Hidden 12 mos ago Post by BornOnBoard
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BornOnBoard Computer, Maschine, Panzermench

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Classified Muster Point, Urshic Border

Jonathan Stavin sat up on his elbows, blinking blearily. The woman next to him stirred, murmuring something and turning over. Dawn had crept up on the two of them. Jon could see light peeking through the gaps in his campaign tent.

He rolled out of bed, touching his bare feet to the cold ground. The cool air felt good on his bare skin, but he knew he would chill if he didn't put on clothes quick. He stood up, pulling on socks, then his pants, then his boots. He kicked the cot.

"Hey, discipline master." He said, kicking the cot again. "Get up."

She stirred, then sat up, blinking as he had done. The blanket that covered her slipped from chest, and Jon looked away, finding something else to busy himself with,namely, finding his shirt.

Discipline master Augusta Severina, naked as the day she was born, stepped out of the cot and began to get dressed as well. The two of them had been having these trysts for months now, ever since the last action of Imperial Penal Assault Unit 31-3, where the formation had suffered 70% casualties. In the face of such awful death, the two of them had clearly decided that, personal feelings aside, the shadow of mortality looming over them both had to be exorcised.

Jon hated Augusta, vehemently hated the woman, who had executed men and women he'd served with for years, cackling while doing so. He had watched with horror, then disgust, then shame, then resignation as she had flogged them to the bone. As she had frog marched them through minefields and into interlocking stubber fire.

Despite all this, however, they made vigorous, animalistic love almost every night. He hated himself for doing it; hated that he had sunk to such a thing with a woman who had been his enemy. One of the hated Imperials, who brought truth to the planet at the edge of a sword. In cruel irony, he had been placed in charge of a punishment unit composed from the defeated cast offs of other non imperial militaries, including the survivors of his own mercenary unit that had tried, and failed, to stand against the Raptor.

The lovemaking was Augusta's addition to that humiliation. She could, at any moment, kill him,and not one question would be asked. Her proverbial boot lay on his neck, and she derived no lack of amusement from being his only source of physical comfort in a world devoid of any validation or respite.

"New influx today." She said, buttoning her field blouse. "Gear and new meat."

"I'll let em know." Jon said, buckling his flak vest on. "Anything else?"

Augusta turned to face him, placing a crimson peaked cap on her head, which was topped by a close cropped shock of red hair. Her green-eyed gaze was as cold as steel, and sent a shiver down Jon's spine.

"No. We're still waiting on the order to mobilize." She said, "May the light of the Imperial Truth guide you, Colonel."

"Right." Jon said, cursing inwardly. "You too."


"My treatise on the flaws of this 'Imperial Truth' is really quite simple: that it claims to be secular.

Secular truths come from rational processes; empirical studies, peer reviewed evidence, etc. A secular truth is by its nature a consensual truth, made by many people all looking at one thing and agreeing it is so.

The 'Imperial Truth' claims it is secular, but brooks no argument or debate. To disagree with it, to raise concern with it is to drop the blade of Demokles on one's own head. In this it is no better than the superstition it claims to replace."

Caleb Raum, The Lie Of The Imperial Truth

"Off the truck you miserable sods!" The imperial army soldier yelled, laying into the convicts closest tp him with a baton. "Get off! Now!"

The grey-fatigued prisoners scrambled to get away from him, hopping off the back of the cargo 8 and onto the cold ground of the Urshic steppe. One unlucky soul tripped, falling the three feet to the ground headfirst. He landed with a sickening crunch, and did not move.

That was the first man Caleb Raum had ever seen die. He would see many more, but he always remembered that death the most. The callous, indifferent nature of it. The way the red light on the collar around his neck slowly winked out as the other convicts thumped into the ground beside him.

He retched, just barely avoiding vomiting as he scrambled to his feet. The trooper that had been herding the convicts from the back of the truck had hopped down now, and was pushing the disembarked men and women to a muster point. Caleb could see that other trucks had been in their convoys and were doing the same thing. He squinted.

He couldn't see a prison anywhere. His heart rate spiked as his body dumped adrenaline into his system. Oh god above, where was the prison? Were they going to shoot them and bury them all in a ditch?

The fact there was no visible ditch anywhere in sight did nothing to calm him. He cursed. If he'd have just known what publishing that stupid pamphlet was gonna do he'd have burned the thing. The unfairness of his circumstances and self pity burned brightly in him as he stumbled along with the other convicts, fat tears rolling down his face as they were marched. He wasn't the only one. In fact, he was one of the quieter lamenters. Some of them were wailing, literally wailing in despair.

Caleb sniffed, pulling himself together. At least he wasn't them. That was something.

Eventually, this miserable procession crested the gentle slope of a hill, revealing a small city of canvas tents. A small detail of soldiers in red peaked caps and leather stormcoats met the procession. Their leader was a talk, strong woman with green eyes and red hair. Her voice was loud and commanding as she addressed this sorry gaggle.

"Allow me to formally welcome you all to Imperial Penal Assault Unit 31-3." The woman growled.

Caleb's heart sank. He was a learned man, a scholam graduate. Spoken or written language held little mystery to him.

There was nothing good about the combination of those words. Suddenly, the rational part of his brain yearned for the quick execution of the firing squad.

"Fitted around your neck are collars." The woman continued, "Do not tamper with them. They will detonate. Do not stray too far from camp grounds. They will detonate. Do not disobey orders from me, the other discipline cadre, or your officers."

She gestured to herself, and the other similarly garbed soldiers behind her.

"If you do, the collars will detonate. All punishment in 31-3 is summary." She said, "You have all been found wanting in some way. Some of you are killers. Rapists. Recidivists. Thieves. The severity of your crimes varies, but know this:"

She had been pacing as she delivered her speech, but now she stopped, her booted feet stamping against the hard ground.

"Here, you are all scum. Here, you will earn redemption for your sins. For most of you, it will be post mortem."

She spat onto the ground, then nodded at the Army soldiers that had herded them here.

"Unlock their mag cuffs and get entrenching gear issued. There's work to do."

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Hidden 10 mos ago 10 mos ago Post by FrostedCaramel
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[Undisclosed Location]
[Deep Beneath the Himalazian Mountains]

There should be some sort of grand pronouncement at things like this.

At least, that’s how the histories always wrote them down. The Director shifted uneasily as she looked over the final report for the… she had lost track of how many times she had read it. Everything seemed correct, but far from feeling the triumph of success the scientist kept searching for a flaw, some error that she had missed earlier. She didn’t dare to let herself have hope anymore. But…

It was undeniable. The two children, vat-bred and flash-grown from her own genetic stock, had passed every preliminary test and screening she and the rest of the Biotechnical Division could devise. They were perfect, or at least as close to perfect as any human could ever become. It was them, or cancel the project entirely.

With a deep, bone-weary, sigh, Amar Astarte stood from her desk and prepared for surgery. Distantly, suppressed, the glory hound that lived in the heart of every great genius mused upon the words she would use to usher in a new era of human history, the thoughts flashing by as she reflexively went through the motions. She had done the procedure enough times now after all.

I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds flashed into her mind as the boy and girl were sedated.

Too trite. Long overused by generations of madmen unleashing their newest weapon. Besides, these were meant to be more than a weapon.

She paused at that last thought, hands covered in soapy water. Did she still believe it? Did she trust any one of his promises? She had to. It was the only way.

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End intruded upon her as the first of the artificial organs were being implanted in the girl’s chest cavity.

Better, but too aspirational. She wasn’t playing God. A frown crossed her face, hidden by her mask, as she looked down at the organ in her hand. Secondary heart, the simplest and easiest of implants. Very low rejection probability. Most of her assistants in the operating theater - failures, all, for so few could be trusted with this most sensitive of tasks - had one beating in their chests, placed there by her own hand.

Perhaps she was playing God. Then again, what did that make those who had commissioned this great work? The heart beat its first beat as she was lost in her musings, her body having carried on with the task without her. The work was good, flawless even. How many of these had she implanted? There was a record with the exact number. She decided she didn’t want to know.

I am He who protects you for millions of years took months for her to remember, the woman thinking of it as she sliced open the boy’s brain. The full-production models would rest years in between the surgeries, but the prototypes didn’t have such a luxury.

The thought was better, she decided, seizing upon the distraction as she took the occulobe in hand. That was the point of all of this, wasn’t it? To create protectors. But that did really mean robbing those chosen of their childhoods, their lives? She stopped, letting out a shaky breath as she pulled her hands back and gave the implant to one of her gene-lineage. She couldn’t work, not like this. The failures could continue the surgery.

Her mind did not intrude again. The thirst for fame fled from her thoughts, chastised, knowing that it had almost brought about failure. The remaining surgeries went as planned, the Director icy-eyed and unfazed as she butchered the pair. She needed the focus more and more as they proceeded, as the two proved themselves capable of withstanding what was done to them. There were far fewer successes with each step further she took after all.

Until, at last, she was upon the greatest and final desecration. Flaying the girl, for there was little else that could be said of the procedure, and piecing the skin back together again with the grotesque black layer now laid beneath.

Like clay I shall mold them.

The thought wasn’t hers, of course, but then again none of them had been. That ate at her, somewhat, that at the precipice of her triumph, she could only think of the ancient prayers of long-dead religions. But this wasn’t one of those either. No. This was his.

“They shall be my finest warriors, these men who give themselves to me,” she whispered to herself as she grafted on the last of the plates. “Like clay I shall mold them and in the furnace of war forge them. They will be of iron will and steely muscle. In great armor shall I clad them and with the mightiest guns will they be armed. They will be untouched by plague or disease, no sickness will blight them. They will have tactics, strategies and machines such that no foe can best them in battle.” By now she had moved on to suturing up the mess of skin she had created, hiding the horror she had unleashed upon the two - they were no longer children, no matter the age attached to them.

“They are my bulwark against the Terror,” Amar continued in a stronger voice, the heads of the failures turning towards her quizzically as she turned off the drip of sedative to the warriors she had forged.

“They are the Defenders of Humanity,” she recited, nearing the end of the charge that he had set down when this project had begun so many long years ago. The Director took a shaking step back away from her work as a rebellious part of her prayed that these two, unlike so many before, would wake.

“They are my Space Marines and they shall know no fear,” the Director said with a confidence she did not feel as stimulants began to flow into the pair’s blood.

Two pairs of eyes flashed open.

The echo of boots clicking along the floor vied for supremacy over the sounds of hissing mechanical arms and chattering cogitator banks. The place was alive with the actions of several hundred white-suited scientists working tirelessly in the cold sterility of the lab. They spun liquids in glass beakers, moved pipettes of unknown organics across Petri dishes, focused magnometers, and clicked away at archaic cogitators of immense power. Between them, scientists with red stripes running vertically down one side of their sterile suits from their shoulders crossed from station to station, their hands writing ceaselessly at the dataslates they held.

Above it all, Aria Allectus watched through the armorglass windows and floor of her office. She had the best view in the entire facility, her circular office set high above the laboratory floor allowing her an unimpeded view of every workstation. She could pull information from any cogitator bank or workstation she gazed at with her implanted optical augmetics, monitoring the progress of the hundreds under her charge with ease. Few things unsettled her here, in her domain, at the forefront of scientific advancement. But the being standing in her office unsettled her beyond words.

“The cultivation goes with only minor issues, th---”

“Minor issues?” the voice rumbled, rich and low at Aria’s choice of words.

“Minor issues, Lord-Tribune, when the stocks were lost to us---”

“A temporary setback, Assistant Director Allectus, we will bring the stocks back into our embrace soon enough. For now, you must make do with what you have, no matter these setbacks.”

Aria gulped, hoping that the Custodian before her couldn’t sense her fear, but knowing all too well that he could. “Of course, of course. My people are working as efficiently as possible,” she eyed a cogitator bank on the far side of the vast space below her and pulled up the scrolling information within it, the information projecting onto one of the windows of her office as she did, “In fact, we are operating at 137% efficiency, the cogitators provided to us from the Terrawatt Clans have raised our numbers significantly and my Floor Leaders tell me they expect a further increase by the close of next year.”

Tribune Sachiel, resplendent in the golden armor and fine filigree of his station, nodded in approval as he took in the data in what Aria could assume was less than a heartbeat.

“Fine work, Assistant Director Allectus, the Emperor will be proud no doubt,” he paused, turning his head to face Aria as he took a step across the room, “but you must do better.”

“Better, Lord-Tribune?”

“Better. The Sigillite foresees the need for your work far sooner than anticipated, and the Emperor agrees. Show me then, that we can meet His request beyond doubt.”

Aria nodded to the Lord-Tribune and scooped up her dataslate from her desk. She motioned for the Custodian to follow despite knowing she did not need to, and made her way through a hissing autodoor and into a brightly lit hallway. The walls were roughly hewn bedrock, sterilized, and hermetically sealed by engineers long ago, but they had the peculiar look of glistening rock at all times despite the humidity in the entire facility being zero. She brushed past the lingering thought and made a quick pace through the halls with the Custodian close behind.

“Lord-Tribune, might I ask, why the timeline is being accelerated?”

The Custodian, keeping easy pace with the far smaller Assistant Director, nodded as his voice rolled through the corridor in step with them, “Ursh makes inroads in Europa, threatening Franc and Albion as we delay here.”

Aria listened intently as she walked, soaking in the information from the world outside her aseptic halls and security doors.

“We have achieved much, as I’m sure you’re aware, the Nordafrik Conclaves bow to us, and the central Steppes our the Emperor’s as they should be,” the Custodian gave a nod to a fellow Custodian standing before a massive security door to their front.

Aria stopped as an automatic security scan quickly read the pair's biometrics before releasing a set of heavy interior locks from within the door ahead of them. She gave an uneasy smile to the Custodian Guard before it, grateful to warrant such protection but well aware that they served as both protector and goaler here. The groaning of the behemoth of a door filled the hall as it rolled along its track into the recesses of the wall, pulling her focus away from the demigod and back to her task at hand. She stepped through the doorway into a new hall, she noted the auto-turrets tracking only her as the Tribune walked alongside her down a long causeway suspended over a seemingly never-ending abyss.

“So Ursh forces our hand? Can the first of the gene-wrought truly not handle Ursh?” she asked carefully.

“The Legiones Cataegis make a game of the conquest He leads. They accomplish their task well, but there is a need for reinforcement, Assistant Director. Stable reinforcement. Reinforcement that can be sent into our own territory is desperately needed, foul magicks are unleashed in our conquered cities as we march on toward victory, and the Thunder Warriors are not the proper instrument to deal with these incursions, lest we leave our hives and manufactorums devoid of life and purpose.”

“Of course,” Aria agreed, well aware that the Thunder Warrior’s ranks had been left to dwindle for longer than she cared to admit.

Another biometric scan and a lifetime of security checks later and the pair were finally at the final destination. An observation unit, large enough for some fifty people, looked down on an operating theater in all its aseptic glory on one side of the room. On the opposite side, shuddered windows overlooked an unknown room.

“The Director has been busy, I apologize if it seemed a purposeful slight to you, Lord-Tribune,” she bowed her head in deference as she stepped toward the windows of the observation unit, “but I have received word that we have finally had the success you so push for.”


“More than survival, Lord-Tribune,” she turned her gaze to the two subjects, still strapped down to their operating tables with fluid lines and archaic constructs running from their flesh, and smiled as she noticed their eyes searching the room.

“Space Marines.”

Tribune Sachiel did not seem to share Aria’s awe at the sight before him, turning away in what she could only assume was frustration.

“Only two, they will not be pleased with this progress, the Director must be aware.”

Aria smiled, tapping a key on her dataslate as she spoke, “Two Space Marines, Lord-Tribune yes,” the security shudders began to slide away from the windows on the opposite side of the room, revealing a new room beyond.

“With a hundred thousand more well on the way,” she smiled.
The shudders rose quickly, revealing a room beyond full of growth vats. Myriad organs floated suspended within liquid solutions, monitors reading critical data by the millisecond, in some of the vats, far in the distance of the expansive room, floated humanoid figures. She motioned toward the center of the room, wreathed in cryogenic frost and surrounded by mist, and stood twenty massive edifices, like the sarcoffagi of the Gyptian Kings of old.

“137% efficiency,” she stated proudly, “We are ready, at present, for the implantation of forty-four thousand subjects.”

“Forty-four thousand Space Marines,” Tribune Sachiel corrected with a hint of a smile.
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Hidden 9 mos ago 9 mos ago Post by Oraculum
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Oraculum Perambulans in tenebris

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Maulland Sen, Nordyc

A storm was breaking.

The land was no stranger to storms, since even before the seas had boiled away, the land had been beaten by frigid winds pulled off long gone seas, surging past far away mountains. 

This was not a storm of such making, but the work of the species who had ruined the oceans and the land, and were doing so yet again. In a moment, a thousand, thousand munitions fell upon the far off emplacements of the enemy. The fringes of a corrupt empire, given way to witchcraft and mutation that nestled in the mountains of old Nordyc. The Maulland Sen were some of the worst of the human nations that the Imperium would have to sweep away, should it seek to claim the mantle of Terra.

A first blow in a war that would no doubt cost much in time, men and resources, but a minor one, were it not for the providence of those who watched it. There was a second storm at play, but the second was simply the presence of a being powerful enough that reality seemed to bear his presence with only great trepidation. The Emperor did not need the pict-imaging devices his commanders were using to examine the bombardment from afar, instead he simply watched, alone for the moment, as the Balt-Forts began to show the first signs of damage to the torrential bombardment the Imperial Army had begun the day before.

Even with the shell cracked, the meat within would hardly be vulnerable, it would be yet another early test of the new warriors he had forged. His space marines, that had been made from what remained of his greatest project.

“Come before me, I will listen.” The Emperor spoke before he was addressed, sensing the approaching presence of his warriors, a scant number of them, who might interrupt his private viewing of the battlefield to come.

With heavy, hesitant steps, three figures drew near, as if rising from the soil itself at his beckoning. Faceless in the smooth masks of their visors, featureless in armour of dull slate and bare grey, they truly seemed fragments of the dreary northern landscape come to life, all the bleaker before a presence that dwarfed even their superhuman size. They bore no identifiers save for the numeral IX on their pauldrons, but one was clearly the leader; as the others remained standing at a distance, he moved several more steps forward before lowering himself to one knee.

“My Emperor,” he began in a guttural voice with an odd, harshly whistling timbre, “We are your instrument. We fear no enemy, no death. But doubt eats at our warriors from within.” He bowed his head. “Before even we reached the front, many of us were crippled as organs and muscle failed them. Too many, we were told, and too late for simple rejection of the procedure that made us, but no more than that. Now the others grow uneasy. They dread that their bodies might fail them, and that they might fail you. We beseech you, my Emperor. If anything can choke these doubts, I would not have them poison our spirits.”

The towering figure of the Emperor did not turn as the warriors spoke, the gleaming gold of his armour standing out against the wasteland of his surroundings. Forged in recent days by the smiths of the Terrawatt clans, it was a great work of marvel, one of many that his vision had brought about in recent times, but in his own opinion, a far lesser one than the work which had forged those who now spoke to him.

“Your concerns are heard, my warriors.” It was only then that he turned, the full might of his presence falling upon the men, the air around him seeming to shimmer with intensity. “Each of my new legions is not alike, you come with great strengths, and challenges, that are all your own. We are on the cusp of greatness that will propel us far beyond the scope of this world, but for this vision, there will be sacrifices, as you all well know.” The future Master of Mankind stood with his hands clasped behind his back, a pose of military formality, yet still his expression provided some familial warmth to the helmeted warriors. “It may not seem such, but even this contributes to our cause, to defeat what ails you will provide you with greater strength for these wars to come.” The Emperor paused for but a moment, before continuing it a barely quieter tone, “I am not deaf to your worries, however, we will continue to improve the manner in which new legionnaires are made, and to protect against the ravages that it inflicts.”

Awed by the force that fell upon them with his every word, the legionnaires were silent for a time, their visored eyes downcast, until at last their leader found his voice again.

“Then we shall fight to master our weakness in your name, as we do your enemies in the field. But…” He halted, clearly uneasy at the thought of raising a demand, were that even a humble one. “Allow us to carry a word from you to our fellows. A command to drive them forward without fear, knowing your eyes are on them. Their misgivings would be ash on the wind, and the priest-king’s blades snowflakes in their path.” His voice dipped, little more than a reverent whisper overtaken by his whistling accent. “My Emperor.”

The Emperor paused for several long beats of his warriors’ augmented hearts before one hand drifted to the great eagle that sweapt from his left pauldron, the insignia of the Aquilia which had been adopted across the nascent Imperium he was building. His fingers touched upon the wing of the golden bird, before pulling away. A single feather of gold seemed to seperate, in a structural impossibility, from the armour. Small in the Emperor palm, he offered it down towards the speaker.

“Take more than words, carry this with you, the bearer of my singular honoring of yout kindred who have, and will, perish from this trial. Let none who hear of it use it as a weapon against you, for none have given more to my cause so early in their great service.” As the Emperor spoke, the pounding of the guns which had become little more than white noise backing their discussion rose in a fearful roar, a great intensity of bombardment that could only herald the imminent commencement of the assault. “You will fight with me this day, let us strike the first blow together.”

Three figures walked down over the coldly dry Nordyc soil. Behind them was the light whose spark they now carried; ahead, others like them – many others – awaited the resolution of their audience. Before their Master, they had stood nameless, for they did not doubt he knew all that needed to be known. Yet among their own ranks their names, these echoes of a desolate and frostbitten land much like the one they now trod, carried the great weight that had propelled them to this honour. From a host of orphans, they had emerged as leaders.

They were Osorin Skorr, who always found the finest words and thoughts, and now bore a gleaming feather with reverent care; Tevr Nyrid, whom none could surpass with the sword; and Tzosh Ghaal, who already in the gene-labs had been the most curious and observant.

“If the next generation is gestating now,” Ghaal rumbled in his cavernous voice, “We can expect an improvement in the third at the soonest. Likely much later.”

“I was naive to hope it could be all solved so easily,” conceded Skorr. Now that he no longer addressed the Emperor, the whistling accent is his words had emerged as strongly as in his fellows’. “But you heard him. We are not to be discarded, even if death walks with us. Give him reason for his faith, and we shall not only be free, but among the most favoured.”

“And if we do not live to see it?” Nyrid asked grimly.

“Then we will at least have died a proud death.”

“Were it only for me, I would not mind,” the blade-champion shrugged, “But the others need our guidance now, Osorin. We were all taken young. So few of them remember anything of our traditions, the way of battle in our blood. If we are gone too soon, what will be left when a perfect generation comes will no longer be us.”

“What concerns me,” Ghaal spoke up, “is who is to find this cure for us. Our makers were so clumsy and sluggish, and I was still nascent when I saw them.”

“They are the Emperor’s finest,” Skorr chided.

“And yet they are only human.”

They walked a few steps in silence.

“We will do this,” said Skorr finally, “Tevr, make sure our people awaken to their birthright. I will give them a push with this,” he lifted the gleaming feather, “and you lead them through the forge of battle. Tzosh, however the day goes, many of us will fall. Look at the bodies reviled by flesh and see if you can find anything, if you are not one of them.”

“I do not count on dying,” Ghaal answered without a hint of jest.

“Then it is decided.”

The three warriors mounted a knotty ridge, and a sea of familiar grey metal stirred to receive them.
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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by FrostedCaramel
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The Planalto Hive, Hy Brasil

Costas Residence, Outer Spire, Upper Reach

There had been whispers of a man traveling through the high spires of the Planalto. It had been whispered that he came with promises of wealth beyond measure and influence to stretch far into a family's future. They said he had promised, that a new world was just beyond the horizon. All one had to do to suckle at his claimed infinite fount was to give the man one’s firstborn daughter. Miguel had laughed these frivolous claims off. They were nothing but the wives' tales told between the bored and the unhappy among the wealthy circles of the Planalto. A man traveling around offering wealth and power beyond what they already possessed? And all one had to do was give up a child? Nonsense.

Or so he had thought.

“Lord Costas, there is a… visitor for you.”

Miguel tore his concentration from the scrolling text of manufactorum output and shipping manifests to wave a dismissive hand at the servant, “At this hour? Nothing but brigands and thieves, peddlers in the night. Send him away from the gates.”

“He will not leave, and he is not at the gates, Lord.”

Miguel reeled at the tone of his servant, a man of some forty Terran years, all of it in loyal service to the Costas Family, rebuking him for the first time in his lifelong service.

“Lower your tone Sandova--” Miguel stood suddenly, his hand tearing open a drawer at his desk and pulling a masterfully crafted laspistol from within, “What do you mean he’s not at the gates?”

His servant hesitated a moment, looked behind himself, and shirked from the doorway without a word. Miguel raised his laspistol squarely at the open space.

“You shall not find me there,” a voice as rich as honey called quietly from a darkened corner of Miguel’s study.

Miguel spun in place, his laspistol spitting iridescent bolts into the darkness that had spoken to him. He stopped shooting only once the laspistol fizzled at every trigger pull. His eyes struggled to adjust in the dark, the flickering flames from books and tomes he had ignited with his wild shots only heightening the length of the shadows cast about his study.

There was a whisper of the wind to his side, and Miguel felt the presence of a being too immense for him to not have noticed earlier simply appear at his side. He felt the armored hand, far larger than any human should possess, close completely over his shoulder. He sat back down in his chair at the gentle insistence of the intruder, the laspistol slipping from his fingers as he keyed the silent alarm in the chair's armrest.

“It makes no difference, I have silenced all communication within the premises,” the intruder spoke before, finally, Miguel could see him.

“H--- How did you?” Miguel sputtered as he felt himself sink further into his chair at the sight of the being before him. Armored from head to toe in an impressive, if not overly indulgent golden plate, Miguel could see no exposed skin of the massive being from his quick, if not completely terrified, once-over.

The being shifted, the weight on Miguel’s shoulder easing as the golden giant walked around the front of the desk. “Unimportant, Miguel Jose Costas, what is important is that you listen to me as though everything you and your ancestors have built hangs in the balance,” the armored giant stopped squarely in front of Miguel and stood unnervingly still. Miguel felt as though he wished to disappear as he stared at the emotionless red lenses of the giant's helmet.

“Your family, your legacy. Everything that you and the countless Costas’ before you have toiled for, has led you to this exact moment Miguel,” the giant spoke through the helmet’s vox amplifier, though Miguel could not recognize any distortion from the device, a masterwork lost even to the technocrats of Planalto, “it has led you, to me.”

Miguel choked on his own spit, coughed for a moment, and with wild eyes searched the flat plate of the giant for any sign that he was dreaming, “To you…?” he eked out, sweat stinging at his eyes.

“Correct, Lord Costas, to me,” the giant gave him a nod of approval, “I am here to decide the fate of your lofty house, to offer you a place at the side of the Master of Mankind, and to secure the future of your lauded family in the golden age that approaches sooner than you know.”

Miguel felt his breath catch in his throat as the rich voice of the golden giant spoke the name of the tyrant halfway across the planet, “You come from the Imperials…” he stated as much for himself as for the golden statue of armor before him, “to decide my fate…?”

“Just so,” the giant agreed, “I am Amaranthus Gallus, Custodian of the Emperor of Mankind, and judge of all you hold dear.”

Miguel felt the weight of the words pressing in at his psyche. The overwhelming threat of destruction that the Custodian before him represented would have been enough to drive a lesser man mad. Miguel, with great effort, sat himself a little straighter in his chair. “I am listening, Custodian.”

The Custodian took a step away from the desk, satisfied with the little lord's answer, and began to walk about the study with steps far too quiet for the elaborate suit of armor he wore.

“My Master claims glory across the globe, he unites our disparate tribes into a cohesive whole once more,” the Custodian stopped to inspect a number of books on the shelves as he spoke, “he will not remain across the globe for long, Lord Costas,” Miguel watched as his gauntleted fingers plucked a book from the shelves and began to turn through the pages, “It is here, right now, that you must make the most important decision of your life.”

Miguel watched as the Custodian turned O Príncipe, by the 15th-century histographer Matcheveley, his lips going dry at the sight of the book.

“My Master will arrive here, and Hy Brasil will bend the knee, or it will burn. But the end will be the same, this land and its people will be united under his rule. Would you be ground to dust, or rebuilt anew in His light, Miguel Jose Costas?”

Miguel searched for the words to answer the Custodian, struggling to form coherent sentences in his mind as he felt his soul was being bored into by the red lenses of the Custodian.

“Is it as simple as a promise? As my word that I would join your Master?” Miguel stammered unevenly.

The Custodian shut the book and placed it neatly back in its exact spot on the shelf. “There is one condition,” the Custodian began before his helmet turned to face the doorway.

“Who is that Daddy?”

Miguel turned, his heart shattering at the sight of his daughter in the study doorway, “A friend, Clara, now go back to sleep.”

The Custodian watched as the child disappeared from the doorway and only seemed to speak once it was clear the girl was gone.

“It is a small price to pay, Costas.”

“I couldn’t, it’s beyond my ability to give.”

“Nonsense, it’s well within your right, to secure your future, and hers in the annals of history.”

“It’s unconscionable.”

“It’s what is right.”

Miguel felt fire in his belly, for the first time since he had dropped the laspistol he yearned to strike back against the unstoppable intruder, “You take from me my very heart, for what? Leverage? A hostage for your Emperor’s game?”

The Custodian didn’t seem to react behind his stoic helmet, only shaking his head lightly at the outburst.

“We will forge anew what you give to us. She will be perfected, she will outlive all you hold dear well beyond what you could ever imagine possible. Ten thousand years from now, she will walk amongst the stars and stand side by side with our greatest achievements, a perfect representation of all that humanity can be. And you, Lord Costas, will be nothing but dust. Yet your family will remain, by your sacrifice.”

Miguel could find no words. He slumped back in his chair and sighed, only a small whimper escaping his lips as he nodded in defeat to the golden giant. There was no survival here without the giant's blessing. He felt tears well in his eyes and keyed a personal vox that surprisingly crackled to life on the desk before him.

“Bring Clara back to my study, there is someone she must meet.”

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Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Bigbagel12
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He looked at them, glaring across the burning city and seeing nothing but mice running from the fire. It was humorous, truly, a marvelous sight that made his heart dance. This was Terra, before it all fell apart. It was a horrid waste, a vile and contemptible fallacy of human ‘Glory’. Sure, the Terra of his time was bright and golden, but one can cast a pile of shit in gold and underneath it all, it is still shit. But that is for another time, for another life many years into the future, for another him to learn. He would deal with it in time, of course, as it was his destiny. He would forge the beginning of that path here and now, with a single action, changing his fate forever. He turned to face the cowering man, holding the scrolls to his chest and sweating in fear as the necro spell ate away at the people further in the palace to give rise to the abominations. Far too similar to the rotting masses of the ‘Grandfather’ for his tastes, the dead should stay dead in his mind so that they may continue on the path of change. So that they may nourish what comes next, but those that refused to die only complicated and stagnated.

“Do not fret, little mouse.” Korvo spoke, looking at the man in his thick robes which reeked of his fear. “You have been granted glorious salvation, a chance to change your fate.” he said as he practically skipped over to the man. His heeled feet clicking over the stone floor in a staccato tapping rhythm, dancing to a beat only he could hear. Holding one hand out like a showman, before he tapped his cane once on the ground and caused a swirling portal to begin to form. “You will be sent far from here, to a cradle of humanity, where you may live a life free of the terror and pain. You and your ‘vast’ knowledge will elevate you, will allow you to take the people I shall give to you and bring them back to a wondrous new future free of this ‘Emperor’.” he said with a whistle on his lips, as the air began to shimmer with new color, vivid hues the man could not identify winked in and out of existence as flames danced and laughed. Little cackling maws opening in the flames, as if laughing at some unseen or unheard joke, or perhaps they could taste the humor and let it spill out. The little flames danced with their master, as the portal swirled open and revealed a village with near industrial age aesthetics. Korvo slid across the floor, stopping before the man. “Take your knowledge, take your life, and live well.” he said as he lifted his cane, and gently pushed the man through as he fell down into a bundle of hay. “Here you were a slave, bound to a library to keep accounts, but there you shall be something of your own making. Goodbye, Sir Phobos.” he let out, giving one last friendly wave, before the swirling portal closed with a cackling pop, causing a small plume of smoke and confetti to rain down before it burned up in bright colors.

Looking to the side, he smiled at the table, filled with important records, schematics and designs for things long lost. Things that could no longer be made due to a lack of infrastructure on Terra. He snapped his fingers, causing a few of them to shoot up into the air, and roll into tubes before they fizzled and popped away to be perused later. Yet Korvo knew he did not have long, he had to be quick and concise with what he did next or he could end up facing down the Master of Mankind and that rather potent mind he could sense in another part of the city. Going back to the window, he looked down to see those golden armored abominations, the early iterations of the Emperor’s very own legions. “Ah, the flawed ones. The Necessary Evil.” he said as he tapped his cane a few times as he mulled over his options. “Distractions distractions.” he said as he tasted the ideas flowing over his mind as he felt the bird on his shoulder twitch, growing a multitude of eyes across his wings, and a mouth that formed on every feather and chuckled. “Do not fret my Master, broken toys they are, meant to be discarded in time. What does it matter if you break a few early?” the deep voice swam in his mind, even as the mouths spoke in a language no man could replicate. “You are right Vissar my friend, I suppose a bit of playful mischief could come to occur. After all, they are flawed products, and flawed toys tend to break at the worst of times.” he said as he waved a hand, creating a thin mist that flowed to the ground and mixed with the smog of war. Beautiful blue, or perhaps potent pink? None would be able to tell as they marched down the streets. Thick pops of gunfire mowed down the poor victims of the necro spell, and yet did nothing to stop the smog they so readily breathed in. They thrived in the crucible of war, in the death they caused, and it was almost cute.

“Look at them Vissar, if you focus you can see them for what they are. Puppets, dancing on the strings of a master who cares not for them outside of their ability to kill,” he said as he held up a hand, glowing strings reaching down off his fingers, as a tiny little Thunder Warrior formed on the end of it. Moving his fingers in a playful manner, it began to dance and twirl, slave to his whims. One of the Thunder Warriors down the lane began to replicate what was happening, dancing and twirling in a way he could not stop. He could practically hear the music in his mind as he watched the dancing slave, “You have Strings~ But there are no Strings on me.~” he sang to himself as the Thunder Warrior swung his hand around and unloaded his gun into his brothers. The gunfire drowned out the cries of surprise before the others returned fire and decimated his puppet, and yet despite the lethal shots the Thunder Warrior continued to dance around and shoot into his once allies. He did not need to be alive after all in order to serve his purpose, and in a handful of moments all five of the Thunder Warriors were dead with only a crater riddled standing corpse left before it fell slack and dropped.

Korvo smiled as he hummed the rest of the tune to himself as Vissar chuckled from the small display. “Vissar, I am sure this is quite amusing but we do have other duties to attend to. But I am quite sure, it shall ultimately be oh so very fun.”

Across the city, Malcador looked up with a sudden wince of pain as he felt the firmament shift insidiously. Next to him, a coruscating wave of putrescence flung forth by a now-dead sorcerer shifted in its arc by the slightest of margins, sailing harmlessly into a building that immediately crumbled into dust. Its intended target, Xenophon, looked up at his master with pursed lips, both knowing that a fate decreed had been defied.

Blowing out an unsteady breath, the psyker straightened himself as he put his weight upon his staff. “An alteration has occurred. Remain here and provide what aid you may to the Lucifer Blacks, follow the orders of Borethensipulas as if they were mine. I shall handle this myself.”
A shimmering skein of energy coalesced around the ancient man as yet another doomed fool sent a bolt of colors that were not, dissipating harmlessly as the Sigilite took his leave. Vanishing into an alleyway, he vanished in truth, walking through more subtle corners as he crossed the expanse of Memphos on paths drawn on no map.

He saw the bodies of the Thunder Warriors first, the spray of gore that erupted from their brutal armaments plastering far more of the cityscape than any humane - or practical - weapon. Drawing in a soft breath, Malcador wrought his soul to reduce its shine within the Warp, for the stench of witchcraft hung thick upon the air. Cautiously, he extended not his body but his mind, searching for the well of power he was all but certain had wrought this death. Of course, he knew all too well that his own travels had been far from subtle, rendering the Sigilite both hunter and hunted.

Korvo shook his hand, as if waving off the magic that had bound the corpse to his will like it was some sort of unwanted foreign material. Vissar, that great avian ‘thing’ that sat upon his shoulder would, to the eye of Malcador, be more an ‘unknowable mass that was not a mass’ than the simple crow-like form others would perceive it as. Not to include the absurdity of a creature the size of a building casually perched on a humans shoulder like a pet would be. However, despite the fact Malcador was dimming his presence in the warp, Korvo and Vissar both would turn, as if drawn to a gaze that could not be seen. The man smiled, and the Bird that was not a bird cackled, both of them stepping into the immaterium to more properly greet their guest. Korvo and Vissar’s presence melded together in some amalgamation of horror, both hiding and bolstering their presence as they confronted the ‘Voyeur’. There was only two beings on this planet, to their knowledge, that could perform such tasks.

Considering the fact they were not boiling alive in its presence, it seemed the Golden One, the Anathema, had not turned his gaze or presence this way. So it could be only one, the grand one, the Sigilite. They took in the presence of their hidden guest, and did not prod any further, it would not due to play with the tapestry of fate to much just yet. Some things must happen as intended, the weave must be spun wide before grand designs could be sown in amongst the rest. The ‘Thing’ that was Vissar and Korvo twisted and turned, a million eyes opening and closing as they looked around, before going blind all of a sudden and embracing vibrant nothingness. Then it rang out, a voice that spoke with no words, playful yet serious, arrogant yet humble.

“We welcome you, our dear friend Malcador. Blessed One, Cursed One.” spoke the avian voice, before the voice of a man came through. “We would speak with you more, yet we have things we must do. Tales we must Spin, Fates to Weave into being. Do hurry along though, we hope our next meeting shall occur soon enough. For the Great Game is ever in motion, and we must play together at that point. Shall we gather pieces first?” “Or shall you?” the man spoke, as their presence would begin fading, the avian voice came back at the end as if to mock the man. Yet they knew the strength of this one, fearsome it was, and they would not test staying too long in his presence just yet. Yet they could not help but urge the Sigilite forward, after all no game is fun if there are no players.

“An enslaved master and a ruling slave,” Malcador muttered, his voice splitting into a thousand whispers that rippled through things that were not air. “Now is not the time of our meeting, now is not your time. Get thee hence, and return to your when. We shall have our confrontation later, shadow of the future.” Disdain laced the psychic echoes of his voice, even as he dissolved himself amid the firmament. Daemon and psyker had been bold enough to announce themselves in their strength, and while a battle would be grievous for both he could at least take advantage of such arrogance.

They felt him, heard him with ears that did not exist, and yet the voice of Malcador was like both gentle rain and booming thunder in the Warp. The warning was clear, but he did not come this far to heed such a warning. His confidence came borne of knowledge, he ‘knew’ the fate of many and the Daemon had shown him even more. The tower he ruled, the times he had seen and visited, he knew exactly what to expect and yet sought to change it. “Shall we dear Sigilite? Shall we have our confrontation with walking Dust? Before I leave however, I will make you a promise.” the voices said before the man came forth, his face cast in ever shifting color and shadow that shone bright in its darkness.

“I am going to show you something Beautiful.~” the voice said as Malcador would be able to hear the shifting color of words. Before the sound of a million million crows burst into flight and the entity vanished into the warp, as Malcador had requested. Riding the wave of time to the future, yet….not to far.
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Hidden 9 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by MarshalSolgriev
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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The Urshite Threat

-Fifty Years After The Invasion of Memphos-

Gusts of freezing wind snapped ferociously at rock and stone alike amongst the Himalazian mountains. Extraordinarily tall peaks covered by snow dominated as far as the eye could see. Sporadic clumps of ruined vegetation dotted across frosty ridgelines, momentarily brightening the dark majesty of the range. Silhouettes of large, furred creatures on multiple limbs swiftly darted between abundant patches of snow, baleful snarls and feline roars echoing throughout the frigid corridor. At random intervals small buildings made of unknown material jutted out as impromptu platforms where earthen slabs would normally rise. Dim, crimson glowglobes illuminated a soft, repeating light at each corner of the metallic stages. Veiled, malicious turrets stood several meters away from these on their own separate towers, forever hidden and quick to tag incoming objects. Icy bastions of indescribable stone rose beneath the towers, stretching for untold miles in both directions. Few called this inhospitable area their home for far fewer could prosper in such an environment.

Yet, he called it home. Aeternus’ crimson lenses stared out of a stormbird’s eastward viewport, lingering on every shadow that passed their craft. He swiveled away from majestic nature to grim reality within the gunship’s interior. Several other entities languished in uncomfortable bucket seats, rocking as their vessel lurched under freezing gusts. A pair of yellow-armored warriors sat directly across from him, Captains Caligula and Tiberius. One held a concerned smile on their ugly face, while the other remained nonplussed as a wooden board. Observing them like a hawk nearest to their side was Lady Amalasuntha, her dark armor nearly blending into the interior. Several other of her kin remained close, their black visors lasered in on any and every movement that the God Slayers took. It would’ve been a discomforting leer were it not for the Black Hawk’s persistent guardianship of their Thunder Legion. Rex felt their tension even without his and his companion’s weapons, the Custodians less afraid and more prepared in case of an emergency.

As the stormbird flew in silence, save for the occasional jostle, so too did the inhabitants remain voiceless amidst their journey. The Primarch stewed on the events leading up to their current predicament during their brief moments of tranquility. A recall on a level such as this, immediately after the fall of the Ethnarchy, was cause for distress. Daunting dropships bearing golden raptors had interrupted their armored convoy’s resupply in Ururatu, demanding his presence for an immediate announcement in the audience of their liege. Oddly, the Black Hawk was additionally requested to join their voyage as if they were attached at an indescribable level, or perhaps He simply wished to see one of His many creations again.

A soft klaxon rang throughout the bay as the stormbird initiated a landing descent, pneumatic pistons audibly hissing as landing gears unfolded from far beneath their greaves. Crimson warning lights flashed across the gunship’s interior to alert those within of their voyage’s end. Gene warriors rocked in their bucket seats as they finished descending onto one of the few available platforms. The ringing klaxon muted itself, the lights cut, and the assault ramp dropped as quickly as a hydraulically driven system could in a frozen environment. The Primarch shared a look between Caligula and Tiberius before wordlessly unbuckling to clamber out of their craft. Both shortly followed after their commander, stalked by those Custodes that had accompanied them from Ururatu onward.

Blizzarding snowflakes coated the God Slayer’s helmet in swift, uneven clumps as he marched out of the stormbird. Black gauntlets reached up from his side, removing the great helm to admire the freezing temperatures. A small smile grew on Aeternus’ cracked lips, pushing a plethora of scars further up his admirable face. His dark eyes swiveled from the beautiful, Himalazian mountains to a pair of leviathan doors guarding the sanctuary of his master. Sentinels in ornate, midnight armor stood as eternal guardians over the gateway, snow blanketing their forms and melting in the same moment of contact. Those warriors that defended their liege’s realm allowed their entry with a simple activation of a hidden rune.

The Master of the Line’s abode sprawled for countless miles, enormous pillars of reinforced stone rising from floor to ceiling along ornate walls depicting endless eras of humanity. Scribes and data savants paced the labyrinth interior, a single tracked focus driving them deep within the Himalazian bastion. Custodes in dark armor proudly patrolled the halls carrying brutal spears with ranged armaments at the tip. Great glowglobes hung overhead as long, fluorescent illuminating devices that brightly shone over the width of their master’s alcoves. Grand, crimson rugs fashioned from material of Terra’s past covered carefully laid foundations beneath their greaves. Tapestries of unknown events clung to blank surfaces in specific intervals, positioned in a chronological pattern yet known to several onlookers.

The procession of thunder warriors and custodes marched on throughout their master’s astonishing abode, servants and savants splitting away in droves to avoid their gait. Dark lenses all equally fell on a single destination furthest away from their arrival point: a gateway etched with an enormous raptor and thunderbolts. Those genewarriors that had accompanied Aeternus, save for the Black Hawk, separated into a different corridor with practiced ease. Himself and Amalasuntha pressed on as if the waltz through His domain had been performed an innumerable amount of times. Midnight clad knights that awaited their arrival allowed their entrance, turning to speak softly into their helmet and activating the portal’s activation runes.

A wide, spherical chamber opened up before Aeternus’ eyes with several gateways leading into it. His eyes fell to an enormous, magnificent circular table sat at the center of the room. Rows of ornate seats sized for beings of greater stature than his own nestled along the rim. Hololithic images swirled overhead, casted by a projector at the table’s center and illuminating part of his armor in a blue hue. He noticed sculpted glowglobes etched into several pillars lining the room’s edge as he pressed forward, Amalasuntha following close behind him. None of these drew Rex’s attention insomuch as those that had already been inhabiting this location before him. A grin broke his tensed lips.

Several giants in armored suits similar to his own loudly bickered from their seats. Aeternus counted five of them in total from least deafening to most thunderous. All of them bore some manner of their liege’s yellow armor combined with heraldic colors of their own. Few of them wore capes or cloaks as he did, while others donned hardened leather tabards or chainmail hauberks at their waist. None wore their helmet or had their weapons present for such a gathering. A plethora of different hairstyles defined their rugged, ugly features as they intensely spoke with one another. Rex lingered only a moment before he was spotted entering the chamber with Amalasuntha.

“By ash and flame! Aeternus Rex! It’s been nearly a decade since we last fought together on the Jermani hills!” The most gregarious one lurched from his seat in a feat of bundled joy, a pure and ugly smile permanently plastered across his homely facial features. Dull red and ashen gray locks spilled around an unevenly shaped skull of the warrior, a thin beard scissored by crisscrossing scars amplifying his image. A cloak of forged scales clinked across his armor, yellow coating half of his plating and scarlet the other amount. The Raptor was proudly displayed on his chest, while an emblem of a phoenix blazed across his left shoulder.

“That it has, Primarch Alexamandes! Glory upon Unity, it is good to see you alive!” The two, great thunder warriors approached each other and embraced with enough force to shatter a mortal man’s skull several times over. They split away from their exchange with a hearty laugh echoing from deep within their breasts. Aeternus noticed the Black Hawk edge away from the event to stand next to more of her kin.

“To see you alive is a boon, Aeternus. Our Unification greatly prospers from your survival.” Another spoke, picking themselves up from the table to approach the pair of Primarchs. Their tone was nasally and deep as if their nose and throat were clogged with bullet shells. A gaunt knight with raven hair tied in a warrior’s knot linked arms with the God Slayer, a thin grin growing on their cracked lips. Aeternus admired the midnight blue, talon tipped gauntlets of the other warrior as they separated. A mechanical eye darted across Rex’s armor, scanning and consuming data in expedient droves. Flattened feathers loosely fell from a dark, plumed cloak that billowed behind their back. A sigil of a moon and a raptor hid itself well upon his left pauldron.

“You honor me, Primarch Corvinius, but do not sell yourself short of achievements. That coup in Franc would never have been as successful if I were commanding the legions there!” Aeternus said, wildly gesturing as if he were displaying a map before him. Corvinius snickered before moving away from the other Primarch, returning to his seat to renew a conversation with Alexamandes.

The God Slayer, finally free of distraction, began to find his seat before he was ambushed by another of the guests within the chamber. A woman wrapped Aeternus in a familiar headlock, threatening to choke the life out of him were it not for his own strength. Rex broke free from the headlock with a quick jab behind him using one of his armored elbows. Tension released from around the armor protecting his neck, swinging his body around to address his assailant.

“You’ve grown more timid, Rex! Any further deviancy and I’ll need to have a word with our Master about your lackadaisical attitude.” Her voice boomed, roaring akin to the likes of a Terran ursidae. She rose as a behemoth of meat and muscle beneath a suit of yellow armor and verdant green. A strong jaw set with fresh scars blended up into a half-shaven head of gray-blonde. Where one part of her face was deeply etched with wrought facial tissue, the other half was a mess of freckle and dried paint. Emerald eyes stared down at his slightly shorter form, yet his own dark eyes glimpsed at the antler-horned raptor on her pauldron. A chain hauberk hung between her armored thighs, shaven skulls hanging from silver hooks.

“Perish the thought, Primarch Bodiciia, I would like to avoid the Butcher of Europa’s wroth if I could help it. I will simply have to train more earnestly with Amalasuntha to live up to your expectations!” Aeternus spoke with a hint of rivalry in his tone, a challenging smirk revealing an array of sharp teeth beneath the other Primarch’s lips. Bodiciia returned to her seat beside Alexamandes, a heavy hand weighing upon the auburn-haired warrior's pauldron.

“It would do you some good to learn from her, God Slayer, perhaps then you’d be able to uphold our Master’s plan more efficiently and claim more territory for Him.” Another voice remarked with a boastful tone to his immediate left. The moment that their lips had opened, Aeternus knew who finally awaited him at his end of their meeting. A rogue in partially yellow, partially amethyst powered armor sat beside Rex with their elbows propped up and their hands clasped. A man with the least amount of facial defects for a thunder warrior peered back at him, gray orbs boring holes into his skull and full lips drawing his ire. A leather cloak faintly dyed in a dark, purple hue clung to their back, complemented only by the lilac hawk set in laurels etched on his left pauldron.

“Know that my achievements are worthwhile to Him, Primarch Gilgemenses, but I do greatly appreciate yours and Bodiciia’s concern for my success. Your kind regard for my accolades is worth a thousand blades.” Aeternus shot back with a playful tone, earning a spurned glare from the Primarch sat next to him. The gathered warriors, with the exception of Gilgemenses, exploded into laughter as Aeternus finally took his seat. “Where are the other legion commanders? I’d imagine Hannibal of the Caged Dogs and Ushotan of the Fourth would certainly be here.”

“The last I’d heard from Hannibal and the Fifteenth was from their push into the Midafrik Hive Polity. Ushotan, damn him, was previously seen assaulting the southern border of Nordyc with his Steel Lords. All of the other legion commanders are spread out thin between garrison duty and dealing with daily insurrections.” Corvinius’ dour voice replied, responding to Aeternus as if he were reading from a dataslate. Rex always knew that he was a brilliant, capable warrior, yet it still surprised him in the brief moments they spent time together.

“The First Legion? Concerned? The Dragon of the Himalazians, the Scourge of Northern Indoi, the Black Knight, the Gyptian Menace, the Great Blade of the Raptor, the Ururtanian Ruiner concerned? Perhaps we were doomed from the outset if Aeternus Rex grows worrisome for others.” Gilgamenses scoffed, venom dripping from his words in heavy clumps.

The throng of hyper augmented gene warriors exploded in a fit of discord, throwing insults and threats across the table at Gilgamenses. The amethystine Primarch responded in kind with similar slurs and gibes. Only Aeternus did not participate in the shouting match, his elbows propped and eyes staring down Amalasuntha as if to request for an amount of assistance. It was not his place, nor his duty to silence those outside of his responsibilities. As Rex awaited intervention from his bloodbound Custodes, his ears perked as mighty footsteps of unknown origin resounded further down one of the great many doors built into the chamber.

Sensing another entity coming, Amalasuntha slammed the butt of her spear into the ground three times and three times did the noise reverberate around the grand hall. The noise drowned out most of the explosive arguments, but the Black-Hawk did little to speak to the bickering gene-warriors for they were beneath her. Unlike Aeternus, they did not garner the respect of the Custodian and how they acted would ensure that she never would. Others continued to argue, bringing her predatory gaze to them. The roar of her pack destroyed all other sound, her blackened form looking down from them from a ledge just big enough for her to stand on. Only when the last looked at her did she make it clear, “You are within the Emperor’s halls. He, nor the Sigillite, shall listen to bickering children.”

That other entity was likely very underwhelming to what the Black-Hawk believed it to be. It was, instead, Theadon Red, Commander of the Eighteenth. Theadon was thick and broad. His aged face was riveted with pockmarks, and the right side was plagued with patches of where a recent fire left a wound upon it. Though somewhat intact, his right arm had piecemeal mechanics holding it together and supporting it. The rest was under armor, and a thin black cloak, with small bits of red and purple highlights underneath the thin sheet that wrapped around most of his body. Helmet and plume tucked neatly at his side, the warrior just stared at what was the rabble he had heard walking towards the procession, but now he saw the scene as it was. He was thankful that none under his command but for a few underlings decided to make the journey; if another had come, it would have turned into a bloody brawl. His eyes went up to the woman and her staff, then back towards the rabble.

"While I thank you for the entrance, I hope I am not late as usual," Theadon said calmly with a slight smirk, looking up to the ledge above one last time before making his way toward the seat he assumes is his.

Aeternus released a breath of relief as Theadon’s arrival and Amalasuntha’s intervention was enough to either stupify or pacify the other Primarchs from further provocations. He watched as Bodiciia and Alexamandes stared daggers into the custodian, while the remainder turned their attention to the late arrival of the Eighteenth. Rex nodded his head thankfully to the Black Hawk before opening his mouth to speak with the final legion commander.

“It’s good to see you alive, Theadon. I grew worried that you’d get chewed out by the Sigillite if you took any longer.” The God Slayer remarked with a small smile flashed in Theadon’s direction. He reached up with one of his gauntlets to rest it upon the Eighteenth Primarch’s shoulder in such a way a long friend would. He silently thanked fate that the other commander had arrived in time for he still sensed another, mightier presence approaching their council. “Though I hate to admit, you are as late as I am.”

The sound of his staff upon the ancient stone rang louder than any bell of doom, for all present had seen the fury that its master could unleash. He seemed frailer than at the last such grand council, the all too human form vanishing into the folds of his robes such that only the fire of his eyes and the gnarled husk of his fist about his staff were still visible. And yet, when he sat at the throne at the right hand of his master’s, he still seemed unbent and undaunted by the mighty weight of his years. Standing behind him, rendered almost invisible by the scale of his presence, was a severe woman in a pressed blue uniform adorned with a triple helix.

“Amalasuntha,” Malcador said softly, his voice somehow carrying throughout the hall, “you have my thanks, but you need not worry about such things upon my account. Though my Master has long disputed it, I can think of nothing better to retain my youth than to hear the cries of children,” he added with a soft grin, the Sigilite relaxing slightly upon his throne. “But she is right, she is right,” he continued with a wave of his wave. “We have work to do, children, that which you were best made for.”

At some subtle gesture from the man, the hololith suddenly redirected its focus, the image of the wartorn world’s surface rendered down to a single front. One that every soul in the room knew all too well. Ursh. The vast realm stretched across the breadth of the world, poised above the Emperor’s own domain, fat and hungry.

“Now that Kalagann has destroyed Xozer and overthrown their wyrds, fear has come into our hearts that witchery shall compound witchery. His realm must fall, his covens destroyed, and their lore burnt, before they can do lasting damage to the great work. You may bid amongst yourselves for positions amongst the fronts, with one exception,” Malcador said, his eyes turning to Aeternus. “I have special need of the God-Slayers.”

Aeternus’ gentle demeanor fell as the Sigilite addressed his legion. An uneasy chill descended over his body as their liege’s closest advisor bore into him with eyes that could strip away any mental resistance. Several of the aforementioned Primarchs bit their tongues after a quick dismissal, Alexamandes and Bodiciia in particular silently fuming. Rex rose from his oversized seat, bowed his head low, and opened his lips to speak. Long strands of silky, black hair similar to the Master of the Line’s draped across his lowered forehead.

“It is an honor and a privilege that you would require us, Lord Sigilite,” Aeternus spoke in a humble tone, dark eyes glued to the table as a sign of respect. He feared nothing in physical form, yet the Sigilite’s burning orbs never failed to force him into some notion of dread. Others glared daggers into his fur-cloaked back, Gilgamenses, in particular, radiated some level of envy. Thus Rex never falters in his genuflection until responded to. “We will conquer and kill for Him and Unity, where would you have us slay?”

“Enough of this petty jealousy,” Malcador whispered wearily, slouching into his throne at the immediate sense of being slighted by the Thunder Primarchs. “I give the bulk of you honor and glory, blood and war! Is this not what your hearts bay for? Is this not what you have come to this council in the name of? You shall have your pick of Ursh, and neither I nor my Master shall stand against the biddings of your murdermake. Is that not enough? Is the Raptor no longer enough? Shall I gift to each of you a trinket, so that you may think yourself beloved by your father?”

“Foolish children,” the Sigilite said with a bone-weary sigh, lifting his face out of his robes and for once appearing every day of his nigh thousand years. “You wish to know why I have called Aeternus to my side? It is for no errand any of you shall care for, and there is far less glory in it than you shall gain by bringing to my Master one of Kalagann’s battle standards. I require the God-Slayers to engage upon a mission of peace. Now silence this pride, and leave me to my business, Aeternus and I must speak of Sanctii.”

The Primarch of the God-Slayers raised his head after the Sigilite’s remarks, turning a pair of dark eyes to his kindred. A small amount of pity flitted through his orbs before he turned away and stood apart from the gathering, awaiting the moment when Malcador would call for him. Aeternus would watch as a smaller feud began to break out between the gathered throng of bloodthirsty legion commanders, beginning with the largest of their assorted rank.

“The Raptor is plentiful, Malcador! I do not require trinkets. Those will be taken from those that will be slain in the southern city of Kaspia.” Bodiciia rose from her seat, planting her fist on the table and grinning wickedly between the Sigilite and the hololithic projection. A voice that threatened to shatter even those gene-altered around her boomed with each and every syllable. The thunder warrior raised a finger to the southwestern part of Ursh’s fringe territories. “The Verdant Raiders of the Second Legion will prevail in the name of Unity, our Master, and for Mankind!”

The next of the genewarriors moved with a swiftness, Primarch Alexamandes echoing the Fourth’s overexaggerated movements with his own. A great laugh thundered from deep within his breastplate. “As the Butcher of Europa said, blood is enough, Sigilite. I would rather have waged war with the great Aeternus Rex, but I will claim Monggol Tertius! I expect you ‘lot to see the red and gray of the Tenth’s Infernal Phoenixes in southern-central Ursh!” Alexamandes blared, a pair of nearly manic eyes swapping between the remaining thunder warriors. One of his dull, red gauntlets directed the precise location of his assaulting target before the legion commander backed away from the table with Bodiciia.

A brief moment of silence filled the air as the remainder of the Primarchs, those that had spent longer than a fraction of a second to think, considered their own plans. Corvinius’ eyes darted between several suitable locations marked across the hovering hologram, especially lingering on the southeastern portion of Ursh’s great territory. Gilgamenses idly spoke to himself as his own orbs drifted to the western territories of the Khaganate. Both shared a look between each other before finally beginning to speak, the raven haired thunder warrior voicing his target first.

The Ruined Hive of the Asiatic Dustfields will be conquered in the name of the Master. We would never expect Him to grant us trinkets, only that He understands that we will use our enemy’s weapons against them. The Thirteenth’s Obsidian Crows will plunge into the depths for Unity.” Primarch Corvinius calmly stated, affixing their wargoal on the hololithic map with a single, midnight digit. The gaunt thunder warrior offered a short bow of his head, a light tap of his gauntlet against his chestplate, and backed away from the table’s edge. The amethystine knight nearby rose as he began to speak in earnest.

“I will not share the same sentiment as other commanders, Lord Sigilite, our Master would do us a great justice if he threw a bone or two to our feet. A relic from your treasury, a platoon of more dignified warriors there, or another fresh batch of newly crafted genewarriors.” Gilgamenses voice dripped with venom, carefully tiptoeing the line between subservient and defiant. His last words rang closer to an accusation rather than a request for reinforcement. Gray eyes glared at the feeble form of Malcador then turned to glower at the God-Slayer. “The Sixteenth’s Amethyst Tridents will plunge into Khaganate territory and starve Ursh of their grasp on the Terrawatt Clans. Perhaps then some of us will gain proper recognition.” The amethystine Primarch pushed himself away from the table after annotating his wargoal over the tribute state of the Russ Khaganate.

Theadon looked up and down the map, but his eyes looked towards the north. “My warriors will enjoy the eternal nights in the north… I will tell them to move Europa at once before meeting them, we will do what we do best and cut a line of fire through their heartlands until we reach the eternal night of winter in the Siber Ice Plains .” His good eye turned towards Gilgamenses and then back forward at the map. He rolled his shoulder letting it pop quietly as he just stared at the map. “But temper, temper, Gilgamenses, you have renown… You have prestige, your warriors are fine, I just hope that I can finish gutting the heartlands out from the north before the Urals are flattened.”

Amalasuntha had been gazing down at the Thunder Warriors, content to let the Sigilite deal with their bickering and savagery until the end of the meeting. That was until Gilgamenses had spoken, his voice grated her ears like nails on chalk and her anger swelled with each passing word. The Black Hawk would have descended upon him in a fury, but her eyes merely burned into his head even as Theadon spoke. She could not resist, her own brand of venom spilling across the room as she spoke, “Worry about glory is a fool’s errand. Asking for relics, many beyond your control, is a death sentence. Make do with what you have, barbarian, just as Aeternus and his God-Slayers do.”

Her words were not as diplomatic as Theadon’s and she certainly did not hide her hostility, everything from her posture to her gaze held only resentment. The Black Hawk was prepared to pounce on Gilgamenses further had he dared speak against her or Malcador, only being content with him being brought back into place. The Venatarii’s lance remained hummed with deathly life as she made her threat to the Thunder Warrior clear. Though, it could be construed that her words were meant for all but the God-Slayers for their future desires and wants of the Imperium.

Malcador paid little heed to the bidding of the Thunder Warriors, the Sigilite’s attentions upon far more important matters than which of his Master’s princelings would raise the Raptor over the ruins of Kaspia. His thoughts were upon Sanctii and its promise, and the strange role he was thrusting upon the God-Slayers and how best to send the men of Thunder upon a mission of peace. That is, until, the most impudent and boastful of the Primarchs raised his voice, and the old man’s eyes were lit with an inner flame.

“You wish for new genewarriors, Gilgamenses? The freshest weapons from our lord’s forge? Why, I had feared none would volunteer for the honor,” the Sigilite said, clutching his staff tightly with a soft grin. “Amar,” he added, in a far kinder voice, to the woman who had stood behind him unnoticed and unremarked. “Ready your Firstborn, they shall march with the Amethyst Tridents. I trust that they shall prove their quality.”

With a wave of his hand, Malcador closed discussion upon the topic, his decree having been made. The true concern for this meeting had been ignored long enough. “Aeternus, I know I give you an unusual task. You shall be equipped with what information I have in my power to grant you,” the old man said to the First, settling back down upon his throne. “From what my agents have been able to glean, they are a prime candidate for Unity. They have kept the flame of civilization alive through the long terrors of Old Night, and have avoided the depredation of tyranny and strife, with a strong gene-stock free of mutation. They have maintained some semblance of democracy, though the details elude us as yet, with decisions made collectively by some sort of council. Many Standard Template Constructs are evident within their city, though it is unknown if they still possess the means to construct more.”

“Intriguingly, they have also maintained several voidships, including a venerable destroyer nigh on a kilometer in length - though for some reason they currently have established a lunar cordon. To take the city by force would be a slaughter, one that neither I nor my lord are keen to partake in, for their strength is vast and their treasures would surely be despoiled - to say nothing of your own losses. They maintain a military from among their citizenry, genehanced with arms and armor to rival and surpass your own. In addition, they have constructed a vast wall about the entirety of their city, inset in which are void shield generators.”

“As such,” Malcador said, staring the Thunder Warrior directly in the eyes, “it is the decision of the Emperor that they should be peaceably allied and brought beneath the auspice of the Raptor without bloodshed, as was done with the Achaemenids. This is your task, Aeternus Rex.”

The Primarch of the God-Slayers waited to respond as those beings similar to him began to leave in total. His dark eyes catch the seething form of Gilgamenses casting several proud, angry glares at members of their conclave before leaving. Bodiciia clapped Aeternus on the shoulder before taking her leave, followed only by Alexamandes gesturing to Theadon in a way that suggested the two will be drinking. Corvinius shared a knowing look with Rex, nodding to the God-Slayer before exiting the chamber. A small smile was shared with Theaddon as he left, hoping to once more fight alongside the Nightbringers.

Theadon stood and slowly raised his hands towards the two, “I hope to see you both soon, I have traveled far and although this was a brief meeting. I am glad to have seen you Brother.” He started making his way from the room, exiting the way he came in and disappearing into the halls.

Once the last of his kindred had left, leaving the chamber eerily quiet, Aeternus would return to the table’s edge that he had previously sat. His eyes fell on Malcador’s intense gaze, an indescribable feeling building up in his frame as he mustered a response. Within the frame of his mind, there was no doubt that he would ever reject such a calling, for Unity was all of their desires. The question was not in how, but why the God-Slayers with what afflicts them?

“It shall be done, Lord Sigilite, Sanctii will fall under the Raptor. No matter the cost.” Aeternus solemnly stated, bending down on one knee and placing his fist against the Raptor affixed across his breastplate. The Primarch inclined his head once more before standing back to full height. With the acceptance of his task, Rex began to speak again in a quieter tone. He expected no small amount of retaliation for his next statement and prepared himself for Malcador or Amalasuntha’s fury. “If you would allow me, Malcador, then I would beseech you for further knowledge. Absolute victory must be achieved in His name.”

The Sigilite arched a brow at the Thunder Warrior’s request, his full attention upon the man. “Did you think I would withhold a weapon of any sort from one of my master’s warriors? Upon so dire a quest, to achieve so needful an aim? I have spoken what pitifully little we know of Sanctii to you already. Now go, be about your business, unless there is some other light of knowledge you wish enkindled.”

“There is one thing that I must ask, Lord Sigilite, yet it is not for additional information on Sanctii. That city’s fate was sealed the moment the order was spoken.” Aeternus began to speak, his voice steadily rising to a stalwart tone. He carefully chose the next words that were spoken, aware of the potential insinuations that could be picked apart from it. The warrior steeled himself nevertheless.

“My warriors suffer relentless afflictions, deviations that have been steadily handled between senior members of the First Legion, myself, and Lady Amalasuntha. Unity will be achieved regardless of our lives, but if there were a way to alleviate their flaws, then we could more efficiently execute our Master’s plans. These are the answers I seek in pursuit of greater victories.” The information requested was accompanied by a bowing of the thunder warrior’s head to the Sigilite. Never before had he asked such a thing. Aeternus had always pursued the wishes of their Master with brutal, relentless efficiency. Something in his ambitions had changed.

The ancient man’s face softened at that, something resembling guilt passing over him as he slumped down upon his chair. “You, and all the Thunder Warriors, are children born of need. I will not deny this. Shortcuts were, are, taken in the process of your creation - a brutish transfiguration that cannot be considered to have the nobility of science. We cast ourselves as barbarians in the atrocities committed to make you, and for that we cannot be forgiven.”

“The process is refined, of course. Strength is set aside for stability. Mass applicability for ideal candidates. The Astartes. You will never be them. You are far more than they can ever hope to be, but at a terrible price that they need never pay. I have had… thoughts considering what may be done for my lord’s first and truest soldiers. I wish I had something more for you, Primarch.”

A flicker of a saddened frown passed across Aeternus’ lips before returning to a tightlipped straightness typical of his stoic demeanor. His eyes reflected a buried grief behind a curtain of stalwartness. He had received his answer, regardless of whether it had been one that he ached for or one filled with empty platitudes.

I understand. I hope that our creation has, at the least, helped our Master achieve all that he wishes. Thank you, Malcador, for your candor. Sanctii will soon see the Raptor fly over it’s walls.” Aeternus raised his head once more, pressing one of his blackened gauntlets against his chestplate in a salute. He stepped back from the table, beginning to turn away to exit the chamber. Before the Primarch pressed the helmet over his head, he turned to regard Malcador once more.

“Perhaps, once Unity has been achieved, our Master will find a cure for our afflictions. It will be a glorious day when it arrives.” The Primarch of the God-Slayers said with a sad smile, promptly fitting the knightly helmet over his skull.

“Aeternus. Know this. Nothing my lord has wrought could last without your sacrifice.” As Malcador spoke, the weight of years hung heavily upon him, and he looked every day of his thousands of years of life.

Amalasuntha looked to Malcador, hearing his words, only to look back towards the Primarch with an indecipherable look of pity. It was not an emotion she was precisely known for or one that she knew she could feel, yet she felt it. Warm, yet cold words, came from the custodian, “The deeds of your progeny will be echoed far into the future, Aeternus. Our Emperor would be sure of it.”

Credits: @MarshalSolgriev (Aeternus+Primarchs), @Lauder(Lady Amalasuntha), @grimely(Malcador), @Jamesyco(Theadon)
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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Hope In The Frost

There was something soothing about the frozen land that helped to calm his soul. When the sun jumped off the glittering snow drifts and the wind sent shimmering clouds of swirling white through the air, he could see the lost beauty that made Terra worth protecting. The flicker of hope that made Sanctii worth saving.

He stepped away from the insulated window of the meeting room and took one last chance to look over what he had painstakingly arranged for his coming guests. The room, nothing more than a conference room for the supervisors of the world engine beneath them, was sparsely adorned. There were scuff marks in the floor where a large industrial table had been removed to accommodate the finer seats that had been arranged within the room to facilitate the purported size of his coming guests. A small table of refreshments, still steaming, was set equally distant in the center of the fine furnishings, and finally a number of seemingly brand new datapads had been placed on the arms of every chair.

He allowed himself a small smile, happy that he had managed this much in the time that he had been given to prepare. Yet he was still frustrated at the location that had been chosen by the Administrator for the meeting. Was he not Stefan Popov, High Negotiator of Sanctii and Her Illustrious Holdings? Did his position not grant him the right to arrange the meeting? The menu? The venue? The seating? He chafed at the idea that the Administrator had overstepped him so boldly, and fumed that the Prime Minister had disregarded his complaints at this blatant power grab.

“Negotiator Popov…?”

Popov started, turning to face the aide with a smile as he smoothed over the frustration on his face. “Yes?”

The aide shuffled a datapad from his hands and held it out to Popov with an uneasy smile, “They’re on final approach, Sir.”

Popov nodded as he took in the auspex return of the Imperial craft coming in from the South, “Good, good. Make sure they’re not bothered, as planned. Bring them right here, not a single weapon in sight. No one speaks to them before I do, of course.”

The aide gave a curt nod and hurried off through the door, a quiet hiss following as Popove watched the door slide shut behind the young man. He sighed, took a small clear pill from his pocket and swallowed it dry. He turned back to observe the world outside the window, the billowing smoke of the world engine beginning to cast a shadow over the land as the wind shifted. He spotted the telltale signs of a blizzard brewing in the distance. He swallowed another clear pill, his pupils constricting slightly as he focused on the storm and calculated time and trajectory. He concluded it would arrive during the meeting, an unfortunate omen.

A dark, boxy silhouette began to materialize on the horizon, torrents of snow blasting behind it in a rapid advance. It contrasted harshly to the frosted wasteland of Terra’s northern territories, dull yellow and black plating covering the oncoming craft’s exterior. A great symbol of a raptor emblazoned upon one of the vessel's bulky surfaces, an unpolished eye glaring out at the planet’s sad state. Multitudes of brutal weapons mounted to the lower side of the transport while long-barreled monstrosities idly pointed from turret sponsons. The stormbird approached the tall, billowing world engine with haste. Quad engines churned black smoke out behind the craft as a platform lit up some several kilometers away to signal their landing. A silent exchange of binary communication flitted across the air, exchanging transponder codes and clearance access onto the world engine’s landing pad. Large, flat footed gears unfurled from beneath the transport as it settled down on the reinforced structure.

The platform, illuminated by austere glowglobes, groaned beneath the weight of the stormbird. Hissing mechanisms reverberated in the local area as the assault ramp began to extend down and outwards. The source of the craft’s superior weight became evident as seven individuals began to amble down in an unsorted formation. Five of their number were tall, herculean warriors covered from head to toe in powered armor, while the two others were average sized humans dressed in combat armor. The first of the arrivals was a giant in black armor, an alabaster pelt flowing behind them and a great helm worn tight against their skull. The next two were similar in size, differing only in yellow armor and styles of knightly helmet. One carried a great, whipping banner embroidered with a raptor crossed in front of thunderbolts attached to a long pole. They were followed by a woman in penumbral armor with folded, metallic wings accenting their half-covered facial features. Lastly were the standard humans, adorned in military attire appropriate for Terra’s northern lands. None of these individuals held armaments, for they were unneeded when their own strength would suffice.

Each footstep of the four, larger giants threatened to break through the platform they walked upon, their long strides allowing them to quickly cross the distance in a span of seconds. The one at the front of their procession, the black armored one, halted some distance away from an entrance into the world engine. Crimson lenses spied the hurried form of a human approaching their entourage, yet further identified a plethora of hidden defenses veiled into the austere environment. A manner of seconds passed as the human halted within reasonable distance of the arriving retinue.

Hail, Sanctiian.” The black-armored giant spoke first, a lion’s roar of a tone booming from the voxgrill installed into their great helm. A masculine voice that radiated with cool, supreme confidence. His crimson lenses stared down at the man as if he were infinitely smaller than the giant was. The alabaster pelt attached to his back whipped rapidly between frozen gusts and spinning engines. “Do I have the pleasure of speaking to the High Negotiator?” The title awkwardly rolled off his tongue, uncertain of Sanctii’s parliamentary positions.

The aide stood statue-still as the booming voice of the giant rolled over them, cold sweat beading on their brow as they searched for the right words to attend to the Imperials. He took an uncertain step backwards followed by another, far more confident one as he tore his gaze away from the terrifying monstrosity of plate and flesh. With a simple wave of his hand he gestured for the entourage to follow before hurriedly leading them down the central hall and toward the meeting room.

Popov, smiling as the indicator light over the door blinked from amber to green, spread his arms wide in welcome as his aide stepped quickly to the side of the room.

“Hail, Imperial. I apologize for my aide’s silence, they’re unfortunately not cleared to speak for such a meeting as this,” he laughed as he motioned for his aide to make himself scarce in a corner of the room, “I, however, very much am,” he offered a respectful bow of his head and motioned for the massive beings to come forward and take seats, “High Negotiator of Sanctii and Her Illustrious Holdings, Stefan Popov, at your service.”

His smile thinned as he directed his attention to the chairs. They were far too small for these mutants.

“I had arranged seating, but I must say, you’re I appear to have underestimated the requirements,” he chortled.

The humans, to the eyes of the relatively well fed and clothed Sanctians, looked decrepit. There were two that seemed to hold the same office as the giant mutants, or at least an equivalent position. The first was a man, who, to put it politely, looked haggard, decrepit, and pale. He had large, dark circles under his eyes and a gaunt, ever so slightly jaundiced look of someone balancing on the precipice of malnutrition. His uniform, while appropriate for the Urshic cold, was mismatched and of ill-repair.

“We’ll take that seat, if you don’t mind.” A female voice, sharp and clear, stated.

She was healthier than the man, tall, strong, and with pink, healthy skin, but an ugly pink scar ran from under one eye, bisecting a cheek, going through both lips, and onto her chin. She had a crude, but serviceable military bionic crammed into the eye socket where the ugly scar started. Her uniform, compared to the man’s, was intentional, austere, and stark. Black jhodpurs, black boots, a black tunic with gold frogging, and a leather stormcoat. She wore a red cap and ear shields against the cold, but the flush of her cheeks suggested that as impressive as her garb was, it did not protect against the elements the same way the man’s did.

“I am Discipline Mistress Augusta Severina.” She said, and bowed. “And this is Colonel Stavin, of… Imperial Army unit 31-3.”

The man looked sullenly at the woman, as if he detected some slight or falsehood in that statement, but said nothing.

“We are the ranking Imperial Army presence for these talks.” She continued, seemingly oblivious to her comrade, “And most importantly, we are here to be a human face. Our regent understands that the Thunder Legions and Custodians can be intimidating fellows.”

She reached out, briefly touching the closest Thunder Warrior’s gauntlet, and the winged custodian’s.

“You’ll forgive me for saying that of course.” She said to the other members of the Imperial delegation. “But we must be open and honest, no?”

Though Severina couldn’t possibly see beneath the great helm of the blacked armored giant, she could certainly feel the unpleasant aura forming when her hand touched his vambrace. Instinctively, as if feeling their leader’s discomfort, the other two yellow armored warriors stepped forward with a couple of trudges. An obsidian gauntlet raised up from the dark one, waving off their small amount of worry. He took a step forward to position himself directly across from Negotiator Popov, crimson lenses carefully observing the stature of the man.

“Mistress Severina speaks correctly, but know that we are no less human than any other. I am Primarch Aeternus Rex of the First Legio Cataegis, the God-Slayers, agents hailing from the Master of the Line and his dominion. I have known many names in my time, but only refer to me as this. Behind me are a pair of my Thunder Warriors, Captain Caestus Caligula and Vexillarius Gaius Felix.” The primarch gestured with one of his gauntlets to the warriors behind him. The one named Caligula, a yellow armored giant with a crest upon his knightly helmet, gave a short chuckle and nodded his head. The other thunder warrior, Felix, responded with a short nod while gripping their beautiful banner tightly in one hand.

Although hesitantly, Aeternus understood the necessity for an even playing field between negotiation forces. A pair of black gauntlets reached up to his helmet, unsealing the atmospheric protectors and lowering the great helm to his side. Bronze skin marred with a plethora of aging scars met the quickly adjusting temperature in the chamber. Dark orbs as umbral as the void stared down at Popov while strands of black hair complimented a rugged, charismatic face.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, High Negotiator Stefan Popov. I will be the primary negotiator for our liege and his dominion in these talks. Our secondary negotiator may interject at any time she wishes as she sees fit, as is her duty. The tertiary negotiators, as Severina has previously spoken, are granted a level of interjection as was decreed by the Master of the Line. Firstly, though,” Aeternus began to speak, his voice as commanding and dominating as a lion upon his pride. He slightly cocked his head in the direction of the final member of their cohort, motioning for the black armored knight to come forward and speak. “We have one last member of our entourage. One of the highest importance.”

Amalasuntha, one of the Emperor’s chosen Custodians. I have come to oversee that all goes in the Emperor’s best interests,” the Black-Hawk said, her voice harsh and cold as she looked over the humans, her eyes carefully watching those of the Imperial Army before stepping back. That was all she needed to say and nothing more would be pried from her, such was the nature that Aeternus and any of his Thunder Warriors would know. The Ventarii maintained her grip over her Lance, before her gaze shifted back to carefully watching over the gene-warriors she had sworn to watch over, no longer concerned with the humans.

Popov waved a welcoming hand toward the chairs for the Discipline Mistress and her Colonel before turning his full attention back to the two mutants before him, “Of course, Primarch Rex, do correct me if I should use the full name for I may be unfamiliar with your proper use of formal title and name,” he said with due deference.

He turned his gaze toward the Custodian, a feeling of revulsion rising in his stomach at the way she had so confidently declared she was here to ensure things went “the Emperor’s” way. He gave her a respectful nod and a curt smile, “I have heard much of the Emperor’s vaulted Custodians. It is an honor to make the acquaintance of two of the mightiest warriors on Terra.”

Popov moved his attention back to Aeternus, and with a hint of curiosity on his face offered an open palm, “Forgive me, Primarch Rex, but it was the Imperium that requested this audience, and while I am more than honored to hold it, I must admit that your side was not exactly… forthcoming, with the details of why,” he shrugged, allowed himself a small laugh and continued, “Though I am rather certain why you would wish to seek this negotiation, I must ask that you voice your goals aloud.”

Primarch Aeternus internally prepared himself for the political battlefield laid out before himself. He couldn’t help but feel as it if were an actual battle amidst a brutal war, something that he was aware wasn’t the correct mindset for peaceful negotiation. A simulation of the possible events had been conducted beforehand with the Colonel and the Black Hawk, though it paled in comparison to the actual series of events. Nonetheless, he was ready to deliver whatever his master required, no matter what may come of it.

“Then allow me to be forward with my Master’s ambitions. He has seen that the great city of Sanctii is a bastion of humanity in a sea of chaos and lauds it from His domain. The Master of the Line - the Emperor - would see humanity unified to claim our birthright amongst the stars. In lieu of His goals, He wishes to create everlasting ties with the great city of Sanctii as an ally in pursuit of unification.” Aeternus momentarily paused to allow Popov a chance to digest the words he spoke. Rex lowered his usual lion’s roar of a voice to much more calm and deep level of speech. He physically controlled each movement of his body in such a way that the genewarrior’s demeanor balanced out between solemn and domineering. An effective gift from one of the Emperor’s Ephroi.

“Yet he does simply ask for an alliance without reparation. He has sent His Legio Cataegis - my Thunder Legion - of the God-Slayers to assist in dealing with the Kalagann of Ursh. No doubt you’ve heard of our accomplishments in middle Terra,” An obvious two-faced statement. It was equal parts a threat and a gift for those with the ability to understand the nuances of negotiation. Aeternus’ form failed to radiate a threatening aura, nor did his speech pattern alter to allude to a dire warning. He continued to speak, aware already that their promise of intervention wouldn’t be enough to fulfill the negotiations. “But it has been told by our Master’s favored companion that the great city of Sanctii has no want for superior forces. To allay any disparity for lack of commitment, the Emperor has given His approval to a technological agreement.”

The Primarch felt as if he had expended a lifetime's worth of diplomatic flair in a single conversation, something that the thunder warrior was nowhere near proficient in. He had wondered if it was a test set by the Sigilite in cruel mockery, or perhaps it had been a trial to gauge Rex’s abilities by the Emperor. It loomed on his mind just as each of his own words possibly hung over Popov’s musing form. Regardless, Aeternus’s black orbs never fell away from the negotiator nor did they blink once during his entire speech. Those endless pits of darkness now awaited the Sanctiian’s response.

Colonel Stavin sighed as the thunder primarch stated the purpose of their coming. It was as simple as that. Join or die. But he had spoken himself hoarse at the tactica and strategis meetings before this diplomatic intervention - it would never work. Stavin was half Urshic. He knew of Sanctii. They were proud, but they were naive. Sheltered. A dangerous combination.

Insulated as they were from the rest of Imperial conquest, and so convinced of their enlightenment, they'd never acquiesce to the requests of a butcher like the Emperor. That's what he was, after all. A butcher. A mass murderer. But only he could see it, only he, a damned soul, trapped in the interstice of Imperial truth and Imperial violence.

It was the highest irony that not only did he have to usher the other souls of the damned, his penal soldiers, to their dooms, but now one of the oldest bastions of learning and civilization as well.

He decided to speak. In Urshic, rusty and halting, to make his point.

"Bratya Popov." Stavin said in the lowborn thieve's Urshic of gutter criminals and soldiers, "It is in your best interest to say yes."

Popov would know of the Urshic criminal cant. That phrase was well known amongst the Urshic people, it was an almost comical cultural touchstone. The stereotypical threat of a vidscreen extortion, by the old mafiyas. It was so trite as to be almost humorous, and never said in anything but jest.

That dissonance might give Popov the hint of what this meeting really was; murderous extortion, with Sanctii as the Emperor’s prize - that refusal was no option at all. It was Stavin's only throw of the dice to avoid what he knew would happen with certainty.

Popov had known it was coming, anticipated it. The Administrator had warned him, along with just about every other sitting member of the Council. And yet, it was still a shock to hear it from the lips of the Emperor’s dog before him. He suppressed a snicker at the primarch’s insistence that some sort of technological exchange would benefit Sanctii as much as it would the Imperials, an easy task given the amount of focus drugs pumping through his system, and was about to speak when he found himself genuinely surprised by the Colonel’s rough criminal cant. He sneered in disdain at the realization of what such a thing meant from a Colonel, but went no further to engage with the gutter scum.

He felt a haptic implant pulsing in his neck and raised the datapad in his hands just enough for only him to read the text beginning to scroll across the screen. He suppressed further anger, easily washing over the emotion with overwhelming calm as he read the Administrator's words.

“Primarch Rex, I am sure that an alliance would benefit both of our states, but Sanctii will not, under any circumstances, share the technology vital to our survival. For reasons of security, it simply can not be arranged,” he nodded solemnly, “An alliance may benefit us yet, but our technology must remain ours.”

The hulking leader of the Thunder Warriors muled over the words spoken by Popov. He refused to acknowledge the Colonel’s statement in the brutish tongue of the Urshites nor would Aeternus really need to. An armored gauntlet from the First Cadre Captain, Caligula, had been carefully placed on the Colonel’s shoulder mere moments after the words left his mouth. A stern look was given by the genewarrior, Caestus’ ugly smile growing wide across an already repulsively scarred face. Rex had felt the movements behind him as they happened, silently thanking his geneson before beginning the next part of his practiced speech.

“That is rather unfortunate, Negotiator Popov, but it is His will that our alliance be on even footing. The Sigilite will have that conversation with your leader at a later point,” Aeternus began to speak, an initial air of disappoint surrounding his form before returning with renewed energy. Perhaps if his original orders had been to kill and claim, then negotations would’ve broken down there yet he persisted with the Emperor’s wishes regardless. “But you have no qualms with a military alliance against Kalagann of Ursh, is that correct? You said it yourself that we are the mightiest warriors on Terra, would it not be beneficial to deal with the Urshite threat together?”

Popov smiled as the Primarch updated his terms to fit squarely within the Administrator’s boundaries. He brought his shoulders back in confidence and nodded respectfully, “Indeed, to quell and even stomp out the Urshic hordes would be beyond beneficial to us. Though Sanctii holds no ambitions beyond our small collection of territories, to remove the Urshite raiders threat for good, would allow us to focus more on our greater tasks, such as the purpose of this world engine we meet on tod—” Popov’s haptic pulsed painfully in his neck, and he once more raised the dataslate to his eyes.

He bit his tongue as he read the scrolling text, cursing the Prime Minister for allowing the Administrator so much control over his negotiation. There was supposed to be none higher within Sanctii, no other that could agree or deny terms today… and yet.

“I apologize, Primarch Rex, but my lords change their moods once more. I’m sure you can understand.”

Popov shifted where he stood, casting a glance back in the direction of Sanctii, its walls obscured by the storm outside the windows.

“There can be no troop deployments from Sanctii outside our borders,” he took a breath and turned his gaze back to the hulking mutant that called itself a man, “we will be able to offer no direct support in the conquest of Ursh, I am afraid.”

Finally, Primarch Aeternus narrowed his eyes in inquisitive disapproval. One of his black armored gauntlets raised to his own mouth, stroking at the scarred flesh in thought. He felt that his words had reeled in the High Negotiator, even going so far as to decline one of his Master’s directives to ensure their alliance. Rex felt something was amiss. His black orbs glanced down to the dataslate that Popov held to himself, watching every glance between the Sanctiian and the pad from then on.

To the surprise of the Sanctiian, the Primarch audibly sniffed the air and breathed deeply of the surrounding area. He closed his eyes in a moment of silence. Perhaps it appeared as if he were frustrated by their dialogue, but in truth, he had simply tasted the air for faint hints of the wyrd. Disappointingly, he failed to taste any amount of the sorcerous energy that afflicted their species. He opened his eyes once more to stare down Popov. He still had ammo in his satchel to fight with, but it would be a stretch to throw such a bone. Rex already knew that Amalasuntha would react to his next words, internally preparing himself for the eventual berating.

“I see. No sharing of your precious technology and no mustering of your garrisons against Kalagann. You’ve pushed me into a corner, Popov, something few are able to do.” The Primarch flashed a surprisingly charismatic smile at the Sanctiian, offering a slight chortle to deescalate the rising tension. “Very well, if you cannot directly support the destruction of Ursh, then perhaps the great city of Sanctii can offer indirect assistance. If your leader requires proof of skill to acquire their approval, then we shall orchestrate an all-out assault on all of the Urshite warbands harassing Sanctii’s outskirting territories. Then, perhaps, your leader will be more forthcoming to an alliance.”

Popov breathed a silent sigh of relief as the Primarch opened his eyes and continued with his amicable mood. He had been convinced that the mutant was deciding on the best way to dismember him, having seen the picts from Memphos and across Gyptus, he was well aware of what the being before him was capable of if given a good reason to perform.

“Support could certainly be arranged I believe,” Popov stated with certainty. He had the city's food and industrial earnings report pulled up on his pad, and with a simple flick of a finger sent a curated version to the datapads before the Imperial delegation. He offered a grin, happy his head remained on his shoulders, and motioned to the dataslates.

“I’ve provided a select view of Sanctii’s output, and would be more than willing to negotiate the more boring discussion of tonnage, shipping, and compensation now if--” his haptic stung painfully, and the dataslates before the Imperials chimed horridly once and cut to red screens at the same time.

He brought his own dataslate up to his eyes, reading the words scrolling by with disbelief.

Acting on his previous suspicions, Aeternus glared with extreme focus on Popov’s face in an attempt to gleam even the slightest hint of information. His dark orbs observed every detail off of the Sanctiian’s sculpted face from how open his pores were to the molecular hair on his face rising in ire. He carefully watched every shadow that passed beneath the Negotiator’s eyes, scrutinizing every single hurried glance.

//CA_062 “”DW””

Primarch Aeternus felt ire rise from deep within his person. He considered every single avenue that could possibly be taken in preparation for these negotiations. An Ephroi had personally taken their time to equip a genewarrior of his low stature in accordance with the Sigilite’s will. Had it all been for nothing? One more push, he thought to himself, simply one more before we orchestrate His will in a different manner.

“All support to Imperials denied, Negotiator Popov?” The Primarch’s voice shifted several decibels lower, losing the facade of diplomatic favor for one in exchange for one relying on intimidation. A disappointed, angry look crossed the facial features of Aeternus, yet it wasn’t the emotion that was played off by the genewarrior. It was the look of someone betrayed. In accordance with his Master’s will, Rex dared not move to commit violence on the grounds of diplomacy, yet he balled his fists hard enough for the servos to audibly whine in protest.

What is the meaning of this?

Popov, a man who had risen through the cutthroat politics of Sanctii’s ruling class from a simple diplomatic aide, found himself stunned. He physically reeled at the Thunder Warrior’s change in tone, the focus drugs barely allowing the so-very-human Popov to remain in some modicum of control.

“I assure you--” his haptic stung painfully, he ignored it, “I wish only the best for both our peoples, But Deep Winter--” his haptic stung so painfully that Popov brought a hand up to the spot in his neck it had been surgically implanted on the day of his birth.

“The Administrator--” he fell to a knee as the pain spread beyond the known bounds of the small device just beneath his flesh.

Around the room the dataslates came to life once more, green text scrolling across the reflective screens for all in attendance to read. Popov let out a whimper as he clutched at his neck, reading the text through tears of pain.

//CA_062 “”DW””

Popov’s ears rang as he fell fully to the floor, blood weeping from his eyes and nose as he convulsed on the cold faux carpet of the world engine, so far from the Sanctii he loved.

An unease entered every organ in Aeternus’ augmented body. He understood what was happening even before his brain could fully compute the truth behind the events. Internally, in the brief seconds that mattered, he cursed himself for allowing treachery and deceit to befall him. Perhaps it was to be expected. Regardless, the Primarch and his warriors began to move in sync with eachother. Rex crossed the room in seconds, scooping up Negotiator Popov and slinging him delicately over his pauldron. Caestus swept the Colonel under one of his armored gauntlets and then echoed the action with the Mistress. The final thunder warrior swept the banner in a low motion, aiming the adamantium tip of the polearm at the portal that they entered from.

Each of their voxbeads, voxcasters, and voxrelays crackled to life with the urgent voice of the stormbird pilot. “Emergency egress! Oncoming heat signatures from several locations, unknown source and unknown designations! Lady Black Hawk, Primarch Aeternus, we need to leave!” She screamed into her helmet-mounted headset, the sound of engaging engines in the background echoing throughout her communication.

Almost instantaneously, the custodian began to dart - not waiting for the door to open and instead cleaving it with her lance and sending it across the hall. “Be quick, Aeternus!” Her call came as she sprinted down the way, her pack activating and propelling herself forwards to expedite her retreat.

Stavin cursed as he was scooped up, apparently valuable enough now to not sacrifice as a rearguard for the Imperial withdrawal. Sanctii was as good as leveled. He knew it though. He knew it would play out exactly like this. No one listened, but why would they? He was Damned, after all, and the moaning of the damned was something that was to be ignored, if you could help it.

But it was as he feared. Sanctii, in their hopeful naivety, had created an intelligence to run their city-state. That is why it was a verdant, learned, civilized paradise. And no matter how benevolent this ‘Deep Winter’ was, the Emperor would butcher everyone in the city to stamp it out.

He strained to look past the armored figure holding him, looking forlornly at the last bastion of real learning on Terra. Sanctii was a techno-utopia, one of the last verdant places on Terra. No more. No more. He closed his eyes, and allowed himself to be carried into the future.

A hundred different thoughts chased through the synaptic nodes in his brain as he sprinted down the austere hallways of the world engine. Defeat was amongst the foremost of these. Failure was rare for the God-Slayers, majority of their campaigns in the pursuit of Unification ending in his Master’s satisfaction. This, however, was a forlorn feeling that ate at the edge of his consciousness. Aeternus felt as if the odds had been stacked against him at every angle, no matter how hard he had prepared to ensure glory for the Master of the Line. Fearful and confused, Rex tuned out his deepest thoughts to replace them with the current matters. One of his gauntlets slammed the great helm from his belt atop his head, pressing the seal into activation with a twist of his wrist. Crimson lenses glared out in hidden fury as they pressed further out of the world engine.

None plagued their urgent sprint through the halls, genewrought might pushing their enormous forms through miles of corridors in minutes. The unconscious body of Popov’s aide was swept up by the banner-bearer, an unspoken command by Aeternus for later usage. Each reinforced door that threatened to block their escape was cut aside by either Amalasuntha or the banner-bearer with ruthless efficiency. Every screen they came across repeated the same message by the infamous Administrator, green text floating in an infinite loop on each digital surface. Eeriness crept like looming darkness in every alcove devoid of human life. It was if each stride of their armored figures was watched by an otherworldly entity unknown to them. And it wished for their death tenfold.

The final door onto the landing platform was blasted off of it’s sliding hinges by the black armored form of Aeternus Rex, who sprinted out of the world engine into the biting blizzard. Both of his thunder warriors followed after with a sense of urgency in their step. All four engines of the stormbird were loudly whining, flames jutting out of the spinning turbines with an eagerness to launch. The assault ramp was lowered to the frosted platform, a pair of crimson-garbed auxilia crouched on either side with lasrifles actively firing at unveiled defenses. The Primarch suddenly stopped, shifting Popov into the banner-bearer’s grasp before turning to ensure no member of their cohort was left behind. Rex then proceeded as the last member of their team entered the craft. Both the Colonel and the Mistress were released the moment the thunder warriors crossed into the vessel. The defending soldiers followed shortly after the last turret was melted into slag.

Inside of the wide deck, Aeternus trudged his way into the cockpit with several dozens questions nearly vomiting from his lips. The pilot, a woman of average stature and hidden features beneath augmented helmet, was rapidly preparing countermeasures for their immediate escape. “Are they so willing to kill us that they risk destroying their own infrastructure? How many signatures are you reading? Do we have identification codes? What is coming our way and would the most venerable Amalasuntha be able to intercept?” Each word was a booming command from the gullet of a lion, nearly deafening the mortal in a fit of pain. She clenched her teeth together as all relevant information was thrown onto one of the several screens in the cockpit.

“Unknown. At least several dozen. No identification codes, but trajetocries similar to any Terran intercontinental ballistic missile. I theorize that Lady Black Hawk could slaughter several of them, yet they would crash into the installation all the same. We must leave, Primarch Aeternus, to carry on the word of the Master!” Her voice was a shrill of logical defiance. One that Rex hadn’t expected as she closed all external access ramps into the stormbird. The stormbird began to shake with the familiar jostle of retracting landing gears.

What in His name happened!?” Aeternus asked to the gathered members of his entourage, red lenses turning to regard Amalasuntha, Colonel Stavin, and Mistress Severina. Perhaps if he had taken longer than a second to consider the situation, then the answer would become apparent to the genewarrior of the First Legion. It was clear, at least to the Black Hawk, that the Primarch was in a mindfog the likes of which dulled his mental capacities.

Stavin wiped his mouth as he was set down, along with the discipline mistress.

“The rumors were true, Primarch.” Stavin said, “Sanctii is governed by automated intelligence. Do you remember when Popov said ‘Deep Winter’? It caused an automated haptic response. A pain response. Popov said too much.”

“You can’t mean-” Severina said, her eyes as wide as dinner plates. “Abominable Intelligence?”

“Right. I suppose that’s what He calls them.” Stavin said, suppressing the urge to roll his eyes in front of three people who had the right to kill him with little recourse, “I’d bet good money it was Deep Winter that told Popov to cancel all ties with the Imperials. It is as I feared it would be. As I said it would be, in fact. There will be no allegiance with Sanctii because the AI that runs it knows the Emperor will murder it.”

“And murder it we shall! For the Emperor and Imperium, we will destroy Sanctii for this blatant treachery! Aeternus, contact the Sigillite and tell him what has been revealed,” her words came out harsh but determined, turning away from the thunderous Primarch as she willingly ignored his mindfog. Yet, her piercing gaze fell onto Stavin, a massive talon reaching out to grasp the human, as gingerly as she could, and lifted him by his throat. The words that came from her mouth reverberated with a thick malice that she had since only reserved for mindless thunder warriors, “You will reveal all you know of Sanctii, lest you make your love for the Intelligence known to me now.”

“Your- Our Emperor," Stavin began, seeing the harsh glare Severina gave him, even as the custodian threatened to flense him, “Compelled me into his service after I surrendered. I was a mercenary in pay to an Urshic castellan in one of the border forts. I don't remember which one. Doesn't matter."

Stavin cleared his throat, gasping for air, then continued. “He told stories, this castellan. I dunno if they're true. He was from Sanctii, or was a visitor. He said that at the center of the city, Winter slept. She dreamed of a green terra. She ordered the men around her like pawns on a chessboard and was dreaming a machine into reality that would rend the fallow ground green."

“When Popov said ‘Deep Winter' it reminded me of those old stories." Stavin said, “And you people, I mean, us, we live in a rational age, right? What else could ‘sleep in the center of a city' except an AI idling away in a massive cogitator bank?"

Enough.” Aeternus finally spoke after the mindfog had cleared from his head, listening in on Stavin’s words and Amalasuntha’s threats. Even if he hadn’t arrived at the conclusion first, Rex eventually managed to piece the puzzle together between the four of them. The Primarch trudged forward, gripping the Custodes’ forearm with one of his black armored hands. Though she couldn’t see beneath his great helm, she would certainly feel the piercing orbs of the Himalazian knight.

“Stavin, Severina. Remove yourselves to the bay and see about tending to our guests. We need to gleam whatever we can from them, no matter how that happens. Use the tools at your current disposal to handle it, otherwise wait until we’ve returned to the Imperialis Praetorios.” The Primarch said, momentarily turning away from the Black Hawk to address the two mortals. He could sense their fear, even if they didn’t show it. No doubt facing one of the Emperor’s personal guardians was a fearsome task, yet Rex had never felt fear around them. Perhaps it was Amalasuntha’s influence. “Release the man, Amalasuntha, we have more pressing matters to deal with… and we have a war to wage in His name that will require Stavin’s cooperation.”

Rightfully ignoring their conversation, the pilot had been gracefully tracking each and every signature that locked in on the world engine. She had guided the Stormbird away to an acceptable distance, yet she gritted her teeth in disapproval as they would feel the concussive force of the oncoming missiles. A multitude of measurements appeared on each monitor, indicating the time until impact. She didn’t feel the necessity to call them to brace, unwilling to interrupt their important conversation for something that wouldn’t affect the genewarriors.

The custodian relinquished her grip, not by Rex’s word but more from her own need to do something other than threaten meaninglessness drivel. She did not speak, but her blackened form shuffled back, away from the mortals. “His majesty will not be pleased by this,” her words came in a still coldness, speaking the obvious before her head tilted to the side for a moment, thinking.

Stavin fell to the ground in an unceremonious heap, hands grasped at his throat in protective instinct that was both too late and unnecessary; even if the ‘Black Hawk’ had decided against sparing him, there would have been little protecting his own throat could’ve done.

Severina’s heels clacked on the diamond-etched plasteel. The discipline officer held a hand out, and Stavin took it, her only acknowledgement of his near-death experience. Augusta’s strong arms easily pulled him up from the decking, though for pride’s sake he had assisted the process as best he could. He stood up, brushing himself off, forcing himself to be okay with one of the Butcher’s creations coming within a hair’s breadth of killing him.

He didn’t like to admit it, but the lower he fell, the more afraid of dying he became. Paradoxically, when he had been a successful mercenary commander, he thought nothing of crossing swords with the worst Terra had to offer - it had all been a game back then. Now though, as a dreg commander of a dreg outfit for a man (god?) he, on his best days, feared, and on his worst, hated, he found the idea of death deeply terrifying. There was a legacy in his younger days, a reputation that would survive him, even if it was only until the next amasec sodden pub crawl his former men took part in.

Now? Who would mourn him? Curse his name? No one. His name would be crossed off in a ledger and he would sink into anonymity just as surely as ants do when their hive perishes. The Black Hawk had swooped low, and plucked him from the river he swam in. Only luck had preserved him, and now he had to continue swimming upstream knowing at any moment it could happen again.

He straightened his ushanka, and nodded to Severina.

“As you order, Primarch Rex.” He said, in his best military voice, some sand back in his craw, “We will begin advanced interrogation immediately.”

Another nod to the discipline mistress, and the two mortals went to their duty.

Behind the turmoil aboard the Stormbird, an array of lights streaked across the sky in lazy arcs. Each missile was tracked by the Stormbird, an array of datapoints and analysis streaking across the pilot’s screen as the missiles made their terminal burns at the helpless world engine.

A number of the smallest missiles, the Stormbird tracking as low-priority threats, made their impacts first. Rolling explosions, orange, and firey red, ripped across the outer buildings of the complex. Entire warehouses went up in flames as warheads of unknown yield gutted them from within. The pilot trained her attention on the exterior pictfeeds, whistling as a particularly small building simply evaporated in a flash of orange.

The Stormbird’s machine spirit selected a missile from the next incoming volley, throwing an alert at the pilot even as she managed twenty other tasks at once. Her hands didn’t stop flowing over the controls even as she read the highlighted warning.

“Radiation alarm,” she stated cooly over the Stormbirds troop compartment intercom, “strap in.”

The Stormbird’s engines, already roaring at high power pitched into afterburner as the machine spirit took some level of control from the pilot. She banked the aircraft into a steep dive, unsecured boxes and items flying through the compartment at the sudden change in direction. Behind them, the Stormbird diligently tracked the missile in a highlighted angry yellow. The Stormbird ripped across the tundra, the pilot making a straight line for a massive canyon to their front, all as she continually checked the missile’s position.

Behind them a star blinked to life above the world engine, a roiling ball of plasma over a hundred million degrees flashed the snow and ice into steam in the blink of an eye, the dark of night around the Stormbird blazing like the Gyptian midafternoon. The pilot gritted her teeth, registering the stark shadow of her own aircraft as they ripped into the canyon just ahead of the shockwave from the atomic detonation.

Thunder filled the ears of the occupants as the venerable craft was buffeted by hurricane-force winds, but the worst was above them, outside the canyon. The howl of the engines subsided as the Stormbird stopped its desperate run to safety. Behind them, a mushroom cloud began to peak over the edge of the canyon, the pilot couldn’t help but think that was an ill omen for the coming compliance.

Credits: @MarshalSolgriev (Aeternus/God-Slayers), @BornOnBoard (Colonel Stavin/Mistress Severina), @FrostedCaramel (Negotiator Popov/The Administrator), @Lauder (Amalasuntha)
Hidden 9 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The First Council of the 8th Legion Training Arena

The legion being built up around the geneseed of the 8th Primarch had a couple of internal issues that needed to be addressed at the start.

Of the eight hundred and sixty six members of the legion that had undergone the transformation into this new breed of super solder in the name of the Lord of Thunder, five hundred and eighty of them had originally been of ganger stock from the hives of Merica with the remaining two hundred eighty six being from nomad tribes that existed outside of those hives in one form or another. While the transformation had involved a high degree of indoctrination and hypnotherapy to create more refined solders for the Lord of Lightning, a fair degree of ego that had once inspired the former gangers and nomads to take positions of leadership or command remained.

It was quickly discovered by the Legion and soon after the bureaucrats connected to it that simply assigning these newly minted super solders ranks wasn't going to work: Those who were simply given ranks of command had a deep seated feeling of not earning it and thus, not having the respect of those under them while those who didn't get the rank they wanted felt snubbed over. Training exercises quickly broke down as infighting would pop up on all levels of the 8th, preventing them from achieving the cohesion they needed to be a fighting force.

This wasn't caused solely by issues with rank. Values and beliefs (not religious beliefs, of course) from their prior lives bled over into the new legionaries and this created... conflict. The lack of a recognized command structure among their own people deepened the issue since there was no arbitrator to settle the matter on issues that weren't matters of Imperial Law. Battle in arms they may have been, but if something didn't change things were going to get ugly.

It was unclear who originally made the suggestion, but the idea itself quickly picked up momentum as it started to spread. It resonated with a concept that both ganger and nomad had accepted as apart of their lives before their transformation and felt right even now: The Strong, the Cunning and the Brave rose to power... and those with all three kept it.

So with an understanding among themselves, the members of the Legion gathered in their training arena and some messages were sent to their support staff in order to bring them up to speed on what was about to happen. Rather then attempt to stop them, several representatives of the bureaucratic process instead came to witness and record events as they transpired, believing that this might bring an end to the issues that had plagued the new born legion.

The first stage of their trials for leadership was a simple question: Did you want to be in a command role?

Not everyone desired the responsibilities and weight that came with leadership and command and simply asking if they wanted it was a strong first step in thinning the herd.

The second stage might have surprised many. Of the candidates who had stepped forward, they were all divided into groups of six (with one group of four) in order to play a board game. The game itself was ancient, having been developed at some point before the Age of Strife and its original name lost, but in the modern era it was simply called 'Imperium'; A strategy game of some complexity, as one played as one of many factions that played differently, all with a mission of galactic conquest after the collapse of an all-powerful empire leaves a void for others to fill. It was a game that put as much emphasis on building an economy and diplomacy as it did warfare.

The first round lasted a grand total of eight hours, with the winners of each game carrying on to the second round of playing a new faction against the other winners of the first round... with one exception. The winner of the game of four caused for there to be one player extra. The solution was simple: The contenders of the second round would draw lots and the two 'winners' would fight it out in a bare knuckle brawl and the winner would stay on to play.

Balias Rasporian knocked out Konrad Amutiel after a brief but somewhat one sided exchange before the second round truly started, Balias simply overwhelming Konrad and leaving him laying on the floor in defeat afterwards.

The longest of the games of the second round lasted thirteen hours, with Balias being one of those eliminated.

Repeating the process of the winners moving on to face the victors of the other games, another 'odd one out' caused another round of lots to be drawn. This time, Catiel Ulstrecht would face off against Qvoro Muckstead on the field of honor. Unlike the first fight which was dominated by Balias from the start in an overwhelming show of strength and skill, the brawl between Catiel and Qvoro was much closer in abilities. In the end Catiel managed to prove that they had just that little bit more grit and determination as Qvoro fell to the ground and couldn't rise again before he was deemed to have lost, through afterwards Catiel helped his opponent back to his feet and escorted him over to get medical treatment in a show of respect.

The third and final round, unsurprisingly, played out the longest as the final game took eighteen hours to come to a close. Catiel came in a close second against the victor of his game, Gallianus Vaarars, but Gallianus was just able to earn enough victory points to achieve victory one turn before Catiel could.

This left two contenders standing at the end. Gallianus Vaarars and Pho Scraphurst. Their cunning had been tested against the best that their legion had to offer... but there could only be one person at the top of the legion and strength could only be truly tested one way.

The fight between Pho and Gallianus would be recorded in history as a good one, but it was clear from the get go that Pho was the better fighter. Gallianus for his part didn't go down quietly or quickly, briefly reversing the flow of battle with a surprise burst of speed and after Pho recovered from the surprise managed to hold his ground for a time... but in the end Gallianus ended up unable to stand and Pho Scraphurst became Legion Master Pho Scraphurst.

With the Legion Master established, a chain of command was established. Gallianus would become the second in command of the 8th, with Catiel, Qvoro and the other players in the third round being the primary candidates for the higher command ranks, selected via the merits and aptitudes of each individual. As ranks were filled and the third round players ran dry, the pool of second round players would be drawn upon by merit to fill ranks and roles as best suited their skills and abilities. If someone eligible believed that they would be better in the role then the selected person and could prove that they did have the skills required, a bare knuckled brawl would be issued and the victor granted the position.

Once the second round ran out, the first round players would be pulled from to fill whatever ranked positions remained.

Once it was all over, one of the admin representatives asked the newly promoted Legion Master why the legion had opted for... well, this method of deciding instead of opting for a method like fighting until only one remained standing. Legion Master Scraphurst considered the question for a moment before answering "While we might have disagreed on who deserved to be in charge... and there will still be matters to sort out in the days to come, every man here is here because in their heart..." he paused for a split second before correcting "...hearts possessed the bravery to face horror and terrible odds to survive day to day. While yes fighting is a big part of that, at the end of the day running an army is much like running a gang; It requires vision, logistical knowledge and the ability to be diplomatic as much as the ability to wage war."
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Bugman
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Bugman What happens when old wounds heal?

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The twelve Marines stood assembled before their commander, naught but loincloths on their frames as their skin glistened with the snowflakes melting from the moment they touched each body. Captain Krassus looked upon his troops, then to the data-slate that summarized their combat records, their biometrics, the complete transcripts of every word they ever said in proximity of a means to record them.

“In twelve hours, we will take Fort Orti.” No cheers, just a few lips curling in half smiles. A small mark was made on the dataslate with an imperceptible move of the finger.

“Anwar. You will lead the infiltration of the facility. Brothers Karduk and Axios will assist.” All three Marines named were exceptionally short, of them only Axios bowing at the command. Another mark on the dataslate.

“I will lead the overwatch team.” A few snickers came about, comments about not wishing to risk himself in the thick of it. Another mark on the dataslate. “Brothers Gamaliel, Iskander, Perrax, Tojar, with me. The rest of you are on the assault team. Make your preparations, acquaint yourselves with any information on your respective dataslates you have not yet considered. The operation begins in four hours.”

With that Krassus departed to the Rhino, his own preparations yet to be made.

“In place. Go.” That was all that the trio needed to begin the ascent of the wall. Cameleoline cloaks covering their Urshite dress were just enough to hide them from sentries along the walls of the frosted settlement. It was important not to slay them, and before descending the walls they waited through a full two patrol cycles huddled near some munition crates covered with fresh snow.

Eventually they descended, and went to the central compound that composed the largest portion of the settlement of Fort Orti. “Move to the West Gate. The South has too much scrutiny now.”

Immediately the three Astartes shifted their movement, wheeling around to the alternate entrance to Fort Orti. The place was not just a fort, that much was clear. It was just a manner of naming the site, for hundreds of civilians were milling about the place. For one, the extraordinary cold made the cooling of many archaeotech computers very simple. But it also pumped rich dark promethium component substances deep from the ground, and it was thus that the civilians by far outnumbered the warriors in the place. Their lack of armament would not save them from the Will of the Emperor. The Marines were exceptionally tall for humanity, but at about two meters with a few more or less centimetres they could all plausibly pass for an ordinary person, perhaps one on some combat stims accounting for the bulk beneath their thick coats. Such after all were not uncommon, for looking left to right the infiltrators saw men that would probably have as much muscle as them, even if it was merely the physique of homo sapiens and no performance enhancing chemicals could bring it to the caliber of an Astartes.

Now the three infiltrators split into different directions. There were three main targets that each would have to secure. The auspex and vox augurs would have to be overridden first and foremost to prevent reinforcements being dispatched in a timely manner. Second, the climate controls would have to be disabled. The inhuman frost which a person could withstand for mere hours even covered from head to toe in the heavy layers that were uniform here would set in upon the climate regulation being disabled. It would kill all present as well as any bullet or blade, or at least bring them to submission. Finally, power would have to be cut in a very strategic and specific manner to ensure the present work of the Marines could not be undone, yet very carefully to not give nearby forts the notification that quite abruptly all activity in Fort Orti had ceased.

Anwar arrived at his target first, smashing apart the lightbulb in a service elevator to the roof of the main building of the Fort. Thus clinging in a spider-like fashion to its ceiling amidst a changing of the guard, dropping down behind them as they exited the carriage of the elevator, the ceaseless blizzard masking his sound. The old guard was going off duty, and in their weary state they didn’t notice the new guard had one extra fellow among them. As the elevator closed, the Space Marine hefted his heavy stubber and unleashed a brief rain of bullets on the mortals, until each was fallen. He did not execute those gurgling on the ground. They that survived the extraordinary firepower could yet make productive turncoats. Once more shouldering the machine gun he ran forth to the console and got to work. Unfortunately, as his fingers did their work he heard the sounds of the elevator opening once more. Brief panic gripped the Astarte, some sort of workers appearing. The civilians looked at him in a similar state of fear after they saw the corpses, hurriedly pressing the buttons to send the elevator back to where it came from. The doors closed just as a grenade passed them, a brief hiss of triumph escaping the Marine’s lips as at the very least the security would now have to manually ascend to his position rather than using the same elevator.

“Overwatch! They know I’m here.” he growled into his vox-bead. “We are well aware. Stand by.” was the sole response he got. He began demanding everyone hurry, but quite unfortunately he heard the high pitch whirr as he spoke that told him there was nobody listening to him. For now he was alone as he heard distant screams as Urshite troops began the slow ascent to get to his position without an elevator. Thankfully, he heard the faintest crack of a bullet whirring some few dozen metres from him, the overwatch team’s sharpshooters already thinning the ranks of the rapid response teams.

Climate control was manipulated shortly after in a very timely fashion. Brother Axios had made his way to the control room for it, and with a rap of either knuckle brought the duo of technicians there to an unconscious state. A great deal of irrelevant machinery was torn out of its position by Axios, who used it to barricade the entrance after closing the door. Finally, he got to work. The life support systems that kept the inside of Fort Orti relatively warm were turned against the thousands present, gushing freezing winds inside where previously it cycled them out. It would be mere minutes before the first screams would come that something was wrong, people comfortably in bed suddenly shivering. The first deaths would happen in less than an hour.

Brother Karduk however, proved to be a weak link. Strolling down the mess hall on the way to the power controls of the structure he did not notice that his uniform had the same serial number on his breast as one of the guards that he passed by. He did not recognize the sound of a drawn pistol, and while he was fast enough to stop the bullet aimed for his head its strike to his neck was enough to bring him to his knees. As more bullets riddled his flank, he fell to the ground as the world went black. The last thought he had was that he had failed in more ways than one. In his effort to save himself he had still died, yet now the progenoid gland in his throat was ruined. He would be a shame, forever cursed in the annals of The Undying Onslaught.

“Overwatch! My right, my right!” Krassus heard the pleas in his own vox bead. With a sigh, he had to write off Karduk. “Assault team, move out.” he gave the order, and at once four missiles flew out from the hill the Marines were camped on to each destroy a long targeted stationed vehicle.

The four Marines in the assault team ran towards the walls, gaining some initial height by using chain-axes as picks to help them climb swiftly. Jump-packs roared, and the assault team entered sky before each crashing down in a brutal impact crater on different parts of the ramparts surrounding Fort Orti. It was a very brief skirmish to tear apart the defenders there, but a quite necessary one to prevent return fire upon the overwatch team, for now two heavy bolters began their fire. Snow sizzled and evaporated as it fell on barrels hot enough to melt flesh, Brother Anwar at last getting wonderful respite as many dozens of men climbing stairs and ladders or pulling their way up grapples turned to gooey piles of meat and bone. Muttering some thanks to his vox-bead for now being unpinned, Anwar rose and ran through what little remaining stub and auto-weapons were arrayed at him and forced apart the doors of the elevator before jumping down the dark depths of the ruined shaft.

The assault team zipped and zoomed about the exterior of the Fort, the sky brightening with fired bullets and heavier munitions as absolute chaos reigned from the jump-pack borne Marines’ efforts. Soon though, Krassus gave them the order to get inside. Indoors, they at last discarded their jump-packs and each drew an autogun, preferring them to a bolt-pistol against these oh so fragile yet numerous mortals.

Fort Orti was damn well labyrinthian, the facility’s complexity only navigable to the superhumans thanks to the HUDs that gave them exact directions of how to get to the internal comms room. Unfortunately, Karduk’s failure was now showing its fruit. As the four Marines turned a corner, a turret came from the wall behind them and bisected a warrior at the waist before his thrown chainaxe destroyed the bullet-proof emplacement. The stricken Brother was left to fend for himself, crawling into a room where he could perhaps at least defend himself until the Imperial flag flew here and he could get help.

A door was soon after activated as a trap, the Marine it was aimed to squash just narrowly avoiding death and merely losing his shooting arm for it.

They did eventually get to the comms-room, the place conveniently having cameras to observe the whole Fort. A very brief firefight with the mortals within ended when the last man standing surrendered, getting a swift backhand into unconsciousness as the Astartes entered the room.

“Attention people of Orti. If every single one of you unloads and lays down his arms, you will be spared a slow, painful death of freezing.”

Briefly, men kept pushing towards the climate controls, to the comms room, to the roof. But with every person that fell to the creeping chill, morale cracked. One by one, squads of soldiers would stand before cameras with their weapons in a pile, the munitions for them some distance away. Krassus chuckled as he watched the feed from a camera of one of the Assault-Marines. In some instances, the little humans would kill the more heroic of their own number that refused to surrender, such that perhaps they would get reprieve from the frost.

Hundreds had already began to succumb to hypothermia when the last unit had dropped their guns. Using their jump-packs the Assault team swiftly navigated the structure such that they could goad all the formerly armed men of the place together.

Grinning happily to himself behind his helmet, Krassus gave the order to restore the heating of the place, a figure falling over after a bout of paradoxic undressing in a camera feed.

“Brother Gamaliel begin duties as Apothecary. There are more than two hundred viable youth specimens to examine therein.”

The Captain got up, and stretched, before heading off to the Rhino they had arrived on to communicate with higher command. “Krassus out.” he told his force, before tearing out the vox bead.
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by MarshalSolgriev
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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The Slaughter of Sanctii

The snowscape of the Northern Urshic lands stretched infinitely in a mesmerizing pattern of brilliant white, broken seldomly by jagged rocks and cresting hills. Great mountains topped with alabaster frost leered over the lands as forsaken guardians to a ruined world. A massive crevasse yawned with cragged teeth beyond them for miles on end, an immense void slept unperturbed for time immemorial. Vast blankets of roiling clouds congested the skies of Terra, thick and dark with calamitous intent. Wind snapped through the land, biting and howling as a savage beast fraught with abyssal rage. Snow, sharp as serrated daggers, rushed alongside the wrathful gusts, cutting raw skin and rock alike. An impenetrable haze of frozen madness hauntingly lingered for unknown distances. Yet one thing stood defiantly amongst nature’s wroth.

A gleaming, alabaster city with walls as tall as megastructures of old Terra reigned audaciously in the glower of the raging blizzard. Sharpened hail uselessly pelted against an invisible, shimmering aura that protected those within. Shadows of great humanoids with sleek, glowing armor stalked through the haze in short distances from the walls. Grand turrets, brimming with indescribable power, scanned the horizons for threats with an unusual intelligence. Small silhouettes floated through the air in great lengths, their sublime forms flitting about as curious wraiths in a perfect wonderland. Lights from towering monoliths, divine structures, and a thousand domiciles illuminated the encroaching darkness of Terra’s night. Lingering in the shadows of the walls slept the remains of foolish warriors, Urshic raiders effortlessly slaughtered in sprawling swathes from previous invasions. The supreme hive remained, eternally undefeated in the wastelands of their dying world.

Until now.

The first shell blossomed across the prismatic barrier in a grand explosion, waves of flames and plumes of smoke cascading to either side of the city. Night was unveiled in a glorious reveal of the surrounding area, silhouettes released of their umbral cloaks. The second shell fell far from its intended target, snow and rock exploding upwards in a geyser of destruction. Humanoids shifted with urgency, some swept from their feet in surprise. The third shell impacted forward of the city, detonating precisely laid mines in a beautiful display of combustion. A volatile web crackled across the frozen fields, ice and snow surging in several directions. The fourth shell impacted a tertiary building, jettisoning flames and metallic fragments in a cacophony of deadly noise. From that point onward, the shelling never halted once as night gave way to artificial day.

What had once been an innumerable torrent of lingering shadows over the Urshic plains, now revealed themselves to be a staggering rush of incalculable bodies. Figures clad in crimson sprinted across the landscape with the hurried gait of a fleeing herd. Fat, laboring vehicles with belching engines kicked into overdrive in pursuit of their ultimate objective. Screaming, preposterous machines on metallic wings screeched overhead from every angle. Even over the rushing sound of a raging blizzard, the howling of men bellowing orders threatened to break nature’s deafening calamity. Gigantic warriors, clad in tremendous armor, dashed with astonishing speed beside the warmachines and beyond the vast waves of red garbs. Missiles sang a dreadful dirge above as they sailed on shrieking rockets.

Panels along the walls of the city unveiled hidden defenses, turrets and spotlights reaching out into the raging frost to beseech fresh targets. Violent rays of prismatic energy danced from yawning rails, searing snow and flesh in equal droves. Humanoids in pristine armor, some towering as large as the oncoming giants, unleashed bolts of magnetic pain from the barrel of remorseless weapons. They backpedaled in a slow motion towards their city, aided by those floating machines that released hails of small, energetic lances. Enormous, gargantuan cannons across the pristine wall swiveled on their axis to dauntingly stare down at the invaders. Horrendous spheres of growing power began to coalesce on automatically-cooling rails, discharged upon completion of an unknowable charging cycle. Entire swathes of human life disappeared in an instant, red-garbed figures permanently removed from the tethers of existence. And yet they pressed forward.

War had come to Sanctii.

Aeternus watched from one of the snow-capped hills south of Sanctii’s walls. His dark eyes traced every individual that marched to their doom into the hive city’s horrific defenses. Miles of their forces stretched in an endless sprint of carnage. Lasrifles snapped beams of brilliant red, cannons howled shells of volatile incendiaries, and boltslingers barked dense bullets uselessly against the voidshield. Corpses already began to pile up wherever their forces weren’t immediately vaporized by disintegration carbines. Some of the Sanctiian protectors, he assumed, laid strewn about as they were trampled to death under a million feet. Those were few in comparison to the devastation already caused to their own forces.

An enormous, scorching ray of volcanic energy erupted from behind his position, earning a quick glance. Those that surrounded his armored form, his cadre captains, equally turned to address the source of the beam. The mammothine form of their mobile command center, the Imperialis Praetorios, vented heat through several thermal vents along the barrel of its primary armament. He turned away from their armored vehicle to address the battles as it began to evolve, though Rex already knew it was in vain. The Primarch clenched his blackened fist around the handle of his precious blade as another wave of Imperials dissolved into nothingness.

Sheer insanity.” Captain Caligula stated with no shortage of revulsion. Aeternus could hear the phlegm building in his captain’s voice, despite the fact he wore a helmet. Caestus’ weapons were already born in both of his yellow gauntlets, tightly gripped in raw anticipation.

“Discard those emotions, Caestus. This is the war that we have earned. The war that will infamize our name for eternity. In His name.” Primarch Aeternus replied solemnly, turning his attention back to the impossible stretch of the battlefield. His command earned a grumble from the veteran, yet compelled them forward deeper into the combat zone. Each step of their armored forms sent short gushes of ice and slush around them. Armored vehicles sped past them, sponsons and cannons firing with intense urgency.

“Tiberius. Status of our forces.” Rex spoke, his voice growling with the sleeping rage of a lion. The response from his third cadre captain was instantaneous.

“The Astartes that Malcador promised are nearby. The Black Hawk has reeled back to organize her ‘Stygian Talons’. The 43rd, 71st, and 88th Excertus Imperialis have engaged the wall, as you can plainly see. The God-Slayers are spread out amongst the dredges.” The monotone genewarrior coldly replied, releasing the dataslate from his left hand into Aeternus’ free gauntlet. An attached auspex confirmed the geopositions of their invasion, while the rest of the tablet sculpted information from a prewritten bank of cogitator-fed knowledge.

“And the Sanctiians?”

“Their voidshield was just as Negotiator Popov stated. It’s holding strong against even the trinkets of the Sigilite’s Vault. Squads of their protectors on the outskirts have been slaughtered wholesale, but not before taking dozens of the unaugmented with them. Everything else is as you can see. Turrets, drones, and bombardment cannons.” Captain Tiberius scoffed.

Primarch Aeternus grimaced at the dataslate in his gauntlet, dredging up the memory of the extraordinarily short conversation with the Sigilite. He will never forget the quickness in sealing Sanctii’s destruction, opening the forbidden vaults, and approving the request for reinforcements. Perhaps, to a degree, it was fated that the hive city would fall in this manner. “And what of Colonel Stavin and the Penal Legion?”

“Enroute to their objective.” The genewarrior replied, clicking his tongue in distaste. Annoyance was evident in his attitude, something that Aeternus knew would occur when their invasion was planned.

“Mind yourself. They were entrusted with this operation for a reason. Settle for slaughtering into the breach should they succeed.” The Primarch growled, chidding his superior officer. Tiberius responded with a nod, firmly sealing his lips in favor of enraging their commander. Aeternus quickened his steps, delving into a genewrought sprint as they began to approach the backline of their allied forces. Caligula, Nero, and Tiberius echoed Rex’s armored gallop with their weapons ready.

“Nero, what’s the status of the assault drills?” Aeternus asked as adrenaline cocktails began to empty into his veins. A pair of gunships careened overhead, releasing a torrent of screeching missiles before azure beams of blinding corona pierced their hull. Metal collided against metal as the gunships dove, smashing into a far-off collection of red-garbed auxilia. An explosive plume silenced their dying cries as fire ravenously ate flesh and snow alike.

“Same as the last attempt. Failed. The foundation of the city is too thick to be penetrated by our drills. What did you expect from a city as well defended as this!?” The second cadre captain replied, hefting a fallen auxilia in his left arm to use as a meatshield against a flurry of drone fire. Spikes of energy bit into the corpse, dismembering limbs and chunks of meat in seconds. A bolt round saw the drone explode in a ball of fire, allowing Nero to unceremoniously toss the body aside.

The genewarriors momentarily hunkered down behind the ruins of a battle tank, several other red-garbed auxilia using the husk as improvised cover. A vibration of raw energy began to violently hum as a ball of indescribable power landed, expanded, and dissolved several squads of soldiers twenty meters away from them. One of the auxilia dropped their weapon as their hands trembled in fear. Quicker than Aeternus had ever seen a human perform, the auxilia unleashed their sidearm and pointed it against their own skull. A splash of gore painted their fellow comrades, brain matter decorating helmet and uniform alike. None dared to pay attention in the heat of battle, ignoring the death of their companion to continue suppressive fire.

“Caligula, what status do you have on the Astartes?” Primarch Aeternus asked, picking himself up from his position to unleash a salvo of ammunition from a wrist-mounted weapon. Several drones, red-garbed auxilia, and stray protectors burst into an inferno of blue flames as the projectiles exploded. The Primarch ducked as turret fire began to pocket their position, slicing through metal with ease. Those auxilia that remained beside them were pierced, cut, and slaughtered. Without a second thought, the genewarriors swiftly egressed from their cover.

“They’ll arrive in the next wave of reinforcements! Hopefully with our fair lady alongside them!” The ancient veteran said with a grunt of effort, sliding into a half-dug trench devoid of sandbags or barbed wire. Several other of the God-Slayers remained here, their brutal bolters firing without care or coordination. Tiny explosions plumed from spots on the voidshield the bolts contacted. They ducked to reload as Aeternus, Nero, and Tiberius entered the trench.

“Amalasuntha will arrive, so too will these Astartes. Trust in the Sigilite’s words.” Primarch Aeternus stated, recalling the last words spoken between himself and Malcador. An enormous vehicle rolled to a halt next to their trench, smaller than the Imperialis but larger than the standard battle tank. A heavy cannon the size of a carnosaur swiveled to aim up at the wall-mounted turrets. The roar of a thousand guns echoed all at once in a single shot, perforating the sound barrier and deafening the unaugmented around it. The shell impacted the voidshield in a cloud of rippling detonations, yet failed to pierce the city.

“It would be easier to butcher them all if they would come out of their fortress! How much longer ‘till we reach the walls, Tiberius!?” Nero demanded with a roar, his ears slightly ringing from the heavy battle tank’s ineffective shot. He watched it roll forward on enormous tracks, the engine pushed to ridiculous heights to advance their assault. Several moments later, the tank exploded in a flurry of beams and plasma.

“Approximately a kilometer and three-hundred-and-seventy meters. At our current pace, we will reach the wall in thirty minutes. If we survive.” Tiberius replied, his body already moving out of the trench to scout for a new piece of rubble. He spotted it several meters away, the ruins of a building blown away by their first shelling. One of his yellow-armored digits signalled to the rest of the genewarriors, who began to follow him.

“Not if, Tiberius,” Aeternus stated as he swiftly moved to the front of their formation, pushing the third cadre captain back into the trench. Brilliant energy pierced the air in a matter of seconds, threatening to sunder the Primarch’s form in a flurry of volatile death. Power accumulated in a spherical barrier around the thunder warrior, golden light illuminating Rex as his refractor field activated. Instinctively, his gargantuan, obsidian blade was brought up to protect him. The harmful rays dissipated, reflecting away from the shimmering Primarch. The knightly helmet turned to address the thunder warriors in the trench. “When we survive. Raptor Imperialis!

As if on cue with the Primarch’s words, golden jet bikes flew over their position alongside a similarly golden clad Dropship making full haste to the walls of the city. Turret fire slammed around the vaunted fire of the custodians, who ducked and weaved, unable to give the defenders a beat on their path. The Dropship let loose an esoteric las shot that slammed into the void shield. In response, a single ray of energy impacted the Orion-class, and it seemed for a moment that the custodian vessel would fall had it not been for the flare shield roaring to life. In the moment, the Emperor’s finest turned and sped away from the walls, the defender’s resistance too much even for them to break through for the time being.
Hidden 8 mos ago 5 mos ago Post by MarshalSolgriev
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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Slaughter of Sanctii

Operation Winter Phoenix

Sanctii AOR, Outside Thermal Flue A00034/76B

Stavin checked his watch from the stubber-cupola of the centaur prime mover he rode in. If the deep-scan auspex and Imperial tactical planning had been correct, the next exhaust dump would be in 5 minutes. They had made excellent time, the 31-3’s assault element using the cover of the blizzard to advance their motley collection of tractors, trucks, prime movers, and yes, even some armored personnel carriers, to an exhaust port several klicks from the hive itself.

Taking the thermal flue station had been simple. As predicted, there was only a skeleton crew guarding it, a platoon of the city’s militia, armed with adrasite rifles and carapace. Those fifty men perished under the hail of radium slugs, bolts of lightning, and good old fashioned steel core solid shot from the stubbers of the 31-3’s motley motor fleet. It had been a textbook assault of superior numbers against an under-defended position. No, far stranger was the mission itself.

In all, it had been the strangest operational work-up Stavin had ever experienced in his brief time of being an Imperial soldier. He had not just been ordered, but invited to tactical meetings, asked for his counsel, even politely requested to repeat the fairy tales he had heard about the Deep Winter construct by important looking administrative officials. He had eaten with other officers, and, in what felt like a fever dream, had measurements taken for a new dress uniform.

His men, the ones he had selected along with Severina and her cadre for the assault, had been fed, deloused, issued state of the art flak armor, and issued, one for every five of them, a boxy, ribbed barrel weapon that Stavin had initially mistook to be plasma guns. In fact, they were something far more dangerous; arc rifles, weapons capable of frying a man at lasrifle ranges. More to the point though, the ancient weapons were far more effective against delicate circuitry. A boon against such a technologically advanced enemy. The other eight men in each squad were issued guns Stavin had never heard of, nor in his most violent and cruel moments, even imagined; radium carbines, baroque looking weapons of brass and steel that shot radio-isotope impregnated solid shot. They were armed to the teeth. They would have to be - the mission promised to be brutal.

In a truck half a klick from Colonel Stavin, Caleb Raum squatted on the truck’s hard, uncomfortable bench, his arc rifle between his legs, heavy and unfamiliar. He had initially been issued a slightly rusty, manual-action rifle that shot big stubber cartridges, the biggest he’d ever seen, but before this mission it had been snatched away. This gun made that rifle feel as outdated as a stone spear - part of Caleb was relieved that his first taste of combat would be with a weapon he was confident could kill whatever he hit squarely.

Across from Caleb, Sergeant Whitaker cleaned his shotgun, looking at the driver’s cab in annoyance whenever a bump in the rough terrain interrupted the reverie of cleaning the weapon. Whitaker was a scary man, whipcord thin, tall, and scarred. Caleb, however, was slightly grateful to the old soldier - being assigned to Whitaker’s squad came with an understanding you were not to be fucked with. At the cost of all of Caleb’s lho sticks and the good parts of his (rare) rations, Whitaker made problems disappear. A legionnaire, feeling her oats, had attempted to extort Caleb early in his career in the 31-3, and Whitaker, hearing that someone was muscling in on him, disappeared that night.

The next day, Caleb’s would-be racketeer was found dead in her bunk, her head twisted all the way round.

“You know what we’re doing, Troopie?” Whitaker yelled to Caleb.

“We’re going to advance down the thermal exhaust line.” Caleb said, “Then, using Auspex, find the vent control console, close the port, and destroy the console.”

“They make it sound so bloody simple, don’t they?” Whitaker yelled.

“...It’s not?” Caleb asked.

“It’s gonna be a mess. Trust me. When we get in that thermal flue, you book it. Stay behind me. Don’t let any other cunt get between you and me. Kill ‘em if you gotta. I ain’t gettin’ stuck in that flue when the city decides to vent again.”

Caleb imagined what would happen. It didn’t take much mental sweat. Anything caught in the flues when they vented would be, in short, obliterated.

“And after?” Caleb asked.

“Same shit, Troopie.” Whitaker said, racking the shotgun. His radium rifle was slung over one shoulder, but it was clear he preferred the shotgun, an old, battered thing he’d clearly carried for a long time. “The first one that gets to the cogitator stack to disable it stands the best chance of living. We get pick of the places to hide when it goes nova.”

“And brings down the gate…” Caleb said, finally understanding. “...Sarge, are we meant to survive this mission?”

“No Troopie, but I intend to anyway.” Whitaker said, spitting a thin stream of lho-dip onto the deck. “Safest place in this mob is behind me, so stay there.”

Stavin checked his watch, again. Severina looked at him in clear annoyance. Stavin had been checking that piece of shit chronometer every thirty seconds for the past five minutes.

“Checking to see if it grew extra hands, Colonel?” She said.

“No, discipline mistress, I’m just trying to be efficient.” He growled. “There’s a mean woman who will shoot me if I’m not.”

She laughed, her laugh surprisingly pleasant and tinkly for a woman of such hard musculature and scars.

Then, there was a loud, whirring noise, then a clank, then a thump so violent it shook icicles from the rockcrete surrounding the exhaust flue. A whoosh. Fire so intense, so hot, that briefly it warmed the faces of everyone looking at it so quickly that sweat broke out over their entire bodies. Stavin blinked sunspots from his eyes, his skin feeling slightly sunburned. He cursed, as now the pain of the icy winds was extra evident. The flame went on for minutes, eventually dying out with a sputter.

Stavin keyed his vox. “Alright everyone. Rebreathers on. Dismount. We’ve got thirty til the next vent, and five til the vents close. Only one way out of this. Get it done.”

He let the handset hang, and jumped down, helping Severina down, then the rest of his command squad. They began, along with the other five thousand damned souls of the assault element, to double time towards the exhaust opening.

One kilometer behind Imperial Siege Lines

One thousand power armored figures stood in perfect lines one hundred by ten, arms and armor still unmarred by conflict. The sons and daughters of the First Astartes Legion had barely tasted combat, kept in the rear of the Conquest of Ursh by the taunting command of the Thunder Primarch Gilgamenses.

So swiftly had they been sent to the front that they had not been equipped with their full wargear, only a tenth of them given full Thunder Armor. The Legion had endured the indignity of Gilgamenses’ castoffs, their ready wargear consisting only of gleaming chainswords untouched by blood or battle. When the order came, the newborn Astartes had dropped the lasrifles and slugthrowers in great heaps before the Thunder Warrior’s command tent before taking their leave.

Malcador himself had given them the order to make for Sanctii with all due speed, and they had obeyed. Lacking any mechanization, the thousand warriors with powered greaves had charged out of camp as fast as their legs could carry, running without pause for over eighteen hours. They had stopped only to accept a shipment of fresh arms from the Terra-Watt Clans, heavily laden snowskimmers disgorging horrid Volkite weaponry freshly stamped from the forges.

Onward they had run as the remnant of the Legion followed far behind in their wake, rushing ever faster at the first sound of guns off in the distance. At last they fell in, Calivers braced across their chest, as the Mistress of the Legion Vairya Kurus took their measure.

Nine hundred, Vairya herself included, were Astartes in truth, the perfected fruit of the genecrafting process, warriors who could be mass produced without fear of degradation. The remainder of her advance force were her elder siblings, the First Hundred, failures so close to what they ought to be that they had been granted the dignity of a glorious death in their creator’s name. These proto-Astartes were already visibly ragged from their exertions, not-quite-right organs failing to fully sustain them through the hellish march they had undergone to enact the Sigilite’s will. She paid them little heed, for they would do as they were bid in the end. All would.

Though their armor was painted in conscious imitation of the God-Slayers, the First mirroring the First, they made no move to support them - or any other element of the Emperor’s forces. Instead they simply stood, stock-still, within sight of the walls, beyond the fury and fire of the assault and artillery. They knew their mission, and they would not permit anything to delay it. The Thunder Warriors and auxilia were distraction enough for the moment from the true strike force, and it was only if and when the condemned penal soldiers succeeded that the Astartes would take the field.

Merlon 2295-B, Curtain Wall

Insanity fell well short of describing the slaughter taking place on the other side of the curtain wall. The Imperials, damned be their souls, had simply appeared out of the blizzard in fully formed battle lines over a million strong. They’d advanced upon the curtain wall with what Commander Yaroslav could only define as wreckless abandon, throwing themselves to be butchered wholesale at the hands of his brigade and the many others beginning to join the original defenders at their battlements.

Yaroslav turned to a compact holodeck of the battle, scoffing at the shear size of it all. He’d seen Sanctii through more combat than he cared to admit, but this, this was beyond his wildest imagination.

“Merlon 2112-A, reports Imperial troops at the battlements, they request aid from adjacent Merlon’s for fear of being breached.”

Yaroslav brought up a live holofeed of the merlon in question and was surprised at the group of Imperials taking up what cover they could against his wall. He did not see any of the genewarriors of the self-proclaimed Emperor, and thanked the stars for that.

“Is that the only battlement with Imperial rats at their feet?” he asked pensively as he surveyed the battle taking place outside.

“Negative,” the professional voice of the vox operator came back, “Imperials advance on most of the battlements Sir, there are reports of genewarriors attempting to scale the walls in nine different locations.”

Yaroslav cursed and brought a hand to his own voxbead, “Captain Lebedev, I assume that your Wing is ready for combat?”

The voice on the other side seemed distracted as it answered, “On your command.”

“Take to the killing field Captain, burn the rodents from the foot of our home and push them back, the wall will assist, as always.”

Credit: @grimely (Legio I Astartes), @BornOnBoard (Colonel Stavin/Thirty-One-Third Penal Legion), @FrostedCaramel (Sanctii/The Administrator)
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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Slaughter of Sanctii


Above the cacophony of esoteric weapons discharge, iridescent bolts and solid rounds, above the shriek of the void shields as artillery shells fell upon it in vain, a war horn blared. So deafening was the horn that amongst the attackers and defenders, heads turned to the direction of the noise. An incongruent shape, cast in the shadow of the hive, began to rise from behind the curtain wall as another horn blared some distance from the first, followed by several more.

Above the battlements, a wing of six airships rose to their combat heights. The crafts were clad in platinum armor, each were as tall as a habblock and several times as long, cutting lazy paths through the air as Imperial gunnery crews hurriedly trained their sights upon them.

A lance of redhot energy spat from a superheavy tank at the first of the airships, the beam connecting with impressive precision on the central structure of the vessel. An explosion ripped across the hull obscuring it from view as Imperials cheered at the kill.

A moment later, from within the black cloud, a searing beam so bright that it simply blinded any unlucky enough to have been looking in its direction, lanced out of the smoke at the superheavy tank. The cheers ended as the airship revealed itself once more on it’s ponderously slow track above the killing ground, the superheavy that had struck first now merely two melted tracks with no sign of the machine that once existed between them.

The airships, now at combat height, unleashed salvoes of energy weapons fire at the foot of the curtain walls. The remains of Imperial units that had been lucky enough to make it that far, mortal and Thunder Warrior alike, were converted into superheated vapor as the beams traced across the bloodied snow in beautiful hues of blues and reds.

Out further from the wall, the beams began to track through the advancing Imperials, and salvos of missiles were let loose from the airships. Sparingly, the missiles overflew the masses of armor and infantry approaching the curtain wall, instead targeting the artillery outside the voidshields and the masses of Imperial forces mustering to join the carnage at the foot of the venerable city of Sanctii.

It was at this in which the the perfected warriors of the Imperium turned back to the fight - sensing a use for their might in this battle. Jetbikes roared upwards, the ancient ship of the custodians lowered its ramp as it flew closer to the airships and out slipped eleven of the Emperor’s finest. The Stygian Talon moved as one, yet their electronic signatures became distorted as cogitators that tried to find the gene-warriors became filled with blight-codes and malign falsehood. Rounds slammed into the Orion, its flare shield coating the vessel an eclipsed black.

“Aeternus, vacate your position lest you wish these beast land upon you,” came the spark of Amalasuntha’s vox, sounds of beams screeching past her could be heard faintly in the background. Yet, any who looked up could see that the Venatari looked like gnats approaching these ships, almost two each. The Jetbikes flew circles around the guns of the airships swooping beneath their void shields to spit death through las and cannon upon the weapons of the airships.

Meanwhile, the venatari began forcing their way into the airships, ripping open hatchways or even using their lances to break through the viewports. Amalasuntha, for her part, unleashed her blade and carved through the boarding hatch of the lead vessel. Alarms blared and automated defenses attempted to offer resistance, but she moved much too fast. A turret dropped from the ceiling only for her blade to cut the connections, many were simply unable to properly target her as her personal arae-shrike confused their systems and made her impossible to locate. Putrid gene-warriors awaited for her at the door to the command room. Three fired an array of lightning whilst the others stood at the ready with horrid blades drawn.

Unable to dodge the lightning, the custodian’s refractor field sprung to life, absorbing the energy as she sped towards her combatants. The Black-Hawk rammed her shoulder into the first warrior to meet her, blade flashing to slice another in two. In her other hand, her misercordia came to life, stabbing upwards to tear out another warrior’s throat. She danced between blades, her opponents unable to find her as she met the three who dared fire upon her. One turned to run, but her deft movement saw her sword plunged through his back, leaving it there as she lobbed the head off another. The last of them fired his ancient weapon into her, even managing to breach her refractor field. Were it not for her masterfully crafted armor, she would have been grievously injured. He could not let loose a scream before her talons wrapped around his head to crush it.

Amalasuntha wasted no time, retrieving her blade before she began carving through the doorway. She heard panicked screams inside, orders being barked. Before any help would come she was already in the command room, throwing forth a Melta bomb before she ducked out. The explosion rocked the ship, the bridge had been ripped asunder and the blizzard found its way in through a massive hole where the officers once were. The ship began to lurch and Amalasuntha wasted no time as she flew out of the new hole she had just made and back to the Dropship.

Aeternus heard the screams from across the voxnet even before the Sanctiian airships had began their genocidal retaliation. A hundred-thousand men cried out as they died, slaughtered by magnetically driven slugs or deatomized by rays of horror. He felt nothing for their loss, each soul having given their lives in pursuit of Unity. They knew what they fought for, nothing could deter their Master’s goals. Nothing ever would. Rex watched as entire columns of sprinting, red-garbed auxilia disappeared in a manner of milliseconds under crimson beams of man-made calamity. Vehicles, support personnel, legionnaires, and more ceased to exist in their assault of Sanctii. And he felt nothing short of disappointment in their inability to climb a wall.

A ripping, tearing sound drew his attention back to the world around him. One of the Sanctiian protectors, a genewarrior in resplendent armor, had been desperately crawling away after being launched from the wall. Nero had found him first, hefting the warrior up and ripping him in half with his barehands. The second cadre captain screamed in delight, succumbing to the madness of combat and evicting himself from their cover. He disappeared into the battlefield, followed by four other God-Slayers. Caligula had tried to stop him, but Aeternus held him back to allow their friend to rampage. Tiberius sprinted from their already-faltering cover, eyeing the shattered remains of a bisected superheavy battle tank. The primarch, first cadre captain, and three other God-Slayers followed with all the speed a geneforged giant could muster.

A flurry of missiles arched in a hunting pattern overhead, aiming for the vulnerable backlines of their offensive. Aeternus calmly listened as the Forty-Third’s artillery platoons cried out in terror over the voxnet. Their howls were silenced moments later as a wave of explosions erupted with enough force to momentarily shake the entire battlefield. As their small formation of genewarriors found cover under the bisected wreckage, the familiar humming of shields emanated from the backlines. The primarch listened as the Imperials cheered, saved by technology courtesy of Malcador and their long campaigns across Terra. A short-lived joy, the airships tore through a plethora of the deployable shields. The artillery continued sending salvo after salvo in suicidal fury.

“... Aeternus! Where are these ‘Astartes’!? Why haven’t they joined the battle!?” The sound of Caligula’s angered voice drew his attention away from the voxnet. His tone was filled with frustration and betrayal as if the Astartes had personally offended him. Rex felt his ire rise at Caestus’ suggestive tone. They were the Master of the Line’s thunder warriors, what did it matter if the Astartes joined now or later?

“The Sigilite has given them a different mission. They won’t be contributing to the assault until the walls are breached. Trust in our Master’s plan, Caligula, for he has always steered us to Unity.” Aeternus roared, his voice as commanding as a waking lion’s. It was enough to silence his first cadre captain, but Rex knew that his old friend would fester on it. Tiberius made no comment, perhaps he understood the necessity of high-quality reserves in a prolonged siege. The Primarch’s helmet turned to address Tiberius in the same breath. “Give the order. We’ve waited long enough for our Destroyers to unveil the machinations of the Old Night. Once that is done, we’ll move forward three-hundred more paces.”

The third cadre captain didn’t respond, his hooded helmet dipping away to speak into his helmet-mounted voxcaster. Aeternus turned his attention away from the wall to several predesignated positions across the battlefield. Although many of them had already been claimed by the crimson beams, many more still survived to hear the call of their commander. Several groups of thunder warriors, three in each grouping, stood from their positions armed with an array of heavy, nightmarish weapons. Lascannons, laser destroyers, plasma cannons, disintegration rails, missile pods, handheld atomic mortars, and more unleashed a hellscape of munitions into the sky of Sanctii. Where the golden hovercrafts of the Custodes couldn’t reach, the God-Slayers could with an overwhelming amount of concentrated fire. Craftborn voidshields broke in a matter of seconds from the surprise attack, several more of the vessels sinking from the sky in blossoms of explosive furry.

Do not falter! Do no let the dredges of the Old Night batter your spirit! Fight in the name of the Emperor, fight in the name of Terra, and fight in the name of Unity! Raptor Imperialis! For the Emperor!” Aeternus picked himself up, pressed an armored foot against the tank wreckage, and kicked it a hundred meters forward with the force of an unhinged titan. His cohort lurched forward, sprinting in the shadows of the flying wreckage as it careened towards the wall. Turret fire, mugshots, and scything pulsar beams cut into the debris long enough for the Primarch and his team to advance closer to the wall. He heard the response of his cry over the voxnet, a near-million people shouted in unison to his call-to-arms.

For the Emperor!” A million people and more cried out in their suicidal advance.

Credit: @MarshalSolgriev (Aeternus/God-Slayers/Sanctii), @Lauder (Lady Amalasuntha/Stygian Talons)
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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Slaughter of Sanctii

Blazing Assault

Sanctii AOR, Inside Thermal Flue A00034/76B

Five thousand souls trudged down the gigantic flue, each step kicking up a cloud of ash and carbon. Each member of the 31-3’s assault party wore a rebreather to protect them from the bad air quality, which the tacticae scribes assured Stavin they would definitely clog the lungs of an unaugmented human in seconds. They illuminated their way with high-lumen lamp packs, the beams cutting back and forth across the darkness.

Twenty minutes had passed, which was good. It meant they were five minutes from their designated exit points, a gap in the flues that allowed excess pressure and carbon build up to void into the cavernous space below the hive without stressing the walls of the flue. It was also why they simply couldn’t block the exit to the flue to get the same result - such gaps were spaced every few kilometers. You could strike the exhaust path with orbital lances, atomics, missiles, it simply wouldn’t affect it.

The flue, like all of Sanctii, was a marvel of engineering.

Stavin’s auspex began to beep at his hip. He unhooked it from his pistol belt, and peered at the screen, holding his lamp pack to it. The air temperature had raised. Ambient humidity had dropped sharply. The air began to smell charred as the carbon particles in the air gathered heat.

Stavin’s eyes widened. His body broke into a cold sweat. He was aware of the stink of it, trapped in his rebreather, which suddenly felt as claustrophobic as a casket.

Their estimate for thermal purge - it was flawed. He realized that now. He and the scribes had estimated this most critical detail based on the average geothermal power load of a hive the size of Sanctii.

Tell me, John, he thought. Is a city firing defense batteries and powering an entire defensive grid in wartime constituting the average geothermal power load?

He cursed, and keyed his vox as he began to run. Severina followed him.

“Colonel?” She shouted. “Colonel, what is it? What does the auspex say?”

All elements, double time!” Stavin shouted, “Go, go, go! Get on you bastards!

Shit!” Severina said, her legendary facade of bravery cracking. “Shit! I thought we had ten minutes!”

“We would if the city was at peace, Augusta!” Stavin shouted. Soldiers began to scramble with them, kicking up huge clouds of ash as they began to run for their lives.


When Whitaker and Caleb heard the vox command, they began to run as fast as they could.

Other soldiers jogged, some even just speed-walked. What was the hurry? The colonel could sprint ahead and get a medal if he wanted. They jeered as Whitaker and Caleb passed them.

Only a few troopers took the Colonel’s warning seriously - they were running too.

“Never you mind them, Troopie!” Whitaker yelled, “They won’t be laughing when Sanctii turns the burner up!”

Caleb saved his breath. He would need it - wearing the rebreather felt like breathing through a straw. They shot from the middle of the pack to the front of it, and suddenly, the Colonel’s warning made sense. The tunnel, which had previously been quite dark, suddenly had a very bright light at the end of it, kilometers distant, but was putting out enough light to render everyone inside clearly. The air, still, began to move in a fetid breeze.

“Oh fuck!” Caleb shouted. “Oh shit! The vent! I thought we had-”

“We don’t anymore, Troopie!” Whitaker yelled. “Push on!”

Caleb, who had been flagging, felt fear surge adrenaline through his body. Tired limbs, stressed lungs, none of it mattered. His body had made its decision, and it wanted to live.

Other soldiers, that had jeered, or jogged, or lollygagged, now cursed or shouted or begged or pleaded in fear. A relatively ordered advance disintegrated into a pell-mell dash for safety, the pressure gap that for the slowest soldiers was a klick away, with only a minute or so to get there.

Not all were gonna make. Not even close to all. The tunnel began to get very hot. The breeze turned into a full on gale. The wind was hot, drying his eyeballs with the heat and pressure. The insanity of the plan now fully dawned on Caleb - they were not meant to survive at all. The assault party was 5,000 strong - a ridiculous number for a stealth raid - because they knew, they knew, that after the flue the amount of people left would be enough for the job.

The cruel insanity of the Imperium. The empty platitudes Caleb had filled his pamphlets with, those dry, stolid refutations of the Imperial Truth, of Unity, suddenly burned bright and hot in him. They made sense now. They mattered now. They were the truest things he’d ever said.

And to live, he’d have to discard all of those human sentiments. He would have to become as insane as the Emperor .

He and Whitaker were close now. They reached the gap and jumped, not even looking what was beneath them. Fortunately, they landed on worker’s gantry not ten feet below, a jarring impact that knocked the breath out of the both of them. They had landed on their packs, however, and their spare uniforms and rations had soaked up the blow. Others climbed the access ladders down, and some lept, landing on the gantries sometimes, sometimes missing, screaming into the caverns below.

When the flue vented, it was sudden. A roar with no buildup. A pillar of fire burned through the gap that Caleb had just exited. There had been men on the edge of the gap - gone now. So utterly destroyed not even ash remained. Men still on the ladders going down to the gantry suffered a similar fate, their torsos and heads caught in the incredible heat and pressure, burning up just a fiercely, though a millisecond or two slower.

The soldiers on the ladders, but not in the path of the flames screamed as the metal they held superheated in seconds. They let go, falling, landing badly, breaking legs, knees, necks. Some joined the ones that missed the gantry in the first place, falling into the depths. Caleb had never seen so many people die all at once. He closed his eyes against the horror, curling up and covering his ears as the 31-3 suffered their first, terrible casualties.


The slaughter seemed to go on and on, but when Stavin checked his watch after the flue’s heat dissipated, it had only been thirty seconds. The longest, most dearly paid for thirty seconds of his miserable life.

He checked his auspex, slapping the thing to get the display to show clearly. He switched it from atmospheric detection to collar signal detection. He cursed.

Of five thousand souls, about one hundred and twenty had made it. One company.

But they were in.

The alabaster walls of Sanctii stood before them as a mountain of otherworldly metal, yet the world around them remained consumed by the combined calamity of war and nature. The Urschic lands refused to bow to mankind, relentlessly whipping into a furious blizzard unlike any other. Where men and women hadn’t died to the vicious torrent of Sanctii’s defenses, the bitter cold and diamond-sharp hail sank through auxilia thermals and exposed flesh alike. Some fell mid-sprint as they finally succumbed to wounds, frostbite, and exhaustion. Others persisted through lakes of dead bodies, their uniforms caked in vaporized ash and blood. Their endurance had paid off as hundreds of thousands of auxilia still battered limb and rifle against the Sanctiian bulwark; however, it was in vain as the void shields prevailed against any and all attacks.

The primarch observed an entire squad of auxilia tossed from the top of the wall, slamming into the snow in a geyser of blood and ice. Several more individuals fell in a continuous rain of warriors, each dying either during their descent or on landing. He noted that none of the carcasses were his God-Slayers, perhaps they had managed to establish a foothold atop the Sanctiian defenses. Those useless thoughts were discarded from his mind, and replaced with the current situation at hand. Caligula had remained near him along with fifteen other gene-warriors they had rendezvoused with. Tiberius disappeared once they had successfully integrated with the frontline, venturing off to accomplish some unforeseen task. If the third cadre captain had been unreliable, then Aeternus would’ve cursed his name for such cowardice. Luckily, he knew what his fellow genewarrior was capable of.

Several red-garbed auxilia and thunder warriors roared in strained effort, a jury-rigged battering ram hefted amongst their number. It was a disgusting thing of precise, rudimentary engineering. A super-heavy battle tank’s primary cannon with several plasma cores, grenades, and rockets attached to the front end. The group ran forward in a suicidal attempt to breach the wall for good, cheers from other nearby soldiers driving them to further heights. The culmination of their efforts was rewarded with a beautiful explosion that quaked the nearby area. A hundred men began to swarm the area, believing that they had actually created their godsent relief.

Horror awaited them as the wall held strong against the improvised weapon of mass destruction. Hints of the shimmering shield only further drove their assault into new levels of despair. Wall-mounted turrets and Sanctiian protectors fired down from their positions, slaughtering those that had attempted to penetrate into their beloved city. Men cried, meat squelched, and armor broke in a cacophony of death. Aeternus refused to avert his dark eyes from the mass murder that occurred several meters away from his position. It sickened him that he couldn’t defy all of the odds set against them, but perhaps their deaths would mean something once victory was attained.

Aeternus! We’re ready to climb the wall. Tiberius reports success in attaining some degree of foothold, several other of our kin are with him. Fortunately,” Caligula began to rapidly speak as another group of thunder warriors joined their party. Archaic grappling gear was passed from their hands into the climbers awaiting gauntlets. Genewarriors swiftly affixed their armor with the components, assisting where necessary, and began their climb in earnest. “The path is clear for us due to a bloody wake, most likely made by Nero and his Despoilers. It is a calming thought knowing that he thought this far ahead!”

“Then let it begin.” The joke was hollow at best, and haunting at worst. Aeternus knew that he would one day have to deal with Nero’s affliction, but Rex was content with utilizing his genewarrior’s rage to achieve his goals. He affixed one of the harnesses to himself, a titanium tactical web of hooks, tethers, and diamantine spikes. Several footholds, cracks, and other embellishments in the walls became clear to him. Past attempts to scale the bulwark in the past hours had led to the continual success of their siege. The primarch turned one last time to witness the nightmare behind him before beginning his ascent.

The golden dropship of the Stygian Talons danced in the sky against the airships, while several jet bikes circled in flanking strikes with guardian spears and andrastite lances. His Destroyers, those that ambushed the aircraft from the ground, continued to shatter and break voidshields across the emerging fleet. Even as they died to blinding beams of supernova energy, those thunder warriors refused to falter in their perpetual onslaught. Hundreds of thousands of auxilia continued to rush from the backlines, pushed on by mortal commanders and great lines of battle tanks. It was an endless horde of onrushing flesh, marshaled by the greatest commander in humanity. The thought nearly brought a smile to his scarred lips, yet it was forgotten altogether as he began to climb the wall.

They fired on his position and those beside him as they climbed. His great obsidian blade, Apocrypha, seared with plasmic furry as he ascended the alabaster bulwark. Every inch that Aeternus climbed felt like a mile of mire-trudging as his refractor field sparked over and over again in protest. Other warriors, fellow wallclimbers that defied destiny, were not as fortunate as him. Beams of energy, disintegration rays, and iridium slugs annihilated those on either side of the Primarch. Wrath, fresh and hot, spilled into his body as his genewarriors unceremoniously died. He raised the weapon attached to his wrist, unleashing a storm of infernal rounds that detonated flesh and metal into cobalt flames. Even if momentarily, they were allowed to scale the wall with minimal resistance.

Credit: @MarshalSolgriev (Aeternus/God-Slayers/Sanctii), @BornOnBoard (Colonel Stavin/Thirty-One-Third Penal Legion)
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Slaughter of Sanctii

The Wail of Cocytus

Sanctii Catacombs

Gathering the survivors of the advance up the thermal flue was a muted, sober prospect. Stavin found that his count of the auspex’s active collar signals had, in fact, been optimistic. The auspex, after all, only counted collars that could detect a pulse.

And, as Stavin knew, having a pulse didn’t necessarily mean you were combat capable. Some men had concussed themselves in the drop. Others had sprained ankles, shattered legs, cracked ribs. Some had scorched hands, down to the bones. Others were psych-cases, so undone by shock or trauma they simply froze up. In any case, all had to be put down. Severina carried out this grim duty, and in a perverse way, Stavin was grateful to have the discipline mistress for this, if nothing else.

They were in the sharp end of combat now, the very tip of a brutal struggle for survival against an implacable foe. The normal rules of civilization did not apply. The normal rules of etiquette did not apply. Just as he was grateful that Severina was executing the men and women who could not carry their own weight, he could see the other legionnaires were grateful that they would not have to lower their own chances of survival dragging around the unfit.

No one would say it, of course. But they all felt it. They distributed the kit of the fallen, with particular care given to the photon flasks for the arc rifles, which were light, simple matrices that carried conductive metal in a thin film encased within a light sheet metal canister. Arc riflemen could carry enough ammunition for several wars on a belt. The radio-isotope slug clips of the radcarbines were the next priority, ensuring the rest of the war party wouldn’t run out. Then, food and water.

Duly equipped, the now one hundred strong assault party advanced into the catacombs of the city, their only guiding light the soft blip of the projected location of the thermal flue operating station.


Sergeant Whitaker and Caleb advanced into the darkness, Whitaker checking the auspex, shotgun slung over one shoulder, Caleb scanning the darkness for targets for his arc rifle. They had been walking for quite a while, inside a cavern that was only partially tamed by Sanctii development. Indeed, the only real use for this space was as pressure proofing for the city’s intricate thermal exhaust, with Imperial tacticians figuring that there would be minimal security or defense, if any. Indeed, there was no historical evidence a Terran hive had ever been undermined in such a way.

These facts shot through Caleb’s mind like hot tracers from a stubber, stitching into his grey matter, kicking up little rivulets of dust in his mindscape. Anything to keep his mind off the gnawing fear that ate at him every time he let his mind touch the full, awful reality he found himself in. It was his coping strategy, he decided.

If he lived, he decided, he would write an account of this action. Then history would know it was possible to breach the walls of a hive in such a way. There would be some memorial for the sacrifice they had made, he decided. If it was his book, then good. If that didn’t work out, then he’d settle for strangling the highest ranked Imperial citizen he could find with their own entrails.

Such thoughts would have horrified him, but that was a past Caleb. A dead Caleb. What dead Caleb thought about the world no longer mattered. Dead Caleb was dead wrong, and Alive Caleb would make sure he didn’t suffer the same fate.

Whitaker’s hand shot up. His Auspex began to flash, dots suddenly appearing behind the advance party.

“We’ve got company, Troopie.” Whitaker growled.


Stavin saw the advance element, Whitaker, call a halt. He relayed the order, having the assault element hold in place. Team leaders checked auspices, and saw the same information that had stopped Whitaker in his tracks.

“Get me eyes on these contacts.” Stavin said into his microbead. “Only shoot if they’re obviously hostile. I don’t want our cover blown because one of you gun apes decided to light up a crustaecid.”

Severina’s bolt pistol was in her hand. Stab lights on weapons swayed back and forth across the darkness, revealing nothing behind the assault element.

“Above us.” Severina hissed.

Stavin looked up. He could see a veritable horde of skittering, chitinous-looking bodies crawling across the ceiling. They easily outnumbered the assault party, but they didn’t seem to notice them. They were deep-cavern crustaecids to be sure, or maybe some kind of deep-ground arachnaed, obviously displaced from their homes by the queer geological vibrations caused by the chaos above.

Stavin was about to key his microbead, when, in the center of the horde, one crustaecid stopped. Despite their small size, it was easy enough to see, as the rest of the horde crawled around it, creating an image not unlike a small rock in the middle of a river.

A red light on the body of the crustaecid lit. It was then Stavin knew that Deep Winter had found them.

They weren’t crustaecids at all. They were some kind of drone.

“Open fire!” Stavin said. “Above us!”

The guns of the damned began to shatter the night.


“Troopie!” Whitaker bellowed. “You heard ‘em!”

Caleb swung his arc rifle up, pressing the trigger in anger for the first time. The gun hummed, lighting up along the vanes in the boxy barrel assembly. Caleb thought the gun might not be functioning at f-


The report of the arc rifle was like lightning, but inches from the face. The bolt of electricity, so impossibly bright and fast, slammed into the horde of crustaecid drones, frying what must’ve seemed like hundreds in a chain-lightning light show that put any thrash band to shame. The ceiling was illuminated in eerie red as the drone’s bodies all lit up, stopping their patrol to maneuver themselves to where they could -

One dropped onto a trooper. The trooper cursed part in pain, part in fright, grabbing at the drone.

Son of a bitch!” He wailed. “Get it o-”

Whitaker and Caleb were thrown to the ground as the trooper exploded. They scrabbled to their feet, backing away, firing with wild abandon at the ceiling now.

“Sergeant, they’re gonna fucking kill us!” Caleb shouted, and received a whack on his helmeted head.

Stow that, you bastard!” Whitaker yelled. “Keep fucking firing! Keep fucking shooting or I’ll scrag you before these bloody things could!


Stavin watched in horror as the sight Whitaker and Caleb saw repeated itself several more times.

Colonel!” Severina shouted. “Orders!

Stavin shook his head. So what if an all-powerful AI knew they were here? What was that against the murderous god that sent them into these horrible depths? Into hell itself?

Who knew hell better than the Damned?

“Advance to the objective! Bounding! Your collar lights will be set to green and amber!” Stavin bellowed into his microbead, hammering the commands into his auspex. “Green advances! Amber covers! When Green is past, reverse! Do it, by the numbers people!”

Order was immediately restored. Relief surged through Stavin as he realized he had made the right call at the right time. Like clockwork, the soldiers of the Damned poured fire into the advancing horde of crustaecid-drones, never letting them drop to the ground where they could grab a soldier and detonate.

The arc rifles were doing the greatest work; punching great gaps in the horde of automatons that even their ceaseless numbers had trouble refilling. The radcarbines were less effective, but they added weight of fire, and with the numbers opposing them the Damned could hardly miss.

Slowly, they advanced towards the objective. Slowly, the Damned purchased the progress that would grant them victory.

A man cried out in agonizing pain as Aeternus’ searing great blade bisected him. The plasmic edge of his weapon cut cleanly through personal shield and ivory armor in milliseconds. Their harrowing howling was cut short by Rex’s boot, firmly shattering the defender’s helmet. Brain matter and vitae ejected outwards from his armored soles, coating the Imperial black in crimson-pink fluid.

He slid forward, arcing his blade and cleaving into another group of Sanctiian protectors. Their defenses, despite the technological differences, fell short to his genewrought might and Apocrypha’s ancient plasmic nullifers. Surprise, horror, and anger shrieked forth from their helmets as their bodies slumped into an expanding pile of carcasses. The primarch swept his left arm out, venting hatred through the forearm-mounted weapon at nearby defender clusters. Explosions riddled the areas in which he fired, detonating into great balls of cobalt flames. Each burst of flame consumed bodies, unlucky auxilia, and unfortunate sentinels alike in uncontrolled fury.

One of the God-Slayers roared out as a trio of Sanctiians stabbed elongated, glowing spears into their opponent’s body. Helmetless, the thunder warrior grinned in delight as he threw himself back off of the wall. The defenders fell with him, shortly falling to their death along with their suicidal enemy. Aeternus had seen the same scene occur over and over again during this assault on the wall. How many of his warriors perished in this siege, he asked himself in a small moment of clarity. The thought diminished as another group of sentinels emerged from their towers, followed only by skittering swarms of malevolent drones.

“More are coming, commander! We’ve already lost squads Didact and Raziel, Nero is forsaken somewhere in the city, and Tiberius has already left the wall!” Caligula stated as he chopped into another protector, who bitterly fought back with equal genestrength. The first cadre captain rammed his helmet into the Sanctiian, momentarily stunning them and using the momentum to bisect them with his powered blade. “We’ve lost the wall! Any longer and we’ll end up losing you, Rex!

He knew better than most the futility of assaulting the wall, yet it had taken its toll on the defenders as much as the invaders. Many of the airships had been dealt with, some of the large-scale bombardment cannons had been silenced, and whole platoons of the Sanctiians had been defeated. Aeternus gritted his teeth in a mixture of emotions, threatening to break his own jaw in frustration. If only they had more time, more men, and more thunder warriors to deal with the invasion. Rex silenced the intrusive thoughts by accurately firing into the oncoming groups of defenders.

“Then it seems we’ve lost our edge as deity-annihilators, Caestus! Keep fighting, killing, and slaughtering to stall their advance.” The primarch demanded, raising the flat of his obsidian great blade to block a hail of magnetically-driven slugs. Each bullet melted on contact with the sword’s plasma-field, followed shortly by another spattering of wrist-mounted death from Aeternus. Those arriving sentinels backpedaled as their drones burst into flame, falling back into the cover of cadavers or broken turrets. “Temper your expectations and hope that Lady Amalasuntha is feeling particularly generous today!”

As the defenders fell into their cover, Aeternus removed a peculiar grenade from his belt and launched it high into the air. An explosion of crackling light mixed with clouds of phosphorus erupted from the device. In a synchronized effort, the thunder warriors on the Primarch’s portion of the wall began to coalesce around their commander. Bolters, disintegration carbines, and lasrifles bit out against the encroaching forces of Sanctii. The signal had been sent, clear even through the harrowing blizzard that tormented invader and sentinel alike. A signal that filled the invaders with hope and frustration in equal amounts. It was a call for retreat.

Aboard another of the airships, this time flanked by two other Venatari, Amalasuntha stalked through the cramped and short halls of the vehicle. They slaughtered near all the crew on this one, and yet it continued to spit death as if crewed by ghosts. The trio made their way to the command bridge, once more dispatching those stationed to fight them. There was no chance for them to save themselves as the venatari stormed the bridge, slaughtering its defenders to a man.

The Black-Hawk walked towards the view port, casting her gaze as the others planted Melta charges behind her. Her crimson gaze watched the walls of the damned city, knowing that it would fall no matter the cost for no abomination could be suffered. Yet, her head slanted ever slightly as she made out the form of a massive beast fighting in the wall like a Lion. She knew him, Aeternus, the only of his ilk to earn her respect for his loyalty and honor to the burgeoning Imperium. She watched as his plasmatic blade carved through a man - but his assault was futile as the defenders surged forth with renewed vigor once more.

“Shield-Captain, charges are set,” came the low voice of one of her compatriots, wordlessly exiting the room as if already knowing his future order. Amalasuntha went to turn but she caught a glimpse - Aeternus turning from the wall and abandoning his assault. Yet, he had overextended, she could tell in that moment that both he and his men were threatened with a most gruesome death.

No, Aeternus would not die here under her watch for the Emperor still had use of him and his legion. She spoke clearly to the vox, a voice clear of emotion, “Gunship Axium, turn to Wall Segment 8-A2, ensure that Aeternus has cover in his retreat.”

“Do you wish to dispense those waiting for landing or extract the Primarch?” The pilot asked, unhesitatingly.

“Negative, you need only give him cover,” Amalasuntha stated, turning away from the viewport to stalk out of the room. Her claws danced along one of the control consoles she passed, half-tempted to attempt to turn the guns of the ship on the city. Though, she already knew she didn't have the time or the means to properly do so, knowing she’d likely have to overcome whatever safety mechanisms the intelligence had thought to install. As the Hawk moved to rejoin her companions, she decided to relay a message to the Primarch, “Cover incoming. Retreat and regroup.”

One kilometer behind Imperial siege lines

The reserve force of Astartes, fewer in number after the withering bombardment they had endured, continued to stand as still as statues as they awaited the order to advance. While the gene warriors had scattered for cover upon being alerted of incoming fire from the enemy’s airships, nothing could have prevented every loss.

Here the superiority of the finished product told, more than one proto-Astarte having been a second too slow, reacting with an instant of delay that their siblings were not burdened by. Malformed secondary hearts took an extra beat to hyper-oxygenate the blood, minds dulled by the pain of extraneous bone perpetually digging into flesh were slower to process the warning. They were beyond anything human, but they were simply not good enough.

A full tenth of the First Legion’s advance force perished in the rain of archaeotech explosives, and of that number, half were of the older generation. The Legion Mistress processed this information dispassionately as she reviewed her smaller force, the arms of the dead having been stripped to match the proclivities of those under her command, inasmuch as any of them could be said to have personality. They were of the new imperial breed after all, and all that truly mattered to them was victory.

Standing in formation amidst their own dead, they waited to bring just that. They had been born and bred for this day, if not this mission, and if the thought that so many of them had fallen without having even seen the enemy gave them pause, they did not show it.

Thirty kilometers behind Imperial Siege Lines

While nominal operational command of the Sanctii theater had been entrusted to the Primarch Aeternus, certain concessions to practicality had to be made to coordinate as vast a force as was besieging the city. Especially with the situation having drawn the personal attention of Malcador, and through him, the Emperor. Over a million and a half souls had been dedicated to the effort, and that was only counting combat personnel, which meant that a great mass of humanity needed to be equipped and sustained through the grueling horror of grinding war.

Dwelling within a hastily erected command center well behind the auxilia’s artillery batteries, and protected by puissant void shields of ancient design, the minds that kept the operation functioning - greasing it with blood and rations as the situation dictated - held their court. Sigilites all, it was they who had conveyed the vast treasures of vaults best lost forgotten to this warzone, and it was they who kept a careful watch over the military commanders whom they had reposed such potent forces of destruction in. The Imperium, after all, only needed the one warlord.

“Life-sign losses among the 31-3 are congruent with a thermal exhaust event,” one of the junior scribes reported, having been ordered to determine the root cause of the sudden vanishing of so many so quickly some time ago. “Secondary losses most likely correspond to elimination of non-combat-viable elements.”

The Scribe-Intendant who he was reporting to pursed her lips slightly as she took in the news, her eyes gazing round the collection of robed scholars. “The time table was exact, attrition rates among the 31-3 were projected under the assumption that the majority would pass the flue. Explain.”

“It seems that our calculations of thermal exhaust events were…. Inaccurate. I have taken the liberty of rerunning the numbers, and the original estimate did not take into account the increased power draw prompted by the siege.”

Her lips pursed tighter, vanishing into a single thin line. “The scribe who provided the initial calculations shall be flogged once per instance of relic destroyed by this extreme negligence,” she said flatly before turning her attention to more important matters. “The worst case scenarios had similar attrition rates, based around the possibility that a sizable protection force was waiting in ambush at the flue exit. Presuming that this is not the case, the mission is still viable.”

“I would concur. The current rate of attrition suggests incidental, rather than intentional, opposition.”

“Very well. We will not initiate extirpation protocols yet, and instead hope that the remaining relics are retrievable.”

The surrounding scribes all bowed deeply as they went back to their work, cogitators humming as the mission trackers updated their assumption set. None seemed perturbed by the horrifically low survivor count, reassured by the soothing news that it was likely the majority of such losses would not permanently damage any relic weapons.

Credit: @MarshalSolgriev (Aeternus/God-Slayers/Sanctii), @Lauder (Lady Amalasuntha/Stygian Talons), @grimely (Legio I Astartes/Scribe-Intendant), @BornOnBoard (Colonel Stavin/Thirty-One-Third Penal Legion), @FrostedCaramel (Sanctii/The Administrator)
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Slaughter of Sanctii

End of the Line

Thermal Flue A00034/76B Control Station

“I’m picking up anomalies on ground-pen auspex. Dead zone, sensor burnout it looks like - just outside of the station.” Senior Technician Yuri Oblast said. “Probably nothing, but the high alert status means we need to check it out.”

“I’ll check the exterior and see if it correlates. Might just be a routine reset.” Tech 2 Svenka said, a bubbly young woman with a close-cut bob. She was a hard charger, a real demon when it came to control station work. Yuri counted himself lucky he had such a diligent underling - he never had to worry about gun-decked maintenance with her. A few more years, and he’d put her in for Tech 1 - like him.

Sad as it was, she’d go to her own flue station, and he’d be assigned some other newbie. Oh well. If Sanctii was gonna survive, it needed good people everywhere in the infrastructure.

“Svenks, remember your pistol.” Yuri said, stopping her as she was about to leave.

“Oh, shit, you’re right.” She said, buckling the holster around her chest. The normally bag-like and unflattering boilersuit she wore suddenly became much more feminine and flattering as the leather docker’s clutch holster cinched tight. Yuri looked away, minding his screens. “I’ll be back.”

“Yep. You can warm up your lunch once you’re done.” Yuri said, unaware it would be the last word he ever said to her.


Whitaker waited outside of the flue control station, knife in hand. Caleb had unplugged the ‘spex sensor at the other end of the catwalk. They had no idea what the inside of the flue station looked like, or who guarded it, so the plan was to enter it quietly. Whitaker had suggested luring someone inside the flue station out and using their credentials to get inside without raising any alarms.

Sensing no other, better plan, Colonel Stavin had nodded, and said to get on it. It had been a few, tense, pulse pounding minutes, but Whitaker was sure someone would come out. He flipped the knife in his hand from a forward grip, to an icepick grip. Yep, Whitaker was sure someone would emerge.

The hatch clunked, and began to swing open. Whitaker could hear whistling. He crept, following the hatch as it opened, wanting to be behind whoever emerged. The rest of the 31-3 were interspersed on the surrounding catwalks - the light shining from inside the flue station’s airlocks would easily reveal them. The trick was to get the kill right as the sight of close to one hundred armed gunmen startled them, but before they could potentially alert anything.

The target stepped onto the catwalk, still whistling. Whitaker couldn’t see the target completely - the shadows were harsh, but the tone of the whistle and weight of the steps suggested a woman - small, light. Probably a technician, not a soldier.

She stopped when she saw the gunmen.

“Are you guys the scheduled security patrol? You’re a little e-”

Whitaker swept up to her, punching the knife into the woman’s throat and ripping the blade out, killing her quickly, and quietly. She fell hard onto the deck, face first, one arm outstretched in an angle that would’ve been uncomfortable, had she been alive. In her hand was her mag-lock card. Whitaker swiped it up. He crept into the airlock, and swiped it.

The airlock cycled closed.


Whitaker emerged into the flue station, shotgun clutched in his hands, his radcarbine slung over his back. As fancy as that gun was, with its arecheotech shells and ultra-reliable powered feed mechanism and holo-sight and every doodad under the sun, it wasn’t gonna be the weapon for this job. Screwed to the muzzle of his shotgun was a blocky, rectangular suppressor, which might hopefully give him a few more precious life-saving moments, turning the normally booming report of the weapon into a much harder to identify banging thump - which could be easily mistaken.

He unlocked the airlock, and keyed his microbead vox twice. The go signal. Still, he had the element of surprise - although the plan was to sweep the place inch by inch, he had a feeling he could do a lot of damage on his own. Wanted to do a lot of damage on his own. He was in his element now - a lone killer, penned in a building with the unaware.

He smiled, smile like a knife, and set off.

Yuri turned around when he heard the door to the control room open. The other techs looked up as well.

“You’re back early, Svenks. Did you forget s-”

A soldier stood in the doorway, shotgun held at waist level. Yuri cursed, reaching for his pistol, but the gaunt, lean, enemy soldier killed him with a single shot, painting his brains against the monitors behind him.

The rest of the technicians began to scream.


Whitaker shot each of them as he strode towards the main console, one shot each. As he killed the last tech, a yellow door labeled RESTROOM in Urshic banged open, revealing an unfit man in ill-fitting Sanctii carapace, sweating profusely. He held an adrasite pistol.

“Bastard!” He yelled, shooting. He ran as he fired, sprinting towards the central control console.

Whitaker took one step to the right - unnecessary, as the man’s shot had been far wide - and killed him with a headshot three feet short of the console. All the monitors, then, changed from green to a malevolent red.

Whitaker racked his shotgun, and peered up at the screens.


Whitaker cursed, then turned around as the rest of the 31-3 began to file in behind him. Colonel Stavin nodded to him as he approached, his pistol in hand, and looked up at the screens.

“You did good work, Sergeant. We’re in.” Stavin said.

Whitaker shrugged. “Sorry sir, I dunno what set the alert off.”

Stavin tapped his head. “Neural link. Is that guy a Sanctii soldier? In the armor?”

Whitaker shrugged again. “I guess. Sir.”

“Then Deep Winter chipped him. His flatline caused an automated alert signal. She must’ve correlated his death in this location as a continuing event from when she found us in the catacombs.”

Whitaker considered that. “It’s a she now, is it sir?”

Stavin smiled. “Only a woman could be this much of a bitch, Sergeant, trust me.”


The 31-3 took up defensive positions in the control room, with all the hatches leading outside opened. Their sight lines were long, and there were no ways to surprise the soldiers of the Damned if Deep Winter decided to attack.

There was no doubt she would - it was merely when.

Severina typed at the central console, aided by a sullen trooper who had had previous cogitator experience. Colonel Stavin overlooked both their efforts, staring up at the screens, which pulsed red.

“No good, Colonel.” Severina said. “Winter’s got the cogi system locked up tight. We’re even trying backdoors manufacturers put in the cogitators themselves, but she’s holding on tight.”

Stavin sighed, pinching his nose. He was afraid of this. The only way out of the flue station was a long laddered tube going up to the surface. If they couldn’t actually get the flues to shut and overload, they could destroy the station with melta charges, but that was risky. The flues would lose their switching, which might cause catastrophic damage, but there would be no way to tell when they closed. If they remained open when the station blew, then that would prove disastrous to the system as the snow and ice outside blew into the tubes, obstructing them… in fifteen years or so.

He cursed. The soldier aiding Severine pushed up a very scratched pair of glasses. Stavin peered at the soldier’s nametag. Grebbin.

“Trooper Grebbin, how exactly is Deep Winter connected to this system?” Stavin asked.

Grebbin shrugged. “We’re getting into pure speculation sir. I’m not an AI guy.”

“I don’t think anyone is.” Severina said, “Answer the question, Trooper.”

“Well…” Grebbin said, “...it can’t violate the laws of physics, at least. If it’s connected to this system, there’s only two ways it could be. Either wirelessly, through some kind of wireless access protocol, or it’s hardwired in. Or both, no denying that, but an AI is presumably a… digital thing. It can only use digital means of propagating itself.”

“So which is it? Wired or wireless?” Stavin asked.

Grebbin made a humming noise. “Probably wireless. The kind of wiring that could handle the data load of an AI without packet loss would probably be huge, and I don’t see anything like that here.”

“But how? We don’t have vox, so how is she maintaining connection down here?” Stavin asked. It was a mystery, especially how she managed to control security measures like the drone swarms outside in the catacombs.

“Sir, I have no idea. I’m not an AI guy.” Grebbin said, and turned back to his work.

Stavin looked, idly, around the control room. They hadn’t moved the bodies yet - except for the senior tech who had still been in his seat when Whitaker had killed him. The security officer, whose death had presumably set the alert off when his neural implant flatlined, lay sprawled where he had died, his adrasite pistol and charge cells already stolen. He blinked. His entire assault force had not had vox access to the surface since this attack had started. How did a neural implant have the signal to broadcast to the surface?

He looked above the dead officer. Above him, was the access ladder tube. Stavin stood under it. Suddenly, like magic, his microbead began to chatter in his ear. He stood back, and the chatter stopped. He began to climb up the ladder. As he climbed, he could hear more and more clearly. He recognized Aeternus’s voice, and the harsh tones of the Black Hawk - the custodian who had nearly done what the rest of the Imperials could not.

Of course - of course the reception would be better when there was a hole cut directly to the surface. He cursed for not thinking of it sooner. Holes dug in to the surface allowed Deep Winter to propagate herself into the deep bedrock of the city. The drones themselves probably also had a signal repeater function - wherever they went, her presence went with them, boosted and repeated so she was just as strong down here as up there.

“Clever girl.” Stavin said. “Clever fuckin’ girl…”

He looked down at the troopers milling around. “Someone get me a vox!”


Soon, Stavin was setting a backpack vox down below the access tube. They had jury-rigged the thing into a multispectral jammer, with the aid of surly Grebbin, who had assured the Colonel it was setup to block any frequencies used to connect cogitators wirelessly. Severina had been worried that such a device might also block the signals used to detonate the discipline collars, but Stavin cut her off.

“You think anyone here’s gonna try and run?” He said, “We’re dead if we get split up. Deep Winter isn’t taking prisoners, and you know it.”

She had looked more angry at him than ever before, but she quickly swallowed it, nodding. She knew that the only thing that mattered was this mission succeeding. So be it if she was to be torn apart by her charges - as long as the city fell. Only in death, did duty end.

Stavin switched the vox on. The set flickered to life, and began to boom out the loudest music he had ever heard - thrash music, selected as the signal that would be propagated to jam the AI. The carrier of the jamming signal didn’t matter, of course, just the power from the frequency booster, but the soldiers thought it would be funny if an all-powerful AI could be potentially thwarted by heavy metal.


Severina massaged her temples, bathed in red light of the monitors before her. Her frustration was mounting. Stavin was exhibiting too much independence. He was being too clever. She was worried his authority was beginning to supercede her own. How could she let him overrule her just like that? His point was valid, but the casual ease in which he gave the orders…

She felt marginalized. She felt she was being unfairly treated. And worst of all, she knew it was stupid to let it affect her. He was right. The collars didn’t matter. She just didn’t trust that the soldiers of the Damned would do their duty, even in the face of overwhelming death from Deep Winter’s security system. They weren’t Imperial. They’d never be Imperial, even if they were pardoned. They were just tr-

“Ma’am!” Grebbin, the odious little technician shouted. “Ma’am! We got access!”

Her head shot up, her insecurities forgotten. She felt alive again as she hammered the keyboard to the console, inputting the commands the Sigilite’s staff had had her memorize. The screen was a cool green now, all hints of Deep Winter’s lockdown forgotten. She worked quickly, knowing Stavin’s jury-rigged vox only had about an hour or so of power at its current output. They could, of course, swap batteries if it ran out, but it would only take seconds for Deep Winter to reverse their progress.

Five minutes to input the command string. 45 minutes for the flue to shut down. Five minutes for the system’s thermal sinks to become overwhelmed.

Outside the flue control station, death came. Hundreds of individual grav-speeder bikes, each carrying two power-armored, genehanced soldiers of Sanctii’s elite internal security division, shot through the catacombs underneath the city. The leader, a colonel named Hartz, was a rough man, a veteran of many actions, open and clandestine, on the behalf of the Sanctii state, before and after Deep Winter had effectively taken the city over.

His unit answered directly to her. Anti-AI sentiment in the hive was strong, and anyone outside of Winter’s influence who learned too much - they disappeared. Sometimes they put up a fight, sometimes they didn’t. Those people were fools - incapable of understanding the beauty of Winter’s dreams. Throughout his service, he had killed thousands. Soldiers, politicians, criminals, conspiracy theorists. The target didn’t matter.

He had pleaded with Winter, begged her, begged her stupid council of shortsighted human puppets to guard the flues more seriously. They had scoffed at him. No one could be insane enough to attack through such a heavily taxed thermal flue system. They’d be obliterated. It was inhuman to even think such a thing.

He snarled behind the carapace of his armored helmet. Using thought haptics, he undid the safety on his gauntlet-mounted plasma rifle. The dogs of the Emperor were anything but human. The butcher had proven himself to be a callous steward of humanity - throwing them to their deaths in countless actions, all in the name of their blasted ‘Unity.’ He snorted.

Unity. Like that’d ever be possible. Now however, he was vindicated. They had done exactly as he predicted. There would be two assaults - a frontal one, led by him, to distract the defenders. A squad would then drop into the control center through the surface access tube to slaughter them while they fought off the distraction attack. He would almost certainly die in the frontal attack, but Hartz knew Winter would upload his mind into the noospheric cloud. She had done it before, after all.

Now, Hartz only hoped he wasn’t too late to save his beloved city. Winter’s dream could not end here.


“There we go.” Grebbin said, as the shutdown sequence began. Cameras outside the flue gave a grainy picture of the massive shutters closing all along the flue line.

Severina sighed in relief. She bent down in her chair to retrieve her cap.

“Good work Trooper. Get back into battle fo-” She stopped speaking as a plasma bolt whipped into the control center, passing over her back and obliterating Grebbin in a shower of steaming gore.

“Taking fire!” Someone roared - it sounded like that psychopath Whitaker. Severina threw herself flat, scrabbling at her holster to draw her bolt pistol. Outside the command center, on the catwalks leading out of the airlocks, figures in night-black powered armor advanced, firing all manners of death from gauntlet mounted weapons. Deep Winter was fighting back - and it had sent her best.

The Damned responded, opening up with every gun they had. Isotope-slugs and lightning arcs shot out of every access door into their attackers, reaping a vicious toll on the armored soldiers. Severina added her pistol to the weight of fire. The soldier who had been firing bolts of roiling hot plasma crumpled as he was ventilated, but more replaced him, kneeling, their fellows firing over their heads, battering the front of the control center with weapons of incredible power.

They were making lots of noise and destruction, but the casualties they were causing were limited. They weren’t getting close enough to throw grenades, and the Damned had the better cover, and weapons just as deadly. The catwalks outside became a killing ground, the dead stacking higher and higher.

Severina stooped behind a console to reload her bolt pistol. Stavin was next to her, doing the same with a plasma pistol.

“Discipline Mistress.” Stavin shouted.

“Colonel.” She replied, coldly.

“Hey now, listen.” Stavin said, “You’re not still mad about the collar thing, are you?”

She didn’t bother dignifying that with a response. She glanced above the consoles, which were being hammered with fire, then looked behind her. Her eyes widened as, below the access tube, there was an enemy soldier, in night black powered armor, standing there that hadn’t been there before. The Damned behind her had all been killed, and it was then she knew these men were the dangerous ones.

“Behind!” She shouted, before Stavin yanked her to the floor. Plasma bolts boiled the air where her head had been. She cursed. She screamed.

She had had enough. She ripped her power sword from its scabbard, and screaming a feral, warrior-queen’s scream, charged the power armored soldiers who were still spilling from the access tube.

Despite their size, despite their strength, despite having the drop on the Damned, it was clear they hadn’t expected a counter-attack, let alone with a sword of all things. The first soldier was not cut, but ripped open, spilling steaming guts and sectioned armor to the floor. She screamed again, hacking at the next one, the energy sheathed blade severing an arm at the elbow. Another vicious cut, and she took the man’s head.

A third one was still on the ladder. She pierced this one, her blade punching through ceramite, bone, and organ, pulling the blade out as the soldier fell dead into the control room.

Stavin ran up, his plasma pistol in hand. He fired up into the access tube, the bolts of plasma striking power armored bodies and cutting through them mercilessly. He fired until the pistol threatened to melt from the heat, stopping only when the warning rune on the side began to flash red and beep loudly.

It was with this little victory that the assault on the control room seemed to wither away. Warning klaxons began to sound. The heat sinks were beginning to fail.

Stavin and Severina, two people separated by politics outside either of their control, nodded to one another. It was time to go.

“All 31-3 units remaining, time to bug out. Up the access tube. We don’t wanna be here when this place goes nova.” Stavin said into his microbead. They began their exodus, fifty souls strung out on a section of metal ladder.


On the catwalks outside, Hartz lay dying amongst the shattered remains of his men. They had been better armed than he could imagine. Radcarbines and arc rifles. Insane. Profane tech. Deep Winter had long forbidden the manufacture of either, due to the danger inherent in both weapons to the delicate systems that made up her network.

They had used them without a care, expending more of that forbidden ammunition than Hartz could have anticipated. And where was Winter’s guidance? She had been quiet since the assault, her whispers no longer caressing his mind. Where did she go? He had been her loyal servant, her soldier, her protector of her dream. Why was she not with him as his body died?

He began to crawl, over his men, over the dead of the enemy, blood in his mouth, his legs not working, his arms straining with effort. The heat sinks had failed. The station was lost, and catastrophic overheat was imminent. How? How had the Imperials silenced Winter’s voice? He had to figure it out before he died, or his mind wouldn’t be uploaded to the noospheric cloud. He would die the dreaded Real Death.

He found his answer minutes later. A crude vox-caster, jury-rigged into a jammer, blasting music that had been entirely drowned out by the raucous firefight. His vision began to black out. He gritted his teeth, trying to fight his failing systems, reaching out to the vox, hands wavering, fingers shaking. He had to turn it off. Had to hear Winter’s voice…

He died, his hand on the switch. He didn’t have the strength, in the end. In his last thoughts, ones that wouldn’t be recorded by Winter’s central stack, he wondered if Sanctii would die the same way - alone, and afraid, shivering in the dark that would engulf them.

Seconds later, he was engulfed in fire.

The Damned had crawled into hell, and accomplished their mission.

The primarch roared out in pain as another shot from a magnet slug slammed into his blackened armor, throwing him backwards several centimeters from his position on the wall. His powerpack met the back of another thunder warrior that bitterly fought for survival behind him. The refractor field had overloaded by then, unable to withstand the heinous volley of horrific weapons from the Old Night. He raised his left arm, venting return fire in the form of explosive-incendiary bullets. A handful of rounds flew from the mouth of the weapon, yet the weapon clicked and whined for more ammunition. A resource that he had none of. Another genewarrior fell in front of him, slain by an adrastite stubber that carved through their ceramite in seconds. Aeternus realized that the warrior had died moments before, their body refusing to falter until eviscerated. It gave him enough time to raise Apocrypha to shield his body. To either side of him, the God-Slayers encircled their defensive position on the wall while Sanctiian sentinels swarmed their foothold.

Time slowed for Aeternus. He felt something beckon him in that moment as his warriors fell one by one. Death. The words of Malcador the Sigilite echoed in his mind with every sluggish second that passed. It became clear to him at that moment, the sheer madness of the assault without any support. Sanctii was meant to be the end of the God-Slayers. The thought filled his veins with dreaded rage, enough to rival even Nero in his berserked state. He wanted to rush forward of his brethren, cleave into the enemy with reckless abandon and secure their survival. Rex longed to give himself to a rampage that bubbled at the bottom of his being. The thought, as if translated into real form, was felt across his warriors as Caligula planted a gauntlet on his pauldron. The primarch needed no words from his age old friend, a calming serenity beginning to return Aeternus to reality.

A phantom on golden wings appeared near their section of the wall, the Custodian dropship screaming missiles and diamantine-tipped bullets across the ramparts in controlled bursts. The Sanctiian protectors, previously confident in their annihilation of the thunder warriors, attempted to retreat from their section of the wall. They would fail as the gilded craft cut through personal shield and nanocomposite powered armor alike, gifting the trapped genewarriors enough time to begin their tactical withdraw in full-swing. The God-Slayers wasted no time, swinging themselves off of the wall with grappling gear or using one of the protector’s cadavers as a cushion for their fall.

A toothy smile grew on Aeternus’ scarred features. Amalasuntha. There was no doubt in his mind that she had turned her attention to their assault. A guardian on golden wings, he vowed to never forget the aid gifted to him. Apocrypha was quickly maglocked to the back of his armor, both of his blackened gauntlets picking up a pair of protectors for cushions. He leapt with all of his genewrought might from the battered walls of Sanctii, hefting the perfected defenders into position for his plummet. Caligula followed behind him, roaring through the air in every language that he managed to master. Both landed some meters away from their initial ascent, crunching auxilia corpses and broken drones beneath their fallen forms.

“I didn’t think that Amalasuntha would be watching us so closely! We’ll have to thank her later, perhaps with gifts we can salvage from Sanctii!” The first cadre captain joked, groaning as he rose to his full height. Aeternus pulled one of his fists free from the shattered remains of the cadavers he’d used as cushions. A look back at the wall confirmed most of his surviving thunder warriors had managed to escape the carnage on the wall. A few laid shattered in the snow from their descent, pierced by the remains of broken vehicles or jagged defenses. Each death felt more painful than before with the thoughts he kept locked within.

“Agreed. There is no more time to waste, though, the wall assault has failed.” Aeternus replied, hefting Apocrypha from his back to protect against newly resurging reinforcements atop the battlements. Another wave of red-garbed auxilia arrived behind him, their fearful forms unleashing lasfire in uncontrolled amounts into the replenished garrisons. The primarch gestured with one hand to several of his God-Slayers, who began to rally towards his position and join the sprint back towards the reserve lines.

Now free of the burden atop the walls, Aeternus turned his attention to the vox traffic from within his helmet mid-sprint. His call for retreat had been heard, answered, and enacted in several zones across the battlefield; however, some of the divisions had received the order for retreat in a delayed fashion. Those battalions, such as the one he now passed, continued to assault the Sanctiian defenses with suicidal confidence. The saboteurs on the wall, such as the third cadre and Tiberius, had managed to succeed before retreating from their positions. A substantial amount of the orb-emitting bombardment cannons had been silenced, turrets destroyed, and drone-transmitters annihilated. Only the Sanctiian genewarriors remained to fight back with large pockets of drones, yet even then their assault had faltered due to the voidshields.

+’This is Primarch Aeternus of the First Legio Cataegis, all forces are to adhere to the call for tactical withdraw and begin second phase operation. Overlord, give me a status on the Penal Legion immediately.’+ Aeternus' voice broke through the vox as he sprinted closer and closer to the reserve line with his cadre. Already, the primarch could make out the shapes of his Destroyers being tended to by the assigned support personnel. In the distance, he further spied the statuesque forms of the Astartes amidst their sentinel duties. He felt anger begin to bubble once more as they stood in the snow with the very colors of his brethren. Wordlessly, he began to close the distance between himself and the newly formed Astartes. The God-Slayers watched in confusion as their Primarch broke away from the reserve line towards the emotionless genewarriors.

“Legion Mistress Vairya Kurus. I demand an explanation for your cowar-” Aeternus began to scream, unconsciously activating the vox as he began to trudge towards their number. His voice was abruptly cut as the battlefield began to shift, buckling from deep below the crust in a calamatous shake. The primarch turned away from the First Astartes to the city of Sanctii.

The human mind is fragile. Millions of delicate organic pathways handled disturbingly intricate electric impulses in just milliseconds. Decisions were made quickly, and the human brain congratulated itself, flooding the system with chemical endorphins and stimulating feelings to ensure the flesh it controlled knew that its decisions were correct, knew that in the future faced with similar problems this path was the one to travel. But, during extreme duress, decisions were made before the human brain could rightly tell itself what it had even decided on. These impulses, fueled by survival and stoked on by floods of adrenal hormones that the brain released before it realized, were among some of the fastest actions and decisions the brain could make. For when one removed the need to understand the decision before it is undertaken, the obtuse comprehension methods of the human mind no longer hampered the brain's decisions.

Had a human, with a delicate ball of tissue locked inside a protective cranium, been in charge of the defense of Sanctii, the brain would have failed. Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of decisions that need to be made every nanosecond, it would have given up, unable to keep pace with the speed necessary to defend the millions of lives at stake as the false Emperor’s forces threw themselves headlong at her walls. But, a fragile human mind was not in control.

Deep within the core of the hive structure, beyond redundant layers of security, and nestled in a cocoon filled with light blue liquid, the crystal core of Deep Winter worked to save her city.

The small amount of processing power that she had set aside to entertain herself while musing on the delicate state of the human mind was reallocated faster than any human mind could ever wish to process information the moment that she noticed a single-degree rise within Sanctii’s inner cooling loop. She gave this small piece of her processing power over to this new anomaly, while the vast bulk of her processes remained fixated on the void shield and the defenses along the curtain wall. This piece of her consciousness quested through electrical pathways and over invisible wavelengths through the bowels of the city.

She noted, worryingly even for an unfeeling feat of mechanical engineering such as herself, she still felt the interference from earlier. That pesky signal carried on a band of music she had categorized as “Thrash Metal” which in itself was a subcategory of “Heavy Metal” to which she could not understand the appeal of, was still present. And more worrying than that was the absence of any connection she had to the Internal Security troops she had sent to retake the control station. This lack of connection to her Sentinels, coupled with the interference where there should have now been a strong connection were her forces successful, led her to reallocate a cogitator bank to this new problem. In the blink of an eye, she categorized the security forces actions as a failure, overlaid the location of the missing troops to a new internal cogitator bank and, correctly, presumed that flue station A00034/76B was still compromised.

She vectored three separate swarms of maintenance drones to the control station with a simple thought, rerouted twenty different Sentinel patrols from adjacent hive levels, and sent a priority alert to a regiment of genehanced brute warriors that had been doing exceptionally well protecting the walls versus the armory that the self-proclaimed Emperor had equipped his fodder with.

She received affirmative responses from the drones within the millisecond, their machine brains accepting the order and rerouting their patrol path and urgency in the same breadth. Her Sentinel regiment took longer. Twelve and a half seconds in total elapsed before a long and drawn-out vox transmission affirmed the order.


The first hint of the coming disaster registered in Deep Winter’s core nine minutes and thirty-seven seconds after she had dispatched the new forces to flue station A00034/76B. A ten-fold increase in pressure behind the flue blast doors as the hive system began the venting process. Well within parameters for the door integrity, but worrying enough to cause a number of secondary exhaust valves to be released to bring the pressure down. She noted, happily, that the pressure began to fall back into normal ranges only six seconds after the release valves were triggered. The bones of Sanctii were old, laid down before Winter herself had found her way to this haven, but they weren’t constructed by simpletons.

Winter, or this small fragment of her, was content with the new numbers reading across her consciousness. She continued to track the pressure along the exhaust flue, noting increases and triggerings of new release valves nearly constantly. But she remained happy with the work of her predecessors as the pressure continually faded while the safety features performed admirably.


“Get me an override control, now!” Lieutenant Kovalenko bellowed to the control staff as a trio of distant Imperial super heavies battered the emplaced guns of the curtain walls. Explosions ripped through twelve different heavy batteries, incinerating gun crews and mangling ancient weaponry alike before an exasperated technician in the control room finally called back to their commander.

“Override input, but sir, Deep Winter is attempting to circumvent. She commands us not to fire sir!”

“Disregard her, take out those super heavies! Now!”

Set back behind the curtain walls, a row of six railguns, until now unpowered, hummed to life. Crackling energy rolled along the launch rails, massive servos spun to power and the guns
began to turn on their mounts. All the while the six guns drew immeasurable amounts of power from the Sanctii grid as they charged to full.

Deep Winter protested. She railed against the override, something she had agreed to put in place to win the trust of her peons. She watched as two full batteries of railguns ate power from her grid viciously. She sent desperate pleas to the control room that had input the override. She rerouted an Internal Security force to slaughter the technicians and cease the firing. She noted five more override inputs along the wall, all to stop the suicidal approach of the Imperials even as so many others retreated. She could not undo what was now set in motion. She was far too late.

Within the bowels of Sanctii, among well-lit reactor halls and technicians dressed in clean suits, the turbines that converted the raw energy of the city's reactors began to wail. They span faster and faster. Gauges ticked higher and higher into redlines. Technicians rushed to disconnect powerlines, trigger emergency shutdowns, and divert power to undersupplied turbines. But the human mind was only so quick. By the time that the technicians rushed into action, automatic systems were beginning to kick on.

Sanctii’s automatic systems, themselves put in place to lessen the load on Deep Winter herself took over. The reactor halls rose to full power as the turbines failed to deliver the requested power to the curtain wall’s defenders. Diligently, the cogitator banks gave what was requested of them as human technicians rushed to disconnect the unthinking computers from their delicate reactors.

Along the turbine halls, even under such extreme draw as the siege had put the grid under, backup turbines hummed to life. Overhead lights, aseptic and bright flared as massive amounts of power were surged into Sanctii’s systems to feed the requests from the wall. The chain of catastrophe was complete.


The city lights went first. Ratcheting up in brightness until every light within the city was burning white hot. They were followed quickly by the void shield. Up until now, it had been an invisible barrier against the relentless battering of the Imperials, but now as power surged into its systems the shield became visible. A purple aura appeared around the city, rising steadily in brightness until it was nearly impossible to look upon. Deep Winter cried out against the constraints placed upon her by the human chaff of Sanctii.

The exhaust system vented. The bones of Sanctii were old, and they would not hold.

Flue gate A00034/76B, shut by the actions of a desperate group of the damned, spat the exhaust back down the ventilation system to the cooling stations. Pipes burst, exhaust vents gave way. The curtain wall above flue station A00034/76B, ceased to exist.


“The void shields appear to be overloading,” a junior scribe reported from their station, “Energy levels are dangerously flaring, predicted overload withi---”

A tremendous shockwave buffeted the command tent of the Sigilites. Scribes lost their footing as they crossed the floor. Cogitator banks toppled over. Tables of papers and dataslates collapsed. The interior of the tent, up until this point sparsely lit, was ablaze with light as intense as the summer sun. The sound came last. A deafening rumble of thunder that went on for an eternity.

“Report,” the Scribe-Intendant demanded as the thunder rolled off into the distance.

“The curtain wall in section designate B-13 is breached,” the scribe’s hands danced over her station, “Probable exhaust event. The void shield is down. Sanctii appears without power.”

“Signal the First, the way is open,” the Scribe-Intendant directed stoically, “And confirm Primarch Aeternus is still alive, get the Thunder Warriors moving, immediately.”
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The Second Council of the 8th Legion : An Abnormal Issue

The first proper 'meeting' of the leadership of the 8th legion took place within the confines of their barracks. The rest of the legion were being put through various drills and training exercises in order to try and foster a sense of unity and teamwork within the legion itself and it provided a rare opportunity for a relatively private discussion to take place.

Nine individuals had created something of a makeshift nonagon out of footlockers, foregoing the search for furniture that could actually hold their new found bulk in the process. Each wore a loin cloth, for none of them had yet to be granted anything even close to fitting 'civilian' attire... and it provided an unspoken sense of security. None of them had anything to hide and their seating ensured that all members could see the others easily enough. Old habits died hard after all.

The leader of this meeting, the Legion Master Pho Scraphurst, sat at the 'head' of the nonagon. Compared to his newfound brothers, Pho was a little bit shorter then the average and seemed to have originally been of a narrower frame of body that transferred over with the ascension. His footlocker seat was groaning a bit more then those of his peers whenever he shifted or moved, even as he looked over his subordinates with somewhat small brown eyes. His light brown skin showed the signs of heavy modification and scarring that all of them shared, through if it was from the process that turned them into super solders or before then was unclear. While shaved of his hair, blond hair was slowly growing back.

Going clockwise sat second in command Gallianus Vaarars. Also light brown in skin tone, the hair that was starting to grow on his head was a reddish coloration instead. Somewhat narrow in body himself, Gallianus was a bit taller then the average member of the legion and seemed to have a weight that properly matched his height. Small green eyes gazed out at the group, but whenever it turned towards Pho they seemed to narrow slightly.

Next was Catiel Ulstrecht. Shorter then the legion master, Catiel likewise seemed to share the burden of additional weight that filled out a more average build of body. Pale skinned with large grey eyes, what little of Catiel's hair that had started to regrow was a graying blond.

Roccex Al-Sharqawa was also on the taller side of the scale, through he seemed to be somewhat lighter on his feet then most. His skin was a medium brown which made his large green eyes stand out all the more. Auburn hair was starting to regrow on his head.

Jzzist Al-Allal was one of the shortest of those gathered, seemingly tied with only one other. Despite this, he was fairly muscular and board shouldered. Pale skinned with graying platinum blond hair, his average sized brown eyes tended to focus on one member of the circle more then others.

Valok Lichtenvind's light brown skin actually stood out among his peers in that the possible damage that had been done to it prior to the genetic modifications was somewhat different in nature. As the only member of the leadership circle that came from the nomad tribes rather then the hive gangs, this made a degree of sense. Quite muscular himself, Valok was closer to the average in both height and build. Small grey eyes looked out under regrowing greying golden-blond hair.

Giselwin Josch was the other contender for shortest of the group, broad shouldered and a bit pudgy. His grey hair was growing back a bit faster then the others, making his the 'longest' in the legion at the moment. Light brown in skin color, his average sized dark brown eyes focused on Jzzist more often then not... and whenever it did, muttering under his breath would start.

Elias Loffenbjorn was one of the tallest of the group... the fact that he was sitting next to one of the shortest only made him seem taller. Narrow and quite thin by marine standards, his pale skin makes both his brown hair and small, dark brown eyes stand out all the more.

Qvoro Muckstead rivaled Elias in height, and being next to the somewhat shorter Pho also had the ability to make him appear somewhat taller then he actually was... through not to the same extent as Giselwin and Elias. Narrow shouldered but fairly muscular, sitting next to Elias made Qvoro's very dark brown skin seem all the darker. Somewhat small hazel eyes looked around as brown hair was regrowing on his head.

With a sudden slamming of his foot against the ground, Legion Master Scraphurst brought all attention to him and brought a sudden end to the mutter in the background. Waiting until he was sure he had everyone's eyes on him, Pho finely started speaking in a calm, confident tone of voice. "Since time is a factor before the exercises reach a point where we are needed to personally be present, we shall skip the pleasantries and get to the heart of the matter. I have been approached by several parties, some of whom are in this room, in regards to issues with our auxiliary forces. The issues and goals of these parties are contradictory."

"Clearly a decision needs to be made on the matter and I am the one to make it..." He paused for a moment to bask before he continued sharply afterwards "However, I will not be known as a man who makes uninformed, reckless decisions. Since each of you represent your respective parts of the legion and know those who make up your hundred or so marines better on an individual level then I do, I am going to let you make the case that you believe best captures the spirit of your piece of the legion and we shall humbly strive to come to the best answer possible for us as a whole."

"Let us start with the more popular issue of the day. A number of our former gang members were not suitable for induction into the legions, be it our own or those dedicated to female marines and thus joined our auxiliary forces instead. This has been quite a divisive issue, since I have heard demands ranging from treating them with greater respect to purging them all from our ranks completely. The floor is now open to any who wishes to speak."

For a couple of seconds there was a chaotic mess of noise as several people tried to talk at once. It grew slightly less so as some of them realized that others were trying to talk at the same time and opted to wait rather then waste their breath. It feel silent completely when the foot came down and the stamp was loud enough to make everyone shut up. Pho for his part looked around at everyone present before pointing towards Roccex and saying "You first."

Offering a small nod as he rose to his feet, Roccex looked at his peers with a judgemental eye before spitting "Why is this even a matter of discussion? They are inhuman abominations that are a plague on this world. An insult to humanity by their mere existence, all they do is wallow in their own filth when they're not raiding and pillaging their betters or raping human women. The fact that there are those among our ranks that seem to tolerate these vile things is disgusting, but once they've been cleared out and some proper human auxiliaries replace them I can guarantee you'll never entertain this madness again."

The uproar that followed was somewhat loud, with individual words or statements lost to the chaos. However, with a gesture from Pho Reccex retook his seat before the legion master turned towards Qvoro and gestured for him to stand up and be heard.

Qvoro waited until there was silence before he started to speak. "This is a matter of discussion because if we let you have your way, you would have done something stupid without thinking about it Reccex." As the uproar threatened to start up again, not the least of which was Reccex raising to his feet again, Pho's foot stamped the ground again to cut it off and demand silence.

"If you can't show enough respect to your brothers in arms to be civil, you will be excused from this council and ordered to fight each other until all bad blood has been shed and the matter settled for good. Am I understood?!" Pho growled, daring anyone to object.

As ruffled feathers started to settle, Qvoro made the point of saying "Forgive me Legion Master. I will stay on point." With a gesture from Pho to continue, Qvoro refocused on his peers. "Mutants, abhumans... whatever you call them, all of them are treated poorly and often reviled by... well, everyone really. They can't even find peace among their own numbers since they generally get forced into the worst conditions, doing the most dangerous types of work and having to fight each other to survive."

While one might think that such words would come with empathy, Qvoro's tone was that of a man stating a fact. "Someone has to do those jobs and be crushed underfoot, but this provides us with an opportunity. When you treat these people with kindness, respect and even loyalty, they will zealously dedicate themselves to you and your cause with a determination that you just can't train into people easily. Yes we might have to train them a bit to give them better discipline and weapon skills, but in return we would get auxiliaries that will succeed at whatever task they are given or die trying because who else would treat them with even half the kindness and respect we could?"

Before Qvoro could be possibly answered, Catiel actually stood up and asked both Qvoro and the legion master "If I may add some more to Qvoro's argument?" After Qvoro respectfully nodded his head in consent to Catiel taking the floor and Pho acknowledged the change in speaker, Catiel continued "Qvoro is correct in his assessment, but I believe the situation would actually be more beneficial then he realizes. Most nations hate those who deviate from baseline humanity, the Imperium included. Having a reputation for a positive relationship with the mutant and the abhuman means that they would naturally flock to us since we can provide basic things like food and respect that others won't. Not only would we have a near endless reserve for our auxiliary forces, but we would be in a position to claim the cream of the mutant crop."

"Since the other legions and military forces see mutants as little more then fodder at best, most of them will come to us directly and other imperial forces likely won't care. It would even make it quite easy to sway mutants and abhumans of other nations to work with or join us, since I don't think there is anywhere that humans hold dominion where they are not treated like shit. Spy networks, sabotage, opening hidden entrances into enemy hives... the possibilities are incredible."

"Not to mention..." Elias began, not asking for permission to speak up to the mild annoyance of Catiel "Mutants, Abhumans... a lot of them are better at some things then baseline humans. More hardy, faster, stronger... more arms for faster reloading. Perfect for specialized roles. And if they just so happen to be one of the useless fucks who is worse then a baseline human... well, we'll word it differently but we could still make use of cannon fodder. Give them some basic training and equipment at mine disarming and when we order 'em to clear a minefield, they'll do it one way or the other."

There was a mild, dark chuckle that went around several points of the nonagon. Some didn't find the joke funny, but not many.

Since there seemed to be a relaxation among who was allowed to talk, Valok spoke up next. "While I can... appreciate some of the possible benefits discussed, they are rather dependent on if the abhuman and mutant... well, can be trained. Many of them are little better then wild animals in both actions and mind. Something that could be herded and driven towards an enemy position to be sure, but discipline? The only military action they could be trusted to understand is to charge and try and kill the enemy... and even then they are likely to forget whose side they are fighting for once the blood starts flowing."

"There is a time and a place for such near mindless violence." Jzzist pointed out. "Not every battle of course, but enough that we have use of such a dedicated fighting force... and enough of a consistant cull to prevent it from growing to large."

"All I'm saying-" Valok butted back in with a small bit of heat in their voice "-is that we might be better served by a more human fighting force. Still able to channel the dark and the bloody, but also able to be trusted with more advanced operations."

"Well of course Jzzist wants a mindless tide of carnage and beasts." Giselwin muttered as he glared at his once rival. "Do you also want to fill the auxiliary with your damned witches? Bind the spirits of the dead to march upon the living?"

"Well maybe-" Jzzist sniped back with a smile on his face "-if you had bothered to hire some witches of your own before you attempt to march on my domain, you wouldn't be so afraid of the dark, Giselwin."


The THUMP of a fist slamming down into a metal locker was loud enough that all noise in its wake as Pho rose his fist out of the dent he had made. "Jzzist, Giselwin, get out! We'll deal with you both later. Gallianus, make sure they rejoin the training exercises without killing each other on the way."

Any protest or rebuttable never came in the aftermath of Pho's roar. Gallianus glared at the legion master, but after a few moments he answered with a somewhat sulky and sarcastic "Yes sir". Without a word, Jzzist and Giselwin both rose and slowly made their ways towards the door, with Gallianus following them to make sure that they actually left and that blood wasn't spilled between them yet.

The barracks was silent until after the door was closed and all three men were gone. Then Pho spoke up again. "Having listened to all of your counsel, I have made a decision. For the foreseeable future we will not only welcome those who are not baseline human into our auxiliary forces, but will treat them with the same degree of respect and investment that we would if taking in human solders. If the benefits that are believed to be possible from the arrangement manifest then we will continue. If not... we will revisit the matter at a latter date."

Turning his head slightly more towards Roccex and Valok, Pho finished "I want this message to be understood by all members of the legion. I do not expect or order anyone in the legion to be friendly with our auxiliary forces. But I expect you all to be professional enough to be civil and respectful when they are encountered and otherwise leave them be. Any legionary that fails that basic level of self control will be punished for it. Take comfort in the fact that you will almost certainly outlive our mutant and abhuman auxiliaries by a long shot."

Watching to make sure that the message was understood, Pho rose to his feet. "Now then, since that matter is settled... onto the next."
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Hidden 8 mos ago 8 mos ago Post by MarshalSolgriev
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MarshalSolgriev Lord Ascendant of Bethesus

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The Bronze Scorpions

The Siege of Nabatae

Yasif watched the dark sands of his homeland from atop the bronze perch overlooking the bastion he called home. To his eyes the sands stretched on perpetually for miles that not even he, or perhaps even the masters, could count. Dunes as tall as hab-blocks, jagged rocks as jaded as fabricatum metal, and sandstorms as wicked as the hive’s boiling sewage filled the vast emptiness of the wastes. The harsh clap of thunder drew his attention to the cloud-clotted sky as darkness descended. Short shrieks of lightning momentarily brightened the landscape around his home, while small breaks in the clouds allowed Luna to drown the wastes in alabaster light. He cursed in his native tongue, damned to suffer another storm on one of his shifts compared to his counterparts. His attention swiveled away from the bleak badlands to the rising monoliths of the bastion-hive.

Great structures akin to gargantuan monoliths of bronze loomed overhead Yasif’s domed guard tower. Unlike other hive-cities that he had heard about, Nabatae was a bastion of metal refinery and nocturnal worship. Only once in a season did all of the hab-blocks allow their lights to illuminate the dark sands of the wasteland. Although he was educated, Yasif wondered if their eternal penumbra was the reason why they were never invaded by those outside of the wastes. He then wagered that if it wasn’t for concealment, then perhaps it was because of their leviathan wall that stretched across the hive. A smile grew on his lips beneath the carapace helmet, knowing that it was nigh impossible that one would assault their home so far into the wastes.

The sound of muffled footsteps began to echo from the stairwell behind him, muted only by the crash of lightning above his post. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion, a chronometer displaying the present Terran time within his helmet. Approximately twenty-three minutes before shift change. Yasif quickly claimed his chainglaive, wielding it expertly in one hand and a lascycler in the other. A swift glance at his wargear allayed his fears as the bronze-reinforced exosuit moved in perfect unison with each movement. For a single moment, he considered sending out an alert across the hive at a potential intruder. Ultimately, he decided against it to stand in the face of peril for the sake of Nabatae.

Each footstep drew another difficult breath from Yasif. He audibly swallowed back in fear of what was to come. A thousand ideas of the assailant rolled through his mind all at once. A murder from within the city? A mercenary from the upper hive? A helot from the masters? A crazed marauder from Ursh? One of the insane supersoldiers from the Himalazians? Yasif tightened the grip on his glaive, readying himself to deal with whatever dared to harm their city. A shadow began to form as the being crossed the threshold into the tower.

“Yasif, I’m here to- By the Masters! Easy, easy! You wouldn’t skewer your old friend, Omar, surely!?” A warrior in bronze carapace appeared before him, his voice as scraggly and desperate as the shaky weapons in his own hands. The man, Omar, was bedecked similar to himself in a powered suit of armor with a chainglaive and lascycler. He arrived helmetless, the angular headgear neatly clipped to one side of his leg. A dark, aged face with a long, groomed beard stared blankly at him.

Ah. Omar. I had forgotten that you tend to turnover twenty minutes earlier than the scheduled time.” Yasif said with a sigh of relief, setting the chainglaive aside and holstering the lascycler on his left thigh. His body slumped up against one of the tower’s pillars, the bronze carapace groaning in protest against the reinforced limestone. Omar’s shoulders drooped in similar respite, slinging the chainglave over his shoulder from its shaft-long attachment.

“You are quite jumpy tonight! Worried about your wife, Ysret?” Omar said with a reinvigorated smile. He stopped momentarily by the cogitator in the center of the platform, tapping at several runes to authorize his identity and acquire shift-change synchronization. Once completed, the wizened sentinel leaned against one of the rails opposite Yasif.

Of course! Wouldn’t you be worried if your spouse was in the middle of having their child? The overseers couldn’t afford a replacement for me in the requested timeframe.” The younger sentinel replied with a saddened tone. He began to clip off his helmet, turning it sideways to disengage the seals before removing it from his head. A tangle of black hair drooped across his forehead, quickly disappearing as Yasif pushed it back into his sweat-slicked scalp. Delicately, the headgear was placed onto one of the two tables in the tower. “I wish I could summon the same amount of respect as you, Omar.”

“It takes time, Yasif, give it another year or two and the elders will see about making you a lead sentinel. Besides, you would miss me once you left this assignment!” Omar said reassuringly, turning away from Yasif to draw a stick of synthetic tobacco from one of his chest-strapped pockets. He snapped his fingers together, drawing several sparks to ignite the tip of the parchment. A swift inhale and exhale released a wisp of smoke from the elder’s lips. The younger sentinel shook his head in disapproval.

“And how much longer before you rise to become one of the Master’s Ghaizietti? Assuming you manage to keep yourself from stealing away banned narcotics.” Yasif joked, picking himself up from the slump to cross the tower towards the cogitator. He eyed the chronometer, awaiting the precise moment to initiate turnover with Omar. Approximately five minutes until the stroke of midnight for their approved transition of authorities. One of his gauntlets tapped against the terminal, preparing the machine for a swift and easy transaction. It beeped in response, another chronometer set to alert them of the time whenever it came.

Omar chuckled in response, coughing as smoke choked his lungs mid-drag. He turned his pale eyes to Yasif, raising a knowing finger at the younger sentinel before turning back to the wastelands outside of Nabatae. “I’ll always be a grizzled, old sentinel on the wall, Yasif. What you should be thinking about is what you’re going to name your child!”

“You’ll be surprised to know that Ysret and I have already chosen names.” Yasif said with playful tone, stepping away from the cogitator. He leaned against the opposite rail of Omar, a fresh smile beginning to grow on his lips. Omar tilted his head to the left, inclining to listen to this ‘surprise’ from the younger sentinel. One of his gauntlets flicked embers away from the synthstick. He closed his eyes to momentarily enjoy the peacefulness of Yasif’s married life, longing to have a wife himself.

“If it’s a girl, we were thinking Rabia, and if it’s a boy… we were thinking about naming him Omar-” The last word was puked from Yasif’s mouth in a combination of pained gasp and crying moan. Every chronometer began to chirp in distress as the alarms began to sound at the designated time. A stroke of lightning stabbed into the wastes outside of Nabatae. The grizzled sentinel dropped the smoldering stick in one of his gauntlets as he turned to the younger’s crying voice.

A knife- no, a blade was buried deep into Yasif’s back and through the bronze carapace that protected his chest. Thick vitae exploded forth from the young sentinel’s mouth, tears welling at the edge of his reddened eyes. He was lifted by a being much larger than him, armored in grey plating unknown to Omar. The blade was unceremoniously ripped out of Yasif’s chest, his body tossed aside like a doll to a child. The older sentinel reached down to claim the lascycler from his holster, but suddenly realized that he no longer owned a left arm. His body began to shudder, horrendous pain welling up from the precisely delivered dismemberment. Before he could scream in agony, a grey gauntlet grabbed his face from behind.

“Know that your sacrifice for humanity is for the best.” A voice said from behind. It was heavily altered behind a helmet, yet it was a deep and angry tone that granted no peace in his fate. A blade tore through his back, splitting apart the bronze carapace and appearing out of his chestplate. Darkness began to filter through his vision as tears stained the grey gauntlet. In his last moments, Omar thought that he would’ve liked to meet Yasif’s newborn child.

Zameel tossed aside the sentinel that he killed, an older man who had been smoking some sort of synthetic substance. The cadaver clattered across the tower’s floor, a lascycler spinning away under one of the assorted tables to be forgotten for time immemorial. A pair of chronometers chirped nearby, one from the cogitator and another from the cadaver that his brother had slain. Two steps brought him to the terminal, disabling the timed alarm and finishing the guard transition. The other warrior with him, Ahrim, crushed the skull of the younger sentinel under his boot and smashed the helmet to silence it.

“Any witnesses on the lower floors?” Zameel asked, flicking the power sword free of blood before sheathing it for more overt combat. Similarly, Ahrim slipped his dagger back into a frontal sheath strapped to his chest plate.

None. Nusair and Muhannad have dealt with the mid-segment guardians. Nathiz and Abdul are maintaining vigilance on tertiary walkways. Everything is as instructed, Praetor.” Ahrim responded, a young man’s voice erupting from through the knightly helmet he wore. Voxgrills on the slopped portion of the faceplate boomed the response, yet the words remained audible only to Zameel. The praetor nodded firmly, bending down on one knee next to the cadaver of the elder sentinel.

The elder warrior removed his helmet, momentarily setting it aside to handle the bodies of the Nabateans. Ahrim, the younger warrior, echoed his movements with the younger sentinel that had slain. Zameel pressed his taloned digits into the skull of the sentinel, digging out quickly decaying grey matter with precise strokes of his fingers. Sticky strings of brain were brought to his mouth in lumps, pressed inside to digest the raw information provided by the cadaver. The other warrior began to perform the same movements with less precision, ripping apart the upper half of the youthful defender’s head with the carelessness of an inexperienced pawn. Immediately, the praetor could feel a surge of knowledge course through his body and supplement what was already known to them. At that moment, he knew everything he needed to know about Nabatae.

Omar. You were lucky enough to die early compared to what is to come.” Zameel solemnly spoke, wiping saliva and grey matter from his lips. Retrieving the helmet beside him, the praetor picked himself back up and descended into the tower’s interior. Ahrim followed closely behind, shaking off the experiences that now plagued his mind. He observed the younger warrior pick up one of the chainglaives unconsciously, wielding it in both hands during their descent. The clade member, noticing that he was being watched, released the chainglaive from his grip.

“I apologize. The other sentinel’s memories were vivid. Yasif had a very keen anger within him. It will not happen again, Praetor.” Ahrim said with a slur in his speech. No doubt he reeled from the experience of freshly eaten brain. Zameel smirked to himself in response, fondly remembering the first time he was forced to endure the gruesome affair.

The interior of the tower was sparsely painted in fresh vitae, complimented only by torn limbs and propped bodies of other Nabatean sentinels. More of the grey-armored warriors appeared in his descent, identifiable only by their specific armor and numeral-painted pauldrons. Zameel nodded in satisfaction of his personal clade, their performance was beyond expectation and executed flawlessly. Each of the clade members followed after their leader, holstering dagger and sword alike in favor of deadlier weaponry. Bolters, hulking bolthrowers comparable in size to a heavy stubber, were unslung from their powerpacks to be wielded in both hands. They approached the bottom of the tower, where the final members of their clade awaited in perpetual silence with daggers and bolters drawn. Their clade now numbered ten with the arrival of the praetor and his apprentice.

“Issues, Casildo?” Zameel asked as the clade began to disperse across the ground floor, readying their equipment for the next phase of the invasion. The warrior he asked, Casildo, turned away from his watching position at the tower’s open doorway. He appeared exactly like the rest of the clade, knightly slopped helmet and burdensome powered armor all in grey. Only a single numeral on his left knee identified him apart from his brethren.

None, Praetor. The guard turnover was completed exactly as planned, no further reinforcements or intermediaries from the lower- or upper-hive.” Casildo responded in a quick voice, suppressing any needless detail from the report. Satisfied with the report, Zameel nodded for the other warrior to continue his duties. Another of the clade members entered his view from the stairwell, making the sign of the raptor over his chestplate before relaying his words.

“Praetor. The eastern towers have been dealt with.” The warrior, Ehsan, spoke promptly before turning away and beginning to jog back up the stairs to other parts of the wall. Zameel didn’t appreciate having to assign runners for the sake of the operation, not when their combat prowess could be better utilized for murder and infiltration. He reasoned with himself that it was necessary for the mission and key to their invasion of the Bronze City.

“Finally. Reactivate your encrypted voxnets. Communications silence is over. We will begin the second phase of the invasion in the Emperor’s name.” Praetor Zameel ordered across their clade’s voxnet, several affirmations clicked within his ear that the command was received. Several members of his squad racked their bolter, readied their melee weapons, and swiftly inspected their grenades after the approval decree of phase two. An ugly smile creeped over his lips at the beauty of a perfectly planned ambush. He turned away to address a separate voxnet, activating it with a blink of his eye.

+’Zaid, towers Echo-One through Echo-Five have been dealt with. Clade Zameel is ready for phase two.’+ He spoke into the vox, expecting nothing in return other than a single click of affirmation from the receiving end. The response was all that he needed to know that their operation was on track. Now, he awaited the moment to begin their hours of coordinated slaughter into Nabate.

High Overseer Mimmun sat at her enormous cogitator with several ceramic mugs within arms reach and a vast ashtray for synth-tobacco sticks in flicking distance. Her eyes glazed over many terminals linked to the cogitator, at least one for every single tower along Nabatae’s gargantuan wall. Her left hand felt in constant motion, continuously pressing runes to repeat the same command for every single transaction on the defense network. Turnover, equipment requests, lower overseer reports, and more were promptly dealt with by her trained precision. All of it had been dealt with by her lonesome in the sole command tower of the Bronze City. None, save for her spare assistant or rarer drone from the masters, entered the defense core without their upper-hive overlord’s permission. In truth, she loved the isolation away from the masses of the hive and her lower subordinates. With that thought in mind, she reached out to the closest container only to find it empty.

“Shillan, dear, could you bring me another pot of coffee from storage? I still have another hour left to fulfill the reports for our masters.” She said in a disappointed voice, one of her index fingers holding down a specific rune on her console. There was an audible crack of noise from a nearby sound machine, and a fresh voice from a younger woman began to hurriedly respond. A smirk grew on her parched lips, enjoying the moment of chaotic dismay that she routinely threw at the assistant.

Of course, ma’am! I-I’ll return in a few minutes for your beverage!” Shillan, her assistant, stated with no shortage of stress in her voice. The response nearly drew a fit of laughter from Mimmun, a fresh burst of energy revitalizing her until the younger woman returned. She enjoyed her company as much as she reveled in her misery.

The overseer continued her work while she waited for Shillan to return with fresh brewed beverages to push her to shift completion. Her aged eyes scanned over the rest of the towers, watching each turnover happen in real time. Some had initiated their authentications earlier than expected, while others completed them on time as instructed. She tapped away at the runes on her console, digitally inscribing several notes for docked pay or issuing overtime for those who deviated from the shift change hours. Mimmun recognized one repeat offender, in particular, Tower Echo-Three, led by High Sentinel Omar and Overseer Kaklan. A note now resided in their directories for another week of censer and hypno-indoctrination. That’d teach them a lesson for going against her scheduling.

She smiled in satisfaction, bringing one of her tertiary arms up to suck upon tobacco-wrapped parchment. A plume of smoke spilled out from her pursed lips, tumbling into the light haze that filled the room. Her body reclined backward in the cushioned seat, a moment of respite filling her otherwise extraordinarily busy day. It was these calm periods that she enjoyed best. Luckily, she was far enough away from the other towers to keep her peace and close enough to the bastion-hive to arrive home within fifteen minutes on an ascender without encountering the master’s hounds. Chronometers on each of her terminals ticked in sync with each other, all of them swiftly approaching midnight. One more hour and some change until she would be home in her own bed.

A rhythmic tapping on the portal into the control chamber nearly jolted her onto her feet in panic. Usually, Shillan would call from her desk to announce her journey to the chamber. The high overseer began to worry until she remembered that the poor girl had sounded rushed and desperate. Mimmun cursed herself for teasing the assistant too much, overextending the joy she sought in harassing the younger woman. Groaning as she left the seat, the elder woman began to slowly move towards the only entrance in the chamber. A set of tertiary fingers tapped at a console on the nearby wall, inputting specific runes known only to her.

“A moment, Shillan, I wasn’t expecting you to arrive without calling. I do apologize for the trouble, but I-” Mimmun began to speak, weaving a lie into her dialogue as the doors began to automatically open vertically. She had prepared herself to deal with a sobbing woman as Shillan usually did when scolded. Instead, the high overseer of Nabatae’s control tower froze in fear at the sight before her.

A man several sizes larger than her in austere, grey-powered armor as bulky as an excavator unit stood in front of her. In one of his taloned gauntlets, the decapitated head of her assistant hung from a torn spinal cord. In the other, a grotesque chainaxe decorated with dripping ichor. A knightly, slopped helmet split ornamentally down the middle stared down at her with orange lenses. Streaks of crimson painted the warrior from armored foot, to dark tabard, and up to the numeral on his right pauldron. She took a fearful step backward, only for him to calmly step forward by ducking under the doorway. Any words that she could muster were stuck in her throat, tears beginning to form at the edge of her eyes. Mimmun knew what was to become of her without it being spoken. She would die here.

The head of Shillan was swiftly tossed aside, Mimmun’s throat was grabbed in the claw that had held her assistant. She hadn’t been able to see the warrior’s movement even with her augmented eyes. The air was being choked from her decaying lungs in his spartan grip, taloned digits beginning to dig into her soft flesh. Saliva flew forth from her lips, bubbling foam forming at the corner of her mouth. His grip tightened unexpectedly as the last of her life began to flee in the face of overwhelming strength. She listened to the only thing she could comprehend at that moment, a final epitaph from the warrior who killed her.

“I must thank you, High Overseer. Were it not for your impeccable scheduling, then we would’ve had to resort to bombarding the city from afar. You, personally, have secured your city's fate for the Thirteenth and the Emperor. Enter the end knowing that you doomed your city.” The being said in a voice that was equal parts soothing and tormenting, a deep and booming crescendo of Achaemenidian charisma. She choked, gasping for one last bit of air to respond to the warrior. Sensing the attempt, the man grumbled and swiftly twisted his wrist in disappointment. Her life was extinguished in a haze of smoke.

Zaid ibn N’dar allowed the chainaxe to dangle from the handle, a chain attached to the hilt refusing to let it touch the ground. With a new hand free, the warrior angled his talon-tipped gauntlet into a piercing shape to plunge into the woman’s flesh. Her head was torn from the neck down, viscera and ichor splattering across the carpeted floors in disgusting clumps. The man, no longer afflicted by her feeble weight, removed the upper surface of the skull to reveal a mess of grey matter within. Delicately, he dug out specific pieces of her shattered brain to feed into his slightly raised helmet. A warm, mushy taste entered his mouth that would’ve revulsed him were it not for the genetic stapling of certain receptors.

Isha Mimmun. What a pathetic life you’ve lived.” Zaid spoke aloud, feeding in on every single part of her knowledge and memories in a fleeting moment of repulsive experience. The structural layout of the hive, the guard placements, the cogitator stacks, and every other important location across the city fed into his intellect. Unlike others of his kind, he could filter the raw data from the flesh and consume exactly what was required. None of the one named ‘Isha Mimmum’ remained for him to witness. The head was tossed aside like a piece of trash discarded by a common person. Orange lenses fell upon the cogitator, scanning each and every display that held any amount of significance.

The geneknight started to press runes in a certain sequence, beginning the second of the planned phases for their invasion. Already, he could hear the buzzing in his helmet from the other warriors across the legion. Each clade had completed their assignments, each warrior had performed exactly as expected, and every action taken was as silent as a thousand and one grains of black sand. He furrowed his brows at the analogy, fresh memories woven in from another that their legion called to. A low chirp affirmed the successfulness of his task, several towers on each display beginning to rapidly blink in a strange pattern. A toothy grin grew on his cracked, scarred lips.

It was time to execute the second phase of the invasion.

+’Warriors! Astartes of the Thirteenth Legion! Begin the second phase of the invasion! Communication ban has been lifted, weapon silencing has been lifted, and stealth has been nullified. Let them know the price for rejecting our Master’s benevolence. ’+ Legion Master Zaid, the Warmaster of the Thirteenth Legion, commanded across their voxnet. Sigils on each of the terminals grew bright crimson as a hostile takeover took place. Gates along the wall opened, automated turrets fell silent, and remote drones suffered shocking fates. Nabatae was now laid bare to the genewarriors of the Emperor. +’Kill them all.’+

His command was absolute as if spoken by the Emperor himself. Already, Zaid could hear the familiar tone of bolter fire, volkite rays, and roaring chainweapons beginning to slaughter through the defenses of Nabatae. He tracked their aggressive, tactical movements on the high overseer’s terminals. The teams of ten on the walls - the clades - killed with extreme prejudice enroute to their next assignments. Many more of the Astartes flooded in from the four Bronze Gates of Nabatae. The invasion was now in full swing, a product produced only due to their genewrought might and cunning. Soon enough, the Imperial Army would arrive to pick up the pieces of their assault. Until that moment, the Bronze City was their grounds to hunt.

The sound of shouts, stomping feet, and clattering wargear drew his attention away from the enormous cogitator. The guardians of Nabatae had finally noticed his intrusion. Zaid flexed his wrist, snapping the chain upwards and flinging the motorized axe into a talon-tipped gauntlet. He pushed the helmet tight against his skull, reconnecting the pressurized seal with the power armor’s environmental system. The body of the overseer was then lifted in his free hand, gripped in such a way that it was easily tossable. If he could not terrify the arrivals into submission, then Zaid settled for being able to throw the cadaver to break their spirits.

And so they arrived, a squad of the bronze sentinels of Nabatae from the ascender in the nearby corridor. He admired their suicidal gall to some degree, recklessly charging in with their meager carapace and bronze exosuits. Most carried their typical, curved chainglaives in one hand and a lascycler in the other. One particular Nabatean held aloft a blade that crackled with uncontrolled electricity. That specific warrior, however, wouldn’t be enough to calm their nerves.

“In the name of the Masters, who- Oh sweet deliverable gods! High Overseer Mimmun!” One of them spat out before doubling over in a heaving fit, bile spilling out of their mouth. His tactic had worked as anticipated, yet something told him there was more that could be done. Anything is a weapon. A phrase that hadn’t been taught to him, but it was a passage that he certainly agreed with. Zaid hurled Isha’s defiled body at the group with every ounce of his genewrought might. The first warrior crumbled under the assault, crushed within his suit of armor by the combined weight and momentum of the cadaver. Her body exploded into a fit of ichor, blinding and terrifying the other sentinels.

The Astartes lunged immediately after the cadaver was thrown, engaging the throttle-paddle on the chainaxe to dig into the second sentinel. Reinforced teeth chew through bronze and carapace quickly, their body cleaved in half through raw power. They began to scream, either scattering back to the ascender or flailing in shock. Zaid crushed the third defender’s skull with a punch, then effortlessly flung their corpse towards the ascender to fumble their companions. He refused to allow a second of recovery, kneeing the next Nabatean and plunging them down onto their own chainglaive. Shrieks of agony filled the air as much as vitae began to mist the room in a crimson haze. The last three defenders couldn’t hold their faculties, nor muster a defense against the Astartes.

Louder! Let your fellow Nabatean hear your shrieks so that they may yet live in His name! Praise the Emperor with every ounce of your revolting body!” Zaid screamed at them, knowing that he’d receive exactly what he requested. The sentinels cried out as loudly, harshly, and desperately as possible. They slobbered fresh praises to the Emperor and pleas to spare their lives. He frowned in annoyance, pushing aside one of the broken defenders to enter the ascender. His last sight of the overseer’s chambers was one perfectly described as charnal house of intense macabre.

Commander Ismaal el-Mahdavi watched the Bronze City of Nabatae burn with his own eyes. He had been born here, grew up here, and defended this home for forty-five years. His sentinels had pushed back the technobarbarian corsairs of the Nordafrik Conclaves, culled the Gyptian reavers, and purged waves of gangrel mutants for twenty-five years. He had known war, trained in it, and considered himself a master within the walls of the bastion-hive. All of his vocal cords had been bruised from the amount of screaming he conducted, spreading orders and commanding the warriors under him. Every muscle in his body had been trained, bio-enhanced, and engineered for the relentless persecution of his enemies. Every Nabatean warrior knew his name, understood his legacy, and refused to route under his visage.

Yet, everything that had just occurred belied any sort of war that he participated in. They appeared from seemingly every corner of the hive, precisely firing into the crowds to slaughter warriors that he had personally trained. Each bullet had seen their body explode into showers of gore, shattering the resolves of his sentinels. He had tried to rally every soldier, citizen, and mercenary that he could muster against those killing machines. They ran faster than he could speak. The commander noticed that the invaders hadn’t been slaughtering citizens, only defenders with extreme prejudice. In all of his years, Ismaal considered surrendering outright and pleading for his life with the rest of his soldiers. Pride wormed into his veins, disallowing such thoughts to take hold within his body.

And so he waited at an artificial strait towards the noble hab-blocks, a sentinel station impeding the way forward. To either side of him, men and women of Nabatae shivered in silent fear of the things that hunted them. Their chainglaives idly revved in anticipation, lascyclers fiddled with, and their armor rising high only to lower in quick succession. Ismaal gripped both handles on his lightning cleaver, a two-handed melee weapon confidently crafted by their masters for aspiring champions. Behind him, the commander could hear the chanting of the priests as they summoned their wyrd. Biomechanical monstrosities of flesh and armor protected those of the clergy, looming in the post like wrathful knights of the gods. Confidence began to brew within him, a feeling of certainty for victory settling across their defense.

It was all in vain. While he had been hunkered down in the sentinel post, the enemy had begun putting their beloved city to the torch. Those who hadn’t surrendered were slaughtered, burned, maimed, and decapitated in such quickness that he hadn’t heard their death cries. They, the grey armored ones, had noticed their outpost and began to stalk it like wild animals to wounded prey. It wasn’t until one of their kind openly stepped out to address them that he truly began to feel fear.

“A mighty fortress, protecting the noblemen that have already likely abandoned you. Your Masters have rejected the Emperor’s vision of Unity before, but that doesn’t have to be your ultimate fate. Walk out, praise His name, and join the quest for Unity. I promise you on my name as Consul Raamiz of the Thirteenth.” The grey-armored giant, Raamiz, had stated in a soft and warm voice. His voice reverberated, echoing several times over in a pleasant crescendo. Ismaal couldn’t believe how alluring the warrior sounded. He was more ornate than the other warriors beside him, bedecked in chain and tabard. Ten other austere knights stood around him with their orange lenses upon the sentinel post.

Before Ismaal could properly respond, five defenders had left their posts to kneel down before the one named Raamiz. As promised, one of the austere knights guided them safely away from the warzone. Three more began to shift in a movement to leave, yet found themselves assailed by the priests behind him. They screamed in a tongue that the commander couldn’t comprehend, murdering the defenders that had attempted to leave with purple lightning. None of their number dared to leave after that, yet the grey warriors were not so kind as to wait for more deserters. Nabateans were brought forth from an unknown area, forced to their knees, and ripped to shreds by the invaders. Some were offered a quick death with a slash to the throat, while others were maimed by chainswords or slowly decapitated by their taloned gauntlets.

Bodies had begun to pile up some distance away from the sentinel post. Ismaal watched with reddened eyes as more of his defenders were murdered by the grey warriors or gutted by the Master’s priests. The confidence that he had initially built up began to wane as every minute passed. Every moment his home burned, his people died, and his culture slowly eradicated. The puppets of their forlorn overlords did nothing, perfectly content to wait while Nabatae was purged. Fresh wrath bubbled within his stomach, angry that he couldn’t change fate no matter how hard he tried. Wrath gave way to despair until the one named Raamiz returned once more to speak.

“I understand now, sentinels. You are stuck between two walls, yet there is a way out of this. Open the doors, welcome us inside, and we will flay the pair of witches that torture you.” Raamiz spoke from across the hab-strait, his voice as smooth as freshly harvested honey. The ‘witches’ that he spoke of turned their attention away from ritualistic chanting to witness Ismaal’s reply. The commander stepped forward, making himself evident in the post’s wide-slitted viewports. He saw now that Raamiz was armed with a spear in one hand and a strange bolthrower in the other. Ismaal knew that this was their last chance, either side with this ‘Emperor’ or remain loyal to the Masters.

“Will you promise to spare every sentinel that we come across, so long as we fight beside you?” Commander Ismael called out, a deep and serious voice that belied any amount of cowardice. As the question was asked, he thought that he could feel Raamiz smile under his helmet. The grey warrior brought his spear upon his chestplate, half-bowing in a strange form of gesticulation. It sufficed for an answer, Ismaal turning around to angry priests behind him. Their monstrous knights huffed in preparation, raising their fists to fight against the commander and his sentinels. Warily, his companions readied their chainglaives to combat against their former Master’s servants.

I, Ismaal el-Mahdavi, pledge my life, and the lives of all Nabatean sentinels, to the Emperor and Unity from this moment onward!” He called out at the top of his lungs, yet the aftermath of his defiance to the Nabatean masters was felt immediately. The wall that had been behind him crumbled into nothingness as those austere knights charged through with insane timing. Their weapons were already firing, gunning, and powered to fight in relentless close-quarters combat. Consul Raamiz arrived last with his spear lowered and a quickness to his feet.

“Well said, Ismaal! Glory unto you!” Raamiz laughed, lunging forward with an unknowable energy enhancing his movements. Ismaal watched the spear ignite with a powerfield, pierce the first priest in the heart, and explode the second priest with a point-blank shot of his firearm. The other ten austere knights easily cut down the Master’s monstrosities, their own form equally towering the bioenhanced servants. He never knew that the Emperor had such power, nor did he know that the Masters could be dealt with so easily.

Ismaal fell to his knees as the Consul flicked the boiling blood from his spear tip. The lightning cleaver fell from his grip, and both of his hands were brought together in a prayer. He dipped his head in fervent faith towards the man who had saved their lives, offered them solace, and guided them to a glorious future. The other sentinels began to do the same. The commander looked up only to ask a single question. “Are you all vengeful angels?”

The comment drew the ire from the other grey warriors who had defeated their master’s puppets. Raamiz laughed loudly and happily, stepping forward to kneel in front of Ismaal. One of his titanic hands, now free of a firearm, was delicately placed on the Nabatean’s shoulder. Ismaal’s green eyes peered into the orange lenses of the Emperor’s warrior with anticipation.

“No, Ismaal, we are the Emperor’s Astartes.” Raamiz said with a warm smile.

Alim ibn Sharif, Consul of the Thirteenth Legion, observed the disastrous siege that halted their invasive progress into bastion-hive Nabatae from atop a sentinel post. The forsaken technosavants that had called themselves ‘masters’ holed up in the final vestige of resistance. An enormous, bronze palace at the center of the hive stood in the way of their conquest. A singular bridge as wide as a mountain connected the hive to the palace through the noble’s district. Ghaizietti, the ‘perfected’ genewarriors of Nabatae, desperately held the crossing regardless of whatever was thrown at them. Completely armored in bronze, buffed to the size of Thunder Warriors, and wielding savage power claws of monstrous size was what awaited them. Several of the Thirteenth had died attempting to murder the genewarriors, butchered by sheer strength seen only by the Emperor’s Thunder Warriors and Custodes.

A thousand and one different plans formulated in his mind of how to deal with the imperfect genethings that they fought. He ruled out all options that would cost the Emperor a fruitful assault, then ones leading to mass sacrifice of captive Nabatae, and finally ideas that would garnish unacceptable casualty factors for the Thirteenth. Ultimately, he decided on a plan that would utilize the best and worst of their strengths. Just as he had begun to expand on the idea, the Legion Master appeared behind him on feet as silent as sand.

“You appear troubled, Alim, how do you plan to take the bridge by simply thinking?” Zaid chided, placing a reassuring gauntlet on Alim’s pauldron. He couldn’t help but feel belittled, yet it did little to sway him from the momentarily melancholy of a failed assault.

“The Ghaizietti are like Thunder Warriors, Legion Master, I don’t think we’ll get out of this fight without necessary losses.” Alim responded in a monotone voice, both responding to the question and defending his actions as a field commander. It earned him a sneer from the older warrior, who now watched the carnage wrought by the genewarriors. Fresh reinforcements of deserter sentinels stormed the bridge, wildly firing their lascyclers while others wheeled in multilasers on hovering platforms. They disappeared as quickly as they appeared, one of the Ghaizietti lunging animalistically into their battalion.

“Then we need only slaughter them before they slaughter us.” A new voice stated, Praetor Zameel emerging from the depths of Nabatae with a pair of clades following behind. The swordmaster inclined his head towards Zaid first, then to Alim after a swift gesticulation from the Legion Master. The Praetor found a comfortable viewing distance on Alim’s left side, eyeing the monstrosities tearing apart the sentinels with ease.

Incomprehensible. We would sustain heavy casualties on this lone assault. Victory is achievable without it.” Alim responded with a hint of anger, yet retained the majority of his monotone voice. Often, it felt like he couldn’t comprehend what his comrades were thinking. He thought much more different from the Thirteenth Legion, honed in on different details that fled their minds. Zaid turned to him now, his posture displeased with the discourse between his warriors. Zameel simply shook his head in response, perhaps thinking him a coward instead of a tactician.

“Then what do you suggest, Alim?” Zaid pointedly asked, hints of familial anger growing on his tongue. It was a tone that the Consul despised, yet it granted him the room to vent a more formulated plan to his comrades.

“The Ghaizietti must bleed, preferably profusely but more viably in several minor cuts. After watching them for several minutes, I’ve ascertained the majority of their enhancements. They do not possess regeneration such as we do. We pull back the sentinels, fight only with Astartes, and utilize hit-and-run tactics to bait the genethings.” Alim said with a small hint of pride in his voice, defeated once more by the monotone. The Legion Master nodded his head in satisfaction, approving of it with a familial slap on Alim’s pauldron. Zameel tapped the hilt of his blade against his chestplate, offering a small warrior’s salute.

Death by a thousand cuts, is it?” Another voice, Consul Raamiz’s, joined in with their small strategic meeting. More of his brethren followed behind the arriving Consul, stray sentinels mingling in amongst the power-armored warriors. One of the mortals held aloft a peculiar weapon that caught Alim’s eye, yet his attention was stolen as Raamiz spoke again. “Even I would’ve suggested that. If I hadn’t been slaughtering my way through the noble’s district, then perhaps I could’ve broken through the stalemate.”

“Your arrogance knows no bounds, Raamiz. If you are so eager to prove your strength, then venture out and slay the Ghaizietti.” Alim challenged, squaring off against the prideful Astartes. Tension filled the air between himself and Ramiz for only a moment. Zaid snapped the chain attached to his chainaxe, forcing them to glance in the direction of their Legion Master. Fury was beginning to fume from the slopped helmet of the elder warrior.

Enough talking. The Emperor demands Nabatae. We will deliver. Fight together or die together.” The Legion Master commanded, turning away from the rest of his warriors. His power-armored form disappeared into the depths of the tower they stood on, venturing forth into the battlefield that calls to them. Alim shared a look with Raamiz and Zameel before descending with Zaid. The rest of the Astartes followed shortly after, their arguments laid to rest and their lust for glory raised.

The battlefield of the bridge stretched out before Alim and his brothers as a corridor of shattered bodies. Broken, maimed sentinels were spread in every chaotic direction covered in freshly spilled blood. Rare Astartes were amongst their number, ceramite armor torn and rended apart by the bestial claws of the Ghaizietti. Those hyper-enhanced Nabateans stood in a staggered yet coherent line on the bridge, awaiting the next attempt on their master’s life. Now that Alim was closer, he could finally understand exactly why they had pushed the Thirteenth back.

Bronze plates covered every inch of their body in hyper-dense powered armor. They stood slightly taller and wider than the Thunder Warriors that he had seen on the battlefield. Great reservoirs of bubbling purple fluid on their backs hooked into several ports across their body. Blank helmets with industrial respirators hooked to the reservoirs covered their smaller proportioned skulls. Gruesome claws of five powered talons were permanently fused to their hands, serrated for maximum damage against armored foes. Short arcs of strange lightning danced against their metal plating, grounding out at their clawed greaves.

Consul Alim stepped forward first with his thunder hammer in one hand and a plasmic rifle in the other. He hadn’t realized that his greaves brought him forward, but the Astartes felt a keen draw to those powerclaws. It wasn’t simply fascination that drew him towards the Ghaizietti. He wanted those talons for himself and the Legion. Not even he could comprehend where this desire bubbled up from. His sloped helmet turned to swiftly regard the Legion Master with a sense of urgency.

“Zaid, I want those powerclaws for the Thirteenth. I believe I could fashion a great number of them for future operations. Though, I confess, I do not know where this desire draws from.” Alim spoke with a tone of fascination, dimmed only by his dull voice. The comment drew the Legion Master’s attention with peaked interest. Instead of responding to him in a proper manner, Zaid simply nodded his head in affirmation of the Consul’s request. He beamed with muted delight, tightening his grip on the thunder hammer.

The Ghaizietti, sensing a dangerous array of opponents, began their attack before the Astartes could sprint forward. Each Nabatean menace galloped forward on all of their limbs, barreling towards Alim and his brethren like wild animals on the hunt. Despite their cumbersome galloping, the genemonstrosities uttered no sound as if their mouths were sown shut. It did little to perturb the Astartes, who had since readied their array of weapons. Both sets of genewarriors met in a clash of genewrought might.

Alim swung his furious hammer into the first Ghaizietti with all the force of a minor deity, crunching the chestplate of the Nabatean supersoldier. Utilizing his enhanced reflexes, the Consul unloaded an uncharged point-blank shot from the plasmic rifle into the brute. Reinforced plating immediately cooked hot enough to sink into the genewarrior’s chest, yet it only suffice to push the being backwards for it to recuperate. Raamiz followed up on Alim’s assault, lunging forward with accelerated speed to pierce through the Ghaizietti’s sunken chest. Both of the reservoirs were punctured along with it’s heart, cutting the lifethreads of the genething. It slumped forward, defeated under the rapid assault of the Thirteenth.

The consul turned to face new foes, yet found his brethren similarly successful if not employing unique strategies in their duels. Legion Master Zaid, swift and deadly, parried strikes from the powerclaws to deliver gruesome swings of his chainaxe. Once behind the brutes, the elder Astartes unleashed a jet of flames from his firearm. Promethium-enhanced fire cooked the genebeasts from the inside, boiling the vats of enhancing-fluid into solid mass. The Ghaizietti he fought began to audibly choke as vat-sludge clogged his respirator. Zaid wasted no time in his assault, allowing the flamer to dangle from a chain and delivering a sidewards punch against the genething’s helmet. As it stumbled sideways, the bloodthirsty chainaxe cleaved upwards to catch the Nabatean’s throat. Blood, meat, and gore cascaded downwards in disgusting clumps against Nabatae’s palace bridge. The Emperor’s angel of death left to engage another Ghaizietti, allowing the one that he fought to choke and die.

Satisfied with his commander, Alim sprinted towards the next Ghaizietti that danced with Zameel. The blademaster of the Thirteenth slashed, cut, and pierced the genebeast several times over. His mastery of the powersword was unnatural to Alim’s eye, one that hadn’t been indoctrinated into their psyches. Every step of the Praetor was weightless, precise and deft. It appeared as if Zameel was stepping on glass or gliding across sand with each fluid strike of his blade. Each strike of his powersword found gaps in plates, cut arterial tubes, or opened fresh gashes in exposed skin. To the Consul’s surprise, the Nabatean had already significantly slowed to the blood loss it suffered. Eventually, the genething ceased to move and slumped to the ground after a dozen rounds of bloodletting.

Several other Astartes followed in from behind, engaging with those that Alim hadn’t yet collided with. Perhaps they had watched the Thirteenth’s best warriors closely, echoing movements that the four of them exhibited. In a sense, the consul understood why this was the case. They were all of the same genecode, trained all in the same underground halls, and raised up to be the Emperor’s greatest weapons in the same arts of war. He clenched his thunder hammer tighter, a new emotion beginning to pulse throughout his being. Brotherhood. They shared something even more profound than their upbringing, visions buried beneath their genetic modifications that bonded their legion together. Those thoughts were buried as Zaid rushed forward with Raamiz and Zameel, Alim following shortly behind with the palace doors in full view of their assault.

The Legion Master stepped over the corpse of a Ghaizietti, bloodied and mauled by his Astartes. A slaughterhouse painted the bridge behind him filled to the brim with injured Astartes, slaugheterd Nabatean genehorrors, and desecrated sentinels. The fighting had ended some moments ago with the final genething laid low at the entrance of the palace. His chainaxe still dripped fresh ichor from the chunks of meat ripped from the fight. Their armors no longer remained an austere grey, brilliant crimson decorating every surface of their powered plating. Only the numeral of ‘thirteen’ remained visible on their right pauldron.

One final step saw Zaid arriving at the foot of the palace doors. They rose up as monoliths of carefully curated culture, forged from the pits of the hive to house the affluential beings that controlled it. He felt ire creep on at the sight of such vile designs depicting their isolated history in the desert wastes. Disregarding any want for theatrics or ceremony, the Legion Master lifted one of his armored greaves up and slammed it against the doors. At first, it refused to give and instead buckled under the weight of his gene-wrought might. As he began to lift his foot for another point-blank kick, the doors slowly fell backward in a dreary descent. Both clattered against the palace floors, shattering tile and echoing destruction for several miles across the hive.

Inside, the Master of the Thirteenth could truly see the abominable forms of Nabatae’s true overlords. Bronze plinths, columns, and braziers decorated the interior, while strange arcane devices ominously hummed nearby. The genewarriors of Nabatae, the Ghaizietti, floated unformed in tanks of poisonously green liquid. A vast array of cables snaked along the ground to the back of the palace. A wide, spherical room attached to the main corridor opened up to reveal a great device of impractical design. Five upright cryogenic chambers linked to a central cogitator the likes he had never seen. Chilled humans, thawed yet cooled, seemingly rested in peaceful slumber inside each of these frozen beds. As Zaid began to approach the cogitator, he began to hear a rumbling like that of an enormous, crackling voxcaster.

+’Insects. Tools of the Emperor. Scorpions. You who have delayed the advancement of civilization by hundreds of years for invading our hive. Nabatae was to be a shining ecumenopolis isolated in the desert wastes. It is now ruined and you will pay for your transgressions.’+ The voice, a myriad of several being that spoke all at once, reverberated across the palace. All the Astartes turned to regard the cogitator at the center of the palace, inferring that it was the rightful speaker. They spoke with a level of confidence that belied their situation as if they knew nothing of the events. Zaid felt the temptation to throw a grenade and be done with the ordeal, yet he had a different fate in mind for the Nabatean masters.

Scorpions? An apt description, don’t you think?” Raamiz called out from behind, walking in tandem with Zaid with his powerspear clanking against the ground. Zameel and Alim turned to regard the consul, shaking their heads in protest to being regarded as such.

“Indeed. We are His instruments of vengeance and destruction. We are a skittering legion on the sands, persecuting unification through claw and stinger.” Zaid began to speak in a dangerous tone, inching closer to the cogitator stacks with his chainaxe raised. The Nabateans may not have displayed it, but the Legion Master could taste their fear on his tongue. They knew that no one was left to defend their glorious ideas. All that was left was death.

He slowly walked around the cogitator, stopping at the first cryogenic chamber to its immediate left. A flick of his wrist saw the chainaxe decapitating the first of the masters through their cryogenic chambers. Ichor splattered across the palace’s floors as Zaid murdered the being that rebelled against the Emperor’s idea. A howling cry of pain resounded through the palace on the vox, one of their number dying to a savage genewarrior.

+’Do you not feeling nothing for the loss of sacred technology!? Does your master not wish to preserve our minds for the glory of the future!?’+ The voices began to plead through their synchronized voxcaster, desperation becoming extremely evident as the first of their number died. The Astartes punched through the frail glass of the chamber, tearing the Nabatean out and throwing him against one of the pillars. He moved to the next, aiming the chainaxe against the following master of Nabatae.

No. Your arrogance hinders His ideals. Accept death and drown in umbral sands.” The Legion Master calmly stated, furrowing his brows at the final words spoken. More unknown phrases that continued to seep into his being, spoken in a tongue not known to him. The thought was disregarded as gripped the paddle-throttle on the chainaxe, burrowing the gruesome weapon through the cryo-chamber to feast on Nabatean flesh. Harsher shrieking thronged through the palace, nearly forcing the structure to buckle in on itself.

+’This hive will die without our guidance! Nothing will operate, the refineries will die, and the walls will buckle! The Emperor needs us to rule Nabatae!’+ The voices pleaded with utter despair as they were cut down one by one. Those beings that had been quietly ‘sleeping’ in their chamber were now wide-eyed in perpetual fear. Zaid drew closer to the next one, his orange lenses meeting the terrified eyes of his next target.

“He does not need you. There will be others that are less cowardly, more befitting the Emperor’s guidance.” The Legion Master responded, gunning the chainaxe once more to bite through glass and flesh in tandem. Gore spilled across every inch of the cryogenic chamber, gushing out in horrible chunks on the palace grounds. The body within slumped as a mutilated corpse. The shrieking had quieted after three had died, leaving only two to cry their lungs out in vain. They were isolated, forgotten, and discarded by the Nabateans who pillaged their own city.

+’You must understand! We could gift the Emperor a greater legion of gene-warriors the likes he has never seen! Great beings that could rival the machine-men of the Old Night!’+ Their voice was split between a man and a woman, still synchronized but weakening with every death. Terror etched into their pleading tone, hoping for the barest sliver of persuasion. It only served to earn a chuckle from the Astartes.

“The Emperor has already created his great legions of gene-warriors, ones that you will never live to see.” Zaid stated with a toothy smile, swinging his chainaxe against the glass and gunning the trigger once more. Sharpened, metallic teeth bit into the flesh of the man within. His voice rang out in a cacophony of maddening pain, desynchronizing from the great host that they had been tied to.

+’Please-’+ The last of their voice, a woman’s tone, began to plead out. The Legion Master of the Thirteenth wasted no more time on the matter, smashing a fist through the cryogenic chamber to drag the woman out of her artificial shell. She gasped for air, forcibly unplugged from the machine that likely vitalized her. Amniotic fluid spilled out of metallic holes in her skin as she dangled from Zaid’s grasp.

Die with some dignity, cur.” He flexed his grip on her throat, bursting flesh and organs alike in his malevolent grasp. Her head split from her throat, the mangled body dropping to the floor in a disgusting splash of ichor. Disinterested, the Legion Master tossed the crudely decapitated head aside to join the rest of his brethren. They had remained a distance away to watch the affair. Each knew what it meant to allow their leader to perform the final cut on the master of an enemy army. It was their sign of respect.

“Get the Imperial army on vox. We’re finished here.” Zaid commanded, walking through the main corridor of the palace with his armor stained in Nabatean gore. As he began to cross the threshold between the master’s abode and Nabatae proper, the Legion Master halted to look back at the great cogitator. He considered some unknown fascination for a second before beginning to speak again. “Inform the Sigilites that we have a gift for them.”

Legion Master Zaid waited on the sands outside of Nabatae as the fresh morning son began to crest the horizon. The storm that had plagued their initial invasion had dissipated into nothingness, revealing the massacres on the bronze walls. All of his brethren over a thousand strong stood nearby in perfect formation, their weapons sheathed and their grey armor cleaned of Nabatean blood. Some of their number had taken trophies from the bastion-hive, such as the lightning cleavers of the elite sentinels or the powerclaws of the Ghaizietti. It reminded him that the most loyal of the deserters, Ismaal, stood nearby with his own group of sentinels in a traditional formation. A part of their invasion had been successful because of his efforts. An honor that Zaid would never forget.

His attention was suddenly drawn to a great flock of descending silhouettes in the sky. Stormbirds, Lighters, and Karmis transports began their landing sequences some distance away from the bronze city. Each bore the symbol of the Raptor, yet the Stormbirds retained an additional numeral for the Thirteenth. Their caretakers had arrived to replenish their numbers, repair their gear, and move to the next warzone to push unification. Similarly, he recognized the pattern on the Imperial transports as the Tenth Excertus Imperialis. A legion of mortals that either followed or prepared their insertion into congested battlefields. The Legion Master watched as the first of the Imperials began to disembark from their fat-bellied aircraft, hordes of red-garbed auxilia and utility crawlers unloading supplies. Already, Zaid could pick out their Lord-Commander from the grunts, accompanied by veterans and a cadre of Sigilites from the Himalazians.

As they approached, the Legion Master pressed his fist against the Raptor on his chesplate in salute of the Tenth’s Lord-Commander. The motion was responded to with a crisp, traditional salute from the mortal before he stepped closer. Zaid had forgotten how brutal and battered he was. A tall man in black dress uniform padded with plated-carapace from Europa walked up to him. One of his eyes was replaced with a glaring, red augmentation, while the rest of his face was scarred from combat or strained from age. His thin lips curled slightly upwards in what could pass as a smile for him.

Legion Master Zaid.” The Lord-Commander stated, sharply clicking his heels together in a straightening pose before the Astartes. Both of his arms were crossed in front of his chest, a greatcoat billowing behind him in the desert waste’s uneven breeze.

Lord-Commander Crucias.” Zaid responded, dropping the salute and returning to a neutral stance before the glaring eyes of the mortal.

“Another successful assault added to the tally of the Thirteenth. The Emperor will certainly know of your victory, considering how you managed to rally the majority of the hive against itself and maintain low margins of collateral.” Crucias said, his voice a mixture of mature and prompt. Their conversations always began the same, starting with debriefing and working towards specifics meant for one-on-one conversations. Auxilia of the Tenth Excertus Imperialis had formed a red sea by this point, hauling their supplies and vehicles through the open gates of Nabatae.

“A great many factors played their parts. Offer ample rewards to the Nabatean commander, Ismaal, for his service in the name of the Emperor.” The Legion Master said, gesturing to the formation of sentinels closest to them. Ismaal echoed Zaid’s movements, placing a fist against the Raptor on his chest plate and bowing to Crucias. The Lord-Commander offered a wave and a thin smile, then returned his piercing eyes to the Astartes soon after.

“And the technology previously mentioned in the report?” Crucias asked, gesturing for the Sigilites to step forward to listen in on Zaid’s personal report.

“In the central palace, past the noble district. A cogitator tied to the Nabatean masters in chilled chambers of glass. The stack is left undamaged, but the overlords were destroyed. Too unworthy to live in service to the Emperor.” The Astartes stated, a smile beginning to form under his helmet. The Sigilites nodded in response, speaking amongst themselves before disappearing away from the Lord-Commander. Crucias dipped his head in respect as they left to gather their own equipment.

“Excellent. Nabatae is in the Emperor’s hands and our unification progresses. We’ve already received reports that our next war is in Abyssna. I wish you luck, Master of the Thirteenth-” Crucias spoke, beginning to already deliver their next assignment to the Astartes. Zaid held up a taloned gauntlet to halt him from further speaking. The action earned a patient, confused look from the Lord-Commander, yet the movement hadn’t startled him like other mortals.

“We have spoken amongst ourselves. The Legion has tread the shadows of Terra without a proper name for too long. It has been decided.” The Legion Master said, earning a surprised look from the Lord-Commander. The thin smile on the mortals lips grew at the thought of his long-lasting friend’s achievements. Crucias folded his arms behind his back.

“And what would your Legion be known as, old friend?”

The Bronze Scorpions.”
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Hidden 8 mos ago Post by Bright_Ops
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Bright_Ops The Insane Scholar

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The 8th Unleashed

The Mercia Front

The Pan-Pacific Empire's original invasion of Mercia was something of an overwhelming success by the standards of the warlord era of Age of Strife Terra. If not for the existence of the Imperium and its various successes of the period, Pan-Pacific may have become the dominate power of Terra, rather then just one of its major ones.

When Mercia called for aid from the Imperium, the Lord of Lighting was quick to answer. All branches of the Imperium armed forces found themselves being developed towards the new territory, keen on driving out the invaders in order to claim the land and its people as its own.

Of all the Imperial forces to take the field during this campaign, few were as dedicated to its success in as bloodless a manner as the newly minted 8th Legion. The reason for this was two fold. The original members of the 8th legion were recruited from the region; The hives being fought for were once their homes and were homes of people they knew and leaving them to be inhabited by invaders was simply not to be tolerated.

Those marines not motivated by loyalties to their original hives or the people that stilled lived within them were instead driven by more personal motivations; Due to experimentation and testing, it was found that of all the populations of Terra, the people of Mercia's proved to be the most compatible with the 8th legion with a success rate of six for every ten candidates to undergone the process of becoming marines. Having this territory held by enemy forces cut the legion off from its ideal recruitment stock and this, risk the legion being laid low by attrition.

With the future of the Legion on the line, this also heavily affected the tactics, plans and weaponry that the 8th made use of. Since the Legion needed the population to survive being brought into the Imperium relatively intact, battle plans needed to minimize the possible amount of collateral damage to the civilian population. The infrastructure of the Hives remaining intact was also of vital importance, both in the sense of making immediate use of said recaptured Hive for Imperial purposes and sustaining the population of the Hive.

As the Thunder Warriors engaged the forces of the Pan-Pacific Empire in order to draw their forces into a quagmire conflict in what were deemed to be regions of minimum value to long term Imperial interests, the 8th Legion and their auxiliaries instead opted for stealth operations. Taking advantage of the knowledge of those marines that originally came from nomad tribes both for their personal knowledge of how to safely travel in the wastes between the Hives undetected and their preexisting contacts and connections to other nomad tribes in order to ally with them and bluster their numbers with local guides and experts, the 8th were able to get far behind combat lines.

Their plan was a bold one with a great deal of risk involved. Their plan was to take advantage of the collective knowledge of the Legion about their respective home hives in order to take advantage of openings and passageways that were often made use of to bypass what amounted to the enforcers of law and order of the Hive in order to infiltrate them and bypass the majority of the Hives defenses against invasion. They would then take advantage of local unrest, knowledge of the internals of the Hive in question and the hope that local Pan-Pacific forces were reduced by a need to fight the Imperium elsewhere to liberate the hive from within with as little bloodshed and open battle as possible.

The true ambition of the plan came from the fact that they intended to split the Legion and its forces up in order to overthrow numerous hives at once. On paper, the plan could be viewed as near madness: The 8th legion had a core fighting strength of less then nine hundred warriors, supplemented by local nomads and barely human auxiliaries that were given army equipment and training as solders. However, behind the scenes there was a lot more calculation and intelligence then might first appear.

While having the entire legion focus on one hive at a time was fully possible, it was felt that the Pan-Pacific Empire would not only launch counter attacks against the few liberated hives in a calm, collected manner but also start to figure out how the 8th were infiltrating the Hives and actively start attempting to patch the long forgotten or ignored gaps in their defenses going forward. By striking so many targets at once (the number of which was calculated by the need for enough forces to take each hive and then hold it until reinforcements from the Imperium could arrive), not only would it minimize the ability of the Pan-Pacific to work out the details of how, but the loss of so much territory at once was hoped to throw the Pan-Pacific and their command into full blown panic.

-Remembrancer Zygena Ravenlow, attached to the 8th Legion.


To say that things were tense between Jzzist and Giselwin would have been something of an understatement...

Legion Master Scraphurst had made good on his threat. The pair had been taken aside and made to fight each other bare knuckled and naked. Again... and again... and again. Until one or both of them were unable to continue, in which they were giving medical attention to get them back in something close to fighting shape and then made to fight anew. They weren't allowed to kill each other and there were people present to make sure they didn't... but it kept going until, at last... they simply found themselves not caring enough to keep beating each other up anymore.

The grudge between them from their mortal human days was effectively no more, all the anger and bitterness used as fuel for their extended fight until it, at long last, was simply used up. Neither of them had actually expected to ever be at this point and yet, here they were. Assigned together to lead the operation against their home hive, unsure of how to interact with each other outside of a professional manner at this point because they didn't know where to go from here.

'Here' in the more literal sense was an old, abandoned ruin. A thick, strong wall that was built eons ago that still managed to stand despite all the years of neglect and weather, the purpose of its original existence long forgotten since it stood alone in the wastes of Mercia as everything else that had been built with it had long been consumed by time. It served as a wonderful foothold in the region, since it's presence offered some degree of shelter from the winds, a recognizable landmark for the purposes of navigation and it was far enough away from Hive Houston that the local Pan-Pacific garrison wouldn't care to come out far enough to investigate it without something to merit the patrol but close enough to allow scouting parties to leave and return.

That was another source of tension among the marines currently stationed there: The Scouts. Jzzist and Giselwin had both agreed that it was a good idea to send scouts out to confirm if the various smuggling routes and hidden ways into Hive Houston that their various sources of information were still open or undiscovered by the occupying army before committing to an infiltration route. The mutant auxiliaries were something of a dividing issue between the marines, but due to the orders from the Legion Master on the matter it had been kept quite between them...

However, with the mutants and their nomad guides gone to serve as scouts on the grounds that armed nomads or mutants existing on the outskirts of a Hive or trying to get into or out of the Underhive being spotted by any of the defending garrison keeping an eye on the outside of the hive would simply be a natural occurrence unworthy of reporting, differences in opinion could be vocalized.

There wasn't any fighting on the matter; Even if they were in camp and at 'ease' until the scouts returned, they were still in the field in hostile territory and anyone who wasted their energy or endangered their camp by fighting (either verbally or physically) was going to discover that the chain of command was a very literally chain that they would be savagely beaten with to an inch of their lives. Which both Jzzist and Giselwin knew from personal experience was going to take a while.

The marines largely fell somewhere on a spectrum when it came to working alongside their mutant auxiliaries. On the end of the spectrum that was perfectly content with working with them and actually valued them as people were Hans Sternheim and Oronice Stinkgard, both former members of Jzzist's gang who followed their leader still in their new lives. On the opposite end were Ratibor Ratwick, Mauger Lichtensten and Galen Kruges... all of whom were originally members of Giselwin's crew. Everyone else feel somewhere in between the two extremes, with the third 'neutral' party attracting those who didn't really care what form their auxiliaries took, as long as they were competent and could be trusted.

By mutual agreement, Jzzist and Giselwin opted out of taking part in the discussion, making it clear that as long as everyone obeyed the official legion doctrine as handed down by Legion Marster Scraphurst they could have whatever personal feelings they wished and instead served as unofficial refs to make sure that things didn't get out of hand.

The conversation ceased the moment the lookouts spied the first of the scouts start to return in their groups. The picture that was painted as they started to return was a grim one; Most of the teams came back with fewer numbers. Some teams didn't report back at all. Each returning scouting party brought with them news of various Pan-Pacific defenders having actively gone through the process of discovering and closing off the various routes they were scouting, actively shooting at anything that got within range of their guns or triggering traps and ambushes.

A brief war council was held as a very important question was raised by Giselwin. "Is it possible the enemy caught wind of our plans already?"

Surprisingly, one of the human nomad guides shook his head and spoke up "Doubtful. When the Pan-Pacific marched on the Hive, they actively broke into the underhive from a number of the more well known hidden entrances. If I had to guess, the new ruler of the Hive is just paranoid that someone will repeat their great achievement against them."

"That would explain the older dead bodies reported." Hans spoke up, glancing around at the rest of the council "Seems like they're paranoid about anyone trying to get into the hive via any method but the official gates. I don't think the plan is bust, but what options of entry do we have?"

Once they went through the list and crossed off those confirmed to be discovered and sealed off... and making the logical assumption that any route that the scouting team failed to return at all from wasn't viable either, the list consisted of a single entryway.

Speaking up for the first time after the council was called, Jzzist asked the leader of that scouting team "This path wasn't sealed?"

A head with three eyes nodded before answering "It wasn't. In fact, the patrols seemed to outright be avoiding the area. We would have investigated further but we decided reporting back was more important."

The news caused... something of a look to pass between the Jzzist and Giselwin camps. Jzzist, Hans and Oronice seemed rather amused, while Ratibor and Galen seemed nervous. Giselwin himself seemed to grow quite pale. Mauger looked ill at ease, but clearly not as affected as his companions.

"Wise decision." Jzzist offered to the mutant... even going so far as to give them a smile. "I am very familiar with that passageway. The reason they haven't sealed it off and avoid it is because they're pretty sure anyone who uses it isn't going to be seen again. If you had used it blindly, they would have been right. But-"

Before Jzzist could say anymore, Giselwin spoke up in a voice that sounded loud at first, but quickly had the emotion reigned in. "NO. There has got to be another way. Any other way but that one. Maybe one of the scouting parties simply got taken by a threat from the wastes and we should check again."

Seeing one of their leaders show actual fear about this possibly caused the unease to spread among the unit, but Jzzist's resolve seemed to combat the panic. "As I was saying. Having lived in the area it leads to for years, I know how we can safely travel on the other side." He paused, before he decided to say something in an understanding tone of voice that surprised Giselwin to his core. "...I don't blame you for being afraid. I don't know exactly what you and yours fell prey to when you invaded all those years ago, but when we saw the aftermath we knew it was one of the nastier bastards lurking in the dark. Running into one of them changes a person and I never thought less of you for losing your mind. But I promise you, I can get us through that area safely."

With a slight gulp, Konrad Amutiel decided to speak up and be heard by his fellow marines. "What are you talking about?"

After a moment of silence between Jzzist and Giselwin, Giselwin looked away in order to let Jzzist speak freely. Taking charge, Jzzist turned and looked dead serious at Konrad as he answered "I am going to tell every last one of you some very important rules that you need to adhere to, because your lives will depend on following them to the letter where we are going, because we're walking into a ghost story."
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Hidden 7 mos ago Post by Antediluvixen
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Antediluvixen Kemonomimi Dystopia Creator

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The Cleansing of Nordyc

The First Blow

After the long, thunderous prelude of the bombardment, the storm seemed to abate. The trails of artillery fire that had torn through the sky with furious roars grew slower and sparser, then stopped altogether, leaving the angrily howling northern wind and the swirl of snowy dust the sole masters in the leaden heavens. It could have seemed, for a brief and deceptive moment, that peace might have had a tenuous opportunity to reassert itself over the northern waste. This hope, however, would soon have proved vain to any who cast their eyes down from the now unperturbedly restless skies and unto the earth below, where the stirring of mankind’s ever eager lust for battle belied the moment of respite’s true nature. It was no more than a fleeting spell of calm before greater forces yet collided to set off the tempest’s fullest and bloodiest magnitude.

Already, the lightly undulant line of the horizon was beginning to blacken with sinister shadows. Stirred like so many hornets by the volleys against their forts, the teeming throngs of the wyrd-poisoned techno-tribals of the northern confederation were spilling out onto the plain, eager to trample the invaders in open combat rather than perish under their crumbling walls. On the other side of the field, those that marched under the Raptor’s standard began to move against them. Vast ranks wrapped in furs and thick cloaks shuffled, clutching their protective garb against the unremitting Nordyc chill. The steel-clad giants of the Primarch Ushotan’s legion preceded them on the formation’s wings with grim eagerness, here and there breaking into a run with feral snarls on their faces before being reluctantly recalled to order by their little more disciplined sergeants.

Closer to the center of the Imperial line, a cluster of figures in slate-coloured carapaces kept pace with the more sedate of the Legio Cataegis. They were not each as massive as the Thunder Warriors, and a mere fraction of their number, but their serried ranks were straighter, and their loping advance more focused. The black metal of rough, skeletal-looking augmentic limbs blended with the gray of their plate and the unvarnished metal of their chainswords, the soft golden halo around the crest of their leader’s helmet the only bright spot in their dour troop.

Behind them closely followed amongst the newest of the Legions, known merely as the Steel Sentinels, numbering lesser than those such as the ones that advanced before them. Led by a gene warrior bearing a powered sword and shield, his blade itching for the hollowed combat promised to his kin. Yet, without the excitement that ran into his veins, Legion Master Arturas Pend spoke into his vox, “Master Skorr, cousin, the nineteenth are advancing behind your force. Know that your rear shall be secure and we will ensure these blighted spawns do not break through your flanks.”

Small companies began to disperse amongst the rear of the centerline, readying themselves for an assault to follow up any gains that their cousins may make. Arturas marched at the head of his force, eyeing down the foul opponents that he had been ordered to show no quarter to. Other vox chatter entered his ears as his officers began to feed reports of the Thunder Warriors’ eagerness, a fact he would relay to the front, “Be wary of the instability of our predecessors, cousin. They seem much too eager for open combat.”

“I cannot say I like them,” returned Skorr’s voice, tinged with the whistling Antarctic accent, “They are like the mirror of the barbarians ahead of us. If we can count on robust sides despite their disorder, you have our thanks. But what of the others? Was there no third legion of ours here today?”

“That would be us, esteemed comrades of the ninth and nineteenth.” A new voice crackled in, an Achaemenid noble’s accent tinting each syllable. “Our numbers are very few, and so we hold ourselves in reserve waiting to strike. I assure you, our presence will not be missed once we act. However we are few enough that we would be wasted in the initial clash. Tie the foe down for us and I promise you, the warriors of the Fifteenth will not be found wanting.”

In the back lines of the Imperial formation, the Sirens of Terra readied themselves. Small in number, it was as their Legion Master had said, they would simply be lost in the maelstrom of battle were they to join the initial clash. Instead the Fifteenth - not even a full thousand strong - prepared themselves to deliver the coup de grace. When the enemy forces were tied down, the Legion would leap into action and deliver the killing blow.

Though the bulk of the Legion held back from the front lines, a few of its number had deployed to the front regardless, marching forward in their lavender patterned armor alongside Achaemenid auxilia, the mortal soldiers accustomed to the warm climate further south shivering in the cold as they did so. They would be of little use held back to assist with the Legion’s inevitable strike, and so they and a few of the emperor’s gifted gene-warriors would help to ensure exactly that.

“Then it would seem our battle line is made up,” Arturas spoke, watching as lines grew ever closer and closer. The Master of the Nineteenth pointed his blade past the legion that moved ahead of him and spoke clearly into the vox, transmitting to all the Astartes and Proto-Astartes available, “As the Emperor wills, let us fall upon these monsters and let there be no quarter. Show these beasts steel! Show them the Truth! Let our guns silence their prayers, and let our swords stab at the heart of their faith! For Raptor and Imperium!”

A hoarse, staggered cheer rose from the lines in response as the foe came into view. Even in this darkest age of Terra, it seemed, few places could have mustered such an enormity of malformation and grotesquerie. Thinner but wider than the Imperial formation, threatening to engulf it with burgeoning force, the hordes of Maulland Sen bore forward with a cacophony of inarticulate howls, barbarous chants and tortured metallic cries. Mobs of savages draped in ragged furs and sparse plates of beaten armour, cultic symbols visibly scarred into their skin where it was carelessly exposed despite the cold, roared as they brandished blades and crude stubbers. A closer look from augmented eyes revealed the clear touch of unclean forces upon them. Several faces in the mob were missing an eye, a nose, an ear, or else had a third pupil glaring balefully from improbable angles. Others were misshapen as if made of crumpled clay, lopsided jaws drooling ferally in the tangle of wild beards. Far too many hands, not all of them humanly proportioned, reached out from the human mass.

Less mentionable forms yet towered over it. Thick-limbed giants rivalling the Thunder Warriors stamped and growled with bestial voices, products of a gene-craft far cruder than what had birthed the Hymalazian legions: their heads, where they were not covered by ungainly rounded helms, were a hideous sight, eyes, teeth and folds of skin commingled in such a chaos that it was amazing the brutes were alive at all. But live they did, and their tremendous spiked mauls and chainaxes tore the air with frightful energy. Cybernetic miscreations, like ambulant trees with trunks of stretched flesh surmounted by thrashing metallic branches, pushed to the forefront, hunger for either bloodshed or release writ large in their vitreous steel-caged eyes. Gleams of sickly light passed over the infernal mob, their source uncertain but their menace palpable.

Uncaring of the enemy’s monstrosity, the Steel Lords were already rushing to meet them. Curt volleys of bolter and stub-gun fire were exchanged between the approaching files, the tell-tale red of Ushotan’s unstable plasmagun flaring somewhere to the right, before a crash of metal and clamour of screams signalled the beginning of the melee. Nordyc-men and Thunder Warriors tore at each other with wild abandon, and the dry soil was soon heavy with blood.

“Reviled by flesh! Death walks with us!” Nyrid’s voice rose in the relative clarity of the center as the blade-champion emerged at the head of his files, waving his sword forward.

“Death walks with us! Graachal! Qasechik!” answered a cry from the slate-armoured warriors behind him, the unifying language of the Raptor blending with fragments of harsh dialect from their half-remembered youth. With practiced agility, their ranks extended and became a crescent, bristling with sharp wedges along its fore. Never halting its motion, the arcuate formation continued to gain speed, angling as it surged to meet the frothing rage of Maulland Sen.

The nineteenth for their part did not engage with the enemy line, not initially, their forces content to observe behind the fighting. Yet, there was an unease in the Steel Sentinels for the lines grew chaotic as the screech of metal against metal rang in the air. The signal came in parts, Arturas sent forth company after company to the front spitting bolt fire and revving chain blades. Their goal was simple, ensure the abominable forces did not break through their lines and increasingly company after company had to sprint to the right flank as the Thunder Warriors, so dedicated to their carnage moved much faster than their auxiliary forces could keep up.

Arturas himself ran amongst the right flank of their fighting, his blade spinning and his shield flaring as he and his officers locked step with one another. Many others of his legion refused to break rank as they dogmatically held to their line. Many began flinging grenades past their shield walls, fragmentation tearing through the crowds of clustered combatants as they slowly made their way forwards. Screams of the damned may have filled the air, but the Sentinels allowed not one shout to be heard from their mouths with their focus solely upon maintaining the battleline.

The bulk of the Fifteenth lay in reserve, behind the wailing clash of steel and the shrieks and groans of the dying in the unfolding maelstrom. They stood in silence, the din of rending metal and tearing flesh dampened by distance and by the bulk of the engines of war that stood around them. Their time would come, they knew, but even so it sat ill with many to simply wait for the opportune moment to strike. They had trust in the strength of arms of the others, of course, and of their own volunteers and auxilia in the front line, but even for the mind of an Astartes trained as the ultimate weapon - the waiting was almost unbearable.

At the front, the auxilia and the volunteers of the Sirens felt no such mounting tension. Around them on all sides the hideous screech of grinding metal and earth shattering explosions split the air as the two armies drew near. Fighting in tight, disciplined formations the Achaemenid auxilia held their formations as they poured accurate, lethal fire from infantry rifle and vehicle mounted heavy weapon alike into the enemy. The hulking power armoured forms of the Sirens, some bearing archaeotech heirlooms passed down through noble lineages of the Empire. They raised their hands, shouting words of encouragement and defiant war cries to the echoing cheers of the auxilia around them as they steadily advanced.

“Sons and daughters of the Achaemenid Empire!” One of them shouted, her voice amplified across the formation, “We are first among all and second to none! Do your duty to your Emperor and tell your daughters and sons that you stood with the Imperium of Man on this day!”

A chorus of voices answered in response, mostly mortal, with the voices of the astartes of the fifteenth joining in. The Auxilia of the Fifteenth surged forward, advancing with speed and in good order towards the enemy in tandem with the other imperial forces.

It was but a short space that divided them now, marked less by distance than by the tangle of clashing forms all across the field. Savagery clung about the people of Nordyc like a noisome mantle, but none could have faulted their courage. Inexhaustibly they hurled themselves against the compact ranks of their foe, new faces contorted by rage and mutation surging forward to replace the many who fell. In the van and on the flanks they could find no breach. The Thunder Warriors’ unremitting advance hammered them; the undulant wedges of the Ninth Legion, advancing and withdrawing like the teeth of a chainsword along their line, viciously ground those caught between them; walls of steel and gunfire met them where they forced ahead. More warriors streamed from the collapsing forts, but the human tide had slowed to a trickle, miring itself in a stagnant churn of dead and mangled bodies around the feet of those who still stood. The mass of fur and loose armour grew thinner, leaving more and more visible those who better endured the brutal winnowing of battle. The genewrought hulks and cybernetic miscreations birthed by the priest-king’s troves of ancient machinery waded indifferently through the sanguine sludge, their looming figures more compact, mace-fists and electrified claws crushing metal and shredding flesh.

A rhythm of voices rose through the cacophony of screams, blows and roaring weaponry. It was not that it sounded louder than all of them, rising over the infernal storm with impossible force. It was but a rhythmic, guttural chant of a few throats, something that should by all rights have been lost in the deafening violence. Yet it persistently droned into every ear, as though the mouths from which it issued had been over the shoulder of each and every combatant, singing their litany to them and them alone. The words were strange to the Imperials, indecipherable even to those passingly familiar with the speech of the northern tribe, but they were heavy with an unmistakable sense of omen, of ponderous menace. The warriors of Maulland Sen seemed heartened by it, and their eyes were large and vitreous with focus.

Behind their straining lines came the source of the chant. A group of shapes no taller than men walked slowly among the hastening reinforcements, untouched by them as a rock by parting water. Long and shapeless robes of crude grey sackcloth covered them from their hooded heads to their feet, unseen below the ends of tattered fabric. Only their hands were visible, crooked and wrinkled, holding long staves of wood and bone almost like banners. The unclean radiance that flickered over the northmen’s heads coruscated and danced on the ends of those staves and the talismans hung from them, sparks and corpse-candles slithering and chasing each other in a kaleidoscopic game that was painful to the eyes. It seemed to shine brighter, gaining in intensity, and yet it did not shed more light nor cast deeper shadows from the bodies around; motes of luminance scattered like disturbed insects before falling to the ground, into the bloodied snow, the ragged skin and broken bones…

A cry of alarm went up from somewhere. A churning noise gurgled from the ground. There was motion below, beyond the shifting trample of feet. A crushed hand twitched; a dismembered jaw gaped and snapped shut. With the creeping steadiness of a nightmare, impelled by swarming sparks of indescribable colours, life returned to those who had been torn away from it. Dead fingers grasped for the legs above them, mounds of oozing flesh coiled and slithered, their horrid weight as dangerous as quicksand. The entire mass of the mangled dead was stirring into horrific animation, a vast amorphous terror that groped in blind and indiscriminate vengeance. Lines wavered as men were dragged down by resurgent carcasses, bloody mulch crawling down noses and throats with a perverse will. Screams mounted. The chant was ubiquitous, oppressive.

As the decrepit song spread, so too did the notice of the Sentinels who had measured their pace and slowed their advance. As the dead began to rise, many of them saw them now surrounded by the dead, grasping and scratching at powered armour. Shots rang, swords slashed, death was continually delivered and brought back. It was not until an order rang amongst the vox that the Sentinel’s orders would change, “The dead rise, brothers! Move to protect the auxilia, by the Emperor’s will cast these abominations back to the grave! First Company with me, strike down the rapturous! Show them Steel!”

The cohorts of the Sentinels broke to fall back to the auxilia, many having to hack and slash their way through the dead and the dying that dared impede them. They rampaged like men possessed to get back to their unaugmented forces, knowing only but their duty to protect humanity from the horrors that their enemy now brought to them. Chainswords swept, volkite flared, death reigned. Even when they had made it back to the auxilia it had become a free-for-all as men fought desperately to survive. Undead attempted to climb aboard a stuck tank, but Sentinels moved quickly to dislodge them before helping the trapped crew evacuate.

Arturas’s command company, numbering only fifty strong, rammed through the enemy hordes, hacking and slashing their way to the enemy wizards with all due haste - stepping upon the dead and crushing them before they could rise once more. His power sword cleaved through his foes with little effort and his shield caught the blade of any gene-warrior brave enough to face him. He moved through the swarm like a butcher through a slaughterhouse, all with his eyes laid upon a grand prize - for his honour compel him to seek out the head of the snake.

The auxilia of the Fifteenth was at first nearly overwhelmed as the dead began to rise around them. Formless, shapeless horrors claws at their limbs and their armor, pulling weapons and their wielders down into the sucking morass that now roiled and thrashed about them as a primordial sea of fury and hate. Devoid of the strength of an Astartes, they hacked at the grasping limbs and gnashing teeth with sword and bayonet. Bursts of automatic weapons fire tore fresh gashes in the flesh of the undead. Bright gouts of flame immolated whole swathes of the battlefield as incendiary grenades and flamers belched forth their deadly payload.

The formation seemed near to breaking as its soldiers warred with the dead under their feet. One man was dragged into the swirling morass as cold fingers pried at his armor, pulling his weapon away from him. The weak light of the arctic sun seemed to fade away underneath a writhing mass of flesh.

And then an armored hand reached through, silver and lavender plating jarringly at odds with the nightmarish morass. With a single mighty sweep of the hand the moving corpses were sent flying, limbs and viscera scattering away as the armored bulk of a Siren pulled him from the dark, pressing a rifle from one of the fallen into his hands. “To arms, soldier. Your duty to the Emperor is not over yet!” She bellowed, her sword cutting a wide swathe through the corpses as she fought her way to another entrapped trooper. “The enemies of tomorrow cannot stand against the sons and daughters of the Achaemenid Empire, do your duty soldiers!”

Abruptly, light flowed over the combatants, living and non-dead, from the western edge of the battle, as if a second aureous sun had suddenly risen to illuminate what ancient Sol could not reach through the leaden northern clouds. There was a sound as of thunder, and the ground quaked. The tribesmen bearing down from the Nordyc’s right flank were swept from their feet, and for the first time seemed to hesitate, dread dawning through the furor in their eyes. Even the sorcerers’ chant faltered. The stirring dead grew sluggish, grasping limbs weakening their grip.

A great cheer went up from the ranks of the Steel Lords, for they were the first to see - their Master was with them, and his advent had staggered the abominable horde. With redoubled vigour they trampled over the twitching charnel, gleefully mulching flesh and bone underfoot. Like a vast pincer of crude metal, their two wings began to close, crushing the faltering resistance in their path and sealing the heart of the enemy between them.

Near that core, the warriors of the Ninth Legion moved likewise. The masses of corpses given impious life had bogged down the manoeuvers that animated their plan of battle, and in the face of the sorcerous onslaught they could do little more than hunker down with bilious obstinacy, bleeding and clinging to the ground they had gained with tooth and nail. Now, however, they tore themselves free of the bloody preternatural hydra, and a thousand chainblades roared their defiance.

“He watches us!” Skorr’s voice barked through the vox. The golden gleam on his helmet was a reflecting flame that moved towards the head of his cohorts. “Forward the flamers! Blade-brothers, flense them!”

The slate-armoured giants surged, their frontline fracturing into groups of two and three which dispersed to engage the remaining gene-hulks and cyberhorrors of Nordyc, hacking into them one by one with the remorseless coordination of born head-hunters. From behind them advanced legionaries laden with harnesses and nests of tubes, and their weapons spat rivers of incinerating flame, sparing neither the living nor the fallen. A rhythmic murmur drifted from below their visors, inaudible to any in the din of battle but the sharpest of superhuman ears.

“We will sweep the way. Cut down the witch-spawn!” the Legion Master’s whistle coursed through the Astartes’ vox. A grotesque amalgam of iron and skin reared over him and he spoke, four arms poised to strike; he did not flinch as one of his brothers leapt forward and hewed the monster in twain with a single swing of the tremendous chainaxe held in his bionic claws.

A voice crackled to life over the vox, “And that we shall. Forward, sisters, strike them down!”

From Skylance gunships loitering in the rear, the Sirens burst forth onto the awaiting enemy. Vapor contrails trailed behind rockets launched from wing pods as squadrons of the craft soared out from the cold skies. The volunteers in the frontline cheered their war cry, and those few among their ranks who possessed psychic abilities now unleashed them to their fullest. Great gouts of flame and ribbons of unearthly lightning erupted from the Imperial line. Whole columns of the warriors of Maullen Sen were slain where they stood, burned and shocked to the bone. The auxilia and warriors of the Fifteenth surged forward now in tandem with the long awaited strike of their Legion. Explosions ripped through the teeming masses of the enemy soldiers as rockets slamming in around them.

As the Fifteenth’s Auxilia pushed forward, the gunships swooped low over the enemy, disgorging the resplendent silver and lavender armored forms of the Sirens of Terra into the heart of the enemy formation. A Sister leapt from the craft, coming down with a thundering crash onto the unfortunate forms of three of the enemy warriors, the gleaming sword staff in her hands crackling with golden energy. She raised it to the sky, and a bolt of lighting crashed down upon its tip, fanning out in all directions and racing through dozens, hundreds of the enemy around her. Another raised a staff topped with the Imperial eagle, bright bursts of flame immolating all who stood before her. The strike force grew in size and ferocity as the last complement of Astartes crashed into the enemy throng, ripping and tearing a bloody swathe through the hordes of the north.

At their head the Sirens’ Legion Master, Princess Pantea herself, held a gleaming sword in one hand as she crashed down amidst the thickest of the enemy horde, near the strange figures whose sorceries had awakened the dead. A great column of flame appeared in her hand as she hacked and incinerated the throngs of the enemy soldiers, leading the charge toward the center of the enemy army. The sorceries of the witches of Maulland Sen met their match as the psychic warriors drawn from the Achaemenid Empire unleashed the full fury of their warp-spawned might.

The arrival of the Fifteenth seemed to send a physical shockwave through what remained of the enemy army as they were thrown back or carved apart both by sword and volkite as by terrifying psychic wrath. The weakening numbers of the Maulland Sen armies fell apart around the concerted strike of the Fifteenth as they carved through them with ease. The armored spearhead of Astartes continued to cut and blast their way to the center, eager to cut off the many heads of the snake that was the enemy army. The legion master herself was the first to arrive, breaking into the circle of calm that surrounded the witches of the enemy army. The withered forms raised their hands in defense, conjuring forth eldritch tongues of warp-flame that blasted against the ceramite armor of the Sirens.

The snow around them melted away and the earth beneath it first thawed, then it too melted to glass and stone beneath the fury of the onslaught. The Sirens’ own powers flared as they threw forth wards and shields, sparing them and the thunder warriors they fought alongside from the heat of the foul magicks of the northmen. More of them converged in a flanking maneuver, bearing swords, volkites, and yet more sorceries of their own as they lay into the witches of the north from behind. A sword burst through the back of one - and in that instant the spell shattered, the devastating column of flame dissipating against the swirling vortex of imperial flame that shielded the legion from the effects of the blast. The warriors of the fifteenth charged through, warp-lightning and swords putting an end at last to the vile sorceries of Maulland Sen - at least for now.

With its unclean heart excised, the horde crumbled. Now unhampered by preternatural obstacles, the Imperial lines swept over the more and more thin and sparse pockets of Nordyc resistance. Even the savage northlanders saw now that no deliverance would come from their gods, while the awesome presence of the Lord of Hymalazia pressed as surely upon their spirit as his forces did on their ranks. They broke then, throwing down their weapons with cries of dismay and fleeing for the dubious safety of their shattered redoubts, only those fully lost to the berserkergang standing their ground in frothing rage before being struck down. The lumbering horrors they had unleashed were cut to pieces where they stood, crashing to the earth in mounds of tangled wire and viscera. The Steel Lords’ raucous cries of triumph filled the air as bolter fusillades scythed down the retreating foes.

The first blow had been struck, and the icy outer shell of Maulland Sen had cracked.

The air after the battle was eerily quiet. Even the wind seemed to have subsided, as though nature itself, or what remained of it on ailing Terra, had been cowed by the stupendous forces that had raged beneath the ever-wintry sky. A pall of silence had replaced its dirge, as heavy as the tainted clouds overhead, neither flesh nor metal raising a distinct voice as auxilia busied themselves extricating their feet from mulched flesh and clearing fractured bone from the tracks of their vehicles.

This quiet was due in no little part to the Legio Cataegis’ absence. Inflamed by seemingly boundless furious energy and with nary a thought for a celebration that must have seemed to them premature, the Steel Lords had rumbled onwards as tempestuously as their namesake in pursuit of the withdrawing remnants of the Nordyc horde. Their Primarch had spared but a glance and a scoff through scarred lips for those who would rest while something remained that could be slain, then set off to join his brother warriors, spurring them on with vicious jeers. The coarse laughter that answered him had been the last to fade into the bleak plains.

The ever stoic soldiery of the Steel Sentinels had collectively met the Primarch’s gaze, their eyes focused as they awaited word to continue their own advance from Arturas’. Yet, they would not be setting themselves loose immediately, for Arturas stalked amongst the field of corpses, his metallic boots crunching bone and flesh with each step with little thought to them. There was silence amongst the field still, though not for long as the master approached that of the fifteenth. He spoke to her with an eerie humour, “You stole the honour of my kill against the witches, I was nearly within sword-length of their putrid guard.”

Princess Pantea raised the visor on her helmet, sable eyes shimmering with a fleeting wisp of golden energy. “Is that so, honored master of the nineteenth?” She asked, smiling, “My vision must have been obscured by the chaff you busied yourself with. I will be sure to save you the honor of the next kill against such a leader.” She laughed, sheathing her sword and closing the remaining distance between them, extending a hand. “All that said, you made your mark known in your own way, and you and your Legion’s actions saved many of my Auxilia and the mortal forces we serve alongside. Because of you they live to serve the Emperor another day, and there is no greater honor than that in my eyes. You have my thanks.” She turned, scanning the horizon, “And where are the warriors of the Ninth? They too are deserving of honor for their part in this battle.”

A flash of pale light over gold preceded the answer.

“Do not fear for your laurels,” Skorr said genially as he approached. His armour was spattered with red and unclean black, but seemed unscored. He stopped some paces away. “We need no honor other than victory, and that our Lord witness us.”

Nyrid came some distance at his shoulder, metal carapace scarred and encrusted like a butcher's cutting-table. In his hands he held the giant skull of an augmented hulk, and crudely flayed it with strokes of his combat knife. Once little remained of skin and muscle, he tore away the jaw and carefully snapped the underside, then scooped out the viscous brain matter within.

“Witness us he does,” he spoke in a grave voice as he raised the hollowed skull over his head and laid it upon his helmet. Bloody rivulets ran down the edge of his visor and dripped onto the breastplate. Pale eye-lenses looked out through the sockets.

Behind the two, those of their brothers not busied with tallying the dead sifted through the masses of fallen enemies, fishing out overgrown and blackened bones. Some cut at the bodies with short blades. Other daubed their hands in blood and ash to draw sigils upon their chests, shoulders, faces.

Arturas’ eyes narrowed behind his visor at the display, being reminded only of the superstitious rituals that they now fought to replace with Truth. Yet, he would not dismiss the culture of fellow Astartes for he knew not where they hailed from and what strange traditions they had been steeped in. The legion master of the Nineteenth spoke softly towards his strange cousin, “I am sure our master watches our victory. That said, I suspect you and your men are collecting trophies after a well-fought first battle?”

“Spoil-taking is the way of our forebears, and we would not see that link severed,” Skorr nodded, “Pride, tradition, belonging, such things strengthen a warrior's spirit. They are the cold that tempers after the forge of battle. If this little tribute to barbarism is the price to pay, so be it.” He gave a toneless laugh, then his voice became solemn. “But there is more to this. The Emperor has placed great trust in us despite our troubled birth. We will make it so that whenever he looks upon us, he shall see that we are true to his design. The death and the fear of his enemies are our mantle, and the ashes of their works our warpaint. Is the prize of our deeds in his name not as fine a sign of fealty as the Raptor itself?” With that playful question, the cheer returned to his words.

The Master of the Nineteenth was silent but for a moment, contemplating the words in a fraction of a second before giving a silent nod. The Sentinel rested his hand on the pommel of his blade as he took a more relaxed stance with Skorr’s words reverberating in his mind. “Aye. I suppose so. Forgive me, I meant not to question your loyalty to our Lord and the Raptor.” The Astartes bowed to his kin for a moment. With his apology out of the way, Arturas inquired to both the Master’s, “What is our next move? I do believe the Steel Lords hunt for more adequate prey. They may even be upon the city proper soon enough.”

“Perhaps, we should make for the spires. Make this execution swift and spare the non-combatants of a sacking by the Thunder Warriors,” Arturas suggested, looking to the Pantea for affirmation on the plan.

The master of the fifteenth silently raised an eyebrow at the Ninth’s customs, though said nothing of any negative opinions she might have held. Instead she nodded to him, “Connection to tradition is part of what binds us to our humanity.” She said, “And none can deny your commitment to the Emperor’s vision and will. Let our enemies tremble before the signs of what awaits those who stand in the way of progress.”

She looked towards their ultimate destination, watching as the Thunder Warriors grew smaller and smaller in the distance. “I would second this plan. Cut off the head of the snake and spare the people the wrath of those brutes. Too many lands have been brought into this Imperium as naught but blackened ash and charred bone.”

Ahead, the darkening skies of Nordyc loomed as a grim promise.
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Terran Low Orbit

“I think that bit used to be an ocean, XV-25.” The chirpy tone directed towards the automaton was met only with a series of confirmation beeps, the speaker looking out over the slowly turning visage of Terra. The orbital station wasn’t large, by design, intended once for some sort of communications relay. The great nest of optical and communications relays now repurposed for a new aim, observation and espionage.

Acolyte Verona Zorel Omatah, colloquially known to those who mattered as ‘Oma’ didn’t like to ponder the true role of her post too much, which, she often considered, was probably the main reason she had been assigned to it. Once she had longed to study the intricacies of the Biologus, her father had been a dedicated organist and she had inherited much of his fascination with the study. But then her training had begun, and her talent for datasmirthery had become known to both her and the wider Priesthood. There were few of her generation who had completed their training by now, let alone receive a post in what could be considered a honoured role.

Oma, though, couldn’t’ quite bring herself to despise the technobarbarians of the world below as much as she was supposed to. Of course, academically, she was aware of how substantial a roadblock the factions below had been to the pursuit of knowledge, often attacking the Explorators who had landed on Terra, seeking the secrets of a lost age. She had experience with some explorators though, and she quite understood the desire to shoot them. Her listening post was a key part of any ongoing operations, watching the world below for gaps in the capabilities of the Terran savages. To her, it more felt like listening out for a chance to drop a strike team on some poor people who finally thought they had a moment of peace on the world below. Because of this, no matter how capable she was at the spooling of the data-looms, of the artistry of encryption, she was never tempted to manipulate, she would provided objectivity through ambivalence.

She enjoyed her post though, for reasons many back home would probably find childish, or even vaguely heretical for the true emotion puritans.
“Hurry up, XV-25, it’s starting.” She called back to the automation which began to clank its way across the small lounge space, the smell of freshly fried cooking wafting ahead of it. With a loud clunk the thinking-machine came to rest beside her, handing over the paper bag in its hands. Once she was sure she wouldn’t be kicked off the station for the breach of protocol, she made some alterations to her nutrition station, able to approximate something close to her favourite comfort snack from back home. She bit into the first long stick of fried and sweetened dough with a happy hum, before pointing out across the viewport. It was entirely unnecessary, the automaton only had rudimentary optical sensors and the barest hint of what could be considered intelligence, but that hadn’t stopped her adopting the assistant as a sort of pet.

At the trace of her finger, the spectacle begun. The blazing light of Sol began to crest over the far horizon of Terra. The light streamed through an atmosphere abused by thousands of years of industry ad war, igniting the tortured clouds into a kaleidoscope of light. The light formed a corona across the planetary rim, while the world danced in tendrils of rainbow light. It was a shame only XV-25 ever joined her in watching the Sunrise, her colleagues were far too lost in their tasks to consider such frivolous things.

Despite her capability, she was the least augmented of the small crew. This wasn’t too unusual, considering she was also the youngest member by several decades. It was unusual that someone of her age and junior rank within the Cult should be assigned to the position. Many subsects of the Cult didn’t adhere to the unrestrained augmentation found among her station mates, but they tended not to be members of the Data Logi. She didn’t quite see why, they already had computers, she had no desire to become one. Another deepfried snack passed her lips as she continued to watch the light show of the world below, and she mused that perhaps she could do with being a little less ‘fleshy,’ but that the Cult doctrine probably wasn’t there to shrink a robe size on your hips.

“You are wasting time, Acolyte Omatah.” The droning voice snapped her out of her reprieve in watching the planet below. Magus Hemmar had not approved of her assignment to his posting, nor her ‘eccentric’ qualities, although he had begrudgingly accepted the results she had brought to the team. A suggestion that perhaps by retaining more of her human form than the normal datasmyth she provided a more nuanced ability to manipulate data had once been posed in a report to him by another member of the team, and that had almost caused a station wide schism. Considering their team was made up of only four Acolytes and the Magos, it wouldn’t have been the most impressive of Terra’s civil wars.

“I’ve already finished the latest data package, it is ready for sacred transference when you have time to evaluate its merits, Honoured Magos.” Oma’s tone was chirpy, but her vision didn’t shift from her view. The twin mechdendrites that linked to the base of her spine motioned towards her nearby work station from her improvised seat infront of the observation window. That, along with the bright blue glow of her eyes, and the metal edging along her temples and cheek bones were the only visible signs of augmentation Oma presented.

A brief burst of noise from XV-25 confirmed to the Magus in simplified binharic that the Acolyte spoke true, the Magus responding in a noise that was part frustration and part impressed surprise. “If you committed fully to your task, Acolyte Omatah, you could have my position within mere decades.” She didn’t dislike Hemmar, despie their disagreements. He was committed enough to his belief in results orientated piety that he was honest in his reports about her capabilities. That, or he knew enough about her ability to understand no transmission from the post would be out of reach for her ability decrypt. Sometimes she did snoop on her colleagues, but only out of boredom.

“I wouldn’t want to take that from you, Honoured Magos, Observation Post Beta-4 wouldn’t be the same without you.” In truth, as much as she enjoyed the Sunrise, Oma didn’t want to consider spending the rest of her days aboard, no matter how divinely blessed the opportunity was.
“I see our assessments about the offensives across Eurasia have been vindicated.” The Magus didn’t speak further on the matter, the mechanical eyelids across his optic enhancements closing as his mind delved into the data package she had prepared for transmission to Mars, his modified memory cores rolling through the data at lightning pace.

“Yes, the ‘Imperium’ continues to press their Eastern front, their assault on the Nordyc bloc seems to be going well, if their own reports are to be trusted. I’ve been able to back that up via orbital imaging, but, sadly, the Sen don’t have much in the way of data-based communication to confirm from their side.” Oma stood and stretched, or at least floated up into a standing position, her mechadentries no longer holding her down to her throne of repurposed boxes. The installation was meant to be gravity locked, but steadily as the ancient systems aged more and more of the post had reverted into near zero-g. As the newest replacement, she’d been assigned one of said chambers as her work station, despite it posing the greatest risk to her functioning given her more human physiology. She didn’t mind for the short term, in fact, it was quite fun.

“Merica is a cascade of transmissions, the fighting must be fierce, but it does not seem as if all of the Vault-Cities have unified.” She continued to muse, correctly estimating where in the report the Magus would have reached. “The Pan-Pacific Invaders are starting to negotiate terms with some of them, it seems many are weighing up the opportunity that vassalage could give them in combating local rivals.” That, in fact, was exactly what the encrypted information passed between the invading force and some of the more central territories of Merica had shown her, timed with the start of the Imperium’s intervention into the territory.

“Very well, Acolyte Omatah, I will begin the sacred rites to-“

Every light in the room suddenly wavered for a moment, before returning to usual brightness. It was a momentary glitch that interrupted the Magus’ thought process, but he made to immediately carry on, were it not for the Acolytes sudden frantic activity. “Acolyte, your heart rate has increased dramatically, explain.”

Oma had her face practically pressed to the glass of the observation window, gazing down at the surface of Terra as a new series of lights joined her treasured Sunrise below. “Magus! That was an electronic disturbance from the surface, a detonation!”

“There is nothing in ongoing datastreams to suggest-“

“I can see it! It’s in Eastern Ursh.” She gestured frantically with both a finger and the right of her two mechadentries, her frantic motion causing the long strands of her blonde mane of hair to cascade around her in the weak gravity.

“Visual assessment is not a part of your duties, Acolyte.”
For once entirely ignoring her superior, Oma’s eyes blazed an even brighter blue as she accessed the Noosphere web of the station, the far more hidden and subtle enhancements to her cortex immediately plunging into the dataweave. There hadn’t been any warning from such sources prior, but now that the attack had commenced, and the territory below recovered from the electronic pulse, evidence blazed before her.

“Then look to the data, Magus, four thermonuclear detonations in Eastern Ursh.” While such devices had been a key factor in the current state of the world below, in the modern day they were vanishingly rare and even harder for the states below to maintain. That was, at least, the official stance of most of the Cult. Accepting that some of the Techno-Barbarians of Terra had become advanced enough to understand and implement the greater technologies of their past was something of a taboo. “It’s on their Eastern border, the Empire has struck them too.” Her voice was barely a whisper as she spoke, pulling together the conclusion from the data almost as fast as it was realised in real time. The gridlock of powers that had held sway over Terra for at least her entire lifetime was beginning to shift, a power grab that would have more consequences for Mars than even the Explorators could have anticipated.

“We may need to modify your report, Acolyte.”
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