XVIII Legion - The Black Manticores 2nd Battle Company
Bridge of the Dark Promise
Bridge of the Dark Promise
It took several precious hours of careful manoeuvring, but at last, the Black Manticores battle fleet above Ullanor Quintus was in position. Hulking starships formed Leonarys’ spear. The volunteer vessels hung in the black of the void at the tip of the formation with nothing but empty space and time between them and their inevitable demise. A strong core, an amalgam of frigate and destroyer class vessels, comprised the bulk of the force behind the damned. And finally, at the rear of the formation, the Dark Promise sat flanked by its two sister cruisers. Upon its bridge, Leonarys gazed out over his fleet, steeling himself for the battle to come.
He had commanded his officers to reassemble in the strategium aboard the bridge where they had drawn up their plan hours earlier. Ophiel Mectus was the last to arrive, muttering to a decrepit calligraphus servitor that had to take two steps to match his every one. The dull green eye lenses were lifeless, but his plethora of scrambling mechanical limbs were certainly alive, transcribing the Chief Lorekeeper’s every sentiment onto various data slates. Ophiel was likely keeping a personal log, or logging his own musings, or both. Either way, as he approached the hololithic projection on the central table of the strategium, he dismissed the servitor and greeted his fellow officers.
Leonarys turned away from the viewport. Despite the blackness, space always seemed bright in comparison to the grim electrical lighting of the bridge. The dark metallic walls and ceilings were lit by the ghostly pale blue of the projection and scattered off-white lumen lamps held in black iron sconces. He counted the heads at the table, ensuring everyone was present, before keying into his vox to run final operational assessments past the various responsible parties. The Enginseer had reported all clear, and the Master Gunner had reported that the Dark Promise was operating at 100% combat effectiveness with more than a twinge of excitement in his robotic voice. Other ships voxed in, reporting their own readiness. Some had not yet, but there was no more time to waste.
Leonarys strode powerfully and with purpose from the gantry, his crimson cloak flowing gracefully in his wake. The heavy thud of his power armoured boots gave all the signal the officers needed to end their muttering and fall silent for their Praetor. Captain Addis stood away to one side, staring furiously at the flickering gothic runes upon a data slate in an obvious attempt to avoid eye contact with Leonarys. He was gripping the slate with such intensity that his knuckles had lost their colour and his frame was visibly shaking, likely with a mixture of anxiety and frustration that the Astartes were so willing to sacrifice his men and ships for their mission. Still, the captain understood the importance of their mission and had ultimately resigned to the will of the Emperor’s superhuman servants.
Addis obviously noticed the approach of the towering Astartes Praetor but did his best to not acknowledge him. The captain jumped as Leonarys’ gauntlet landed on his shoulder. “Come, Captain.” The man finally looked up from his data slate and met the gaze of the space marine. Despite being tall for a human, he still had to crane his neck upwards to see Leonarys’ face. “Let us revisit our strategy one last time.” He gestured to the hololithic projection and the two joined the remaining officers. Leonarys knew there nothing he could say to allay the captain’s reservations, but the will of the Emperor demanded sacrifices.
A dozen or so pairs of red eyes fixed on their Praetor. Leonarys relayed their plan of attack one last time; the volunteers would go ahead and draw the Greenskins into open space, where the remainder of the fleet would be able to dispatch their vessels with ease out of range of the modified asteroid space stations. After that, they would be able to deploy teams to take the stations from the inside, and then head for the surface of Ullanor Quintus. The Astartes all nodded their approval of the plan, and Addis added his own, although the captain’s disingenuity was evident to all present. Leonarys walked back to his perch on the viewing platform, taking one last long look over the fleet. He keyed into his vox. “Captain. Begin our attack.”
Almost instantly, the rows of servitors seemed to jolt into action. Their mechanical fingers swarmed across their consoles, keying at runes and processing readouts. The cables wiring them into the ship hummed and pulsed periodically with energy, feeding their thoughts into the ship and relaying to each other with a cacophony of abhuman clicks and whirrs. Flittering serfs scuttled under the grimy white light of the bridge, carrying messages and data slates to and from. The deck rumbled as the engines of the cruiser flickered, stuttered, and then roared alight. Looking out of the viewport, Leonarys could see the ships in front of him doing the same. The Praetor keyed into his fleet-wide vox channel to address his forces.
“Men and women of the Imperium,” he started, his booming voice cutting through the nervous chatter aboard the decks of every vessel. Ubiquitously, crewmen, serfs and officers turned their attention, attending his every word. “The ferocity of the Greenskins knows no bounds. Their presence in this galaxy is a ravening plague upon our noble Imperium. Today, we punish their insolence and visit the righteous wrath of our Emperor upon these Xenos parasites. Men and women of the Emperor, I charge you henceforth. You are the Emperor’s shield, and you are the Emperor’s sword. On this day, you will do battle in His name, and you will know victory. For the Emperor.” Across the ships, thousands of clamouring voices echoed the salute in chorus, their shouts filled with immense pride and zeal. Glancing over his shoulder, it appeared even Captain Addis had stood straighter, his resolve apparently steadied somewhat.
The volunteer vessels at the spear tip of the fleet began their death march toward their foes. Leonarys keyed at his vox runes to address just the forlorn frigates who knew they were venturing to their doom. “Noble volunteers. On behalf of the entire Imperium of Man, I thank you for your nobility, courage and unflinching dedication. Without you, our mission on Ullanor Quintus would have failed before it began. I give you my word, your deaths will not be in vain and your sacrifices will not be forgotten. May the Emperor bless you with his protection. Good luck.” At that, he let the channel fall silent with a meek crackle, removing himself from his vox and refocussing his attention on the scene ahead of him.
The fleets crawled towards one another, the distance between the volunteers and the rest of the fleet growing as they raced towards the haphazard assemblies that the Orks had the audacity to call vessels. As soon as the Orks had seen their advance, they had matched it with their own, firing all of their ships into action and hurtling at their opposites with their signature aggressive disregard. By the ship’s scans and cogitations, Addis had confirmed, the Orks would meet the Imperial vessels just out of range of the asteroid weapons platforms.
The volunteer vessels reached their destination and began to turn, rotating to expose the onrushing Orks to the macrocannons that lined their gundecks. The Orks did not turn to do the same. Missiles and plasma shots launched across the space between, little more than a symbolic resistance, a roar of defiance in the face of the executioner’s down-swinging axe. At any moment, the Orks would turn to meet their fire and make quick work of the volunteers but expose themselves to the remainder of the fleet in doing so. Yet they did not turn. Their vessels hurtled on with reckless abandon. The background noise faded out and Leonarys’ vision tunnelled to the scene. Everything seemed to freeze for a moment. And then the first jagged hull of an Ork vessel rammed at full tilt into the side a frigate and cleaved the vessel in two.
Leonarys felt rage boiling up from within him as the other two volunteer ships fell to the same fate. Rage at his foe, and rage at himself. He had gravely underestimated the recklessness of their foe. One could not form a logical strategy against an enemy that knew no logic themselves. He shook himself from his angered stupor as the Ork fleet continued its reckless assault, its bestial gaze fixed firmly on the remaining Imperial ships. Leonarys could see their ships now in detail; scrap metal panels spray painted in reds and yellows and alien symbols scrawled hastily across their hulls. They were poorly constructed, yet terrifyingly effective.
“Addis! Send orders! Do not face these ships broadside or they will ram you. Order all combat personnel onto high alert and prepare for boarding. And by the Emperor, open fire!” Addis did as he was bid, and the black of space was set alight with munitions fire. Searing lances carved their way through the black, melting away the ramshackle plating of Ork vessels and penetrating into the interior, sucking out helpless Greenskin crewmen to suffocate in the vacuum. Plasma blasts charred hulls and macrocannon fire boomed. Some smaller Ork vessels erupted into flaming wreckages, debris scattering across space. Some larger vessels took the immense Imperial firepower in their stride, shrugging off shells bigger than an Astartes like bothersome insects and continuing their charge. The Dark Promise shuddered as an Ork shell collided with their voidshields, rocking them but in no danger of penetrating from such a distance. The cruiser returned in kind with a volley of concentrated lance fire that danced across the void, and then tore into the frigate’s hull, igniting fires across the starboard side and removing several gundecks form the battle. Leonarys looked on stoic from his viewing platform at the utter carnage in front of him. The blazing reds and yellows of explosives and fires painted his pale skin in the colours of battle. The volunteers, he knew, would not be the only ones to make sacrifices this day.
XVIII Legion - The Black Manticores 1st Battle Company
Blood sprayed across Tymos’ face as he jerked his talons free from the limp body of an Ork. Before the Greenskin corpse had hit the floor, he whirled around and found another target, his powered claws rending green flesh with devastating elegance. The red-soaked lightning talons hummed and crackled as they tore through skin, muscle and bone alike. A crude axe clanged off of the Primarch’s armoured shoulder, barely even scratching its surface, and Tymos retaliated in kind by opening the Ork’s belly with one hand and stabbing through its throat with the other.
To his right, Tymos saw Morael deflect a vicious blow with his storm shield, and return with an upward swing of his axe that sent his aggressor flying into the air in a spray of viscera, crumpling on the ground in a mauled heap. The familiar thud of bolt shots meeting flesh rang out around them as the marines of the Black Manticores set about their bloody work, dismantling their Greenskin foes in a blur of frenzied attacks. Tymos and Morael disposed of yet more Orks, slashing and slicing through the onrushing green bodies as if they were made of paper. Severed limbs and pooled blood adorned the ground by their feet, congealing the dirt into a clotted red-brown mess.
The fighting ended almost as suddenly as it had begun, lasting only a matter of minutes. Their ambush had been a resounding success; Tymos looked around and noted all of his black-clad sons still stood, although some had suffered wounds at the hands of the ferocious Xenos. Around him, the Black Manticores marines prowled the rows of bodies, ensuring each and every one of them was dead before decapitating them and collecting the heads, both to prevent their return and to add to their trophy collections. Some set about unclogging their chainaxe blades of the flesh their teeth had gorged themselves upon, and others set about ensuring their boltguns were loaded and their spirits appeased.
"Fourteen," a voice from behind the Primarch said with pride. Tymos turned to Morael as he approached, the arms and torso of his heavy armour coated in a thick dark red ichor. His pale head was shaven bare, but his mighty beard was wilder than ever, blood-soaked also and marked with scattered rings and adornments tangled into the matted hair. His left pauldron bared the mighty symbol of his Legion, while the right denoted his rank as an esteemed Praetor of the Black Manticores.
"You are becoming slow, Morael," Tymos responded with a wicked grin. "Eighteen." Tymos smiled at his friend, enjoying the look of disappointment on his face as he stooped the wipe the blood from his talons on the ragged cloth clothes of a fallen Greenskin before it had a chance to congeal in the joints of his weapons. "Was their leader among the dead?"
"No. It appears he does not sully himself with simple transport work. He is either smarter than we give him credit for, or he is a coward."
"Cowards do not rise far among these vile Xenos, Morael. He is wise not to expose himself so easily. Unfortunately for us." Tymos went to scratch his chin in thought, stopping short as soon as he remembered all his fingers were currently ferocious, needle-like blades. "Search the supplies and see if there was anything of importance among the shipment, any clue of where it was headed and why." Morael nodded his compliance and bowed before the Primarch, then took his leave, barking orders at this legionary brothers.
Their search bore no results of any tangible use to them. The supplies were mainly weapons and ammunition, which Tymos swiftly ordered his men to destroy. In good spirits, the squad trudged back to their transport, a Wraith-Pattern Stormbird. The black hull of the great aircraft shimmered in the light of the setting sun, its engines igniting with little more than a muffled hum and the ramp to the troop compartment lowering into the dirt with a soft hiss. Tymos climbed the ramp into the bright interior, lit with bright lights only slightly paler than his own ghostly flesh. His men followed him into the Stormbird, the ramp closing behind them.
The ship took off with a slight rumble, and then returned to smooth flight, floating through the skies with hardly a sound. The men inside bantered back and forth, comparing the trophies of their minor victory and brainstorming the best uses for the Ork skulls they had collected. Tymos sat in silence and solemnity, pondering. The war for the Ullanor Sector had been a curious affair thus far. He had recieved little communication about how the other Legions were faring. The Black Manticores had been orchestrating an extensive campaign of disruption and terror across positions away from the capital, doing their best to prevent supplies and reinforcements from reaching the main Ork positions. Orks amassed around their leader were difficult to scare, but no living thing was immune to hunger. As such, Tymos and his sons had destroyed dozens of convoys, ambushed reinforcing Orks on their way to the capital, and torn down numerous smaller strong points like scattered outposts. Yet their foe was innumerable, and the Xenos tide seemed to replenish itself with two more savages for every one that fell.
His thoughts were interrupted by the crackle of his vox. The voice of the ship's pilot came through. "My Lord Tymos. Our Astropaths have recieved word from Lord Leonarys. He says they have been victorious over Ullanor Quintus, but suffered losses in the battle above the planet." Tymos considered the words carefully. The Greenskin resistance at Ullanor Quintus must have been greater than they had anticipated. Leonarys had been successful, but from the sounds of his communication, he would likely be unable to take the planet with his remaining forces.
"Relay a message, pilot. Inform our Astropaths to tell Leonarys that I will petition my brothers for reinforcements. With the Emperor's blessing, they should arrive before any Ork reinforcements do." The pilot acknowledged, and then cut his vox communications. Next to the Primarch, Morael shuffled expectantly. "Leonarys was victorious over Ullanor Quintus." Morael grinned wryly. "He needs reinforcements, however. Once we return to our ship, we will have to pursue assistance from the other Primarchs." Tymos sighed. With the Astartes forces spread so widely across the system, finding someone who could divert the resources to aid his men would not be a simple task. Getting help from his brothers and sisters rarely ever was.