its fell masters. Or it might be trying to unleash a Daemonic incursion, a never-ending tide of Daemons which will flood this world and put it to the sword. And there’s countless other things which could happen, each more nightmarish than the last. Do you understand me? Do you understand me?!” Suddenly he felt Summer gently taking his hands, prising him off Scvott. Her touch immediately banished the storm of anger which had burst from him.
“Oll’s right. If you ignore this, then we all suffer. The planet suffers. Hell, the entire Imperium could suffer. Are you willing to have that on your conscience?”
Scvott reached for his hip flask, went to drink from it, then changed his mind and set it down. “Do they teach you about this on Calth?” he asked. Julius nodded. “They never did here. All we learnt was that Chaos was the eternal enemy of the Emperor, and you had to stand against it. Nothing about Daemons or that sort of thing. There’s so much I don’t know.”
“There’s a reason for that Scvott. There’s plenty out there that by all rights we shouldn’t know about, the darker places deliberately left unexplored. And yet we try to find out anyway, ignoring the dangers and warning signs. The darker places are darker places for a reason.” That was something his father had told him, and he had been told that by his friend, John Grammaticus. It had always stuck in Julius’s mind, a piece of advice man had not heeded, and because of that it got into trouble time and time again. And yet they never learnt.
“There’s only one being on this planet who knows the truth about Daemons, and who will know what to do about this one. The Astartes commander, Ahzek Ahriman. He’s the chief librarian of the XVth Legion, so he will know what to do about a Daemon.” He didn’t want to have to face Lord Ahriman, not only because they would find out who he really was, but also the whole business of the Petitioner’s City still lay over them both. He was only now finally getting over it, overcoming his failure and he didn’t want to slide back into despair.
“We have to get the news about the Daemon to him.”
“Oll, we have no radios, flare guns or any other form of remote communication. There’s at least two million Orks infesting the outer city between us and the Walls. The sewers have all been sealed up as well, and we can’t sail around due to the mines. What do you propose we do?” Scvott was right of course. The defenders had sealed themselves in well, Professor Ahriman’s doing no doubt.
“Oll, there’s something else. When we found you were both gone, Flynn set out to find you. Instead he found something bad. Very bad. Tell them Flynn.”
Flynn took over. “Ah was skirting the camp by sector two, when I came across something in that small park at the hub of the crossroads there. Nearly a hundred Orks clustered around something in the centre of the park. I got as close as I dared, and I managed to identify it. An ex-Imperial Mole class tunnelling machine captured by the Orks somewhere. It looks like they’re going to try and tunnel their way under the walls, bypass the defending troops.” Things were going from bad to worse. If the Orks were trying this tactic, it meant they had finally lost patience with the defenders.
“They’ll be trying to keep it a secret. If the troops on the walls find out, they will shell it to oblivion. We must be the only ones that know.” Summer added.
“We have to destroy it. If we don’t then the Orks will tunnel through and overrun the city from within.” As they discussed ways to destroy the mole, the germ of an idea filtered into Julius’s head. At first, he rejected it as insane, but it wouldn’t go away, and as they continued around him it grew and grew as more ideas poured into it. Finally he abruptly interjected.
“Flynn, do you have a chart showing the underground of the city? Where all the pipes are?” Flynn went off to get it, as the others looked at him. “What idiotic scheme are you cooking up this time Oll?” Dyllion asked. “Trying to get us into the inner city?”
“No. I know how we can take out that mole, and get the news to Pro…Lord Ahriman at the same time.” Comprehension dawned on the others. “Are you suggesting we steal the tunnelling machine and dig to the inner city ourselves?” Julius nodded at Dyllion’s question.
“Oll, I hate to see the obvious flaw in your idea, but if we tunnel into the inner city, won’t the Orks simply follow us into the city? We’d be doing their dirty work for them.” Scvott replied.
“Not exactly.” Flynn re-entered the room with a faded old map. Julius checked it, noting several areas of piping and a few seams of untouched earth. Finally he saw an opening, a chance however small, and he knew they had to capitalise on it. Pointing to the map, he began. “If we tunnel into here, and then follow this pipeline along here and here, we can fool the Orks; make them get lost in the underground trying to find where we have gone. And as they try to find their way out, we can tunnel straight for Huron’s square.” The others followed his traced path, and examined his plan. Scvott was the first one to speak. “It just might work Oll. If we can work out how to make the damn thing go…”
“I can make it go.” They all turned and looked at Flynn. “Didn’t you see me examining those Trukks we destroyed? I was trying to see how they operate. It seems simple enough. And the vehicle was Imperial once; some of the old controls will still remain.” The rest of the day passed in a blur as they made detailed plans. They would hit it at night; use the cover of darkness to keep the Orks confused. They couldn’t do it tonight, they would go tomorrow night. It would be do or die; they would either capture or destroy the mole, or die trying. Julius hoped for the former.
That evening Julius found himself standing outside Summer’s room again. He’d been doing this with her ever since their first raid, but now it was different. Now he could no longer trust himself around her, not after his moment of weakness. He’d already done it once, could he stop himself from doing it again?
As if reading his thoughts, the door and Summer smiled out at him. “I’m not going to bite Oll, nor am I going to jump you. It’s safe, come on in.”
They sat together, saying their prayers. But while yesterday he had been thanking his god for victory, today he was asking for protection, protection from the Daemon and the spawn of hell. Much had changed in twenty-four hours. He had lost his virginity, seen a Daemon and set in motion a final ditch plan to send a warning. Thinking back over that, he remembered how he had almost hurt Scvott, and how Summer had stopped him. “Summer, thanks for stopping me from hurting Scvott. I don’t know what came over me.” He said.
“You may be your girlfriend’s naysmith back on Calth, but it seems I am your naysmith right here Oll.” She caught on really quick. She didn’t stop though, her voice cracked as she continued.
“Oll, when I saw that Daemon I felt like an icicle had been stabbed straight into my heart, like the mere presence of that Daemon was infecting my soul, tainting it with something unspeakable. It was polluting the universe simply by existing. We have to destroy that foul thing.” Julius completely agreed with her, he had felt the same way. Its presence was toxic, a foul taint in the air it was possible to taste. Maybe it felt different for someone of faith to be in the presence of such a thing, compared to normal people. How would Scvott, Flynn or Dyllion have reacted if they had seen it?
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to sleep tonight. I fear that thing is waiting for me, and if I try to sleep it will find out that we know, read our dreams and destroy us. Can Daemons do that?”
He didn’t know, but he hoped not. Ahriman would know, and he would know what to do as well; he would easily be able to send it screaming back into hell where it belonged.
Her next question took him by surprise.
“Stay with me tonight Oll. Keep me company, help keep the Daemon away. Please?”
He couldn’t ignore the pleading tone in her voice, and he knew that he himself would probably be plagued with nightmares brought about by the Daemon as well. He stripped down, ever mindful this time. It had been easy to ignore his baser instincts when he wasn’t partaking in them himself, but now his dormant sex drive had been fired up and he was thinking and feeling things he would rather have not. A wise old Terran had once written that ‘God had given man a brain and a dick, and only enough blood to use one at a time.’ He’d always liked that saying, and now it had come true on him, he hoped he could keep the blood in his brain, where it belonged. He lay down on the cramped little cot, and waited for her to slip in beside him. The cot creaked under their combined weights, but it had already proven it could hold both of them. They lay together in silence, Julius trying to keep as much distance between them as he could without seeming rude.
“You know Oll; I almost went to Imperator High on Terra. I was accepted there, but my parents wanted me to take over their trading empire, and so had me home-tutored instead. I heard Lord Ahriman taught there.” Julius shifted uncomfortably. What was she insinuating? Did she know, or suspect something? There was silence for a second, and then she changed the subject.
“I could have leant alongside the Daughters Oll. Imagine that, being beside the very blood of the Emperor. Of course, I would never have found my faith if that had happened, and I can’t imagine myself now without my faith. Could you imagine yourself without your faith?”
He could almost see her smiling. “That makes two of us. Now we sleep, maybe for the last time. Hopefully not. Either way, I’m glad you’re here. Goodnight Oll, keep the Daemons away.”
She snuggled down and closed her eyes. As he lay beside her, feeling the warmth of her body beside his, he was reminded of how Lady Venus was also lit with an internal fire, but while hers was real, a quirk of her unique genetics, Summers was spiritual, a reflection of her deeply held beliefs. It was comforting, all the same. Throwing caution to the wind he snuggled close into her, pulling her into him and embracing her warmth. He buried his head in her long blonde hair and closed his eyes. That night, he slept more soundly and deeply than he’d done so in months, and the Daemon never came.
The tombs of the ancient kings of Gyptus had a saying carved upon their doors: ‘Death comes on swift wings to those who disturb the king’s rest’, and as Ahriman peered over the newly deployed Deathstrikes, he decided that saying had never been as apt as it was now. The greenskin filth had disturbed his rest, and now he was about to bring down fire and destruction upon them on a colossal scale. The two launchers were positioned in the centre of Huron’s square in the heart of the inner city. The Caorst Charxer troopers were positioned around them in case of Ork air attack or infiltrating Kommandoes. They had only one shot at this, and Ahriman would be literally damned if he was going to let this one slide.
Seeing them in person for the first time, he was amazed how the small driving sections were able to carry the payload. The Chimera chassis seemed almost crushed beneath the massive rockets they carried. Beside them, fuel bowsers struggled to tank the rockets up ready for lift-off. Ahriman had already had a go at the head technician, and his claim the rockets wouldn’t be ready for launch for at least twenty-four hours. He’d scared the man half to death with his demands the rockets be ready in no more than eighteen hours. Now that he had agreed to their deployment, a savage joy had made its home inside him. All his previous doubts were forgotten, washed away by the certainty that now he would be the one in control of his fate, and the fate of this world. Once he had disliked the Word Bearers for the absolute certainty that filled them, but now having suffered the curse of doubt for so many weeks he wished he had that gift, and was glad of this one certainty, certainty that tomorrow the greenskins would suffer under the power of two mushroom shaped clouds of death. He still had that nagging feeling that the survivors outside the inner walls were important, but his gut feeling had been wrong before, he wasn’t going to listen to it again. The Graf was right on this count. He may have disliked the woman as a glory-hound who wanted her reputation to come out of this greater than when she went in, but her words rang true. Thousands had already died under the onslaught, and thousands more would die if he did not act now. Whoever those survivors were, he had to weigh them up against the survival of the planet, and that was no contest at all. They would have to die so that the planet would live.
“My Lord, the troops have commenced redeployment as per your commands. We’ve pulled much of the troops back from the walls, so they appear undermanned.” That was a Sous-lieutenant of the Caorst Charxers; he had been spending most of his time with that particular regiment recently. When the Ork horde was smashed and reeling, they would launch a localised offensive to clear the Orks away from the outer walls, show them that their foes were no push-over. He would lead them in person, so he was trying to acclimatise himself to them now.
“Very good Sous-lieutenant. If the Orks think the walls are thinly manned, them they will mass all their forces for the final assault. That is when we launch, and send the Orks to eternity, and worse.” He’d carefully planned that one out as they calibrated the warheads. If the Orks took the bait, it would increase the casualty rates among them by at least sixty percent or more. That would be another six million dead Orks.
“And well deserved too. Give the Greenskin skum a taste of what the Imperium can do, yes?” the man’s aura flashed red as he spoke, red with vindictive glee. Every Imperial soldier he had spoken to had done the same. Deploying the Deathstrikes had caused a market rise in morale. Now the Imperium could at last hit back, hit back hard. He heard something coming from behind him, and he turned to notice a figure cutting through the assembled troops towards him.
“Here she comes, miss holier-than-thou.” The Sous-lieutenant shrugged, the exaggerated Gallic shrug the Caorst were famous for, descended from their Frac forebears on Terra.
The Graf again, and now there was a massive smile on her face. She would try to take all the credit of course, in her mind her appointment as next planetary governor was all but assured. She was so simple to read, but Ahriman didn’t care anymore. She could rule all of Ultima Segmentum for all he cared, he just wanted to win this war, and head for Angelus. Somewhere so far the Astronomican was almost impossible to see, the utter limit of the Imperium, where he would be utterly alone with himself. He wondered if there would be any trace of the great triumph held there, anything left of the last hurrah of the Great Crusade, the last time he had felt at peace with himself.
“Lord Ahriman, I see you are admiring our secret weapon. When will we be launching?” her words brought him back to the present. He turned to face her, extending his aura to remind her who was in charge. “The firing technicians have promised me both weapons will be ready to fire in eighteen hours or approximately six hundred hours tomorrow morning. The perfect wake up call, wouldn’t you say?”
“Of course my Lord, two hundred kilotonnes of fiery death is the best wake-up call we could ever give the greenskin scum.” No matter how much he disliked her, he could never disagree with that.
“Tomorrow, we bring death on wings of fire to the foe. After thirty days of despoiling this planet, we will get a chance to hit back. It might win us the war without any foreign intervention at all, but I doubt that. However it will ensure the Orks won’t be able to assault us again for many weeks, if not months. The Liberation fleet should arrive well within that time.”
“You see my Lord, my judgements can be sound.” He wished he could agree with that, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not shake the feeling that something ghastly would happen, when those warheads landed among the foe. He could not and would not stop it now; he would just have to face the consequences when they came.
Julius rose slowly from slumber, like some great sea beast slowly coming up for air. Despite all his fears the previous night, his sleep was long, deep, and untroubled. No Daemons had tried to steal his soul. It took him a few seconds to remember where he was, and notice who he was pressed tightly up against. She was still sleeping soundly, her chest rising and falling rhythmically beneath his arms. As he watched, he abruptly felt a certain part of him was touching her. Gently he inched his hips away from her, hoping the motion wouldn’t wake her. The door banged open to reveal Dyllion, startling Summer awake. He peered over the two of them. “Bloody hell, I wish you two would be more discreet. Scvott has called a meeting in the command room. We’ll give you a few minutes to get dressed.” Summer turned to Julius, who had turned bright red. “Let them think what they want. You know and I know that it was completely innocent. Nothing happened. This time.”
Julius looked down at himself and almost smiled, but held it back. They dressed in silence and went to join the others. Scvott was waiting for them, a pile of sheets of paper and a few pens at his side.
“Everyone, late tonight we go to capture that mole and try and get warning of the ‘Daemon’ or whatever the hell it is to the inner city. If we can’t capture it, we destroy it. Dyllion and Flynn have already packed the remaining explosives, so we can blow that thing to hell and gone. Now I have asked all of you here for one important reason.”
“This is a one-way mission. We’re not coming back. We either succeed in getting this warning out, or we die.” His bald statement hit them all hard. Flynn’s cheeky attitude disappeared, Dyllion murmured a curse under his lips, and Summer whispered a prayer to the Emperor only Julius could hear. He himself searched for an emotion, but found only emptiness. Scvott waited for them all to settle down, before continuing.
“If we do die, I want us to leave something behind, so that in the future the people who find this place will know what happened to us and will know that we gave our lives to combat the Ork menace and our sacrifice. That’s why I brought these along.” Gesturing to the pens and paper. “I want each of you to write a last letter, something that if this place is ever found will tell our loved ones what we did.” He didn’t mention that by the time any letters would be found, thousands of years may have passed and their loved ones would be long dead. He didn’t need to mention it. There was now a weight on top of all of them, the knowledge that this may be their last mission, and that in less than a day they could all be dead. Silently he handed out the pens and sheets of paper, and silently they took them.
“Where did you come up with this idea?” Julius asked Scvott as the others filed out.
“My Great-Granddad was Terran, a Tanker in the Zanzibari Hort. Before every mission, he had his men write a last letter in case they didn’t make it. For some reason it made facing death a lot easier, at least that was what my granddad told me. The old sod could have been lying, of course, but I have to try it. This must suck, the prospect of dying such a long way from home on an alien planet.”
“I was trying not to think about it, but thanks anyway.” Scvott smiled almost painfully as he left. Nearly an hour later, Julius was sitting in his room, papers resting on a writing slate on his lap. He had tried several times to compose a letter to his father, but he couldn’t think of what he would say. What could he say, he was dead and he wished him his love? It all seemed too banal.
There was a light rapping on his door, and he didn’t need to look up to know who it was. Summer came in and sat down beside him. He didn’t try to hide the empty sheets of paper, had he actually written anything he would have hidden them to conceal his true identity.
“You haven’t got anything done?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know what to write, the usual stuff is too banal, doesn’t cover what I’ve gone through here. I’ve seen my first death, made my first kill, seen a Daemon in the flesh, and given up my most sacred gift to someone who though isn’t my official girlfriend, has come to mean a lot to me. How can I explain any of that to anyone, least of all in writing?” She smiled at his statement. “I mean a lot to you now?”
“Summer, why are you asking that? You’re the one who has got me through this whole thing, and I can’t imagine how I would have survived without you to guide me and keep me sane.” She took his hand, and he squeezed it. She then abruptly asked a question.
“What about your girlfriend? The one back on Calth? Why don’t you try writing to her?” Julius hadn’t thought of that, and he turned it over in his mind, finally giving her an answer.
“Honestly, though I still may have strong feelings for her, I don’t know if she shares those anymore. I thought she did, right up until my recent mistake.”
Julius couldn’t reveal much, but he could give the gist of the problem. “I pulled a stunt, the one where I messed up badly, and I ended up under house arrest because of it. She could have spoken for me, could have pleaded my case, but she did not. In the end my father had to make that plea, and convince someone else to intervene on my behalf.” He sounded bitter again, bitter at her this time. The last time he had seen Isis was when they had parted after the Emperor’s reprimand. She hadn’t looked at him as they’d slunk off, and he hadn’t seen or heard from her since. Not once during his house arrest, his short lived trial or on his trip from Terra to Seadelant had she even tried to make the effort to contact him, and he resented that. He knew a tiny part of him had rejoiced after he’d slept with Summer because of that, still rejoiced because of that. He wasn’t proud of that at all, but he knew why he felt that way.
“For all I know, it’s over between us. I won’t know for certain until I get home, if I even get home at all. That’s the flip side. I feel I’ve betrayed her, but I don’t even know if we’re still together or not, if I should feel like I’ve betrayed her. Everything ended so quickly, we all split apart and headed our separate ways in such a short space of time. I don’t want to die not knowing if or how it ended.”
She gave him a wistful look. “Oll, you always seem to seek advice from me, so here’s what I’d do. I’d just write that letter to her. Write it from the heart; leave out no details, spare no expense. Regardless of whether you’re still a couple or not, you owe it to her, to the time you spent together to tell her about me, the Daemon, this place in general. If you survive you can tell her all this to her face, but she should know regardless.”
“What about you? Are you going to write a letter?”
“Yes, but I hold out no hope for it ever being read. My parents disowned me, remember? I’m already dead to them, what difference will a letter make? They won’t tell my brother, they’ll just burn It.” she got up and headed for the door. As she left, she turned to Julius. “Good luck with that letter Oll, I hope no-one ever has to read it.”
When she was gone, he took up the pen and paper, stared at it for a few seconds as he marshalled his thoughts and started writing in a neat hand: ‘Isis, if you’re reading this then I’m dead, killed in action on Seadelant. Regardless of how we parted, there are a few things I need you to know…’
“This is it everyone, saddle up!”
With Scvott’s command, they all readied for their final mission, checking weapons and shouldering packs of explosives and other materials. It was now nearly midnight, the crumbled ruins of the outer city were shrouded in darkness, the perfect cover for the band of civilians turned guerrilla fighters out to send a warning. Julius rubbed his eyes as he followed Flynn out of the bunker. He had tried to catch some sleep earlier, but it wouldn’t come. He just lay awake, thinking of everything that had happened to him in the twenty-nine days since the Hulk had come down. His life would never be the same again, of that he could be sure. He would return to Terra a vastly different person from the one who had fled the throneworld over two months ago. Would anyone see the change?
For this mission, they had broken out the recovered sets of PDF issue flak armour they had salvaged on an earlier mission. The armour was bulky, not suited to ambushes where speed and manoeuvrability was the key, but for what was effectively a head on assault at the Mole, it would provide greater protection that their unarmoured CDA issue bodygloves. Julius and Summer had helped each other strap on their Flak Armour, though Julius had found it harder to get it on her than vice versa. All of the armour vests were made for men, and squeezing her into it proved difficult, to say the least. Fortunately he’d kept his cool this time; he had no desire to repeat what had happened that morning.
As they filed out for what would most likely be the last time, Julius took one last look back at the place which for better and for worse, had been home for the last twenty-four days. What had happened here would stay with him for all of his days. He only hoped he would live long enough for those days to last longer than the next few hours, and that the letters stashed under his pillow would never have to be discovered. In the month since he had arrived on Seadelant, the planet’s primary moon had gone through a full cycle, from new to full and now back to new. The lack of moonlight was a setback, but it was also an advantage. Orks couldn’t see any better than humans in the dark, and the cover it provided would let them get as close as possible before they strike. They emerged into the inky blackness, and following Flynn, set off into the city.
Normally they would try to keep away from the parts of the city the Orks had taken as their own, but this time they would have to go into the heart of darkness. The moment they transitioned from the ruined parts of the outer city to the Ork occupied parts was like stepping into another world, a darker and more brutal world. The buildings were covered in orky glyphs and graffiti, and barely a block in they found several dead Orks, killed by their own kind in some fight. Orks were just as likely to kill each other as they were to kill Humans or Eldar. Now they were truly in the danger zone, and had to keep their eyes ever open for movement, and listen for the slightest sound. One false move and every Ork in the outer city would be gunning for them, all five million or so. Julius carefully reached down and unbuttoned his holster, so he could quickly draw his pistol in the event that something goes wrong. For several blocks there was nothing, and Julius began to breathe a little easier.
Flynn abruptly halted. “Ork patrol.” he whispered harshly, and they swiftly took cover, pressing themselves up against the crumbled masonry of the nearby buildings. Julius saw the faint outlines of the three Orks as they made their way up the street, grunting to one another in their almost incomprehensible tongue. As they passed where he was hiding he hoped the Orks couldn’t hear the sound of his heart, hammering away in his chest. Finally the Orks disappeared into the gloom, and they set off again. Soon the number of Ork patrols increased, and time and time again they were forced to seek shelter and hide from the enemy. Soon they could make no more than a crawl, until Flynn had enough and took them into a side street. “We’ll need to go through the buildings here; the streets are no longer safe. Some of them will be occupied by the Orks, so we will have to take it slowly, check every building and every room before we move through it. It may take more time, but better that then getting caught in the open.”
Scvott nodded in agreement, and they all followed him into one of the ruined buildings. As Julius went in, Summer flashed him a tired but encouraging smile, which he tried to return but it came out a grimace. At least they weren’t dead yet. For several blocks they picked their way through the wrecked and looted buildings which once were peoples Habs and workplaces. Most of them would have to be torn down and rebuilt once the war was done, if the Imperial forces won. Julius didn’t want to think about what would happen if the reverse came true. The first time they stumbled over an Ork occupied building, Julius’s heart leapt into his mouth as he saw the hulking form of an Ork sitting outside. The Ork sentry was dozing, but if it woke up it would clearly see them and raise the alarm. They crept away and managed to find another route, but the whole time Julius hardly dared to breathe. He didn’t want to be the one who made the fatal misstep and doomed them all.
After what seemed many hours, but was most likely only one or two they reached the edge of the park, and carefully ducked into an abandoned Hab. Fortunately it was missing its roof, and thus no Orks were using it as shelter. The Hab overlooked the park where the mole was concealed, and despite the lack of moonlight the few dying campfires gave them a good view. Before the war it had been a place where parents had brought their children to play and frolic, but now the green was interspaced with a few scattered craters, and crude Ork tents were everywhere. The Mole could be faintly seen, a shape half hidden behind several piles of scrap which used to be swings and other playground equipment, along with ground cars and assorted detritus. By his best guess, it was nearly two hundred yards away. Two hundred yards he would have to run, two hundred yards he would have to fight through. Two hundred yards which could well be his last.
“What do we do?” he whispered to Summer, who as usual was beside him. The two were almost inseparable now, and Julius couldn’t imagine doing this without her.
“And now, we wait.”
Several hours later, Summer tapped Julius on the shoulder, startling him into awareness. “This is it.” her words spurred him into action. He checked the charge on his Hellpistol, and set it to maximum. At that power, it could stab straight through Marine Battleplate. The simple Ork body armour would be no match at all.
They had waited long enough. They couldn’t sneak all the way through the Ork camp, they would have to do the impossible, and fight their way to the Mole. Fortunately most of the Orks were fast asleep, but that wouldn’t last, and they would be drawn like moths to a flame the moment they started shooting.
Flynn would start it off, using his preternatural stealth abilities to get as close as possible to the Mole, setting some bombs as he went. Once he had got as far as he could, he would detonate the bombs, and that would be the signal. Then they would all make for the Mole, weapons blazing. They would get to it, and either scramble aboard and start it off, or else set the explosives and blow it sky high. Julius rather hoped for the first option, as the other option held no means of escape and would end with his death. He wasn’t concerned about death, as a Catheric he knew that he would receive his reward for his years of service, but he had rather hoped to defer that date for a while. Then the first bomb went off, the harsh bang ringing in his ears and startling him into awareness. Seconds later the next bomb went off, and the next, and the next. Flynn was doing a hell of a job. Nearby Scvott launched himself out, hollering and firing his Lasgun from the hip.
Seconds later Dyllion joined him with his uquibitious Heavy Stubber, pausing to fire long bursts into the Ork camp. By now the Orks were stirring, hundreds grabbing weapons and seeking out the intruders.
Beside him, Summer flung herself out of the Hab and started towards the Mole. The firelight lit up her hair with a red glow, and Julius watched as she vanished into the fray.
He wanted to follow, but at the last second he found himself frozen. Was this it; was this how he wanted to meet his end? Surrounded by Orks, far from home on a planet where Daemons lurked? Were these his final moments alive?
Inside his head he heard a voice, speaking in his father’s voice, urging him forward. Up, up, up and at them! Heeding that voice, he threw himself at the foe, weapons at the ready.
T-Minus Five Minutes to Launch...and counting
At long last, everything was in place. The Missiles were fully ready to fire, fuelled with warheads armed and targets locked. All that remained was for the Orks to take the bait, push on the walls. The sun would shortly rise, already the sky was more grey than black, and when the Orks saw how few men and women were actually on the walls their base instincts would overwhelm them and they would pour forth seeking blood and battle. That was when Ahriman would launch.
There would be nearly a five minute delay between the launching and the impact, and Ahriman wanted to be there standing on the walls when the warheads come down, and watch the Orks burn.
These thoughts were almost alien to him, and yet he welcomed them. He now knew what it must be like for a Space Wolf or a World Eater, to relish in the destruction they could cause. Once he would have hated being compared to either of those two legions, but after his failures elsewhere he now knew of the cleansing powers of bloodshed, how he could purify his soul with the blood of the foe. He understood a measure of the satisfaction such violence could bring.
“My Lord! The ground augers have detected movement, heading for the Deathstrikes!” the Caorst Sous-lieutenant called out urgently. Ahriman immediately cast his mind underground, and sure enough, burrowing its way under the city like a maggot, a looted Imperial Mole was powering its way through the earth beneath the city, clipping pipes and wires along the way. The Orks must have found out about the gift Ahriman was about to give them, and decided to stop its launch. Tracing the strings of fate forward, Ahriman found exactly where the Mole would emerge, merely a hundred yards from the Deathstrikes. Were he not here, the Orks might well have got away with it. But he was here, and all the brave or foolish Orks had earned themselves was a painful death, the first of millions to receive that gift from Ahriman.
“Akkaid Formation! Fourth company take the left, sixth company the right! Bring up some armour on the double!” His commands, amplified by his armour were swiftly taken up by the Caorst Charxers. He directed the troops to take up positions around where the Mole would emerge, and soon the position was surrounded by a ring of steel. A pair of Malcadors and a Malcador Defender took up position supporting the Charxergrenadieres. Their heavy guns would no doubt be critical to whatever happened next. Ahriman could clearly see the Mole with his Aethersight as it made its final ascent, and he corrected the aim of the troops closest to him, so that not a single shot would be wasted.
The blunt drilling snout of the Mole pushed its way out of the earth and through the rockrete like some evil probe, ripping apart the surface and sending chunks of rockrete flying here and there. Watching it slowly emerge from the earth, Ahriman was reminded of some repulsive grub blindly spreading disease and destruction. It was an intrusion, a blight, one he would soon lance. The Orks would not stop him getting his revenge.
“Do not fire until I give the command.” Every gun was trained on it, one word and there would be nothing left but shards of scrap metal. But he wanted the Orks to see, to know they had been beaten before he destroyed them. Finally the armoured disembarkation hatch was exposed and a few seconds later it stopped, the spinning drill coming to a halt. Now there was no sound but the faint whine of its powerplant shutting down, the low grumble of the Caorst vehicles idling their engines and the click of weapons trained upon it.
The door hissed open, and Ahriman saw movement within. He was about to give the order to fire, but something stopped him, and when the figure revealed itself, he saw why.
Of all the things he had expected to emerge from the Mole, a human, an attractive young woman was almost literally the last thing on his list. Yet that was exactly who was now cautiously standing outside the Mole, her hands raised high above her head. She could see the troops and tanks, every gun trained on both her and the Mole.
“My Lord, what the flying fuck is going on?” the Sous-lieutenant blurted. Ahriman knew how he felt, the auras of all the Caorst troops flared with confusion at what had just come out of the Mole. Many of them had removed their fingers from the triggers of their lasguns, or lowered their weapons. However Ahriman knew that the Orks could be using human slaves to mask their entrance, making the defenders let down their guard before they revealed themselves.
“I’ll get to the bottom of this. If anything happens to me, fire.” With that, he started walking towards the Mole. There was an awed hush among the defenders as he marched out towards the intruders. As he walked he extended his aura and filled it with fire, and crimson flames blazed along the length of his heqa staff, ways to cow the newcomers in case they were not what they appeared. As he came closer, Ahriman rose through the Enumerations to shield himself from the raw terror coming from the humans. There were now four covering before his approach, the woman having been joined by a dark skinned man, a man built like a brick wall and another man who was obviously from Tanith, with the raven hair common to his native world and a blue tattoo over one eye. Finally he towered before them, a giant in crimson plate, his weapon wreathed in aetheric fire and his aura blazing like a nova. He could see no trace of an Ork presence, but he had to be sure.
“I am Ahzek Ahriman, Lord of the Corvidae and Chief Librarian of the XVth Legion.” He thundered. “Who are you and what are you doing here?” flames blazed in the lenses of his helmet, and all of them took a step back, pressed between him and the Mole. “We…that is to say Oll…said we needed to see you My Lord.” The dark skinned one forced out. “He said…we have to…give you a warning.”
“I am Lord of the Corvidae, I need no warnings!” now they all were pressed against the Mole. “Why are you here?!”
“Professor?” a shockingly familiar voice came from inside the Mole, and Ahriman’s control of the Enumerations slipped and crashed. For a second, Ahriman thought his Transhuman eyes were not working properly as a final figure emerged from the Mole and joined the others. The last time he had seen him was back in the dark depths of the Emperor’s palace, as the Emperor laid his judgement down upon the both of them. And now both of them were her, on a world at war. His aura was different, tempered, hardened by weeks of war. And there was something else too, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on. There was no such thing as coincidence; they must have both been brought here for a reason. But what was that reason? All of this flashed through Ahriman’s mind in an instant, and finally he lowered his voice.
“Julius, what in the name of the Great Ocean are you doing here?”
The others all stared, first at Ahriman and then at Julius. The way their auras flashed yellow told Ahriman that Julius hadn’t revealed his true identity to them. The cat was out of the bag, but Ahriman would let Julius reveal the truth in his own time. Even Julius was cowed by his fearsome appearance, but he pressed on regardless. “Professor, there is something we need you to know. Summer and I.” He gestured to the woman, and Ahriman saw his aura flicker. Something had happened between them somewhere, but Ahriman held his tongue, it was not his right to comment. “We were off somewhere in the outer city, and we saw something.”
“Are you saying you’re the resistance? The ones who have been fighting the occupiers in the outer city these past few weeks?” he asked forcefully.
“We are.” the woman, Summer Julius had called her, who now moved forward to stand beside him. Her act defused Ahriman’s anger, and he let the fire fade from his aura and his weapon, and he lowered his heqa staff.
“So, you are the ones who have been fighting the greenskin occupiers. Well met.” He reached out his hand, and the woman named Summer unhesitatingly reached out and shook it, though her slender fingers could only wrap around two of Ahriman’s digits. As she shook he abruptly recognised her. She was one of the CDA volunteers who had assisted them at the breach; the ones who Ahriman had thought were dead. It seemed he was mistaken, but this was one of the few times Ahriman was glad he had been mistaken. The others now came forward as well. Ahriman asked each their names as he greeted them. The dark one was Scvott, a name which gave Ahriman a smile as he recognised how it sounded almost the same as the name of the abhumans who dwelled in the galactic core. The Tanith was Flynn, and the broad one with a permanent scowl was Dyllion. In brief Julius explained what had happened to them, how they had been cut off when the Imperial forces retreated, how they had found a sanctuary under the city and how they had fought the greenskins for the last twenty-five days, and how they had captured and escaped with the Mole, all to deliver a warning.
“You truly are your father’s son Julius, and all of you should be proud of your achievements.” was Ahriman’s comment on all that. “Now, what is so important you have had to hijacked a Mole and burrow under the city to deliver it?” “Professor, ser, Summer and I saw something inside the outer Defence laser bunker. Something bad, something which changes everything.” He swallowed, before forcing out. “We saw a Daemon.”
Ahriman saw their auras, and knew they weren’t lying. He wished they were though. His worst fears were realised, the Primordial Annihilator was active on this world. All those bad feelings, all those nagging doubts, now they all fell into place. The reason he hadn’t detected the Rok which had opened the outer walls, the strings of fate he couldn’t untangle, all of it now made perfect sense. He was one of the very few who understood the true nature of the Primordial Annihilator and its fell servants, and one of them being active here meant that this world or something on it was important to the schemes of Chaos.
He extended his mind out towards the Defence Laser bunker, but found a baffling nothingness around it his mind couldn’t penetrate. Time and again he probed it, seeking an entrance, but there was nothing. He briefly considered releasing his body of light, and straightaway dismissed it. His body of light would be no match for a Daemon, his mistflesh would die easily under the powers of Chaos. If the utter honesty in their auras hadn’t convinced him, this certainly did.
“Then this world is in deep danger. I will take you to the PDF command centre, where you can explain more thoroughly exactly what you saw so I can work out a proper response, and maybe we can get you all a change of clothes. Even the filtering units in my helmet can’t keep out your stench.” They all blushed at his blunt statement, and behind his helmet he offered himself a small smile, which only partly succeeded in covering the turmoil within him. He now knew the true face of the enemy, but he didn’t know how he could combat it, he was no Grey Knight. And those Deathstrikes were now a no-go. If the Daemon wanted to summon more of its kind, it would need sacrifices in the millions. And that was almost what he had unwittingly delivered. He shuddered when he realised how close he had come to damning this world with his actions. Suddenly a PDF runner, accompanied by the Caorst Sous-lieutenant dashed up towards them at hectic speed. Their auras were blazing, important news.
“My Lord! My Lord! You are needed at the PDF command centre immediately!”
“Why? If the Graf wants to see me about why I haven’t launched yet, she can damn well stick it up her…”
“No sir, the Astropaths have made contact! It’s the Liberation Fleet sir, it’s arrived!”
Part Three: Liberation
Salvation from the Stars
The Klaxon howled throughout the ship, its hollow echo reverberating throughout the bridge as the massed fleet of warships and troopships emerged from the seething tempest of the immaterium in a blaze of energy. Plasmic wisps from the Warp continued to linger around the ships as they sped forth into material space.
Sitting on his command throne, he listened as reports came in from the other ships in his fleet, ensuring no ships were lost or scattered. A ship was at its most vulnerable in the moments immediately after re-entering normal space, when its power levels were still in flux and the energy burst of its warp exit broadcast its existence and position to any other vessel in the system. Entry was also critical to a battle, too close and you were likely to be destroyed before you could return fire, too far and you gave the enemy ample time to prepare for your arrival and lost the ever-critical element of surprise. He had always been a master of tactics.
His ship was the Ullanor, an Emperor-Class Command-Carrier Battleship which had once been the flagship of the famous Lord Commander Gustav Von Vitterriecvht, commander of the legendary forty-thirty-forth Imperial Army. Though the Lord Commander, who had fought in the entire crusade from beginning to end, had died many years ago his legacy of conquest lived on in the Ullanor, and the commander knew this.
Cruising beside his flagship was a battleship which surpassed even the Ullanor, with a prow sheathed in dark ocean green. It moved as a dagger might in the hand of an assassin, slow but inescapable, inexorable. Unlike most Imperial warships, all gaudily decorated, it bore only two decorations: a golden spread eagle with two heads across the face of the flying bridge and a great icon made of heavy nickel-iron ore, a single stone skull set inside a hollow steel ring in the shape of a star, at the very tip of the prow, watchful and threatening. The Endurance, Flagship of the XIV Legion.
Behind her came more of her kind, Legion ships ranging in class, size and colour both larger and smaller: the Indomitable Will, Barbarus’s Sting, Gotthammar, Sanctity of Saramanth, Epsilon, Spear of Sedros, Benthos, Shield of Sanguinius, Iron Tide and more, and this was excluding the regular naval vessels like the Ullanor. Ships from no fewer than twelve of the Astartes Legions were present; a total of fifty ships all up. A combined fleet like this hadn’t been gathered since the Crusade had ended.
“My Lord, the fleet has arrived in-system without mishap. All ships are accounted for. ETA to Seadelant, twenty-five minutes.” The aide nervously told to the figure on the throne as he checked a dataslate to ensure there had been no mishaps in translation. The last thing they needed were literal ghosts in the machine caused by warp entities.
“Very good. Very good indeed, we arrived in precisely the right place. Have the Astropaths attempt to establish contact with the surface immediately, and patch me through to the Endurance. Our Lord will want to be informed.” The man rose from his throne, unplugging several implants as he did so and strode down the steps of his throne towards the data-projector. He tapped a few buttons to bring up a series of tactical projections, and then turned to face an as yet unarrived presence.
There was flickering crackle of energy and Lord Mortarion of the Death Guard towered before him, his presence undiminished even though he was an electronic ethereal figure. His image faded in and out of focus, occasionally dividing in the bizarre mitosis of distance distortion. He lowered the blade of his Manreaper scythe in greeting, which was in itself a warmer hail than the man had been expecting. Several seconds later, the figure of Ezekyle Abaddon, first Captain of the Sons of Horus materialised beside Mortarion and a split second later was joined by Phosis T’kar of the Thousand Sons and Zichar Ir'Sem of the Salamanders. Such hallowed company would bend most people in awe, but this man wasn’t most people. He nodded his head briefly and then cut straight to the point.
“My Lord Primarch, my Lord Captains, the fleet has arrived in full and is preparing for attack pattern Zulu even as we speak. Long ranged scanners are probing the enemy for tactical data, and our astropaths are trying to raise the surface and see who remains there. All is present and correct, and the fleet stands ready. What are your orders?”
“Admiral Kulenka, your entry has been most satisfactory.” Mortarion rasped. “Once again you prove yourself as the best commander in Battlefleet Solar.”
“My Lord Primarch is generous. Have you seen my tactical calculations?”
“We all have.” That was Abaddon. “As thorough as always. We see no need for you to modify your plans; you know exactly what you are doing.”
“My Lord, before we commence operations, I must ask you about the chain of command. Will you leave to lead the ground elements, or will you stay and command from the Endurance?” “Admiral, I shall be commanding the ground effort in person, so you will be in full command of the space battle. All Legion ships will obey your orders as if you were the Warmaster himself.”
Kulenka blinked, the simple act concealing a flurry of emotions. It was extremely rare for a navy commander of any rank to be given command of Legion vessels; in fact it hadn’t happened since the Crusade had ended. He nodded, his mind racing about how the various Legion ships, in particular the Gotthammar from the VI Legion and the Thunderer from the XII Legion, would take a regular human commanding them.
Kulenka had one more point to make. “I must remind my Lord, we are now within the range of the Hulk’s Psy-ECM. We will have no way of communicating with Terra or anywhere else until the Hulk is destroyed.”
“Then destroy it Admiral. You are known as the best at Hulk busting, there are four killed Hulks to your name. We all have full faith in your abilities.” The figures cut out. Kulenka made a few more checks, before returning to his throne. As he plugged himself back in, he was reminded of the weight of responsibility now resting on his shoulders. He’d occasionally commanded a single legion ship of two during joint actions, but never this many. Never from this many legions. But he was Kulenka. Cold and calculating Kulenka, the star of Battlefleet Solar. If anyone could pull this off, it would be him.
“Send this message to the fleet. Load all weapons and Torpedoes, and ensure all fighters and bombers are fuelled and ready to fly. The Hulk dies today. Ave Imperator!”
Time for the Truth
Julius could barely keep up with Professor Ahriman as he powered his way towards the PDF command centre. He knew Ahriman was an Astartes, a warrior first and foremost, and he thought he understood what that was like after seeing him in action in the Petitioner’s City, but he had been proven wrong. In battle, Ahriman was an angel of death, barely human at all. The way he’d stood there before them all in front of the Mole, like he was mere milliseconds away from slaughtering them gave Julius the chills. He now saw the former Warp Studies teacher in an entirely new light.
He led them to the pyramid-like PDF Command Centre, and once inside he directed them to a large communal sleeping chamber with multiple bunk beds and an attached shower. “Wait here. I will see you all once I’ve spoken with the Liberation fleet, been appraised of the details. There are changes of clothes in the closet and a shower, so clean yourselves up.” His helmet lingered over Julius, who knew what it meant: tell them the truth. As if he needed another reason to feel guilty.
Julius listened to the sound of Ahriman’s boots crashing on the polished floor as he walked off, and then turned to face his fellows. Scvott looked disappointed, Dyllion had his trademark scowl, and Flynn looked sad. But Summer though, she looked hurt, and that hurt Julius most of all. He had wanted not to hurt her, and now that was inevitable. “I think we should all get clean first, and then I will give you the truth.” He managed to say, and they nodded, though not at him.
He took first turn; the others would want to be alone for a while to discuss what they would do. He turned the knob stood under the downpour, letting the water wash over him like a baptismal. He only wished he could wash his soul clean as easily. At his feet the water was a muddy brown, he hadn’t realised how filthy he really was after so many weeks. The spare clothes were the grey and white of Administratum menials, but after weeks of nothing but that bodyglove, even these coarse and rough garments felt like bliss.
He left, and straightaway Scvott pushed past him to take his turn. Julius shuffled over to one of the beds, and heavily sat down on it, not looking at anyone. He stayed there as the others took their turns, not saying a single word. Finally with a muted cough, he turned to see the others all standing behind him dressed in the same garments he was in, their looks demanding answers. With the weeks of accumulated grime all washed off they looked normal again, Summer in particular looked positively radiant but for the hurt look in her hazel eyes.
Julius took a deep breath. This was it. No more lies, no more secrets. “The cat’s out of the bag. I’ve lied to you all since the very moment I first met you all. I didn’t know any of you then, but I do now, and I have hated myself for lying to you. Well that stops right here, right now. My name is not Oll, as you’ve no doubt guessed. It’s Julius. Julius Pius.”
He let it sink in, and Scvott was the first to respond. “Julius…Pius? Does that mean…”
The effect was immediate. They all backed away from him, even Summer. Wearily he gestured to them. “Bloody hell, you’re better than that. I’m the same bloody person who fought with you these last thirty days. Nothing has changed. Nothing.”
They reversed their steps, but now they were treating him differently, like he was on a pedestal high above them. He had always known that this would be how they would treat him if they found out, and he hated that.
“That means you’re from Terra, you weren’t just visiting it.” Summer stated flatly.
“My birth certificate has me as a native of Calth, but I’ve lived on Terra since I was two. Until recently, I attended Imperator High there. That’s why I called Ahriman professor, he taught Warp Studies there. What I said about Terra before, all that is true. Terra is a paradox, on the one hand the symbol of the new Imperium, on the other a place of sharp divides between the haves and the have nots. And there are no seas, no forests, just different shades of black, grey and brown. Your planet is more beautiful by far, and I would rather live here than on Terra any day.”
"What the hell are you doing on Seadelant?"
“I spoke the truth before; I was on my way to Calth. Not because I live there, but because that’s where my mother lies. She died shortly after I arrived on Terra, and dad took her ashes back to Calth to be buried. I stayed with Lord and Lady Guilliman while he was gone.” He almost regretted saying that when he saw the looks on their faces. He was brutally reminded how different his former life was to theirs. He had been brought up alongside the best and brightest, and had known all the Primarchs since he was small. No-one else could lay claim to that, yet here it was more of a curse than a blessing.
“So, the shooting on Terra, you weren’t just there, you were involved with it?” Flynn blurted out.
“Yes, to my eternal shame, yes. Surely you all know what happened to me, the news travelled fast from Terra. Lady Morticia, she’s like a sister to me, all of them are. I took her shooting hard. We all did. We all coped in different ways, some worse than others.” Rem. whenever he thought of the shooting and its casualties, it always came down to her. It was for her he had sought the answers that he hoped would soothe her wounded soul, answers that simply got him into even worse trouble and solved nothing. “I wanted answers, real ones, and so I took the direct approach and sought those answers myself. And thanks to that, I was nearly killed. We were nearly killed.”
He had finally addressed the Valuphant in the room, the thing which affected him, and by extension Summer, the most. Dyllion was the first to openly state it.
"You're really dating Isis Lupercal? Summer, I hate to say it but you are fucked." She threw a withering glare at him, but Dyllion was right. Her father Horus was well known for his temper when his blood is up, and Julius knew very well she had inherited that. He had no idea how she would take what had happened to him, or if she would understand the strains and stresses which had led him to make that fateful decision, and the last thing he wanted was for anyone else to have to suffer for his mistakes, least of all Summer. The others caught his expression, and Scvott cleared his throat. “We, um, we are going to leave you two in peace. You obviously need to discuss a few things. Come with me guys.” They hastily shuffled off and vanished into the shower, leaving Julius and Summer alone. She broke the silence first.
“The girlfriend you were talking about…that was Lady Lupercal?”
“Yes. What I said about her? That was the truth, every last word of it.” he held his head in his hands, took a deep breath. “Living with them, hell, dating one of them can be a bloody nightmare at times. I said I love her, and I do. But now I’ve come to love you as well, and I don’t know what to do about it. Hell, I’m a seventeen year old caught up in something beyond my control, and I feel so helpless.”
She came closer, and sat opposite him, but no closer. Finally the last thing left unaddressed, the biggest thing to her.
“You know Him. You’ve met Him. All this time, and you’ve never told me.” Her words hit him like bullets, stinging of mistrust and wariness. How could he earn that back? By telling the truth, no matter how harsh.
“Summer, how can I put this? How can I tell you about your God? He is the scariest figure I have ever met. He may well be a god, but He is a harsh and vengeful one when He wants to be. There is ruthless ambition and a molten core of violence at the Emperor’s heart, and if He wants something, nothing will stop Him from getting it. His chastisement for what I did in the Petitioner’s city was the worst experience that has ever happened to me, and that includes everything that has happened here. Fighting Orks is one thing, being verbally beaten down by the Emperor something else.” He couldn’t keep the hurt from his voice now, the feeling of utter powerlessness he had felt as the Emperor had pronounced judgement, feeling the awful finality of every word. “Honestly, I wish never to set eyes on Him again, to spend the rest of my life never having to see His fury. None of this is what you want to hear, but I trust you, more than I trust myself.”
He took a deep breath, hoping to curb the tide of bad feels coming from within him. “I don’t know what I’m going to do when all this is over, my life is a mess. I thought I knew where my life was going to go, the path I had laid out for myself. Four years at the Imperial War Academy, followed by the Imperial Army. The Geno, or the Janizars, one of the Old Hundred regiments. My father was a common soldier, but he wanted me to be more. But I’ve seen the real face of battle, and I don’t know if I can handle it again. I’ve been thrust into this life prematurely. My best friend Andrew, Lady Khan’s boyfriend also has a Military career in mind but he wants to become a Warrant Officer, so not frontline. But for me, frontline is in the blood. Surely you know the saying, ‘to do a Pius’.”
She nodded. To do a Pius, army and navy slang for performing an insane feat of heroics, which either got you a medal, or got you killed. Back on Terra, he had been sick and tired of people pointing it out to him.
“But now I don’t know if I can go through with it. I want to live up to my father’s name, but can I face this again? Can I go out there, fight, kill and watch my men and my friends die around me? Can I face that?”
“Julius.” She said, wrapping her tongue round the unfamiliar name. “Two days ago, I told you that you are the bravest man I have ever met. That hasn’t changed. If anyone can overcome what we have experienced since the Sky ran red with foes, it is you. You joined the CDA to help us on this planet fight our foes. You could have fled with the rest of the offworlders, but you didn’t, you stayed and fought beside us. I can’t imagine anyone making a better officer and a leader than you. Don’t worry about what will happen to us after this war is over, it doesn’t matter who you’re dating. If she feels even half of what I feel for you, she will forgive you this one misstep. And don’t worry about me either, despite what you’ve said, the Emperor Protects, and he will protect me if his granddaughter decides to come after me. Being honest, I’m surprised you were able to keep to your vows while dating Lady Lupercal. From what I’ve seen, she’s incredibly attractive. She could make me bat for the other team.” Julius could barely hide a smile at her words, and she came over, sat down beside him and wrapped her arms around him.
“It’s alright; you guys can come out now.” She called. The shower door opened and the others trooped out. Julius broke from Summer’s embrace, stood up and turned to face them.
“Look all of you. I’m the same bastard you beat at arm wrestling Dyllion, you taught how to strip a gearbox Flynn, you gave sage advice to after he recklessly risked his life Scvott. I didn’t tell you who I was so I could avoid all this, and I’m telling you now, don’t treat me any different because my father was some war hero and I happened to learn alongside the royal daughters.”
Julius opened his mouth to say more, but Summer cut in. “He’s not the only one with a secret. I’ve never told you who I am either. Lantsfalle. Summer Lantsfalle.”
Now it was her turn to be stared at in shock. Dyllion was the first one to speak. “You mean, the Lantsfalles who want to demolish half the city to install those Tsiolkovsky towers? Those rich bastards who have bled half the segmentum with their financial dickery and trade exploitation?” now they were staring at her with distaste. Julius reached over for her, but she shrugged him off and replied. “Yes, and they are bastards. They have no ethics and no morals either. They disowned me; cast me out because of something I did, which had nothing to do with them. To them, I’m already dead.” She didn’t go into specifics, but their attitudes immediately mellowed.
“I can tell you some stories of life on Terra if you’d like.” Julius added.
The others all clustered around him, and Julius launched into the story of the time Lady Furia lost her cool and because of it changed her attitude…
Tales of the Daughters
After finishing the story of Lady Furia with how she was now going to college with Isis, a shocking change if ever there was one, Flynn asked the inevitable question: the shooting. Though it was one topic Julius had been hoping to avoid, he duly obliged, telling them how he had heard of the shooting on the hoverbus omitting that he was returning from religious services at the time, and now he was talking about the meeting they had after visiting Morticia after she had regained consciousness in the bar within the Imperial Palace. He was constantly getting interrupted, but he kind of liked answering all their questions. It hit him that this was the first time he had ever talked about his life on Terra to anyone outside of his immediate circle, to anyone who hadn’t been there with him.
“So anyway, I was talking with Andrew about enlistment…”
“Who?” Flynn interrupted. It was always either Flynn or Scvott. Dyllion was as silent as always, and Summer wore a smile as she sat beside him, keeping him company as he spoke.
“Andrew Hanover. He’s Lady Hana’s companion and my closest and dearest friend outside the daughters. The first time I met him he pestered me endlessly for my father’s autograph and damn near drove me up the wall. My father was and remains his childhood hero and icon. “We became fast friends after that first misunderstanding, did almost everything together. My first date with Isis was a double date with him and Hana. We signed up together after graduation, he’s going into the Terran Praetors while I’m going to the Imperial Military Academy for four years, and coming out a fully fledged officer ready to serve the Imperium.
“What about the other boyfriends? How do you see them?” Scvott asked.
“I’m not close to all of them, as true friends I count only Andrew and Jake Seager. Before you ask, Jake is with Lady Venus and there are few people who are more honest or trustworthy than him. I respect him highly, and hope that he and Lady Venus find happiness together. As for the others, I try to remain on good terms with them. To be honest, some of them see me the same way they see my father and treat me as such. Dad never wanted to be held up as a hero, he’s said many times the real heroes are the ones who never came back, but the people needed a human hero as the crusade dragged on, and it turned out to be him.” Julius sighed. He knew how much his father disliked the way he had been placed upon a pedestal, and when they acted the same way around Julius, he got really mad. “Now, where was I…?”
“Sorry to interrupt, but you’ve grown up alongside them, the Daughters I mean. You are the only person outside the Imperial family who knows them intimately. What are they like, really?” That, surprisingly enough, was Summer. He could sense the hidden meaning in her words; she wanted to know the truth about them. She had a hunger for the truth about those she venerated, even when that truth was not what she’d expected or sometimes wanted. It was amazing how quickly his story had been sidetracked, but Julius was fine with that. He didn’t really want to tell them about the Petitioner’s City anyway, that was a memory that was still too raw.
“You really want to know? Fine. Isis and Furia I’ve already told you about. Lady Roberta, Lord Guilliman’s daughter is my closest friend amongst the daughters; we’ve known each other ever since I first came to Terra as a toddler. Even after Isis and I became a couple I’ve remained on close terms with her, which came in handy whenever the two have had yet another of their school power struggles and I had to act as the peacemaker.” He chuckled. The relationship between the two of them could only be described as a friendly rivalry. They respected each other immensely, but that didn’t stop them fighting over differences in plans or opinions, and when that happened it was up to Julius to prevent it from blowing out of all proportion.
“If I had to pick one of the daughters to be the sister I never had, it would be Lady Remilia hands down. She’s plucky and stubborn with a genuine smile and a peal of laughter never far from her lips. Only Lady Petra truly dislikes her, and Petra’s a stone-hearted bitch at the best of times. Though to be fair Petra does like my father, she painted that portrait of him he likes so much.” His voice faltered. “At least, that’s how Remilia used to be. She took the shooting hard, harder than most of us.” It had been her cutting which had spurred him to try and take action, along with the unprovoked assault on his priest in the backlash that followed the shooting. His father had taught him that the best soldiers were those who could see what others could not, the low ridge that would stop a bullet, the hollow which would provide the perfect place for an ambush, the rough ground which could be hiding mines. His father had that gift in spades, and had passed it on to him. Remilia had tried to hide it, but all the signs were there. The long sleeves, the way Faith had looked at her and how Freya was acting around her, and he had put all the pieces together. He had felt that if he could find a solid answer for why their sheltered lives had come undone, why a fanatic with a gun had gotten so far and done so much damage, it would soothe her damaged soul and she would stop hurting herself and by extension her family. In the end, his actions achieved nothing of the sort, and it had been up to others to help her. He doubted she ever knew that he knew about her cutting, that his actions were in part trying to find answers for her. He swiftly moved on, unwilling to dwell on that topic.
“Lady Faith Aurelian and I share a lot of common interests, a love of Ancient Terran History for one. We were dating for a while, she was my first girlfriend.”
“Isn’t she the religious one? Why would you want to date her?” Scvott said. Summer caught Julius’s eye and gave him a secret smile. They both knew better. “Don’t judge a book by its cover Scvott, and don’t judge Faith either.” Julius answered. “She may be nosy, bigoted and self-assured, but she is very observant, she can be highly charitable and she has a bright mind. We may have disagreed on certain things, which are what ended our relationship in the end, but I have great respect for her and hope we remain friends.”
“Yeah, yeah, but what about Lord Fulgrim’s daughter? She’s the really attractive one right? At least that’s what I’ve heard.” Flynn interjected. It would be Flynn. He was one of those types who liked to rank the daughters, who was the most attractive and the like. Julius could never see the point in that; they were all equally good, just in different ways. Then again, he did know them all intimately, so he was biased to an extent. He audibly sighed. “That’s what everyone hears, and it’s true. Lady Victoria is sex, personified. If I had a throne for every time a boy became…stimulated around her, I’d be a lot richer than I am now.”
“What about you? Don’t you find her attractive as well?”
“What? No! I don’t think of her that way; she’s like family to me. That’s just plain wrong.” He wasn’t ignorant of her…’assets’, but her spoilt and haughty attitude always got to him, and no matter how stunning she was on the surface, what lies within is of equal importance. “She’s a big tease, but she’s not nearly as slutty as you or for that matter anyone else would think. Hell, all the daughters are misunderstood. The public think one thing, when I know for a fact that is completely wrong.” Flynn didn’t appreciate Julius’s sentiment, he scowled that he hadn’t revealed any juicy details of Victoria’s ‘escapades’.
“Lady Khan's a fighter, always will be. She's the only one of them I remember seriously thinking about military service, with the Scars Legion Auxilia of course. She has a short temper, too. We didn’t get on so well when she was younger, I got a fair few hidings from her because I was one of the only ones who were brave or stupid enough to stand against her. The moment Andrew and her started dating though, she became a whole lot nicer to me. I’d like to think we’re on good terms now. Lady Freya’s a bit…wild, and her animal act unnerves me somewhat. That way she looks at me with those fangs and those eyes, it’s like staring into the eyes of a half-tame beast that will savage you as soon as nuzzle you.” He hadn’t stared that feeling with anyone, not even Isis. He felt she would laugh at him if he ever revealed it to her. “Ladies Angela and Miranda are good friends, but their powers scare me to be honest. Being able to peer into someone and see everything inside them seems a gross violation to me, though both have been nothing but nice ever since I first met them. It’s a matter of taste, and I don’t let it get in the way whenever I’m spending time with them.” It felt liberating, after lying for so long to be utterly honest about his relations felt like a release, and by the way the others were looking at him expectantly, they seemed to like hearing him.
Dyllion finally said something. “You were quite negative towards Lady Morticia when you were being interviewed by the SBC. Is she on your less liked list?”
Julius knew one of them would bring that up, and at last he could try and practise what he would have to say to her personally. “No, I’m as fond of her as any of the others. It’s just that I don’t see her that often, the least of any of the daughters. She’s shut away most of the time. And I was a bit bitter when they were interviewing me. Before I go off to the IMA I’ll have to apologise to her for what I said, before her father kills me.” He was not smiling at that. Lord Mortarion was as grim and humourless as death, and Julius didn’t want him to be angry at him, not at all.
“Now there’s two I think you’d all like, Ladies Farah and Venus. They could almost be twins for their shared love of machines and building things.”
“Isn’t Farah the one with metal hands?” Flynn interjected.
Julius smiled at him. “Yes. You and Farah would get on like a house on fire were you ever to meet, she’s as enthusiastic about engines and machines as you are. I can see you two discussing the Vulcanor 16 Twin-Coupled Multi-Burn engine as enthusiastically as I’d discuss the Ullanor Campaign. My friend Johor has harboured a secret passion for Farah since he first met her; I wish he would damn well man up and tell her how he feels.”
“Johor? That’s not an Imperial name.” Scvott pointed out.
“He’s not Imperial at all, he’s from the Interex. He looks like a Human-Eldar Hybrid, inhumanly handsome but for his bat-like ears. Most judge him based solely on his appearance, but beneath that is as nice a nearly human being as ever existed. Now Lady Venus…”
The sound of heavy boots came up the corridor, instantly shutting Julius up. Professor Ahriman was returning. They all stood up as he barged into the room, his helmet removed. Peering over them, he announced. “The Liberation forces will be landing within as few hours, enough time for me to devise a way of dealing with what you saw. Now tell me all about the Daemon, and what it was doing.”
We Will Meet Them Head On
Ahriman patiently stood there as Julius and the woman, Summer told him about what they saw. His mind turned the revelation over and over in his mind as he pondered the right course of action. He knew the form of the Daemon; it was a servant of the aspect of the Primordial Annihilator called the Great Changer, the one who twisted the strings of fate and meddled with the lives of men. No wonder his future sight had been impaired all these weeks.
When they were finished they watched him anxiously as he stood there, deep in thought. If he hoped to defeat it, he would have to know why it was here, what it wanted. Harvesting souls for its dark master was one possibility, and if so it would flee rather than stand and fight him. But that seemed the most unlikely. Who go to so much effort over such meagre morsels? Second: it could be trying to manipulate the course of the war so that the Orks win. That would damage the Imperium, and any damage to the Imperium would be a victory for its dark masters. But surely it knew that any Ork victory would be entirely temporary, sooner or later the Imperium would respond and the planet would be liberated or reconquered. Third: it could be trying to summon more of its foul kin to this world. But what would warrant the Daemons unleashing a full scale incursion this far from either the Eye, or the Maelstrom?
Then it hit him.
He’d almost clean forgotten the others were present; such was his intensity of thought. “Seadelant is one of the calmest areas of the entire of the Great Ocean, and is a vital trade hub as well. If this planet were taken from us, it would be a blow. If it were turned into an enemy base, it would be a disaster. And if it were to fall forever from our grasp, and allow the Primordial Annihilator access to material space, Emperor knows how it would end. The Daemon wants to unleash more of its kind, as a first stage to a complete conquest of this planet and it’s transformation into a hellworld, caught between the immaterium and the real universe in perpetual torment.”
Only Julius understood what he meant, and his expression said it all. The others looked from him to Ahriman, dismay clouding their own features as they saw the matching grim expressions coming from Julius and Ahriman.
“That is why it was in the Defence Laser bunker. If it could re-activate the Plasma Reactor using the power of the Great Ocean, it could stabilize a Warp Rift, a way into the material world for all manner of Void Beasts. Once that’s done, nothing short of intervention by the Grey Knights could save Seadelant.” As far as he knew, there were no Grey Knights among the Liberation fleet forces. The Thousand Sons were a close second, but there were only two fellowships, two thousand warriors, not enough to stop an endless tide of Daemons.
“The Daemon has to be destroyed, banished to the darkest depths of the Great Ocean from whence it came before its schemes can come to fruition. The Liberation forces will distract the Orks, and I will sally forth with the Caorst Charxers to the Bunker, and there confront and defeat this Daemon.” “But what about us? You can’t leave us here!” Julius exclaimed.
“No I can’t. That’s why you’re all coming with me. You know the city better than I do; you’ve lived in it these past few weeks. Just stay behind me, and I’ll make sure nothing gets to you.” Flickers of anger clouded their auras. They had fought alone for weeks, and obviously resented Ahriman’s implications about their ability to fight. He moved to defuse that.
“You have proven yourselves a hundred times over with your actions in the occupied outer city. There will be medals for all of you when the battle is won. I just don’t want you to have fought all this time, and then get yourselves killed at the hour of victory.”
“Professor, ser, you’ve spoken with the Liberation Fleet. Who are coming to liberate us?” Julius was unsure how to address him, and Ahriman sympathised. He wasn’t sure what he was anymore. Was he an academic still, or was he back to being one of the Emperor’s warriors? He would have to search for the answer once this was done.
“Elements of four Legions are inbound even as I speak. The Sons of Horus, my brothers in the Thousand Sons, the Salamanders and Death Guard. Lord Mortarion is leading the Liberation Fleet in person. Not who I expected.” Ahriman carefully kept the distaste out of his voice. Mortarion disliked sorcery, Lord Magnus and the XVth Legion in equal measure, and Ahriman was apprehensive of having to deal with him. Strangely, Julius’ aura flashed with alarm at mention of Mortarion.
“Ser, have you seen the propaganda broadcasts?” he asked. Ahriman shook his head.
“Well, I might have said something in one which could be construed as…insulting, to Morticia. I was a bit bitter at the time, and wasn’t thinking properly, but Lord Mortarion might think otherwise and I don’t want him angry at me.”
“We’ll burn that bridge when we get to it, as the Wolves would say. I’ll get you some proper armour and uniforms from the armoury and you can meet me outside once you’re done. Not long now, today the war will be won.”
“God willing.” Julius whispered under his breath. Ahriman let the comment pass and he led them down to the armoury, leaving them there as he headed outside.
The Graf was standing at the doorway, peering up at the sky. She couldn’t see anything, but the hope was there. He wanted to detach his body of light and see the carnage in orbit with his own eyes, but he wouldn’t dare risk it with a Daemon around. It could easily kill his mistflesh, and destroy him before he could fight back.
The moment she heard the clank of Ahriman’s armour, she turned to him. “Why haven’t you launched? I know salvation is incoming, but we could aid them immensely if we launch now, kill as many of the foe as possible before the legions land.” “Graf, that is now impossible. The Resistance fighters came with news. There is a Daemon on Seadelant.”
He could see the shock spreading across her face, and felt quietly vindicated. She didn’t know half of what he knew, but she knew enough to know what that could mean.
“I aim to destroy the Daemon myself, and so I will lead the Caorst Charxers into the outer city. The Legion forces will distract the Orks long enough for me to find and kill the Daemon.” His words were an ultimatum. He was leading them forth, and there was nothing she could do to stop him. She realised that as soon as he spoke, and the way her shoulders slumped told him she was beat. Daemons were a step too far for her.
“Order the Caorst Charxers to mobilize, and prepare for battle. At long last, we take the fight to the enemy.” He smiled as a bright flash lit up the sky, one of the enemy Orbital Roks being destroyed most likely, but there was a dark feeling within him. The Daemon must know now that he was coming for it, what schemes would it have in place to stop him?
The first faint plasma contrails began to paint the morning skies with strips of colour, line after line etched into the air as more and more fell from the heavens. Ahriman knew they were Deathstorm Drop Pods, and that the first one would land in exactly forty-eight seconds several hundred yards west of one of the Rok Fortresses. The first troop carrying Drop Pods were ten minutes behind, and the Stormbirds, Thunderhawks, Storm Eagles and Army Landers were another ten minutes behind them. Ahriman had linked himself to the Legion vox net so he could monitor their progress, because he couldn’t unshackle his mind and observe them directly. He hadn’t yet spoken with any of the Legion Leaders, but he knew his old friend Phosis T’kar was leading the Thousand Sons force. He looked forward to seeing him again; he had been offworld working with the Silent Sisterhood while Ahriman was on Prospero.
Around him the Caorst Charxers impatiently waited for the order to move. They had taken his order to heart, the troops eager to spearhead the counterattack and take the fight to the foe after so many weeks of inactivity. The remaining two Baneblades idled at the head of the attack column, followed by the Leman Russ and Malcador tanks and the mechanised companies in their Chimeras. They would have to wait for the Legions to land, charging headlong against the entire Ork horde would be suicide. Once the Orks were distracted with the Legion forces at their throats, then he would strike.
Ahriman had commandeered a Chimera to carry him and Julius’ resistance band through the city, and he stood on top of it observing the sky through a pair of Magnoculars. His eyesight may have been many times better than a normal human, but even that eyesight needed help at times.
Beneath him, Julius and his friends were clustered on the Chimeras rear ramp, talking quietly with one another about trivial things, distracting each other from the fact they were about to go into the belly of the beast. They had new uniforms and new sets of armour. Summer, the woman in particular was much more comfortable now that she was when he had first seen her, the armour fitted much better now.
“Ser, when are we going?” Julius asked from below. He’d decided that Ahriman was ‘sir’, not ‘professor’, which suited Ahriman fine. He hardly felt like an academic at the moment. “When the Legion forces land, not before. The last thing we want is to be swamped with Orks. We need to get to the bunker fast, before the Legions kill enough Orks to allow the Daemon to achieve its master’s dark goals.” Julius nodded, suppressing the fear in his aura as he turned back to his companions. Ahriman didn’t blame him for feeling that way, he knew no fear, but he felt apprehension all the same. The Daemon would know they were coming for it, and it would be prepared. But it was the only way to ensure this world wasn’t turned into a hell-world, half in and half out of the Great Ocean where Daemons could roam freely and strike at the wider Imperium.
The Caorst Sous-lieutenant marched up and saluted in the almost half hearted Caorst way. They appeared incredibly sloppy, but Ahriman knew they could fight as hard as anyone. “All troops present and correct my lord. We’re ready to move out at your command.” In the distance a series of muffled explosions rang out. The first Deathstorm had fired its rockets. Soon more and more faint reports of weapons rang out as more and more Deathstorms unleashed their fury into the Orks. Ahriman couldn’t help but smile.
The last Deathstorm touched down, and the sudden cessation of streaking drop pods in the sky felt like the curtain drop at the end of act one, the tension rising as they waited for act two to start. Checking his helmet chronometer, Ahriman knew the first troop drop pod would be landing exactly four minutes and eight seconds from now, and it would be carrying Astartes from the fifth company of the Sons of Horus, under the command of ‘Little Horus’ Aximand of the Mournival. And yet this knowledge wouldn’t allow him to watch as the Drop Pod struck the surface, hear the explosive bolts blowing open the doors and see the Astartes in Sea Green armour unleashing the Warmaster’s fury upon the foe.
He cursed the Daemon for inhibiting the free movement of his body of light. Extending his mind only went so far; he wanted to see the Legions cutting into a foe like a scythe through grass and bringing the Emperor’s vengeance. But if he dared leave his flesh he risked opening his soul to attack, an attack he could not defend against. Many of his brothers had been killed by Daemons when they had tried to scry out the foes with their subtle bodies, Ahriman knew the risk.
“Not long now.” He whispered.
The War in the Air
The kiss of the upper atmosphere shook the Stormbird as it tore down towards the landing zone. Nathaniel Garro of the Death Guard felt the craft vibrating around him, grateful for the restraint harness that held him fast to his cage seat. Libertas, his famed greatsword sat belted at his hip and there was nothing to do but wait until the Stormbird touched down and the assault began. This was one of the most stressful parts of the fight, as there was nothing he could do until the ship landed; he was helpless if something went wrong with the Stormbird while it was still in the air. He slowed his breathing and cleared his mind of all distractions, feeling a warm and pleasant surge fill his body as his armour prepared his metabolism for the imminent battle. Around him, the hulking forms of his best first company veterans sat, waiting for the order to fight. He had been first captain for nearly five hundred years, ever since Captain Typhon had been killed by that Jorgall monster during the purge of the bottle world several centuries before the end of the Crusade. The rank, second only to the Primarch Himself still filled him with pride, pride that the last of the Dusk Raiders was so trusted to be made the Primarch’s red right hand. He had more or less led the Legion for the past eighteen years, but he was happy to delegate that responsibility back to whom it truly belonged.
“Steel your souls my brothers. I want a clean and fast deployment. I want it so sharp the Emperor himself would applaud its perfection!” He took a breath as the standby alert began to wail. “Today the Primarch leads us, and we will make him proud to do so! For Mortarion and Terra!”
‘Mortarion and Terra!’ Garro heard Veteran Sergeant Aron’s rough baritone leading the chorus of assent. His voice reminded him of Sergeant Hakur, now long dead. Everyone he had known was long dead. Decius, Temeter, Voyen, Rahl, Sender, even Grulgor his former rival, all were now lost to time. He was the last of the old Legion. He disliked the term ‘old ninety’ as it sounded patronising and he refused all exultation, but he couldn’t avoid the fact that out of the ten thousand Dusk Raiders who had left Terra, he was the only one left, the only one who still remembered their name and mantra, the red right arm of the Emperor.
That abruptly reminded him of why the Primarch now led them into battle after so many years, what had motivated him to take up the Manreaper and the Lantern again. In some ancient cultures the shedding of blood was a cleansing act, and Lord Mortarion needed to purge the rage from his system, after what had happened with his daughter. Garro had been on Barabus when he had heard the news, and he had immediately sent the condolences of the Legion to their lord and master. It was as much a wound to the Legion as a whole as it was to the lady Morticia, and though they could do nothing to the one responsible they could take out their anger on the Greenskins below. Though they were mindless Xenos, Garro felt a sliver of pity for them. At the briefing, Lord Mortarion had simmered with anger, anger Garro knew he felt for the one called Keiter. Keiter was beyond his reach, but these Orks weren’t and they would taste his wrath.
Suddenly a near impact shook the Stormbird and the sound of shrapnel pinged of its flanks. Garro pulled himself to his feet and moved down the spinal aisle of the Stormbird, clutching onto the low, overhead handrails and he went. He nodded to the Death Guard Veterans in their Mk IV or Terminator Plate as they impassively sat waiting for the order to go. Though he was first captain he didn’t usually wear Terminator plate, it was too slow and bulky for his tastes. The bird rocked and shuddered as another near miss shook it.
He reached the cockpit section and wrenched open the hatch. Two flight officers sat back to back, facing wall panel consoles, and beyond them two pilot servitors lay, hardwired into forward-facing helm positions in the cone. The cockpit was dark, apart from the coloured glow of the instrumentation and the sheen of light coming in through the forward slit-ports. “What the hell is firing on us?” he demanded to one of the flight officers.
“Gunship sir, Savage Class. It has already downed two Thunderhawks, a Stormbird and an Army Lander, as well as several Thunderbolt fighters. We’re trying evasive manoeuvres.”
“Savage Class? That’s frigate sized! How the hell did it sneak up on us?” He’d seen them in action during the Crusade; the Savage Gunship’s short-ranged but incredibly powerful Heavy gunz were more than capable of ripping into a cruiser with vicious ease. Even a glancing hit from one of them would vaporise the Stormbird, and that was ignoring its lighter weapons.
“I don’t know sir; it must have followed us through the atmosphere. If we can hold on, we will get low enough so it can’t follow us without risking crashing into the ground.”
“But what about the rest of the transport stream? That ship could pick off our transports one by one as they come in.” Garro thought for a second. The safety of the Primarch and the rest of the transport stream was of top priority. Even his own life mattered not if this Gunship had the capability of killing the Primarch’s Stormbird. “Pull the ship up. We’re going to lure the Gunship away from the Transport stream.”
“But sir, we could easily get shot down if we do that.”
“Are you disobeying my orders?” he reached for Libertas. It was only a bluff, but the flight officer fell for it.
“No First Captain. Diverting course now.” He felt the Stormbird lurch as it broke away from the transport stream and flew straight at the Gunship.
“Can our missiles dent that thing?” he asked.
“I don’t know First Captain. Shall we find out?”
Smiling, Garro left the cockpit and went to address his warriors. Briefly he told them of the danger, and of what they were doing.
“Are we going to board the gunship?” Veteran Sergeant Aron asked. Garro hadn’t thought of that. He wanted to fight on the ground, alongside his liege-lord and gene sire. But that hardly seemed likely now. He would fight and die up here, where the sky meets the void. He opened the vox-link to the flight officer. “Can you get me a full scan and readout of the Gunship?”
“On the way sir. Check your Helmet HUD.”
Garro pulled on his Mk IV Helmet, and after a few seconds was rewarded as gun-camera footage was beamed onto his field of vision. Before them the Savage Gunship flew, an ugly brute, boxy, blocky with no aesthetics to it at all. The flat bow was full of massive cannons, most of which appeared to be salvaged Imperial weapons from the space stations destroyed at the very outset of the invasion. Those cannons were made to crack the armour of a capital ship, if they hit the Stormbird there would be nothing left. The ship was turning, trying to get a lock on the twisting and dodging Stormbird, its secondary and flak batteries occasionally firing to no effect. Garro breathed a sigh of relief. It was no longer going after the transport stream. Their distraction had worked. Now they just had to destroy the brute. He had a hundred veterans behind him, and his mind raced as he thought of a way they could board and destroy the Gunship.
“First and second Terminator squads will spearhead the boarding action, push on the ships reactor. Fifth and sixth Veteran squads will come with me, hit the bridge. Third and fourth Terminator will hit the engines, seven through ten Veteran will hold the breach so we can escape, raid deeper in to keep the Orks distracted and unaware of our true intentions. Between us we should be able to send the thing down in flames. The Stormbird will harass the ship as we fight, keep it occupied until we can blow it. Remember to activate your boot magnets; we don’t want anyone falling off the ship.” A chorus of fists smacking against plate told Garro they had heard and understood his orders. Other legions would have made a song and dance about receiving orders, but they were Death Guard; they did not need any more than that.
“Use the missiles to make a breach in the upper outer hull so we can have access.” He commanded the pilots. A few seconds passed as the Stormbird manoeuvred into position.
“Missiles away.” The pilot called out. Next second, there was an almighty crash and the entire ship shook so violently Garro was flung off his feet, the vid feed spluttering and dying in his helmet.
“Sir, we’re hit! Major damage to the starboard wing.” The flight officer yelled into the vox.
“Can you keep us flying?” Garro spat as he rose to his feet.
“I can damn well try.” The Stormbird lurched again as it struggled to remain in the air. One thing was for certain, boarding the Gunship would be suicide now, they would have no way off the Gunship with the Stormbird in this state. Garro had a bad feeling the Stormbird wasn’t going to last very long anyway.
“Sir! Unknown contact bearing 037.” The flight officer added yet more fuel to the fire. Was this another Savage? An Onslaught Attack Ship? Something else?
“Radio contact from the unknown ship sir, Imperial channels.”
“Patch me through.” Garro commanded. For a few seconds there was heavy static, and then a voice punched through.
“This is the XVIIIth Legion escort Frigate Iron Tide under the command of Captain Roemer, hailing unknown Legion Stormbird.”
“This is XIVth Legion Stormbird 002, under the Command of First Captain Nathaniel Garro. What are you doing in the high atmosphere?”
“Engaging and destroying that Gunship First Captain. It broke the picket line and wrecked the Night Lords Frigate Black Shroud. We are engaging it as per the Lord Solar Admiral’s orders.”
“Captain, the gunship’s bow batteries will rip your ship in half if they hit you.”
“They won’t hit.” The Captain seemed absurdly confident. Garro checked the Stormbird’s vitals, and came to a grim realisation.
“Additional: our ship has been crippled by enemy fire, can you landing bay cope with a Stormbird?”
“We can try at least. Forward docking bay is yours.” Garro gritted his teeth as the wounded Stormbird limped towards the Frigate Docking bay, the Ork Gunship still sniping at it. All it would take is one hit to finish them off. The frigate loomed large before them, painted in the green and black of the XVIII Legion. Its forward turrets were banging away at the Gunship, return fire impacting against its voids.
After several torturous minutes, the ship screamed into the landing bay; smoke pouring from its shattered wing like blood pumping from a wounded man. Garro winced as the Stormbird searched for a place to land; the Frigate’s landing bay was designed for shuttles and a few escort fighters, not for a massive war engine like a Stormbird. There was precious little space within for it.
Finally the Stormbird touched with a hard slam, lurching as its skids smacked into the deck. The harness restraints disengaged and the warriors scrambled from their cage seats and hastily retrieve their stowed weaponry as the debarking ramp dropped from the rear of the Stormbird. By now smoke was beginning to fill the inside of the transport, and Garro knew the bird was not going to last very much longer.
A damage control team were already outside, pouring foam onto the shattered Stormbird. Garro marched over to their leader, a young Lieutenant.
“Lieutenant, make sure to concentrate your efforts on the starboard engine. The fuel line’s been shattered, and it’s likely to go up.”
The Lieutenant suddenly noticed the towering Astartes standing beside him, and for a moment he was paralysed, before he threw out a snappy salute and swiftly calling orders to his men. The men half ignored his commands until Garro gestured at them, and then they hustled up. The Lieutenant was obviously no combat officer; this must be his first action and the men were ill used to him. He felt a pang of sympathy, when he had become First Captain many of the veterans had resented him until he had proven himself to them. The Lieutenant would have to do the same.
Suddenly an electrical crackle reached Garro’s ears, and he turned to see flames bursting into life inside the Stormbird, forming a barrier which cut the remaining Astartes off from escape.
He turned to find the Lieutenant and see if he could provide any help, but he was gone. He turned again to see the Lieutenant fearlessly running towards the burning Stormbird, a personal extinguisher on his back. Though he was dwarfed by the raging fire, he began blasting away at the barrier of flame inside the hold, holding it back as Garro’s Legion Veterans disembarked past him. The paint on their armour was bubbling from the intense heat, and Garro wondered how the Lieutenant was coping with it in there. His bravery was allowing the slower Terminator Veterans to disembark, and Garro counted them off one by one, until he was certain all one hundred of his men and the pilots were safely off. As he did he saw a series of flashes and knew the Stormbird was about to go up. He turned and ran into the Stormbird. He grabbed the Lieutenant and pulled him out of the Stormbird while yelling.
Next second the Stormbird exploded in a shrieking fireball, blowing the two out of the Stormbird and clear across the docking bay. Several fighters and shuttles were torn apart by the shrapnel from the Stormbird’s fiery demise, and small fires sprouted all over the landing bay. The Lieutenant had been shielded from the blast by Garro, but there were cuts to his face and arms, and the heat of the fire had left his skin burnt. Garro helped him to his feet.
“You...saved me.” He managed to say.
“And by your actions earlier you saved a number of my men. The XIV Legion owes you a debt of honour. I am first Captain Nathaniel Garro, and if I have my way there will be a medal for you and your men for your brave actions here. Come with me.” Garro turned and marched towards the bridge, calling out an order to his men.
“Brothers, aid the damage control teams. We may be down, but by the Emperor we are not yet out of this fight!”
The worst part of any battle was the waiting before it began, the agonising period before you went into the fray. And when your foe was a fugging Daemon, it made the whole experience worse. Julius was twitchy, jumpy. They were about to take a step into the unknown. They had got away from the Daemon last time, but that was last time.
“Oll…Julius, its bloody Julius now isn’t it? Anyway, there’s something up there, too big to be a landing ship. Can you see?” Dyllion’s words brought Julius back to reality. Julius followed Dyllion’s outstretched finger, and sure enough, there was a faint object high above the city.
“Ser, what’s that?” Julius asked, pointing to Dyllion’s faint speck in the sky. Ahriman lifted the magnoculars to his eyes, pointing them at Julius’s mystery object.
“That’s a Legion Frigate, Gladius class. What it’s doing in the high atmosphere is beyond me, but it must have something to do with the Legion landing forces. Any minute now.” Within a few minutes Ahriman’s words came true and the skies were filled with fighters, bombers and Landers. Thunderhawks in the olive and white of the Death Guard and the crimson of the Thousand Sons jostled with sea green Stormbirds of the Sons of Horus. Huge Titan landers and bulk Army haulers joined the Legion ships plummeting to earth. Julius had never seen a more spectacular sight. Beyond the walls the call of battle raged, the distant roar of thousands of small arms and the crash of artillery. The Orks were in for it, at long last.
Ahriman clambered back into the Chimera, but left the top hatch open and he stood up in it. He gestured at the others, who swiftly clambered in after him. The back ramp hissed shut behind them. From outside, they could hear the sounds of all the troops mounting up, swiftly drowned out by the roar of engines starting up. “This is it then?” Scvott asked. Next second the powerplant on their Chimera powered up, rendering speech impossible. The answer was already around him. Ahriman said two words, barely audible above the roar of the engine.
“Driver advance!” the call echoed up along the column. The clatter of tracks rose up as the lead Baneblades lurched forth, the column trailing behind them. Ahead, the massive fortress doors opened with a moan of hydraulics for the first time in twenty three days. They were on their way. Back to the bunker, back to the Daemon.
Summer reached over and took Julius’s hand, ignoring Flynn’s rolled eyes or Dyllion’s perpetual scowl. He couldn’t say anything to her, but this was enough.
For several minutes the convoy ground onwards. Julius could hear noting above the roar of the engine, and he was more focused on holding on for dear life. He’d been in a Chimera before on Terra, but not one driving through a ruined city. It jerked and bounced until Julius though his brains had been mashed inside his skull and he was covered in bruises. He had no idea how far they’d gone, how far they had to go, what the situation was like outside. Lord Ahriman stood rock still with his head poked out of the top hatch, commanding the battle. Julius had no wish to distract him.
Suddenly there was an explosion loud enough to cut over the engine noises. Julius reached for the nearest vision slit, but could see little through the fogged armourglass. A few seconds later another massive explosion came up, and then another. Julius’s curiosity finally overcame his reluctance to distract Ahriman.
“Ser, what is going on out there?”
“Bomb Squigs.” Ahriman muttered as he opened the vox and barked out a warning. A few seconds later, another muffled explosion announced the demise of yet another tank. The roar came up even above the engine growls and the squeal of tracks, a roar which though he was familiar with it, still chilled Julius to the bone.
It was followed by the chatter of Ork weapons, and a few screams from the Caorst troopers caught up in the charge.
“Ser?” Julius asked.
“Orks. Hundreds of them, maybe thousands. The bastards were waiting for us, setting an ambush” he opened the vox. “This is Lord Ahriman; watch your nine, incoming Orks.” The Chimera stopped dead and the back ramp hissed open.
“Stay here.” He commanded as he dashed out. For a few minutes they sat there, watching troops dismount and rush into battle through the open hatch. More and more streamed past, as the crack of lasfire and the roar of battle cannons grew and intensified. Julius could see they needed help, and he reached down and unbuttoned his holster. “We have to go and help; they will need every man and woman who can handle a Lasgun.”
“The Astartes lord commanded that we stay here, and you may be the son of the bravest man who ever lived but I am not and don’t want him yelling at me once this is done.” Scvott was still wedded to authority even now. Julius didn’t think he would ever learn.
“Suit yourself.” Julius got up and dashed from the Chimera, drawing his pistol as he did so. He did not need to look to know Summer was right behind him, and Flynn behind her. The situation did not look good. Orks were pouring from the building and side streets, meeting the Caorst troopers in a storm of lasfire and bullets. Already the ground was carpeted in Ork and Caorst dead, and several pyres showed where tanks had been brewed up. Once the sight of all those dead humans would have made Julius sick, but not anymore. Now he gave them no more attention than he would were they the corpses of rats or dogs. It still felt unnatural to feel that way, and he knew he would have a lot of questions for his father when he returned to Terra. If he returned to Terra.
He saw an Ork about to throw a stick grenade and shot it through the head. He threw himself flat beside a dismounted squad and added to the firepower they were putting out. None of the Caorst troopers seemed to notice him, but they had bigger things to worry about. The Orks were throwing themselves against the Convoy time and time again, wave after wave of green bodies. The urban terrain hampered the armour as they tried to bring their heavy weapons to bear.
Another howling mob of Orks burst out of a side street and rushed towards them. The Chimera’s turret Multilaser and the squad Heavy Bolter tore into them, scattering them. Julius felt that this might be the end of it; the Orks had been driven back. Then he saw it.
“Holy fug,” he whispered.
This time there was no end to this wave, it seemed every Ork left in the city were rushing the convoy at the same time. Was the Daemon responsible? Had it ‘informed’ the Orks of the threat and was it letting them deal with it?
Once again the Imperial forces opened fire, but now it was doing little to stop the onrushing horde. Battle Cannon shells tore holes which were quickly refilled, and Lasgun and heavy bolter fire thinned the ranks but could not stop them.
The front edge of renewed Ork push poured across the last few metres of open ground, losing troops to the sustained rifle volleys at every step. Ten metres, five, two, and still they came. The concussion of the massed Ork charge meeting the Caorst line sent a ripple of shock back through the infantry as the Orks tore into the now vulnerable human soldiers. At range, the Imperials held the advantage, but once the Orks reached close combat, the tide turned in their favour.
Sense departed. Instinct took over. Julius fired his pistol, and saw an Ork’s head spray apart. He stroked with his sword bayonet, and took the top off a skull. Something hit him in the gut. Winded, he wheeled, and eviscerated another Ork with his blade, before blasting a third with his pistol.
Around him the Caorst fought with bayonet and rifle butt, fighting not for victory, but mere survival. Julius had no idea how many Imperials had been killed in that charge, if Summer and Flynn were alright, but he couldn’t let himself worry about them. He couldn’t much help them if he was dead.
A Caorst Caporal was gutted before him by an Ork Nob with a power claw. He sank five shots into it before it finally died. His new uniform was baptised in blood. He had no idea who was winning or losing, but the Orks seemed to have the advantage, and it was growing all the time. If something didn’t happen soon, they would all be swept away. A chain of missiles exploded amongst the Orks, and the endless wave suddenly started to slacken.
“Look!” a Caorst trooper yelled, pointing up. Julius looked up.
Above them hovered the slab-sided form of a Stormeagle gunship, missiles spearing away from the top mounted pods into the Orks. Its boarding ramp was down and a warrior stood upon it. He leapt into the air and hit the ground with a thunderous boom mere metres from the straggling Caorst convoy. Chain-blade whirring, the giant in forest-green levelled his bolt pistol at the nearest Orks.
“Rally! For the freedom of humanity and the glory of Terra!” Like thunderbolts striking the earth, he was joined by others, warriors in green and black bearing the symbol of the snarling drake on their shoulder guards. They roared as one as they set upon the Orks.
The warriors of the XVIII Legion joined the fray, and the tide turned.
The battle didn’t last much longer once the XVIII committed themselves to the fight. The Orks fought hard, but they were no match for the sons of Nocturne. Tactical Support Squads armed with Flamers and Volkite weapons scoured the Orks from the rubble they were concealing themselves in, and assault squads tore apart those Orks who tried to escape. Within a few minutes, the massed Ork assaults were broken and the survivors hounded to destruction as they fled.
Ahriman reviewed these facts as he talked with the Caorst commander, a capitaine colonel named Luc Harcourt. They had lost nine Chimeras, five Russ, three Malcadors and at least four hundred troopers in that fight, every company had suffered heavily. They wouldn’t be able to reach the Bunker on their own now; they would need the help of the Salamanders. As if anticipating his train of thought, the Salamanders leader strode up to Ahriman. He’d seen him tear apart a mob of Nobs on his own, if anyone could get them through it would be this son of the forge.
“Chief Librarian Ahzek Ahriman of the First Fellowship, well met. I am Brother Captain Zichar Ir'Sem, Lord of the Burning Skies, and Brother Captain of the Fourth Great Company.”
“Welcome Brother Captain, your arrival is most timely. The Orks had the convoy pinned, and time is of the essence, so I will not beat about the bush. We need to get to the outer Defence Laser bunker as fast as possible, and we need the help of your warriors to do so.”
“Why there? Surely you should be concentrating your efforts on cleansing the outer city of the Greenskins? That is what we thought you were doing when we saw the Orks pouring on you.”
“Were it anything other than what it is, I would be. But this is something far bigger than mere Orks. There is another force at work here.”Ahriman didn’t want the news to spread, least of all to Mortarion. He didn’t need him accusing Ahriman of bringing the Daemon here with his presence. But if he wanted the Salamanders to aid him, they would have to know. “There is a Daemon here on Seadelant hiding within that bunker, and I must destroy it before whatever foul plan it has comes to fruition.”
Ir'Sem frowned at that piece of news. “We were not informed of any Daemonic presence. How can you be sure?”
“I am Ahzek Ahriman of the Corvidae, of course I’m sure. I have witnesses who can testify they saw the hell-spawn. Don’t inform Lord Mortarion, you know how he sees me and my Legion, I don’t want to give him reason to suspect me to blame for its presence here.”
Ir’Sem stiffened and nodded. “Very well Lord Ahriman, my brothers and I will be proud to lead the way to destroy this Daemon. The Orks won’t be much of a problem; we have just the tool for the job.” Ir'Sem said as a convoy of Salamanders vehicles ground up. Ahriman recognised several Deimos Pattern Predator Infernus, a common and favoured design amongst the Salamanders Legion but the lead vehicle is what caught his interest. It was a standard Leman Russ, but it was very unlike the Caorst ones it was painted in a vivid green, with a scale motif in orange. Its gun was the biggest difference, instead of a Battle Cannon, Demolisher cannon, Vanquisher cannon or Executioner Plasma Cannon it mounted a strange weapon vaguely resembling the Mega-Bolters mounted on some tanks and Titans, or the Bolt Cannon carried by the Avenger Strike Fighter.
“That’s new.” Ahriman remarked.
“Just out of the Magma City’s forges. A new Russ variant specifically for combating the Ork menace. This is its first field test; let’s see if it proves itself up to the challenge.”
The Leman Russ had a Salamander poking out of the Cupola, resting on a pintle-mounted Storm Bolter. A Hunter Killer tube sat beside him. This tank was loaded for bear. The convoy reorganised under Ahriman’s and Ir’Sem’s commands with the Salamanders at the head, supported by the remaining Baneblade and Ahriman’s Chimera. The Caorst were mixed in with the Salamanders to ensure the Marines were on hand to support the human troops. When Ahriman returned to his Chimera, he found Julius, Summer and Flynn drenched in blood and with their weapons drawn sitting outside it. He was hardly surprised, Julius was hardly likely to obey his barked order, and more than his father would have. Julius and Isis shared one big thing in common; they had a lot of their fathers within them and always strived to live up to their father’s legacies. No wonder the two had come together. Ahriman once again looked over the woman, Summer. It didn’t take a psyker to tell that Julius and she had got close. He mentally shrugged. He for one didn’t want to get caught up in this. Let poor Julius have to explain himself to Lady Lupercal once all this was done.
They mounted up, and once again the convoy started moving, grinding on towards the bunker. It wasn’t long before the Orks made their presence felt again.
“Orks to the left!” Ahriman commanded as he felt their psy-field flare. The Russ, he had been informed it was called a Punisher, turned its turret towards the oncoming warband. The Punisher’s cannon roared, an ear splitting scream like a massive saw cutting through metal. Within seconds the entire Ork mob was gone, torn apart in a rain of bullets. The surviving Orks began to chant something in their crude tongue, “Dakka dakka dakka.” They were clearly impressed, even as it slaughtered them.
Several more mobs confronted them, but each suffered the same fate, either mown down by the Punisher, or blasted by the Baneblade and torched by the Infernus Predators. They were barely fifteen minutes drive away from the Bunker, and the Orks were no longer slowing them down. Unlooked for hope blossomed in Ahriman’s twin hearts. They would pull this off, the Daemon would be defeated and the war won. Hope can be treacherous. A faint rumbling, like the first signs of an oncoming earthquake. Ahriman thought little of it, but as it grew and grew he became more concerned, until he opened the vox to the Caorst Sous-lieutenant.
“Do you have any idea what that…” his words were cut off as a massive roar rose up from the other side of the inner wall. It could be only one thing. The Deathstrike was launching, slowly rising on an immense column of flame, the roar drowning out the sounds of battle. Every head turned to watch the sight as it rose, slowly at first but then faster and faster as the chains of gravity were broken. It was a sight straight from the annals of man’s early history, when rockets like that first took man beyond the skies of Terra and into the void beyond. After a few seconds Ahriman snapped back to reality as he realised what that launch meant.
“I will have the Graf’s head for this!” he roared as he opened the vox link and demanded to speak to her immediately.
“Graf, I gave express instructions not to launch! When that thing comes down, half the liberating Legion forces will be wiped out! I imagine Lord Mortarion will be most interested to hear your explanation before he skins you alive.” He roared before she could even get a single word in edgeways.
She stuttered, tried to keep her failing composure as she replied. “My…My Lord, I…I didn’t touch it. We saw a suspicious individual lurking near it, and next second it launched! We couldn’t do anything to stop it, and the self-destruct mechanism is fused!”
Cursing, he disconnected and turned to Ir’Sem. “Brother-Captain, in less than five minutes that warhead is going to land and everything within a seven kilometre radius will be wiped out. Fortunately for us that one is targeting the Rok fortresses and not the outer city. Fortunate for us, but not for the Legion forces besieging those fortresses. You have access to the Legion network; tell them to evacuate everything from sector D-nine through G-eleven as fast as possible. Hurry!”
Ir’Sem caught Ahriman’s urgency and sent a series of messages to the other Legion Lords. Soon the renewed roar of engines revealed that they had cottoned on to his message. For several minutes the skies were full of Stormbirds and Thunderhawks evacuating the Legion Forces away from the blast zone. They were just in time. A nearly invisible streak betrayed the falling Warhead, and Ahriman braced himself for what would come next. But that would turn out to be something completely different.
The warhead blossomed into a half-sphere of violet light, everything touched by the light consumed by the warp.
“Vortex Warhead.” Ahriman whispered as it penetrated. He repeated it. “How the hell did the Deathstrike have a Vortex Warhead loaded?! We checked it before we loaded it!”
Next second Ahriman felt a sickening blow to his very soul, as something began to shift in the Great Ocean beneath him. the aetheric impact threw him off his feet, the raw horror of what was taking place below them as potent as the Vortex warhead, with far greater consequences. The veil between worlds was thinning, the power of the Great Ocean pressing in on Seadelant, and he could feel it assaulting his senses. The warp rift opened by the Vortex warhead wasn’t collapsing as it was supposed to; it was staying strong and feeding off something. Beyond it vast shoals of void predators were already massing as the walls of reality grew thinner, swirling armies of formless monsters, fanged beasts and destructive entities. All were servants of the Primordial Annihilator, and all were answering the call to battle, a call Ahriman was too late to stop. He had failed, again, and the forces of the Imperium were about to pay the price.
“Ser, what the hell is going on?” Julius bent down over him, concern on his face.
He spat out one word through bloody lips.
Hell comes to Seadelant
The first victim was an Astartes from the Death Guard second grand company. His squad were advancing forth towards one of the Rok Fortresses, when one of the dying Orks suddenly burst asunder, its flesh and blood spraying everywhere. In its place stood a hell-creature, a tall scaled bestial monster with a sharp blade and a long tongue. Within seconds the Death Guard warrior had shouted out a warning, but that was the last thing he would ever do. Seconds later, the warp monster was standing beside him, swinging its blade in a wide arc.
The blow almost effortlessly bisected the Death Guardsmen, cleaving through his Mk IV Plate like it didn’t exist. His fellows watched in horror as he fell and swiftly turned their bolters upon the intruder, but the shells had no effect. Within seconds another three Astartes were cleaved apart by the monster, and then another four as they tried to get a bead on the target which moved almost too fast for them to see. The sergeant swung at the intruder with his power sword, parrying the hell-spawn’s death blow, but it moved faster than he could and finally it beheaded him with a single sweep, lifting his head up and roaring its triumph to its infernal master. The remaining Death Guardsmen finally finished it off with an entire clip to the head, the monster exploding in a cascade of red sparks. Almost an entire squad of Astartes warriors had been wiped out in less than ten seconds. The remaining Death Guard warrior dazed and confused checked back over his vid-capture trying to identify his assailant. It took him only a few seconds to identify, but when he did he wished he was wrong. It was classified as a Bloodletter, a Daemon of the Blood God. He immediately sent the information over the Legion vox network to his captain and his Primarch, but by then it was too late.
All across the battlefield more of the Daemon’s kin spawned into life fuelled by the Warp Rift opened up by the Deathstrike’s Vortex warhead, first in ones and twos, then in their dozens, and they fell upon the warriors of the Emperor’s Legions with a primal bestial fury. More of the red skinned sword-monsters hacked their way into the ranks of the Astartes, while pink skinned abominations with no fixed form threw torrents of pink Warpfire which immolated flesh and metal in equal measure. In the air packs of stingrays covered in eyes and tusks hunted the Jetbikes, fighters and bombers with relentless vigour, and on the ground more Bloodletters riding massive metal-beasts crashed through the Legion lines, trampling Astartes underfoot and ramming tanks over. The Orks, caught between fire and flood died where they stood, several thousand fleeing from the three way fight as the Astartes and the Daemons confronted each other. The Titans stood mutely, unable to aid the forces on the ground deal with this new threat as it manifested too close for them to engage safely. Lightning cracked the sky and puddles of blood boiled on the plains.
Hell had come to Seadelant.
“Lord Solar Admiral! Our scanners are going haywire! Something is pushing out of the rift!” Kulenka pulled up his Dataslab and checked it. The demise of the Hulk had created a warp rift in the fabric of space-time, and his ships were carefully keeping their distance from it. The Hulk had died, but it had died hard. Nine ships had been destroyed by it before it fell apart, and the Blood Angels Strike Cruiser Shield of Sanguinius had been nearly destroyed, and was even now only just holding together. It would require several years to repair the damage, and Kulenka didn’t relish having to explain to Lord Sanguinius what had become of his warship.
His wandering mind snapped back into focus when something pushed its way out of the rift, closely followed by a second, and then a third object in quick succession. Kulenka’s eyes widened and he bellowed for a closer look. He got one, and for several seconds he started at the pict-captures of the new arrivals.
He had never seen their like before, but he had heard of them from admirals who were based at the Cadian gate. Ships trapped in the warp and turned into sentient monsters, living vessels hungering for blood.
“Daemonships.” He whispered, his throat dry.
Nathaniel Garro swore as he reviewed the messages from the ground. According to them, Daemons were popping up everywhere, tearing into the Astartes lines with the Death Guard taking the brunt of their attentions. How they had manifested, what fell ritual must have summoned them to this world Garro had no idea, but he could do nothing to help his Primarch. He was stuck, marooned in the high atmosphere on board the Iron Tide. The Savage Gunship was long gone; a well timed salvo from the Iron Tide tearing it apart and all the Tide was doing now was sitting at anchor, its engines keeping it from plunging to the planet below.
His transhuman hearing heard the word ‘boarder’ mentioned, and he turned to the Ship’s Captain, who was listening intently to his vox. “First Captain,” he called out. “Message from below decks. Something about there being… there are intruders on board.” Garro knew what they were. “Daemons.” He growled. He turned on his vox to address his veterans. “Attention, incoming Daemons. Sweep the ship for them and terminate with extreme prejudice. Avoid crew casualties at all costs.” A series of clicks indicated that his men had received their new orders. In a single fluid move he drew Liberatas, the move starling the crew of the command bridge, who turned to stare at him.
“Keep the ship flying Captain. The Hell-Spawn are a distraction, nothing more. They can’t harm the ship, so they are trying to keep us from interfering with the battle on the ground. My men and I will deal to them. We must remain on station, if things get too bad on the ground you will have to cover the evacuation of all loyal forces before the planet is sanctioned.” Their faces blanched when they heard his words. The Endurance had several Cyclonic Torpedoes as standard, and it could easily turn them on Seadelant. He didn’t like the idea of killing the planet they had come to save, least of all a world as strategically important as Seadelant, but what choice did they have?
He made a gesture of protection before thundering off, Libertas held at the ready.
Julius stared at confusion at Lord Ahriman as he struggled to his feet. What did he mean by ‘incursion’?
Before he could ask, an explosion came from the head of the column. The spearhead Caorst scout vehicle had just gone up in a fireball. The Orks again. Julius checked his Hellpistol and turned to face the incoming horde. But what crawled out of the smoke and fire wasn’t Ork at all.
Crawling towards them was a metallic monster, a russet red scorpion made of brass and iron scuttling forward on spiked legs. Its body was covered in overlapping segmented plates, a massive cannon jutting from its maw and a pair of huge claws snapping at the air. A tall arching tail ending in a repeating Autocannon whipped back and forth. Julius felt sick just by looking at it, the same feeling he had when he had seen the Daemon beneath the bunker, and glancing over at Summer her expression matched his own. Scvott, Flynn and Dyllion gaped open mouthed at it as it approached the head of the column, the blood drained from their faces. Scvott with a pale face was almost comical, but Julius wasn’t laughing. He wouldn’t wish this on anyone, least of all someone who had wished to deny their existence.
“Brass Scorpion!” Ahriman yelled, gesturing with his heqa staff. A Daemon Engine. Ahriman’s spat word now made perfect, chilling sense. His worst fears, the ones he had confided to the others were coming true all around them. A Daemonic Incursion. The mass invasion of reality by the beasts of the warp out for blood and souls.
The Salamanders and Caorst troopers rushed to confront it, but they blanched when they saw what they were facing, none of them had ever seen a Daemon Engine before. The monster had no such qualms, and its tail cannon tore through the Caorst troopers and Salamanders in equal measure. They scattered and returned fire, scattered anti-tank shots bounced off of its segmented body as its tail cannon tore through the infantry and raked the armoured personnel carriers. It was not carefully selecting and destroying its targets; it was trying to kill everything in front of it regardless of what they were. A weakness.
Julius watched as the lead Baneblade rotated its turret and let off an ear-splitting shot at the Scorpion. The shell missed, and the machine scuttled over to it at breathtaking speed, plunging its claws into the Baneblade’s armoured glacis plate, peeling it open. The Baneblade went up in a mushroom cloud, silhouetting the scorpion against its fiery demise. For a second Julius dared hope the Scorpion had gone up with the Baneblade, but once the glow had faded it was still there, standing over the wreck of its victim. The machine almost drank in the carnage; it seemed to revel in the destruction it was causing.
A Salamanders Tactical Support Squad armed with Melta weapons ran up to it, but the infernal machine scuttled up before they could deploy and doused them with molten brass from vents under its jaw. The screams of the Salamanders as their armour liquidified and they were melted would haunt Julius for years to come.
A Predator Infernus with Magna-Melta let of a heat blast, but it did little more than blister the red hide of the Scorpion. A cannon shell ended the Predator before it could fire or retreat. The head of the column disintegrated into bloody shambles as the scorpion turned the tanks and troop carriers into scrap and carpeted the ground with the bodies of Caorst Troopers and Salamanders. Julius retreated with the rest of the troops, constantly looking over his shoulder as the Scorpion worked its way along the column, blood and fire in its wake.
He reached Lord Ahriman, who was co-ordinating a counterattack against the Scorpion. He nodded at Julius before taking off towards the Scorpion, throwing bursts of aether-fire from his gauntlets at the brass beast, but they winked out before touching it, the runes on its armour glowing with each failed attack. If Ahriman couldn’t harm it, what could?
The answer hit Julius as he watched several Salamanders rush past him. The Scorpion’s bloodlust blinded it to other dangers, one in particular, how his father had won his third Star of Terra destroying a Warlock Titan on Quetansk. But first he would need to find something. One of the Salamanders Rhinos was sitting there, engine growling. He ducked into the back of it, confident what he sought would be in there. Sure enough, resting in the back of the Rhino was an Astartes pattern melta charge. The Salamanders never went anywhere without pacing some serious heat. It was not made for ordinary humans, he had to sling it on his back to carry it, but it would serve.
“What the hell are you doing with that thing?” Dyllion called at him as he ran past his squad, providing covering fire on the Scorpion from behind a pile of rubble.
“Doing a Pius.” Julius called back, before taking to his heels.
He ducked in behind a burning Russ, watching as the Scorpion lashed out at another Predator Infernus, ripping its turret off and tossing it aside in a single fluid move. He had to hit the hell-machine while it was distracted, else it would rip him to shreds in an instant before he could deliver his cargo.
He ran from cover to cover, carefully timing his moves to ensure its attentions were elsewhere each time. At one stop, he rolled the melta charge in a puddle of Ork blood it was disgusting, but it would help mask him from the scorpion’s sight. Closer and closer he came to the machine, and it still hadn’t noticed him. Its desire for blood and carnage was blinding it to his approach, and he would make it rue that lack of sight. As it lashed out at a Malcador, he seized the chance and ran up straight to the Brass Scorpion, ducking under its spiked legs until he faced its engine.
Its back was made up of hundreds of armoured cables squirming like infernal worms. Julius nearly retched at the sight, but he held his composure and waited for an opening. He saw it and in the blink of an eye pulled the tab on the melta charge and rammed it into the opening. No sooner had he withdrawn his hand than the cables obscured it. Thirty seconds. Move or die.
Julius ran. He ran like he had never run before. He ran so hard his muscles stretched and nearly tore. He couldn’t hear if the Brass Scorpion had noticed him or was after him, he couldn’t hear anything over the pounding of his heart and the blood pulsing in his ears. The battle vanished, the world vanished, all that remained was for him to get away before the melta charge detonated.
He didn’t hear the blast, but it picked him up and threw him far. He slammed into a nearby building with deadly force. Pain shot through his ribcage as he felt something break. Blood filled his mouth and he could barely see due to shock. Unconsciousness grasped at him, but he resisted its touch with all his might. If he went under now, he might never wake up. Had his feat of heroics killed him? He felt something reach down and grab him, but he was too weak to resist. He waited for the end. But the end never came. His vision cleared enough to see he was being gently carried by a Salamander Legionnaire, the warrior cradling him like a babe. He let himself be carried over to where Ahriman and his friends were. No sooner was he on the ground than Summer ran up to him. She bent down and held him as Ahriman came over.
“You killed the Brass Scorpion Julius, though it nearly killed you with its dying blast. Had Brother Tu’var not been there, you might well have died without any of us knowing. Fortunately he saw you and recovered you. Now Apothecary Luminor will see to you.” Summer moved off, and the Salamander Apothecary bent over him, scanning his body with the instruments attacked to his right gauntlet.
“Three cracked ribs, and a dislocated shoulder. You got off lucky trooper Pius.”
The Apothecary reached over and with a single fluid move popped his shoulder back in. Julius yelped in pain, but his curse was cut off as the pain receded. His ribs still throbbed and he hurt all over, but he could still fight. The Apothecary helped him to his feet, and straightaway Flynn, Scvott, Dyllion and Summer came up and began congratulating him for killing a Daemon engine. Dyllion slapped him on the back, then immediately apologised as Julius scowled in pain. Summer gave him a peck on the cheek, and then broke off as Ahriman approached him again.
“I’ve spoken with Captain Ir’Sem, and we’ve agreed on what to do next. We’re never going to reach the bunker at this rate, not with every Daemon in the immaterium throwing themselves at the convoy. So the convoy will continue towards the bunker, and hopefully the Daemons will continue to attack it. Meanwhile we will make our way there on foot,” gesturing at Julius and his friends, “and bypass the Daemonic forces guarding the bunker.”
As he spoke, the roar of small arms fire rose up from across the convoy, along with the infernal scream of Daemons. A grim reminder of what was consuming the planet around them. Ahriman’s next words were terse. “We have to move now, and move fast. Come with me.” Ahriman started off, and the others followed. Julius was last, and as he gingerly followed them he heard the squeal of tracks as the convoy started moving again. How many of them would die so they could get to the bunker? Julius hoped their willing sacrifice would not be in vain. The fate of this world depended upon it.
The Lair of the Beast
The broken defence laser bunker perimeter fence lay before them, the nightmare at the heart of the Daemon presence on Seadelant, the lair of the beast. The sky above was purple, split with silent lightning emanating from the source of the warp rift which allowed the Daemons access to Seadelant. Ahriman gripped his heqa staff tightly as he stared over the site, eyes sharp and searching for a route in. They had been fortunate, only once had they seen Daemons and they were busy fighting with a lone band of Orks. Ahriman was fine with the two enemies of mankind slaughtering each other instead of the forces of the Imperium.
Now they were at ground zero, and Ahriman was mere minutes away from confronting his nemesis, the one who had blocked his sight and brought this hell to this peaceful world. He rose through the enumerations; he would have to maintain his discipline and his composure if he was to triumph against the foe.
Carefully he crept, or tried to creep across the open ground towards the fence. A creeping Astartes was a mutually exclusive idea, but he reached it undetected. He gestured to the others to follow him across. He felt bad dragging them into the danger zone like this, but he needed Julius and Summer to show him which building the Daemon was hiding in. Once he knew that, he would have them find shelter and wait for him to finish the Daemon. He would not put their lives at risk; for one he didn’t want to have to explain to Isis how his negligence had killed her boyfriend.
For several seconds he extended his mind across the compound. Nothing. That wasn’t as good as he’d liked, Daemons could pop up at any time in any place, especially this close to the source of their entry point to the material universe.
This time he ran, he ran as fast as he could across the compound. It took less than four seconds. When he looked back, Julius and his friends were frozen, staring at him with fear. He had heard of that happening. They hadn’t seen him like this before, not from close up. Transhuman Dread. Nothing human-shaped should be so fast, so lithe, so powerful, especially not anything in excess of two metres tall and carrying over a ton of armour on his body. Finally they responded to his gestures and followed him across the compound, though much slower than him. He covered them with his bolt pistol as they crossed.
“Which Bunker?” Ahriman whispered harshly. Julius and Summer pointed in unison. They followed Ahriman out towards it, weapons held at the ready. For a brief moment Ahriman thought they had outwitted the Daemon, they would reach the bunker unscathed. He didn’t know if the Daemon read his mind at that exact moment, or if it had been planning its next move all along and was simply waiting for them to enter the trap.
The sky split before him, and three figures burst out into reality. He knew the beasts as they stood before him, contemplating him with evil eyes. Bloodcrushers. Fell servants of the blood god riding mechanical juggernauts which snarled and snapped at the charged air as they readied for a charge. They would crush him under their armoured feet if he wasn’t quick.
“Get behind me!” he yelled as he readied himself for their charge. He heard the sounds of weapons being readied to fire. He didn’t expect any of them to kill one of the Bloodcrushers, but their fire could distract the beasts long enough for him to get in the decisive blow. They charged, the ground trembling under their fell tread as they thundered towards him. Ahriman waited until the last second before throwing himself aside, swinging his heqa staff in a wide arc. It sliced one of the riders nearly in two, the creature exploding into red sparks under the touch of his weapon. The other Bloodcrushers halted and turned to face him again, but he had his pistol raised and loosened a volley at the lead Bloodcrusher.
The shells did little, and the creature charged again. This time he was too slow, and the juggernaut clipped him, sending him flying. He crashed into the side of a building which deformed under his impact, and grunting with the pain he pulled himself up. He rose to his feet just in time as the juggernaut charged again, the rider brandishing its sword. It swung and he parried, blade meeting blade in a shower of sparks. Time and again he swung and thrusted, but every time the creature blocked him. Much as he hated it, he had to admit it was a superb swordsman. Finally he realised something, and once again his heqa staff swept out, its copper and gold bands rippling with fire. But this time it wasn’t aimed at the rider. It cut deep into the juggernaut, which roared and fell under his blow. The rider was now pinned under its dead mount, and a single thrust finished it off. Two down, one to go.
The third and final Bloodcrusher suddenly appeared out of nowhere and caught him head on. He heard his ceramite armour crack under the impact and again he was sent flying. He rolled over to see it preparing another charge. This time, he would not be able to reach his feet in time. The third rider suddenly reeled and fell out of the saddle, exploding into sparks as it hit the ground. The Juggernaut roared before it too expired. Ahriman looked to see Julius and his friends, weapons aimed where the Bloodcrusher had been standing. They had killed it with their fire. Ahriman strode over, and made the gesture of humility with his heqa staff.
“You saved me. Now come, let’s finish this.” With that, he strode towards the bunker, ignoring the pain in his chest from where the juggernaut had struck him. The mouth of the bunker lay open before him, a mouth leading into hell. Yet he knew he had to enter it, if this planet was to be saved. He turned to the others.
“You have done well, and you have got me to where I need to be. Now stay here, and keep out of sight.” He turned to go, before stopping.
“Before I go in Julius, here.” He handed over the object he had been carrying on his hip, the object Ir’Sem had given him just before he had left the convoy.
“Captain Ir’Sem gave this to me as a last ditch weapon against the Daemon, but I can banish it without needing this weapon. You should use it, if the worst comes to the worst. It’s a Vortex Grenade. Anything caught in the blast radius is gone, and with the veil between worlds so thin here its potency is increased dramatically. Be wary though, it can easily backfire. Only use it as a weapon of last resort. Good luck.”
Ahriman turned and marched into the corridor, the echo of his bootsteps following him in. ‘I am coming for you hell-spawn’ he thought. ‘And I will have my vengeance.’
Soon the sound of Ahriman as he headed deeper into the bunker faded away, leaving nothing but an almost artificial stillness. The silence was ominous, scary. Julius had never hated silence more than at that point. He had to break it before it drove him mad.
“Did you see how Ahriman killed those metal monsters?” he remarked, sitting in the entrance hallway of the bunker.
There were a few murmured assents, but they swiftly faded and the silence returned. It felt worse than ever; it felt like a weapon, the Daemon was trying to drive them insane with the silence.
Suddenly a thought struck Julius, and he knew he had to share it. “Once Lord Ahriman has killed the Daemon, they will all vanish, the Legions will mop up the Orks and the war will be over.”
“The war will be over.” Scvott repeated softly after a short pause. “It hardly seems possible, after all this time, that by tomorrow it will all be over.” His words captured the mood perfectly. The last month felt like a lot longer, so much had happened to Julius during those thirty short days it felt like several months had passed, not a single month. Within a few hours they would be separated, no longer bound by the ties of comradeship, civilians once again. Julius couldn’t help but feel sad at the thought. He’d lived with and fought beside these people for thirty days, they had become his friends. And Summer, Summer was more than just a friend. He loved her, he could not deny that. He loved her as fervently as he loved Isis, and he had no idea how he could reconcile that once all this was over. He supposed he would find a way, that’s the way life always worked.
“What will you do once the war is over?” Summer suddenly asked, as if she had read his mind. Her words lodged in their minds, and for nearly a minute the dreaded silence returned as they thought about it. Scvott was the first to break the silence. “I suppose I’ll still try and join the Navy as a fighter pilot, but this time thanks to Julius I’ll be in a much better position to do well as a leader.” He sent a brief smile to Julius, who felt like he’d just been awarded a medal.
Flynn ran his fingers through his hair. “I suppose I’ll continue to run the business, there will be a lot of rebuilding, and Nalwood will be in demand. I might make a profit for the first time in months because of this. Always look on the bright side they say.” He flashed one of his trademark cheeky grins, the first time in a while he had done so.
Dyllion made a vague gesture, but once he saw how the others were looking at him, he relented. “I’ll go back to the docks, back to work I suppose. There will always be a need for Longshoremen, especially now with so much of the workforce out of action, and so many of the cranes damaged in the fighting. Not very glamorous compared to any of you, but life goes on doesn’t it?” his eternal pragmatism struck a chord. Julius had to envy Dyllion and his uncomplicated train of thought. His respect for the silent man only grew.
It was Julius’s turn. What would he do once the war was over? He pondered that question for a bit. There were so many uncertainties in his life now, and with the war nearly over those uncertainties were once again moving to front and centre. “I’m not entirely sure. If I head out for Calth now, I will miss all my friends going to College, University and the rest, they will all be gone by the time I return to Terra. But the reason I left Terra was to go to Calth and see my mother and my home, where I was born, and I don’t want to leave that undone and unfinished. “Either way, I hope all of you will give me addresses so I can contact you after I’m gone, I’m not about to forget the people who fought with me in the war for Seadelant. You are my friends, my comrades in arms and I will remember you always.” His words were met by a chorus of backslaps from the others and smiles from the others. Julius felt in the company of giants at that moment, and that feeling he would try to remember in darker times to come.
Finally Summer was the only one left. She opened her mouth to speak, but before she could say a word two things happened. A scream came from down the corridor, a sound which chilled Julius to the bone and outside reality tore apart and a host of Daemons materialised before the bunker, murder in their inhuman eyes. They reacted immediately to the intrusion, Dyllion hefting his heavy stubber and Scvott, Flynn and Summer readying their lasguns. Julius could see immedietly they were in trouble, and Ahriman wasn’t here to help them.
That scream came instantly to mind. “Shouldn’t we do something about Ahriman? That sounded like he needs help!” Julius yelled as the Daemons drew closer. At that moment Scvott took command. “Julius, Summer, you go and help Lord Ahriman. We will hold off the Daemons here. These are my orders, now hurry!” Julius threw a salute at Scvott, and together Julius and Summer followed Ahriman’s trail into hell.
The Mouth of Hell
They knew the route; it had burned itself into their memories. It wasn’t long before the emerged into the defence laser chamber.
The Defence laser chamber was different now. It was lit with a ruddy red light, and the Cables and conduits were gone. The chains and hoists once used to move the weapon into firing position were now heavy with the skulls of men and Orks. Hellish symbols had been painted in blood all over the walls, snake-like runes and eight pointed stars. There were bloody footprints on the floor, bloody handprints on the walls. It was a scene from the nightmares of a madman.
Ahriman and the Daemon were duelling before the open door of the Plasma Reactor, the source of the hellish light. Heqa staff met bird-headed staff in blow after blow so fast Julius could barely see them. As they fought before them, it seemed as though the combatants had swollen to inhuman proportions many times their real size.
“What do we do?” Summer asked him as they stood there, numbly watching the titanic clash. Ahriman saw them and briefly looked over. It was only for a split second, but his Daemonic foe only needed that.
A swing of the bird-headed staff, and Ahriman was sent sprawling. As he struggled to his feet, he yelled at Julius.
“Julius! The Daemon’s too strong! It must be weakened! Use that Grenade, destroy the Reactor! That’s the source of the Daemon’s power! That's how it's maintaining the Warp Rift! Destroy it and I can banish the bastard!”
Julius nodded, thinking fast. He drew his pistol and ran. Something struck him across the shoulder and flung him aside like he was a rag doll. He struggled to his feet, only to be sent flying again. He could not see what had flung him across the room, there was nothing else in here save for him, Summer, Ahriman and the Daemon. She raised her Lasgun to shoot, but a moment later it was snatched from her grip by invisible hands and flung aside. It was powerful indeed, more powerful than he had expected. But then, what could you expect from a Daemon?
Julius turned and ran again, but this time he had an idea. He felt for the touch of the Daemon, the tug of invisible fingers, and no sooner did he feel the prickling feeling on his skin than he straight away hit the deck. He began to crawl for the open door, hoping that down here the Daemon couldn’t touch him. His hope was shattered when he felt a pain in his leg, and turned to see a sliver of metal impaled in it. More metal fragments were flying at him, and as he pulled himself up to run a wall of invisible force smashed him aside.
The Daemon is toying with him, torturing him for its own amusement while it battles with Ahriman. Julius didn’t know what to do, what he could do to stop a creature with powers beyond his darkest nightmares. Ahriman continued to duel with it, but he was tiring, the Daemon landing several blows against his armour, cracking it with every strike. He wouldn’t last long, and without him they couldn’t survive. The planet couldn’t survive.
Before he could make another move he saw Summer dash out, twisting and turning as she headed for Julius. He felt the vortex surrounding him weaken, and he knew this was his chance. He reached down, pulled the metal sliver out of his leg and ignoring the pain shooting up his leg he ran. He thought he had run hard when he had escaped the Brass Scorpion, but now he ran even harder. His body was wracked with pain; he could hear the whisper of the warp and feel invisible fingers probing for him, trying to grip him. But the Daemon couldn’t focus on all three of them at once, and Summer seemed to understand that. She lunged for her discarded Lasgun and fired several shots. None of them hit, but they distracted the Daemon for a few seconds. That was all Julius needed. The reactor blast doors loomed before him.
He pulled the pin and threw the Vortex Grenade with all of his might into the reactor room, pulling the door shut behind him. His eyes shut as a flash of light came from within, and the Daemon shrieked, a sound which grated in Julius’s mind. He had done it, the Reactor was gone, the source of the Warp Rift removed. Next second a blow of invisible force flung him high into the air. As he hit the ground he felt his cracked ribs snap and pain tore into him with a vengeance.
Through blurred vision he saw the Daemon hovering before him. He had destroyed the reactor and foiled its plans, now it would kill him. Ahriman was sprawled out nearby; it had knocked him aside in its desire to get at Julius. He felt his skin crawl at the mere presence of the Daemon. It was polluting the galaxy just by being in it.
“I renounce you, evil one,” Julius stammered. He touched the symbol hanging around his neck. The Daemon didn’t respond or even seem to notice his action; it raised the bird headed staff for the killing blow.
A shadow fell over it before it could strike. Summer stood before it, confronting the abomination. She held the symbol of her faith out in front of her in one hand, her Lasgun in the other. Julius wanted to yell at her to run, to get away, but his tongue wasn’t working. She tried to shoot it, but it contemptuously knocked her Lasgun aside. It readied to strike at her.
“The Emperor protects!” she screamed at the Daemon.
As she screamed that oath to her god, something changed. The silver Aquila suddenly blazed in her hand, thrust before her like a talisman aimed at the Daemon. White fire poured from it, bathing the Daemon in white light which battled with its own blue light, slowly consuming it. “The power of the Emperor commands you, abomination!” she yelled at it. Julius could do little but watch in amazement as she slowly took one step, and then another, towards the Changeling, pushing it back. The monster was transfixed, its four limbs flailing as though some invisible force attacked it; its screeching laughter turning into the pitiful wails of a monster denied its victory.
“In the name of the Emperor, go back to hell and stay there!” Summer commanded, her confidence in the miracle surrounding her growing as the substance of the monster diminished, its internal hell-light fading and flickering as it fought to hold onto existence. The light from Summer’s eagle outshone its hellish illumination tenfold and the entire massive space was bleached with its brilliance. Even Ahriman was staring in wonder as she blasted the Daemon to eternity. She had done it; she had killed it where Ahriman had not.
The Daemon still had one last trick up its sleeve, and as it disintegrated it threw a final ball of warp-fire at her. Time slowed down, Julius could only watch in horror as it flew towards her, as slow and inexorable as death itself. She noticed it too late. The fireball caught her between her breasts, sinking through her body armour and disappearing into her. For a second, it seemed like it had done nothing to her, but as she light from her Aquila pendant faded, she began to sway.
“Please...” she whispered as her legs gave out and she collapsed to the floor. Barely knowing what he was doing, Julius ran over to her, catching her, lifting her up, holding her close. He tore off her flak vest and ripped open her bodyglove, not caring who saw. There was no mark on her skin where the daemonfire had hit her, nothing to suggest it had harmed her. His tongue had returned to him, and he couldn’t stop talking.
“Summer, hold on Summer. You’ll be alright. You did it, you killed the Daemon. You saved Seadelant, you saved Ahriman, you saved me. You’ll be hailed as the heroine of Seadelant, the one who saved us all.”
“Don’t say a word. You need to conserve your strength. The Thousand Sons are here, the Pavoni are the greatest healers in the Galaxy. They will take care of you. Just hold on tight, I’m right here with you.”
“Don’t think it! Don’t even think it!” her voice, so soft and tired was hurting him. He continued to yell, as if the decibel level of his voice could hold back the inevitable.
“There are no marks on your skin, so you can’t be hurt! You’re fine, you’re just tired, that’s all. You killed a Daemon; of course you’d feel tired.”
“You can’t! You mustn’t I won’t let you! I won’t let you go! Not now, not at the moment of victory. We’ve fought together for the last thirty days, and we’ll fight together again. You just have to hold on, hold on!”
“No!” Why was she acting like this? Why was she not fighting? “No! I love you!”
“Julius.” Her voice had not changed an iota despite his rising despair. “I know you do. And I know you love another as well, and she will need you. You must be there for her always. I was a vessel for The Emperor’s will, but he has burned me up. My fire is going out Julius, the Emperor has summoned me.”
“Don’t speak like that Summer; the Emperor isn’t finished with you yet. I’m not finished with you yet. You can’t go; you can’t leave me here, not like this.”
Summer reached up and slowly and longingly kissed him, a kiss which he deliberately stretched out for as long as he could, as if he could force life back into her through his lips. Eventually she broke it; put a finger to his lips to stop him saying anything before reaching over and pulling the Aquila from around her neck.
“One does not question the Emperor’s will Julius. Surely you know that.” She coughed gently, the fire in her eyes flickered, wavered.
She pressed her Aquila into his hands, closing them around the symbol of her faith. “Keep this, and remember me. Tell Isis about me, she deserves to know. Always remember Julius, the…Emperor…Protects.” The last word left her mouth like a faint breeze, and her body slackened. The fire went out of her eyes; the fire which filled her soul was snuffed out.
At that moment Julius felt his soul break, a pain so pure it hurt him all the way to his core. He searched for his god, but He wasn’t there. He searched for the Emperor, but he wasn’t there. He held Summer in his arms, her body already beginning to cool, and he screamed out over her, all the pain and anguish of thirty days of war released in a single traumatic shriek as he felt his soul tear.
He didn’t remember them taking her off of him; he didn’t remember them taking him out of that hell-space. He didn’t remember how the others learnt about what had happened in there, how they learnt about Summer’s martyrdom. He didn’t remember anything about that next day, when victory was finally won and the last of the Orks were hunted down and exterminated by the vengeful Legions. He sank into a black void where nothing could reach or touch him, and for a while he floated there, suspended in nothingness.
When he finally emerged from it he found himself in his old Hab, the one where he had been staying before the Hulk had arrived, before the world changed. The pict of her was there staring over at him, and after enduring her serene stare for a few minutes he bodily grabbed it and threw it under his bed. He couldn’t face her. Too much had happened.
There was a loud knocking on the door, and Julius pulled some clothes on and shambled out to answer it. It was Scvott, Flynn and Dyllion. It was hard to recognise them in civilian gear. For a few seconds Julius stared at them dully.
“Julius, you look like shit.” Dyllion finally said.
“I feel like shit.” Julius managed to force a smile though. “Thank god you guys survived though.”
Scvott quirked an eyebrow, before swiftly adding, “Forgot you and your father had those sorts of beliefs. No offense?”
“None taken, I’m used to it. What happened to you? Su...We left you guys to hold off those Daemons while we went to help Lord Ahriman.” He couldn’t say her name, the hurt was too raw. Even thinking it felt like a jab into an open wound. Scvott knew what he meant, and he began.
“Those Daemons came at us time and time again; I swear we were bloody lucky to survive at all. Dyllion killed a fair few with that heavy stubber of his, before it was melted by this creature covered in mouths which spat flame. Finally we ran out of ammo, and we drew our bayonets and prepared to sell our lives as dearly as possible. And then suddenly the Daemons winked out, as if whatever was keeping them connected to the world had just been cut off. No sooner had that happened then a Thunderhawk landed in front of the bunker, and you wouldn’t believe who disembarked from it. Lord Mortarion of the Death Guard, a fugging Primarch.”
Flynn took over. “He came up to us, those bodyguards of his right behind him, and he asked us where Lord Ahriman was. Poor Scvott lost his tongue, and I had to answer him.” Scvott shot him a glare. “Hardly surprising, they don’t call him the death lord for nothing. Looks like the Reaper, personified. The last person I’d want to see in a dark alleyway.”
“You’ve never seen Lord Kurze then I take it.” Julius said. Flynn shook his head.
“From what I hear, you never see Lord Kurze until you’re nearly dead from fright.”
“That’s true. He and Ahriman saved my arse when we went down into the Petitioner’s City, and nearly got killed.” More bad memories flooded in. How could he ever tell Isis about Summer, now that she was dead?
Scvott saw the change, and swiftly he added. “He went in, and about ten minutes later came out with Lord Ahriman and you. Ahriman was carrying…her, and we knew she was dead. I know how much she meant to you Julius, and I am deeply sorry. She meant a lot to all of us.” Flynn now took the initiative, went over and hugged Julius before he could say or do anything. Scvott followed suit, and after a second so did Dyllion. The simple earnestness of their move banished the back cloud to the edge of Julius’s mind, and he felt like he could function again.
“Before anything else happens, I went down to the bunker to clean up yesterday. I brought these for you.” Julius’s bodyglove, his last letters, and something else. Her last letter, the one she had written to her brother.
“I think you can find a way of getting that to where it belongs.” Scvott said, more than a small hint of sadness in his eyes. “You of all people have the connections to ensure they take you seriously and receive it.”
“On a different note, Lord Ahriman has summoned us. He wants to debrief us personally. We’re to meet him on board some legion frigate. Apparently it’s docked in the spaceport.” He looked over Julius, a smile plying at the edge of his lips. “I think you may want to get properly dressed before we go.”
Only then did Julius notice his trousers were on the wrong way around. He retreated from the good natured laughing of his comrades, his friends, and readied himself for what was next. Gently he set her last letter down inside his kitbag, along with his stained bodyglove. He would get that letter to where it belonged, one way or another.
Ahzek Ahriman stood on the bridge of the Iron Tide, lost in thought. His armour was being repaired by several Techmarines from Prospero, and his heqa staff was being cleansed of any lingering daemonic taint. He had fully inspected the ship, and was confident there was nothing left of the foul touch of the Warpspawn who had attacked it during the incursion. It could carry the Daughters and their consorts from Fenris back to Terra. It would carry more than just them, if Julius decided so.
Thinking of Julius brought back the memories of what had happened down there, and how the woman he had been with had done what she had done. She had channelled something, tapped into something more powerful than Ahriman had seen before and using it banished the Daemon.
The first figure to reach them down in the core afther the Daemon had died was surprisingly Lord Mortarion, who had been informed of the source of the taint by Captain Ir’sem. He had been debriefed by the Lord Primarch inside that fane, a singularly unpleasant experience he had no wish to repeat. He had then gently prised the dead woman off of Julius, who was holding her cooling corpse and sobbing like a child. Poor Julius, he doubted that the boy would be able to face Lady Lupercal now. He felt sorry, the boy was only seventeen and though he was very much his father’s son, he had been wounded in mind and soul by this war, a wound Ahriman had no ability to heal.
His Legion brothers had helped him identity the Daemon, one which personified Chaos as the meddler, the deceiver, the trickster. It could take the form of other beings, and that doubtless was how it had deployed the Deathstrike. It had probably manipulated the whole sequence of events which had brought the Hulk to Seadelant, and deep down in his mind Ahriman thought it might have been the one who had stirred up all that trouble after the Keiter shooting. He would have to inform Lord Magnus about that as soon as he had a chance. If the ‘Changeling’ could roam around Terra unopposed then nowhere would truly be safe from the malign touch of Chaos, not even at the heart of the Emperor’s realm.
Now that the Daemon was gone, his powers had returned. The doubts he had once held had been washed away, and for the first time in years he felt in control. He felt whole. Fractured visions of timelines yet to come shone through the veil of the empyrean, and Ahriman could once again see the echoes of futures yet to come. Right now they were in flux as the doom of Seadelant receded and the warp returned to normal. His future was assured, he had no worries now.
A Salamander fleet serf came up to him, and announced, “The people you wished to see, my Lord.”
Ahriman dismissed him as the others came in.
“Welcome,” said Ahriman, modulating his accent to a more natural, fluid tone. Last time they had heard him was in the throes of anger, and he had doubtless left a mark he now had to erase. “Please, sit.”
Gratefully the four of them sat down.
“Now, you know why you are here. Doubtless Julius would have mentioned how these things work on the way here. Though last time he was ‘debriefed’, it was the Emperor himself who imposed the verdict, not me.” They all turned to stare at Julius, who shrank from their collective gaze. The memory was still too harsh for him, and Ahriman could hardly blame him. Even he was still stinging from the Emperor’s fury, unleashed that day.
“I’ll make it simple. Only you know about the Daemon which was pulling the strings, and it must stay with you. You must all swear to silence about what the Daemon was really up too, how it wanted to turn this planet into a hell-world. If you break this oath, then your lives will be forfeit. Do you understand?” Ahriman projected a small measure of fire into his aura, just enough to reinforce his words. They all got the message.
“Hold your right hands up, and repeat after me: ‘In the name of the Emperor of Mankind, the guardian against the fell powers of the Warp, I swear that what secrets I know will stay with me forever more.”
They repeated the words, Julius only reluctantly, and they were done.
“We’re finished. The bar downstairs is open if you’d like, and I happen to know they have some Tanith Whiskey.” Flynn’s eyes lit up at the mention, and eagerly he gestured at the door.
“Before you go though, I have something for you.” Ahriman reached down for something Lord Mortation had given him at the awards ceremony.
He reached out and opened his fist. In the palm of his massive hand were five medals stamped in silver.
“By your actions was Seadelant saved, and I’m sorry no-one will ever know the truth of how you alerted us to the Daemonic presence. But you can show these to your children, and say you did your part to save your homeworld. I’m proud of all of you for willingly risking death every day to try and help us from behind enemy lines. I’m sorry that one of these has to be posthumous, which one of you will take it?”
Julius all but reached over and snatched it. It would be Julius.
As they all got up to go, Ahriman added. “Julius, stay. I need to speak with you alone.” Julius sat back down.
“Julius, I know how much this must be hurting you, but what your friend did, it must never leave Seadelant, ever. Only you, I and Lord Mortarion know what she did, and it must remain between us. If news of how she banished a Daemon got out, it would invigorate those who believe in her…falsities.” Julius could barely hide his scowl.
“She saved you ser. She saved me, she saved this entire planet. Her beliefs shouldn’t be taken into account, do you take mine?”
“Your beliefs don’t violate the Imperial Creed. Hers did.”
“The Imperial Creed is full of shite ser. It’s flawed from top to bottom. People like her are just loyal as the average citizen, even more. There are none more devoted to the Imperium…”
“Julius, stop. I don’t want to have to force you to keep quiet, but I will if necessary. Lord Mortarion has charged me with ensuring that this never gets out, and I obey. Do you want me to have to mindlock you?” Ahriman knew that the Emperor had been displeased with him tampering with the mind of any of his citizens, but Lord Mortarion had promised he would explain to the Emperor the situation when they returned to Terra. Julius glared angrily, but he held his tongue. Ahriman changed the subject.
“Now that all of this is done, we need to discuss what you’re going to do next. Obviously the recent events have upset your plans. You now have two options open. First, you can travel on the Iron Tide, its returning straight to Terra via Fenris. You’ll be able to travel with friends of yours and see everyone off before they go to College.
“On the other hand, the Ultramarine Frigate Sanctity of Saramanth is returning to Ultramar, and its first stop is Calth. If you want to head there as per your original travel plans, it leaves tomorrow. Note by the time you return to Terra, everyone will be gone to College. You won’t see anyone you know for the short time you will be on Terra. You won’t see her.”
He didn’t have to mention her name. He was hurting enough, and Ahriman could clearly sense that he was about to face a major decision regarding her in the near future.
“I understand ser. I don’t think I can face any of them. Not yet.”
Ahriman nodded. The Sanctity of Saramanth it is then.
“And what are you doing ser?” Julius asked.
“Returning to Terra. My mind and soul are cleansed, and I can see that Lord Curze wants to see me. We still have unfinished business with the Babu Dhakal.”
Julius nodded, still unhappy and took his leave. As he went, Ahriman idly searched the strings of fate to see his future, but as he probed deeper he found they were dark and tangled. His own future might be clear now, but Julius was now sliding down a slippery slope to darkness and Ahriman could do little to help. Julius would have to rise or fall on his own.
The Iron Tide
The bar of the Iron Tide was full fit to burst. Troopers from the Perdix Hunters rubbed shoulders with the Byzant Janizars in their ornate white uniforms, and clusters of Tanith troopers loudly sang drunken songs from their homeworld beside navy personnel from the other ships docked in the port. Flynn smiled at the antics of his kin, humming the tunes they were singing. Julius was already regretting taking Flynn up on his offer of drinks for their little band, but it was too late to back out now. Fortunately there were several seats free at the Bar, and one by one they sat down.
Flynn gestured to the man behind the bar, who had a Lieutenant’s bars on his shoulders. “Four shots of Tanith Whiskey. I know you have some, my kin wouldn’t be quite so happy if you didn’t. And make it the strong type.”
The Lieutenant smiled ruefully and poured four glasses, handing them to Flynn, who passed them along.
“For Summer.” Scvott intoned, lifting his glass.
“For Summer!” they replied, and downed their drinks. Julius felt the Tanith whiskey burn his throat as it ran down, and he nearly choked. But a solid whack on the back by Dyllion saved him further embarrassment.
Flynn turned to see Julius morosely staring into the bottom of his glass. “She won’t be forgotten Oll. We won’t forget her.” Flynn said.
“Sorry, old habits die hard. Julius. Dammit, thirty days of calling you Oll and you’re bloody false name is stuck in my mind.”
“Julius? Are you Pius by any chance? Julius Pius?” the Lieutenant at the bar suddenly asked.
“What’s that to you?” Julius snapped. The last thing he needed now were people recognising him.
The youthful bartender nodded his head once, as if in confirmation. "Because I suspect you went to school with five of my best customers." Julius stared.
"You're kidding. Venus, Remilia Dorn, Jacob Seager, Alex Carlin, and Freya Russ?" Kines grinned. "They get around. Is this not the smallest galaxy, or what?" he asked, neatly diverting Julius' building sulk.
Sulky and morose though he might be, Julius immediately felt bad at his outburst. “My apologies for my tone of voice ser. I did not know what ship they were travelling on, save that it was from the XVIII Legion.”
"I'm just a Junior Lieutenant; nobody calls me Sir unless they want a discount,"
“You’re a commissioned officer in the Legion Fleets, whereas I am a civilian. You are ser to me. Now, can I have another drink?”
The Lieutenant smiled as he poured another drink for the four of them. By the time they reached their third, Julius knew the Lieutenant’s name: Charles Kines. He seemed an easygoing person, and he laughed loudly at some of Flynn’s more bawdy jokes. Scvott and Dyllion joined in, and soon Flynn was relating a famed Tanith folk-take about a bear and a maiden which had the others in stitches.
Julius wanted to enjoy himself and share in the fun, but he couldn’t shake off the black cloud which still hung over him. He felt like the only one there who couldn’t erase his bad mood. He needed a distraction, he needed to know that someone somewhere was having a good time, and as he sipped his latest drink, he had lost count of how many he had consumed, an idea slowly began to form.
“Off duty?” Julius asked the Lieutenant as he pulled his navy-issue coat over his shoulders. “Short break, letting the other guy take over. I’ve been on duty for the last nine hours, and I have sold over half the ship’s total alcohol store.”
“Care to have one on me ser?” Julius asked, trying to add extra meaning to his voice.
“I don’t drink on duty, and you can stop calling me sir. I’m not the captain.”
“You still outrank me, so you are ser.”
“Jake never called me sir.”
“Well, Jake’s never had the proper respect for military authority. Next time you see him, tell him that I call you ser, and if I do then he should as well.”
Kines stifled a laugh, and got up, making a subtle gesture to Julius. Julius excused himself, and followed the Lieutenant to a nearby empty stall.
“What do you want Julius?” Kines asked once they had sat down.
“Frankly ser, I need something to cheer me up. I’ve been through hell, spent most of the war hiding underground as a partisan in the Ork infested outer city, and now I can’t shake this infernal gloom. I want to know about what everyone has been doing. Remilia, Venus, Jake, Freya, even Alex. Tell me everything ser.”
Kines obliged, and began with their first visit to the bar on the first day of their trip. Julius listened intently, slowly sipping on his latest glass of amasec. The Lieutenant was a good storyteller, and Julius found himself entranced by his tales.
When Kines reached the second leg of the journey, from Nocturne to Fenris, Julius began to notice the mini-pause and the small catch in his voice every time he was talking about Remilia. Julius might have been somewhat tipsy, but his ‘sight’ still worked, and slowly he put the pieces together.
Finally he decided to confirm his suspicions. "You'll never guess who my chemistry lab partner was?
“She’s someone very close to me, a sister in all but name. Here's a hint for you: she prefers orange soda.”
His eyes widened, and Julius smiled at him. “Don’t worry Lieutenant, my lips are sealed. They obviously never told you about my ‘sight’; how I see things people try to hide. No, I'm no psyker, it's just a little talent I have. I’m glad you’re making Remilia happy; she needs it after what she’s been through. That’s all I’m going to say on the matter.” He let the matter slide, and he knew Kines understood.
“I have to go back on duty now, but thank you for the drink.” Kines carefully said. They both returned to the bar, where Julius could see the other three were inebriated. For that matter, Julius felt his head swimming and his sense of balance was slightly off. He had never drunk this much before, and it told.
“Is there any Orange Soda left?” he asked Kines.
“Right then.” Julius handed over several thrones, and then stopped Kines as he reached to hand it over. “No, hide it away. It’s a gift for a certain someone, I think you know who.” Kines smiled as he stowed the bottle away.
The night blurred after that, and Julius could no longer remember any concrete details until they went to leave, close to midnight. As they trooped out, Julius turned back to Kines and managed to force out, “Thank you very much ser, for the first time in weeks I feel almost human again.” He didn’t know if it was him or the alcohol talking, but the farewell salute from Kines made him feel better for his slurred words.
They dropped him back off at his hab, and the first thing Julius did was race for the bathroom as his stomach heaved. He had drunk far too much; he never wanted to do that again. That night the nightmares began.
Calth. A beautiful world, one of the jewels of the thousand worlds of Ultramar. One of the master worlds of the Ultramar sector. One of the anchor points of the new civilisation. An embodiment of the reward that the millennia of warfare waged by man had finally lead to.
Julius stood on the rockcrete landing platform of Numinus City Starport and sniffed the air. It smelled good, it smelled pure. Nothing like the ever-present whiff of the pollutants which permeate Terra’s air, something Terrans never noticed until they went offworld and realised what a shithole the Throneworld truly is. Julius was surprised at his own attitude towards the world he had called home for over sixteen years. But then, the circumstances of his leaving may have had something to do with it.
Calth’s sun, Veridia, sat like a blue-white pearl in the pale sky. Off to one side, rising like a moon was Calth’s projected superorbital plate, a symbol of its importance. Only the master worlds of the Imperium have plates. Terra of course has them, so too does Macragge, Inwit, Chemos and Cadia.
In the distance, huge semi-auto hoists and cranes, some of them looking like quadruped Titans, busily transferred cargo stacks to giant bulk lifters on the field as the fruit of Calth’s industrial output was shipped across Ultima Segmentum. Once Julius would have been fascinated by what was going on all around him, but times change. People change.
From afar, Julius still looked the same as he had before Seadelant, but once you got close to him you saw the haunted look in his eyes, the empty stare and the rings around his eyes which denoted sleeplessness. The Nightmare which had first come after his bout of drinking on the Iron Tide had come again, and again, and again. Nine times he had woken up screaming bloody murder during the trip from Seadelant to Calth. Nine times she had died again in his arms, and he had been powerless to save her. The dreams were so real it was living the whole experience time and time again, each time knowing the outcome but being helpless to change it, for it had already happened. He was glad he had foregone returning straight to Terra on the Iron Tide, he wouldn’t want to explain his nightmares to his friends, how he now feared to sleep for the fear of those nightmares, how he was thinking of drastic measures to stop them from happening.
He had dozens of messages from Terra, from his friends, and he hadn’t looked at a single one. He wanted time alone, to get away from them. He needed to be ready before he could face any of them. He only wished he knew what he needed to be ready for.
Around him the crew of the Sanctity of Saramanth chattered and laughed as they departed for some well earned shore leave. It was a strange experience, hearing people speaking on Calth. Though he had lived on Terra all his life, his voice had stubbornly maintained a Calthite lit, and now instead of being the only person who spoke it, almost everyone did. Hearing it spoken by everyone was a novel experience, one he wished he could feel more at ease with.
There was plenty he had wanted to squeeze into the ten days he had originally planned to spend on Calth. Visiting the Holophusikon, touring Numinus City and seeing medicae block IF-01 where he had been born and the rugged wilds of the southern hemisphere of Calth. Now he only had two days planetside before he was to board a transport back to Terra, two days to try and find the answers he had left Terra to seek.
In truth, he did not want to go back to Terra. After what he had just gone through, how could he return to Terra, as if none of it had happened? How could he face anyone? How could he tell them about what had happened to him? How could he tell her about the woman he met, the woman who made him shatter his oaths, and who died to save him? He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to face it. All he wanted was for his problems to just go away. It was 09:51 local time, and he had all day free. There was one reason he had wanted to come to Calth in the first place, and despite the external hell he had gone through on Seadelant and the personal hell he now found himself in, he would do this one thing, he would go home.
The estuary at Neride was one of the most fertile places on the planet, the stink of beets and cabbage strong in the humid air. His father had chosen his land well. Forty acres of good land to farm, to grow Swartgrass, flowers and vegetables for Ultramar. But then Lord Guilliman had come with his offer, and Oll had accepted it. Now his house was rented out to a migrant family from Praetoria. They paid the rent on time, and had offered to let Julius stay with them for his time on Calth. Julius had politely declined. He needed to be alone. Julius paid the Taxaiman and waved him off. He would be back in four hours to pick Julius up, easily enough time to get everything done.
The Little Chapel sat mournfully on the edge of the Swartgrass fields. Julius had seen plenty of pictures of it, but his breath caught when he saw it in person. It was there that his parents were married, where he was christened, and where his mother now lay.
The doors creaked open as Julius went in, the strip of light from outside illuminating the insides. Once Julius would have crossed himself before entering, but this time he just shambled in and made a beeline straight for an alcove in the western wall. Set in the alcove was a stone, words carved into it. Quietly he repeated them to himself.
‘In loving memory of Julia Marmora Pius, wife to Ollanius and mother to Julius. Taken before her time, sadly missed.’ Behind that stone was his mother’s ashes. He couldn’t remember her, but he had seen the picts and heard his father’s soft-spoken stories. Julia Marmora was a stylish and exotic beauty from the Talian peninsula who claimed she could trace her lineage to the Romanii Emperors of old. Her great grandfather, also named Julius had died fighting against Mad King Peshkein of Tali, one of the many barbarian warlords who had despoiled Terra before the coming of the Emperor. She had been a remembrancer during the Crusade, and like so many of them she had sought the ultimate prize, becoming the personal documentarist to the greatest mortal hero in the Galaxy, Ollanius Pius. And not only had she succeeded, but she had stolen his heart as well. She was a pious Catheric like he was, and they had bonded over their shared faith and his stories, and they began to lay plans for what they would do once the Crusade ended.
It was at that point in the story that his father’s voice started to crack up. During the last days of the crusade an attack by Ork fungus gas on a nameless world had ravaged her lungs and nearly killed her. His father had carried her off the battlefield. She had missed the Angelus Triumph, recovering in a hospital bed while Ollanius took part in the official end to millennia of warfare. They had chosen Calth to be their new home in part because the rich air was good for her, but she had wilted in the toxic atmosphere of Terra and died two years after they had moved there.
He stared at that stone plaque for what seemed like an age. He had expected to be overwhelmed with a flood of emotion the moment he saw his mother’s resting place, but he couldn’t feel anything. Seadelant had burned everything out of him.
“She would be proud of you, the poor love.”
He looked over. A man stood in the doorway, backlit by the sun so Julius couldn’t see his face for shadow.
“Last time I saw you, you were still in diapers. How things change.”
The man entered the chapel. Now he could see him Julius saw a well-built man strong in the back and arms, with a very handsome face and grey hair. He wore his age like a regal cloak. Julius remembered his father talking about him.
“Are you John Grammaticus?”
“Yes, though you’d better call me John. My last name is a mouthful.” He sat down on one of the old wooden benches, facing Julius.
“My father told me you might be here.”
John smiled. “Your father and I were tight, back in the day. Anatol Hive. The Panpacific. We had some adventures, Oll and I. That was before he joined the army and went off on the Crusade. I’ve kept an eye on him since, and on you once you came on the scene. You don’t know how much of a fuss you caused just by being born. The first second generation.” Julius stared at him. John continued, his words making no sense to Julius.
“We’re sterile. He gave us our gifts, but we could never pass them on. And then you came along. They’re still debating what role you’ll play, but regardless it will be huge. Your fate is forever entwined with theirs, like it or not.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about ser.” John didn’t seem to hear him.
“But of course, after our first big failure, we don’t know what to think anymore. We thought the Acuity never lied, the first son would turn against his father and drown the stars in blood; undo all the seer strived to achieve.”
“What the bloody hell are you talking about?” Julius was getting tired of his senseless words.
“A future, dear boy. A future which never came to pass, and thank all under the heavens that it never did come to pass, else you, I, this place, hell almost nothing would remain. A grim dark future loomed, but never arrived, thanks to some quick witted individuals.” He gave a nervous laugh. “The problem is that we think too slowly, we take the long view, so when other individuals react fast we are left in the lurch. And no sooner did that happen then you came around, and the others. The heirs to the empire not tainted with the touch. And now we can’t make sense of it, what is supposed to happen now, what the great enemy will do now. We have been knocked off our bearings…”
Julius interrupted him. “Ser, I have no idea what any of that shite is supposed to mean, and frankly it sounds like a load of fug. Now what are you here for?”
John smiled bashfully. “Sorry, I have a habit of getting on a tangent, and it would be good for you if you remember at least some of that in the future. You will need it, eventually. No, I’m here for you.”
“For me? I don’t need your help ser.”
“Yes you bloody well do. It’s plain enough to see that you’re hurting badly. I know about Seadelant, you were caught up in a war not of your making, faced daily horrors and tribulations, and during the last hours saw monsters from the blackest depths of the Warp. Very few can come out of an experience like that unchanged, and it’s plain to see you are not one of those lucky few. For example, I noticed you didn’t cross yourself when you entered. Your father would never do that, he has always been pious and devoted. Did you forget? Or have you lost your faith?”
Julius glared at him, though he spoke the truth. He hadn’t prayed once since Summer had died, and Summer’s Aquila had replaced his Catheric Crux around his neck. His god hadn’t saved her, he had ignored Julius’s desires for his nightmares to end, and now he no longer felt he could believe in Him anymore. He was cast adrift in an uncaring universe.
“My faith or lack of it is none of your concern ser.” He snapped. “More importantly, how the hell do you know about what happened on Seadelant? They’ve ordered the details suppressed so no-one knows about the hell-spawn.” His suspicions about John Grammaticus were growing by the minute.
“I know a lot of things Julius, and don’t think you can worm your way out of this. Why are there bags under your eyes? Are you afraid of sleeping?”
Julius scowled at John; he was reading him like a book. “You really want to know how I feel? You really want to know how fucked up I am? Fine. Shell Shock, Combat Fatigue, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, call it what you want, I have all the signs. Nightmares which feel so real it’s like I’m reliving the event all over again. Nightmares which leave me screaming. I fear to sleep because of those nightmares.”
“And what event is it you keep on seeing?”
Julius didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to say her name for fear it would all come rushing back to him. But under John’s piercing stare, he finally admitted, “There was someone. Someone who I came to care very deeply for. And she died.”
“She? That’s interesting. Did you come to have an emotional bond with this woman, and is that why she haunts you now?”
His words were uncomfortably close to the mark, but the lack of reverence stung Julius. How could he speak of her like that?
“She was more than just that, ser. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have survived that hell. She died to save me, to save the entire fucking planet, and what did they do? They suppressed it. No-one will ever know of her sacrifice, no-one will ever know how she banished a daemon with nothing but her faith and saved Seadelant. Her parents disowned her, they don’t care that she’s dead. Only I care, only I still bear her memory. She changed my attitude towards those who worship the God-Emperor. Summer taught me that they are no less citizens of this Imperium than anyone else, and their faith can kill daemons.”
“Summer, that was her name?”
“Yes. Summer Lantsfalle.” It was the first time he had said her name aloud since the Iron Tide, forty days ago.
“Lantsfalle,” He mused. He let the name pass without comment. “She must have been very special, and I’m sorry for your loss. You know the Emperor will not take too kindly to you standing up for those who deify Him. Are you willing to accept the consequences of that?”
“Yes. He will never stop people from worshipping Him, even if he purges the Galaxy from one side to the other. It’s high time he accepts that fact, and accepts that he has an obligation to all his subjects, including those who see him as a living god.”
“But you still hurt. There’s something else, isn’t there?” John’s words pierced Julius.
“Yes, I still hurt. And it’s bloody unfair.” He finally snapped, glaring at John.
“I know that look; that sod you look. Your father often wore it when he got aggravated with me. You truly are your father’s son.” said Grammaticus with a grin.
“No I’m not. My father would not feel the way I feel. He fought in the Great Crusade from beginning to end and he survived it perfectly intact. I fight in a war for one month and I end up broken in mind and soul. How fair is that? How can he go for centuries without a spot on his mind, and I go for thirty days and become torn and haunted?”
“Have you ever talked with your father about this? About PTSD? He may surprise you. He’s been through hell more times than you or I can count, seen things which would rob a normal man of his sanity, and he’s not always walked away from it without a scratch.”
“That’s not all. During the fighting, Summer and I…we became close.” The other matter, the matter which he didn’t want to confront at all. He didn’t even know why he was mentioning it to John, but he couldn’t stop himself. His father had always said that John had an ability to charm his way into or out of anything, and it seemed he had worked his majic on Julius. He peered intently at the worn teenager, his gaze almost hypnotic. “And by that, do you mean you…?”
“Yes, bloody yes!” it felt good to get it out there, to just let it all go.
“Did you lose your faith even before you came here? I though as a Catheric you would be sworn to celibacy like your father was before he was married?”
“No, my faith was intact when I did it. That makes it all the more worse. Ever since the shooting on Terra, my life has gone to hell in a handbasket. First I nearly got the girl I love killed in a stupid move, then I broke my religious oaths. Not because I’m undisciplined, but because twice I allowed myself to replace oaths with emotion, something I swore never to do. Emotion gets you killed in battle, and it’s nearly done with me.”
“Julius, you cannot blame yourself for all this. Everyone makes mistakes, your father, me, hell even the Emperor. The emotional avalanche you had been buried under since all this began has lead one thing to another and eventually the dam burst.”
“That’s not the problem John. You know what the real problem is? I’ve seen what PTSD has done to veterans, I’ve grown up alongside them all my life, and I don’t want go through that dark tunnel. I don’t want to end up a drunken wreck. I don’t want to force away everyone who I care for, and who cares for me. I don’t want to find drastic solutions to stop the pain, but I can see no way out of this.” It came rushing out like a flood, a flood of grief and pain.
“You know what my last nightmare was? It was the day I broke my vows with her, when my oaths were overcome by my emotions. I dreamed that she died as we lay together, that she grew cold upon me, and I felt the fire go out of her while still inside her. Do you know what that’s like? Do you?”
John’s unwavering stare, betraying no emotion filled Julius with fury. He wanted to be done with this. “Now if you’ll excuse me ser, I’m leaving.”
As he opened the door to leave, John called out. “You don’t want to return to Terra, do you?” Julius stopped dead and stared at him.
“How the hell do you know? Are you a psyker, John Grammaticus? Can you see inside my bloody head?”
John shook his head. “No more than anyone else can. I can see things, just like your father can, just like you can. I know you’ve seen inside the Emperor; you like me know what a bloodthirsty bastard he really is. It’s a skill some of us have. All I’m doing is seeing the pain you’re bearing and trying to make you confront it. You will never be free of it if you run away from it forever. You have to return to Terra, you have to confront it, if you are ever to move on.”
“I appreciate your sentiment ser, but how the hell would you know?”
“I spent eighteen years in an asylum because I tried to explain something which only I knew. I was locked away because people couldn’t see what I saw. That experience left scars for a long time, even now I still get uncontrollable shivers each time I see a barred window.” This time there was bitterness in John’s voice, the first taste of emotion. “But your father helped me escape, and he helped me overcome the trauma. If I can survive it, then you can as well. Go home and tell your father everything. Even if you see no-one else, you owe that much to him. It’s what your mother would have wanted.”
“You met my mother?”
“Once, before your parents met, when she was covering the one hundred fortieth expeditionary fleet. She was a beauty, olive skinned and stylish. All the men fawned over her. She was bragging how she would be the first to cover the famed Ollanius Pius, the first to get his stories. Your father hated the remembrancers, he claimed they ignored the common soldiers and their sacrifice. What struck me most about your mother was how much she was hiding, how her public face was so different from her private one. It took your father to uncover her hidden depths. You may be your father’s son, but there is plenty of your mother in you too.”
Julius could see the sense in his words, but he was still reluctant to go back, and he had other things to worry about as well. “I have one obligation left before I can go to Terra. Before she died, Summer wrote a letter to her younger brother. I will see it delivered, I owe that much to her and more. I will ensure her last letter and her medal gets to him no matter how far I have to go, though I don’t know where to start looking.”
“I don’t know where the Lantsfalle’s are now, but I know where they’ll be in a month or so. Terra.”
“Terra? How do you know?” Julius demanded.
“Haven’t you been paying attention to the news boy? The representative of the Chartist Captains had a heart attack and died. He has been replaced. The Lantsfalle’s will damn well do anything to ensure the new representative is their man and amenable to their interests, so they will head to Terra with all speed.”
Julius’s back stiffened as the way forward became clear. He now knew that no matter his own personal misgivings, he had to return to Terra. For Summer’s sake, if no-one else’s.
“Julius, for your father’s sake and yours, don’t try to solve this on your own. Get help, real help, while you’re on Terra. They have organisations which cater for PTSD on Terra, get the best treatment you can. Don’t let yourself be overcome, don’t surrender to the pain.”
Before he left, he turned back towards John. “Thank you ser, for making me feel better. My father was right about you, you do have a good heart.”
As Julius disappeared, John breathed “I wish he were right Julius. For both your sakes.”
That night, Julius realised what he was about to do, where he was going, and he drank the minibar in his hotel room dry. The Nightmares still came.
You Can't Go Home Again
After a hundred and thirty four days, Terra once again loomed large before Julius. The grey dead hulk of a world had never looked more unwelcoming then it did now. He wouldn’t be here long, just long enough to ensure the letter got to whom it was written for, and then he would leave for the IMA and the next stage of his life. If he could still go there without having a breakdown every time they mentioned the cost of war.
He stood on the observation deck of the Renald, a medium sized trader which regularly made the run between Calth and Terra. His journey had been unpleasant, but that was not the fault of the ship, or its crew. No, his descent into despair had not been stopped by his talk with John Grammaticus, only slowed, and the Nightmares assailed him time and time again. The crew stared at him every time he went past; though he had a cabin all of his own unlike the Sanctity of Saramanth it wasn’t soundproofed, and his nightly screaming matches were heard by all aboard.
As he watched the ship manoeuvre into docking position, he rubbed his forehead. His head throbbed dully; the legacy of the previous night’s drinking. Julius had never been one for alcohol before, but now he was drinking heavily, anything to numb the pain and stop the nightmares. The crew had turned a blind eye to his age, when he was plastered he didn’t wake half the crew with his screaming. A morning with a roaring hangover was infinitely preferable to a night of blood and death. He hated himself for succumbing to the drink, but then he hated himself for a lot now. What was one more thing to the tally? One thing he did worry about was that the moment he landed Terra-firma he would no longer have quite so easy access to drink, as a seventeen year old minor. How would he get his fix and keep the nightmares at bay?
Low-orbit traffic above Terra, as always was lousy with hundreds of ships jostling for space. Endless queues of lifter-boats, heavy-duty bulk tenders and system monitors held station in the wash of augur-fogging electromagnetics and engine flare from the heavier vessels as system pilots manoeuvred them towards the superorbital plates for refuelling, re-arming and supply.
Julius felt even worse now that he had returned, and received the news. Furia had run away, cut and run from Terra into the wider Galaxy. Isis had taken Furia under her wing during those last few weeks, she would be devastated. After that, how could he make things even worse for her by revealing his sundered oaths and PTSD? No, it would be better for the both of them if he just stayed away.
“Update: berthing docket inloading,” the tinny, mechanical voice came over the ships’ PA. “One hundred minutes until our allotted berth is available.”
Every one of those hundred minutes felt like agony as they passed at a snail’s pace. Finally the ship shuddered as it docked with the Gondavana, one of Terra’s Superorbital Plates and Julius went to collect his things. After fifty days on this ship, he was glad to be getting off, even if he would have to face hell and worse down on Terra.
The trip from Gondavana to Lion’s Gate Spaceport outside the palace came and went in a flash, and the hoverbus trip from there to Startseite went bye even quicker. He hadn’t contacted or spoken with anyone since Seadelant, so no-one knew he was back. Even if they did know, they were all busy elsewhere, so he wouldn’t have been given a warm reception the way he expected Venus, Freya and Remilia were greeted when they returned to Terra. But then, they weren’t shell shocked veterans who had become raging alcoholics.
Finally he was standing outside a modest hab in the uptown area of Startseite. Home, though it didn’t feel much like home anymore. For a few minutes he did nothing but stare at the door, his mind blank. Finally he reached over and opened the door. Ollanius was in the kitchen, and he turned to see his son standing in the doorway.
“Father.” Julius said as he took a step inside.
“Son.” Oll replied. For a few seconds they just stared at one another, until Oll suddenly walked over and embraced Julius. “I’m so glad you’re safe. When the news came through that you were trapped on that world…”
“I survived.” And I wish I had survived intact like you would have, but there we go. I’m now a drunken wreck who’s been scarred for life by a single bloody month of combat. Julius was tempted to say that, to let spill some of his bitterness, but he didn’t. He just stood there, meekly accepting his father’s warm greeting. He broke it off and ushered Julius inside.
“Are you going to let her know you’re back?” his first question to him, hardly surprising. Julius slowly nodded. He would have to; there was no escaping it now. Even if he didn’t, someone else would tell her he was back before long. He sincerely hoped she couldn’t or wouldn’t want to see him, that her college workload would preclude her from leaving.
Briefly he glanced over that the mag-calender hanging on the wall. The date on the calendar read 0 3410 447 M34. The daughters and their boyfriends had all gone to College over a month and a half ago, and by now would be well into their first year of study. They were gone from his life. Was Isis gone as well? For her sake, he hoped so. He would not to saddle her with his problems, not when she had enough of her own.
Briefly Oll summarised what had happened on Terra since he had gone. Their Priest, Pulandio had gone to Hy Brasil to rest and recuperate from the near fatal beating he had suffered at the height of the Keiter affair and Oll had taken over, though he freely admitted he was no orator and his rather awkward delivery of the sermons left a lot to be desired. Something about elections and the death of the representative of the Chartist Captains, and of course the fact that all the daughters had gone off. Julius half-listened without paying attention, wondering how he would be able to stop the nightmares that would inevitably come tonight. His father’s drinks cabinet was locked tight, and Julius didn’t know where the key was. He would have to go tonight without drinking, which did not make Julius’s mood any better.
He picked at his food and ate little, and he went to bed as fast as he could. He tried to stay up and read for as long as possible, but the jaws of sleep eventually claimed him. The Nightmare came again that night, and the evening was torn by Julius’s desperate yells. He was jarred awake, and for a second he lay there, staring into space. Another night dominated by dreams of hell and death, of her last words to him and the feeling of her warm body going cold as he held it and screamed to the heavens. He dearly wanted a drink at that moment, something to take the edge off.
There was a knocking on the door, soft but firm. A crack of light striped across the bed, and Julius turned to see his father silhouetted in the doorway. “Julius is everything alright?” he asked.
Julius wanted to yell out, ‘yes father, everything’s fucking alright. I’m just a nut-case who can’t get over the death of the woman who stole my heart and shattered my vows. No father, I’m fucking fine’, but reality prevailed. He just said. “It was just a bad dream. These things happen.”
Oll didn’t leave. He stood there, veiled in shadow. “It wasn’t the first time, was it?” he asked. “You’ve been having nightmares ever since you left Seadelant, haven’t you?”
His words rammed home, and Julius groggily pulled himself upright to face his father. “So what if I have?” his words were more bitter then he’d intended.
Oll nodded. “Julius, come with me. I think we need to have a little talk.”
Julius pulled himself up and followed his father out to the living room. Oll sat down, and beckoned for Julius to sit beside him. For a few seconds they didn’t say anything, a vast gulf between them. Finally Oll broke the silence.
“You’re hurting. Don’t deny it; I’ve seen it happen too many times before. A piece of your soul has been torn out.” Julius did not reply. The tense silence filled the room before Oll added. “You’ve been drinking. I smelt it on your breath from the moment you walked in the door.”
His blunt statement felt like a condemnation, and Julius scrambled to defend himself. “Why do you care? I know you don’t approve, but…”
“Of course I disapprove. Drinking doesn’t solve the problem; it doesn’t even make it better. No, it only masks it for a short time. I’ve seen it a thousand times before.”
“It’s the only thing which lets me sleep without the nightmares!”
“I’ve heard that one before as well, and you know as well as I do that that’s a lie. Not a single drop of alcohol will pass your lips while you’re under this roof. Understood?”
Julius scowled at his father. How the hell would he know? He wasn’t the one whose world was coming apart at the seams. He wasn’t the one who was hurting every single day.
“Julius, what happened on Seadelant to leave you so angry and despondent?”
Julius didn’t reply. He just stared into space. Oll pressed him.
“You’re going to have to tell me son, if I am to help you. I know it will hurt, but that hurt will only get worse if you keep it bottled up like that. It will get worse and worse, until all you can do is try to end it all, and that is a sin. Let it out now, just let it go.”
His father spoke the truth. The whole time he had spoken the truth, no matter how much it hurt. Julius slowly began with when the Hulk first appeared in the skies over Seadelant, and how he had signed up for the CDA. He left nothing out, he spoke of how he had unmasked Summer as a follower of the God-Emperor, how he had sworn to keep her secret. He spoke of the fall of the walls and living underground where they lived in fear of discovery and death. He spoke of how he had gotten close to Summer, and how he had finally betrayed his oaths and sundered his vows with her. As he did he looked at his father, expecting anger or disappointment, but his father’s expression didn’t change one bit, it remained kindly but piercing, his eyes the same vivid blue as Julius’s own. Julius spoke of the Daemon, of his last night with Summer, of their suicide mission to send warning to the Inner City.
Julius found the story consuming him like fire consumes paper, swallowing him up. No matter how much it hurt, he couldn’t stop now. The arrival of the Legions, the Ork assault, the Daemonic Incursion and the Brass scorpion, all of it tumbled out in a wave of emotion. Finally his voice choked up as he forced himself to confront the final chapter of the story, the Bunker. Not caring about what he had told Ahriman, he told his father of the fight, of how Summer had banished the Daemon with her faith, and how she had died in his arms. He could barely speak by the time he was done, but he had to finish, had to get the last of it out.
“My shame is complete father. God has abandoned me and rightly so. I betrayed the woman I love, and then the other woman I came to love died in my arms. After that I don’t deserve a happy ending. After that I deserve everything that has happened to me. I am a mess and I will never be free of this, I will never erase this stain on my character.”
Not a word passed Oll’s lips, not a single comment at the tale Julius had just told, and he felt his ire rising. “How did you ever survive this hell father? The whole Crusade and you never broke once. One month and I shattered like glass. Why?!” He all but spat out.
Oll fingered the onyx-and-gold Ullanor Triumph Bar he always wore, a legacy of his glorious service.
"My son, there’s a saying as old as war itself. ‘In war, there are no unwounded soldiers,’ and I am no exception. I’ve been through what you’re going through before. I’ve had shell-shock before.”
His revelation stunned Julius. “What? When?”
“It was on the planet designated seventeen-nine early in the Crusade. We were fighting heathens allied with the darker powers who had enslaved that world. There was a close friend of mine, his name was Petch. He was a Merican from Nouva Yourk, he never quit and he was almost insanely brave. He wanted to serve his term, head home and start a family. He saved my arse more times than I could count on that forsaken world. Then came the day where he shielded me from an artillery shell and was nearly torn in two. He lay there in front of me; just a torso with his legs and one of his arms gone and half his face torn off and he asked me to give him mercy. I had nightmares after that, nightmares about what I’d done. I felt guilty he had died and I had survived. I stopped praying, I felt God had abandoned me, if we weren’t in the front line continuously I would have started drinking. As it turned out I drank illegal moonshine every chance I got and hated myself for doing so.” Julius’s eyes widened.
“We had an abhuman auxiliary unit attached at the time, the Barakak third, and I ended up paired with one of their Ogryn warriors. I had one of my nightmares one night while we were on patrol, and he asked me why I was screaming. I rather nastily told him the whole thing, and he said that he’d lost his best friend as well, on the same day it turned out. Hell-Spawn killed him, burned him alive. And yet the Ogryn was not sad, did not feel crushed the way I did. When I asked him why, he said that his friend ‘was a good soldier for the Emperor, and now he's with the Emperor.’ He told me he did not weep for his friend because he was with the Emperor now. He wept for himself because he had been left behind.”
“His faith opened my eyes, made me realise what true faith looked like. His simple devotion was more real than any scripture or verse I’d ever read. After that I re-connected with my faith, went and sought counselling help to deal with my nightmares. The Campaign ended soon afterwards, and the Barakak third were sent elsewhere to help some other Imperial force. I never saw that Ogryn again, though I prayed heavily for him and have never forgotten what he did for me. I hope he survived and got to go home again.”
“Who was this Ogryn?” Julius asked.
“Gav.” Oll said softly. “His name was Gav.” Oll smiled. “I wanted to name you after him, but Julia refused. She was adamant you would be named for that atavus of hers who fought the Mad King of Tali, and no-one could ever win an argument with her. Your mother was stubborn as a mule.”
Julius held back a laugh.
“You’re not flawed for feeling the way you do Julius. We are after all only human, not demigods made flesh like the Astartes and the Primarchs, or the daughters for that matter. We can’t survive such trauma untouched. You saw death and were reminded of your own mortality, and you needed to cope with that horrific fact. What happened with you and this lady you met, it was natural. You coped with the horror of an alien invasion and the death which surrounded you by finding a little peace and warmth. She needed you, and you responded to that need. You should not be ashamed that your oaths fell by the wayside, stronger men than you or I have tried and failed to keep to their oaths in similar situations before. God had not abandoned you, He will be waiting for you when you return to Him with open arms.”
Julius still hadn’t asked the big question. “How can I face her after all this? I’m not the same person who fled Terra over four months ago. And I’ve heard the news about Lady Furia; I can’t dump my troubles on her as well. The cousin she took under her wing cuts and flees from Terra, and then her boyfriend returns a shattered wreck that happened to cheat on her despite his vows? I can’t do that to her, I can’t be that callous.”
Oll shook his head. “You owe it to her to tell her the truth, no matter the situation. Would you leave her in the lurch, wondering why you didn’t try to see her while you were here? Would you make her feel even worse, when her companion refused to even try and see her after what she’s been through? I raised you to be better than that my son. What happened with Lady Furia will be hurting her, and she’s been worried about you the entire time you were on that planet and afterwards when you refused to contact her. She spoke with me just before she went to Kourtney, asking me to contact her the moment you returned planetside. I haven’t done so yet, but I will tomorrow. Even if it is over between you two, you owe her the truth, you owe her an explanation. Would you deny her that?”
Julius shook his head slowly and took a deep breath. “You remember that old song father, about that ancient war? It had that line ‘god help me, I was only nineteen’. I understand it now. God help me, I’m only seventeen.”
“I can’t fight your battles for you son. I can get you the help you need, but you will need the will to go through this, the will to want to be cured. You can’t change the past, you can’t wish all this away, but you can leave the past behind and get on with your life. You’re only seventeen; you have a whole life yet to live. It will be hell, reliving your experiences all over again in therapy but the pain will go away. It always goes away. We can delay your intake to the IMA if necessary until you feel fit enough to go. But we will worry about all this in the morning. Now go back to bed and try and get some sleep. Remember I am always here for you, no matter what.”
Oll led Julius back to bed, and for the first time since Seadelant Julius murmured a prayer to his god. The Nightmare lurked at the fringes of his mind, but it didn’t return that night.
Confronting the Lantsfalle's
Julius peered up at the Primus Gate, a colossal portal as high as a Warlord Titan and clad in damascened silver and lapis lazuli. The front entrance to the Imperial Palace, the gateway to the Emperor’s continental domain. Around him thousands of petitioners and supplicants gathered before the gate, patiently waiting their turn to pass through its towering magnificence. Not all would reach the lofty heart of the palace, and Julius hoped that he would be one of those who would get to pass. A Custodian armoured in all-encasing gold plate stood at the gate checking each and every person before they could be allowed to enter, his halberd always held at the ready. He had never entered the palace by the front entrance before, but surprisingly the simple act of standing among the milling crowd and waiting for his name to be called felt almost soothing. For a moment he could forget about his hurting and focus on the task at hand.
Once inside he would head for the guest wing and seek out the Lantsfalle family. He had it on good authority that they had arrived on Terra six days before he did, and they were involved in a series of high-level meetings with senior members of the Chartists, those who had the most to lose with the appointment of the new representative. This was the only chance he would get to ensure that they knew of their daughter’s sacrifice and of how much she meant to him.
Finally his name was called, and ignoring the ripples of shock from the crowd he made his way to the gate, where his genetic markers were verified by the Unified Biometric Verification System which all Custodes possessed. Passing beneath the shadow of the Primus Gate took many hours of travel on foot, and once beyond the gate the magnificence of the palace proper began. The palace had been described as a continental landmass of unrivalled architectural brilliance, and the greatest work of man, and it was all that and much more.
Boarding one of the inner Palace monos, Julius sat down and idly peered out of the window as it set off for the guest wing. Their route took them over the Brahmaputra Plateau and the many sights which lay within, but Julius was too wrapped in his own thoughts about what he had set out to do to take much notice of his surroundings. He passed the Gallery of Winter, Upanizad’s Tomb, the Petitioner’s Hall, the Crystal Observatory and hundreds more of the wonders of the palace. He had seen most of them before; it didn’t bother him that he wouldn’t see them again. No, the only thing that mattered was his mission. As long as he had that to concentrate on, he could forget about his alcohol craving and his nightmares, forget about his uncertainty over the future, of the confrontation he knew was speeding towards him as fast as the mono he was travelling in. He shook his head, trying to shake away all those thoughts. No, he had to forget all that and do this, for Summer.
Finally after nearly two hours, a smooth voice came over the PA. “The Imperial Palace High-Security Guest Wing. Make sure all verification is in order before proceeding.” Julius checked the ident card his father had provided for him before stepping off the mono. Straight away he could see how tight the security was around here. A phalanx of soldiers in gleaming breastplates of ivory and jade kept watch on everyone who disembarked from the mono and another Custodian stood before the entrance way glaring over the new arrivals beneath his helm’s horsehair plume.
Julius was frisked before he would be allowed past, and he could barely conceal a scowl as he made his way into the depths of the guest wing. At the end of the hallway a massive grav-lift speared up to the uppermost levels of the guest wing, where the richest and most important people in the entire Imperium stayed. The Lantsfalle’s would be up there. Without hesitation Julius stepped into the lift and listened to the silent hiss as it began to ride the grav-field up to the roof of the world.
The corridors in the upper guest wing were panelled with off-world wood from the broadleaf forests of Yolaeu, the metallic surfaces of the ceiling edged with chased platinum and the walls inserted with smooth pict slates that displayed a rolling series of serene alien landscapes. The seats dotted here and there for weary travellers to rest in were plush amethyst velveteen. Everything screamed the absolute peak of luxury, and Julius felt like he was soiling them just by walking down them.
Finally he reached the wing where his father had informed him they would be staying. There were only a few residences here, and from what Summer had told him, they would doubtless pick the biggest.
He knew instantly when he reached the one they had chosen for their own. Maybe it was the gilded L which had been hung on the door, or the banner which hung above the door, or more likely it was the pair of bodyguard Servitors waiting outside.
For a while he just stood there, wondering what he was supposed to do. Wait for someone to show up? There was no buzzer or messaging system that he could see. The Servitors just stood there, staring blankly ahead behind black metal masks. Finally, frustrated he walked over to the door.
The instant he approached them the Servitor’s weapons snapped up and trained upon him, humming with activation. He had to say something before they shot him.
“My, uh, my name is Julius Pius, and I need to speak with Mr. and Mrs. Lantsfalle as soon as possible. It’s about their daughter, Summer.”
The Servitors didn’t move or acknowledge his words, and as several minutes passed he felt more and more foolish at speaking to the servitors, and was about to turn to go when the door hissed open.
A man in an impossibly neat suit stood there, a completely blank expression on his face. “Your biometrics verify you as the son of Ollanius Pius. Can you confirm?” his voice was utterly neutral with no accent or inflection at all.
Julius held back a rather nasty curse. Was his entire life all about whose son he was? He answered as civilly as he could, “Yes, Ollanius Pius is my father. I was recently involved in the conflict on Seadelant as well. Now can I please come in?”
“Follow me.” The man said, and he turned and went inside, Julius following at a short distance. He didn’t want to be too close to the man, there was something about him which frightened Julius.
They emerged into a vast space, an entrance hall coloured in gold, silver and purple. A staircase led off to the second level, and several doors sat recessed into the walls. Julius stood there, warily eyeing the strange man. Again they were there for several minutes; the Lantsfalle’s appeared to love torturing their guests by forcing them to wait. He wished Summer had told him more about them. He continued to stare at the man, who did not even seem to be breathing. What was he?
“One of Lukas Chrom’s automatons. With skin added, its form is utterly indistinguishable from that of a human. It was a gift after we found that STC design for him buried beneath Neiopara. A wonder is it not?”
The voice was clear and full of authority. Julius whipped around to see in a man and a woman in almost matching grey suits. He could almost immediately see the family resemblance to Summer in the woman’s blonde hair and hazel eyes and the man’s round face. However neither of them had her warmth, they appeared cold as ice and aloof. They looked at him like he was an unusual type of insect, something they’d rather squish underfoot but wouldn’t…yet.
“Well met, Sieur Pius. I am Gregor Lantsfalle, and this is my wife Alezibeth.” He said, though his voice said anything but. “Now why are you here?”
Straight to business. Julius cleared his throat. “I’m here about your daughter ser.”
“We have no daughter.” They said in unison, as if they had been practising for this very occasion. Julius had expected that reply, but to hear it was still painful.
“Yes you do. Summer Lantsfalle, once heir to the Lantsfalle trade network.”
“She’s no daughter of ours, not anymore. What of her? If she thinks she can worm her way back into favour…”
“She’s dead ser. She served with me on Seadelant, and gave her life for the liberation of that world.”
If he expected a reaction, he was sorely disappointed. Their faces were as blank as their automaton. Julius stewed for a few second, before he let out, “Do you not have a heart? Your daughter is dead. Surely you should say something?”
“She’s no daughter of ours. She violated the Imperial Creed. She willingly gave up her rights to be called a Lantsfalle that day, and her death does not concern us now. If that’s all you’ve come here for, then you should go now.”
Julius was not about to leave just yet. He had expected this reaction from them, but there was one other thing. His task was not done. “Is her brother here? I have something I need to give to him.”
“Give it to us, and we will ensure he gets it.”
Julius shook his head. “No, I wish to give it to him in person. I will not go until I see with my own two eyes that he’s received this.”
“He’s at lessons at the moment, and is not to be disturbed.”
“Not even to learn of the death of his sister? How can you be so heartless?”
“There is a difference between heartlessness and pragmatism Sieur Pius. We did not become one of the fifty richest businesses in the entire Imperium without some actions which those among you might see as unseemly. My father left me with a trade consortium that was falling to pieces, and he himself was a weak man who dragged our family name through the mud with his actions. We spent decades rebuilding and building up the family business from that, and my former daughter was willing to drag our name back into the mud with her actions on Dagonet. Surely you knew about her ‘aberration’?”
“She was a devout follower of the Lectio Divinitatus, yes I know. And why should that matter? Does it matter that I am a Catheric? Should one’s beliefs determine who they are and how they should be treated?”
“Her beliefs violate the Imperial Creed, yours do not. Do you know what happens to Emperor-worshippers when the Imperium finds them? Hulks, re-education camps, servitorising and worse. What we did was for her own good.”
“No, what you did was cut your daughter off when she needed you most. I know the rumours, that there are plenty among the aristocracy who worship the God-Emperor and use their money to hide the fact. You were never there for her, and when she finally found something which filled the void in her soul you never noticed, you threw her out, discarded her. Summer was a beautiful woman, smart, educated and strong willed. She saved my life more times than I can count, if it wasn’t for her I’d be dead by now. You never saw her the way I did, for if you had you would never have thrown her aside.”
“You are fast outstaying your welcome Sieur Pius.” Gregor Lantsfalle growled. “I would ask that you go now.”
Julius defiantly continued. “I will not go ser until you’ve heard all I have to say. Your daughter died for me. She gave her life to save me, to save that whole world from a menace you cannot imagine. I loved her ser, I loved her and I lost her, and the least I can do is ensure her last wishes are kept. My father knows people, and I will get this message to whom it belongs even if it means I have to go on my knees before the God-Emperor Himself.”
They blanched at his choice of words, and for a moment Julius wondered if they would get the automaton to forcibly drag him out. But after a few whispered words between them, Alezibeth Lantsfalle said. “Fine. Deliver your message and go. Narthan is in his room, upstairs and fifth door on the right. Make it quick.”
Julius nodded and set off as quickly as he dared. He found a boy hunched over a data-slab in the room with a teaching Servitor standing beside him, and he turned it off at the sound of someone at the door.
Narthan Lantsfalle shared his sister’s blonde hair and round face, though he was at least two years younger than Julius. His eyes widened as he recognised who was standing before him.
“You’re Julius Pius aren’t you? Your father is the greatest mortal war hero!” he said excitedly. He was closer to his sister in temperament then he was to either of his parents. There was some hope for the future of the Lantsfalle’s after all.
“Yes I am. I have some bad news for you I’m afraid, do we have somewhere private?”
“Here’s about as private as I get around here I’m afraid. The ‘tor is off though, we won’t be overheard.”
Julius sat down beside Narthan. “You remember your sister, right?”
“Summer? How could I ever forget her? Mum and dad sent her away for some reason, they never told me why. Do you have news from her?” His eager expression felt like a dagger in Julius’s heart, but at least he wasn’t the only one who still cared for her. He hated the news he was about to break to him, but he had to.
“Narthan, do you mind if I call you that?” Narthan shook his head. He could see the expression on Julius’s face. Julius struggled to hold his voice steady as he said the terrible words, “Your sister is dead. She died in my arms on Seadelant at the height of the battle. She gave her life to save me, to save the whole planet.”
Narthan‘s reaction was to stare at Julius for a few seconds, before denying it. “She can’t be dead! She swore she would come back and see me one day! She swore!”
“No one is sorrier than I am Narthan, believe me. We served together for the entire war, and I got to know your sister well during that time. She was a good person, and the Imperium is poorer for her loss.”
Narthan started softly sobbing, trying and failing to hold his composure in front of Julius, and as he did so he looked just like Summer had when she had done the same all those weeks ago. Once again Julius went over and embraced the crying party, and Narthan gladly accepted Julius’s offer of a shoulder to cry on. Julius felt tears streaking down his own cheeks which surprised him, he thought he had cried out every tear he had ever had or would ever have over Summer already.
“How did she die?” Narthan forced through the sobs.
Julius wanted to tell him the truth, but he had sworn not too, and how could he tell this boy that a Daemon had killed his sister? Julius carefully chose his next words.
“She died standing firm against the foe during the last big push. She killed their leader and was felled by its last blow. If she hadn’t done that I would be dead now. If she hadn’t been there at all I probably wouldn’t be here now. Your sister was very special to me.”
“Here. Your sister wrote this before we went off on our last mission. It’s for you. And this.” He carefully pulled out the sealed letter and the medal box from his coat pocket and handed them to Narthan. He reverently took them, opened the medal box and stared at it.
“I won one as well, though I’d rather have your sister back then a billion medals. It’s scant comfort, but take it anyway.” A thought came to mind. “Do you know why your sister was sent away?”
Narthan shook his head. “They wouldn’t tell me. Said it was a monstrous crime against the very tenants of the Imperium, and if they hadn’t done so she would have dragged the family name through the mud.”
“I’ll tell you, because you should know. Your sister believed in something bigger then herself, and it gave her purpose and a sense of place. There’s no easy way to put this, but she found faith in the God-Emperor and became an adherent of the Lectio Divinitatus.”
“She would never do that! She knows it’s against the Imperial Creed!” he recoiled in horror. Julius patiently waited for him to stop. “Is it any different from what I believe? Does it immediately make her into a psychopath like Keiter? No. She was a better person because of her faith; it gave her purpose and motivated all she did. She was a strong, fiery woman who was sharp as a whip and sweet as an angel. Was your sister any different when you bade her goodbye, did you think she was suddenly someone else?”
“No. No she wasn’t.” Narthan admitted. He just sat there, digesting all this information. He then changed the subject.
“My parents want me to stay on Terra for the foreseeable future; they plan to enrol me at Imperator. You went there, what’s it like?”
Julius thought for a moment. “It’s a strange place, where the past and the future meet. The best of the best studying for their futures as the next generation to run the Imperium. There’s good people and bad people there, and I was fortunate enough to know more of the former. The teachers are interesting; many are former Astartes who now help to train up the next wave. Let me give you a few hints, the History teacher is an old bore, the Warp Studies teacher can be scary but is incredibly knowledgeable and loves to teach and the less said about the Biology teacher, the better.”
Narthan smiled. Julius continued.
“It’s a big step up, but you will cherish your time there, even if there won’t be quite so many ‘interesting’ people there as there were when I went there. Study hard, find love, do all that you can while you’re there and you’ll come out a better person for it. The Lantsfalle Trade consortium will one day be yours, and I hope you run it better than your parents.”
Narthan nodded. “My sister said the same thing before she left. Thank you Julius, for letting me know. I will make her proud of me.” Julius felt a weight on his soul lift. After a final hug, he turned and left.
“Are you done?” Gregor Lantsfalle demanded as he came down the stairs.
“Yes ser, your son’s received his sister’s last words. I hope he takes them in. by your leave, I shall go now.” As he paused at the door; he shot back, “Good luck, I think you’re going to need it. I hear the new Chartist representative is less willing to turn a blind eye to the things people like you do.”
The journey home was uneventful, but Julius had done what he had come here to do, he had lain Summer to rest.
The Nightmares still came.
A Final Confession
This was it. The moment Julius had dreaded ever since he had returned to Terra, the moment he knew he would have to face from the very moment his vows were sundered. The arrangements had been made by his father, and the final piece of the puzzle was falling into place. It was a Friday; she had the day off anyway for study and had flown out from Kourtney to see him. He had let her choose the meeting place, and she had chosen one of the gardens in Startseite Public Park, out of the way, a place where no-one would overhear them talking.
As he made his way down to the park, he regretted the half-bottle of amasec he had sculled just before leaving in a fit of nerves. He knew his father would be enraged, but not a drop of it had passed his lips while inside the hab, he’s drunk it outside. Still, his head was swimming and he could almost see the fumes on his breath. The park was almost deserted, a few scattered people dotted here and there, but nothing like the usual bustling crowds which converged on it when the weather was good. Anything was preferable to thinking about what was about to happen, what he was about to tell her. He turned a corner and there she was, resting on the same park bench in front of the war memorial where he had sat with Andrew over a year ago when they had gone on that double-date with Isis and Hana. She hadn’t changed a bit. She turned to see his hesitant approach, smiled brightly, and got up to greet him.
The moment he saw her, a flood of memories assailed his mind. Shining memories of all the good times they had together, swiftly followed by darker ones of the Petitioner’s City and how his weakness had nearly killed her. And then Summer, the woman who he had broken his vows with, the woman he had come to love, the woman who had died to save him. In the face of all this, he was surprised he didn’t just give out there and then.
“Hey,” was all he could force out. Even his voice sounded weak, worn out.
“Julius! It’s so good to see you!” She exclaimed as she hurried over, arms out. Julius knew she wanted to hug him, but he recoiled from that.
“Don’t touch me!” He said, too harshly as it turned out. How could he let her touch him, now that he had ruined himself?
Isis took a step back, her smile turning to an expression of concern.
“Is everything alright?”
‘No Isis, I cheated on you and fucked someone else who ended up dying in my arms at the hands of a fucking Daemon.’ That thought immediately sprang to mind, but he just gave a hollow nod.
She took him over to the bench and he just sat there in dead silence for a few seconds, staring at the words carved into the monument.
‘In remembrance of all who in the service of the Emperor and in defence of Humanity gave their lives for the dream of the future. We will remember them.’ Julius had read those words countless times, but he had never truly understood them until now. Summer had died so that Seadelant and its inhabitants would live on, so that he would live on. Lost in his thoughts he almost forgot Isis was sitting beside him, but when he heard her shift her weight on the seat he was snapped back to reality.
“How’s Kourtney?” He finally asked, trying to be conversational and break the void. He let Isis speak about her early experiences for several minutes, blankly taking in her talk of lectures, tutorials and readings. He wished he could show more interest in what she was saying, that he could appreciate her excitement at the opportunities she was taking, but all it did was feel like it was reinforcing the different directions they appeared to be taking. She was moving forward, but now he was stuck in the past and unable to move on from his war experience.
He noticed she had stopped talking, and he scrambled for something else to mention. “Look, I’m very sorry about Furia. I honestly thought that she was getting better, and to hear that she cut and run must be hard for you. You invested a lot of time helping her after she began taking those pills.”
Isis nodded, regret spilling over her face. “I honestly thought she had turned over a new leaf, she had left her violent side behind forever. But no, she couldn’t change her spots after all.” Even now in the depths of his funk hole, his ‘sight’ still picked up something. The set of her head, the position of her feet. Isis was hiding something, something to do with Furia’s disappearance. Once Julius would have tried probing deeper, but now all he could do was file that nugget away for later, if there would be a later.
Isis then turned to him. “And what about you? You haven’t said more than a few words. You were in a war Julius. Has your father talked to you about what happens when you come home from that?”
“My father has said a thing or two yes, but I’m fine. I survived it didn’t I? Plenty of others didn’t. Plenty of people died…” Julius stopped as he saw Isis staring at him.
“Is that alcohol on your breath?” her disapproving tone and the visible disgust on her face reinforced Julius’s shame at how far he’d fallen.
“Yes. What does it matter?”
“The Julius I know would never drink.”
“The Julius you knew died on Seadelant.” He said bluntly.
The air between them was laden with Julius' building shame. Isis didn't feel the need to speak up. “The Julius I knew was a man of honour, someone who wasn't afraid of commitment, in either sense of the term. More than that, he kept his promises.” She narrowed her eyes as his lips twisted in bitter regret. “Are you carrying out a promise by talking to me about this?”
Summer. Her words as she died, ‘Tell Isis about me, she deserves to know’, echoed through his mind. “Yes.” He finally admitted. “I swore to someone that I would tell you everything, though I don’t want to. Hell is real Isis, I went there.”
There was no avoiding or denying it now. He started at the beginning, the same place he had started two nights ago when he had told his father. But this wasn’t his father. This was Isis Lupercal, the first daughter of the first son, the prime one of the royal daughters, the apple of her father’s eye. His father understood what he had gone through, he had been there himself. Isis could never understand the same way his father did.
He stumbled over several facts, the memories harsh and grating. The first time he saw a dead man, the first time he’d killed an Ork, hiding from the Grots in the sewers beneath Port Huron, each and every one agonising, torturous. It was pure hell, second by second, minute by minute as he relived his experiences before her, the blood, the screams, the death. Isis stayed largely silent, with only some small questions for specific details. He left nothing out, every little thing he told her no matter how hard. He wondered how long it would take for her to find his greatest failure, how long before she connected the dots regarding Summer Lantsfalle.
Finally he reached his greatest shame, and though he stumbled time and time again he forced himself to tell all, to tell how Julius Pius had ended up sleeping with Summer Lantsfalle. He couldn’t look at Isis as he said these things; but he knew he had betrayed her, spat on the oaths he had sworn, and she had every right to hate him. He half expected her to react, but nothing. She let him continue without comment, talk about the Daemon and their last ditch effort to get warning of the Daemon to Ahriman. The Liberation Fleet, the Ork assault, the Daemonic Incursion and killing the Brass Scorpion, all tumbled from his lips. He felt like he was bleeding, he was hurting all over and the only thing keeping him from shattering like glass was the knowledge that it all had to come out, every last bit of it.
The final part, the worst part, the part which he knew best, because it had never left him, it haunted him day and night. He had sworn never to tell a living soul about what Summer had done, and he had even lied about it to his father, but not to her. Never to her. That hell-space, the Daemon's infernal power, his helplessness as it tried to kill him, Summer standing there, Aquilia in hand as her faith met the Daemon head on. The white light which tore the Daemon apart, the last ball of pink fire, the agony of watching her fall. His desperate words and her soft-spoken ones, her last words as soft as silk, her fire going out. Julius could barely continue after that, he had no idea how he had ever got that far, but finally he spoke of Calth and the journey home, of his nightmares and how he had turned to the drink to try and keep them at bay. His story concluded with his coming home, and completing his mission to ensure Summer’s last words got to her brother. He was done, and he fell apart as thoroughly as a house of cards. He couldn’t see her anymore, he couldn’t see anything though the veil covering his eyes. But he had one more thing he had to say.
“Icy.” He began, using the nickname Furia used for her. “I’m broken, and I don’t know if I can be fixed. I can’t sleep, every night it’s replayed in my mind. The howl of the Daemon, the sound of Ahriman fighting it, the sight of her standing before it with only her faith as a weapon, the sight of her falling, falling. I can still feel her body as it dies in my arms; still hear her last words to me. She haunts me Isis, she’s like a ghost. I will never be free of her.” The void reached for him, threatened to drag him back into its dark embrace. He wanted nothing more than to go back there and never come out.
“I told you this once before, and I’m telling you again. Forget about me, find someone who will always be true to you and who isn’t a fucking headcase. There should be someone at Kourtney for you, someone who doesn’t hold to silly superstitions like mine, and who isn’t a shell-shocked loon fit for the asylum. And even if you took pity on me and we stayed together, what kind of future could I give you? I’ve seen so much death; I know how suddenly it can happen. As a soldier I’d be guaranteeing you nothing but pain and misery. Andrew wants to be a warrant officer, so Hana won’t have to worry about him getting his face shot off in a firefight on some nameless world. That’s exactly what I’d be condemning you to if we stay together. I know you must hate me for what I’ve done to you, but I hate myself more than you ever could. I will never be free of this; I will be hounded to my grave by what I have done. Now leave me. Just go, just bloody go!” his voice fell apart with his last words.
He bowed his head, closed his eyes and hoped that when he opened them again she would be gone, never to return. He felt drained and scared after all that; he had no idea what to do next. He couldn’t hear anything over the pounding in his head, and the howl of the dark void which still hungered for him.
When he did open his eyes, Isis was still there. She was hurting as well, but she was keeping her hurt under control. Her words were slow and deliberate.
“If I left right now, if I just went like you want, what would you do?”
“I’d manage.” Julius croaked. He wouldn’t manage, but it for her sake, not his own that he wanted her gone. He was deadweight to her; she didn’t need to be saddled with him.
“You say the old Julius has died, but you’re acting like him right now.” Despite the pain he had put her through there was a sad smile on her face. “The old Julius would always try to make others happy at his own expense. If he’s still around, there's hope for you yet.” He heard her words, but the meaning vanished. Then she said something else. “There’s no old or new you, there’s only Julius. There’s only the boy who impressed me with his stubborn willingness to stand up for others. There’s only the boy who would do anything for other people, even at his own expense. There’s only the boy I fell in love with. Julius, you are only human, and no human can go through that amount of shit without something giving. You are not weak for falling apart like this. For what it’s worth, I’m truly sorry about Summer. She must have been someone special.”
The dawning comprehension that she wasn’t about to reject or abandon him finally pushed him off the edge. He started bawling like a little baby, his body wracked with deep sobs and more tears then he thought he was capable of producing pouring out of him. Dimly, he felt Isis embrace him, holding him tight, pulling him against her. He tried to shrug her off but she was stronger then he and he surrendered to her grip. A small part in the back of his head noted how warm her body felt. Like Summer’s did.
“We’ll get you the help you need.” She whispered into his ear as she cradled him. “Uncle Magnus helped Remilia when she hurt, he’ll help you as well. I have the weekend off; I’ll stay with you. Furia’s gone; I can’t lose both of you.”
Julius gave himself over to her, and for a long time he just sat there in her arms, the knowledge that he wasn’t alone filling him with unlooked for hope. With her help, he would get over this, he would move on. The pain would go away.
Eventually she took him by the hand, led him to her car and drove him home. He wanted to say something, but he couldn’t hold onto a single thought, his mind was a whirlwind of memories and emotions, the pain lurking at the surface ready to spring out again.
“Hello Sieur Pius.” She called as she came in the door. Oll turned to see the pair of them coming in. “Please, call me Oll,” was his reply. “Will you be staying for tea?”
Isis nodded as she breezed through, leading Julius to his room, sitting him down and a few seconds later brought out his chess board.
“Fancy a game?”
Julius couldn’t say no, so she set up the board and took white. 1. g3. Benko's Opening. The cogs and wheels in Julius’s mind began to turn again. Chess always did that for him, chess was a game of war where strategy and tactics were paramount. He went 2. c6, for King's Indoin Attack. She ended up winning that one, and straight away she set up for another, swapping sides. For the entire afternoon they pitted their wits against each other in game after game, the simple act soothing Julius. The Void faded away.
It was at the end of one of those games that the unaddressed issue finally came out. Julius had been reamed once again, and he shook his head in mock disgust.
“I thought I had planned enough moves ahead to win with ease this time.” He commented.
“A good chess player thinks five moves ahead,’ said Isis, ‘but a great chess player–“
“Only thinks one move ahead, but it is always the best move,” finished Julius. “If you’re going to quote Lord Guilliman to me, at least have the decency to let me win first.”
She laughed, but her laughter seemed hollow, forced. He could see things that others couldn’t pick up on, and despite the charade she was putting on, she still wasn’t happy.
There was only one way he could try to fix this: by confronting it directly.
“Are you having second thoughts?”
“Second thoughts about me. I know any trust you may have had in me is gone now, I’ve squandered it, and I understand if you will never trust me again. You can still go, I’m…better now.” He turned his head, unwilling to look at her, to see himself damned in her eyes.
“You're right Julius... I don't trust you.”
Her words were like knives, and Julius felt his spirit sinking like a ship in a storm. But then he felt her taking his hand and he looked up to see her softly smiling at him.
“But it’s not gone forever either. You can earn that trust back.”
Julius looked in her eyes, searching for the lie. Instead he Saw something else entirely: understanding, real understanding. He didn't want to think about how or why, but somehow she understood what it was like for him in that dark hole, death looming over every moment. She knew the fear, the need to find solace, as much for Summer's sake as his own.
That thought emboldened him. His honour may be in tatters, his faith shaken to the core, but now he had hope he could repair them and redeem himself in her eyes.
Tea was a jovial affair, Isis really liked Oll and he the same. Their good natured banter eventually sucked Julius in as they talked about how the Merican pattern Colleges differed from the Universities found in Alba and Diemenslandt.
Oll passed no comment when the two finally retired for the night. Julius had half-expected her to stay in the guest room, but instead she came to Julius’s room and after standing in the doorway for a few seconds Julius nodded.
The bedsprings creaked as she joined him. His bed here was a double, far larger than the cramped cot he had shared with Summer that night. He could barely even tell Isis was in it as well. He closed his eyes shut and prayed for a fitful night.
The Nightmare still came. The fireball was sailing towards her, she was about to die and no matter how hard he screamed at her to look out, she couldn’t. Suddenly the nightmare collapsed as he was dragged back to reality. Isis was holding him tight, her hand gently but firmly clamped over his mouth, drowning out his screams. She whispered soothingly into his ear.
“It’s ok Julius, its ok. It’s just another nightmare. Everything will be fine, I’m here now, I’m here for you.”
Abruptly he noticed her breasts were pressed tight against his back, and he felt himself stirring. His sex drive had been fired up, and he couldn’t turn it off again. He wanted her, wanted her so badly. But he was soiled goods now. Nevertheless, he had to say it.
“Isis, I never told you this, but I was going to give myself to you at graduation, have us sleep together. I felt like it was the right time, that my god wanted you to be my first. But I fucked up.”
“Julius, I love you but this is not the right time for this. You still hurt too much, I could never do anything until I know you’ve been cured. There’s the mid-year break of our first year though. We’ll go on a road trip of our own together, might see if we can drag a couple of the others along with us. I saw how much fun Venus, Freya and Remilia had, I’d like to try that myself.”
“I’d like that.” Julius replied, before reaching over and pulling Isis towards him. Julius pressed himself into her, moulding their bodies together and burying his face in her hair, and together they drifted off to sleep.
When he opened his eyes, she was gone. There was not a trace of her; it was like she had never existed. He slowly exhaled, half sob and half sigh of relief. She wouldn’t be bound by him anymore. She was free. Now he would have to free himself from the shackles of the past. He sat there and just watched the world go by for a time, thinking about how sudden and yet inevitable the end had been. Someone had once told him that High School Relationships were not meant to last beyond High School, as they were a first step, a way to prepare one for real relationships afterwards. He hadn’t believed it then, but he did now. Suddenly it made sense. What had happened between him and Isis was not a real relationship, it was learning for one. She had learned that lesson, and now so had he.
He slowly walked home, dragging out the journey as much as possible. By the time he returned home, night was falling. His father was at the stove preparing dinner when he entered the hab. Ollanius turned to his son and softly asked, “How did it go?”
“As well as can be expected.” Julius replied.
“And Isis? How did she take it?”
“Not very well. We’re finished.” Those two words brought home the reality of what had happened. It was over between them. She would return to college and move on with her life, and he would have to do the same.
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Oll said, moving to stand beside Julius.
“It was never going to last anyway father. I could never give her what she wanted. She doesn’t need someone of honor and faith, she needs someone of logic and reason. And she’ll find that someone, either at college or elsewhere.”
“And what about you?” Oll asked. “What will you do?”
“I’ll survive and move on. It’s all I can do.” Julius hung his head, and felt his father’s arms encircling him. He had no more tears to shed, but he still sobbed. He sobbed for Isis, for Summer, for all that had happened to him. But he was right, he had to move on, he had to let go and look to the future, no matter how bleak.
The Nightmares still came.
Julius stood on the landing platform, trying to adjust his cadet’s uniform to stop chafing. Around him others were also preparing to head off to the Imperial War Academy on Ganymede. They were the best and brightest, the future of the Imperial Army.
“Don’t forget to write son. I expect one letter every week.”
“I will father. Don’t worry about that.”
Oll smiled at him. “My son, how big you’ve grown. I remember the day Lord Guilliman came here with his offer. I could never have imagined you today, a man going to become an officer.”
After a few awkward seconds Oll added, “What about the other matter?”
“There’s a councillor at the Imperial War Academy, I’m to see him twice a week. I will get over this father, I will.” He tried to put some bravado into his voice. The nightmares still plagued him, but his councillor had assured him that in time they would fade. All wounds fade with time.
“Everyone embark!” a tinny voice blared out.
“Time to go.” Julius said, hefting up his bags.
“Good luck son!” Oll called as Julius trooped to the transporter. Julius stowed away his bags and took his seat, a window seat as it turned out, facing the landing platform. His father was a tiny figure waving up.
Another cadet trotted up and sat beside him.
“Hello!” He said chirpily. “I’m George. What’s your name?”
“Julius.” He replied wearily.
“Julius? As in Pius? The son of the greatest war hero ever?”
Oh hell, Julius wanted to moan, instead he forced a smile and said, “Yes, he is my father."
"Wow!" George exclaimed. "Reading stories about him was what inspired me to want to join the army! Do you have any stories of his you can share?"
His optimism was infectious, and soon Julius was telling him all about Quetansk, when his father had won his second Star of Terra downing an Eldar Titan. As he did so, he realised that he wasn’t sad or depressed. For the first time in ages, he was happy. The future lay before him, and it was glorious to behold.