//Fortress of Steel - Gloriana-class
//Orbit of Sarghall
//Sarghall Status: Pacified
The indomitable battleship laid wait just inside the orbit of the once rebellious planet, now laid alight as hives were burned out as punishment for moving against the Imperium. Yet, the Fortress of Steel no longer loomed as a warship, but as a meeting ground for some of the Primarchs. Summoned by Usriel at the behest of Augor, this would be the first time the ship had seen more than one other Primarch wonder it's halls. So honored was it, that the Eldest - those oldest of the Nineteenth legion - lined its halls to bow to each of the Primarchs that would come aboard. It was a clear show of trust by the Legion, but the cold darkness of the ship betrayed their intentions for it was the Nineteenth who would oft be compared to nothing more than machines and aboard their home vessel was that coldness more apparent for no Astartes would dare speak.
A large, open room would be their meeting room, only filled with a large holographic display from a round table and chairs made for the Primarchs and Astartes. The banners of the machine skull hung on the walls, mostly hidden by the darkness but staring upon its occupants all the same with indifference. Servo-skulls fed in and out of the chamber, only carrying with them further intelligence that they deposited at the table then disappearing silently back into the darkness. Life was a foreign entity within the room, Primarch or not, all felt unwelcome except for the small lithe form of a woman in decorated armor who danced around the table preparing cups for the Demi-Gods. Her steps were eerily quiet, the only noise she made was that of a light hum and the clang of stone cups upon the table. Once she was done, she would pirouette away and await by a large door, silently staring out with almost glowing purple eyes.
It was she who gestured each of the Demi-gods to their seats, silently bowing her head to each as they entered - yet unmoving from the side of the door opposite of them.
“Behold Zaphariel ibn Varranis, Malik of the Illuminated Pandjoras Star Sultanate, Sheikh of the Star Serpent, Unifier of the Thirteen Houses, Child of the Hassan, Star Emir of the Dusk Sands, Master of the Suma’tah, Grand Faris of the Thirty Palaces, Grandmaster of the Assassins, Emissary of Falak, Nazim of the Seventy Sectors, Padishah of the Umbral Armada, Conciliator of the Three Hundred Worlds, the Arbitrator, Caliph of Neu Amalut, the Steel Companion, Grand Rival of the Dawn has arrived!” A thundering voice blasted next to the blonde haired woman as it entered the meeting room. The form of a titanic warrior in pitch black armor, an alabaster skull helmet, and midnight blue robes entered the room with its vox blasting. They stepped to the side to allow another giant with dusken armor, bronze pauldrons, and a laurel crested MK II helmet to stride in. They, too, stepped to the side to allow a final figure to step in.
Despite the powered armor that he wore, each step was as silent as it was light. Charcoal armor, trimmed with sunset orange, surrounded the striding figure. A hood the hue of the void wrapped around his head, traveling down into a lengthy tabard with a waist-cape ending. An amalgamation of thin pipes ran across the plating, while the tips of his gauntlets and greaves ended in sharp claws. A pair of orange eyes with predatory pupils gawked at the meeting room from beneath his hood. The trimmed beard of the warrior bore smiling lips for the occasion. Zaphariel, as he was announced, peered around the room in anticipation of his brothers and sisters. None had arrived.
“Raamiz, do not announce my presence to an empty room. Your unfiltered vox grills must’ve bursted Belloris’ sensitive, mortal eardrums.” The primarch turned to regard Usriel’s favored servant, his head ordinator of the house. Although the dusken deity of Pandjoras secretly held no love for mortals, Zaphariel felt it was necessary to give an apologetic, slight bow to his brother’s favorite. The two Astartes that had entered with him moved to halt his bow, but the Malik stopped them with a single gesture. “Forgive me, Belloris, my sons are acting unbecoming of their stations. Announce my presence to my beloved, younger brother when you can.”
“The Father of the Nineteenth is currently relaying Astropathic messages to Lord Augor, he shall be here soon, Lord,” Belloris said, her purple eyes flickering briefly between the Malik and his sons. She craned her head to a passing servo-skull before speaking of Zaphariel’s request, “Notify Usriel that Lord Zaphariel has come.”
The servo-skull turned on its place and disappeared into the darkness to do its task, leaving the room in a gripping silence one more as Belloris did nothing more than stare at the other occupants. She held a soft smile on her face but made no other efforts to acknowledge the Primarch or the Astartes, at least not visibly. Though, a brief tapping of her fingers against the side of her armor, while silent, did betray her outwardly calm behavior.
The vibrantly orange orbs briefly matched Belloris’ strange, purple eyes in the midst of her eerily silent stares. The slitted pupils of the primarch briefly widened before returning to their original form. A knowing, toothy grin spread across the lips of the Malik beneath his hood as he moved away from the mortal servant. With the instructions from her, Zaphariel found his seat on the left side of the chamber. His form settled into the rudimentary seat provided by the Father of Steel. His eyes shifted to Astartes standing on either side of him. On his left, Emir of the Hafiz Raamiz Urahal stood as a grim executioner with his laurel-topped skull helmet. On his right, the former Legion Master Zaid ibn N’dar remained a draconian relic of an age long forgotten. Only Zaid bore no form of shroud across his armored body.
“Raamiz, reannounce my arrival the moment that the Primarch of the Steel Sentinels walks by the mortal servant you saw earlier. Unless he has his helmet removed, then it is grim tidings. Zaid, prepare the dataslate for the rest of the council. They will certainly desire knowledge about these xenos. Do not speak out of turn. I respect my younger brother beyond any measure of worth as you rightly know.” Zaphariel spoke, the Pandjoran Low Gothic trill echoed through the empty war room of the Fortress of Steel. Despite the emptiness, with no other being but them and the mortal, his words were still chosen carefully.
“As you wish, my great king of the dusken sands. Your titles shall echo across these deplorable halls for centuries to come!” The alabaster helmet loudly barked as an affirmation to his Primarch’s command. Raamiz held a hand on the grimoire chained to his belt, while the other rested on his hip as he watched the entrance to the room. An affirmative click from Zaid was the only noise that the elder Astartes made to his primarch.
The war room wouldn’t remain silent for long. While the Lord of the Dusk Warden’s might have had a soft if not silent foot when it came to walking the floors of the Fortress of Steel, the Master of the Honorbound ‘s tread was heavy enough that his approach could be felt like a minor earthquake.
As the door opened, a wall of gray metal carefully ducked down, shifting an arm so that the red barrel they were carrying was in front of them so as to ensure that it didn’t accidentally catch on something. It was one of the eccentricities of Strahlender that he never met with his siblings outside of his armor, despite the logistical issues that could have when it came to fitting into a room, but once he was clear of the doorway he announced in that loud, joyous tone of his “Brother! It’s so good to see you again! I’ve brought some Strategie Met in order to aid in the planning of the campaign to come!”
Coming out from behind Strahlender were two of his marines. On the right was Herrliche Tapferkeit who, unlike his Primarch had opted to wear a normal suit of Mark II armor for the occasion rather than his normal wargear, alongside putting aside his normal powersword for a smaller one that would fit better within the confines of the ship. He was also carrying a barrel, but this one was a green barrel in order to tell it apart from Strahlender’s red one.
The marine on the left was an unknown figure… at least in regards to the Imperium at large. His name was Kreuzritter des Sonnenlichts and while his name and legend hadn’t grown to the point where he would be recognized by other legions just by entering a room, his presence beside his Primarch indicated that might change in the future. He was carrying a bottle of what appeared to be red wine.
Glancing away from his fellow Primarch for a moment, Strahlender turned his gaze to Belloris before saying “And if it isn’t our lovely hostess for the proceedings! Lady Belloris, while our brother speaks fondly of you I’m afraid he has never mentioned your personal tastes in regards to drink. While this bottle of Königin wine is a personal gift to you, we’ve also brought some Strategie Met that’s safe for unaugmented humans to enjoy if you care to join us at any time!” With a small gesture from Strahlender, Kreuzritter stepped forward and offered Belloris the bottle.
“Usriel speaks of me?” Belloris asked, a clear excitement in her voice before she seemingly bringing herself back to her normal calm. She gave Strahlender a deep bow before accepting the bottle, holding it in her hands though not seeming too enthused about the wine. Her voice came through once more, “I will take that offer should Usriel wish to have me join.”
“In his own way.” Strahlender answered in a somewhat softer tone. “In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever heard him speak of someone who isn’t directly a legionnaire so often or with such praise. But at any rate, where shall we be seated?”
Without another word, though with a satisfied smile, Belloris gestured to the holographic table and the seats surrounding. She stepped back into her place and flagged down another servo-skull, peddling off the bottle of wine to it to be brought into the cold confines of the ship. It was likely that she would partake in the gift in her own personal time, though it was clear that she would not shirk her duties at the time - certainly not when she knew of Usriel’s high praise of her. And thus the Honorbound contingent took their place for the council ahead.
“Brother Strahlender! You honor me with your presence, my enormous sibling! If I had known that you would be arriving in such a timely manner, then I would’ve brought you the unique, umbral liquor of Pandjoras that you love!” The trill of Pandjoran Low Gothic boomed across the war room as he leaned forward in his seat. The typical theatrics of the Sultan commenced as he spread his arms in enthusiastic movements. “Crack your barrel open, my sibling, for my throat is as dry as the umbral sands of my homeworld!”
Where one Primarch had been silent and one had been thunder, the later arrival to the briefing was one of steady, ceaseless tread. He was not announced, instead, his presence rolled into the chamber like a frozen tide, an aura of constrained malice which permeated the air. He was preceded only by two of his legion, brothers of The Drakes Exemplar clad in the silver and red of their legion, before their master followed them, long black hair spooling over the pauldrons of his armour, the great axe sheathed at his belt still humming with the blue lines of esoteric power as it sat at rest.
“I have not brought gifts,” The words rumbled from him in a tone that was both harsh and magnetic, the charisma of a primarch warring with the gruff harshness of his homeworld. His senses flared as he moved around the table, the enhanced sensation of a son of the Emperor tasting the placated desire and desperation in the air as he passed by the mortal woman, before he and his pair of astartes took their place. “You shall have to accept the skills of our arms and the skulls of xenos in their stead.” Zelimir grinned as he took his seat, his weapon, Spasatel, removed from his belt, pommel to the floor with one gauntleted hand over the axehead still pulsing with unrestrained fury. “Bring our brother forth.” The demigod barked with casual impatience, his eyes not deigning to meet the mortal woman.
Following Zelimir was the arrival of yet another of the Emperor’s children. Entering into the hall with little fanfare, no announcement or proclamation, and only a single accompanying Astartes, the arrival of the First Legion’s Primarch was simply that, an arrival. Both Victor and his entourage of one, the former Legion Master Zuriel Cladius, were clad in the particularly mundane colors of their legion, the simple blue-gray ceramite of their lightweight armour a contrast to the others gathered around. Victor looked to those assembled so far and offered them a simple greeting of “Brothers.” before taking his place, Zuriel following suit.
Quite to the contrary, the next of His children arrived with much fanfare, replete with a sound of strings like droplets of falling water - at their head, of course, was the impressed, helmetless form of Huo themselves, their face clad in the finest of pale makeup, flowing locks of silky black hair resting on their shoulders to join the greater mass behind their neck. In one hand, they held an enormous, gold-bladed guandao, the other empty, though one of the Astartes behind them, instead wielding a massive cleaving power-sword on their back, carried a large vermillion-lacquered body bearing the shape of dueling dragons atop it. She was, of course, clad in tartaros armour of the finest make, a roaring lion placed at the buckle of her belt. On either side of her was another space marine, each wielding guandao of a design much like their progenitor's, though far smaller... And ahead of the primarch themselves was a young man in fine vermillion robes decorated with thousands of golden orchids, his face almost doll-like in its smoothness, full lips highlighted by cherry red makeup, his face pale much like his lord's. "Behold Shūguan of Jing, Eminent Lord of Penglai, General of His Third Legion of Celestial dragons, Destroyer of the Hated Barghesi, Slayer of the Palatine, General Who Defeats Tyrants, Bearer of the Golden Dragon Crescent Blade, preserver of the Pan-Pacific peoples, Reclaimer of Agripinaa, Sage of the Clouds, Master of Tea Ceremony, Administrator of the Penglai Sector, Once-Emperor of Penglai, and Thirdmost-born of Huangdi - the Celestial Emperor's - children," the young man said, speaking clearly and loudly despite his evidently miniscule size compared to the Astartes around him.
Behind all of them was a single woman in simple yellow robes, her face obscured by a porcelain mask through which nothing could be seen, a tall Erhu in her hands.
“Ah, Lord Hou!” Belloris exclaimed once all of the many titles had been proclaimed, bowing deeply to another child of the Emperor. She straightened herself from her bow as she gestured to the table with the other Primarchs around it, speaking in a more humbled tone whilst in their presence, “Please by all means, seat yourself. My lord shall be arriving shortly, once he has come then this council shall begin in earnest.”
“Belloris, if I am not mistaken,” they said, gently dipping their head in greeting. Smoothly moving to take their seat alongside their entourage, they gently grasped the young man’s hand as they seated themselves, quietly speaking a handful of words in their native tongue before he bowed and turned to leave along with the masked musician. “I have brought a gift for you; though I would do the same for my brother, I fear he would have little want for trinkets, and would simply prefer my knowledge. General Wei?” They said, gesturing to the blade-armed Astartes beside them as they opened the vermillion-lacquered box.
Within, sitting on a bed of soft red velvet, was a jade globe sitting atop a wooden stand - it was no model of Terra, however, but a painstakingly chiseled and carved image of Vion 5 in ludicrous miniature; as painstaking, at least, as public knowledge could allow. “I would be greatly honoured if you would accept it.”
“I thank you greatly Hou,” Belloris said humbly, bowing deeply once again as she took the miniature of her homeplanet. Her purple eyes gazed over the details of the Jade planet, almost trying to map out where it was she had grown up at. Once she was done, like the other gift, she peddled it off to a passing Servo-skull, in order to remain focused on her duties.
The last to arrive before their glorious host was, in many ways, the least of those present. General Nelinho of the First Division of the Night Watch was not a Primarch, but he was in charge of the Night Watch forces that had been committed to this campaign in his Primarch’s stead and thus the Tech Marine would once again sit in the presence of the Imperium’s greatest. He didn’t announce his arrival, nor did he bring an escort: If the Fortress of Steel was hostile to him, even more so due to one of the Primarchs in the war room being hostile to him, then having one or two marines with him wouldn’t damn thing to change the outcome.
Still, a servo-skull followed Nelinho dutifully as the General offered Belloris a respectful bow before walking over to claim his place at the table.
Meanwhile, Strahlender had more than happily cracked open the red barrel of Strategie Met and was happy to make sure that his siblings and their subordinates would have access to a mug of it while idly passing the time with small talk and catching up about details unimportant for historical record.
It was not too long after the representative of the Night Watch had arrived that Belloris stepped forwards, a soft smile still in her face. Extending her arms in grandiosity, she would raise her voice to usher in the owner of the Fortress of Steel, “My Lord’s, as Mother of the Nineteenth, I announce the arrival of Usriel Andreadth, Primarch of the Steel Sentinels.” While she could have rattled off waves of titles, it was not in the way of the Steel Sentinels for such grandiose and unnecessary behavior, preferring to keep moving ahead at all times.
Usriel strode in, class in the grays and dark greens of his legion, the boots of his power armor giving way to mechanical stopping. His armor still bore signs of the damage sustained upon Sarghall, when the Aeldari had tried to do away with him in their insidious plot. The red of his helmeted eyes were amongst the only things to illuminate his helmet, but it seemed as if a shadow looked behind him, even in the dimness of his ship. In a way that is because there was, a Pandjoran shroud billowed behind him, ushering in further darkness that made his armor seem brighter by contrast. He made no attempt at greeting the other Primarchs as he made his way to the holographic table, Belloris following closely behind him. The shroud clung to him as it had clung to the Malik hundreds of years before. Once he had reached the table, his form was illuminated by the blue glow of a holographic Craftworld - the red of his helmeted eyes staring intently upon it as if great anger raged inside of him.
“My fellow Primarchs,” Usriel began, his head unmoving from the insidious Craftworld.
The moment that the Father of Steel had entered, the blaring vox-grill of the Dusk Warden’s skull masked Astartes breathed life once more. “Announcing Zaphariel ibn Varranis, Malik of the Illuminated Pandjoras Star Sultanate, Sheikh of the Star Serpent, Unifier of the Thirteen Houses, Child of the Hassan, Star Emir of the Dusk Sands, Master of the Suma’tah, Grand Faris of the Thirty Palaces, Grandmaster of the Assassins, Emissary of Falak, Nazim of the Seventy Sectors, Padishah of the Umbral Armada, Conciliator of the Three Hundred Worlds, the Arbitrator, Caliph of Neu Amalut, the Steel Companion, Grand Rival of the Dawn has long awaited your arrival” There was no small amount of pride beaming from within the helmet of Raamiz as he spoke aloud to the arriving primarch. A small snicker gurgled up from the seated Thirteenth Primarch.
“My apologies, Usriel, I tasked Raamiz with reciting all of my divine titles the moment that you had entered the room. You weren’t there originally and I felt immense disdain that you failed to see my dramatic entrance.” The dusken deity continued to lightly cackle to himself as the Nineteenth Primarch sat at the foot of the circular table, thronging with holographics and deities alike. His eyes snapped to the shroud that clung to Usriel’s armor as his laughter ended. A beaming, toothy smile replaced the placated smirk that had adorned his face earlier. “Continue as you will, younger brother, I will try not to interrupt you further.”
“My fellow Primarchs,” Usriel began once more, seemingly unmoved by the interruption, would speak in a cold tone more relaxed than many had ever heard, “I have called you all here to inform you all that Augor shall no longer be heading this siege, he has delegated that task to me in his stead.” The Father of the Nineteenth did not address anyone in particular, his focus dedicated to the planning of the siege. He pressed a button on the table, displaying the member legions of the campaign and the forces that had been promised to the fruition of their task. The symbols of the Stargazers and the Abyssal Lurkers, along with their collective assets, went red and disappeared from the holograph as Usriel spoke, “To make up for losing two of the key legions in this invasion, I shall muster the entirety of the Nineteenth once more, leaving Auxilia to watch over my fortresses along with two companies to continue recruiting for my legion.”
“Then the outset of the Council of Nikea is true. Both Huo and I heard what happened via astropathic message during our campaigns in Segmentum Obscurus.” The Thirteenth Primarch began to speak as Usriel’s words rebounded around the war room. The vibrant orange orbs left the Nineteeth’s armor to watch the Legions disappear from the holograph. One of his clawed gauntlets snatched a stone cup full of Strategie Met, raising it to the thin lips of the Malik. He began to speak once more as the drink was set down. “The loss of their support will be staggering, but we will fill the void in their place. Where we had lost two key assets, you now have five to command. The might of the Dusk Wardens are with you, Usriel.”
Primarch Zaphariel briefly turned his attention to the skull helmeted Astartes at his side, a nod allowed Raamiz to begin speaking. “High Hakim of the Hafiz, Raamiz Urahal. To the craftworld siege, the Dusk Wardens have pledged twenty-four thousand Astartes. Five-hundred thousand auxilia mamluk and a thousand Legiones Mamluk have been prepared for the first wave of the assault. Our arsenals further account for several thousand graviton weapons ready to distribute forcewide. The mortal mamluk of the Thirteenth shall give their lives for you.” The hafiz bowed their form to the gathered deities at the table before stepping back behind the Malik of Pandjoras.
For a moment, the normally joyful and energetic Strahlender fell silent. The fate of the Abyssal Lurkers and the… misguided brother in charge of them and the discoveries that led to that fate were bitter subjects that were a dark spot on the glory that was the Imperium. After that moment had passed though, he did offer an acknowledgement of Sarghaul even if he didn’t intend to speak of it again. “May the exile of our brother and his legion be the first step of rethinking their lives and the steps they took to reach this point, rather than the final, disgusting note.”
Shaking his head slightly as he cast out the bitterness, he returned his focus to the campaign planning as he sipped deeply of his mug of Strategie Met before speaking again. “I must admit I was originally planning to be more conservative with the forces I was dedicating to this campaign. With so many legions sending forces after all, I wasn’t sure just how much room there would be on this battlefield and I didn’t wish to drag too many of my battle brothers to this fight, only for a number of them to have to sit back and do nothing when they could be earning the Imperium glory and renown elsewhere.”
“However, with the loss of two legions, I think I can send out the call to arms in order to rally an extra twenty thousand Honorbound Astartes to round up the thirty thousand we were already coming with to fifty thousand.. On top of our Imperial army allies and other resources, of course.”
The face of Zelimir pulled further into a sneer at the fanfare of arrivals over the interim between his words, although shifting from a harshly amused to a genuinely contemptful as the plans of action were spoken aloud. With the finger of his right hand, free from balancing his axe, he tapped the large V across the runic chestplate of his armour. “My Sons have their duties to the Crusade, I will not pull more from the scouring of Ullanor or the Coreward march than intended, lest the Imperium be swept from under out feet while we chase glory.” For the moment he shifted his axe, taking the haft in his right before the fingers of his left hand traced over the glowing metal, the weapon held across his lap. “Three Companies, I will lead them.” The two legionaries that flanked their seated primarch moved only to form the sign of the aquila over the V chestplate also marked into their own armour.
Victor silently cast a gaze over the room as his siblings offered up their forces, his remaining eye tracing over the room before falling upon his accompanying Astartes, Zuriel. Zuriel raised two fingers and looked to Victor, who shook his head and returns with a single finger and than gestured to himself. Zuriel gave a final nod and Victor addressed the room himself.
"The First Legion will offer one full chapter, and I will accompany them directly. I hope you will understand the limits placed on our contribution given the size of our forces." Victor stated simply, his voice carefully rising to reach those in the room while still maintaining his quiet nature. Like anything involving a band of Primarchs in the same place, this was as much politicking as it was planning, and Victor intended to act to the benefit of his legion in spite of his reluctance to do so.
"The campaign in the Agripinaa sector has been a serious drain on our logistics," Huo interjected, "although, first and foremost, I would share the intelligence I have gathered of the Aeldari species - after all, one cannot win a battle in which they do not know their enemy." They said, glancing sidelong at the Malik, their brow deeply furrowed. Here was their chance - however small - to persuade their brothers to end this utterly foolish, wasteful endeavour. "In my time in the Agripinaa Sector, I have discovered precisely three Aeldari worlds. One, I am still hunting - but the two I have set foot upon appear to have been extensively terraformed. There are pristine, and exceedingly habitable, despite close proximity to the Great Storm." They explained, steepling their fingers together. "Dotted with Aeldari ruins, of course - likewise in good condition. The carbon-dating I have ordered, inconclusive. Whether this extensive ability to terraform is applicable on a minute-to-minute basis, I am unsure - but what I have found, I believe, does confirm that we will face an enemy with an unusual ability to control the environment of this... World-ship." They said, bringing their fingers down into their lap, folded neatly together. As was often typical of Huo, they briefly paused, allowing their words to be processed, looking across the table and just above their fellow primarchs, awaiting a response.
Where there was no change in Usriel’s movement, the Primarch’s head had snapped to Hou at the mention of further intelligence of his great enemy. Yet, the placid face of anger remained on his helmet as the red eyes drilled into their form in an almost clear annoyance. “Their ability to control their environment is an interesting fact, but that merely increases their danger, and our reasoning to destroy them furthered.” Usriel turned back to the hologram and brought up a hologram of the wraith constructs, the very same that had attempted to undo him. He spoke in a calm hatred, “Their attempt to assassinate me - their clear desire to see me and my sons broken - have only brought forth a new goal to this crusade. While I must adhere to Augor’s own goals, once that is achieved, I shall administer Exterminatus upon their ship, nothing shall remain.”
"I can only wonder why they would attack you, unprovoked. It seems entirely senseless," Huo sighed, shaking their head. "An ailing world, making itself a necessary target. It is as if the fools signed their own death-warrant." They grumbled, once again steepling their fingers together as they stared at the constructs atop the table, deep in thought.
“They signed their death-warrant upon Atis, Hou,” Usriel corrected, staring intently at the wraith before looking to Victor and Zelimir. He thought to himself once more, calming his inner rage for the moment by bringing up the addition of their forces. It was a brief moment of realization, at the forces that he was committing, Augor’s words of restraint still throbbing in the back of his mind. Yet, the zealot was not there to hold him back this time, and he shan’t underestimate the foul xenos again. The Father of Steel spoke to them, “Your additions are very much appreciated, our array shall perhaps be overkill but I will not underestimate them and I will not be caught unprepared.”
"Those at Atis, as I understand it, are unrelated to this world," Huo said, inhaling with a sharp hiss. "I mean no offense, brother, but should we not be hunting those who sent assassins at you?"
“Aeldari are all the same. The ones upon Sarghall just happened to have been a new variant. This farseer,” Usriel said changing the display to that of the powerful Aeldari that had led the expedition, his eyes locking with the display before he continued, “Had known of Augor’s plan and sought to kill me personally, claiming it would protect its people. That was all I could gather before Belloris killed it. As such I can only assume the Farseer was from this Craftworld.”
Another sharp, inhaling hiss, and Huo brought their hands together, quietly interlacing their fingers. "I see," they said, lifting their gaze, their brow knotted together, to stare at Usriel. "The siege is - or perhaps was - entirely preventable, then."
Nelinho felt the need to speak up at this point or risk his Primarch’s objectives being lost due to Usriel’s rage. “This siege is not pointless. One of the core reasons that Lord Augor was so committed to it was the chance to seize and study Eldar technology on mass. My own Primarch is quite interested in prying the secrets of the Webway from them in order to allow the Imperium to directly strike at the Eldar slavers that hide themselves away within its confines. With all due respect Lord Usriel, but destroying the craftworld outright seems to be counter to these goals.”
“As I said, we will adhere to Augor’s goals, but I will take from them everything,” Usriel snapped, turning his head to Nelinho. The Primarch inhaled deeply as he let the matter of the Night Watch’s interjection rest, he would try his best to not lose his temper again. In a simple move, he would bring back the hologram of the Craftworld before haunching over the table. He would look to Hou, then to Zaphariel, and lightly nod as a gesture to his chosen of kin. Usriel spoke to all of the Primarchs and those Astartes present, “I understand that this may sound as if I am merely out for vengeance, and I shall not lie that I seek redemption for the fifty-thousand sons that were taken from me, but Augor has put me at this campaign’s head for he trusts me to carry out the objectives he had set out for us. The Imperium shall have its spoils and their heretical technology shall be wrought from their corpse-ship. I know my great enemy, their tactics and intent for survival. They will stop at nothing to defend their world until the bloody end, we know that they will come to us and attempt their hand at subterfuge.” The Father of Steel gestured to the recent scars of his armor, only partially hidden by the Shroud of Pandjoras.
“Our fight is sealed in fate, the Omnissiah himself has blessed this quest and we shall not fail him. I ask for your trust in me to see this campaign through,” Usriel’s speech came to a close and he looked around the table to gauge the reactions of his kin.
Strahlender had been silent for a time. Simply listening. However, as he looked between the Night Watch representative, Usriel and Hou, he decided to offer a point of view of the situation. His tone was…surprisingly serious as he said “This is not the first time I have heard the suggestion that there are different cultural groups of Eldar. Had any of our kin known what the Abyss Lurkers were doing and said nothing, turning a blind eye to the suffering they were causing out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to another Primarch, they would be as accountable for the crimes committed as those that did them. Whatever differences exist between the Eldar living on a Craftworld and the Eldar Slavers that favor the Webway, the former is almost certainly aware of the actions of the latter and seemingly have done nothing to stop them.”
“That being said…” He paused for a moment, glancing towards the Night Watch tech marine and Hou before continuing “It is possible that this is a case where those living on a Craftworld are unable to act against their depraved kin. The Eldar were an empire that has fallen from grace and the Craftworlds seem to be nations and entities in and of themselves. While we do not know the nature of life in the Webway, one can assume that whatever settlements that lurk within are fortified to hell and back and a species with a limited number of people would be… ill equipped to try and dig them out.”
“If the latter is true, this provides an opportunity.” Putting off the point for a second to refill his cup, Strahlender quickly continued “We make the Craftworld an offer. If it will actively aid the Imperium in the destruction of their slave taking kin by providing Webway access and military information, if not troops, the Craftworld will be allowed to travel freely and unhindered through Imperial space as a recgonized ally of Humanity… provided they don’t throw that away by attacking Imperial targets or what have you.”
“Surely, at least speaking to them is a worthwhile endeavor.” Huo added, making a sweeping gesture toward Strahlender. “If it turns out that those who dwell on the world-ships simply lack the desire to do away with their slaving kin, then they are much less worthwhile. If they are willing to cooperate, then are there not better uses of our sons and daughters?”
“There can be no peace with the Eldar, they are beyond the Edict, that is our Father’s law.” Zelimir spoke, the digits of his hand gripping his weapon flexing dangerously at the thought, but otherwise he remained in place. “ The Siege is necessary for no higher reason than it is our duty to do so, Mankind’s destiny is dominion, it is the purpose we were all forged for. It matters not what esoteric distinction they hold, they would all seek our destruction or enslavement had they the power to do so, but the time of their Empire has passed, they squandered their fate, and so now we take it from them.” An inkling of the broiling storm touched the Primarch’s words, the closest he had come since arriving to the force of personality he was known for. “Enough talk of placating the alien, lest we find ourselves with more siblings accused of treason against the Emperor’s word.”
Taking in the words of his siblings, Victor's brow furrowed briefly as his eye darted around in thought. Seizing the opportunity to speak, he took the opportunity to address the room, though clearly directing himself to both Hou and Zelimir's points.
"While I hold no love for the Eldar and have no desire to supplant our Father's laws, I feel there is a utility in these Craftworld Eldar that could be beneficial in the goal of reaching their more sinister counterparts in the Webway. Our plan is already to conquer this world-ship in one way or another, so why leave it as the end goal of some revenge vendetta? If we could disable the ship and take some of its people prisoner, perhaps we could use them as tools to get to those hiding in the Webway? They would be offered no protection once their role is done, they would simply be a means to a further end. I would even volunteer myself and my men for this purpose, and if it proves infeasible, we simply revert to our original goals."
“We are not speaking of the Edict of Tolerance, Zelimir.” Strahlender answered quickly in return. “I am suggesting a one time offer in which this Craftworld would be recognized as an independent, allied state of the Imperium, not a vessel or a conqured slave race. They would also be likely to accept the terms of this agreement as well since… Well, they’re doomed and they know it. Their one hope of this siege not being the death sentence of their Craftworld was literally attempting to assassinate Usriel beforehand and it failed. If they refuse anything close to reasonable terms at this point, they are either too proud or too stupid to live and my battle brothers will gain many stories and much glory from their destruction.”
“However, they have to be given an offer in the first place otherwise we’re going to be dealing with doomed defenders fighting a long defeat in the name of their home. While such valor is respectable and will make for a heroic setting for many stories and legends, it will be costly and we might not get anything out of it in the end.”
Usriel had been silent whilst the other talked amongst themselves, talking of allowing his most hated of enemies to be offered the olive branch in a sign of peace. An aura of anger flooded the surroundings; dim lights began to flicker, the hologram began to go in and out of existence with each image distorting further and further. Belloris backed away from the table knowingly, as the Father of Steel’s rage began to manifest in the physical surroundings of the Primarch - he was unable to suppress his hatred anymore. His voice boomed over the chamber, the rage in his voice further than what could have been mustered by any of the other Primarchs at the time, “You would ask me to make peace with my most hated?! You would ask me to work alongside them?! Nay! I would better be sent to be experimented upon by Sarghaul than to work alongside those monsters! I will NOT be denied anything other than their total annihilation or so help me, by the Omnissiah, I will visit death upon any who would deny me what vengeance I am owed!”
Despite Usriel raising his voice, Strahlender didn’t seem all that cowled. “Yes. Because doing so would allow you to directly confront those who organized and executed the ambush of Atis directly, giving you the justice you need rather than the vengeance you crave.”
“Brothers, brothers.” Zaphariel stood from his seat, the arms of the Malik spread wide to address the throng of primarchs around the table. As he began to speak, his words reverberated twice over in a supremely eloquent tone that bounced across the war room. The ears of the Imperium’s finest warriors figuratively inclined towards the voice as it spoke. “I believe we’ve had enough on suggesting how to deal with the Eldar and their world-ship. The xenos present on the ‘craftworld’ will be put to the sword. There is no avoiding that, lest you forget that they attempted to assassinate a primarch. For that singular injustice, there will be holy retribution. That is something that we can all agree upon. The matter of what to do with the ship - salvage, destroy, or retrofit - can be dealt with in the aftermath when our duties are fulfilled.”
“With the matter of the craftworld laid to rest, I believe it would behoove the council to begin discussing our tactics and roles in the coming siege. Brother Usriel, please, elaborate on how you would field us.” The Primarch of the Dusk Wardens reseated himself, the echo of his voice reverberating its last strum. The eyes of hassan darted between each primarch to watch their reaction, carefully tapping his clawed gauntlets across the surface of the table. Zaphariel’s smooth masquerade failed to break even as his orange orbs passed over the likes of dissenters.
A look from the Malik of Pandjoras passed to Belloris, a hand gesturing to the Father of Steel to attend to him. He gave a slow nod to boost the resolve of the blonde haired woman. Few primarchs, and fewer Astartes, could calm the infernal rage of the Vionborn; however, Belloris certainly had a larger ratio of success in comparison to the duskborn.
Without a single word, Huo lazily pushed themselves to their feet, golden robes flowing behind them as if blown by an invisible win
"General Wei," they began, turning their back toward the holographic table. "We have business to attend to in the outlying zones of the Agripinaa Sector. Summon the Fabricator-General of Voss Prime." Huo said, quietly clearing their throat. The Astartes, towered over by her primarch, nodded and turned as they began to leave.
Despite the anger Usriel felt in that moment, he could almost feel the soft touch of Belloris’ hand through his armor, a calming feeling that almost made him ignore the fact that Hou was leaving. Instead, he forced himself to look upon the human, her eyes were stern in an urging for him to stop his rage and so he forced himself to. The Nineteenth Son looked to Zaphariel and nodded in agreement with him, understanding it was time to move forwards. The flickering of the room turned back into a consistent dim light and the hologram returned to a stagnant display, this time of the Aeldari fleet that surrounded the Craftworld.
“Very well,” Usriel said in a cruel voice.
As the words left Usriel’s lips, the room plunged into darkness. It was not simply a cessation of light, a but a void of all vision. It did not coil or coalesce, it simply was, the unending void of the darkness between stars. When a new voice followed, it seemed to come from the void itself, all around, unable to be pinpointed even by the supernatural senses of the Primarchs and their Astartes.
“Children of the Seer, take this as warning, the path you seek to tread leads only to the ruin of all. Your people and my own have committed great acts of rage upon each other, but only by putting this aside can we prevent the calamity to come.” With the first of the words completed, the great darkness that had suffused the room sparked with floating runes, the language of the Aeldari dancing in the air, before light returned, at once, with enough force to register even across the eyes of the enhanced, the room as it was, with one exception. A lithe figure, draped entirely in black robes trimmed with the ivory of bone, stood at the heart of the gathering, one hand gripped around the staff of his ancient office.
“I am Eldrad Ulthran, Farseer of Ulthwe, I greet you, that the future I have seen might yet be prevented, if you can but spare the lives of my people.”
"Oh," Huo said, clicking their tongue in approval as they smoothly whirled about to face Eldrad, all while Wei, turning just as smoothly, unsheathed the enormous power-blade attached to their back. "I suppose you are not here to kill us, else we would be dead already."
Strahlender had risen to his feet the moment that the lights had been taken out, alongside his two battle brothers. Unlike them, he hadn’t drawn a weapon as the Eldar made his presence known; This wasn’t due to not wishing to be armed as much as he had elected not to bring a weapon to this meeting amongst siblings. However, as the Farseer made their case, he couldn’t help but chuckle a little in amusement. “I must confess, during this whole process of discussing a possible diplomatic solution to this situation, I didn’t factor in the Eldar making contact first.”
The skull-helmeted form of Raamiz began to unchain the grimoire attached to his side with a quickness unlike standard Astartes, but froze in place as he activated the powerfield of the tome. Similarly, the form of the elder Astartes to the right of Zaphariel had removed his chainaxe to strike at the Aeldari before him. Similarly to the hafiz, his form suddenly froze as if forced into stasis. The Primarch of the Dusk Wardens slowly rose from his seat to idly gaze at the illustrious form of Eldrad Ulthran. The eyes of hassan deeply drank of the sight that unfolded before him, the Malik of Pandjoras’ pupils widened with excitement. His lips failed to create competent words, instead breaking out in a toothy grin. The only words in the harsh bark of Pandjoran Low Gothic were: “It was just as they said.”
General Nelinho did not automatically draw a weapon with the intention of opening fire with it. Instead, as his fellow Astartes found themselves frozen in some kind of stasis, the Night Watch General instead calmly but slowly pulled out a plasma pistol and placed it on the table before him. Easily within reach if violence was needed, but reframing for the time being as he simple watched and listened.
The glow of another plasma pistol had illuminated the room, Usriel’s own, that had been pointed straight at Eldrad the moment he revealed himself. His reflexes had been fast enough to put his finger on the trigger but the Eldar had stopped him just before any shot could ring out. Anyone would notice that his thumb hover just above the setting that would throw the weapon into a supercharge. It was clear that the lithe xeno was just in time to stop the Primarch that would most want him dead on the spot. The Nineteenth’s red eyes bore into the Aeldari, rage incarnate clear even beyond the visor as his mind struggled to try and undo the binding that had been cast upon him.
Belloris meanwhile, was stationary, not because of her being thrown into stasis like the hostile Primarchs - she was beyond such reckless aggression. Instead, her purple eyes flared in a clear anticipation, a piercing violet glow almost illuminating her face. She stifled mad laughter by biting into her lip, a crimson streak running down her chin in a single line of blood. The human did not act as her lord had, she was pleased to see the Aeldari and she shifted in place as her fingers toyed with something behind her back.
Next to the demigod giants the Aeldari figure seemed almost inconsequential at the heart of the chamber, yet the air thrummed with the very presence of such a being, the psychic might of such an individual holding back the tide of violence intent on annihilating him practically incomprehensible to determine. The being did not respond individually to any of those present, even if all felt the scrutiny of his great mind, instead, Eldrad’s left hand swept gracefully through the air, tracing runes that burst into a soft light.
“Behold then, the future you would pursue.” As the words sounded from his helm, the hovering runes extended outwards, before dispersing. Once again, the visage presented to those gathered altered, shimmering beneath the skein of fate. This time, rather than the embrace of darkness, the currents of the immaterium forged a vision. The intricacies of such changed for each present, but a clear theme ran throughout. The visions imparted by the witchcraft depicted scenes across the galaxy, treasured homes, bastions of reason, the hallmarks of the Imperium, in crumbling ruin. The ceramite clad forms of Astartes warred among them, the ravages of war turning their battered forms into armour clad demons of myth. Among them, the shattered remains of untold mortal humans, utterly unrecognizable and broken from the war of brutality around them.
”Your age of reason is at an end, only the darkness awaits.
The visions coalesced, a figure of fire clutching the bloodstained mess of a great sundered wing, a glorious figure of gold carried aloft and broken by a son in mourning, and a further collapse into darkness, punctuated only by one, sonorous voice.
”Let The Galaxy Burn,”
As the vision fell away once more, leaving the room as it was, Eldrad spoke once more.
“You have been mislead, the great enemy stirs, and only through an end to our petty wars can we have hope of putting a halt to this future, spare my people, that we might stand together, or otherwise damn humanity to a slow, painful, destruction at the hands of forces you do not comprehend.”
Huo’s strange joviality fell away in an instant - their characteristic calm broke like waves upon the rocks, hands clenching, even shaking at what they’d just seen; whether fear or anger, however, they could not tell. “How - how did it happen?”
For his own part, Strahlender followed Hou’s example in that what remained of his jolly nature disappeared the moment the visions started. It was a harsh, difficult thing to bare witness to… even if he didn’t put much faith in fortune telling and visions. In the visions, he swore he witnessed some of his own battle brothers in the Honorbound, fighting among themselves… It was a heartbreaking sight.
General Nelinho did not remain silent for long. While Hou was inclined to speak about what the vision meant, the one representative that wasn’t a Primarch spoke, even if there was a hint of trying to suppress the unease in his voice from the things he had witnessed. “If your people will give us the technology to access the Webway and deal with the monstrous wretches that plague all life with their slave raids and torments, that would go a long way to sparing their lives, Eldar.”
Victor's brow furrowed and a stern look overtook him as he reflected upon what they had been shown. Amidst the chaotic battles plaguing humanity, he'd seen one which stood out clear as day. His Legion Master, Zuriel, the man who stood by his side that very moment had been leading forces to battle against Victor. Looking to Zuriel, he could tell he had seen similar. As he contemplated the vision, he offered a question to the Eldar standing before them. "Why go to us? If this 'great enemy' is such a threat, why not go directly to our Emperor? Surely this concerns him more than us."
“The tinder of Augor’s matchbox saw fruition…” Zaphariel whispered as the scenes danced across his eyes as malevolent illusions. The rest of the primarchs held mixed looks of horror, confusion, and frustration, but the Malik of Pandjoras held a placid look. The orange orbs of the umbral world reflected no disgust in the face of these images, but silently held a gaze of knowing as if it had already been played to him. His tanned skin prickled as the last words were spoken by the mourning son. The claw-tipped gauntlets of the Sultan reached out to touch a passing, phantasmal Astartes; however, his movement stopped short as the crimson gene-warrior beheld a pauldron with a blade and sun. “... The fires of the Stargazer’s previous ambitions will burn all of us then. Every Scion of the Emperor, every Astartes, every mortal.”
“It is your Emperor who set these events in motion.” It was in those final words that a bright blue erupted in the room - a small sun traveling quickly across the room. Usriel had seen the visions and all they did was remind him of Atis, his great failure, and a fury swept through the nineteenth. To him, these were no visions; they were a threat that the Aeldari imposed to try and intimidate him into backing away from Augor’s - no, HIS crusade against the great enemy of his sons. Yet, the Father of Steel had broken through the stasis-imposing witchcraft, unrelenting anger breaking through the Aeldari’s master psychics. The blue bolt illuminated the room only for a moment before an eruption scattered crystalline fragments across the room. It seemed that what had been in front of him had been a farce, much like the empire the Eldar clung to. Rage spurred in every fiber of his being, even through his armor it was clear as day to see, for even Belloris looked to him in fear rather than lust.
Usriel looked to other primarchs in a silent anger, holstering his plasma pistol as Belloris slowly began to back away, “Heed not the deceptions of the xenos. Anyone who entertains his threats for peace, I shall bring to the Emperor in chains, myself.”
The quiet following Usriel’s declaration was broken as a heavy hand was placed down on the table rather firmly. Strahlender hadn’t slammed the table… if only because there wouldn’t be a table left if he did. It was a measured blow to make a loud noise, but not destroy what was hit. “Brother Usriel, I had my growing doubts about your ability to make rational decisions based on your history with the Eldar during this meeting. But I must now ask you to stand down as leader of this expedition. I have every reason to believe that you would let wounded pride and your thirst for vengeance take precedence over the good of the Imperium and the lives of those under your command if you remain in charge. So please brother… stand down.”
The Primarch of the First spoke as well, a grim demeanor spread wide over him. "I hold no love for the Eldar, and I'm committed to seeing this Craftworld overtaken by the Imperium. But anger leads to rash and foolish mistakes, I've seen it lay low some of the most skilled individuals I've ever met. I have no qualms with superseding your orders to my legion during this operation, brother, if you continue to act on base rage rather than from a tactical focus."
Usriel quickly shot a glare at Strahlender, seemingly ignoring the grim words of the First for the time being. Control of the situation was firmly out of his control, yet he would dare ask Usriel to stand down from his post - dare to side with the Aeldari. The ever paranoid mind of the Nineteenth suspected treason, knowing Strahlender had wanted to engage in diplomacy with the Eldar. His mind raced. He was almost certain that his kin had been swayed. Then, his eyes looked to Victor, the words finally registering in his mind as he then began to mentally recite the canticles. Usriel’s gaze remained fixated on Strahlender before he spoke in a restrained fury, “No.” The single word of defiance echoed through the chamber. It resonated with a clear disdain that met with the concern of Strahlender.
“I shall helm this campaign as Augor has ordained upon me. If you bear further issue, by all means, go seek him out,” those last words contained much malice, poison dripping through the words as any acid that could drip through an Astartes saliva. Yet, Usriel dared no longer look Strahlender.
The snap of a powerfield crunching against metal blasted across the chamber as the hafiz by the Thirteenth Primarch’s side returned from stasis. The grimoire of the spiritual guide smoked along the edge of it’s shielding. The sheer grinding sound of a chainaxe wound to a close as the other Dusk Warden was restored to realtime. A umbral gauntlet clasped the pauldron of the draconic Astartes, Zaphariel acknowledging Zaid’s restoration from the psychic thrall. The Malik and the Legion Master shared a wordless look, a singular nod from the Sultan. The elder gene-warrior produced a dataslate to be placed on the war table, his dusken gauntlet gesturing for a nearby servo-skull to claim it.
“The Primarch of the Nineteenth is correct in his abhorrence, brothers, you refuse to believe the atrocities that the Aeldari have committed. Exclusively for this council, I had prepared preliminary data. Illusions, falsehoods, phantasms, psionic mirages are the work of Warlocks and Farseers. Many of you present…” The Malik of Pandjoras’ gaze momentarily passed the forms of Strahlender and Huo. “...believe that this is a warning. This is a preemptive strike, one that has been in progress since the beginning of the initial discussions.”
“Behold, kin, the data presented before you. Augor, interrupted in his duties to the Imperium, failed to upkeep his vigilance on the Eldar. The hassan have not.” Zaphariel swept his hands in a grand gesture as the hololith alighted with fresh data from the dataslate procured from Zaid. Clusters of activity within the Segmentum Obscurus, bordering the Halo Stars and Segmentum Pacificus, grew crimson with packets of data. Each packet highlighted streams of data involving myriads of subtle acts of subversion - minorly redirecting Imperial fleets, small-scale sabotage, low-value target elimination. The list continued with dates recorded within the timeframe between present and the Council of Nikea.
“Usriel, your rage is justified as it has always been, but the only way to root out assassins, saboteurs, and slithering skinks is with a furious mind honed to a blade. Trust me on this as Grandmaster of the Hassan. Savor your righteous hatred for the xenos on the Craftworld, they will taste retribution. I implore the rest of this council to harbor faith in the Father of Steel. There is still so much we have to do.” The Malik of Pandjoras finished as the collection of primarchs began to review the presented data.
It was a credit to Strahlender’s patience and the argument that Zaphariel was making that the Primarch of the Honorbound remained silent as he waited for him to finish. He humored the Malik of Pandjoras by looking at the data that he had gathered for display, but in the end he spoke softly, but with enough force to be heard all the same. “Strike at this Craftworld and all that will happen is that all the other Craftworld will naturally polarize against the Imperium to avenge their fallen kin. It was a combination of blind luck and Augor’s dedication to keeping track of Iris that we even know the location of this one. This is a war that will last centuries, if not thousands of years solely because striking at the heart of the Eldar isn’t possible with a heavy handed fist.”
“And if that battle needed to be fought, I would dedicate all of my resources to doing so. I suspect it doesn’t, but as Usriel has been blinded by his hatred of the Eldar to not to even consider any alternative I clearly have no place here. I will be withdrawing myself and the Honorbound from this endeavor in order to serve the Imperium where we can do some good and prove our valor for this battlefield will provide neither.”
With a gesture, those that came with Strahlender started to solemnly make for the door to leave with their Primarch being the last. “May this folly not prove to be your undoing brothers.” Was all he muttered as he stepped through the doorway and left them behind.
"A pre-emptive strike, brother?" Huo said, their gaze [i]snapping[i/] to the Malik, plastered with an utterly sardonic smile. "If you think that is what that was, truly, then you do not understand. If that being - that Eldar - wanted to kill us, to stop this siege, to lay us low..." They sighed shaking their head.
"This vessel would be naught but ash, and we would have been dead before we knew what was happening."
“My dearest, fairest sibling, it seems that you, too, fail to understand the gravity of the situation as it evolves. To that, I apologize on behalf of the Ordo Astranoma and the collective body of the Imperium for their lackings.” The Malik of Pandjoras bowed his head theatrically low to the honored form of the Shuguan. Raamiz followed the actions of his primarch, while Zaid refrained from excessive movements like his gene-father. His words were spoken with venom masqueraded as faux benevolence. “You believe I speak of Eldrad as the preemptive strike, but I speak of the very moment that these plans were spoken in the halls of Nikea. The strings of fate were pulled from that moment. Review the data, generously provided by the Stargazers, Dusk Wardens, Armada Imperialis, Adeptus Mechanicum, and the Imperial citizens afflicted by their kind.”
"Cease with your honeyed words, brother, and speak frankly - you know damned well that I have seen the data, that I have informed myself, and yet, you hide the truth from me as if you expect me to be blind! Pfagh!" Huo hissed, rolling their eyes. "I love you, Malik, truly, for you are my sibling - but it is youyou fails to understand what is happening. It is you who fails to understand that a nail is being driven into the Imperium's heart, that we are making an unknowably powerful enemy which has no desire to make a foe of us - or perhaps, brother, you are simply too high off of the fumes of your own ego to care what harm this campaign will bring to our nation?" They barked, sucking in a sharp breath through their nose in an attempt to calm themselves.
"No,, I say. I will not let this Imperium be torn apart! I will bring word of this meeting to father my own damn self." They said, their voice shuddering, as if struggling to choke back sobs, promptly whirling about. "The writing is on the wall, dear siblings. I suggest that you read it."
Usriel finally spoke, his head only slightly tilting to the words of Hou, his aura of anger still prominent - almost blind to any words other than Zaphariel’s. He rose to his full height, fully turning as Huo continued to speak pleas and idle threats of bringing word of their council to the Emperor. The nineteenth knew not the subtle talk of the Dusk Wardens, nor the scheming of Sekh, but he knew what he was - a servant of the Emperor, the Omnissiah. No task was his to undertake without it being permitted by his holy word and his voice was cold, devoid of the anger that radiated off him like the flares of a roaring star, “Who do you think gave Augor express permission for this venture?” A foot fall signalled the giants approach. “Who do you think ordered Augor to capture their technology?” Each foot step was one of a beast encroaching forth. “The Emperor has ordained this crusade. The Omnissiah has decreed our objectives and so it is our duty as his generals to carry it out. Speak to him, it will change nothing, for our Emperor is a cold and merciless lord. He desires their webway and cares not for the lives of the Aeldari. I urge you, Hou,” Usriel was next to them, “Learn how your father behaves before making such threats.”
"Oh, no, no, brother - you misunderstand why I go to Terra. I am bringing myself to trial - if father deems my actions worthy of censure, then so be it. I will reveal my bare neck to his chosen executioner."
“I commend you for recognizing and accepting the potential for your decision to lead to your own demise.” Victor said, offering Huo a dip of his head. “It shows that there is some level of loyalty to your action, even if I do not agree with the unwillingness to fight. I also agree that our father needs to be made aware of what has transpired here. The Eldar who spoke to us is very clearly more than others of his ilk, and that alone warrants investigation. Who exactly he is to their people, what exactly he spoke of is something I intend to look into, and this Craftworld should prove a good opportunity to do so. Let Huo leave, and if any of you attempt to stop them, I’ll be informing the Emperor what they wished to tell him myself…and if you stop me you’ll be losing yet more forces to this cause.”
A dusken gauntlet lightly touched the pauldron of Usriel, the light steps of the hassan having stepped up to stand by the side of the Nineteenth Primarch. Though hesitantly, Zaphariel reached out his other gauntlet to rest on the Shuguan's shoulder as well. "Huo, you asked me for no more honeyed words. You shall have them in the near future. For now, however, let this tirade end, lest it devolves further into another aftermath of Nikea. You are Scion, just as we are. Do what you believe is best, and we shall do ours - both in the name of the Imperium. Ask the questions that Victor brings up, should you meet our Father before him." The Malik spoke with a softness that belied the frequent bark of Pandjoran Low Gothic. The Sultan let the gauntlet on Huo fall away as he lightly urged the Father of Steel back towards the war table with his other hand.
With everything that had just transpired between the Primarchs, one could be forgiven for forgetting about Nelinho. However, now that the chaotic nature of the council had passed, he finally had his chance to speak up to hopefully calm the tensions of the remaining Primarchs. “...I am going to have to make contact with Primarch Micholi in order to inform him of the departure of the Honorbound and the Celestial Dragons from this campaign… and request additional forces to try and make up for the loss.”
Wordlessly, Huo pulled their shoulder away from the Sultan, walking out the door.
Usriel watched Huo leave, his anger dissipating with each step of their steps out of the door, silence befalling the room once more. The Father of Steel moved back to his original place at the head of the table, allowing for the display of the Craftworld to return. He spoke calmly, looking between those that remained within his solemn chamber, a rhetorical question echoed through the room, “Without any more distractions, shall we begin a proper planning of our assault?”
The Malik of Pandjoras, too, returned to his seat between the forms of Raamiz and Zaid. His armored elbows propped up on the tabletop with his claw-tipped gauntlets steepled. A short, silent sigh of relief passed his thin lips as Huo left in earnest. Zaphariel’s hood shifted as he addressed the member of the Night Watch present. “That would be most wise, General Nelinho. With Usriel’s permission, have one of your attendants send an astropathic message. Legion Master Zaid, accompany the Night Watch and deliver a message to the Twenty-Sixth through the Forty-Fifth Great Conclave to redirect their fleets. Organize the Forty-Sixth through the Fiftieth to take their place.” A short nod from the archaic Astartes affirmed the order, presenting the sign of the aquila before removing himself from the war council.
“I am as prepared as you are, Usriel.” The Thirteenth Primarch softly spoke as the Legion Master left his side.
Despite the assurance that he would be seeking out the additional support of his brothers and their resources, Nelinho decided to address the Eldar in the room in order to clear the air and reassure the remaining Primarchs of his personal views of the situation. “While a disturbing image, all we just saw was Eldar trickery. A ploy to weaken resolve. Nothing more. While it might have weakened our forces by removing those unwilling to commit to the work that must be done, it will not save them nor prevent us from seizing the secrets of the Webway from the purged, burned out ruins of their Craftworld. It is the will of both Primarch Micholi and the Emperor that the Eldar will be purged from the Webway… and if I have anything to say about it they’ll be just enough placement on the list of extinct xenos monsters that historians will recite stories of.”
Turning to his servo skull, the Night Watch General blurted in binary for a moment before the skull took off. The doorway briefly opened to allow it to leave and carry its message.
Victor and Zuriel looked to each other, silently processing the course of events and the potential of what was to come. Looking back to the rest of the war room, Victor offered another reassurance of his support. "I am still as committed to this as before. To make up for the losses I'll be providing an additional half-chapter of the First Legion as well. I'll need all the information we have on critical systems and commanders among the enemy, as I intend to strike to cut the head from this snake as quickly as possible."
A silent, affirmative nod came from the Nineteenth before he looked to Zaphariel, “And do you wish to commit more to this, knowing that others have deserted us?”
The Sultan slowly shook his head in repliance to Usriel. “Unfortunately, my brother, the remainder of the Dusk Wardens are spread thin across the Imperium. The hafiz are divided between the Librarian Crusade and acting as arbiters for the Imperial Truth in other Legions. The only ones you’ll see at the siege are Raamiz and his conclave. My hassan are handling threats along the galactic rim and with internal matters as well. Truly, if the void they left could be filled in exchange for supporting your retribution, then I would’ve already brought them to the fight.” Zaphariel spoke slowly as he pinched the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb. The logistics of his Legion weighed heavily on his mind, regardless of his eternal masquerade.
“Then it seems that what we have is what we shall get,” Usriel responded, looking to the other primarchs for a brief moment, almost half expecting them to make some dramatic decree of mustering their whole legion. Knowing that such a reality was never going to come to him, the nineteenth gazed upon the craftworld once more. It was the time for commanding and preparation, no more will the dramatics of the primarchs rule the room. He spoke as in a calculating tone, “Our first obstacle to bringing down this world will undoubtedly be their guardian fleet, as Augor has already explained in great detail.”
He looked to Zaphariel, “Neither me nor my sons are adequately specialized in the nature of void warfare. I am hoping that you have the confidence to aid me in this endeavor.”
The Malik of Pandjoras’ shifted a forlorn look at the Father of Steel. He’d ponder a moment before answering his brother once more. “The honor of admiralty for this conquest is a gracious one, brother. One that I would take without hesitation, but I am no Sekhmetara. The accolades I’ve acquired in the void are less grandiose compared to our sister’s vengeful fleets.” Humility crept into his voice, carefully considering the correct way to accept the responsibility of becoming grand admiral for the siege. Zaphariel’s gaze fell across the table to each and every Primarch and Astartes in attendance.
“If the rest of our brothers have no objections to my undertaking the mantle of Grand Admiral, then I would accept the honor you present to me. I’ve always wanted to boast the title of Padishah of the Umbral Armada to the rest of our siblings as it was.” The dusken deity bowed his head in acceptance of the task set before him, raising only to further address the issues at large. Zaphariel gestured to Raamiz, the hafiz already preparing a dataslate on preparation for the appointment. “At your earliest convenience, my siblings, provide me with a complete and accurate account of volunteer vessels - especially if you plan to utilize the flagship of your legions. Once this council is concluded, I will begin the long task of accounting for all Armada Imperialis, Mechanicum, Collegio Titanicus, and warranted Rogue Trader militant fleets available.”
There were no objections. As such the view of the craftworld focused, Usriel would leave the naval strikes to Zaphariel. The Nineteenth gazed over the world-ship, analyzing it slowly before speaking, “In the midst of combat, I would recommend we have a myriad of boarding parties from the Night Watch and the Emperor's Lightning move onto their abominable ship so that we may begin cutting the head off of this serpent.”
“A difficult task.” Nelinho answered, focusing on the image of the craftworld. “Not impossible, but difficult. Considering how much their leadership employs witch magics in their day to day lives, it makes the act of taking them unaware… challenging. Normally the trick is to put a sniper bullet in their head before they even know someone is there lining up a shot, but we don’t really know a lot about the layout inside of the Craftworld…”
“The Mechanicum can give you theorized layouts for what simulation the Night Watch must go through. Yet, if you truly worry about their accursed psykers then you shall step with umbral shadows,” Usriel said, turning his head to Zaphariel, “Your librarians shall accompany their initial boarding so that they might remain hidden about our objective.”
“Your will be done, Supreme Commander. Raamiz, accompany the Night Watch with your hafiz once the void war has ended. Show our siblings what it truly means to drown in dusk.” The Thirteenth Primarch boasted with a toothy grin, the skull-helmeted Astartes next to him salaaming in gesture towards General Nelinho.
The Nineteenth Primarch wordlessly went through what information he had about the Craftworld within his helmet, Augor had theorized many different problems the legions would face. Usriel would remain undaunted, and he would remain firm in his conviction as he changed the display of the table to that of several different entry points for the infiltrators. Their forces burned against the red of the Craftworld with a dark blue, their forces scattering. He spoke with confidence, “This is to prepare us for the main invasion force for we must attack the Craftworld as swiftly as possible lest allow them to properly consolidate further before our forces come to bare.”
At this, Victor stepped up to the projection and spoke, carefully scrutinizing the projected information of the Craftworld. “If we can prioritize rapid strikes against what we believe to be critical systems for the vessel and its operating crew in these positions…” He gestured at points along the Craftworld as he spoke. “...We should be able to prevent the vessel from exercising any sort of control over primary functions. Locking down the equivalents of a bridge and an engineering deck should be of the highest priority. Add in targeting any sort of command or leadership structure they attempt to muster. The initial boarding action should be focused on, essentially, capturing the ship itself and whatever could be called its crew in the traditional sense. My forces can handle that. Once the ship is as disabled as we can make it, it's a matter of clearing out the inhabitants. I’ll designate these positions as primary insertion points based on our understanding of their nature. Once those are taken, these additional objectives here will be my forces’ points of interest.” He gestured to positions throughout the ship, marking the initial insertion points with an emblem, and the secondary Legion-specific objectives with the emblem of the First. “If you can coordinate your forces around this, focusing on keeping these positions from receiving additional opposition support, it should make controlling the ship for the duration of the battle significantly easier.” With that, Victor stepped back and offered his siblings a dip of his head, inviting them to analyze and consider his proposals.
“I believed such things went without saying, Victor,” Usriel said, giving the other Primarch a nod in agreement before continuing, “Once the main assault is upon us; we must strike as one. Zelimir, you and the main Dusk Warden Mamluk force shall grant us our proper breach once the forward elements have best found one for us. My sons and the rest of the Dusk Wardens shall strike from many directions to ensure a successful boarding.” The display went to a hollow interior, unmapped and unknown for the time being, blue markings denoting a front line that spread across the outside of the world-ship as if to make a mock outline of it. Usriel would speak further of his plans, “Our primary objective will be to relink our lines amongst the boarding and form a cohesive front. From there, we shall begin to close the noose and rally with the covert elements to ensure we maintain the control while we begin the butchering in full.”
“Do not worry about the Legiones Mamluk, brother, use them as you see fit. They are frontline, assault warriors tempered in the hottest fires of war, perfectly complimenting the Drakes Exemplar. The Second Sultan, Zameel, will respond to your queries and orders if given. He leads nearly two thousand of his Mamluk brethren, a pair of Great Conclaves in their own right. They will not disappoint. You have my assurance on that.” The Malik of Pandjoras spoke with a strange mix of disgust and reverence as he turned his head to regard Zelimir. Raamiz’s skull helmet turned to the side, speaking into the air with slight movements of his headgear. His lenses returned to the Primarch to confirm the words previously spoken.
“My sons are with you, Usriel, as they always have been. Astartes that survive the void war will join you for conquest with a host left in the Umbral Armada in case of ambushes.” Zaphariel said as his gauntlet trailed the emblem of the Thirteenth Legion on various entry points previously marked by the other Primarchs. He then turned to the Father of Steel with a continuation of his statement. His slitted pupils slightly widened in controlled excitement as he spoke again. “Other than previously discussed, do you have tertiary objectives while the main assault is underway?”
Usriel slightly turned his head towards Zaphariel, giving a brief answer, “Whatever powers their ship, I want it intact. If it can power a ship of such magnitude, it would prove to be a valuable study for the greater Mechanicum. However, if it is not possible to achieve this, then it shall be destroyed along with the ship once we have looted it.”
“We fight and die, in his name.” The initial assent from Zelimir was full of his usual sense of both dread and determination, placing a fist to his chestplate, an action echoed a moment later by the two terminator clad honour guard set behind him. “The Sons of the Fifth shall fight as we always do, may we shed much xenos blood alongside you, brother.” The primarch nodded to Zaphariel, perhaps the closest he had come to any sense of warmth throughout the meeting, now that the needless showmanship and placating of more frivolous moral objections were over, something of his uniquely cold mirth had become present. “We shall do our best not to break the toys of our enemy.”
“If I may…” Nelinho spoke up at last, standing up as he stepped forward “The Primarch of the Night Watch spoke to Primarch Augor on this objective, but I believe it should be reinforced. His desire to purge the Eldar raider from the universe is well known, but in order to do so requires that the Imperium can access their webway in order to purge their strongholds hidden within it. To that end, the more technology we can capture intact in relation to their webway and its gates the better.”
“I am aware that this raid is dedicated to Eldar technology in general, but it must be stressed that anything related to the Webway and how humanity might force its gates to serve our will should be of top priority.”
The Malik of Pandjoras propped his elbows on the war table as he turned to address General Nelinho with a placid gaze. His unshaven chin rested on steepled gauntlets as he spoke to the member of the Night Watch. “You are correct in your beliefs, gene-nephew, to reinforce the desires of the original council. Their webway technology is of the utmost importance, such is one of the primary objectives of this crusade for our Father. I assure you that this council will pay close attention for that technology. If that does not assure you, then have faith in the hafiz I’ve assigned to you. They’ll uncover the myriad shrouds of the Eldar. High Hakim Raamiz is an incredibly observant warrior.” The eyes of hassan turned to regard the skull-helmeted Astartes next to him, who politely bowed in the direction of the Second Legion’s reputable Astartes.
“The grand sultan speaks the truth, General, the hafiz accompanying you will certainly be acting in accordance with the Crusade’s wants. Their webway technology will be unveiled to our assigned taskforce.” Raamiz’s soothing voice spoke with his hands forming the aquila, hoping to reassure the General of the Night Watch.
There was a brief, but respectful nod from the General as he answered “Oh, I have no doubt. But with how… emotional and off topic this Council was earlier, I felt it prudent in order to refocus attention to one of the key objectives.” With his concerns addressed, he returned to his seat.
“In that case, I shall call this War Council adjourned. May the Omnissiah bless us on this most worthy of campaigns and may his will be done,” Usriel said, the image of the Craftworld disappearing into the table as the lights of the room finally dawned in a low, dim glow. The father of steel stepped back from the display table, bowing his head lightly to his peers before gesturing to Belloris, who had since recovered from the fear instilled by Usriel, and had quickly gathered several servo-skulls. The Nineteenth son would speak but once more to the others, instructing them, “These servo-skulls shall account for all the resources taken upon this expedition by your respective legions. This will allow me to keep our logistics sound for this seige so that no shortage of supply may befall us. I will NOT leave anything to chance.”
With those final words Belloris bowed deeply to the Primarchs and the other representatives, Usriel following suit after giving Zaphariel a knowing look. After a brief moment, Usriel turned and walked out leaving Belloris to the finalities of the council.
The Thirteenth Primarch bowed his head in response to the Father of Steel upon his departure, turning his orange gaze to the rest of the Primarchs before standing from his chair. “It truly has been a treat to engage with the rest of you once more, my brothers, despite my absence from the Council of Nikea. This is only the start of a glorious chapter of humanity, something that we shall build for ourselves from the ashes of Iris. Be sure to forward all data relevant to your attending fleet when you have a moment, I’ll have much to plan if we want to win this void war with minimal casualties.” Zaphariel’s hood dipped in a respectful bow to his brothers, turning to march towards the same direction as Usriel. He raised a clawed gauntlet to Raamiz, halting the Astartes in his tracks before stepping beside Belloris. The dusken deity lowered his head to whisper to the mortal, quieting his voice to a deathly silent tone.
‘Find me before my departure from the Fortress of Steel, we have things to discuss.’ The trill of Panjdoran Low Gothic rolled off the tongue of the Primarch even as his lips barely moved. His head leaned away from Belloris, his lips shifting into an overwhelming smile as he resumed speaking in a louder voice. Zaphariel’s arms spread theatrically wide in a dramatic show of appreciation for the mortal beside him. “Thank you for your hospitality, Belloris! It warms my hearts that my younger brother could have a woman as capable as you are. Please allow my High Hakim to remain for a time as I speak with the Supreme Commander.”
With the Council firmly concluded, Nelinho waited until the Primarchs were standing and leaving before he likewise rose. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to make use of the astropath. Rather important to know what additional resources Primarch Micholi can spare.” Offering the remaining Primarchs a respectful bow as he started to make his own exit, he offered one to Belloris as well, through hers was noticeably less deep then the others; A symbol of the difference in rank between her and a Primarch, but respect that she was still a host.
Victor and Zuriel similarly rose from their seats, moving in almost perfect synergy as they did. A look passed between the two before they began to make for the exit. As they moved to depart, Victor too took the chance to speak to their mortal host. “We thank you for your part in this, my brother certainly chose well in selecting those close to him. In particular your skills at handling a wide array of hosts are to be admired, especially those who arrive in sudden and unexpected fashion.” The barest hint of a smile crept across Victor’s face as he left for the exit, leaving his words to linger behind him.
And so Belloris stayed behind, her purple eyes following the lords as they left, her own words echoing as an unheard melody, “It is only so that I may prove myself above the dancing worms that Usriel sees humanity as.”